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.
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 (www.the-EFA.org) 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.