An American Editor

August 31, 2011

What Should an Editor Do?

In her comment to my article, Is the Editorial Freelancer’s Future a Solo Future?, Cassie Armstrong asked:

How does what you suggest differ from the idea of a large publishing house? I see the benefit of working with a group, but perhaps you can expand on the idea. Should I then offer my services to other freelancers and suggest collaboration?

The questions are important and boil down to “What should an editor do?”; the answers difficult.

I don’t see grouping together in the manner of a large publishing house as the answer. The idea is not to offer a full panoply of services — the cradle-to-grave approach — but rather to offer more competitively specialized and focused services.

Currently, large publishing houses (and smaller ones, too) contract with book packagers to provide nearly all of the needed production services. The result is that freelance editors no longer work directly for the publisher; rather, they deal with a third-party intermediary, the book packager. How does the packager get the business? It offers a package price for all the services and allocates a portion of the bid price to various services. Consequently, the editorial services take a beating because they are the least fixed-expense category, largely because this is out-housed work even for the packager.

So where does this leave the solo freelance editor? In a very uncompetitive position. Because we freelancers are always scampering to find the next job to fill a schedule gap, we tend to react to and subsequently forget about solicitations from third-party packagers such as this one I received (errors are as appear in the original):

We’re a leading company in pre-press industry and have huge amount of work for copyediting and cold-reading on regular basis. I’ve got your brief details from web and would like to see if you’re interested to associate with us. The major subject would be Science, Technology and Medicine for Books and Journals. We’re dealing with International clients only so they need very high standard of Quality and on time delivery so there will not be any compromise on these front.

The proposed rates are as under…

Copyediting – $0.80 per page

Cold-reading – $0.50 per page

There will be a Non-competent agreement between us before starting the live project.

These proposals are take-it-or-leave-it proposals because if you don’t want the work, someone else will jump at the chance, even though the rate of pay is absurdly low. What other option, other than turning down the offer, does the solo freelancer have? The publisher has contracted with the packager to provide these services and the packager has a gazillion “professional” freelance editors to solicit, many of whom would jump at this offer.

Solo freelancers may reject the above solicitation, but what about a solicitation that calls for “someone who is a subject matter expert in physiology with a strong science background to copy edit this book, as some sections may need to be rewritten.” In addition, “[m]any of contributors are not English speaker so will need copy edited pretty closely for language, especially for the chapters written by a non English speaker.” (The quotes are exact quotes, errors and all.) The job is for approximately 550 manuscript pages and has to be completed in less than 4 weeks. The proffered pay rate is $3.50 per page.

This second solicitation, although labeled as one for copyediting, is really a developmental editing job, a different type of edit altogether (see Editor, Editor, Everywhere an Editor for a discussion of developmental editing vs. copyediting). Again, because of the sheer numbers of competing solo freelancers, even if you would turn down this job, others would jump at it because they need the work.

The solo freelancer can’t bargain with the packager over the price for several reasons. Here are two: First, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of solo freelancers who would accept the job just to have a job, so you have no bargaining leverage. Second, the packager has already allocated money for the out-house editing and claims no wiggle room. (I once had a packager tell me that it not only had allocated the editorial budget but had also predetermined how much of that budget the packager had to retain because the packager’s editorial division had to show a profit!) Again, you are a solo freelancer in a sea of solo freelancers, and thus without bargaining power.

The idea of solo freelancers grouping together is to offer publishers an alternative, at least for editorial needs. As a group, the freelancers offer the same “advantages” that the packager does but put the group’s editorial skill level on the line. Sit back and think about what differentiates you as a solo freelancer from the packager who offers editorial services in the eyes of the publisher. It is in overcoming of those differences that grouping can offer.

Yet the solo freelancer needs to think carefully about the group concept. The idea is that the group needs to be fairly stable; you need to think and act long-term. You cannot assemble a group for one project then disband and form a different group for the next. There needs to be some permanence.

Perhaps more importantly, when forming a group, you cannot be stuck on the idea that every member of the group must do so many pages of editing every week. You need to approach the group from a more business-like perspective. Remember that the success or failure of the group is a combination of factors, not least of which is finding work for the group. Just like with law firms, the group’s “rainmaker” is as important as the person who actually does the editing work.

Cassie’s question was whether she should contact other solo freelancers and offer to collaborate. Although collaboration has been embraced by many (see, e.g., Ruth Thaler-Carter’s guest article,  Working Alone — Or Not?), collaboration is such a loose alliance that it won’t work over the long-term if the idea is to compete for work as a group.

Collaboration is designed for the individual project: A solo freelancer is offered a project that is too big for him/her to complete within the allotted time and so he/she needs project-specific help. The group, on the other hand, is designed to be ongoing and to solicit work based on there being a group of editors who can tackle a project on an as-needed basis and who are practiced at coordinating style amongst themselves.

The answer to Cassie’s question is not that collaboration is bad or should not be sought, but that it should not be the ultimate goal because it is not a method for obtaining work (which is the purpose of a group); collaboration is a method of completing work.

What should the editor do? What the editor thinks is best for the editor’s future.

August 30, 2011

Is This the Wave of the Editorial Future?

Yesterday, Teleread (a blog about ebooks that I highly recommend), printed an e-mail received from Susan Glinert. I do not know Susan, but her tale is worth noting. Her e-mail can be read at Teleread in Fed Up and Going Backwards. The essence of Susan’s story is this:

Susan worked as a compositor for a large publisher for 12 years. She was laid off. Since being laid off, she has found a few freelance jobs, but mostly she has been without work. One layout job she got was for an Azerbaijan publisher for the princely sum of 50¢ per page, rather than the $16 per page she used to get. Because of problems with the manuscript, she estimates that she actually earned 10¢ an hour.

Because she has not been having much luck snagging freelance composition jobs, she has decided to offer copyediting and layout services in exchange for a small percentage of the sales income of the book, hoping that this will not only provide work but also a living wage.

Seeing Susan’s story made me wonder: Is this one wave of the editorial future? The idea of editors sharing in the risks and rewards of an author’s work has been floated many times, but has yet to gain any traction. What do you think of Susan’s approach? Are you prepared to barter your professional services for a percentage of sales income that may or may not materialize?

Does the barter arrangement affect your thinking on solo versus group freelancing? (For discussion about solo versus non-solo, see my original article, One Is the Loneliest Number; Ruth Thaler-Carter’s response, Working Alone — Or Not?; and my response to Ruth, Is the Editorial Freelancer’s Future a Solo Future?)

August 29, 2011

Clashing Perspectives: Coming Home to Roost

Ewan Morrison wrote about the future of publishing from the publisher’s and author’s perspectives. I somewhat share his bleak, perhaps apocalyptic, outlook for the future of the publishing industry (see “Are Books Dead, and Can Authors Survive?“; for “outsider’s” perspective, see Tony Cole’s discussion of Morrison’s article, “Can Authors Survive in the Age of eReaders and eBooks?“).

The mistake being made in publishing is, I think, one of clashing perspectives. People in the industry look at a book, regardless of its form, as simultaneously a commodity and something unique. The mistake is that it has to be one or the other; it cannot be both. It cannot be both because each perspective demands a different approach to the book and the two approaches are incompatible.

As a result of this clash, each step in the production of the book is degraded. The result is that, for too many authors, the only thing that matters is getting “published,” with the consequence of “free” being the optimal way to get noticed. With the growth of free, there has to be a decline in “not free.” Misbalance of free and not free is, in the end, the death knell of “traditional” publishing.

The interests are competing. Most authors and wannabe authors know that they will never be able to give up the full-time day job; they will never earn enough from book sales to consider writing as a full-time career. Consequently, pricing is not high on their priority list; free is acceptable. Yet a publishing company cannot accept free. Publishing companies have bottom lines, have expenses, have staff, have myriad things that require cash flow, which is not a synonym for free.

With free being unacceptable to publishers, they can preserve themselves only by getting as close to free as they can. Ultimately, the questions are (a) how close is close? and (b) is that close enough?

The degradation of the publishing industry has ripples. The Agency 6, with the connivance of Apple, “created” an agency pricing scheme supposedly to preserve the value of ebooks (Apple’s reasons were different: competing with Amazon, rather than preserving ebook value). The market response has not been preservation of value.

With free as the selling price, much of what traditional publishing provided has had to be put to the side. For example, editing and proofreading, services traditionally associated with book publishers as part of the package provided to authors, become nonexistent. With no income, it becomes unjustifiable to spend, and previously required and desired editorial services become options that the author can pay for or not, with not generally being the response. (See, e.g., the discussions in, Is There a Future in Editing?, Competing with Free: eBooks vs. eBooks, and The Changing Face of Editing.)

So the degradation cycle begins: author writes a book that a traditional publisher declines to publish; author now has decisions to make: (1) Should author self-publish? (2) If author self-publishes, what should be the price of the book? (3) Should author pay out of pocket for professional editing and proofreading services? Increasingly the answers to the three questions are (1) yes; (2) free or 99¢; and (3) no.

With the flood of self-published, free/99¢, unedited ebooks, consumer expectations are changing. Consumers increasingly are looking at ebooks as commodities; traditional publishers are fighting to keep consumers thinking that an ebook is something unique. As a commodity, consumers are not overly bothered by lesser quality; they view an ebook as a throwaway item and expect the price to reflect that throwaway “quality.” Publishers, on the other hand, want consumers to view ebooks as unique because uniqueness can command a higher price.

Alas, in this battle of perspectives, publishers are their own worst enemy. For years publishers have been chopping away at the quality concept by focusing on the bottom line at the expense of everything else. If a publisher cannot offer a quality differential, then all the publisher is offering is a commodity and consumers are following the publishers’ lead in rushing to the bottom line — consumers want ebooks priced at a point that is below what publishers need to survive and still offer author advances.

By focusing so fiercely on cost cutting, publishers produce ebooks that are virtually indistinguishable in quality from those offered by self-publishers. Publishers themselves are establishing ebooks as commodities – just what they did not want to happen. To consumers, a commodity is a commodity is a commodity, and consumers recognize the difference between commodity and unique. The high ground that publishers want and need is being eroded by their own machinations.

The worst part for publishers, authors, and editors is that lower expectations on the part of consumers means loss of income for publishers, authors, and editors. No one will spend to create quality when lack of quality isn’t noticed.

We have now come to the crux of the publisher-created problem: No one will create quality when lack of quality isn’t noticed. For too long, publishers have been focused solely on quarterly shareholder returns and what services to reduce to squeeze out more profit. It was this squeezing that led to declining emphasis on editorial quality. (Consider the effects of offshoring; see, e.g., Editors in the Offshore World.) Publishers have spent years conditioning consumers to consider lesser quality as the norm.

It was this conditioning by publishers that led to consumer acceptance of self-published ebooks, especially at very low (and free) price levels. It was this conditioning by publishers that led to the change in perspective by consumers, from seeing books as unique to seeing books as commodities. At the root level, the fall of the necessary supports for traditional publishers is directly related to actions taken by traditional publishers. Unfortunately, the ripple effect that such publisher actions have unleashed, affects the entire publishing chain and does not bode well for the financial future of publishing.

Ewan Morrison may have written apocalyptically, but he did so with foresight.

August 24, 2011

Is the Editorial Freelancer’s Future a Solo Future?

In the preceding article, Working Alone — Or Not?, guest author Ruth Thaler-Carter discussed the positives of being a solo freelancer. Although a well-argued position and a position that most freelancers believe in, I think the future lacks promise for the solo freelancer and will demand that editorial freelancers think about, and form, group practices.

Current views of freelancing hearken back to the days of craft guilds. In the craft guilds, each guild member was an artisan whose work was protected. One couldn’t work, for example, as a scribe unless a member of the scribe’s guild. The guild offered a monopoly for the craftsperson and assured quality to the consumer.

But such thinking, which had at least some validity into the late 1980s, is no longer valid. The entry requirements to become a freelance editor are so minimal as to be nonexistent. Whereas the guilds imposed classes and apprenticeships and maintained a required minimum-level skillset, today anyone can proclaim him- or herself to be a freelance editor at the moment of his or her choosing — no specialty education required.

This change was brought about by the dynamic of consolidation in the publishing industry — the transformation from numerous “small” publishing houses to a handful of multinational megacorporations. The transformation brought with it a philosophical change in the approach to publishing, a change from quality first to profits first. It is this change that the guild-minded freelancer has yet to grapple with; rather than guild thinking, the editorial freelancer must move to business thinking.

Notably, Thaler-Carter’s article neglected to discuss income. It seems to me that not discussing income is to look at editorial freelancing through rose-colored glasses. After all, isn’t that the bottom-line motivator for most of us — the earning of an income sufficient to enable us to work for ourselves without worrying each day whether we have the wherewithal to financially survive?

In my discussions with colleagues, I am constantly hear about their struggles to find clients and earn a decent wage. It is not that a few editorial freelancers do reasonably to very well financially; rather, it is that the vast majority do not. Part of the problem is skill level and types of skills. For example, too many editorial freelancers whose livelihood is based on using Microsoft Word have little mastery of the software program. The lack of mastery makes every job that much harder and longer and lower paying.

But I think a larger part of the problem, if not the largest part, is that too many editorial freelancers work solo and cling to guild thinking rather than moving to business thinking. When they are too sick to work, there is no income; there is no one to share the marketing burden with; it is difficult to take on the multieditor jobs that have the potential to be more lucrative; it is difficult to accept new work on top of the work one already has because there aren’t enough hours in a day for the solo freelancer to work; the solo freelancer has insufficient financial resources to invest in the future of their business.

The trend in the publishing industry is to outsource to full-service production companies, and this trend has been accelerating. Publishers have reduced in-house production staff while increasing the number of publications expected to be published and that each retained production editor must handle. Unlike when I started my editorial career in 1984, a time when most editorial work was still done in-house and on paper, today most editorial work is done out-house and electronically.

In the days of guild hegemony, clients could not go far astray. I remember seeing ads for freelance editors that included the requirement that the freelance editor live locally so that the editor could easily pick up and drop off manuscript. The advent of overnight delivery services and the Internet, combined with the change from paper to electronic editing, did away with that restriction. Now it is as easy to use an editor who lives 3,000 miles away as it is to use one who lives next door. Consequently, those who cling to guild thinking fail to compete with their competition, which is the world.

Today, in-house production staff are responsible for more projects than they were just 5 years ago. As part of these responsibilities, they have to monitor numerous freelance editors, unless they assign the projects to a full-service company, in which case they deal with a single contact and it is the out-house company’s problem to monitor the cadre of editors.

Think of it like a pyramid. At the pyramid’s peak is the in-house production editor. Just below the production editor are the freelance editors. The more freelancers the production editor has to be involved with, the shorter the pyramid and the wider its base (picture short and squat). But if the production editor can delegate to one or two people who, in turn, can delegate to several freelance editors, then the taller the pyramid and the narrower the base that the production editor has to worry about.

The point is that, increasingly, in-house staff look to find editorial groups to whom they can delegate the work because finding a group means that numerous projects can be sent to the group but there need be only a single contact point that the production editor needs to monitor. Monitoring of editors moves down the chain of responsibility.

This is important because (a) it enables the publisher to schedule more projects as the in-house editor can handle more, and (b) the group can take on more work than can the solo freelancer because the group has the resources to handle the volume. Taking on more work means less downtime and increased income. Plus there is not the worry about losing work due to illness, emergency, difficult projects, etc. An editorial  group means help with all aspects of the freelance business.

There is yet another consideration: the rate of compensation. There has been a downward pressure on rates. In my early years, it was not uncommon for a publisher to raise the rate it would pay a freelance editor based on the number of years the freelancer had worked with the publisher and the quality and quantity of the freelancer’s work. In my experience, those days are long gone. Instead of increasing, the rate has remained steady or declined.

The solo editorial freelancer is rarely in a position to bargain over the rate. The competition for the work is simply too fierce; there are hundreds, if not thousands, of freelancers who are willing to work for the offered rate or even less, especially with the worldwide marketplace that the Internet has birthed. Part of why the solo editorial freelancer lacks bargaining power is that he or she offers nothing more than the barebones editorial work. In contrast, a group offers, in addition to the editorial work, management and other skillsets, relieving the client of those responsibilities.

I think the future for editorial freelancers is in grouping, not in remaining solo; shifting from guild thinking to business thinking. Although working solo has its attractions, I think those attractions are rooted in guild thinking and ultimately will lead to a dry work well in the not-too-distant future.

August 22, 2011

Working Alone — Or Not?

Today’s guest article is by Ruth Thaler-Carter. Ruth is the owner of Communication Central, the sponsor of the upcoming conference “Editorial Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century” conference sponsored by Communication Central and scheduled for September 30 – October 1, 2011, in Baltimore, MD (see Worth Noting: Editorial Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century), as well as a freelance editor and writer.

Ruth’s article is a response to my recent article, One Is the Loneliest Number. Needless to say, I will respond to Ruth’s article. Ruth argues for the solo freelancer remaining solo.

________________

Working Alone — Or Not?

by Ruth Thaler-Carter

As my favorite professional time of year approaches – time for the Communication Central conference (September 30–October 1, in Baltimore, MD, this year), I’ve been thinking about the meaning of being an editorial entrepreneur; a freelancer, in less-lofty parlance.

Colleagues have talked here about the nature of freelancing in terms of someone working alone versus as part of a larger entity or
partnership, perhaps even with subcontractors or employees. Many colleagues believe that the future of editorial freelancing is in grouping together and functioning as teams or even companies with employees, or at least subcontractors. Some colleagues believe that the day of the one-person freelance operation is approaching its nadir; others see a continuing future for the one-person business—as long as that person has a network of colleagues to make it  possible to find and accept more complex projects.

I’m firmly in the camp of being and remaining a sole practitioner—doing all the activity required of a freelance writing, editing, proofreading, desktop publishing, and speaking business myself. I like being hands-on for my business, knowing my own skills and working around any limits I might have, controlling when and how I work—all aspects that make freelancing deeply appealing, and being a sole practitioner an ideal way to exercise those preferences. I’ve never felt a need to partner formally with another colleague.

But this doesn’t mean that I work in a vacuum, or would want to. I’m certainly not antisocial; I’m one of the most extroverted, gregarious people you’ll ever meet. I may not want to share my projects and profits with colleagues as a permanent business model, but I often partner with colleagues: a graphic designer who can bring artistic skills to a project, a tech writer who can create content on a level that’s beyond me, a photographer on a professional basis. I still get to do what I love doing—the writing, editing, proofreading, layout, etc.—and can take on projects that otherwise I would have to turn down, or at best do less of and profit less from. Having colleagues to turn to for such partnerships means that I can take on projects that would otherwise be beyond me. Most of those partnerships have turned out well, but not well enough to tempt me into changing the structure or nature of my editorial business. I still prefer to position myself as not just an entrepreneur, but a sole practitioner.

I do interact regularly with colleagues through professional
organizations. I’m a huge fan of networking, in person and, nowadays, electronically. As some readers of this blog know, I’m very active in several memberships associations. This is the main way that I overcome the potential isolation of being a one-person shop and connect with other people. Not just clients, but colleagues, many of whom have become friends as well.

I look forward to the Communication Central conference because I think that a gathering of colleagues is a valuable—perhaps even invaluable—resource for any freelance writer, editor, proofreader, website developer, graphic artist, indexer, etc. We’re all trying to succeed in an increasingly competitive world for editorial professionals, as publishing contracts, e-publishing expands, and outsourcing continues to drive down prices in some areas. We need each other more than ever these days—even those of us who intend to retain a solo business structure.

It’s ever-more-important to meet and learn from each other, and occasionally work with each other. Maybe not as ongoing formal business partners, but as backup or added value for specific assignments and projects, as well as for advice and even a shoulder to lean or cry on. It’s important just to know that there are people available to turn to when an intriguing project is on the horizon that you can’t tackle alone.

We also need to expand our perception of how and where to market our skills. We can learn about marketing without fear from each other without necessarily poaching on each other’s territory or client base.

Meeting in person is also a great opportunity to learn from each other about the tools we need, how they work, and how to make the most of them.

There’s just something special about putting faces, voices, and personalities to those e-mail addresses, Twitter handles, and other electronic networking environments of our current era!

I might have developed a business model that combines the best of both worlds: the sole practitioner and the partnership or group. I’m committed to retaining my identity as a one-person shop, but I still see interacting with colleagues as a key element of the success of my editorial business. The advice and insights, and occasional project participation, of colleagues help me maintain my solo business and keep it growing.

 ________________

Although I understand the desire to work solo, I wonder if it will be possible to do so and earn a reasonable living in coming years. What do you think? Do you agree with Ruth Thaler-Carter? What do you envision the future freelancer’s working environment will be like?

August 19, 2011

Macro Power: Wildcard Find & Replace

I’m a great believer in using macros for routine tasks when editing. I know that a macro cannot ponder whether a word should be capitalized or not. I understand that macros are dumb; macros can only do what they are programmed to do — nothing more, nothing less (which reminds me of Humpty Dumpty’s perspective on the meaning of words).

But macros can relieve me of the tedium of performing routine, mechanical tasks. To that end, I have spent thousands of dollars in developing macros for my editing business and in buying macros developed by others for use in my business. In earlier articles, I discussed Editorium macros (The 3 Stages of Copyediting: I — The Processing Stage), EditTools (The 3 Stages of Copyediting: II — The Copyediting Stage), and PerfectIt (The 3 Stages of Copyediting: III — The Proofing Stage). Today, I want to revisit EditTools because of a major revision that has occurred with the release of version 4: Wildcard Find & Replace.

Wildcards are the most powerful of all the search types that Microsoft Word can perform. Yet, for most editors, wildcards are difficult and dangerous. Jack Lyon, owner of The Editorium and author of many macros used by editors, wrote a great resource for learning about wildcards called “Advanced Find and Replace for Microsoft Word.” It is free and well worth taking the time to go through.

But even with Jack’s contribution to our knowledge, wildcards remain both mysterious and difficult for many editors. That’s where EditTools version 4 (which is a free upgrade for current owners of any version of EditTools) comes into play. Now everyone can make use of wildcards.

Wildcard Find & Replace is for novice, intermediate, and advanced wildcard macro users. For advanced users, it brings the capability to test a wildcard macro before using it on the whole document, as well as the capability to save wildcard macros for future use.

For novice and intermediate users, in addition to the capabilities to save and test wildcard macros, Wildcard Find & Replace can help you build both the find and the replace criteria. Users do not need to wonder whether they are writing the criterion correctly; you choose from menus what it is that you want to do, and Wildcard Find & Replace fills in the correct language.

For detailed information on how the Wildcard Find & Replace macro works, visit the Wildcard Find & Replace help page at wordsnSync. While at the wordsnSync website take a look at the other power macros included in EditTools.

August 17, 2011

Will There Be eBooks in the Afterlife?

Filed under: A Humor Interlude — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
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Every once in a while we need to exercise our minds and imagine what our future will be like. We all know that at some point we need to say goodbye to our current existence and move on. I don’t know whether or not there is an afterlife, but for the sake of this article, I’m willing to assume that there is one.

I know that for me it will be a miserable afterlife if I haven’t got a La-Z-Boy rocking-recliner (I need a comfortable place to both read and to take naps) and a never-ending library of books to read. So the question isn’t so much will there be a library of books — I’m sure that in my afterlife I’ll have the basics for an eternal good time, including no politicians – but will there be a comfortable chair and ebooks?

I’m pondering this because with the passing of each day, I am increasingly disinclined to pick up a pbook to read. Just about everything to do with pleasure reading is a better experience on my Sony 950 Reader than it is picking up a print book. Well, except, of course, for that book smell that one gets from a pbook (and I can easily do without the musty smell that often accompanies a pbook that has started to succumb to mold and mildew!) but which has yet to be duplicated by an ebook.

I realized how much ebooks are taking over my reading life when my wife asked me about going to our local Barnes & Noble. We used to go at least once a week and we would each buy several pbooks. When she asked about going, I realized that we hadn’t been to the B&N in several months. I also realized that we both are reading more than ever, and that what we are reading are indie ebooks. As I have mentioned in prior articles, I have “purchased” several hundred indie ebooks in recent months, but not one Agency 6 ebook or pbook.

I also realized that next to the bed is the biography of Otto von Bismarck (Bismarck: A Life by Jonathan Steinberg) I anxiously awaited the publication of, perhaps the last pbook I bought. My reading habits used to be that before retiring for the night, I would do my reading on my Sony 950; after retiring, I would read a hardcover until it was time to slumber. But for quite some time the hardcover reading happens only in my thoughts and plans, not in my actions.

Consequently, it is important to my afterlife well-being to know that my love affair with ebooks will be permitted to continue. I would be devastated if I had to return to hardcover reading. The advantages to ebooks are numerous and well known to most readers, thus not necessary to repeat here. I will point out, however, that with my Sony 950 it is very easy to annotate an ebook — I don’t have to worry about smearing ink or forgetting which passage I annotated or struggling to get the annotation to fit in the margin; it is easy to check a word in the dictionary — just double-tap the word and up pops the dictionary definition, no need to put one book down and pickup another and then search for the word; and as my eyes age, it is easy to enlarge the font size — I’m no longer stuck with tiny print and a magnifying glass.

So I wonder: Will I be able to continue living this reading life of luxury in the afterlife, or will I be cruelly punished for my sins and be made to read pbooks sitting on a hardback chair? I find it interesting that religions promise me all kinds of afterlife benefits, but not one boasts about a rocking-recliner and ebooks. Do they know something I need to know?

For the time being, I guess I’ll just continue to enjoy my earthly reading pleasures but I’ll also hedge my bet and start visiting Barnes & Noble again and spending some time with pbooks. Best to cover all the bases.

August 15, 2011

Worth Noting: A New Vicki Tyley Mystery

As you know, I enjoy reading the mysteries written by Australian author Vicki Tyley. If you recall, I called her the Australian P.D. James. I last reviewed her books a few months ago in On Books: Murder Down Under. Vicki Tyley has written and published a new book, Fatal Liaison, which is now available at Smashwords in formats for all ereaders. To me, Fatal Liaison cements Tyley’s reputation as an oustanding author of mysteries.

Fatal Liaison is described as:

The lives of two strangers, Greg Jenkins and Megan Brighton, become inextricably entangled when they each sign up for a dinner dating agency. Greg’s reason for joining has nothing to do with looking for love. His recently divorced sister Sam has disappeared and Greg is convinced that Dinner for Twelve, or at least one of its clients, may be responsible. Neither is Megan looking for love. Although single, she only joined at her best friend Brenda De Luca’s insistence. When a client of the dating agency is murdered, suspicion falls on several of the members. Then Megan’s friend Brenda disappears without trace, and Megan and Greg join forces. Will they find Sam and Brenda, or are they about to step into the same inescapable snare?

Bonus: Discount Coupon

In celebration of the release of another book, Tyley is offering ebookers a discount coupon (code: QN93F) for use at Smashwords. The regular price of Fatal Liaison is $3.99 but with the coupon, the price is reduced to 99¢, saving readers $3.00. This is a limited time offer.

Reviews

I read the book last week in one day – I couldn’t put it down. This is an excellent mystery — one of the best I have read – and I have to confess, this time I didn’t identify the right character as the murderer. This book’s twist ending is outstanding. It is another 5-star read by Vicki Tyley.

Grace Krispy of the Mother Lode blog, which reviews books and photography, has reviewed Fatal Liaison and rated it 5 stars. The review is comprehensive and well worth reading. Grace’s reviews are always worth reading, so I also recommend bookmarking her blog.

August 12, 2011

Worth Noting: A Report on Overseas Outsourcing of Editorial Services

In February 2011, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) published a report on overseas outsourcing of editorial work. The report is well worth reading and keeping handy. Unfortunately, the response to the Society’s questionnaire was small. From the report:

In 2010, the SfEP asked members to report their experiences of this type of editorial outsourcing. More than 40 replied, giving us perspectives from freelance project managers, proofreaders and in-house desk editors, as well as freelance copy-editors who have seen their supply of work dry up and their income dwindle. The relevant parts of their replies are quoted and commented on in this report.

The complete report can be found here: What Price Quality? Overseas Outsourcing of Editorial Services.

August 11, 2011

Is There a Future in Editing?

When I began my career as a freelance editor 27 years ago, the future of editing looked bright with possibilities. Twenty-seven years later, I’m not so sure that editing isn’t the incandescent bulb of publishing; that is, on its way to extinction.

Those of us who are editors daily receive mixed messages from the publishing industry. One message is that publishers, who cry wolf much too often, are in significant trouble as a result of the rise of ebooks. Yet nearly every publisher is reporting rising sales as a result of ebooks.

A second message is that yes, publishers and authors want their books properly edited, but the price for that editing needs to be what it was in 1990, not what it should be in 2011.

A third message is that editors who want work need to be prepared to offer additional services gratis. Sure you may be hired to do a copyedit, but while you are at it, you should also do a developmental edit at no charge. (See The Changing Face of Editing where I discussed this phenomenon.)

A fourth message, this one coming from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, is that editing suffers from two significant problems: first, it is a very-easy-entry profession that beckons to a lot of people, and second, that job opportunities for editors are declining as the number of people entering the field is increasing. The logical conclusion to draw from that dynamic is that there is more competition for the available jobs and thus downward pressure on the fees paid/earnable.

Those who we would think of as our natural allies, authors, face similar problems. Here is Harlan Ellison on paying authors (warning: if you are highly offended by “4-letter” language, you might consider bypassing this video):

The most significant point Ellison makes, at least to my way of thinking, is that those who are asking us to do free work are themselves unwilling to do the work for no compensation.

Yet the free problem is a problem that stares us in the face. Consider this: In recent articles I have stated that nearly all of the ebooks I have “purchased” in recent months have been free. There are so many free ebooks available, that I cannot see why anyone would pay money for an ebook. How much more short-sighted can I possibly be?

If I want to be hired for my editorial skills and I want to be paid for those skills, the person hiring me also needs to be — and should be — paid for having written the book. Once the “pay me” chain is broken, it cannot be repaired.

When I address my colleagues, as I will be doing at the upcoming “Editorial Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century” conference (see Worth Noting: Editorial Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century) and have done at earlier conferences, I usually point out how myopic we editors are when considering where we fit in the scheme of things and when thinking about our business. We much too often think about today and tomorrow but not about next month, next year.

I believe the cause (not necessarily the sole cause, but certainly a major cause) of this myopia is that we are solo freelancers. As such, we have a lot of things we need to worry and think about, many of which affect us today and tomorrow, leading us to put off worrying about next year or 5 years from now. Which brings me circling back to the problem of ebooks for us editors.

An ebook is just like a pbook when it comes to editing. An editor’s tasks are the same and the approach is the same. Manuscripts we receive for editing look the same whether the ultimate destination is pbook, ebook, or both. The primary difference I’ve noted between a pbook edit and an ebook edit is the coding to be used, but even that is often the same.

So it isn’t really the skill set an editor requires that is the problem of ebooks. The real problem is that the explosive growth in publishing, which is occurring in ebooks, is occurring in those self-published ebooks that are priced so low (and more often than not free) that the expected revenue generation is insufficient to justify the hiring of a professional editor before publication. Which means that the author undertakes to self-edit. (I have discussed the problems of self-editing in several earlier articles. Two examples are On Words & eBooks: Give Me a Brake! and The WYSIWYG Conundrum: The Solid Cloud. For one author’s perspective, see The Editor: A Writer’s Fairy Godmother or Ogre?)

What we have is that endless cycle of no one wanting to pay for anything. Although an author who writes to satisfy a personal need rather than trying to make writing a full-time job that pays the bills can “afford” to publish his or her book at a nominal price point, the professional editor cannot similarly offer his or her services for little to no compensation.

All of us are being myopic. The author should not undervalue his or her work; it takes a great deal of time and skill to write a book that captivates an audience. It also takes the skills that professional editors have to fine-tune the author’s draft. We should all be looking at a much broader and more long-term relationship, one that fairly compensates all parties and ensures that a polished, well-written book reaches its maximum audience. Just as the author should not undervalue his or her book, we editors should help authors earn a decent return on their investment, encourage authors to purchase our services, and perhaps suggest to authors who offer their book for free not to do so.

I recognize that this is living in a universe that is different from the one I am currently planted in, but if we do not move toward that alternate universe, there may be no future in editing.

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