An American Editor

November 30, 2011

The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online IV — Mastering Macros

Mastering macros has been discussed before (see, e.g., the previous articles in this series, notably The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online II — The Macros), but it is worth repeating. This time, let’s consider how macros can save you time and thus make you money — especially if you charge by the page or by the project. (If you charge by the hour, using macros can make your job easier but they won’t necessarily make you money; in fact, using macros might cost you money by reducing the number of hours you work on a project and, thus, the amount you can bill. See Thinking About Money: What Freelancers Need to Understand and In Editing, It’s the Little Things That Count.)

I mentioned in an earlier article that I often work on exceedingly large chapters. Recently, I worked on one that had 78 pages of references — 801 references in total. (To see the original reference file as provided by the authors, click here: REFS original.) In the usual course of editing, I have to read all of the references to make sure that all of the required information is present and that they are in the proper style. Included in the criteria, because I was working on a medical textbook, was the requirement that journal names conform to the National Library of Medicine’s (NLM’s) abbreviation. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the NLM database, it contains more than 10,000 journals from a variety of science and medical disciplines. Although the database is readily accessible, over the years the one truism about manuscripts I receive for editing is this: authors use their own abbreviations for journal titles.

Before I created my Journals macro, I had to lookup every journal name that I didn’t know and I had to manually make necessary corrections. A very time-consuming process; not so bad when you have 50 references, but a nightmare when you have hundreds. Although I could remember a lot of journal names, I couldn’t remember the vast majority, especially those rarely cited.

Because I charge a per-page rate for my editing services, time is of the essence. It doesn’t take the loss of a great deal of time to drag an effective hourly rate down to minimum wage and lower. Consequently, I decided I had to steel myself to learn to write macros.

The key to a macro is this: seeing a pattern that you can explain to the macro. If you cannot decipher a pattern for the problem area, then it is unlikely that you will be able to draft a macro to solve the problem. Remember this: macros are dumb! They will look for only what you tell them to find — nothing more, nothing less. Consequently, if you tell a macro to search for N. Engl J. Med (note the periods), it will not find N Engl J Med (same text but no periods). (It is possible to write a wildcard find that will find both variations, but it is still finding only what you have designated.)

Not only do you need to decipher a “find” pattern, but you also need to determine what you want the macro to do when it finds a match. This can be as simple as a replace or something more complex, such as applying various colored highlighting.

Ultimately, the Journals macro was created. My PubMed Journals dataset contains more than 7,700 entries. What that means is that when I run the macro against the submitted reference list, the macro will highlight in green journal names that found in the dataset that are correct as provided by the author. Seeing a name in green lets me skim over the journal title because I know — visually — that it is correct. Running the Journals macro on the references file took 4.5 minutes to complete and resulted in the file you can see by clicking here: REFS after Journals macro.

But if the name is incorrect, it either corrects the name or ignores it; which it does depends on whether the incorrect variation is in the dataset. The corrections are not only done with Tracking on, but corrected journal names are highlighted in cyan, which tells me that the name had to be corrected but is now correct.

An even more telling example, using the same original references file, is shown in REFS to AMA style. In this case, the journals had to conform to American Medical Association (AMA) style which is the abbreviated journal name in italic and followed by period (e.g., N Engl J Med.). If you look at the original reference file, you will see that none of the journal names are in italics and only a handful have the correct abbreviation followed by a period. Yet I was able to make the change to most of the journals in the reference list by using my Journals macro along with my AMA style dataset, which contains more than 11,400 entries, in less than 5 minutes.

What this all means is that when working on the references, only a handful require me to check the journal name or to manually make corrections. Every cyan and green highlighted journal name means money in my pocket because I do not have to spend time verifying the journal name. Unfortunately, running the journals macro doesn’t mean that the reference as a whole is in proper form. Nor does the macro catch every instance of a journal. As noted earlier, macros are dumb and will only find exact matches that meet all of the find criteria that form the pattern, which is more than just the journal name.

Yet the point I want to make remains unchanged: It took less than 5 minutes to run the macro and to relieve myself of most of the work otherwise necessary and that I would have to do manually. Think about how long it would take just to type the correct journal names even if you could recall every one without having to look them up, or to manually italicize each journal name, or even to manually add a period after each journal name.

In the end it comes down to this: Mastering the world of macros is time and effort saver for editors as well as a money maker.

Sometimes the macro we need is too complex for us to write; after all, few of us are programmers and that is what macro writing is — programming. My advice is to learn macro writing beginning with simple macros and progressing to increasingly difficult macros, and to learn to program as complex a macro as you can — but do not spend so much time at it that you are taken away from what should be your main focus: editing. If you can use a macro now to help with multiple projects that have the same or very similar problems, consider hiring a programmer to write the macro for you. Hiring isn’t inexpensive, but it doesn’t take long to earn back the cost, plus it can give you a model that you can learn to adapt to other needs. If someone has already written the macro you need, don’t reinvent the macro — buy it.

Whether you write the macro yourself, buy it, or hire someone to write it for you, the process is the same. First, you need to describe a pattern and variations on that pattern. Second, you need to be able to describe the action you want taken. In other words, you need a communicable plan of action or a checklist of criteria against which you can assess the macro as it is developed.

The more you can macroize, the more efficient and profitable your editing will be. The place to get started is with Jack Lyon’s Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word.

November 28, 2011

The Indie Bookstore in the Amazon Age

All the news that is fit to print about indie bookstores can generally be summarized this way: they are closing faster than a shark feeding frenzy. Perhaps a bit of hyperbole, but the demise of the indie bookstore is on everyone’s lips.

The questions are why are they dying out and what can be done to halt their death march? As to why, I don’t think we need spend much time on the question. Fewer Americans want to either pay more for local availability or want to patronize a local bookstore. What they are becoming accustomed to is huge selection and lower pricing without leaving home — the online bookseller. Another problem for indies is the trend toward ebooks. Their online competitors have them and they do not, or if they do have them, they are not as cheaply priced as their online competitors. It is just a matter of economics.

I grant, however, that the loss of indie bookstores is another nail in the coffin of Americana. It is pretty difficult to call Amazon on the telephone and discuss the merits/demerits of a book selection with a knowledgeable bookseller. But Amazon is doing to the indie bookstores what Walmart did to mom-and-pop Main Street, and while many of us lament the demise of mom-and-pop Main Street, we are also the first to shop online and the last to buy on Main Street.

Yet indie bookstores can and should fight back. Although books are entertainment — few people would call a Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh book an educational bromide — they are also the source of knowledge and we continue to need help in picking through the detritus for the gem.

I have been thinking about what indie bookstores can do to fight back. I’m not sure they can ever compete on price unless book publishers, especially the Agency 6, are willing to give special help, but there are things that they can do.

First, if your local pizzeria can offer free delivery, why can’t your local indie store — or if there is more than one local indie store, why can’t they band together to offer free local delivery? Amazon’s delivery is quick but indie delivery could be quicker, and we all know how unwilling we are to wait. This seems a minor customer service that could quickly and inexpensively be implemented.

Second, consider making the local populace a partner in the store. If the store is not already a corporation, make it one. Then create a nonvoting class of stock, a preferred stock, that entitle the owner to share in dividends on a preferential basis. Give 1 share of stock for every $250 in purchases (the dollar amount could be higher or lower). Give the local book-buying public a direct stake in your success. Think about parents who would see this as a good way to introduce their children to capitalism and stock ownership.

Third, create a special members-only club. Amazon tries to do this with its Prime and Barnes & Noble with its membership, and even some indies have their clubs — but none of them are really special. What is so special about Amazon’s Prime? Nothing. Make this club special. Club members with young children can use the premises for birthday party with the bookstore staff doing the work; major holidays have special get-togethers; have a biweekly restaurant-of-the-month get-together for adult members where they come to the store and for a steep discount are cooked a special meal by a local restaurant and get to learn how to make the dishes as well as eat them; have audience participation mystery plays bimonthly. The ideas are almost endless. The point is, make the membership more than a discount membership; make it something to look forward to and you can even theme the parties around certain books.

Fourth, come to an arrangement with other local indies whereby if someone is looking for a particular book and you do not have it in stock but your competitor does, your competitor will give you the book so you can make the sale subject to a small fee and your ordering a replacement. This will expand your inventory.

Fifth, make it a point for you and your staff to comb places like Smashwords for indie authors who are self-publishing. When you find a good one, contact the author and see if you can’t cut a deal with the author to write a book that will only be available to indie bookstores, that you can use to draw people in. This is more difficult to do than the other ideas but if you can create a catalog of indie books that are available only through indie stores, you are at least fighting back against Amazon exclusivity.

Sixth, as part of finding indie authors, you need to figure out a way to offer ebooks and print-on-demand pbooks for those who only buy one or the other format. The Espresso machine is expensive, but why not join with several other indies to buy one that you can share? Or why not talk to a local print shop and see if you can work something out with them.

Seventh, create an Indie Book Mall where several indie bookstores can share the space. This type of arrangement is often done by antiques and collectibles dealers and I see no reason why it couldn’t be done by indie bookstores. It would create a shopping “destination,” which seems to be something consumers like. Some of the advantages to doing this include the ability to share fixed expenses (e.g., rent, heat, electric) and it would allow each indie to have an area of concentration rather than be required to have such a general focus that each is a full replica of any other. It would also facilitate some of the earler suggestions. Additionally, this is the kind of project that would fit right in with Main Street renewal projects and could enable a group purchase of the real estate or low rent from cities trying to draw busiensses and people back to the Main Street. Something like this could also be done in conjunction with a struggling local library system, something I proposed nearly 2 years ago in A Modest Proposal V: Libraries & Indies in the eBook Age.

I’m sure that others can add to this list, but it is clear to me that indie bookstores can fight back. Imagination and effort are the keys. The Internet Age has isolated more of us; we tend to do less socialization because we are working by ourselves. The indie bookstore could become our new socialization venue with some effort.

At least it is something to think about.

November 23, 2011

On Books: The Shine of the Internet in the World of eBooks

As all of An American Editor book reviews (which are listed at the end of this article) imply, the Internet has opened reading vistas for me that otherwise would never have happened. I find that as a result of the Internet and places like Smashwords, I am being exposed to authors and stories that would not otherwise have been available to me. This has been the blessing of the Internet for readers, especially with the advent of ebooks.

The dark side remains the lack of gatekeeping and how finding worthwhile books to read is increasingly difficult. The easier it is for “authors” to find an outlet for their work, the harder it is for readers to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Unfortunately, although this problem has been discussed several times over the course of the past two years, no real solution has been forthcoming. I doubt there really is a single, good solution to the gatekeeping problem, except, perhaps, to not pay more than 99¢ for any ebook from an unknown author.

Even at that price point, I find myself waffling about whether to buy or not. That’s because my to-be-read pile is already several hundred books, nearly all of which I obtained free, and it keeps growing with free ebooks. I am unlikely to live long enough to celebrate the demise of my TBR pile even should I stop adding to it now.

Regardless, the rise of the Internet and the (relatively) recent rise of ebooks has worked wonders for multiculturalism. Exposure to literature from other continents and countries has broadened my perspective significantly. Previously, my exposure was to North American and West European literature. The geographical limitations imposed by contract between publisher and author limited opportunities to expand.

That geographical limitation combined with publisher gatekeeping, which had at least one eye, and perhaps more than one eye, focused on the bottom line, meant that exposure to other cultures was limited. (Of course, it doesn’t help that I am monolingual, which imposes its own fence.) As each day passes, the geographical and gatekeeping limitations fade a little more and increasingly seem to be only relevant to ebooks published by the big six publishers.

For all of this, the Internet should take a bow. The Internet shines at making what was previously unavailable available, and I, for one, am trying to take advantage of that ready availability. Alas, as noted earlier, that Internet shine does have a darkening tendency as well.

The ease of access has caused the lack of effective gatekeeping to cast its net much wider than just the Internet. Increasingly, traditional publishers seem to be publishing whatever they can get their hands on and in whatever condition they grabbed the book. The dark side of the Internet is the lowering of quality acceptance/expectations and the increasing demand for lower prices. This is not to say that as price increases, quality increases; there is definitely no upward correlation between the two as the Agency 6 prove on a regular basis. However, there is a correlation between lower price and lower quality — absent sufficient revenue, essential production services, such as editing, are bypassed. (Yes, I, too, can point to examples of outstanding quality ebooks that are free; yet being able to do so doesn’t negate the validity of the statement when discussing the broader ebook market.)

The lesson is that we need to work harder on figuring out a way to correlate price and quality and find that sweet spot that satisfies both. I expect that within the next few years we will come close to resolving the matter even though I currently have no idea as to what is a practical solution.

A large number of ebookers believe that publisher gatekeeping can readily be replaced by crowd gatekeeping. I wish this were true but the evidence so far, at least to my eye, indicates that too many of the crowd gatekeepers base their gatekeeping on factors other than quality of writing and quality of story. We still see all-too-many reviews in which price or geographical restrictions or some other unrelated-to-writing-quality criterion plays a role in deciding whether an ebook is a 2-star or a 5-star ebook.

In addition, I have found it difficult to find reviewers whose reviews I can consistently trust. (Part of the problem is that too many reviews are written by unidentifiable reviewers. Who is TommyGumChewer and why should I value his/her opinion? See Book Reviews & Reviewers: Deciding Which Reviews to Trust for an earlier discussion.) Many ebookers have developed their own criteria for evaluating reviews (e.g., dismissal of all 1-star reviews), which may work well for them, but leaves me unsatisfied. I have grown too accustomed to reviews like those in The New York Review of Books to find many of the reviews on the Internet helpful.

In the end, what I do is take advantage of what the Internet does best — make information available to me — and I “buy” ebooks whose descriptions interest me. I read (or try to read) those ebooks and act as my own gatekeeper, as inefficient a process as it is in this era of self-publishing. And, thus, what I “buy” is largely free, because with all the ebooks available, it would be very easy to spend a small fortune to find only a few excellent ebooks and authors.

How do you gatekeep?

(For those who are interested, the following are reviews I have written for An American Editor in order of newest to oldest:

I believe that covers all of the reviews on An American Editor. Happy book hunting!)

November 21, 2011

The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online III — Mastering Word

Recall that Part I (The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online I — The Books) of this series called for professional editors to master the tools of their trade, particularly Microsoft Word if they edit using Word. There are good reasons to do so.

A few weeks ago, I was working on a book chapter that ran 453 manuscript pages, 49 pages of which were reference citations. (Yes, the number is correct; one chapter in this project I am editing ran 453 manuscript pages. Most of the chapters run 30 to 50 manuscript pages, but several are 200+-page chapters.) The project was for a client who uses a custom template and part of my job is to apply the template to the manuscript, styling every paragraph plus applying particular styles to items that need special styling in addition to the basic paragraph style, such as applying a special “overstyle” to a word that should be in a san serif typeface.

I used the macros I had written (and mentioned in The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online II — The Macros) to style the heads and then I had to manually style the text paragraphs as I couldn’t decipher a pattern that I could capture in a macro. It took a while to get the whole document styled and ready for editing (I like to do the master styling before I edit because that lets me determine, as I read the material, whether something needs to be styled differently), but I did finish — and because of the macros, I finished in much less time — and was prepared to begin editing.

That is when I realized I had made a mistake: I forgot to turn off Track Changes when I did the styling (I’ll prevent that from happening again by adding some code to my macros to turn Tracking off if it is on then, when the macro is done, turning it back on if it was on when the macro started). As all of us Word users know, that means a gazillion annoying balloon popups telling me when I had styled the text and the style I applied — there was no safe place for me to put my cursor! (Yes, I could have turned off show formatting in tracking, but the client wants to see certain formatting changes, so that was not a viable solution.)

It would have been an easy enough fix to just accept all changes in the document, except that I had already run my Never Spell Word and Journals macros and I did not want those changes accepted — I hadn’t edited the chapter yet and so I hadn’t approved the changes the macros made.

Here is where having some mastery of Word helps. What I needed was to have Word accept just the formatting changes and retain everything else. Because I have made an effort to learn something new about Word regularly, I knew how to solve my problem. The following steps are what I did in Word 2010 (I know this will work in Word 2007 and there should be a similar method in Word 2003 and in Mac versions of Word, but you will have to do your own exploring in those versions).

  1. I switched to the Review Tab and clicked on the tiny down arrowhead in Show Markup.
  2. I deselected everything but Formatting.
  3. I clicked on the tiny arrow in Accept and then clicked Accept all changes shown.
  4. I returned to the Show Markup dropdown and reselected everything I had deselected.

With this simple four-step process, I was able to solve my problem — only the formatting changes were accepted; all the rest of the changes that I had made using my macros remained for me to accept or reject.

This doesn’t seem like a big deal at first glance, but it was to me. If I couldn’t find a way to accept just the formatting changes, my choices would have been to (a) live with the annoyance (and I really do find it annoying) or (b) start over with the chapter and eat the time I had already spent styling this massive chapter (I charge a per-page rate, not an hourly rate, so I would have had to eat the time regardless, but even had I been charging an hourly rate I wouldn’t have charged the client — the fault was mine and it was for my convenience). Neither option was particularly welcome.

Perhaps you would have chosen to just live with the balloons. That’s okay as long as you know that there was an option to fix the problem quickly and easily. That is the essence of my clarion call to master the tools we use: knowing what our options are and not having a decision thrust upon us simply because we don’t know enough about how our tools work. Would you hire a carpenter who owned and used only a single saw blade because the carpenter didn’t know that different saw blades are used for different purposes and give different types of cuts?

We expect those we hire to perform services for us — whether they be a carpenter, a doctor, an auto mechanic, or some other tradesperson or professional — to have mastery of the tools of their profession so that they can give us knowledgeable advice. Shouldn’t we similarly be masters of the tools of our own profession?

I discussed the value of learning to write macros in The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online II — The Macros. Absent mastery of Word, absent knowing what functions Word can perform and can’t perform, how can we learn to write macros to ease performance of those functions? A macro is merely a method to accomplish a task more quickly, efficiently, and uniformly; it is not a method to perform a function that otherwise cannot be done. Macros call upon the same commands that you do when using Word. Consequently, mastering Word, which is, for many editors, a fundamental tool, is a step toward conquering macros. Neither mastery of Word nor creation of macros lives in isolation of the other. They are interdependent and should provide an impetus for editors to master the tools they use.

(Although I focus on Word and VBA [Visual Basic for Applications] as the tools to master, I know that some of you use tools other than Word and its macro language. For example, your focus may well be InDesign or some other text program. But what applies to Word applies to the programs you use as well. The point is less learning to master Word than it is to master whatever tool you use. InDesign, as an example, also has a scripting language that can be learned and it has its own text editor, InCopy, that also warrants learning and mastering.)

November 16, 2011

Sometimes We Need a Reminder. . .

Sometimes we need to be inspired.

Sometimes we need to have our eyes opened for us.

Sometimes we need others to remind us about what is important and what is not so important in our daily lives.

Sometimes we need someone else to point out all the things for which we should be thankful.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that we are part of a larger family.

Sometimes we need to relearn how to smile, how to cry, how to empathize, how to recognize all that is good that surrounds us.

Sometimes we need a reminder that a positive attitude and outlook can make all the difference between success and failure.

Sometimes we just need each other.

Sometimes we just need…

November 14, 2011

Does the Future of Editing Lie in Tiers?

One of the things that struck me about the “saving” of the American auto industry was the new union contracts that created two wage tiers. The idea of tiers is also invading public employee contracts.

Then a new project came to me that was conditioned on my accepting a lower per-page rate than I customarily charge. The tradeoff was the size of the project and the extra long schedule. Yet that made me wonder: Does the future of editing lie in tiers?

We have already seen the changes in pay that were brought about by globalization of the editor’s job. Whereas when I first started in editing, 28 years ago, I had to overcome publishers wanting editors who were very local, that is, editors who could pick up and deliver the hard copy manuscripts, today I have to overcome publishers who are price focused and globally oriented. That global orientation has already caused a depression in rates that publishers will pay.

I thought that the rate pressure had hit bottom until this project was offered. Now I see it hasn’t and that it may be taking a more insidious form — the form of tiering.

I called the client to discuss the pricing and discovered that the rate they were offering was their new top-tier rate given only to very experienced editors and only for the most problematic projects. I was informed that most of the freelance professional editors who worked for this client were in one of two even lower-paying tiers.

I understand the pressure that publishers are under. Competition is getting keener with agents starting their own presses and with booksellers venturing into the publishing end of the book process. Yet the race to the bottom means everyone loses.

Right now the bulk of the competition for American editors lies in India-based editors and in newly minted American editors, both of whom are willing to work for low wages (i.e., low based on the American lifestyle). Newly minted American editors think that taking a job at any price is better than not having any work at all and also that it gives a foot in the door. That was reasonable thinking a few decades ago, but not today with globalization and with publishers viewing editorial services as being of questionable value for their bottom lines.

Alas, although such thinking is no longer reasonable, I am unsure what reasonable thinking is when it comes to pay. I am also wondering what the effect would be should I decide to accept this project at the proffered price. I am weighing multiple factors as I consider the effects.

First, even at the proffered price, the project would be profitable to me. Because of efficiencies in how I run my business, the proffered price is not a breakeven or worse price, yet it is not as good a price as I expect for a project with the problems this one has.

Second, I wonder if acceptance would set a precedent. Would I be more willing to accept lower-paying projects in the future? Will this client expect to pay even less next time?

Third, I wonder how this will impact other facets of my business. Will I be able to accept projects from other clients or higher-paying projects while working on this one? How will it interfere with work over the next few months (the proffered project is expected to last 6 or 7 months of near full-time editing).

There are other concerns but perhaps the most important concern is this: Is this project a portent of the future of editing in which low and tiered pay will become the norm, with editors having no control over the tier to which they are assigned? This may seem farfetched now, but the future is not so far away that we can ignore what is or may be coming. The time to plan counterstrategies to these possibilities is now; waiting until they are universal is too late.

It is at times like these that I lament the lack of a useful, viable, forceful national association for professional editors that is something more than a social club. The one lesson that publishers have absorbed, and that freelance editors shore up by their actions, is the divide-and-conquer lesson. American editors stubbornly refuse (generally speaking) to coalesce into anything that smacks of giving up some independence. Ultimately, that reluctance to give up any of our freedom will be our downfall.

Sadly, I think tier pricing for editors will be the norm in a few years, not a few decades. I think when that occurs, it will be too late for editors to join together to fight it. The ease of entering the field — all one need do is hang out a shingle that proclaims he or she is ready for work — and the very minimal financial investment needed to do so, works against us in this time of globalization, just as it worked for us when we started our own careers.

How many of us would choose this career path today should we be given the opportunity to restart our career lives? I know I would have to think carefully about my choice.

November 9, 2011

The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online II — The Macros

In part I of this series, The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online I — The Books, I identified three books that I think every professional editor should have on his or her bookshelf — Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals, Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word, and Effective Onscreen Editing –three resources that will help the editor become the master of Microsoft Word, the universally used editing program. In two of the three books, sections are devoted to macros; the third book, Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word by Jack Lyon, is all about macros.

There is a reason why macros are a topic in all three books:

Macros are the power tool that editors need to master but are afraid to tackle!

No tool in the Microsoft Word armamentarium is more powerful, more useful, yet more challenging than macros. Macros have their own truncated language and require a type of thinking that is contrary to the type of thought process editors apply to editorial tasks. Mastering macros requires a change in direction; however, the rewards one can reap by mastering macros can increase an editor’s efficiency many fold.

We need to begin with this truism:

The more efficiently an editor works, the more money an editor earns.

We also need to accept that it makes no sense to keep reinventing the macro. If someone has already created a macro that does what you need, don’t reinvent it — buy it. It will take you more time to write the macro from scratch than to earn back the money spent (and that’s without considering the return on investment you will get from repeated use).

Macros are efficient tools for performing repetitive and/or cumbersome tasks in Microsoft Word. Every second you save by using a macro is money in your pocket.

Something else to keep in mind. Many times macros are part of a package. This is true of Editorium macros and EditTools. Colleagues have told me that they could really use xyz macro but don’t need the rest of the package and so won’t buy the package, thinking it a waste of money. This is faulty thinking. If you will get repeated use of a single macro in a package, it will earn back the cost quickly. Plus, even though you think you cannot use other included macros, having them around will encourage you to experiment and discover new ways to use previously unusable macros.

A good example is my EditTools collection of macros. I have been told numerous times that, for example, if the Search, Count, and Replace macro were available as a standalone macro, the editor would buy it because it really would be useful in their work, unlike the other macros in the package. Perhaps this is true, but the editor is not thinking through how they work and what tasks they perform when they edit. How many times, for example, do you have to take an author-used acronym and spell it out? If you use the Toggle macro, you only need to press a key (or key combination) to change WHO to World Health Organization (WHO). My Toggle macro dataset has more than 1300 items in it, every one an item that I can change from one thing to another by pressing a single key. Think about how much time I save using this macro, which means both more money in my pocket and no chance of mistyping. (If you are like me, accurate typing is not a high skill. I’m good but too many times I will type something only to discover I typed it incorrectly and have to fix it. That uses up more precious time and lowers my earning power. The Toggle macro eliminates that problem for those items in the Toggle dataset. Once entered into the dataset correctly, it will be typed correctly forever after.)

My point is that editors tend to be resistant to spending money to make money, which is something I consider a major mistake for a professional editor. One should always weigh the outlay against the return on investment — but the return has to be looked at over the long-term, not the short-term.

Yet this is also a reason why learning to write Word macros is important to the professional editor. The editor who masters macro creation can devise macros that will conform to how the editor works and save the editor time while making the editor money.

You begin simply, by recording a simple macro; for example, a macro that replaces two spaces with one space. As you master the steps to record simple macros, you can move on to more complex macros or to combining macros, and the three books mentioned above will help, especially Macro Cookbook.

(The Macro Cookbook is not yet available for sale. I was given an advance copy by Jack Lyon because of our mutual interest in macros. Macro Cookbook will be available for sale by November 30. Jack is adding a couple of chapters to it that will make the book even more valuable. When it becomes available, I will post the information in a Worth Noting post here on An American Editor.)

Consider this: I have a client that uses a template for all its projects. Editors are required to use the template and to apply styles to the manuscript. To insure that head structure is correct, before sending the file to the editor either the in-house production editor or the author labels each head using something like <1>, <2>, etc. to designate the level. That is very useful to me because I no longer have to try to guess head relationships. But it is also an opportunity for me to make a bit more money from the project. Why? Because I charge by the page so everything I can do to save time earns me a higher effective hourly rate (i.e., if I can do a project in 30 hours rather than 40 hours, my effective hourly rate is greater, which is another reason why the Toggle macro is so useful; for more information, see Thinking About Money: What Freelancers Need to Understand and In Editing, It’s the Little Things That Count).

The opportunity comes about because I can macroize the task, which is what I did. I wrote a series of macros that search for specific codes (e.g., <1>), delete the code, apply the appropriate style, then automatically search for the next instance and keeps going until no more of the code can be found. Not only could I macroize the task for each code individually, but I could also create a macro that would serially run all of these individual macros, giving me the option of running each macro individually or together as a single macro. With some chapters running more than 300 manuscript pages, and a typical chapter running 50+ manuscript pages, think about how quickly — and accurately — I can code the chapter, all because I have gained a level of mastery over macros.

Similarly, many of the chapters I work on have reference lists that run from a few hundred references to more than 1,000 references. I wish I could automate everything about references, but I can’t because macros are dumb and rely on patterns. But what I can and did do is create a Journals macro that compares the author-provided journal title with the correct form of journal title in a journal dataset. The macro highlights correct names in green and, with tracking on, changes incorrect forms to correct forms. (My dataset of journal names has more than 7,400 journals in it.) Think about how much time I save not having to check journal titles and not having to correct incorrect journal titles. (There are still some journal titles that I have to check because they are not yet in the dataset, but I add these to the dataset as I come across them so that next time I won’t have to check them.)

If you want to be a more successful professional editor, you need to think in terms of macros. Think about how you can macroize an otherwise repetitive task, whether that task is unique to a specific project or is the type of task that needs to be done on many different projects. Not only do you need to think in terms of macros, but you need to master macros. The best time to start mastering macros is now.

November 7, 2011

The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online I — The Books

I am celebrating the start of my 28th year as a professional editor. Over the course of those years, I have watched the world of editing change. Sadly, many of my colleagues have not changed with it.

In my beginning years, nearly all editing work was done on paper. I hated working on paper! I hated it because of the types of editing projects I undertake — generally the books I work on are several thousand manuscript pages and often, when published, are either a very large single volume (very-large-width spine) or are multivolume. Imagine realizing that you made a mistake in the first 500 manuscript pages and trying to find each mistake when editing on paper. Difficult at best, impossible realistically. More importantly, think of the money it cost me — after all, it was my mistake and the client shouldn’t be penalized for my mistake — and the time I spent trying to find those errors. Online editing has definitely eased that task; now correcting a mistake is significantly less expensive and less time-consuming.

Those years were also the time when computers were being introduced into the workplace for everyone, rather than for a select few. Remember XyWrite? It was the software program that many publishers adopted when it first became available. Lippincott, before it was Lippincott-Raven then Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, went so far as to create a customized version of XyWrite and would only hire editors who took, at the editor’s own expense, a day-long class in New York City on using the customized template. Alas, XyWrite was soon swept away by WordPerfect, which was ultimately swept away by Microsoft Word.

Yet in those beginning years, I saw both the future of editing and an opportunity. The future clearly was online editing and the opportunity was to be among the very few who could and would offer solely online editing of manuscripts. And that was how I promoted myself. I would send out “cost comparisons” demonstrating how much money I could save a publisher by electronically editing and coding their manuscripts instead of working on paper. And in the beginning, those savings were huge.

Today it is the rare manuscript that is edited on paper. Nearly all manuscripts are edited electronically and almost never does paper move hand to hand — the Internet has changed how professional editors work. Yet one thing hasn’t changed in all these years: there is still a sizable number of editors who have not mastered the basic tools of their profession. Their knowledge of the tools they use daily is minimal — just enough to get by. Ask them to use a feature that they have not used before and they get flustered.

Succeeding as a professional editor in the 21st century requires more than knowledge of language, spelling, and grammar — it also requires mastery of the tools we use daily. It requires learning new skills, particularly how to harness the built-in power of the software we use, and finding and using complementary software that enhances the already great power of our basic editing software. For example, it is not enough to master Microsoft Word; one needs also to be familiar with programs like MacroExpress, PerfectIt, the Editorium macros, and EditTools. (The latter three were the subject of discussion in these articles, which appeared on An American Editor more than a year ago: The 3 Stages of Copyediting: I — The Processing Stage; The 3 Stages of Copyediting: II — The Copyediting Stage; and The 3 Stages of Copyediting: III — The Proofing Stage.)

Even though we need to enhance our skills with ancillary programs, we also need to enhance our skills regarding what Microsoft Word can do that makes our workflow increasingly efficient. Thus, three books that should be in every professional editor’s library, and regularly consulted, are these:

(The Macro Cookbook is not yet available for sale. I was given an advance copy by Jack Lyon because of our mutual interest in macros. Macro Cookbook will be available for sale by November 30. Jack is adding a couple of chapters to it that will make the book even more valuable. When it becomes available, I will post the information in a Worth Noting post here on An American Editor.)

Each of these books can be considered, from the editor’s perspective, a bible for working with Microsoft Word. They both educate and help to solve problems. Most importantly, if you take the time to work through the books, they will give you mastery over the one bit of software that is simultaneously an editor’s bane and savior: Microsoft Word.

Although there are many editors who resist delving deeply into the tools of our trade, and who even loathe having to rely on these tools, the reality is that working in Word is a fundamental requirement of professional editing. If one software program is used nearly universally in the publishing industry for editorial matters, that program is Word. And I do not see Word’s role changing in the near future; rather, I see that mastery of Word will become part of the testing process that publishers will use when choosing editors to hire.

More importantly for the professional editor, mastery of Microsoft Word is the avenue by which we can become more efficient and proficient. Increased efficiency and proficiency means our earning more money and making ourselves more saleable in an ever more competitive market.

One good reason to master Word is to clean up author files. One constant over the many years that I have been editing electronically is that authors continue to amaze me with how they prepare their manuscripts for editing. If it is a feature in Word, they feel obligated to use it in their manuscript, albeit usually incorrectly. It is the rare file I receive that can be cleaned and readied for editing within a few minutes. Authors are uncannily creative with how they misuse Word. These three books — Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals, Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word, and Effective Onscreen Editing — can help you deal with author creativity, as well as with whatever other problems we encounter just because we use Microsoft Word.

Mastering Word means less time spent on noneditorial matters. As our primary focus is (or should be) on language, grammar, and spelling, mastering Word reduces the time we need to spend on ancillary problems. These are the key three books to mastering Word for editors.

November 2, 2011

Deciding Personhood: Words Do Matter!

The October 26, 2011 New York Times had an article about an upcoming citizens’ vote on a proposition to amend the Mississippi state constitution. The initiative would declare “a fertilized human egg to be a legal person.” Proposition 26, according to Ballotpedia, reads:

Should the term “person” be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof?

(The official ballot summary of the measure reads:

Initiative #26 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to define the word “person” or “persons”, as those terms are used in Article III of the state constitution, to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.)

I don’t want to get into an argument about the merits or demerits of this proposition, or about abortion, or about when life begins. Rather, I think we should look at the proposition with an editorial eye. If this were a sentence (i.e., Proposition 26, not the ballot summary) in a book you were editing, would the sentence pass muster?

When an editor reads a sentence or a paragraph, the editor should be reading for many measures including construction, clarity versus ambiguity, word choice, and communication. If a sentence is ambiguous, does the ambiguity promote understanding when surrounding sentences are considered? Is it ambiguous only because it is introducing a new topic that has yet to be explored? Are the words chosen meaningful both separately and in combination?

Is the construction confusing? A good example of confusing construction is the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Its meaning may well have been understood 200 years ago without discord, but today, the construction confuses the meaning and thus it needs interpretation. Is not this a failing of Proposition 26?

As written, Proposition 26 uses one vague word to define another vague word. Person is being defined by human being (I am treating human being as a single word), which is similarly vague but is wholly undefined unless we say it is being defined by person. Also undefined are moment of fertilization and cloning, both important concepts that are intended to contribute to the definition of person.

If this were a novel, perhaps the choice of wording and the sentence construction would be of less importance. But this isn’t a novel: Voters are being asked to approve a Mississippi constitution amendment that is poorly constructed and whose choice of words is ambiguous.

So, exactly what are voters being asked to approve or disapprove? If 10 voters were brought together and asked to define or explain the sentence, would we get 10 different responses? If approved by voters (which is the expected outcome even though many right-to-life groups and the Catholic Church are opposed to its passage), what, exactly, would be approved?

The danger of sentences like Proposition 26 is that you need Humpty Dumpty to interpret it: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

I think it is sentences and paragraphs constructed like this proposition that make a professional editor’s life simultaneously challenging, rewarding, and frustrating. Here’s my challenge to you:

Given the opportunity to refine Proposition 26, how would you refine it so as to minimize any ambiguities? Can it be made unambiguous? Editorially, how sound or unsound do you find this proposition?

Good luck!

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