Monthly Archives: May, 2016

Perceived Value and The Book Editor

Once upon a time (1993), I was a middling Television Producer with a quartet of Emmys and I earned about $100,000 a year. Taking out this and that and adding in that and this, it comes to about $400 a day on a Freelance basis. If you add in the cost of medical insurance, the 7.5% increase in Social Security, the lack of Workman’s Comp,  the lack of disability insurance, the necessity of life insurance, and other sundries, a valid freelance equivalent would be $500 a day or, figuring a 10-hour day, $50 an hour.

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In the past 25 years of freelancing, I can’t remember making $50 an hour ONCE.

And so we reach the subject of Perceived Value or how the value of work diminishes the instant that the client isn’t actually doing it.


Take a dog-walker. He or she takes on a contract to walk a dog twice a day and charges $40 a day. At this point, the client usually sees that as outrageous–after all, it’s something he or she does for free. However, figure 2 hours per walk with travel, twice a day, a good cardio exercise for about a mile, and you’re under minimum wage. Let’s not even discuss taxes, bonding insurance needed to even enter a client’s house, and business insurance (if you’re smart) for when that puppy bites someone, and you’re practically in debt.

Much more telling is the reaction to the payment on both sides”

  • The client sees a weekly charge of an outrageous $250 and a monstrous monthly charge of $1000. Time to fire this thief and hire the guy walking 10 dogs at once looking like a Chinese prison camp.

  • On the receiving end, the walker does a good half-day of work and gets less than the illegal immigrant who cleans the client’s house or the mechanic who fixes the Mercedes. Remove the third that goes to taxes,  benefits, and insurance and Greeting at Walmart begins to look good.

The Perception of Value is the key. The client is, for the sake of argument, making $300 an hour as a PR flack which is why they can’t walk their own damn dog. They see that remuneration as perfectly reasonable and, probably, insufficient when they compare it to others in the company. In any case, their compensation goes directly into a bank and never seems enough to meet their reasonable costs of living. It’s invisible and theoretical.

However, the cost of Fluffy’s care consists of extremely real green paper that has to come out of their wallet and it simply seems far too high. Highway Robbery! Where does this scruffy person come off charging such an unbelievable fee. Isn’t the warmth and companionship of the aforesaid Fluffy enough?

Well, no, it isn’t.
Which brings me to book editing.

The Editorial Freelancers Association ( puts out a range of prices for various types of editing;  I generally do “developmental editing” which translates as really having to dig in and fix a book. Sometimes, it means re-writing or ghost-writing. It’s listed at $30 to $50 an hour.

Now let’s take an imaginary PR executive . They’ve written the next “American Psycho,” it’s a brilliant 100,000-words, and he or she asks what it will cost to brush it up. For one reason or another, ranging from a difficulty with dialog to complete illiteracy, it never needs a “brush-up,” it requires real effort.

I know my limits and, while I can only write 2,500 words a day on my own books, I can generally grind out 5,000 words a day on the first pass through someone else’s. (I’ve been told that that’s Stephen King speed if far from Stephen King quality.)

So, it just takes a bit of simple math. A 100,000 page manuscript is going to take 20 full 10 hour days. (I usually add up half-days to full days and I can’t work 7 days a week so it would take a month.)

Excuse me for being over-weening, but I would like to make a reasonable fraction of the money I made 25 years ago and that means $400 a day (let’s not worry about inflation and the full third that gets sent to Uncle Sam.)

20 days at $400 = $8000. 

At this point, Perceived Value hits.

Eight Thousand Dollars?!

That would be a week in Europe or new deck on the house! They’ll just find another Editor. Sadly, because of the economy of the publishing industry, there will always be an Editor willing to undercut the bid.

Remember how much our putative Author is making. In one hour, they clear what it takes the editor 8 hours to earn, add in the one-third in hidden benefits and you get about an hour of their time to an Editor’s 10-hour day.

Any Editor knows that EVERY book needs editing and 5,000 words a day is a real bitch so it’s inevitable that there will be a couple of pro bono days. The fact that the book is going to need a second edit and a proof is kept a secret as is the cost of decent art on a front-and-back cover and laying out the type on InDesign.


The problem is the societal perception of value between a PR executive, an attorney, an accountant, etc, versus a freelance word-wrangler. Sure, $12,000 a week is the appropriate market value of a junior executive or a first year attorney at a low-rent law firm.

Is $2000 a week really unreasonable for an Editor good enough to bother hiring?

That’s a 6 to 1 ratio!

You DO get what you pay for.

The Conundrum for Editors:

  • Do you hold to a living wage and lose every client?
  • Do you buckle under and take half plus a meaningless promise of fuiure revenues?
  • Do you just say the hell with it and go back to your own books?

Note that I have been more than fair in my examples–one client without a thought suggested seriously that a single day of his time was worth 100 days of mine. (I may still take that job, I like the guy. What can I say?)

What really hurts is the unanimous acceptance of Perceived Value. After 40 yeas in television and 25 as a writer, I no longer suggest to college students that they even consider Journalism. Banking, Business Administration, Law: those are the fields where the same amount of effort will bring in a multiple of the remuneration given to others.

Those guys are simply in a higher gear.


Doing Something I Swore I’d Never Do

About the first thing a writer learns, after the tiny amount of money there really can be made by writing, is to never, ever, ever, respond to comments and reviews. The fact is, I simply can’t help but point this one out.

I have edited out the name and the online book store where this appeared, but I do hope that someone who knows this person recognizes the writing style (Idiotic) and has a nice long chat with him and or her.

OK, This is a review on my book Courier, which is a historical thriller about a motorcycle courier in 1972 who finds a secret he shouldn’t have found and people try to kill him. (I am still annoyed that events in MY lifetime are now “historical” but I’m getting used to it.)  It also didn’t touch on the number one criticism of the book, which is the amount of time the protagonist spends on a motorcycle. Do people complain about the amount of time a horse appears in a Western?
Never mind, Press On.
The reviewer did give me a three-star rating, which I appreciate. I’m sorry I can’t reciprocate because apparently the reviewer lives on Mars.
It’s set in a time (1972) which is kind of new but doesn’t reflect the impact of computers or cell phones. Ok, not so bad and I did it with a book of my own. But it’s still a bit awkward.
Well, they didn’t have cell phones in 1972 (the first was tested in 1974) and there were computers–enormous mainframes. Why write a book about 1972 which isn’t about 1972?
One of the villains is this aged woman who has the ability to materialize right behind someone who is standing at high alert with numerous people surrounding him. It’s just not credible, plus, she should have been dealt with properly earlier and wasn’t.
This is actually a reasonable criticism which I can only answer by saying that, being Korean, she was wearing very light embroidered slippers and often showed up right after a shotgun had been fired. I’m still wondering what “dealing with her properly ” would entail. 
But my major issue has to do with the main characters habit of flipping his Zippo lighter down his pants to open it and then up them to spark the wheel and light it. I bet he did that, by description, at least thirty times in the book. As a nonsmoker, I find it unpleasant enough that pretty much everybody smokes in this book, but this stupid “trick” became as unwelcome as a turd in the punch bowl after the third or fourth time and then entered the realm of the hyperannoying.
57e8349ab968c7497a165b8915e665dcOK, first, everyone in 1972 smoked everywhere all the time. I used to put away 3 packs a day of Winston’s on a good day and as many as 7 packs when it was stressful. Please note that I haven’t smoked in 30 years and would not recommend it to young people because quitting is Boring. EVERYONE in Vietnam smoke just as everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan smoked. War is stressful
Second, the Zippo trick, which I used to be pretty good at, is an essential part of the main character’s personality. The fact that the critic finds it “unpleasant” that everyone smoked in 1972 doesn’t  change the reality of 1972. I absolutely loved smoking back then.  However, I’m sure he or she has a clever way to eliminate smoking as well–probably time-travel, which always works so well in a historical novel. 
Just have the guy learn a few more tricks.
OK, I guess he could have meant Rick Putnam, the courier. I originally thought he meant that I should learn new tricks. Old dogs, you know.
For those of you who now want to learn the Zippo trick…
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