Back in September, I went to a Q&A event put on by the Editors’ Association of Canada. One of the panelists commented, “I have no idea why editing is so undervalued.” I wanted to wave my hand à la Hermione Granger and fill him in.
I believe editing as a profession is not seen as valuable because it doesn’t result in something pretty to show off. Photographers, artists, and graphic designers have a visual representation of the value of their work. Writers have the finished manuscript as proof of their prowess. Any other trade requiring professional skills has a tangible outcome: a doctor heals, a plumber fixes, a teacher educates, etc. An editor’s contribution is hidden within others’ words—words that may have been unintelligible before editing. So unless someone is willing to look at a before and after, editors can’t share their work.
Writers may not value an editor’s expertise because they believe that they are capable of editing their own work. That may be true, but probably isn’t. Even the most technically skilled writer cannot look at his own manuscript with fresh, unbiased eyes. Not many writers know the different levels of editing beyond proofreading, and are usually unable to accurately assess the level required to produce a publishable manuscript.
Editors themselves perpetuate the lie that skill in editing is of little worth. In our quest for experience and credibility, we err on the side of underpricing our work, or saying yes to every request that comes our way, whether it is paid or not. While there is great value in volunteer work, an editor must be free to choose the causes and projects deemed worthy of doing pro bono. All other requests for work should come with the expectation of payment.
I'm guilty of this too. I've had a client pay me three times what I billed her for, because she thought my work was worth it. Now that was a boost to my self-esteem!