An American Editor

April 16, 2014

Are Boom Times Coming?

As all self-employed in the United States know, April 15 is not only the date our personal income tax returns for the prior fiscal year are due, but also the time when we need to pay our first quarter estimated taxes for the current fiscal year. For me, it is also a time to spend a few hours looking at data I have accumulated during the first quarter and making an attempt to predict future trends.

In recent articles, I have noted the importance of data collection (see, e.g., The Business of Editing: Recordkeeping I and The Business of Editing: Recordkeeping II). I have also noted the upswing I have experienced in offers of editing work (see, e.g., The Business of Editing: An Embarrassment of Riches). In those articles, I hinted (at best) at the extent of the data I keep and analyze.

Important data that I keep are the number of projects I have been offered, the number that I accepted and the number I declined, and as much detail as I can about the projects I declined, but with particular focus on size, offered fee, subject matter, and schedule. I usually review and analyze this data quarterly, about the same time that I prepare my income information for transmittal to my accountant for the quarterly returns. (I know that many, if not most, of my colleagues do their own quarterly payments; after all, it is a simple form. But I have made it a practice over my years as a freelancer to always use an accountant even though the accountant’s services are not free. For my business it is worth the fee. The accountant also looks at the data I have collected and sometimes offers a very valuable insight into my business that I have overlooked.)

This year has been significantly different than previous years. When publishers started offshoring, I could see a trending decline in the number of projects I was being offered. Interestingly, at the height of the offshoring and of the consolidation of the publishing industry, a key indicator was the low number of projects that I declined. (I should note that I do track the reason why I declined a project. This is important data. It makes a big difference in my analyses if the reason was fee, schedule, project size, or subject matter, or a combination of these four. For example, if I declined a project because it was outside the scope of the areas in which I work [e.g., a historical romance novel], then that particular project plays a very minimal role in my analyses; in fact, other than being counted as a declined project, it has no role in my analyses.) At that time, few projects were declined.

I could then trace a leveling. Every year following the plateauing of the accepted-declined numbers, I could reliably estimate the amount of work I would have each quarter of the following year, from whom the work would come, and the type of work it would be. That information helped guide my marketing: how much marketing I needed to do, to whom it should be directed, and when it should be done.

Beginning in the last half of 2012 I noticed that what had been plateauing was changing. The number of projects and the size of the projects being offered were beginning to increase. Where previously the number of projects being declined had remained low and steady, the trend was starting to show an increase.

The data for 2013 reinforced this trend, with the numbers steadily, but slowly growing. Also the data showed an increase in the effective hourly rate, which indicates an improvement in efficiency as well as an improvement in the types of projects accepted.

For the first quarter of 2014, the data demonstrates a continuation of the trend. But the data shows a significant spike. For example, in the first quarter of 2014 I was offered and declined as many projects as I had declined for the whole year in 2011 and 2012. The data shows that the number of manuscript pages in the declined projects equals 46% of the number of pages that was accepted.

Perhaps more importantly, the data shows that clients increasingly tried to alter schedules in hopes that by doing so I could fit the projects in my schedule. This is an important bit of knowledge because I can look at, for example, 2007 and see that in 2007 clients were willing to alter production schedules for very few projects, but in 2014 it changed to the majority of projects.

The data indicates to me that, at least within my niche, boom times may be coming. The first quarter 2014 data is an eye-opener for me. I note that revenues are up 61%, the size of the projects under contract is up 143%, and the number of projects being offered is up 218%, but I declined 58% of gross number (or 46% in terms of manuscript pages), which is also an increase. Unfortunately, because editing is hands-on work that has limits on what can be automated, the number of projects that I can accept is governed by the same key determinants — number of manuscript pages, project difficulty, and schedule — that existed in 2000, which limited the number of projects I could accept in 2000, still control the number of projects I can accept today.

But data analysis also discloses how efficiently I can edit. The more efficient I am, the higher the number of pages per hour that can be edited. The higher that number is, the more projects I can accept; conversely, the lower that number, the fewer projects that can be accepted.

Although the percentages noted above look great, it needs to be remembered that they represent just the first quarter of 2014. Second quarter data could plummet those numbers when applied year to date. My point is that although analysis of the first quarter is important in the decision-making process for upcoming months, it cannot be the sole determinant. At most it is a guide. Had the numbers been down, however, the importance of the analysis would be much greater; the analysis would be a warning of a negative trend that requires immediate corrective steps.

As I said earlier, my first quarter results indicate a change in the publishing industry for my niche and implies that boom times are coming. But even if boom times are coming, who knows how long they will stay. It could be fleeting or it could be years. The answer lies in the data I continue to collect.

What does your data tell you about upcoming trends for your business? Are you doing better than previously? Do you limit your analyses to comparing gross revenue? If so, what does that comparison tell you about your business and what you need to do?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

October 2, 2013

I’ve Been to the Mountain . . .

Generally, when someone says “I’ve been to the mountain,” the person means they have gone somewhere and been enlightened about some topic. Well, that’s me — I’ve been both to the mountain and enlightened.

Last week I both participated in and attended the Communication Central conference, “Be a Better Freelancer! Marketing Magic and More for Your Business.” I admit that before the conference I wondered whether I would learn new things or just hear things I already knew. I should have known better than to wonder.

Every session I attended as a conference goer, taught me new things. My biggest complaint is that I had to choose between sessions; were it possible, I would have attended every one of them. Next time I’m asked to present at the conference (assuming there is a next time), I think I’ll try to negotiate the right to set the schedule so that I can attend more sessions that interest me. :)

This was the eighth annual conference put on by Communication Central; I have attended six of the eight, sometimes as a presenter, sometimes just as an attendee. I have never been disappointed by the depth and breadth of the offerings and of the speakers. The conference is almost always held mid to end of September or early October, so for those of you who didn’t come this year, you should begin making plans to attend next year’s conference.

The conference is an excellent way to network. I am aware of one participant who has already received a referral and I suspect others have also. It is also a time to catch up with “old” friends, that is, friends one has met at prior conferences or just in online groups, and learn more about how others view the state of our business. And it is also a time to learn.

The one thing that I noticed at the conference and which disappointed me about my colleagues (again, this is a sweeping generalization and does not apply to all of my colleagues in attendance) is the low self-esteem that seems to hang around editors. When I went to the mountain, I knew I was the best, the greatest, and the smartest editor in the world. What surprised me was that so many others did not think the same of themselves.

Editorial success is much more than being able to identify a part of writing or to query a sentence that reads as if it had been stomped by a team of Clydesdales pulling a wagon of beer. Success in editing is, in great measure, a belief in one’s self, a belief that one is the best, the greatest, and the smartest.

It is not that we need to emblazon that mantra on our letterhead and ram it home to clients; rather, we need to ram it home to ourselves, and our messages — written or oral — to clients need to convey that “I am the best; I am the greatest; I am the smartest” and that the client can search forever and not find a better editor than “me.”

This is much the same message we discussed just a few months ago in Business of Editing: “I Can Get It Cheaper!” in which I wrote:

What I am doing is making the client confident that the only smart decision is to hire me as a professional editor.

Think about this: If you don’t believe you are the greatest, who will? (Right-click on the following link to download a PDF that can be printed and then posted near your work area to remind you to believe.)

If you don’t believe

Business success is always a combination of skills, acumen, and attitude. A positive attitude goes a long way toward building a successful career. Positive attitudes are infectious. More importantly, if you display confidence in your skills and proclaim that confidence, there is less likelihood that your clients will doubt or question the decisions you have made. Timid attitudes make clients wonder and question.

This does not mean that you should tattoo the client with your proclamation of self-esteem. It does mean that you should project confidence in your decisions, in your questions, in your statements.

There is one other thing that I noticed at the conference that is worth discussing here: efficiency. Many of the attendees I spoke with thought that they were highly efficient in their work habits. That is not a good thought to have because if you believe you are efficient, you will not strive to be even more efficient.

As efficient as your process is, it is not efficient enough!

should be your guiding philosophy. Successful freelancers are always reevaluating the procedures they follow and try to wring ever greater efficiency out of those procedures. And if you cannot wring greater efficiencies out of a particular process, you should think about the process and whether there is not a better process that you should implement.

Efficiency and productivity are two cornerstones of successful freelancing. They require constant attention because improvements that can be made in them have a direct impact on profitability.

These were some of the general lessons that were passed on to conference participants. I expect there were others to which I was not privy because I could not attend all of the sessions. Next year come to the conference and see what lessons you draw. Whatever they are, you can be assured that they will help you in your freelancing business.

September 23, 2013

The Twin Pillars of Editing

The twin pillars of editing are the thinking and the mechanical. Every editing assignment includes these twin pillars; they are fundamental as well as foundational.

The thinking pillar is what attracts people to the profession. Should it be who or whom? Does the sentence, paragraph, chapter make any sense? Does the author’s point come through clearly or have the author’s word choices obfuscated the message? The thinking pillar is what professional editors live for; it is often why we became editors. The semantic debates thrill us; the ability to rework prose to make it flow better is like an opiate.

Alas, the thinking pillar alone is insufficient to provide us with an income. Every manuscript requires the mechanical pillar and, to earn our wage, editors need to tackle that mechanical pillar.

The mechanical pillar includes many different functions, such as cleaning up extra spaces, changing incorrect dashes to correct dashes, incorrect punctuation to correct punctuation, and, perhaps most importantly, incorrect words to correct words and inconsistencies to consistencies. Many of these things can be, should be, and are done using macros.

Since 1984, I have earned my living as an editor; since the early 1990s, freelance editing has been my only source of income. I am pleased to say that I have made (and continue to make) an excellent income as an editor. The reason I have done well financially is that I have looked at the mechanical pillar of editing as a puzzle to be solved. Essentially, to be profitable and to make editing enjoyable, I want to minimize the time I need to spend on the mechanical aspects of editing and maximize the time I spend on thinking about what I am editing, while minimizing the time I need to spend on any single project.

The professional editor is part philosopher and part engineer. In our case, the engineer makes possible the philosopher. The mechanical pillar, which is the engineer’s role to tackle, often is the part of editing that most slows us down. It is the most difficult part of our work in the sense that it is difficult to find efficient, productive ways to speed the mechanical aspects. That is the function that macro tools try to fulfill, but we still end up doing individual searches and replaces to fix the rote things that the macros we use fail to fix.

The more financially successful an editor is, the more likely it is that the editor has mastered techniques that quickly eliminate some, if not most or all, of the tasks that fall under the mechanical pillar of editing. As I have stated many times before, mastering the mechanical aspects is why I created EditTools and why I use PerfectIt and Editorium macro programs. It is not that these programs eliminate the mechanical aspects of editing; rather, they reduce those tasks.

The remaining task is generally the applying of styles or codes to elements of the manuscripts. Unfortunately, this cannot be done automatically; I must read the manuscript to know whether something should be coded as a quote, a bulleted item, or something else. This is where, were we to apply a Venn diagram, the thinking and the mechanical pillars overlap.

The smaller I can make the overlap and mechanical areas of the Venn diagram, the larger the remaining area for the thinking pillar. The larger the thinking pillar, the more enjoyable the project. But this area is also the area in which I can best control my time.

Professional editors soon learn that there are some editorial questions that could be debated for hours and when the debate halts, still have not achieved a nondebatable resolution. In other words, many more hours could be spent on the point in question. Consequently, as we have honed our skills via the grindstone of experience, we have also developed a sense of how to best spend our time on the thinking pillar of editing.

We learn to stop debating endlessly whether to use serial commas or not, or whether which can be used if not preceded by a comma, or whether about is a true equivalent of approximately, or, my favorite, whether since and because are wholly interchangeable in all circumstances. (Another of my favorites is whether it is permissible to use due to in lieu of all its possible contextual meanings expanded.) Once we stop debating these issues, we begin to edge their resolution closer to the mechanical pillar.

If we decide that since can only be used in the sense of time, it becomes mechanical to change since to because or as in nontime usage. This becomes one more thing that liberates the thinking pillar to spend more time on those issues that require thinking skills. It also means that a little less time needs to be spent on the manuscript, unless we devote that time savings to the thinking pillar.

The point is that what editors need to seek to do, ultimately, is to increase what belongs as part of the mechanical pillar, lessen what falls within the overlap, and increase the time available for the thinking pillar. The more items that fall under the mechanical pillar and that can be macroized, the more income and profit an editor can make (assuming the editor is charging by a method other than the hourly method), because we can control the time we devote to the thinking pillar better than we can the time we devote to the mechanical pillar. The thinking pillar is like a bubble that can expand and contract as needed or as conditions warrant. The mechanical pillar lacks similar flexibility because there is a set amount of time required to accomplish all of the mechanical and overlap tasks. We reduce the time by using tools like macros, but then we increase the time when we add additional tasks or tasks that cannot be macroized.

If we think of editing as built on these twin pillars, we can make strides toward increasing our productivity, efficiency, and profitability.

May 8, 2013

The Commandments: Thou Shall be Efficient

Filed under: Commandments for Editors,The Commandments — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
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It is not enough to say that an editor has to be profitable (see The Commandments: Thou Shall be Profitable); a business must also be efficient in the delivery of its goods and services. Thus the commandment: Thou shall be efficient!

Efficiency has many facets. Included under the efficiency umbrella are the steps an editor takes before editing a manuscript — the preparatory steps (see, e.g., Business of Editing: The Logistics of Large Projects). Also included are the steps an editor takes during editing to promote speed, accuracy, and consistency, as well as the steps (the planning) the editor takes to meet a schedule and those an editor takes to find and retain clients.

With today’s worldwide competition for editorial work and the resulting depression of fees — and let us not forget the rise in authors who believe they can do it all themselves, which rise is a result of the rise of ebook self-publishing — the need for editorial efficiency is greater than ever.

Two things clients look for are low price and short schedule. Everyone is in a hurry. When I started as an editor, my clients’ primary concern was getting it right — schedules were flexible. Today, as a result of the continual consolidation in the publishing industry and the rising power of the accountants, schedule is the highest priority among publishers (with low editorial and production costs a very close second). In addition, authors and publishers often do not have large reservoirs of patience for the editing process.

The pressure of low fees and short schedules means that editors need to be more efficient in order to earn a reasonable living from editing. The effective hourly rate has to be foremost in an editor’s mind (see Thinking About Money: What Freelancers Need to Understand for a discussion of the effective hourly rate). The ultimate question is: How does an editor become more efficient?

Some ways we have discussed previously, such as our discussion on macros (see, e.g., The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online II — The Macros). But mastering macros is not enough. We must also be, for example, masters of Microsoft Word. We must also revise our approach to editing.

When we are paid by the hour, we can be less efficient than when we are paid by the page or the project, because the client is paying us without regard to efficiency, although there are limits to the number of hours for which a client will willingly pay. The problem from an editor’s perspective is that when we are paid by the hour, we are limited in our earning capacity and it becomes ever more important that we be able to fill our work week with work. If we are paid $30 and hour, all we can earn is $30 an hour and if we only work 20 hours in a week, we are paid only for those 20 hours.

In addition, there is no incentive to quickly finish a project because the next project will also pay us $30 an hour and it doesn’t matter which project is paying us as long as we are getting paid. (Of course, we are not really earning $30 an hour because that number is reduced considerably when we include the hours for which we are not being paid but which are also work hours; that is, when we calculate our effective hourly rate.)

Yet efficiency can bring some rewards even to the hourly earner. Being efficient reduces the hours we need to spend on a project and thus enables us to take on additional projects and additional clients — we can expand our base. Efficiency can help move us from being dependent on a particular client to a broad base of clients.

One aspect of efficiency is the number of reading passes an editor makes. Discussing with colleagues how they process a manuscript can be revealing. Some do multiple passes over a manuscript in an attempt to find and correct lingering errors. Others try to minimize the number of passes, especially if they are not being paid by the hour.

Limiting the number of passes to one or two is doable, depending on the type of manuscript (e.g., novel, nonfiction book, journal article), the client (e.g., whether author or publisher), the software used (e.g., PerfectIt, EditTools, specialized spell checkers), the client’s requirements, and the type of edit one is hired to perform (e.g., developmental, copyedit; see Editor, Editor, Everywhere an Editor). It is not true that every pass an editor makes over a manuscript makes the manuscript more error-free. That may be true for one, two, possibly three passes, but there comes a point when returns diminish — not because there are no errors, but because we begin to see what we expect to see, not necessarily what is really there. We become overfamiliar with the manuscript. Consequently, doing fewer passes can be both more efficient and more productive. (We, and our clients, need to accept that there really is no such thing as a 100% error-free manuscript, especially when many “errors” are subjective errors.)

Efficiency is also had by using the correct tools. Studies are very clear that using multiple monitors, for example, increases productivity and efficiency. Using two monitors increases efficiency by 50%; add a third and gain another 25%; add a fourth and gain another 5%. Basically, editing with three monitors seems to be the most efficient and productive. I know that I have found using three 24-inch rotating monitors has made it much easier for me to edit quickly, efficiently, and accurately. It allows me to, for example, drag and drop between documents, each document on its own screen. It also allows me to have my stylesheet open and before me at all times, as well research tools.

Efficiency is also found in reducing the number of keystrokes needed to process information. I have found invaluable a keyboard accessory called XKeys. I have used the Pro PS2 version for more than 10 years; it is what allows me to access many of my macros by the press of a single key. I have assigned each of the buttons on the XKeys to a key combination that I would not normally use (e.g., Ctrl+Alt+Shift+K) and I assign one of my macros to that key combination. Using Xkeys makes using macros like Toggle much more efficient.

Efficiency also means tracking one’s time carefully. An editor needs to know what areas of editing go relatively “fast” and what go “slow.” By identifying the areas that take longer to process, the editor can focus on ways to make such work go faster. More importantly, if an editor finds that she can process certain types of material faster and more accurately than other types, the editor now knows where to focus her marketing efforts.

Similarly, an editor needs to know her strengths and weaknesses. For example, I know that I am a fumble-fingered typist. Consequently, I know that if I have to type nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs, I am likely to mistype it and need to correct my typing, which makes both the original typing and the correction typing inefficient. Thus I know that I can increase my efficiency by having that phrase typed correctly once in my Toggle dataset and then pressing a key combination (or, in my case, an Xkeys button) to have it automatically typed.

Efficiency is good for the editor and for the client. No client wants to pay for an editor’s learning or redoing curve, and most editors want to increase their earning power. Analyzing how you work and trying to improve on it is a fundamental part of any business.

Thus the commandment: Thou shall be efficient!

April 15, 2010

It’s the Little Things: Hardware

In a previous article, I raised the topic of the little things in editing that can make editing quicker, more accurate, and more profitable, but I didn’t begin discussing the actual tools I use. With today’s article I begin that discussion.

Although most of the tools are software, we do need to begin with hardware. I don’t plan to discuss the innards of a computer or whether one should buy a laptop or a desktop, although my experience with both indicates that editing on a desktop is more efficient for me. But there are a couple of pieces of hardware that are worthy of note: monitors and XKeys.

Monitors

When I first began electronic editing, more than 20 years ago, color monitors were not available. The monitors were black and white (or green or amber), were small, and were heavy CRTs (cathode ray tubes). Using a single monitor at a “large” screen size of 12 inches meant investing a ton of money into a single piece of hardware. How times have changed.

The advent of LCD monitors with large screens has been a boon to editing. Instead of seeing a few lines of text, one can see a page, get a better feel for context. LCDs have two other bonuses: small size (compared to the equivalent CRT) and, today, a low price.

As I have noted in other articles, I read a lot of “stuff” and I read, years ago, the results of a productivity study that showed that using 2 monitors nearly doubled productivity and using 3 monitors increased productivity by another 20% or so (the third monitor stat is from memory and may be off, but the study did show an increase in productivity over 2 monitors), and there was yet still another increase with 4 monitors but it was a less dramatic increase than third monitor increase.

I can attest at least to the 3-monitor productivity increase (I wanted 4 monitors but just couldn’t find room for #4). I have used a 3-monitor setup in my work for years and would not consider returning to anything less. I need to mention, however, that I do not think just any monitor will do. I have found that the best monitors for my work are monitors that pivot between portrait and landscape modes.

My set up uses three 24-inch pivoting LCD monitors (I happen to like Samsung monitors and the 3 monitors are the Samsung SyncMaster 2443BWT model). The left monitor is almost always in portrait mode as is the center monitor; the right monitor is usually in landscape. But should I need all in portrait or a second in landscape, I just need to rotate them.

The 3-monitor setup lets me logically divide my work. Here is how I usually have my work setup. On the left monitor is the manuscript I am editing. Portrait mode lets me see a page (or close to it) at a time. The center monitor is where my Internet access is located. I use an online collaborative stylesheet system that operates through my website, so this gives me access to the stylesheet (always up) and to Internet resources if I need to check things. On the right monitor I put my local resources, such as an electronic specialty dictionary or word book, and the manuscript references or bibliography. Just by moving my head or my mouse, I have instant access to all the editing resources I need.

Compare this to editing on a single monitor. Think about how much time has to be spent going between screens, and if you use the landscape orientation so that you can “split” the screen and have, say, a manuscript and the stylesheet visible at all times, what you are seeing is less than what I can see and requires more scrolling time.

So that little thing of have at least 2 monitors boosts productivity and efficiency greatly.

XKeys

Xkeys is equally as valuable, perhaps even more so, as the 3-monitor setup. I use, and have used for at least 10 years, the 58-key professional PS2 model. When I originally bought my XKeys, only the PS2 model would retain its programming in a power failure. This appears to no longer be the case. (One other important note: XKeys sells its own macro software. I have never used it or bought it, so I have no opinion about it. I use with my XKeys macro software called Macro Express, which I will discuss when I discuss software.)

XKeys sits to the left of my keyboard in a place of honor. It has increased my productivity many times over (I’ll say by 1000% but I really have no idea of the percent). I have programmed the XKeys for “odd” key combinations, such as Ctrl+Alt+Shift+F1, as well as for familiar combinations such as F1.

XKeys increases the number of key combinations available for macros by 58 because you can add hard-to-press combinations to a single key. (Actually, if I wanted, my XKeys Pro can handle 114 key combinations. It really is a 2-layer device, but to access the second layer and return to the first layer requires additional key presses, so I have never bothered). When I discuss software, I will go into more detail about the advantage of XKeys, but suffice it to say that I can now, with the press of a single button, run a macro or apply a style. It is much quicker than using a keyboard combination or the mouse.

But here is the most important part of XKeys — I can create a custom “keyboard” for each client or project type or project without reprogramming the XKeys! I have certain macros that I use for every client and every project, such as my Toggle macro, which is part of my EditTools software. So I have permanently assigned a particular XKey button to that macro. I don’t even have to divert my eyes from the manuscript to press the key. Habit takes over. The point is that every “custom keyboard” I create has certain macros preassigned to it, and it is only the remaining buttons that need to be assigned.

And because XKeys is just running the programmed key combination, I can assign to that key combination either a macro from within a program such as Microsoft Word or via Macro Express. XKeys is also program-neutral; that is, I have custom keyboards not only for clients and projects, but also for programs, such as InDesign.

XKeys and a 3-monitor setup are important allies for me in my never-ending quest to improve my accuracy and efficiency, which will translate to an improved bottom line. In subsequent articles I will discuss some of the software I use and how I use them as part of my striving to be the best editor I can be and provide my clients with the best editing available.

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

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