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The awkward dilemma: when should an editor lower their work rates?

Updated: Oct 25, 2018

Being a copyeditor is mostly delightful. However, I despair when I encounter good authors who cannot afford editorial services.

Annie's messy desk on 29th September, 2018

Editors are not usually appreciated for their empathy, nor for their willingness to cut down their editing rates. Sometimes, though, it happens. While I understand the editors who stick to their fee structures, it's something that bothers me.

“I've seen many great scripts where the writers couldn't afford editing fees. I don't think we want to rule these writers out; talent and cash don't necessarily go hand in hand.” -- Antoine, Just Copyeditors

I live on my own--with a cat, but she never earns a bean--in a draughty old house I bought when my cash flow was markedly better. I struggle. Due to that, you'd imagine I operate with a never-wavering fee rigidity. But I don't.

It's due to my own financial struggles that I occasionally lower my rates, find ways for authors to settle by instalment, or even throw in a free edit or proofread.

I recall a few such occasions of authors coming to me with work that clearly needed much editing. While their scripts were full of errors, their wallets were devoid of cash. So, why is that a problem? Why can't I just apologise and send them on their way? Well, because many of these scripts are otherwise excellent.

The fact is, good writers can sometimes have poor grammar or spelling. There are many times I'm moved by a script so captivating I cannot put it down. The fact it's laced with errors doesn't detract from its compelling storyline.

I'm sure many people believe good writers have a good command of written English--by default. It's not always so. When I read many scripts, I'm sometimes seeing past many errors, looking into the soul of the work. So, when a piece stands out because it grips or moves me, the last thing I want to say is, 'Sorry, but I can't edit for you if you can't pay this fee.' I try to keep our fees low anyway by comparison with other professional editing services, but a few hundred pounds is still a total no-go for many. Okay, our services are not charitable and we don't want to become too much of a soft touch, but if you're an editor who truly loves good writing, it's a crying shame--and something of a let-down for the authors and readers--if we cannot make it happen for the writers brimming with raw talent but lacking in cash. I hope that by creating something of a crowdfunded approach--by offering our annual services at a flat rate--the authors who can pay these fees will also help, even just a little, those good authors who cross our path without resources.

Any surplus time--say, if someone doesn't use up their full word allowance--can be given to another writer who couldn't afford the fee. I guess what I'm saying is, if you have a good script that needs editing, please submit it anyway--even if you cannot afford the fees quoted.

If we like it, we'll try to reach some agreement. Our aim is simply to turn out great work in a way that benefits both authors and readers, while still allowing me and the other editors to live off more than noodles and tinned beans. Good writing shouldn't ever be dismissed due to poor economics.

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