Thursday, September 17, 2009

Questions of Pricing

by Sandy Penny

Matt-Sandy-Andrea I received an email today asking about pricing for reading a manuscript that is ready for design. The designer has noted errors and inconsistencies and is unsure of how to proceed with the author:

[Good morning Sandy, I'm a graphic artist who will be formatting a client's book after her manuscript is complete.  She is not a fluent writer, her grammar usage is poor, she lacks flow and continuity and many areas are "lacking." She's a perfectionist on top of that who doesn't always recognize her weak areas, all of which results in a dangerous combination.

      How would you approach her to put the manuscript in professional order?  Is it acceptable for her to expect a quotation under these circumstances?  Would it be beneficial for you AND her to have an estimate with a very specific plan involving clear stages? In my view, there seems to be no way to accurately estimate the amount of time it will take to clean everything up.  And no way of knowing how many times we'll go 'round and 'round with an editor before she's satisfied. How do you address such projects, and what are the processes she should anticipate?]

First, I would compliment her on completing the manuscript and tell her I know she wants it to be successful, and let her know that I have noticed a few issues and ask if she’s interested in my input. If not, just do your job as a designer and let her learn the hard way. Also, it would be better for you, as the designer, just to introduce her to an editor and step out of that process. Let the editor communicate with her as a professional in that arena.

In the case of a new author, I usually charge a flat fee to read for content suggestions and for proofing. The flat fee is based on length of the book, content difficulty, fact checking requirements and other factors determined from a quick look at the manuscript. Something is added for difficult clients.

I give concessions for spiritual content as that is what I like to work with. For technical material, I charge an hourly rate as it can be grueling, and there is no way to predict how long it will take to get it right technically and to refine it.

On flat rate projects, I return all comments to the author (usually via email in a word doc) and charge 1/2 the flat fee for a second read after they make the changes. Then, for every time they want it read again the 1/2 rate applies. I recommend that they have it read at least three times by a professional and in between the first and second round give the manuscript to friends to read and make comments. The third time is just for final proofing after the designer is done and should not have rewriting still happening (but, of course, it usually does). The second time could be given to a different editor for new eyes, but that will cost more. Every time changes are made, a new read is recommended.

I ghost wrote a book, and after it left my hands, the publisher’s staff made changes. Apparently no one proofed the final copy after the changes were made, and over 25 errors were in the printed book. How terrible to be reading your book, being so proud of being published, and then to notice error after error. What a letdown.

For graphics, which I did for 20 years, you only make the changes a client asks for, and if there are additional changes due to their errors, you charge your hourly rate. You can try to be helpful if you see gross errors, but it's not a designer's job to proof a manuscript.

Specify up front what your parameters are. If I offered a flat rate for the design work, I specified what I included (usually one design and formatting and one round of changes) and noted that all other work and changes are charged at the usual hourly rate. The longer you work as a designer or an editor, the more you have an idea what amount of time it will take on projects. It’s a personal process of learning.

It is the final responsibility of the author to ensure a quality manuscript, especially if they're doing publish on demand. However, even traditional publishers, who employ editors, allow errors through these days, and the author has to take the responsibility for their product. If they don't, they're wasting their time and effort and perhaps money if they are self-publishing. If you launch a book with errors, you will lose the respect of some of your audience.

Some authors think their errors are actually part of the charm of their book, but for the general public, they would be wrong, unless they just hit a niche that is looking for an author. Or, if they're Mark Twain who wrote in dialect and told a great story.

For a specific quote, I'd have to see the preliminary manuscript or at least some chapters to price it. I would need to know the length of the finished manuscript, and what the author expects me to do for them (proofing, copy editing or structural evaluation).

Pricing is a trial and error process, and you have to decide what your time is worth and price accordingly. If you take on low-paying projects, you may not have time to do the high-paying quality project when it comes along. You have to market your services all the time and be selective and trust that the universe will continue to provide great opportunities if you do the best job possible.