Scheduling: It’s a Guesstimate

As a freelance developmental editor, I maintain relationships with acquisitions/managing editors at many publishing houses. And I do mean maintain (er, nag). Whether that’s a Facebook comment or an e-mail, I make sure they know I’m around: if I don’t ask for work, I won’t have work.

On good days, though, I’ll get an e-mail from one of them asking if I’m interested in working on, say, a middle grade coming-of-age tale or an edgy contemporary women’s novel or … whatever. For me it’s not a question of like: I have worked on everything—fantasy, romance, historical fiction, YA, humor—and I love what I do. Full stop.

No, the important question for me is the due date. Once we agree on that, we can get started.

Most of the in-house editors I work with simply send me the manuscript, put me in touch with the author, and turn us loose. (I’ve blogged about what comes next in this publisher-generated relationship.) I take this trust very seriously. If I have any lingering concerns at the end of the project, I make sure the publisher is aware of them.

Other in-house editors prefer that I simply provide the editorial notes and they handle the relationship with the author, including the rewrite. Sometimes I like that system, sometimes not so much. It does force me to make sure I cover everything in the first pass, because I know it’s not coming back to me. I offer this option (notes with no follow-up) to unsigned authors as well.

To manage all these deadlines, tracking first pass, second pass, and so on, I keep a detailed production schedule. (It’s an Excel spreadsheet, if you must know. There are probably better methods, but I developed it and it meets my needs.) Having a production schedule means I have a queue. In the FAQs on my website, I’ve written there’s a six-week wait; right now it’s running double that.

Both signed manuscripts (my client is a publisher) and unsigned manuscripts (my client is the author) are governed by my production schedule. But it’s a little different when a writer approaches me himself for help with his manuscript. After we’ve assessed his needs and I know what the project will involve, I try to guesstimate how long the work will take. Then I look at my production schedule and try to guess when I can work it in with what’s already scheduled.

The hardest thing for some folks to understand is the wait; they think … well, I’m not sure what they think. But they are always surprised to hear I can’t start right now. They are shocked when, in mid-March, I tell them I’m accepting work for July.

And even then, it doesn’t always work out that way. I can schedule all I want, but when an author rolls a project (read: doesn’t get the manuscript in on time; thus its release date “rolls” into a new month or a new quarter) or needs longer to do the rewrite, I end up with a logjam.

So remember: scheduling is a fluid thing; there are so many factors involved it can be like nailing Jell-O to the wall. There will always be a lead time (publishers generally contact me a minimum of three months out); there will always be a wait (so don’t interpret silence from me as a referendum on your work).

Tweet: Unfortunately, I can’t start your project right NOW. Welcome to my queue!
Tweet: When hiring an editor, the hardest thing for some folks to understand is the wait.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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