An American Editor

August 27, 2014

The Ethics of Editing: The Sour Job

Teresa Barensfeld asked this question:

If a job is going sour, do you (a) cut corners, (b) tell the client and try to renegotiate time and/or money, (c) just grind through it even though you’re making no money and the rent/mortgage/bills are due, (d) something else?

I suspect that all of us have faced this problem in our editing career. I also suspect that each of us has a different approach to the problem. But let us start at the start of the problem: with ourselves.

When we took on this souring job, did we ask to see the manuscript or a sample before agreeing to do the editing? If we did, then why didn’t we see the problems that are now causing the job to sour? If we didn’t, why didn’t we?

In discussions, many editors state that they always ask to see a sample and that they instruct the client as to what they want to see. Other editors, like myself, never ask to see a sample unless it is a one-off project for a one-off client, which would be the usual case when dealing directly with the author. In the one-off instance, I ask to see the whole manuscript and I skim it. But when I am doing work for a packager or a publisher, I never ask to see a sample (sometimes they send me sample chapters).

Now that I have stated my blanket rule, let me state the “exception.” If the schedule is short in comparison to the client’s estimate of the manuscript size, and if the client also states that a medium or heavy edit is required, I do ask to see the entire manuscript. I want to do my own page count so I can determine whether the schedule is doable.

Aside from doing my own page count to evaluate the schedule, I pretty much rely on my rule of three, which we discussed in The Business of Editing: The Rule of Three. But I’m drifting from the posed questions, so let’s drift back.

Once I agree to undertake a project, I feel bound to perform the agreed upon job for the agreed upon fee and in the agreed upon time (assuming that is at all possible). So, given the choices Teresa outlined, I would adhere to choice c.

If I am not making money on a project, that is my fault, not the client’s fault. If I didn’t ask to see sample chapters, that is my fault. If I didn’t do my own page count, that is my fault. If I failed to determine how difficult the editing would be, that is my fault. Basically, the client has no fault in this transaction, so why should the client suffer any penalty?

If the client told me that the manuscript ran 500 pages and the client didn’t have all of the manuscript available for me to do a page count at the time I had to make a decision, and I have hit page 425 and know that I still have 10 chapters to go, and when I finally receive the remaining chapters I discover that instead of there being 75 pages to go, there are 500 pages to go, then the fault lies with the client (assuming I asked for the complete manuscript; if I didn’t ask, then none of this matters — it remains my fault) and I would advise the client that the schedule is not doable and needs to be renegotiated.

(Not asked and not addressed is the situation in which I have calendared for the 500-page manuscript based on the client’s representation and schedule, but subsequently discover the manuscript is much longer and needs more time, but I am already committed to another project for that time.)

What I would not do — ever — is cut corners or try to renegotiate the fee, unless the fee was a project fee based on the original representation of size. If the fee is per-page fee or an hourly fee, I would simply apply that same rate to the additional pages and time. If the fee arrangement was a project fee based on the manuscript being a certain size, and if the final size significantly differs, and if the client will not renegotiate the fee, then I think it is correct to return the balance of the project to the client, once I have edited the amount I agreed to edit.

Ultimately, the issue boils down to how much preparation we editors do when determining whether or not to take on a project. The more preparation we do, the less likely a project will go sour. Having said that, I realize that in evaluating a project I may not have looked at the most problematic chapters, the chapters that cause a project to sour. But if those chapters were available to me for the asking, then it is my fault and I live with my poor decision making; if the chapters were not available, then it is the client who is at fault and who needs to bear the consequences.

As the experienced editor, I should know whether I can do a medium edit of a manuscript written by nonnative English speakers and that is 500 pages within 10 editing days. If I say I can, then I need to do it; if I don’t believe I can, then I need to negotiate with the client before accepting the project. If I accept the project knowing that it will be very difficult for me to meet the schedule, then it is my fault and I need to figure out how to accomplish the task.

Which raises another side, but important, issue: editing days. When a client sends a project with a two-week schedule, the client counts every day in that two-week period as an editing day. In addition, the client thinks in terms of full days. I, on the other hand, do not count weekends and holidays as editing days and I recognize that quality begins to decline rapidly after about 5 hours of editing. That is, I calculate the maximum editing day length as 5 hours of editing.

The 500-manuscript page project is viewed by the client as requiring editing of 36 pages a day (2 weeks = 14 editing days) at a rate of 4.5 pages an hour. I view that same project as requiring 56 pages per day (2 weeks = 9 editing days) at a rate of a little more than 11 pages an hour. Consequently, the issue becomes do I think I can do a quality medium edit at the rate of 11+ pages per hour? If yes, the project can be accepted; if no, then schedule needs to be negotiated. If the client insists on the two-week schedule, then the fee has to rise because I will need to work weekends to meet it.

But once I have accepted the job, as long as any fault in the decision-making process was mine, I do not return to the client because the job is turning sour. I “just grind through it even though [I'm] making no money and the rent/mortgage/bills are due.” If any fault lies with the client, then I try to renegotiate the schedule, but not the fee (unless it was a project fee and the size of the manuscript has changed significantly). Unfortunately, that leaves me in the same position of grinding through.

I remain a firm believer that a deal is a deal and maintaining that deal is the ethical way to do business. What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 25, 2014

The Practical Editor: What You Need to Know to Edit Fiction

What You Need to Know to Edit Fiction

by Erin Brenner

A copyediting student asked me recently how she could learn to edit fiction. The copyediting and copyediting certificate program I teach in covers basic and intermediate skills of copyediting. While it’s a good program, it doesn’t cover everything (no program could). Hence, my student’s question on what to do next.

To specialize in editing any subject, you should have a good grasp of that subject. I participated in a Twitter discussion lately on how much you have to know to copyedit a subject intelligently. We didn’t conclude anything, but we generally agreed that you have to know something about the subject to edit it.

What I know about fiction, I learned in obtaining my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in literature. At this point, a lot of it comes naturally to me, so I had to do some research on what resources were out there and what other editors did with fiction manuscripts.

Disappointingly, there aren’t many training tools (an opportunity for someone, surely!) and of those out there, few seem to distinguish genre fiction (science fiction, romance, mystery, etc.) from literary fiction (everything else). Naturally, if you want to edit genre fiction, you want to be familiar with the specifics of the genre, as well.

Here’s what I gathered.

Developmental Fiction Editing Tasks and Resources

Generally speaking, a developmental editor works with the manuscript’s structure, either before the author has written the book (common in nonfiction) or after (common in fiction). It’s the big-picture view.

As a developmental editor, you’re looking for structural and organizational problems. You’re judging whether the author’s concept or theme works throughout the manuscript. Is the structure logical and appropriate? You’re looking at the author’s voice closely: Is it consistent? Appropriate for the story and audience? You’re also looking for sections that don’t work, whether they ramble on or are starved for detail.

Beyond that, you need to look at the various elements of the fiction work:

  • Plot. Does the plot make sense? Does it hold together? Are there any holes?
  • Timeline and events. Is the timeline logical and believable? Do events advance the plot? Build character? Are there any events that don’t add to the story in some way?
  • Setting. Is the setting appropriate for the story? Does it enrich the story or seem at odds with it?
  • Pacing. Different stories have different speeds. Does the pacing here seem to drag? Move too quickly?
  • Characters. Are the characters well-formed and believable? Do they grow, as real people do? How well do characters interact with each other?
  • Dialogue. Does the dialogue match the character? Does it seem believable? Move the plot along? Is there any dialogue that seems mismatched in some way?

Though it doesn’t deal with fiction in particular, Developmental Editing by Scott Norton is the go-to resource for editors wanting to do this type of editing. The Author-Editor Clinic offers online courses in developmental editing for fiction and creative nonfiction.

For fiction in particular, try resources for about literature itself: themes, models, symbols, archetypes, and so on. One promising book (which I haven’t read) is How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster. It appears to have a good overview that would give editors a working understanding of general fiction. (If you read it, let me know what you think of it.)

If you’re up for a challenge and really want to dig into literature, check out the works of Joseph Campbell and The Nature of Narrative by Robert Scholes, James Phelan, and Robert Kellogg.

Midlevel Fiction Editing Tasks and Resources

Any time you define editing stages, someone else will have different definitions. One editor’s developmental editing is another’s structural editing. A third editor might see structural and line editing as the same stage, with developmental being its own stage.

Whatever you call this stage that comes between developmental and copyediting, you’ll be doing a line-by-line edit of many of the tasks in the developmental edit. You’ll also look at flow, usage, and sometimes language mechanics.

I couldn’t find any resources for this specific stage of fiction editing. (If you know of any, please share them in the comments.) A trained editor could pick up the skills necessary from a developmental fiction editing resource, I’d wager.

Copyediting Fiction Editing Tasks and Resources

Copyeditors look at the word and sentence level of a manuscript. Grammar, usage, spelling, and style are all concerns here. So are logic, consistencies, and basic facts.

To copyedit fiction, you should be familiar with some of the basics of story structure, story elements, and character building so that you can edit without harming the story. You need to be alert for continuity issues (e.g., changes in character descriptions) and plausibility. If the story is set in present day, the details should be right. If it’s set in the future or on another planet, the world should follow the rules the author set up. Keep an eye out for possible trademark and copyright issues, too.

Editcetera has a correspondence course on copyediting fiction, and at Copyediting we’ve covered fiction editing in a couple of ways:

  • A fiction-editing audio conference with Amy Schneider. For those who don’t know, Amy works as a freelance copyeditor for the big publisher, and authors regularly request her (translation: she really knows her stuff).
  • The April-May 2013 issue of the Copyediting newsletter. This issue contains several articles on fiction editing, including one by Amy on the style sheet she developed for editing fiction. I’ve used the style sheet; it’s fantastic.

As I said at the beginning, a lot of what I know about fiction I internalized a long time ago. What other tasks do you think are particular to fiction editing? What resources do you use to obtain the skills necessary? Share your thoughts below!

(Starting in September, you can read more about fiction editing in Amy Schneider’s monthly column.—Ed.)

Erin Brenner is the editor of the Copyediting newsletter and the owner of Right Touch Editing. You can follow her on Twitter. Erin is also a guest presenter at various conferences on topics of interest to freelancers.

August 20, 2014

The Commandments: Thou Shall Know the Basics or Don’t Edit

The title may tell you that I am a bit frustrated. But let’s begin this story at the beginning.

My daughter wrote a nonfiction book that was accepted by a major crossover publisher for fall publication. (A crossover publisher is, in this instance, one that publishes academic titles for popular consumption — think Doris Kearns Goodwin-type books, which are well-researched nonfiction and could be written and published for a strictly academic market but instead are written and published to appeal to both academics and consumers.) Everything has been going smoothly with the process and my daughter has been very happy with the publisher.

Except that like far too many publishers these days, this publisher outsources to a packager the editing and production services. When told that the copyediting would be outsourced, my daughter asked about the assigned copyeditor. She was told that the editor had worked with the packager for more than 6 years, and was considered an outstanding editor — in fact, she was considered to be the best of the editors who worked for this packager.

Hearing that made my daughter feel better and gave her high hopes that the editing would be high quality.

Then I started receiving phone calls with questions about Chicago style, capitalization, whether it was OK to change “was” to “had been” in every instance, and on and on. Finally, my daughter asked me point blank: “Should I panic about the quality of the editing?”

I had not seen the edited manuscript but assured my daughter that some of the changes, such as removal of serial commas, were a matter of preference and house style and not (generally) something to panic over unless meaning was changed. I also suggested that she read more of the edited manuscript before coming to any conclusions about the editing.

Then she dropped the bombshell: The editor altered/rewrote direct quotations, making ungrammatical quotes grammatical. “Is this what a copyeditor does?” she asked.

Now I began to panic and asked her to send me a sample chapter to look at.

Within 15 minutes I saw that the editing was unacceptable in multiple ways and that my daughter not only needed to panic but needed to contact the publisher immediately. The editing was a disaster. (I also subsequently learned that no one told my daughter that as the author she could accept or reject any of the editor’s changes; she assumed that she had to accept the editor’s changes on the basis that this was the editor’s area of expertise. I quickly disabused her of that notion.) Once she explained to the publisher the problems she was finding and some of my comments, the publisher agreed that the book needed to be reedited by a different editor.

Which brings me to the commandment: Thou shall know the basics of editing or don’t edit!

If you do not know that direct quotes in nonfiction (and that the quotes are sourced should give you a clue) should not be changed, you should not claim to be an editor. I was taught that basic principle in sixth grade, if not even earlier. If you do not know that editing changes are to be limited to those that do not change the meaning of the sentence or paragraph, then do not claim to be an editor.

More importantly than not claiming to be an editor, you should not edit — period.

An editor is supposed to understand the value and meaning of words and how they fit, or do not fit, within the structure of a sentence and paragraph. When a sentence reads “…when he suddenly awoke…”, an editor needs to think twice about deleting “suddenly”: “…when he awoke…” is not the same as “…when he suddenly awoke…”. And if you think “suddenly” is unneeded and should be deleted, you should explain why you are deleting the word (or suggesting deletion). As an editor, you should know the importance and value of communicating with the author your reasoning for nonobvious changes.

In the case of my daughter’s book, this was a major failing of the editor. Not a single change that the editor made in the entire book was accompanied by an explanatory note, not even something as simple as “changed per Chicago.” Providing an explanation is fundamental to maintaining good author–editor relations. We have discussed this in detail before (see What Do Editors Forget Most Often?).

The question that arises is: How does someone know that they do not know the basics? If you don’t know something, you don’t know that you don’t know it. And in the case of my daughter’s editor, supposedly she had been a professional editor for 6 years and was receiving superior grades.

This is a tough question and it is a question that vexes authors who hire an editor. The only solution I know of is to ask for a sample edit. The problem is that there is an underlying assumption when a sample edit is asked for: That the person who will review the sample edit actually knows enough about editing that the reviewer can separate the wheat from the chaff. As my daughter noted, she has no experience and wouldn’t know whether the editor was correcting her mistakes or creating new mistakes. My daughter can fall back on me to review the sample but most authors and in-house production staff do not have someone to fall back on.

In the end, all an author can really do is rely on “gut” feeling unless, as occurred in my daughter’s case, a blatant, basic error repeatedly occurs (in this instance, it was the altering of direct quotes).

Editors can instill confidence by adding explanations and by knowing the basics of editing, such as direct quotes in nonfiction are left as they are but may be queried; that one doesn’t make a change unless it improves the sentence and doesn’t change the sentence’s meaning; that you don’t change tenses willy-nilly; that an editor’s role mimics that of the doctor — do no harm; that it is better to break a sentence into multiple sentences than to make an incoherent sentence even more incoherent.

Alas, my daughter’s experience convinces me even more of the need for a national editor’s accreditation. Her experience also convinces me that a significant part of the problem is the willingness of publishers to leave the task of finding qualified editors to third-party vendors whose interests are not synchronous with the publisher or author’s interest.

I’m not too worried about my daughter’s book, but I do worry about authors who do not have someone knowledgeable they can call on for help in evaluating the quality of editing. No matter what, ultimately the responsibility lies with the person offering the editing service, and that person should remember the commandment:

Thou shall know the basics of editing or don’t edit!

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 18, 2014

Lyonizing Word: Let’s Go Spelunking

 Let’s Go Spelunking

by Jack Lyon

Spelunking is the recreational pastime of exploring caves. It’s a dark and dangerous hobby, an extreme sport for those who are confident in their ability to climb, navigate, and even swim (there’s usually water down there).

I try to avoid such hazards, but I’m not afraid to explore some of the deeper reaches of a computer program — Microsoft Word, for example. That’s one reason I know quite a bit about that particular program. Some of my friends, however, seem terrified of making a “mistake” on the computer. They want a concrete series of steps to follow in everything they do. “How can I make a word bold?” they ask. I reply:

  1. Double-click the word to select it.
  2. Click the “Bold” icon on the Ribbon.

Then they say, “Oh, that’s wonderful! Let me write that down for next time.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with learning to use a computer in that way, and those who are comfortable with that should keep a big Microsoft Word reference book close at hand. These are probably the same people who would enjoy taking a guided tour of Timpanogos Cave, which is about an hour away from where I live.

But that’s a far cry from spelunking, and I doubt that any of the people on the tour discover something new.

So what kind of a person are you? Do you like someone to hold your hand along the well-marked trail? Or would you rather descend into the dark depths of the cavern with only a flashlight as your guide? Either way is fine, but sometimes it’s nice to get off the beaten path; you never know what you might find. As Henry David Thoreau once said, “Nature abhors a vacuum, and if I can only walk with sufficient carelessness I am sure to be filled.”

Want to learn something new about Word? Try exploring Word’s features that aren’t on any menu, the caverns that aren’t on the map. Here’s how:

  1. Press ALT+F8 to open the Macros dialog.
  2. Click the dropdown list next to “Macros in.”
  3. Select “Word Commands.”

Now, in the window under “Macro name,” you’ll see all of the commands available in Microsoft Word, whether they’re on the Ribbon or not. If you click one, you’ll see a description of its function under “Description,” at the bottom of the dialog. These descriptions are minimal at best, but along with the name of the command, they’ll give you some idea of what the command does. You can also click the “Run” button to run the command, which may give you even more insight. (Be sure to do this only with a junk document; you don’t want mess up an actual project.)

Let’s take a look. Don’t be afraid; I’ll be right behind you all the way.

So we’re scrolling through the list of Word commands in Word 2013, and what do we see? “CharacterRemoveStyle,” which, according to its description, “Clears character style from selection.” What?!? Does this mean it’s possible to remove a character style without affecting text-level formatting (such as italic)? If so, I sure didn’t know about it. Let’s find out. We type a junk sentence into a junk document:

This is a test to see what will happen.

We apply italic formatting to “test” and the character style “Emphasis” character style to “see”:

This is a test to see what will happen.

The formatting of those two words looks the same, but the formatting is not the same. Now let’s see if the “CharacterRemoveStyle” command works. We select the sentence, press ALT+F8, scroll down to “CharacterRemoveStyle,” and run it. Look at that! Our test sentence becomes:

This is a test to see what will happen.

The character style is gone, but the text-level formatting is still there. Neat!

Okay, one more, and then we’ll go back up to the surface. Down, down, down, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. What’s this? “RestoreCharacterStyle.” I’ve never noticed that command before. The description says “Restores character style and removes direct formatting.” Could this be the inverse of the command we just finished exploring? Again we type our junk sentence and apply the same formatting as before:

This is a test to see what will happen.

Then we select the sentence and run the “RestoreCharacterStyle” command. Yes! The sentence now looks like this:

This is a test to see what will happen.

The text-level formatting is gone, but the character style remains!

But why does Microsoft say that this command restores a character style? If we remove the character style from our sentence and then run the command, does the character style come back? A quick experiment shows us that no, it doesn’t. Then why the odd name? I suspect that under the hood, Word is removing all character-level formatting but then restoring any formatting applied with a character style. It’s the equivalent of (1) identifying the character style, (2) pressing CTRL+SPACEBAR (to remove character-level formatting), and then (3) reapplying the character style — which means that the command was named from the programmer’s perspective rather than the user’s perspective. There’s a lot of stuff like that down here in the dark, and it’s part of what makes exploring so interesting.

Back up in the daylight, we assess our adventure, which I’d have to say has been a success. We’ve discovered two commands we didn’t know about before. Could they be useful in our actual editing work? Yes, indeed!

Personally, I enjoy crawling around down there in the bowels of Microsoft Word. Yes, it’s dark and it’s dirty, and sometimes I find something nasty under a rock. But I also make lots of interesting discoveries, and I nearly always learn something new.

How about you? Ready to go spelunking on your own? Have fun, and don’t forget your flashlight!

Jack Lyon ( owns and operates the Editorium, which provides macros and information to help editors and publishers do mundane tasks quickly and efficiently. He is the author of Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals and of Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word. Both books will help you learn more about macros and how to use them.

August 6, 2014

How Much Is That Editor in the Window?

I remember as a very young child watching Patti Page sing this song, which sets the tone for this essay:

Lately, I feel like a doggie in the window.

As those of you who are long-time readers of An American Editor, my complaints about work are that I have too much, not too little, and that clients are continually trying to nibble away at my fee. My biggest complaint is that the fee I am being paid today, in raw terms, is the same as it was in 1995. Granted, I have learned how to be significantly more productive and efficient so that my effective hourly rate is higher today than in 1995, but still, it rankles that the going rate for professional editors hasn’t changed much in 20 years. (For those unfamiliar with the effective hourly rate concept or wanting a refresher, see the five-part series Business of Editing: What to Charge beginning with Part I, which includes links to Parts II through V, and for an overview, Thinking About Money: What Freelancers Need to Understand.)

There are lots of reasons for this stagnation — and in some cases, regression — of rates in the United States, including the lack of a truly professional national organization dedicated to improving the editor’s lot, the rise of the Internet which has made pricing more competitive, and the decline in caring about invisible qualities in the rush to increase shareholder returns. All of these have been discussed in other essays on An American Editor (see, e.g., The Editorial World — Will it Pass Editors By? and Editors in the Offshore World).

Unfortunately, the issue of “I can get it cheaper” (see The Business of Editing: Killing Me Softly and Business of Editing: “I Can Get It Cheaper!”) keeps raising its ugly head. In the past two weeks I have had offers for nine projects of which six were lost because I wouldn’t/couldn’t meet or beat a lower price. (The other three didn’t even raise the issue of price except after awarding me the project. These clients were looking for quality first.)

The six lost projects were being shopped — How much is that editor in the window? Like the puppy in the song, the question wasn’t “How good are your editorial skills?” (“How friendly/healthy/cuddly/etc. is that puppy?”) but “How cheaply can I get you to edit this manuscript for me?”

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t disfavor competition and I have no problem with shopping around for oranges or any other thing that can be commoditized. But how do you commoditize editorial skills? How do you compare what an editor does who charges $100 an hour with what an editor does who charges $10 an hour? For that matter, how do you compare what one editor does who charges $25 an hour with other editors who charge $25 an hour?

Surely we can discover whether an editor has intimate knowledge of the subject matter to be edited, but how important is it that the editor have that knowledge if you are unwilling to pay for it or want an edit that doesn’t really exercise that knowledge? Besides, even if the editor has great knowledge of the subject matter, isn’t knowledge of, say, grammar more important if you want only copyediting and not developmental editing? How does the rate the editor charges correlate with mastery of grammar? If there is a high correlation, then the shopper could expect that the higher the fee charged, the greater the mastery; conversely, the lower the fee charged, the lesser the mastery.

Yet professional editors know there is no direct correlation between fee charged and mastery of grammar.

So I feel like a doggie in the window when price shoppers come calling for a quote.

Making me feel more so is that it is often impossible to get the shopper to explain why my price is too high. One of the shopped manuscripts required a heavy edit. The book was a contributed book with nearly all chapters written by authors whose English was probably a third language. Yet the shopper wanted to pay less than what would normally be charged for a light edit of a manuscript written by a single author whose primary language was English. Asking the shopper to explain why my price was too high resulted in “Others will do it for less”; “The manuscript is not as difficult as you think”; “Two weeks is more than enough time to edit the 500 pages”; and similar reasons.

I suppose, in looking at these statements many days later, that the shopper did give me an “explanation.” It is just that the given explanation is not really helpful.

For example, to say that others will do the editing for less is a conclusion, not an explanation. What I needed to know is what kind of editing they will do for less and for how much less. As to the former, the best I could get was that the other editors will do copyediting just like I would (but the shopper didn’t know what I would do/not do for the quoted price because we hadn’t been able to progress that far). As for how much less, the shopper wouldn’t say, which made me suspect that my price became the benchmark price against which other prices would be measured.

We’ve discussed expectations before (see, e.g., The Business of Editing: Expectations, Business of Editing: Schedules and Client Expectations, and Great Expectations: A Recipe for Disappointment) and that is what shopping is based on: the shopper’s expectations. Unfortunately, I was either unable to address the shoppers’ expectations or my attempt to address them fell on deaf ears. Editing has become perceptually commoditized; that editing is more art than anything else has become lost in the Internet age where the single dominant expectation is that price is the determining decision factor — nothing else matters.

Fortunately for me, I have enough business that is quality focused that losing these shoppers made no difference. But I really dislike being viewed like the puppy in the window and approached as if my editorial skills were tertiary considerations. How about you? Have you had similar experiences? Do you feel as I do? How do you handle shoppers?

Richard Adin, An American Editor


August 4, 2014

The Business of Editing: You Want a Deposit!

One of the first pieces of advice new freelancers receive from more experienced freelancers is “get a deposit”! Interestingly, that advice is generally given to editors who work directly with authors; the assumption is that publishers will honor invoices just to avoid hassles but that is not always true of authors.

Rarely, if ever, discussed is the editor’s responsibilities when it comes to taking a deposit.

Commonly, the editor’s contract lays out a payment schedule, such as 25% of the estimated fee as a deposit before work begins, 25% when half of the manuscript is edited, the balance when editing is done. The variations on this theme are endless but they all begin with that prework deposit or retainer.

Retainer is really the wrong word to use. A retainer is a payment in exchange for setting aside a certain amount of time to deal with a client’s needs. It can be argued that you are entitled to keep the retainer no matter what happens because you are willing to give the client the amount of time the client is paying for. A deposit, on the other hand, is clearly refundable until it is earned.

The general practice, based on conversations I have had with colleagues who ask for deposits, is to take the client’s funds and comingle them in the editor’s regular accounts. Although this is commonly done, it is not necessarily the best idea, especially if a taxing authority comes round to do an audit.

From my perspective, the biggest problem with commingling is the ethical problem: the editor has yet to earn the deposit or any portion of it.

The idea of the deposit is to ensure that the editor receives payment for work that is done. If the editor and client have agreed on a fee of $50 per hour, then at the end of 1 hour of work, the editor is entitle to withdraw $50 from that deposit. Should the client then decide that the editor is not a good fit for her manuscript and cancel the contract, the client is entitled to a refund of the balance of the deposit — the unearned portion.

In other words, deposits, although under the immediate control of the editor, remain the property of the client until such time as some portion of it has been earned by the editor, at which point only that earned portion belongs to the editor.

What colleagues have said to me is that they do not disagree with who owns what, but see no reason why they need to segregate in a special account any deposits pending earning. All they need to do is keep good records.

Unfortunately, that is not quite true. The first problem is a tax problem. Tax codes usually take the position that any money in the editor’s account is taxable as belonging to the editor. Because most editors are on a cash basis and not an accrual basis for accounting and tax purposes (if you are on an accrual basis you should revisit this with an accountant), as soon as the editor deposits any money to a personal account, it is the editor’s for tax purposes. Consequently, if the editor’s tax year ends December 31 and the editor has unearned deposits commingled in the editor’s personal accounts, that unearned money counts as income for the preceding tax year.

The second problem occurs should some disaster befalls an editor, whether it be health-related or bankruptcy or some other financial disaster. Because the finds are not segregated, they are treated as the editor’s funds. The client’s money becomes the editor’s money — even though not yet earned by the editor — and subject to use for payment of the editor’s debts.

Included in this second problem is the not so rare instance where an editor runs short in a month because some clients have delayed payment or contested an invoice, and now some bill is due and the editor does not have enough in the bank unless the editor taps the unearned deposit. The temptation becomes great to “borrow” against the deposit because the editor expects to earn that money soon.

The third problem, and to me the biggest problem, is that by commingling the money the editor says the client should trust the editor with the client’s money even though the editor doesn’t trust the client with the editor’s money. I view trust as of necessity being mutual. Placing the money in a designated escrow or trust account alleviates much of the distrust. The client sees that the editor recognizes that the deposit belongs to the client until it is earned; the editor is affirmatively acknowledging that she must earn the deposit.

The relationship between editor and client is a business one. Everything needs to be kept at arm’s length. Editors need to treat clients as equals and with dignity. One way to do so is to recognize that until the editor earns a portion of the deposit, that deposit is held in trust for the client. The editor demonstrates acceptance of that relationship by segregating client funds from the editor’s funds and by providing a regular accounting to the client.

In the past, when I would receive deposits, the deposits not only were placed in an escrow account, but the client received a monthly report advising the client of the balance and of any transactions. (I also would send the client immediate notification saying that I had withdrawn $x as payment against a particular invoice.)

Segregating client funds from our personal funds tells clients we are professionals, that we want our relationship with the client to be a professional one, and that we are trustworthy. It helps establish a positive working relationship. And from the editor’s perspective, if the client feels assured about how the deposit is handled, there will be less reluctance to replenish the fund as the editor withdraws earnings from it.

Because the request for the deposit is generally part of the contract, what the editor does with the deposit should also be part of the contract. The contract should outline how the editor will handle the deposit and what kind and frequency of reports the client can expect to receive as regards the disposition of the funds. The contract should also state that the deposit remains the property of the client except as sums are withdrawn to pay the editor for work completed per the contract.

Do you agree that the funds should be segregated? Is that what you do?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

July 28, 2014

The Business of Editing: Do You Tell? Ethical Considerations & Subcontracting

In a comment to an earlier essay on ethics, The Business of Editing: Certification & Ethics, Teresa Barensfeld asked several questions. With her permission, I plan to give my view on some of them over the course of several essays. I begin with this question:

“Do you tell clients if you hire another freelancer to work on a job you’re doing?”

I think the formation of an answer begins with how hold yourself out to clients and your relationship with clients. How you hold yourself out to clients helps shape their expectations, and from an ethical perspective, I think it is the combination of your presentation and client expectations that determines the correct answer to this question.

It does not matter, in my view, whether you are a single-person operation or a corporation of many editors. What does matter is how you present yourself: Are you presenting yourself as a single-editor operation or as a company. We discussed the merits of solopreneurship versus company in several essays, including The Business of Editing: Why a Company?, Business of Editing: Solopreneur or “Company” (I), Business of Editing: Solopreneur or “Company” (II), and Business of Editing: Solopreneur or “Company” (III). The beginnings of the answer to the ethical concern lies in those articles.

The presentation as a solo editor is done in many ways. For example, do you use a company name or just your name? Are checks made payable to you instead of to a company name? Are electronic payments made to accounts that bear your name or a company name? Do you use a personal identification number (e.g., Social Security number) or a business tax identification number (e.g., the Employer Identification Number)? Do you answer your phone with your name or a company name? Does your email signature include only your name or does it include a business name? When asked about, for example, availability, do you speak of “my schedule” or do you indicate you will need to check whether you have “an available editor”? Does your website indicate that the only editor is you? And the list goes on.

It is these types of actions that build an expectation in clients. If you present yourself as a solo editor, which is how most freelance editors present themselves, then whether you tell clients if you hire a subcontractor depends on whether the client hired you because of your specific skills or hired you because the client needed an editor and you were available. The issue really is one of client reliance on the unique perspective that each of us has as we do our editorial magic.

Unfortunately, I do not know of a way to discern the level of the client’s reliance on individual uniqueness. Consequently, I think you should assume that you were hired for your uniqueness if you present yourself as a solo editor. If you presented yourself as being a solo editor, then I think it is reasonable for a client to expect to be told (asked?) when you subcontract.

Conversely, if you consistently present yourself as being a company, I think the client’s expectations are different. I think clients expect companies to have access to more than a single editor. Even if they do not, it is my belief that not discussing subcontracting with a client is consistent with the presentation as a company.

From an ethical perspective, in the case where you present as a company, there is no deception in taking the position that the client is hiring a company and that the company decides whom to assign to a project. This is subject to an important exception: If a client specifically asks you to undertake the editing, then, regardless of whether you present as a solo editor or a company, you are obligated to advise the client of any subcontracting and to give the client an opportunity to cancel the contract.

As I have mentioned in any number of previous essays, from the very beginning of my freelance editing career, I presented myself as a company. When approached to take on projects, I have always made it clear that I need to check “editors’ schedules” and I never promise to personally undertake a project — except when a client specifically asks, which has occasionally happened. I never discuss with clients editor assignments and I never ask if subcontracting is acceptable. I assume it is okay because the client knows I am a company. I have never had a client object; more importantly, it has often been the case that a client who hired me for one project would call again for a second or third project because the client expects me to have multiple editors.

Ultimately, as I previously indicated, I think the answer to the question lies in how you have presented your business to clients and what clients expect. I think it is unethical to not advise the client of subcontracting if the client views you as and expects you to be a solo editor because that is how you have actively presented yourself. In such a case, there is strong reason to believe that the client is hiring you personally.

In contrast, I do not think it is unethical to not advise a client of subcontracting if the client’s expectation is that you are a company. When dealing with a company, the client may hold you, as the focus of the company, responsible for problematic editing, but that is different from the issue of being notified about subcontracting.

A subsumed issue in the question, in the case of a company, goes to the arrangement between the editors. Is it an employer–employee or contactor–subcontractor relationship? And does that relationship affect the ethicality of not notifying a client that you intend to subcontract the work?

I think it makes no difference whatsoever. The employer–employee versus contactor–subcontractor relationship is a tax and insurance matter; it has no bearing on the editing. The client is still hiring the company and expects the company to have more than one editor (assuming that is how the company has been presented to the client). The arrangement between the company-owning editor and the employee/subcontractor editor is not a client matter.

So we are back to where we began. The answer to the ethical question is: What are your client’s expectations based on your presentation of yourself and your business?

Do you agree?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

July 23, 2014

The Business of Editing: An Editorial Code of Professional Responsibility

Recent discussions about ethics made me realize that I have failed as an editor and writer. I meant one thing, Erin Brenner and the American Medical Writer’s Association meant something else. This became obvious in private correspondence with Erin wherein we used the same term, ethics, but meant different things. As Erin noted in our correspondence, there are two definitions of ethics: “the rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession” and “the study of the general nature of morals and of the specific moral choices to be made by a person; moral philosophy” (see The American Heritage Dictionary); I meant the first and she meant the second.

Why is this important? Because of the reference to the American Medical Writer’s Association’s Code of Ethics. What I see as necessary is less an abstract code of ethics than a concrete code of professional responsibility. The difference can be like that between night and day. AMWA’s is a code of ethics because it states unenforceable and undefinable ideals. To say, for example, as AMWA Principle 3 says, “Medical communicators should write, edit, or participate in the development of information that meets the highest professional standards…,” is a wonderful aspiration, but it is only an aspiration because “highest professional standards” is undefinable. Ask 25 people to spell out exactly what is meant by that aspiration and you will get many different “definitions.” In this regard, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ Code of Practice, is much closer to what I think is needed, although it is only closer, not quite there.

A major failing of the AMWA code, and perhaps even of the SfEP code, is the lack of interpretive, published decisions and public enforcement. In contrast to aspirational ideals, a code of professional responsibility lays out definable, graspable, and, most importantly, enforceable rules of conduct; it also usually has a body of interpretive opinions so that adherents know what is expected in defined circumstances. Enforcement means that there is a public penalty for ignoring the guidance. Think of it like a judicial opinion. A court opinion has no value if no one knows what the facts are that led to the opinion and what the parameters of the opinion are. The idea is for those bound by the code to understand their obligations and modify their behavior accordingly. It is the seeking of a behavioral consensus.

Codes of professional responsibility usually have mechanisms by which a person bound by the code can submit a scenario and receive guidance on how to behave. For example, an editor could ask: “I was told the client had a budget of $1500 and I agreed to work for $50 an hour. But the work is not complete after 30 hours. Can I just keep working and bill the client until the work is done?” and receive a guiding opinion that lays out what the correct action is under the group’s code of professional responsibility. The question and response would be published so all editors would receive the same guidance.

Assume that the response is “No, you cannot continue to bill. You knew what the budget was and by agreeing to undertake the job implied to the client that it would not take more than 30 hours to complete. It is your obligation to complete the work at your expense.” (I know there are lots of missing facts and lots of other appropriate answers. This is just for illustrative purposes) When published, other editors would see what is expected under similar circumstances and would be expected to conform their behavior in the described situation to the guidance.

More importantly, the answer would act as guidance for the client–editor interaction. If the editor ignored the decision and continued working and billed for the additional time, the client would be able to point to this decision as justification for not paying above the budget. Whether that would stand in a dispute resolution action is a different matter, but at least for widely accepted codes, such as in medicine and law, such a decision would have significant weight in the dispute resolution proceedings. The fact that there is a decision that is attuned to specific facts gives guidance to both editors and to clients. Both know what to expect and what needs to be done.

And, importantly, if properly constructed, there would be interim guidances and final guidances, with the final version not being settled until community comments were considered.

Ultimately, the question comes down to what is the advantage to having a code of professional responsibility and published guidance interpreting the code’s canons in various circumstances? The answer is that it raises the status of the profession in the minds and eyes of all interested parties. And for those who voluntarily agree to adhere to such a code and to the interpretive decisions, it gives them increased standing within the editorial and client communities. Perhaps, most importantly, it instills in clients a sense of confidence in the professionalism of the editor.

Is it difficult to create such a code? Not really. This is the type of endeavor that needs to be done by consensus. A small group of editors could easily begin by reviewing codes from various disciplines, including law and medicine. Once a basic code was created, it could be published for feedback from the editorial community. Ultimately, once adopted editors will agree to be governed by it when they see it is in their best interests. To bring such a code about is just a matter of will and interest within the editorial community. Additionally, once such a code and body of interpretations were created, it would be easy to create standardized certification courses that demonstrate ethical competency.

What do you think? Are you interested? Would you agree to be bound by such a code? (Are you ready to volunteer to start the process?) Or do you think that a code of professional responsibility is not needed for the editorial profession?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

July 21, 2014

The Practical Editor: 11 Standards for Ethical Editors

11 Standards for Ethical Editors

by Erin Brenner

In a follow-up to my article on the possible need for editor certification, Rich Adin wrote about the need for an ethics portion of a certification program.

It’s a good thought. If we American editors are to organize ourselves to create a certification program that identifies expertise and skill (and that’s a big if), demonstrating an understanding of ethical considerations would be a worthwhile addition. While some ethical practices  are universal (“be honest and fair in your business dealings”), experienced editors should be aware of pitfalls that new editors may not be, such as whether one should bill for breaks when billing a client hourly.

Rich’s article listed several ethical situations editors could find themselves in, and Teresa Barensfeld and Harriet Power list several more in the comments section.

It’s helpful, though, to think of all of these questions more broadly. when considering creating a own code of ethics to follow. Mark Allen framed the questions at Copyediting this way:

  1. What is my responsibility to the truth?
  2. What is my responsibility to the reader?
  3. What is my responsibility to the author?
  4. What are my business-related responsibilities, such as following contract expectations, billing honestly, and maintaining confidentiality?
  5. What is my responsibility to my own convictions?

I’d add “What is my responsibility to the publisher?” as the author’s and publisher’s goals do not always align.

But we don’t have to start from scratch on deciding what ethical editing looks like. Several organizations have already put thought into the matter, and we can crib from them.

The American Medical Writer’s Association’s Code of Ethics is probably the best, most concise outline  I’ve seen so far. While the code is written particularly for medical communicators, we can easily apply most rules more generally. For example, fiction editors might not need to worry about scientific rigor in the text, but they should certainly maintain an objective outlook of the text to help make the manuscript the best it can be.

Two other organizations, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and the Editorial Freelancers Association, offer codes of practice for their members. Longer and more complex, these codes nevertheless guide members with ethical standards.

All of these rules, ethical questions, and suggestions boil down to some broad practices (some of which I noted on Copyediting) every editor can observe, whether they’re codified or not:

  • Be honest and fair in business dealings. Treat others with respect and fairness. Act like a professional at all times. Respect confidentiality. Only take on jobs that you can actually do. Resolve conflicts fairly.
  • Follow any applicable legal guidelines. This will matter more for some editors than others, such as those working on copy closely regulated by a government agency (think medical copy).
  • Set expectations at the beginning of each project. Be clear about the kind of results you can or are willing to provide for the pay and time available. If you’re  hired to do copyediting, clients can’t expect you to do context (substantive) or developmental editing instead or in addition to copyediting.
  • Outline the details of the project. Spell out each party’s responsibilities, payment terms, project schedule, dispute settlement, and other details important to the project, preferably in a contract.
  • Follow directions. Keep your end of the bargain.
  • Be prepared to defend your edits. The author has a right to understand the reasoning behind any edit.
  • Explain opaque edits upfront. Be sure the author can follow your reasoning. Also explain any edit that might push the boundaries of what you’ve been asked to do.
  • Respect the author’s opinions. This is the author’s work. You don’t have to agree with the author’s opinions, but you do have to respect them.
  • Bill clients based on the agreement and the work you actually do. If your contract allows for 75 hours on a project and you complete the work in 50 hours, only bill for 50 hours.
  • If you can’t meet a deadline, let the project manager know as soon as you know. Adjust expectations and help resolve any conflicts. How much personal detail you share is up to you.

We might lack a national code of ethics for editors, but there is plenty of material out there from which editors can form a personal code and stick to it. Savvy editors will put the code in writing and share it with clients as a way to instill confidence and offer a guarantee of quality and professionalism.

Erin Brenner is the editor of the Copyediting newsletter and the owner of Right Touch Editing. You can follow her on Twitter. Erin is also a guest presenter at various conferences on topics of interest to freelancers.

July 16, 2014

The Business of Editing: I Got Rhythm!

To put us in the proper frame of mind, here are The Happenings, a 1960s rock group, singing George Gershwin’s Depression-era song “I Got Rhythm”:

Life is a river of rhythm. Everything is to some kind of beat. I’ve heard musicians say they are inspired by nature’s rhythms; I know painters certainly are. And so are editors, albeit in perhaps a different manner.

Years ago I edited journal articles as well as books. What I found was that, for me, individual journal articles were a money-losing proposition. The reason was that I no sooner found the “rhythm” of the article than it was finished and I had to go to a new article and master a new rhythm. Books, I found, were different.

I know that you will point out that many books are written by multiple authors or are collections of articles. True. I work on large books, often running thousands of manuscript pages (e.g., I am currently working on a book that has 720 chapters, each written by a different author or group of authors, that when finished will have run more than 20,000 manuscript pages). But that book has an overall rhythm.

I have found that a key to improving my effective hourly rate is the ability to find and work with a book’s rhythm. In the case of the collaborative book, that rhythm may be that of the book editor(s), such as the editor’s preference for certain types of phrasing. It is also found in the style, such as the publisher’s preferences.

Most importantly, every author has a rhythm and most of the books I work on have long chapters (one chapter in a current project, for example, runs nearly 350 manuscript pages; more typically, chapters run 50 to 75 manuscript pages), which gives me an opportunity to join with the author’s rhythm as I edit. The rhythm of a project lets me discover the language choices that the author makes. For example, some authors always use “due to,” almost as if they are afraid to commit to a more specific alternative such as “caused by”; some authors consistently misspell a word (e.g., “casual” when they mean “causal”); some authors consistently fail to define necessary comparative measures (e.g., always write “1 in 100″ but never define 100 what); some authors clearly have a gender bias in their writing; some authors regularly mix singular and plural, present and past in the same sentence; and the list goes on.

Every author, like every editor, has identifiable language foibles or traits that we generically call style. In editing, quickly identifying the author’s style or the style of a book, regardless of the number of contributors, is a key to getting into the manuscript’s rhythm. And when an editor can merge into the manuscript’s rhythm, the editing rises to a higher level.

Editing is an art and is no different from any other art. Successful editors have mastered not only the foundation techniques of editing, but have learned to merge into the rhythm. We all know that some editors are better editors than ourselves. As in all art endeavors, there is always someone the artist admires as being better than they. It is because we recognize a higher skill level. From my observations, I think that higher skill level comes about from being faster at finding, understanding, and mastering the rhythm.

Rhythm is important at several levels, not least of which is that finding it enables us to preserve the author’s voice while editing. When I read author complaints about how an editor destroyed the author’s voice, my first thought is that the editor didn’t find the rhythm. We speak in rhythm, we play music in rhythm, we dance in rhythm, we walk in rhythm — we do virtually everything in rhythm. Consequently, we need to be aware of competing rhythms.

When we think of editing in terms of rhythm, we recognize that our rhythm competes with the author’s rhythm. If we let the rhythms compete, we distort the author’s tone and message because our rhythm will dominate. But if we make an effort to discover the author’s rhythm, we can adopt it as our own for the editing process.

Rhythm doesn’t only refer to beat, which is often how we think of rhythm in music. Rhythm refers also to flow. We think of certain books as masterpieces, literary classics. That is because we can identify and flow with the rhythm of the book. The language choices and arrangements make up the rhythm and when an editor can identify that rhythm, the editor can maintain and even improve it; when the editor cannot identify the rhythm, the editor is more likely to destroy it.

All of this is important to an editor because it is a reason why an editor’s education concerning words and language should be ongoing. I know editors who last bought and read a book on language decades ago. Consequently, when they edit today, they apply the thoughts and concepts they learned decades ago; they are unable to compare yesterday with today to determine which better serves their client because there is only yesterday.

I am currently reading The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham. What is relevant to our discussion is that Joyce’s brilliance (although I admit I do not particularly like or think highly of Ulysses) was recognized by only a handful of his contemporaries, primarily Ezra Pound and Margaret Anderson. Those who saw Joyce’s brilliance as a writer were themselves trying to move literary thinking from the early 19th century to the 20th century. They were obstructed by those who believed that the golden age of literature was the late 18th–early 19th century and were determined to make Joyce’s writing conform to that “golden age.”

Editors and publishers who saw Joyce’s writing insisted on rewriting and cutting because what he wrote they couldn’t understand (or accept).

Whether one likes where language is going or not does not matter. What does matter is that we editors need to grasp and understand the rhythm of the manuscripts we work on and we need to continually educate ourselves as to where our language is going so that we help the author rather than hinder the author. We need to be able to say, “I got rhythm!”

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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