Recently, I read an (old; 2016) article posted on Twitter called Five reasons to choose a large organisation for all your editing needs and…I didn’t agree with anything it had to say.
So, here’s a rejoinder. Not to the company that posted it (whose claims about their own practices I’m in no position to dispute) but to the broader claims made in the piece and implied by its premise.
Large organisations are slow. More staff = more meetings, more (planned and unplanned) absences and worst of all, more bureaucracy. Go with small companies or sole traders and you’ll work with proud, dynamic and enthusiastic individuals eager to show you what they can do – with the power to make all their own decisions.
- Large editing companies who turn work over to a network of freelancers are middlemen: every such company I’ve ever been approached by pays (at minimum) 30 per cent below market rate, and often much less. I’ve even been asked to work on manuscripts by firms handling editing for well-known publishers for fees equating to just half of the living wage. I do get it; things are tough all over. But if you pay a small business or freelancer directly, 100 per cent of the fee goes to the people doing the hard work.
- Because these companies tend to pay poorly, they often attract less experienced editors. It’s really hard to get started as a small business, so many newbies will accept unsustainably low rates just to gain a bit of experience, or stay in the game. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that, but without the ability to personally assess your editor’s credentials and suitability you’re trusting a large company not to hook you up with someone ill-equipped to produce the results you deserve.
- Perhaps you’re swayed by the rather romantic notion of large companies taking care of their freelance networks, offering them training, support and advice to help them grow as professionals and, ultimately, serve you better.
- Back on Planet Earth, members of freelance databases are not employees, and don’t have access to the entitlements of employees. Say you work in an office: you’re no doubt familiar with visits from the electrician, the building maintenance team and the people who deliver cleaning supplies. But you’ve probably never seen them in one of your training courses, on a staff away-day, or even at the Christmas party. Sure, some large companies may offer certain benefits to their networks. But access to them is likely extremely limited, while any freelancer worth their salt is already undertaking (and paying for) their own CPD and gaining support from (paid for) memberships to professional organisations, like the SfEP.
- I’ve already shown you how large companies often cream huge margins from freelancers’ pay; but don’t imagine it stops there. Large companies can offer competitive pricing, and sometimes offer discounted rates that a sole trader would struggle to match. But common sense tells us something more fundamental: if they’re screwing me then they’re probably screwing you, too.
Just as businesses can explain away shortfalls in contractors’ pay as some kind of trickle-down finders’ fee, they’re likely charging you a premium for project management – something you’d have done (in my experience, very happily and well) in conjunction with your editor proper.