Forums Club Ed Editors’ Forum Setting expectations with clients

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    • #52161
      Jennifer Lawler

      In actual practice, what your edit will cover is a matter of negotiation and setting expectations. Everyone has a different idea of what editing means, so it’s up to us to explain what we mean by it, and that way no one is disappointed with the end result.

      Most of your clients will be either publishing companies/book packagers (which put together books for publishers) or private-pay individuals (authors, most likely those who are self-publishing). This can mean a variety of stakeholders need to be kept looped into the process:

      • If you’re working for a publishing company, you have to satisfy the acquisitions editor and the author whose work you’re editing (not to mention the author’s audience).
      • If you’re working for a book packager, you have to satisfy the editorial director at the book packager, the acquisitions editor at the publishing company that hired the book packager, and the author whose work you’re editing (not to mention the author’s audience).
      • If you’re working directly for the author, you need to make sure s/he is happy with your work (and you also have to do your best by the author’s audience).

      What Does the Client Want?
      Because editorial functions can go by different names, the first rule of freelance editing (whether developmental or otherwise) is to figure out what your client wants. If your client says, “This manuscript needs a good editor,” you need to verify what that means. You may think it means a thorough review of the plot, characterization, and setting, whereas the client may just want you to make sure all the words are spelled correctly.

      A client may come to you wanting a copyedit but really needing development. The two shade into each other—a heavy copyedit can look a lot like development. A developmental edit that requires a lot of line editing can look a lot like a copyedit. What we have to do is make sure we’re on the same page as the client. We have to describe exactly what we do (“I’ll look at issues like character development”) rather than assume that saying “I’ll do a DE on your ms” means that same thing to the client as it means to you.

      But the job of developmental editing isn’t merely doing what the client wants. We’re not fry cooks filling orders. We’re educated professionals who often know better than the client what the ms actually needs. In essence, the job of the DE is to teach the author how to write a better story. Part of the job, then, is making recommendations about what a particular project requires for that to happen.

      Sometimes editors are afraid of getting blowback from clients who want one-stop shopping or who don’t want to listen to their recommendations. Remember, just because someone wants us to work a certain way doesn’t mean we have to.

      When you’re first starting out, you’re probably not going to feel you can be very choosy about your clients, but here’s the problem: Suppose your client asks you to do a combined DE/CE (which I generally discourage for a variety of reasons). Suppose you agree because money. Some errors slip through because how can they not? Readers bring these errors to the author’s attention. Who gets blamed?

      Now your client is unhappy with you for doing something that was against your better judgment in the first place. There is nothing more frustrating than this situation.

      Instead of thinking in terms of blowback, think in terms of setting expectations: “This is how I work, this is why I recommend a separate CE round, this is my fee.”

      A number of long-established dev editors edit a sample before finalizing an agreement with a potential author. This way, everyone is clear about what to expect. Another approach is to have samples of previously edited material (used by permission of the author) to show various levels of editing: “This is generally how I do a dev edit, this one is a light copyedit, that one is a combination.”

      Scope Creep
      Setting expectations from the start helps keep the project you’re doing from becoming never-ending. If you agree to do one round of editing, that does not also include three hundred hours of personal coaching while the author is trying to finish the revision.

      It’s very common for the scope of an editing project to change, what we call “scope creep.” In some cases, it offers the opportunity for creating additional income. When you deliver the ms, if the author does want those three hundred hours of personal coaching, you can charge for that separately.

      The problem occurs when we don’t push back against scope creep. It’s one thing for the author to send a few emails after you’ve delivered the edit, asking you to clarify a point you made or to ask if you think a solution s/he’s devised will work. It’s another to be on the hook for questions the author asks for the rest of her career.

      So, be as clear as possible: “I provide two hours of email support after the edit is delivered; by request I can arrange additional coaching at my hourly fee of $X.”

      Many times authors don’t realize that what they’re asking is different from what they agreed to. Almost always when I’ve brought this to their attention, they’ve recognized right away that they pushed the boundaries and they adjust their expectations accordingly. In other cases we will work out additional compensation for the additional work.

      Some authors want the dev editor to actually fix all the problems in the ms, which is far beyond the scope of what a dev editor does; that’s a coauthor or ghostwriter, and you would have to charge significantly more. Some writers need more teaching than we can provide in an edit; in those cases, you may be able to begin a coaching relationship with the author.

      What are your experiences in setting client expectations?

    • #54784
      Jake Nicholls

      Thanks for posting this, Jennifer – it’s very helpful!

      I really like the idea of providing an editing sample to demonstrate what a DE involves. I managed to dig up some old writing that I did as a teenager (the quality of which leaves much to be desired!) and I’m currently in the middle of editing that to use as a sample. Given that getting the author’s permission isn’t a problem in this case, I thought I’d just have it freely available on my website for people to download, rather than as something to send privately to potential clients.

      Has anyone else done something similar with samples?

      • #54991
        Jennifer Lawler

        Jake, great idea! Skirting the whole issue of permissions makes things much easier!

    • #63823
      Mari Ann Stefanelli

      Thanks for posting this, Jennifer. I’m now diligent about clearly defining the terms for each new client and project, and I believe that’s helping limit scope creep.

    • #64307
      Jennifer Lawler

      Mari Ann, it does make a difference when you are very specific versus just saying, “I’ll do a developmental edit on this ms for $X,” doesn’t it? I’m also much more upfront about how much additional tasks cost than I used to be.

      In the past I would sometimes add things on (“sure, I’ll review your query letter”) because they weren’t that much more time-consuming and “deliver more than the client expects!” etc. But over the years I learned that people actually value my services much more if I charge for them. And I’m also able to schedule my time more effectively if I’m not letting a task become bigger than agreed to.

      Much of the time I find that people either expect to pay for the additional task or simply didn’t realize they were asking for something that wasn’t just a marginal “yeah, I can throw in the paperclip holding those papers together.”

    • #65187
      Adrienne Pond

      I lost a possible job this week because of specificity, I think. I found that interesting. A teaching colleague of mine referred a PhD student to me. She emailed me and said she had a 23-page paper and asked for an estimate. I wrote back a very friend note with very specific questions about it and how I couldn’t provide a clear estimate without knowing many of the answers and seeing something of her writing to determine my time. She never responded. Since I’ve spent so much time in the academic world, I was proud of myself for (I thought) asking the right questions, but instead it drove her away.
      I think people who are new to using an editor or have used casual editors are not aware of what goes in to assessing a manuscript.
      I felt kinda bad about it afterwards because I wanted the job. She is from Mexico and is working on important issues happening in Mexico that intrigued me. And I love working with second language learners.

      As a PhD student (no doubt with little money), she probably just wanted an “Of course! Send me your paper. It’ll take me two hours and I only charge $15/hour.”

      Has anyone else felt like they have scared clients off with specificity?

    • #65528
      Jennifer Lawler

      Adrienne, I don’t think that asking the questions necessarily drove her away. I think it’s entirely possible she wasn’t ready to commit or be serious about the work. A lot of times people are just kicking the tires or they think editing is like a vending machine; they just put some quarters in and out comes a polished manuscript. They don’t recognize the amount of work on their end. The questions probably made her realize that she would have to pony up (time and money) and wasn’t really ready for either. People coming right up to the edge of making an agreement but then scurrying back is very common. It’s a red flag most freelancers (not just editors) learn to look for so that they don’t waste a lot of time with potentials who keep being almost, but not quite, ready to do something.

      I do save some of my questions until after I’ve given a fee range because I don’t want to waste time with tire kickers. If someone has a hundred dollars to spend, there’s nothing I can do for them and it’s fine for us to know that in the first five minutes.

    • #65616
      Adrienne Pond

      Thanks, Jennifer. I think that is definitely my takeaway here.

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