An American Editor

September 27, 2011

Just a Note

Filed under: Miscellaneous Opinion — americaneditor @ 4:00 am

I will be at the “Editorial Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century” conference (see Worth Noting: Editorial Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century) in Baltimore this week and so will not be writing for my blog. I need to prepare for my keynote address and workshop presentations. It may be a week or so before the next article, but more will be coming. Please be patient; I will return!

September 26, 2011

If They Were Editors, They Would Be Fired!

If they were editors, they would be fired! I’m referring to the Republicans contending for the Republican nomination to oppose Barack Obama in 2012.

The one thing that every client wants from an editor is consistency. If you chose to spell distension with -sion in chapter 1, then the client doesn’t want to see it spelled with -tion in subsequent chapters. Although “[a] foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines” (Ralph Waldo Emerson), editorial consistency is a positive trait because it is not a foolish consistency.

To demand that our politicians be consistent in a very broad sense is to deny them the possibility of intellectual growth and the ability to change as circumstances change, yet some consistency, especially on overarching policy, at least for a year or two, is warranted. Alas, as the Republican fight gets nastier, the inconsistencies in overarching policy grow.

Consider Rick Perry’s statements regarding children of illegal immigrants in Texas. Perry, rightfully I believe, encouraged the state legislature to allow children of illegal immigrants to attend state universities at in-state tuition rates. Needless to say, his current opponents are attacking that stance. What is Perry’s response? According to Perry, he has shown “heart” for these children who are in Texas through no independent action of their own. So far, so good.

Now ask Perry to show some heart for the citizen children who lack health insurance and thus fail to get needed drugs or treatment (26% of all Texas citizens lack health insurance), and he demurs, suggesting that it is not government’s role to provide health care for citizens, let alone for noncitizens. But there must be a stink of money somewhere, because Perry tried to force every adolescent girl to be inoculated at state expense against cervical cancer.

Similarly, look at Mitt Romney. His creation of a statewide health plan in Massachusetts with a requirement that everyone must purchase the insurance was the model for Obama’s national plan. In fact, there are very few differences, mostly minor, between the two plans. But ask Romney today and he boasts of his Massachusetts plan and derides Obama’s national plan. It must be that only citizens of Massachusetts are worthy of health care insurance.

Worst of all, however, are the candidates who ape Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann. Their response, which the Tea Party cheered loudly, is that citizens need to be free to take their own risks and if they choose not to have health insurance and get sick, let them die. Of course, these wonderful candidates neglect to tell the audience how it is the members of the audience who would die because these showers of Christian charity all receive subsidized health insurance courtesy of us taxpayers. Interestingly, the one question they do not answer is what about those taxpaying citizens who want health insurance but can’t buy it? These folk don’t want to assume the risk but are forced to do so.

Another twist in all of the Republican candidates’ thinking is the issue of abortion. Each candidate loudly proclaims that they are prolife and antiabortion. There is nothing wrong with that position until one second after the child’s birth, when all of the candidates are willing to let the baby — or the birth mother or both – die if the parent doesn’t have health insurance. Republican-Tea Party caring seems to terminate as soon as the underlying political issue is no longer an issue.

America now has 50 million citizens who lack health insurance; that’s one-sixth of our population. Yet the people who make the decision about whether or not those 50 million men, women, and children should be given health insurance (which most would under Obama’s plan) all have taxpayer subsidized health insurance for themselves and their families.

To say that providing health insurance like Romney did in Massachusetts should be left up to the states is just another ploy. First, it would mean that many people could never migrate from their state no matter the opportunities elsewhere. Second, it would leave Americans subject to the whims of politicians. This year the Democrats are in control so we have health care; last year the Republicans were in control so we didn’t have it. Who knows what next year will bring.

Third, and perhaps most important, states like Texas would not provide universal (and probably not any state) coverage, but when an epidemic hit, would want the rest of the country to bail it out. (Notice the difference between the Republican federal emergency response to Hurricane Katrina and the Republican response to Hurricane Irene? In the former, Republicans demanded federal relief and got it within 10 days; now they obstruct relief.)

I sometimes wonder whether the Republicans are trying to find some way to make the country disintegrate – that is, do away with the concept of a United States and instead have 50 individual countries (I’m not sure what they would do about Washington, DC). Republicans like to talk of “state’s rights”; why not think, instead, of citizen rights.

September 23, 2011

Worth Noting: Collaboration at Its Best

Filed under: An Art Interlude — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
Tags: , ,

Sometimes we need a break from the travails of daily life. One good way to take a break is through art. Check out the various murals shown at the Mural Mosaic website of Cochrane, Alberta, Canada.

But don’t just look at them — click on various squares to see the underlying painting. Each square represents 1 square foot and was painted by a different artist. I find it fascinating at how well the squares work together and how what you think you are seeing as part of the whole changes when you click on the individual square.

The mosaics certainly represent the best collaborative efforts of talented artists.

September 22, 2011

The Survey Gives a Lesson?

A few days ago, Harris Interactive released the results of a survey on ebookers and ereaders (see “One in Six Americans Now Use E-Reader with One in Six Likely to Purchase in Next Six Months”). Personally, I didn’t find the results unexpected because, as I’ve noted in previous articles, the survey results simply mimic my own habits.

The survey omits some important questions and definitions – for example, how many of the “purchased” ebooks were freebies — but it does highlight two important trends: first, that electronic reading is here to stay, and second, that smart publishers will jump on the ebook reading trend with both feet and both arms rather than toe by toe.

The survey spoke a lesson to me. Well, not really a lesson, I suppose, but it made me immediately think: If I were a publisher, how can I harness this increased interest in reading volume? That’s the real issue: the volume.

If I were a publisher, I would start thinking about how I can increase the number of ereading devices in use because there is a clear correlation between the growth in devices and the growth in number of books read and purchased in a year. If I were a publisher, I would also start thinking about how I can open — not further close or constrict — the ebook eco system.

Publishers have learned neither the lesson of the music industry nor of their own foray into agency pricing. The absolute worst thing that can happen as ebook reading expands geometrically, is for most of that expansion to occur at Amazon. The more dependant ebookers become on the Amazon eco system, the more power Amazon will be able to exert over pricing, taking us back to where we were before agency pricing. With the Harris results in front of them, publishers should be thinking about how to combat the Amazon eco system before they can’t.

That was the lesson that the music industry didn’t learn when it didn’t combat the iTunes eco system early enough, focusing instead on the Napsters of the world. Apple is really just a more sophisticated Napster, smart enough to throw some placating crumbs the music industry’s way. Now the music industry is at Apple’s mercy; soon publishers will be at Amazon’s mercy, at least in the United States, which remains the largest book market.

One thing publishers could do is agree on a standard format that every book would have to be “created” and sold in. Publishers could say that their books can only be sold in ePub format and with a standardized DRM. Doing so would best serve consumers even if it would make competition among booksellers more keen. This would probably cause some near-term drop in revenue for publishers, but in the end it would give publishers better control over the marketplace. It would also work to eliminate the possibility of one retailer becoming so dominant that it could dictate terms to the publishers.

If every reading device was able to read a particular book, consumers wouldn’t care where they bought the book unless there was a price differential. The Stephen King bought from Amazon is no different, content-wise, from the same title bought from Barnes & Noble.

Publishers need to demonstrate some gumption and adopt such an approach while they still can. As Amazon and B&N grow their own publishing services, they will be able to feed their own eco systems. At some point, authors will care more about being in the right eco system than about being with a traditional publisher. When that point is reached, Amazon wins and the publishers lose — game over!

From a consumer perspective, the sad thing is that Amazon holds all the cards because it is willing to lose money today to rake it in tomorrow, whereas publishers are so conservative and turtlesque, the value of the cards they do hold decreases by the minute. Consumers would be significantly better off with a standardized format and DRM than the current system, just as was the case when the Betamax vs. VHS war ended with a single standard.

And the time for publishers to act is now before the growth of ebook devices and ebook purchasing stabilizes. The more mature the market and the more a single vendor owns a large portion of the mature market, the more difficult it is to make changes.

But then, perhaps the real intent of publishers is simply to rollover for Amazon and hope for the best. I guess we’ll know the answer in the not-too-distant future.

September 20, 2011

Worth Noting: Pubslush Press

Filed under: Charities,Worth Noting — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , ,

Every so often a good idea comes along that is worth noting. Pubslush Press may be one of those. I admit I haven’t yet tried it, but I plan to. Its trailer indicates that Pubslush Press promotes two things that, as an editor, I consider worthy: First, the publishing of indie books that deserve to be published and second, advancing the war on illiteracy and poverty by giving children books to read.

What do you think?

September 19, 2011

On Books: David Crookes — More Down Under

As I have mentioned innumerable times, I usually read indie ebooks that I am able to obtain for free. I find it difficult to consider spending money (or more than a nominal sum) on an author with whom I have no familiarity.

In the “olden” days, I never thought twice about buying a book from an unknown author. The reasons why are that I found the book either by seeing it in a local bookstore or through a trusted book review, and because publishers really took their gatekeeper responsibilities to heart – I didn’t have to take a shot in the dark, so to speak. The Internet has brought about all sorts of changes. Now I’m simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume of books available and I lack the patience to read a sample online.

The result of the failure of the gatekeeper system and the rise of the indie author is that I am disinclined to spend money on an unknown author. Consequently, most of the books in my to-be-read pile are freebies.

A couple of weeks ago, I opened a freebie I had downloaded a while ago, Blackbird, by David Crookes. This is historical fiction based on a true story out of Australia’s history. Blackbird was my introduction to David Crookes.

In the beginning, Australia relied on slavery. Slavers would roam the islands around Australia and capture blacks to work as slaves. The process was called “blackbirding,” thus the title of the book. Blackbird is the story of one slave and her relationship with Ben Luk, a half-breed of Chinese and white mixture.

After reading Blackbird, which I found to be outstanding, I found another ebook in my TBR pile by Crookes titled Redcoat. It is the story of a British soldier who causes a superior officer to become a paraplegic and the officer’s subsequent hunt for the soldier for revenge. Once again, I was reading a book that I couldn’t put down.

The result of reading these two ebooks was that I wanted to read more of Crookes’ work, so I purchased the other available titles: Borderline; Children of the Sun; Someday Soon; The Light Horseman’s Daughter; and Great Spirit Valley. Of these, I have read The Light Horseman’s Daughter, which occurs during the Depression and is the story of a woman’s efforts to save both herself and her family, and Someday Soon, which takes place during World War II and focuses on people thrown together as a result of Japanese bombing of Darwin, Australia.

(I’ve taken a temporary hiatus from Crookes’ books because the new David Weber book, How Firm a Foundation (Safehold Series #5), which I have long been waiting for, was released. After I finish it, I will return to Crookes’ books.)

After finishing Blackbird, I suggested to my wife that she read the book, thinking she would like it, just as we both liked Shayne Parkinson’s historical novels (see On Books: Promises to Keep are Promises Kept and the articles cited in it). Yesterday, my wife complained that Blackbird kept her reading until 2 a.m. because she can’t put the book down.

So that’s all the good news about Crookes’ ebooks. The bad news is that his books are in need of a proofreader and/or a copyeditor. It becomes tiresome, for example, to read “your” when the author means “you are” or “you’re.” The errors in the books are relatively minor and what is meant is easily grasped, but they are annoying just the same and shouldn’t exist in books for which the author is charging $3.99.

Even with these tiresome errors, I find Crookes’ books very difficult to put aside. He is a natural storyteller; even my wife has remarked on that. His writing is definitely 5 star and worth the price. Crookes can join that pantheon of great indie Down Under writers (with Down Under being inclusive of both Australia and New Zealand), which for this blog includes Shayne Parkinson, Vicki Tyley (see On Books: Murder Down Under), and now David Crookes.

As of this writing, Redcoat is available free from Smashwords. Give it a try. Although I think it is a 5-star book, it isn’t quite as good as Blackbird, but it will give you a good introduction to David Crookes.

September 16, 2011

A Humor Interlude: Bad Grammar — The Way I Are

Filed under: A Humor Interlude — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , , ,

It has been a while since our last humor interlude, so I thought we deserved a break. And here it is — Bad Grammar: The Way I Are.

I’m just not convinced that humourous is the best way to describe the parodied behavior. Bad grammar is rapidly becoming the standard.

September 14, 2011

Worth Noting: The Arranger by L.J. Sellers

Filed under: Book Review,On Books,Worth Noting — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , , ,

Sometimes I hate picking up a new book – when I discover that I have to fight with myself to put the book down, the times when I find I can’t go back to work or can’t go to sleep because the book has grabbed me and simply won’t let me go. Such is the case with The Arranger, the new thriller from L.J. Sellers.

I reviewed Sellers’ writing earlier, calling her a 5-star indie author. (See On Books: Detective Jackson Grows and Grows for my earlier review.) The Arranger simply cements her 5-star status.

The Arranger stars Lara Evans, a homicide detective in the “Detective Jackson” series, now retired and working as a freelance paramedic. I don’t know how Sellers came up with the idea of a series of games as the framework for the story, but I found it reminiscent, in a very broad sense, of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

The Arranger is different in every way from the “Detective Jackson” series, but it is as satisfying as any book in the series. The characters are well-formed and interesting. The story is compelling and believable. The writing is gripping and refused to let me go. The ending had a twist, one that I never expected. Let me clarify, however, that this is a thriller and not a mystery. The difference is that in a mystery the author tries to keep you guessing who is the bad person; in the thriller, it doesn’t matter if you know or if you figure it out early in the book. What counts in a thriller are the relationships and the causes and effects.

In The Arranger, Sellers has written a top-notch thriller. If you like thrillers, The Arranger is a 5-star-sure-to-please-can’t-put-down read. As with all her books, it is available at the author’s website and at ebookstores.

September 12, 2011

The Blurring of Roles and the Downward Pressure on Price

When hired to “edit,” are you hired to be a developmental editor? A copyeditor? A proofreader? A compositor? Is what you are being paid commensurate with what you are being asked to do?

Today, many clients are using the term proofreading as an all-inclusive term, one that incorporates the “whatever is needed” concept. The problem with not clearly separating and defining the various tasks, and clarifying with the client precisely what they want, is that most  publishers pay a lesser fee for proofreading than for editing. By not establishing the parameters, you give away your skills. Clients expect it, but I am not yet prepared to do that.

What is happening in our editorial world is that globalization has combined with the quartet of recession, consolidation, rapid growth in freelance editor ranks, and lack of in-house jobs to put downward pressure on pricing. Consequently, instead of price rising with skill level and experience, we see it flattening or declining as a result of our need to compete with colleagues around the world. This is a significant change from when I first entered this world of editing 27 years ago.

More importantly, this globalization + quartet downward pressure on pricing has also led to the blurring of roles. I have found that the younger and less experienced the in-house editor I deal with is, the more blurry the demarcation. I have discussed this several times in recent months (see, e.g., Is This the Wave of the Editorial Future?, Is the Editorial Freelancer’s Future a Solo Future?, Worth Noting: A Report on Overseas Outsourcing of Editorial Services, and Is There a Future in Editing?). Sadly, as the number of freelance editors grows, which happens on a daily basis, so grows the competition for editorial work. With that growth in competition, we see a “class” division between older, more-experienced editors and younger, less-experienced editors, with the former trying to unblur the roles and distinguish via price the different skills required for the different roles, and the latter accepting the blurring of roles and the accompanying lower price in exchange for work.

This downward pressure, however, has moved editorial work into the technological age, something that was actively and vociferously opposed in my early years by many of my colleagues. Now, to make a good living from editorial work, we must incorporate things into our work efficiencies that can make parts of our work less labor intensive, such as macros (see, e.g., Macro Power: Wildcard Find & Replace and the articles cited), using multiple monitors, and other labor-saving devices.

Yet even increased efficiencies and greater use of technology can only go so far. The real battle, the one that needs to be waged but isn’t, is establishing a minimum worth for each of the different roles and insisting that the meaning of “edit” be clearly defined and appropriately compensated. Unfortunately, this is not a war that an individual editor can fight and win; it requires a group effort, and an organized group that speaks for freelance editors regarding work issues doesn’t exist (see Who Speaks for the Freelance Editor?).

The difficulty is that the people doing the hiring do not understand the different roles and their parameters. They do not understand the differences in skills required or the value of experience. They are bound by imposed financial limits that compete with project needs; for example, they have a $1,000 budget even though it is clear that the project requires $3,000 worth of skilled labor. In the end, they compromise by hiring less-skilled editors who are willing to work for the budgeted price, knowing that they will not get all of the needed work done at the needed level of expertise. These same editors are willing to do editing work — sometimes substantive work — at proofreading prices, just to get any work or pay at all.

Unfortunately, the ramifications of this “dumbing/pricing down” extend far beyond the borders of traditional publishing and into nontraditional publishing. Editors who work in traditional publishing become acclimatized to this blurring and price pressure and begin to accept it as “normal” or “standard.” This acceptance then does become the standard and so is extended to all facets of publishing, cheapening the end product. All that everyone is interested in is the financial bottom line; lost is the idea of product quality or any differentiation in skills between editing/levels of editing and proofreading.

Editorial work, like authorial work, is labor intensive. Labor-intensive products, unlike mass-production products, see a degradation in quality as price lowers (interestingly, it does not necessarily see an increase in quality as price rises; it appears that quality and price are only linked in the downward spiral). The acceptance of the financial bottom line as the paramount concern, however, means that quality has little to no role to play.

I think it will be interesting to see how low the editorial bottom line will go in future years and how we will react to that lowering. I’m certain of one thing: Were I to be starting my career path today, I would think long and hard about choosing this path.

September 7, 2011

A Book Is a Book — Or Is It?

If we look back to the beginning of the agency model in ebooks, which began a little more than one year ago, we can find the publishers’ claimed rationale for changing models (which occurred with a mighty push from Apple): to protect ebooks from becoming mere commodities and to prevent consumers from establishing a mindset that $9.99 is the right price point. Okay, that was the rationale, coupled with a fear of Amazon becoming too powerful, that was bandied about. The question is: Were publishers successful in preventing the commoditization of books?

The reports from the Agency 6 indicate that ebooks are rapidly becoming a significant source of revenue for publishers, perhaps even their primary growth area. Latest reports show growth in ebook sales (Barnes & Noble reports 140% rise in digital sales; Hachette reports ebooks as 20% of U.S. sales and 5% of worldwide sales; Penguin and Simon & Schuster report digital as 14% and 15% of revenue, respectively; Bertelsmann/Random House reports digital sales in the first six months of 2011 as exceeding all digital sales in 2010);  and a significant decline in mass market paperbacks (down 14%). Profits are up slightly, even though volume appears to be down somewhat. All of which seems to favor the notion that the publishers did the right thing.

What we don’t know, of course, is how the sales are breaking down by price point. I can relate anecdotal evidence that the agency pricing scheme is a failure on several levels, but no data has been released that enables a careful analysis.

I’ve mentioned it before, yet it is still true: Whereas before agency pricing I bought a lot of hardcover books and ebooks from the Big 6 publishers, my purchases have declined since the institution of agency. Whereas I used to visit my local Barnes & Noble at least once a week and buy a few books each time, it has been nearly five months since I last visited the store and bought an Agency 6-published book.

If the Agency 6 intended by their action to make me accept spending more than $9.99 for an ebook, they have failed — and failed miserably – because I am pretty unwilling to accept even $9.99, let alone a higher price point, as the sweet price point. Instead, I’ve gotten used to the indie author price points of $5 and less, with less being the dominant word.

I still occasionally “buy” an Agency 6 book, when they offer it for less than $5 or offer a bundle, such as three ebooks for $9.99, but more often when they offer an ebook for free. Agency pricing has backfired not only with me but with nearly all of my acquaintances who buy ebooks. The principal hurdle for the Agency 6 to overcome is the lack of physicality of the ebook.

Even though I and my friends have transitioned to ebooks and much prefer reading on our electronic devices to reading the pbook version, we have not made the price transition, and it is that transition that the publishers need (want?) us to make. Yet it is the publishers who have made the problem worse.

Publishers do not accept the idea that a book is a book is a book, regardless of whether it is electronic or print. In contrast, consumers like me have always thought that a book is a book is a book, regardless of form. We understand the difference between a hardcover and a paperback because we can both see and feel those differences; consequently, over decades we have become accustomed to paying more for a hardcover than for a paperback, perceiving — rightly or wrongly — greater value in a hardcover than in a paperback. (In fact, it was this perceived disparity that brought about the rise of the trade paperback. The trade paperback is perceived by consumers as offering less physical quality than a hardcover but more than a mass market paperback, and thus worth a price between the two.) But we continue to have difficulty wrapping our heads around the idea that, even though it lacks physicality, the ebook is worth more than the paperback and the hardcover (ever note how many times the ebook price is higher than the hardcover price or so close to it that there is little price differential?) at worst, and worth more than the paperback and only slightly less than the hardcover at best, or that it is worth the same as the trade paperback.

Because we have difficulty wrapping our heads around the agency pricing continuum, we have spent more time and money buying indie books, which seem to be priced more logically. Thus, I suspect that our experience is the experience of many ebookers; that is, we buy more indie ebooks than agency ebooks (with some exception).

The Agency 6, however, can point to the rise in revenues, and sometimes even in net income, they are experiencing, which is occurring even in the face of declining volume numbers and is attributable to increased ebook sales at the higher agency price. It is mixing, I think, apples and oranges in the sense that I suspect the biggest growth in volume and dollars is occurring in the indie/non-Agency 6 ebook market, not in the Agency 6 market. So the question not being asked or answered is this: What would the Agency 6 ebook sales volume and profits be if they had let the market do the pricing? Would their growth be significantly higher than what is being reported and would their net income be more marginal?

Also not asked and answered is what effect the commoditization has on consumer buying habits. Ultimately, will this cause even hardcover sales to decline significantly? This takes us back to the questions raised earlier in Clashing Perspectives: Coming Home to Roost and leaves us in the same place.

I used to “revere” books that I purchased. After all, I paid a lot of money for a hardcover and I treated it reverently. Take one off my library shelf and it appears in virtually the same condition as when I bought it. I wouldn’t let my children borrow one of the books until they learned how to handle them gently and carefully. None of this matters with my ebooks. Even if an ebook is accidentally deleted and the bits and bytes written over, I can replace it for free from my backup and have it in the same condition as when I bought it. There is no need to be reverent. Thus, the ebook is viewed as a commodity — a book is a book is a book.

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