Editors face a variety of business and legal risks. Risks can relate to getting paid, doing the job right, obeying laws related to business operation and taxes, and helping writers avoid plagiarism, fraud, libel, and copyright violation.
The goal in managing a risk is to have it mitigated, offset, or controlled. Risks can also be accepted or avoided entirely, especially when they’re simply not negotiable. A lingering “error” in the manuscript? Unavoidable. A project inciting violence? Perhaps best turned down.
There are whole books written to try to explain each of these ways of managing risk. The definitions that follow barely scratch the surface. We’ll examine them more in future posts.
It is possible to reduce how much the editor is exposed to risk. That might mean using checklists while editing and taking ongoing training (professional development). It could mean getting a 50% deposit. Or it might mean refusing to sign indemnification clauses that make the copyeditor responsible for libel or injury a reader might experience from following advice or procedures in the text.
Hiring a lawyer to review editing contracts, or setting up an editing practice as a limited liability corporation (or incorporating) helps limit the editor’s personal exposure to financial losses.
Backing up files reduces the risk of losing a project (see the June–July 2016 newsletter). And keeping notes and having a business executor helps lower the potential losses (to clients) because of critical illness or death.
Risks can be assigned to others. For example, by hiring an accountant, an editor assign (some of) the risk related to tax filing to an expert who has her own systems for handling the related risks. Buying errors and omissions insurance assigns that risk to the insurance company. Insurance means that the editor doesn’t have to pay fully for the risk.
Checklists go a long way toward controlling the risks. They help the editor ensure that every step in their editing process is done every time, in the most effective order.
Some editors also have the chance to turn down assignments that expose them to a lot of risk. Health claims and legal advice, libelous or plagiarized material might be refused as a way to control risk.
When the assignment can’t be refused or doesn’t quite cross the line of concern, the editor can flag concerns and keep a record of related correspondence with the client or boss. This “paper trail” may be the only evidence an editor has to defend themselves against legal action.
Just as the publisher might ask an editor to sign an indemnification clause, an editor could ask a writer to sign a clause relieving them of responsibility for the content. Whether or not any of those hold up in court is a different discussion entirely.
Whitewater paddlers and base jumpers accept the risk in their sport. They get training, participate in the sport with other experienced practitioners, stay close to the limits of their abilities, and wear safety gear in case (or, for when) something goes wrong. To some degree, editors have to accept the “risk” (read: reality) that their work won’t be perfect, that the manuscript can and will be altered after it leaves their hands, and that a client might contest payment for the work.
Risk tolerance is a personal thing that relates as much to personality as it does to one’s ability to financially absorb a loss. How do you handle risk in your editing work? Log in to leave a comment, or join the discussion over on Facebook or Twitter.