The book industry is as ruthless as any other business. Some might say that it is more so, for exploiting its residual gentlepersonly image. Some publishers are particularly fond of engaging people to do editing and production work as though it were a civilised hobby or a finishing school, not a way to earn a living. Freelance editors should take at least as much care over the details of a commission as they would in any other part of the media.


Book editors are well advised to charge by the day, and if persuaded to negotiate a lump-sum fee must factor in a considerable number of days for crises and general faffing around. If it's not the author turning in the manuscript late, it's the publisher changing the schedule...


Packagers produce a book up to the ready-for-press stage, or even provide bound copies for a publisher to market under its own imprint. Packagers may have little flexibility in deadlines and payment. Publishers buying complete books from packagers should ensure that all contributors, such as freelance editors, have been properly paid - and if not, make the payment themselves. If a packager has not paid before the book is handed over, the freelances should approach the publisher immediately for payment.

Packagers may in turn want to further sub-contract as much of the work as possible to one person - for example having them do picture research and rights clearance as well as editing. Rates should of course reflect the range of skills demanded.


Once only seen in the domain of technical publications and journals, abstracting has probably become more common since the growth of the internet. Abstractors tend to work quickly, developing a skill for scanning a larger publication and pulling out the salient issues and creating a succinct abstract of the work. Technical editors would expect to be paid the same rate for abstracting as for editing - and should be charging at the top of the range for this work, given the time and effort it takes to acquire the complete specialist knowledge required to do the job well.


This is an area where publishers are wont to skimp. The now-widespread practice of distributing proof copies of technical books for review before the indexer has started work is their main tool for getting away with it (a reviewer of technical books moans).

Just because publishing software allows someone to click on random words in the text and generate something that looks like an index does not mean it is an index. Producing a really useful index requires as deep an understanding of the content of the book as do editing or abstracting; particularly to do it under the time pressures that publishers impose.

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Text © Mike Holderness & previous contributors; Moral rights asserted. The collection (database right) © National Union of Journalists. Comments to please. You may find the glossary helpful.

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