Ways To Afford An Editor
So you as a publisher need an editor (no, really, you do). You’ve found someone to work with, figured out a rate you’re both comforable with, and now comes the question of when/how to pay. You want to avoid losing your shirt, and so does your editor. What’s a creator to do?
Well, you have a lot of choices.
What Inspired This Post
There’s a great-looking panel at PAX East that, for those going (and to you all I shake my tiny fist and curse your names individually), you should totally check out. I would love to wallflower this one.
Publish Your Own RPG – And Don’t Go Broke Doing It!
Saturday, 4:00pm – 5:00pm
Want to publish your own tabletop RPG? Publishing your own game used to mean shelling out thousands of dollars for a huge print run and art, and still risk never earning your money back. Not any more. Join an all-star team of self-publishers— D. Vincent Baker (“Dogs In The Vineyard,” “Apocalypse World”), Meguey Baker (“1001 Nights”, “Psi Run”), Emily Boss (“Three Games About The Human Heart”), Epidiah Ravachol (“Dread,” “Time And Temp”), Elizabeth Sampat (“Blowback”) and Shreyas Sampat (“Mist-Robed Gate”)— as they discuss all of the tips and tricks for publishing a great game without going broke. Want to know how Apocalypse World made money before it hit the printer? How Mist-Robed Gate was published for less than $50? These are the people to talk to! Q&A welcome!
Panelists include: Elizabeth Sampat [Owner, Two Scooters Press], Shreyas Sampat [Owner, Two Scooters Press], Vincent And Meguey Baker [Owner, lumpley games], Emily Boss [Owner, Black And Green Games], Epidiah Ravachol [Owner, Dig 1000 Holes Publishing]
People who know their shit, for sure, but few of them have a lot of experience hiring editors. A huge blank spot for such a topic. Consider this post me throwing my two cents on that.
What I’m Not Talking About
There are probably some expectations here on what I might talk about, given I’m one of the mouthy editors in RPG land. Since I initially felt out interest on Twitter and got varying responses, I have to say that I’m not going to talk about:
- The difference between copy editing and developmental editing (but I talked a bit about that in the past).
- Finding an editor
- Pricing — highlighted because people keep missing it.
What I am going to talk about is how to deal with paying an editor so you don’t fuck yourself over.
Scheduling Negotiated Payment
Let’s say that you and your editor have negotiated a rate. You’re working on a 50,000 word manuscript and you & your editor have agreed on $1000 for the work of two passes, on high-level/development/organization/rules-bullshit, and one deeper after the first revisions are done.
It’s worth saying this: Don’t underpay your editor. You know the adage: you get what you pay for. But, yeah, later post. The rest of this post assumes you’re not looking to fuck over someone willing to do you a service. (If you are, uh, fuck you? I really have no idea what to say there.)
Let’s go through a short list of when settled payments could happen:
- Up-front — when the editor starts the job
- At completion of work — when the editor has turned in final manuscript to publisher (who may or may not also be the writer)
- At publication of work — when publisher starts selling the book
- A term after publication of work, such as “90 days post-publication”
These can be mixed up, to break up payments. You and your editor could agree on 50% up-front, 50% 90 days post publication (which is what I’ve agreed to with some previous clients). Or 30% up-front, 30% at-completion, 40% at 90 days post. Whatever. I don’t know what companies tend to do, but I’m sure it also varies and can sometimes be negotiated.
The later an editor gets paid, the more risk he or she takes on that work done will not be compensated. But any amount paid to an editor before work is done is the publisher taking on risk that work paid for will not be done. Both sides are dealing with risk here. Recognize that, because that’ll help you determine what payment structure you’re willing to work with.
I like having some amount up-front because it commits my clients some to the idea of being serious. (That isn’t needed with all clients, but it still a good practice.) And it commits me to the work. It turns into a shared-risk relationship, which I prefer.
Alternative Method: Granting Stake
If you as an editor are comfortable with taking on even more risk, you could forgo the idea of a negotiated sum for a stake in the project. There’s one project on the horizon I’ve got a tentative agreement of this sort with, but in general I haven’t encountered this. I know a couple other folks who have (but generally those details aren’t made public, because people are weird and ivory tower about compensation).
Say you’re hiring a developmental editor to do a number on your manuscript, but you don’t have the money to pay. Assuming you find an editor who believes strongly in your project, you can offer a percentage of post-expense sales. Let’s say 30% of revenue after expenses (such as printing) is what you both negotiate. That could 30% of $5 or of $5000, no idea what the future holds. This is the riskiest for the editor, so if you editors take it on, know exactly what the fuck you’re signing up for:
- A chance that your work will bring in $0
- Being coupled with someone for the foreseeable future that you discover you don’t like working with in the long term.
- Having to act as someone else’s marketing force in order to see personal revenue.
- You may be dealing with a writer-publisher who actually lacks confidence in his or her work, so isn’t willing to part with a fixed sum.
- You have to trust a writer-publisher for a much longer period of time.
With all that, let’s talk terms
When to expect payment: To know this, know when you expect payment. For instance, if you sell through Indie Press Revolution, you (at time of writing) get paid once per fiscal quarter, payment 15 days after the quarter closes (1/15, 4/15, 7/15, 10/15). Publishers, give yourself enough time to process, but remember that there’s someone else on the other end — I suggest another 15 days after that, 30 if you really need the time.
If you get paid from multiple sources, like, say, also through OneBookShelf, just gather all the payment and keep to a single schedule for your editor.
In any case, this is something to be discussed between publisher and editor.
What you need to report: By doing this, you’ve given an ownership stake to your editor. That means you need to disclose your expenses and income, and not just blindly mail a check.
Capping Payment: No one wants to deal with things forever. You could put into your terms a point where payment and just ownership ends:
- At a certain amount, such as the $1000 above. (Though, editors, if you’re taking on more risk, demand a higher rate. The rate I ballparked is for “the work of editing and not also being a constant marketing force.”)
- After a certain time, such two years post-publication. (Or, to be clean about it, the quarter containing the two-year mark. So you don’t have to do split-quarter math.)
- Maybe both, the sooner of two terms. But don’t use that as a way to fuck the editor over. Use that as a way to allow a relationship that should naturally end (so new ones can begin with bandwidth freed up), well, naturally end.
Understand The Role of Marketing: If you’re doing this, editors, you’re being asked to also promote and sell the book. Publishers, this is a great way to gain allies to help sell your book. (Granted, these days if you’re an editor and you have social media, you’re probably doing that anyway. Still worth noting.)
The Advance: A way to help ease some of the risk is to pay the editor an up-front advance from percentage of sales. Say I have a term of 30%, two-years or $2000. I still might ask for, say, $300 up front. (Again, I like putting the publisher on-hook so we’re in a relationship of shared risk.) That means my advance, the $300, is part of the expenses to be paid before I see more money.
If in the first quarter the book grosses for the publisher $1000, and he has a $500 printing bill and a $300 layout bill to pay, that leaves $200…which covers $200 of my advance. Next quarter, the publisher grosses another $1000 (a steady seller!), then the other $100 is expensed, leaving $900. 30% of that is $270, which I should expect shortly. Yay! (And that’s six months in, or with 18 months or $1430 remaining — the $300 advance plus the $270 payout.)
Work For Trade
There isn’t a lot to talk about here (or is there?), but you could also trade services rather than trade monies. In doing that, ballpark the dollar values of your services so both sides feel they’re getting a fair treatment. Or do whatever’s comfortable on both ends.
Maybe this could mitigate costs rather than entirely replace. Pay $500 plus edit for a 100 page book for layout. Or whatever. It’s a possibilty, as long as the risks again are recognized.
There’s another risk here (that exists above as well): work you aren’t paying for with money cannot be used for the editor to pay for things like rent, bills, groceries, etc. So know that your for-trade work may end up getting bumped in favor of for-not-being-homeless work. This exists on both sides of the equation, not just the first person to do work.
This Could Also Work For Your Layout Artist
A comment from @EldritchFire pointed out this thought. Layout artists might want to comment, as well. But editors aren’t layout artists (or, if they are, that’s two services you’re hiring from one person. Treat accordingly.)
Does This Make Sense?
Seriously, does it? I could clarify or example-ify in comments.
I’m Probably Wrong About Some Shit
Hey, other people with experience: comment and tell me where I’m wrong or missing something. Please! The more info we have out there, the better.
 Which is the focus of a later article, not this one.
 And until I have a better comment than “know people or post on a forum and pray,” I don’t think I can blog about that.
 For those doing the math, that’s two cents a word. Yes, later post.
 I know there are arguments as to whether a book is “published” or not if it’s in PDF form three montns before print. My take, as an editor: I don’t give a fuck what identity politics you use. When you start distributing a thing you’re selling, it’s publication from my wallet’s point of view. Shakespeare gots to get paid, son.
 Says the guy who has taken on too much editing work and is treading water in that regard.
 Which creates the problem of the new guy being fucked over. Whee!