The Editing Life Laid Bare: A Brutal Look at the Statistics

The Editing Desk

This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for weeks now, but true to The Editing Life, I simply haven’t been able to find the time. Or the brain cells, for that matter. But today, I’m finally going to do it. I’m going to show you exactly what it looks like to be an editor, not with words, which would perhaps be the obvious choice, but with numbers. Why numbers? Well, nothing puts things into perspective quite like seeing the break-down of exactly what goes into something. Or so I’ve heard.

Now, I’ll be the first to claim that numbers are not my friend, so these “statistics” I’m about to lay down are only about as accurate as my math. And sometimes, that’s not terribly accurate at all. But even though it’s not going to be an exact science, it should still give you a snapshot of what my life as an editor truly looks like. The key words there are “snapshot” and “my,” meaning that this is in no way a comprehensive look at all the various things I work on as an editor, nor is it all inclusive for every editor. Others will be different. But based on experiences I’ve heard recounted from fellow editor friends, this is pretty close to what it looks like more often than not.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

How many of you have heard us (us = editors) say that we work on multiple projects at once? Most, if not all, right? It’s a pretty common fact. But what does “multiple” truly mean? Well, cast your eyes over that photo at the top of the post. That’s my actual desk. No comments on the content/mess, please. 😉

See the lines of pink around the edges? Those are post-it notes. And yes, I realize it looks like an exercise in insanity, but trust me, it’s actually a very efficient method. Now, count them. How many did you get? Here’s the thing, each one of those post-its represents a project in various stages of completion. Not the stages, the project. I purposely kept it distant so you can’t see the names, but yeah, that’s what it means when editors say they’re working on multiple projects at once. Daunting, isn’t it?

On top of constantly being buried up to our eyeballs in work, we’re also generally underpaid. I’ve featured an article on this before, written by the lovely Cait Spivey, which can be found here. But let’s actually turn the microscope on it and dissect what that means in terms of my life.

On average, a manuscript clocks in somewhere around 75,000 words. Some will be more, some less, but that’s a good solid representative of a standard novel. Every editor has a different way they figure out what to charge. Common methods are by page, by hour, or by word. If you’ve looked at my freelance editing page, you know I charge by the word. So a full edit on that 75,000 word manuscript runs $1500. Ouch, right? That’s a hard number to stomach for most authors, and I get it. It seems really expensive. Until you break it down to see what you’re actually paying me for.

75,000 words is roughly 300 pages (according to the age-old school-paper formula of 250 words = a page). Most editors I know that are worth their salt average a pace of about 6-7 pages an hour for line edits. (I’ll cover why it takes this long in a future post.) So 300 pages equates 50 hours of work. If we take that $1500 fee from above and divide it by 50 hours, you get about $30 an hour. That seems like good money, doesn’t it? And in fact, that’s considered average for a professional freelance editor according to the Freelance Editor’s Association.

But we’re not done yet.

That 50 hours is solely what I spend during one round of line edits. There are things that happen before and after that stage. Remember, I said that $1500 rate was for a full edit, which consists of structural edits, line edits, and proofreading. So let’s factor in those things.

Structural editing is the process of reading a manuscript, analyzing it, and then diagnosing and finding solutions to any problems that are weakening the overall story. Tell me, does that sound like an especially fast process to you? It shouldn’t. If an editor is actually qualified and trained to do this (and not all of them are), it looks like this: reading — not just speed-reading, but really truly reading and seeing every letter and space and punctuation mark on the page — and analyzing 300 pages takes me approximately 2-3 full days, so, at 8 hours per day, that’s 24 hours of reading time, give or take. Figuring out what, exactly, is affecting the manuscript and how to deal with it will vary, but let’s say another 3-ish hours is spent on the mental gymnastics of curing an ailing story, and then another 2-3 are spent compiling all my notes and thoughts into an edit letter explaining all that to the author. These are super rough, ball-parky type figures because I don’t think I’ve ever truly tracked this part of the process. Anyway, when it’s all said and done, that’s about 30 hours invested into just the structural edits. And that’s without any follow-up discussion or brainstorming with the author, things that often occur after I hand them the aforementioned edit letter.

Proofreading is the last step and is probably the fastest portion of the process for me. Most projects, I can average 10-15 pages per hour. So if the manuscript is in good condition, that’s only about 20 more hours of work. However, that’s for a base proofread. If I have to do an editorial proofread (which is somewhere between a line edit and a proofread) the pace drops dramatically.

So, where are we at with our project overall? We have 30 hours for structural edits, 50 hours for line edits, and 20 for proofreading. That’s 100 hours of effort from start to finish, bare minimum. Suddenly, that $1500 flat fee isn’t looking so grand, is it? That’s only $15 an hour. Minimum wage in many larger cities.

I should also point out that most projects take at least two rounds of line edits to truly shine, which, if you’re lucky, is only an additional 30 hours of labor, and there are probably easily 20 hours of time invested in various discussions and emails and hand-holding with the author. Making the total time expended on any full project easily 150 hours. Honest to God. What does that make my hourly wage? $10 an hour. You can flip burgers in some states for more than that.

Now, maybe that doesn’t seem so bad to you. $10 an hour is a livable wage, barely. Until you realize this: normal people work 40 hours a week. Even doctors and lawyers (who make a hell of a lot more money than editors) will only clock 70-80. So how many projects do you think we can realistically fit into a month? The answer is one. From start to finish, with no other obligations, family or social life, etc. an editor can comfortably complete one project in a month’s time. But we don’t live in a perfect world, do we? And we rarely get the luxury of only working on that one project and nothing else. (Photo of project management via post-it being exhibit A.) We also don’t get paid everything up front. So, if we only schedule that one project in a month, because 150 hours equals 3.75 weeks of normal human work-time, that’s a grand income of $750. For the month. I’ll let you do that math. Is that a living wage in your book? Because that barely covers my car payment.

Are you completely depressed now? Because I am. But the point of this post was not to whine, or complain, or guilt-trip anyone. I simply wanted to show you exactly what life as an editor looks like. It’s not sitting around and reading all day. It’s arduous, mentally-taxing, long hours for very little pay and often even less appreciation. It’s not a life that will lead to riches, or fame, or maybe even a full-time income. Which begs the question, why would anyone do it?

The answer is easy — love. Editors truly love what they do. But the sad truth is that editors also have one of the highest burn-out rates of any career. The average life-span of an editor is only 2 years, and now you see why. In an industry that refuses to pay a living wage (freelance editors who charge less than $500 for a full edit and indie presses that offer $350 for two rounds of full edits, I’m looking at you), we’re required to go to super-human levels in order to stay afloat. We take on burdens that would make Atlas tired, and we do it all for you guys, the authors. Because we truly want to help you produce fantastic, beautiful pieces of art. We’d just kind of like not to starve while doing it.

So, there you have it. That’s what the editing life looks like in all it’s stress-filled, brutal glory. I hope it’s been enlightening and that you take away three key things:

1. If you’re looking to hire an editor, please consider what their rate actually means. As in every industry, you get what you pay for.

2. If you’re already working with an editor, try to remember that they may have a desk covered in post-its too, and that your project is not the only one on their plate.

3. If you are an editor, set your rates appropriately. When you charge less than $500, you harm not just yourself, but the rest of the industry. You deserve to eat. You deserve to have a roof over your head.

That is all. Thanks for reading! 🙂

 

Book Review Wednesday: The Ties Eternal by Cait Spivey

Despite the fact that this four-day work week has left me nothing if not continually confused about what day it is and stressed about being a full day behind (three-day weekends are awesome, aren’t they? Until you have to start your week on Tues . . . then, not so awesome), I did manage to meet the Wednesday deadline for the final installment in my review series for Cait Spivey’s Web novellas. So let’s get to it, shall we?

The Ties Eternal

by Cait Spivey

The Ties Eternal by Cait Spivey

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Seventeen-year-old Miranda Wolford was born Deaf, though it took her years to realize it. She thought everyone could hear the cacophony of voices that surrounded her—but those voices belong to the dead, and they are the only things Miranda can hear.

When a ghost leads Miranda to a missing child and his murderer, she tries to enlist the police; but between the communication barrier and the insane story, she can’t make them understand.

The murderer is on the loose. To stop them, Miranda will have to take matters into her own hands.

The Ties Eternal is the third Web novella, and unlike the first two, it does not feature the Fletcher siblings at all. Instead, it introduces us to Miranda Wolford, a young Latina who was born Deaf but has the intriguing ability to see and communicate with the dead. We’re not talking Ghost Whisperer style, either. No, Miranda sees the dead in all their gruesome glory and is surrounded by their cries for her help. One in particular becomes more incessant than the others, and Miranda soon discovers that hearing the dead isn’t the only ability she possesses.

This was definitely my favorite of the series, for two very distinct reasons. The first is how beautifully written Miranda is. Spivey has masterfully captured what it would be like to live in a world you can’t hear, but without making the story solely about Miranda’s Deafness. Instead, it’s simply part of her identity, and we are given a glimpse into everyday, subtle things, like the worry over injury to her hands, which would affect her ability to sign, her frustration when her cousin resorts to words Miranda can’t hear in order to yell at her, her isolation when surrounded by a room full of boisterous family that isn’t translating anything into sign language. All of these things held the essence of truth and painted an eye-opening picture for those of us who otherwise have no way to understand. That’s always been the brilliance of Spivey’s writing, to me, and this novella showcases that phenomenally.

The second thing that really elevated this installment above the others was the opportunity to see how events overlap. I can’t reveal much without giving away spoilers, but there is definite cross-over between this novella and certain scenes in both of the previous ones. The resulting effect is impressive realism. These characters feel real; the world they live in feels real. Lives intersect all the time without those involved realizing, and Spivey mimics that perfectly.

We still aren’t given resolution in the traditional sense, and none of the questions from the previous installments are answered in this one, but that’s okay. Because somehow, Spivey manages to continually build on these origin stories, moving us ever closer to a fully realized, highly intricate world. I did find this one to be the most satisfying in terms of overall plot arc, but Miranda’s story is clearly just getting started. I can’t wait to see where the series goes from here.

Next up will be the forthcoming fourth novella, From This Calligraphy, and from there, I’ve heard rumor there will be novels. For those who don’t know, Cait has recruited me for the fourth installment, so I obviously won’t be reviewing that one. But I hope you’ve all enjoyed these reviews and that you have or will be checking the series out for yourself. I highly recommend it! And not just because I’m assisting with the last one. 😉

Book Review Wednesday: A Single Thread by Cait Spivey

I know what you’re thinking: It’s not Wednesday, it’s Friday. Believe me, I know. But I decided against changing the title of this post because a) it was supposed to go up on Wednesday, hence the “Book Review Wednesday” portion in the title, and b) it perfectly reflects the way my week has gone, which can be summed up like so: “WTF day is it? You’re kidding! Where did this week go, OMG.” Basically, this week made it a mission to subvert every single schedule and plan I had, to the point that I seriously don’t know what day it is. It’s quite disconcerting. I almost feel like I must have been kidnapped by a TARDIS in the night and dropped off before I could see all the awesome.

Anyway, today’s post is, much like myself, a few day’s off track and will be replacing whatever it is I would have written for today. (In an effort to somehow correct the flat tire of time I have occurring, I’m just going to bypass this week’s Friday post. You’ll get editing/writing/whatever insights next week, promise. 😉 ) So, now that I’ve set the story straight on why I’m posting this two days late, on to the review!

A Single Thread

By Cait Spivey

A Single Thread by Cait Spivey

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

It’s been two weeks since Morgan Fletcher’s little sister, Erin, disappeared before his eyes in a flurry of spidersilk and blood. Probability says she’s dead; but when Erin comes to him in a dream, Morgan’s eyes are opened to a level of reality where probability doesn’t mean jack. His sister sees the web of time, and she’s got news for him: trouble is coming.

A cryptic riddle and flashing images of the future are all Morgan has to go on in order to save a mystery boy from a gruesome death. That’s if he even believes what’s happened to Erin. Is her spider-whisperer persona for real, or has his grief at losing her caused him to totally crack?

With a life at stake, Morgan isn’t taking any chances. Madness or no madness, he has to solve Erin’s riddle before it’s too late.

 A Single Thread picks up right after I See the Web, answering some of the questions I was left with at the end of first installment within the first few chapters. Some, but not all. Still, I was excited by the resolution of things like why no one noticed the climatic moment at the end of the first book (they did, and the aftermath of that is explained in lots of satisfactory detail), what’s up with the neck-tingling danger thing (it’s not completely explained, but enough that I felt I had a better understanding of what it means and how it works), and even what’s next for Erin and Dawn.

But this book doesn’t center on the protagonist from the first one; instead, she’s more of a catalyst for Morgan’s story, sending her brother on a mission with an ominous riddle and final warning that speaks loads to the mystery about to unfold:

“Dance for the boy’s life. Dance for yours.”

That was perhaps my favorite line from the book, though the entire thing is riddled with Spivey’s usual brilliance. There were only two aspects that left me feeling a bit torn about the story, warranting the loss of the fifth star I desperately wanted to give it. On the one hand, I loved many of the elements more than the first — the plot arc, Morgan’s character, the way it further fleshed out the world. But on the other, there were a few things I struggled with.

While I liked Morgan as a character and felt Spivey showcased his emotional turmoil well, I did feel like she struggled with maintaining his voice more than I’ve seen her do in other works. There are still glittering gems of wit that leap off the page, but there are also moments where the character voice seemed to vacillate. Not a lot, but some.

The other thing I struggled with were the intuitive connections the characters made. In some ways, I wish this story had been longer and given more space to breathe, as there were several times where the characters made leaps in logic that didn’t feel believable, like they had inside knowledge they shouldn’t have had. I wanted a little more resistance to their suddenly being thrust into a supernatural world no one was aware of and for the unraveling of the riddle to be a little harder for the characters to figure out.

That said, there were a lot of things I loved more than the first installment in the series. My favorite element is the way Spivey’s work builds on its fellow stories, interconnecting and weaving together in ways that definitely enrich not only the world-building, but the reading experience as well. Similar to the first, there’s a distinct feeling that this is an origin story, and it can definitely be read alone, but I recommend reading the series in order. The Easter eggs Spivey has hidden can only be truly appreciated against the backdrop of the entire series.

**Content Note: Contains a lot of swearing and mild violence.**

Featured From the Archives: My Average Day as an Editor (in GIFs)

As you read this, I may or may not be buried neck-deep in projects for the Day Job of Doom and daydreaming of a huge shot of Fireball Whisky later tonight. But, since I have never missed posting something for your entertainment, I managed to find a few moments to schedule this post. You’ll have to forgive the archive-diving — again. But given the week I’ve had, and the overwhelming response to my giveaway question requesting more editing/publishing insights, this one is definitely appropriate. And everyone loves GIFs, right? So, without further ado, your encore performance of . . .

My Average Day as an Editor (in GIFs)

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 4/18/14

There have been a lot of GIF posts about what the publishing or writing process is like, but I’ve never seen one for what it’s like on the other side of the fence. Until now. This week, I’m breaking the unspoken rule that writers are never allowed behind the publishing curtain and illustrating what my average day as an editor looks like. And, because I had a request for a post with GIFs, I’m going to use everyone’s favorite sarcastic medium (which means that any of you reading this via an email/mobile device may have to click through to the actual site to see them). Before we dive in, I do want to say that this is solely what my average day looks like — other editors will be slightly different. The moral of this story, though, is that editors need cheerleaders too. You’ll understand by the time we get to the end. Don’t worry. 😉

My Average Day as an Editor

The alarm goes off at 6:15 am and I’m all like:

 

 

and . . .

 

Okay, maybe that’s a lie. It’s actually a lot more like this:

 

bill-murray-beating-alarm-clock

 

But anyway, I’m up. I’m ready for the day. I’ve got all the things I need to do circling through my head, and I’m ready to tackle them all. Until . . .

 

louie

 

I remember that I have to go to work. Not editing work — work work. Because, you know, editing doesn’t pay as well as everyone thinks, and I still have to eat.

So, for the next eight hours, I go punch the clock at the dreaded day job and secretly think to myself . . .

idiots

 

while outwardly doing this . . .

 

katy-nod-dance

 

Meanwhile, my inbox is filling up. By the time I actually get to start my day as an editor, I have 64 new emails (that’s a light day). Of those, approximately 1/3 will be submissions, 1/3 will be about the various tasks I assist with at REUTS, and some days, as many as 1/3 are authors freaking out over something. Those days, I tend to open my inbox and immediately think . . .

rudd-sucks

See, contrary to popular belief, editors work on a lot of projects at once. And writers (yes, you) are a high maintenance bunch, prone to neurotic freak-outs and requiring constant reassurance.

cat

That’s okay, though. We (as editors) understand, and we love you guys. Really, we do. But some days, you make us do this . . .

too-much

 

Anyway, I’m getting off topic. On those days where my inbox is full of people freaking out, I spend the next several hours holding their hands and providing reassurance. (See, the take-away here, writers, is that every time you send one of those freak-out emails, the person on the other side loses valuable time they could have spent actually working on your project.)

**Note, I do not consider status requests and legitimate questions freak-out emails. Those are always welcomed and definitely allowed. 😉 **

By the time that’s done, it’s dinner time. But, before then, I’ll read through a couple of the submissions, which looks something like this:

 

umno

Or . . .

James-Earl-Jones-Totes-McGotes2

Or sometimes even . . .

jon-fan

FattyGenius

 

And occasionally this (if I’m the odd man out on the voting) . . .

not_having_it

Then it’s dinner time, and I step away from the computer for the first time all day.

By the time I get back, there’s at least one more freak-out email waiting not-so-patiently for me.

wut

 

frustrated

So, I deal with that one too (because I don’t like to leave anyone with more anxiety on their plate than necessary) and then finally, FINALLY, I get to edit. You know, that thing everyone thinks editors spend their days doing, but that we actually only get a few hours with. It’s a victorious moment when I finally get to this part of the day. Like . . .

fsa

 

Then, after investing several more solid hours into the thing I enjoy most, this happens . . .

tired

So I . . .

give-up

and . . .

exhausted

and the whole thing starts over.

And there you have it, my average day as an editor. Sounds like fun, right?

thumbs-up-matt-leblanc

The point of this (besides getting to have way too much fun with GIFs) is to show you just how hectic an editor’s life can be. We’re not robots who sit and do nothing but edit 24/7. We’re people, with lives and jobs, families, and human needs. So cut your editor some slack if they don’t get back to you immediately, or if it’s taking longer than you expected to edit your manuscript. We’re not purposely doing these things to hurt you. Editing is a time intensive job, and to do it right, you have to invest that time. The argument I always tell myself when stress threatens to overwhelm me, or someone’s pushing me to meet deadlines that aren’t possible without giving up things like sleeping and eating, is this — would you rather it be done right? Or be done fast? It’s not a perfect world, and those two can’t coexist. Anyone who claims otherwise is lying. Trust me.

**A big thanks to www.reactiongifs.com for supplying all the GIFtastic fun. Be sure to check them out! Their database is phenomenal. :)**

Book Review Wednesday: I See the Web by Cait Spivey

As promised in the author spotlight I did a couple Fridays back, I’m resurrecting the book review portion of this blog — a section that I’ve been woefully lax in maintaining. And since Friday is generally kept for writing/editing advice or whatever other shenanigans I decide to write about, the book reviews will keep their designated day of Wednesday. Why does this matter? I suppose it doesn’t; I just wanted to give you a quick reminder of how I divide the content so you can know which day to tune in. With that done and out of the way, on to the book review!

I See the Web

By Cait Spivey

I See the Web by Cait Spivey

 

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Seventeen-year-old Erin has a lot to look forward to, even if it suddenly seems like everywhere she turns there’s a spider staring at her. She’s finally out to her friends and family, surprising exactly no one. When Dawn, the love of her tender teenage dreams, corners her in the library, a whole new world opens up to Erin. From here on out, it’s all make-out sessions with her beautiful girlfriend in rooms stacked high with books.
Until the spiders start whispering.

Turns out the spiders aren’t just stalking her for kicks. They need her to be their voice, their vessel, whatever that means. But their timing is crap, because there’s no way Erin is giving up her human life just when things are starting to get amazing. Too bad the spiders just won’t quit. Like it or not, Erin will have to choose, and it won’t be nearly as easy as she thinks.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I loathe spiders. Not quite to the scream-bloody-murder-every-time-I-see-one level, but I definitely qualify for arachnophobia. So when I first heard about this novella, I had distinct misgivings over the very obvious inclusion of my eight-legged enemies.

Still, having read some of Spivey’s other work, I really wanted to give it a try, especially since it’s the first in a series I’ve rapidly come to expect great things from. So I braced myself for the worst and dove in, opening the file to see this as the first line:

“No one likes spiders.”

The MC, Erin, goes on to express all the things I’ve often thought about the multi-legged abominations, instantly putting me at ease and creating a bond that held throughout the story. This is the thing I love most about Spivey’s writing — her ability to craft rich, realistic characters that are entirely believable.

Erin’s voice is modern, but perfectly crafted to emulate that of a seventeen-year-old, and her internal struggle as she wrestles with understanding her sexuality and identity resonate without overpowering the plot. We watch as Erin discovers the innocence of first love, all while Spivey weaves a web of foreshadowing around it.

This novella serves as an origin story for what is clearly a much more complicated mythology/universe, and I was left with a lot of unanswered questions. What exactly is The Web? Why can the people on this street sense danger and how does that work? Why doesn’t anyone notice the drama on Dawn’s front lawn, or the aftermath that follows? I can’t list them all without giving away some significant spoilers (which is also why I haven’t said much about the plot itself), but suffice it to say that this is not a story you want to read if you’re looking for a self-contained tale with a satisfying, close-ended resolution. Instead, it’s an introduction to what is definitely a unique and intriguing new concept. The glimpses we were given into the mythos behind the spiders is enough to convince me that I’ve never seen anything quite like this. It’s refreshing and original, and I’m definitely looking forward to the return of Erin and Dawn later in the series.

And for all my fellow arachnophobes out there, the spiders really aren’t that bad. Spivey does a fantastic job of creating an atmosphere that is both terrifying and creepy without triggering that horrifying sensation of spiders crawling on your skin.

I highly recommend this to people looking for a short afternoon read or those looking to be introduced to a promising new author.

Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads