Is There No Accounting for Editors?

Perhaps the least number-oriented species of human being is that of editors.* Figures, subtotals, net present value, gross margin are as nothing in their sight. So should we just consign editors to the outer darkness of a numberless eternity? Is there to be no accounting for editors?

Not so, says Tom Woll, author of the book I’ve been reviewing serially the past few months, Publishing for Profit. Woll tells us, “Your editorial program . . . is, in effect, the basis of your cash flow” (p. 103). No new product. No new income. If editors don’t know what the numbers mean, someone needs to help them.

They should be able to make their way around a profit and loss statement, be familiar with sales estimates, understand something of cost of goods sold, and know what returns are likely to be. Woll is ambitious enough to suggest editors understand “EBITDA vs. Net Profit” (that is, Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation or Amortization = Operating Profit).

Is all that too much for these mathematically challenged homo sapiens? No. In fact, the intrepid Woll suggests evaluating editors by the numbers, following a system used by John Wiley & Sons. At the beginning of each fiscal year, editors and their supervisor agree on four targets—manuscripts acquired, manuscripts to production, books published and sales target. A bonus is fixed at the same time. Meet the targets at year end: bonus. Miss the targets: reduced bonus.

That sales number will no doubt get an editor’s attention. While editors might complain that they don’t have control over what the sales team does, giving the sales team books that are likely to sell will solve the problem. It will also encourage editors to be in regular dialog with their sales and marketing team.

I’ll let Tom answer the last objection. “Does this mean that an editor should abandon her traditional role of keeping the flame of quality? Absolutely not. Whatever manuscript or work is brought in and published must be the best it can be. But given that, it must also contribute to the survival of the organization.”

*The exception that proves the rule: two editors on IVP’s editorial team have math degrees.

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.

4 thoughts on “Is There No Accounting for Editors?”

  1. We’ve asked similar questions in cmpus ministry — how do we set meaningful numeric goals? Jim Collins’ “Good to Great and the Social Sectors” gave us some clues.

    As we’ve worked to set numeric goals (even in areas where evangelicals have traditionally resisted goal-setting (e.g., growth & conversions)), we’ve found that the conversations increased the quality of the supervisor/supervisee relationship (because they were having substantive conversations about the core of the work) and changed the nature of the ministry job (from “I’m just here to execute programs” (inputs) to a more proactive “I’m here to achieve these ends — and my programs and plans will change to help me do that” (outputs.))

    Must. Pause. Dizzy. Too many parentheticals.

    The assumption, of course, in the goal setting is that you’re working in a healthy supervisory context (so that the goals are reasonable) towards God-given ends (so that the goals are God-honoring).

  2. Greg

    You’re absolutely right, of course. A healthy supervisory context is important in setting goals (1) that have reach but are realistic and (2) that help people focus on what is truly of value and importance to the organization.

    I could set a goal to sign up lots and lots of authors, for example, but if they don’t fit our core values and purpose (and help keep us in business), it’s a numerical goal for sure. But not a very good one.


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