Sunday, August 16, 2009

GUEST POST: Will edit for peanuts…just for squirrels? -- Vincent Diamond

Quote: “I'm just wondering here, after reading some discussions on poor editing quality in some (note that I say some, not all) e-publishers, I wonder whether the problem here is the lack of good incentives that stop many good editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders from working with them. Most e-publishers don't offer fixed wage, most offer instead things like a share of the royalties of the book they edited (which won't be much if the books don't sell well) or free copies of the books they worked on (um... yay, how exciting) ... Perhaps the generally low level of incentives offered give rise to shoddy editing and proofreading? That's my guess anyway. I mean, if you offer peanuts for wages, what kind of job applicants will you get?” [From Mrs. Giggles ]

My sense is that for many e-publisher editors and proofreaders, this is a part-time, kinda fun/hobby thing to do as a way to read new books. For them, this kind of wage is workable. Ergo, peanuts and squirrels.

For those of us for whom this job is a living, however, we can't afford to work for "free" e-books. My mortgage company doesn't accept e-books for payment, and neither does my health insurance company, my utilities, or any other creditors. I need to be paid in dollars. Not peanuts, and I am not a squirrel.

I'm not enthused about publishers who pay a percentage of royalty for editorial work. To my mind, editing is a cost of doing business just like a phone line, cover art, and web site hosting. Since editors have limited impact on a book's sales, it doesn't seem fair to me to expect an editor to do the work upfront and then *hope* the book sells well enough to provide a reasonable wage. I know of a couple Really Big Names in e-book and print publishing that work this way; I just don't think it's fair.

There are also Really Big Names in e-book publishing that pay a base wage and, even better, a base wage plus bonus for books that sell beyond a certain point. This is a nice way to reward a contractor that doesn't bite into bottom line costs. For e-books especially, once you've hit X number of sales and hit the break-even point, why not share the wealth a bit with your staffers? It acknowledges contributions, engenders loyalty, and encourages continued hard work.

Editing requires time, effort, energy, and, often, extensive back-and-forthing with authors. Proofreading requires a similar commitment. Isn't it fair and right to compensate staffers with a reasonable wage instead of royalties on sales, something over which editors have virtually no control? Authors do, of course, impact sales, but the entire structure of author compensation has always been based on royalties. (Or an advance against royalties if you're really lucky.)

The bottom line for me is: I do this as a job. I take it seriously and do good work. Why should I put in hours and hours of work and take any risk at all on whether a title sells or doesn't once it's published? Editing is a standard cost of business in the publishing world; I'm sure you'd be hard-pressed to find editors at any of the New York houses working on commission or royalties.

I'd love to have discussion from authors, editors, proofreaders, and publishers on the topic. Maybe I'm missing part of the picture here, and someone can show me.

Full disclosure: I proofread and edit for several print and e-book publishers, all of whom pay by word count or flat fee.

Vincent Diamond’s most recent story sales include Best Gay Erotica 2009 and the Gay City Health Project Volume 2, and recently edited Animal Attraction 2 for Torquere Press. Having been accurately described as relating better to animals than to people, horses, tigers, and other big cats often populate Diamond's stories as a metaphor for passion, innocence and unbridled egotism. Eh, not really; Diamond just thinks they're beautiful. More info is available at


K. Z. Snow said...

I admit, it's the investment-of-time:return-on-investment ratio that has, in part, kept me from getting back into editing.

The other part? Writing is so much more fun! ;-)

Sable Grey said...

This is a good topic. I think editing is important to a publisher in establishing the quality of books they are producing. Many times publishers settle for whatever editors they can get when they are starting out and they do get editing that isn't quite up to par...that's not the editor's fault, it's the fault of the publisher for not training that editor or giving them a stylesheet to edit by.

Cobblestone Press pays a percentage of sales. Granted at first for our editors (and they are GREAT qualified and experienced editors) it was beans. But they stuck with us until we moved out of the "new publisher" group and became more established. And now some of them make more than we do from the books that sell. LOL
I'm a firm believer of not spending money you've not made yet...while one book might not sell well for the editor to get a good chunk of cash, another book they edited might sell like crazy...and not just in one month. We have editors who still get good royalties from books three and four years old that are still popular. At a flat rate, that editor would have missed out on hundreds of extra dollars. Those editors that stick with a company - if the company has an active catalog where more than just new releases sell - a percentage can bring in the kind of money that can help pay bills. :D


Jordan Castillo Price said...

Thank you for posting about this topic! I'm dismayed that there are still publishers out there who pay in copies of e-books.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post.

In addition to everything above, I think a contributing problem is the rampant acceptance of manuscripts for publication that require little less than a full rewrite on the editor's part to get them into readable condition.

Tasking an editor, even at flat per word- or page-count fees, to spend so much time whipping a book into shape they often end up earning far less than minimum wage per hour (on which they still have to pay taxes to boot) is ludicrous and insulting.

Higher acceptance standards by acquiring editors would be a good place to start for small presses to attract and keep good editors.