There is a certain rise in awareness of the difficulty in making a living writing, or in the publishing industry in general. Recently I began to take a survey of editors, letting them report what they are really earning, and later this week, I will tally the results. If you want to take the survey it is here.

The article with the results will be posted on a number of websites. In fact, there will be a number of articles discussing different aspects of the already fascinating results.

Why did I start this process? As many of you know, I have worked for a couple of different small presses as an editor and have also done private editing as well. Some of the work I did for small presses was based on royalties in addition to a small flat fee.

The Contracts were Voluntary

In that capacity I have edited almost 40 novels. Several more I edited privately for clients who were self-publishing or submitting to agents. I will be sharing my income statistics in detail and the results of the survey in conjunction with them, but those earnings are the result of contracts we signed willingly. We entered into royalty contracts knowing full well the risk that they would never pay out fully for the time and effort we invested in them.

Income Dependent on the Work of Others

I am publishing this survey for a variety of reasons. The primary one is that I no longer do edits for anyone on a royalty basis. The reason will become clear once I reveal the income findings. The second is to shed some light on a part of the publishing industry that does not get a lot of press, but gets a lot of criticism.

If you complain about the editing on a self-published book or one produced by a publisher, you have to look at not just the author, but the editor, publisher, and their editing process. One of the things you have to consider is how much they are paying an editor for their services and if that editor is a professional or not. The problems with royalty paid editors are many. Here are a few.

The Editor’s income is affected by author and publisher marketing, something they cannot control. While good editing contributes to better book sales, if the publisher and the author do not market the book effectively so it does not sell, not only does it not earn out for the publisher but the editor never really gets paid for the work that he or she did.

This certainly affects their motivation to spend extra time and effort on the next project. Since the editor is not being paid what he is worth, they have to turn to other sources for income. This means they have less concentrated time to spend on book editing, resulting in a drop in quality.

An editor who is a professional should be paid a living wage, and if the author is not selling, and the publisher cannot pay the editor because of that, they lose professionals in favor of hobbyists or less qualified candidates, resulting in poorer overall edits.

Many authors who publish with small presses are too lazy or ignorant to market effectively. Now before I get the hate mail, we all go through down marketing periods (I am in one right now, for a variety of reasons) and there are authors who are an exception to the rule.

Generally if they do not invest in their work, they don’t feel compelled to try to make that investment back.

The issue here is that not only does the publisher never make their investment back, but neither does the editor. No one is satisfied with what they are getting paid, and the author often then complains about the small royalties they receive, never thinking about what the publisher and editor have both invested in their work.

The editor has invested time and expertise. The publisher has purchased covers, paid editors (even if it is a small fee plus royalties), a cover designer, formatter, and simple overhead expenses. It is no wonder so many small presses go under. If they pay editors, cover designers, and authors fairly, there is nothing left for profit and growth if they are not losing money.

A cover designer gets a set fee. Some are more expensive than others. I know, because I have also self-published and purchased covers from them. But I would never pay the cover designer a small fee and then offer them a royalty, and it is unlikely they would take such a gamble.

Why then do we expect editors to do the same? Are their skills less valuable, their expertise not as hard-earned as that of the artist? No. This is a practice that needs to stop.

Professional editors do not work cheaply for long. Sometimes an editor will take a risk, and bet that better authors who promote their work more, a best seller, or even just a solid mid-lister with good sales will come along, and their efforts will pay off.

But they can only do so for a short period. Eventually the need for money to buy groceries and survive outweighs the desire to help others and a long-term gamble that is not paying off.

The results of the survey and my own income numbers will reveal that editors working for small presses are often not even making minimum wage, and that often books never even come close to earning out the time and effort the editor has invested.

Want to be a bigger part of this survey? Email me here with your numbers or numbers from your small press: anything you want to share. Editors are underpaid, and the unseen heroes of the industry. Them being taken advantage of has to stop.