An American Editor

January 4, 2012

The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online VIII — Macros Redux

In The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online VII –  Macros Again, I discussed how I make use of a decision tree to design macros. Jack Lyon, the master of macros and author of Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word, approaches macros differently. In today’s guest article, Jack discusses his approach to macros.

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Life in a Macro

by Jack Lyon

After mentioning my new Macro Cookbook over the course of several blog posts, Rich Adin has graciously asked me to write a guest editorial related to macros, something I’m delighted to do. In his most recent post, Rich described his technique for sketching out a flow chart on paper, which helps him outline what he wants a macro to achieve before he starts working on the macro itself. This time-honored technique for programming is clarifying and efficient, especially in the early stages of a macro:

As I read Rich’s post, however, I realized that it’s been many years since I created a flowchart before starting to make a macro. Why is that? I wondered. What’s changed? And what do I do differently now?

I think what’s changed is that I’m now a lot more focused on the outcome of a macro rather than its process. As my programming skills have improved, I’ve become more concerned with what rather than how, with ends rather than means because the ability to create those ends has become almost second nature. And I think most skills are like that.

I’m a moderately skilled jazz musician (Hammond organ with Leslie speaker — oh, yeah), but I still have lots to learn, and when I’m working on a new run, I have to play quite mechanically until finally my fingers learn where I want them to go. After that, I can use the run in a variety of songs. But a run isn’t a song. And it’s the song that’s important. The song is the run’s reason for being.

When I’m creating a macro, the first thing I do is decide precisely what I want the macro to do. Some examples:

  • Title case every paragraph styled as Heading 1.
  • Remove extra spaces between footnotes.
  • Convert an automatically numbered list into a manually numbered list.

After getting the purpose firmly in mind, I usually work on a simple macro to see if what I want to do is even possible (proof of concept). If I were trying to title case every paragraph styled as Heading 1, for example, my thinking might go something like this:

Okay, first I need to create a macro that finds a paragraph styled as Heading 1. Hmmm. Probably easiest just to record it.

So I record it. Here’s what I get:

Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Style = ActiveDocument.Styles(“Heading 1″)
With Selection.Find
.Text = “”
.Replacement.Text = “”
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindContinue
.Format = True
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
End With
Selection.Find.Execute

Now, what’s that command to title case selected text? Can’t remember. Probably easiest (again) just to record it.

So I record it. Here’s what I get:

Selection.Range.Case = wdTitleWord

Well, that will take care of one instance. What about all the rest?

Then I realize that this is a classic case of a macro pattern I use all the time:

  1. Find something.
  2. Do something to what was found.
  3. Find the next something.

See my Macro Cookbookfor more on this. Basically, it just means adding the following construction at the end of the macro:

While Selection.Find.Found = True
[Do something here]
Selection.Find.Execute
Wend

In this case, I need to add the command to title-case the selected text, like this:

While Selection.Find.Found = True
Selection.Range.Case = wdTitleWord
Selection.Find.Execute
Wend

 So the completed macro looks like this:

Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Style = ActiveDocument.Styles(“Heading 1″)
With Selection.Find
.Text = “”
.Replacement.Text = “”
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindContinue
.Format = True
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
End With
Selection.Find.Execute
While Selection.Find.Found = True
Selection.Range.Case = wdTitleWord
Selection.Find.Execute
Wend

So gradually I’ll put together the various macro commands that work in sequence to do what I need.

Easy for me to say, right? Okay, okay. If you’re just getting started with macros, using Rich’s flowchart is a better way to go. Decide precisely, step by step, the things you want your macro to do, and list those steps:

  1. Find a paragraph styled as Heading 1.
  2. Title-case the paragraph.
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 until no more paragraphs are found.

Then get the commands for each step (by recording, borrowing, or whatever).

Then put the commands together to do what you need.

Finally, test your macro to see if it does what you planned. If it doesn’t, revise it until it does.

As this is the beginning of a new year, I’m feeling a little philosophical, so I’m wondering if we could apply a similar process to life. Can we figure out precisely what we want to have happen and then figure out the essential steps to make it so? Or is life more complex and unpredictable than that? Time to get out those flowcharts!

I hope this new year will be a happy one for you and yours.

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It strikes me that Jack’s approach is to have a single focus and then to combine several single-focus macros into a single macro that runs serially. I may be wrong about his approach, but I do think it demonstrates how different the approaches to writing macros can be. Jack’s approach is also one that an experienced macro creator can use, but I think for those of us who are not at the mastery level, flow-charting is better because it helps us focus on the steps.

What do you think? Which approach will you adopt?

January 2, 2012

The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online VII – Macros Again

In prior posts, I talked about how effective online editing includes mastering macros. See, for example, The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online IV — Mastering Macros. What wasn’t discussed is how to plan a macro.

For the simple macro, the macro that, for example, replaces two spaces with one space, not much planning is required; what is needed is fairly obvious. As a macro grows more complex, however, the difference between success and failure is often how much effort was placed in the planning of the macro. A well-planned macro nearly writes itself.

Consider most of the macros in the EditTools collection. These are complex macros that require multiple routines to accomplish designated goals and tasks. Because of their complexity, it is easy to get lost in the programming and thus not produce a usable macro.

Consequently, when planning a macro I use a decision-tree process. I also use Storyboard paper that I buy from Levenger because it helps me visualize what I need to do. More importantly, it breaks what I need to do down into manageable chunks.

I begin at the end of the process: I define what I want the macro to accomplish. I then try to define each step that will take me to that endpoint. I use the If…Then… process: If abc is found, Then do xyz, but If abc is not found, Then do pqr.

Using the storyboard, I make each If…Then… its own entry. In the blank box on the left, I write the If…Then…; on the lines to the right, I write the code, line by line to make the If…Then… happen. It takes at least a pair of boxes to make a single whole If…Then… phrase because the first is the found and the second is the not found. Sometimes more than one not found is required so a single If…Then… process may need more than a pair of boxes.

Note, however, that I am using the If…Then… concept as a substitute for a lot of possibilities. It should not be taken literally as an If…Then… in coding terms. It is simply a way of breaking the process down into manageable chunks.

Making these small blocks of code serves many purposes. To make them reusable, I also number them. The numbers are not used except as a way to cross-reference. If I have already written a chunk of code that will do what I need done in the next step, I simply refer to the block of code by number for later copy and paste.

The small chunks also serve a much more important purpose: they make it easier to figure out why something is not occurring as I intend. Plus they can be reused in other future macros — no sense reinventing the macro. And they make it much easier to rearrange a macro’s coding when I subsequently think of a better or more efficient way to accomplish a task.

Yet I can hear the question now: Why do on paper what you need to do online? Yes, it can be repetitive work to first do the coding on paper and then transfer the coding to online, but the process allows me to think twice about what I am doing and — definitely of more importance — coding online takes away the storyboard decision-making tree, thus making it harder to visualize the entire process or even how a small portion fits within the scheme of the macro. A little extra work now often saves a lot of extra work later.

If you look at the Storyboard paper, you see the box at the left in which I place my decision-tree information. That information serves much the same purpose as inserting a comment into a macro. But on the Storyboard I can readily see what comes before and what comes after the block on which I am working, which can be difficult to do onscreen.

No matter what method you ultimately choose, you need to have a decision-tree method at hand so as to avoid missing important steps in the macro process or leaving out things you want the macro to do depending on what is found or not found. If you use or have available Microsoft PowerPoint (or a similar program), you can use it to create an onscreen storyboard. I have tried it, but found it too cumbersome for me; at heart, for these kinds of tasks, I’m still a creature of habit and my generation and paper and pencil seem to work best.

The key is, however, to plan your macro. Even if the coding is beyond your capabilities and so you intend to hire someone to code the macro for you, having a decision tree that can be given to the coder will reduce your costs and ensure that the coder understands what you want. The coder may have suggestions for improvement, but the decision tree ensures that everyone is on the same page.

The decision tree can also make your learning to code complex macros easier and quicker. Combine it with Jack Lyon’s Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word, and you will discover that as you learn to code a small portion of a macro you are mastering macros. You will also find a greater sense of accomplishment as one coding success follows another in logical sequence.

The combination of the decision-tree process and the Macro Cookbook is a sure way to master the macro process a professional editor needs. Remember that the more efficiently you can edit the more money you can make over the long-term. The biggest failing professional editors have is the inability to get beyond the short-term outlook. Taking on the challenge of mastering macros will help you extend your outlook to the longer term.

December 26, 2011

Working Effectively as an Editor — New Print Resources

In recent weeks, two new publications have appeared: Cite Right, 2nd ed., by Charles Lipson (ISBN 978-0-226-48464-8), and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed (ISBN 978-0-547-04101-8).

Although I have the print versions of Scientific Style and Format (7th ed), by the Council of Science Editors; The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed); the American Psychological Association’s Publication Manual (6th ed); and the American Medical Association’s Manual of Style (10th ed) within arm’s reach at all times (plus previous editions of these books also readily available), Cite Right is a timesaver and the first place I look for a quick answer to a reference styling question.

Alas, the second edition, published by, as “proudly” noted on the front cover, “…the University of Chicago Press, publisher of the The Chicago Manual of Style” suffers from the some of the same problems that the original release of the Chicago Manual (16th ed) did: a critical resource was not carefully checked for accuracy. I’ve noted a couple of errors in Cite Right, but even with those errors, this is a valuable tool for an editor.

A professional editor would not — should not — rely on a secondary source for primary source information. Rather, the secondary source should be used to refresh one’s primary source memory information. If used in this manner, that is, you have familiarized yourself with the primary source and have access to the primary source, but use Cite Right for a quick refresher of a style question you haven’t come across recently, then Cite Right is an excellent tool — and it is reasonably priced (list price is $14; discounted price at B&N.com is $10.45). If you deal with references, and if you deal with more than one reference style manual, Cite Right should be sitting on your desk within easy reach. Among the various styles it includes are these: Chicago (Turabian), American Psychological Association (APA), American Medical Association (AMA), Council of Science Editors (CSE), American Chemical Society (ACS), Modern Language Association (MLA), and American Anthropological Association (AAA).

As pleased as I was to see a new edition of Cite Right, I was even more pleased to see a new edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. I own — and use — a lot of dictionaries. I like to compare usage, spelling, and definitions. Usually they are in agreement, but sometimes they do disagree. Also important is that coverage is not precisely identical as the editorial boards of the various dictionaries often decide differently about whether to include a “new” word.

Of all the single-volume dictionaries for American English that I use, the American Heritage Dictionary (AHD) is by far my favorite. I especially like its choice of font. As I’ve gotten older, and my eyes have gotten wearier, I increasingly appreciate the design of the AHD. Counterbalancing that, however, is the AHD’s physical dimensions and weight. Compared to the AHD, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed) is like a feather. Yet, I reach for AHD first.

A nice feature of the AHD is that for some entries it offers synonyms and usage information. That ties in nicely with my interest in word origins and usage (I do need to start writing again about usage and word histories; it has been too long since I last did so). I especially like reading divergent views about a word’s usage (which is why Bryan Garner’s Modern American Usage [3rd ed] is always nearby), because of the insight into language it can provide.

In any event, the fifth edition of AHD was published last month and it is a worthy, albeit not inexpensive (list price $60, discounted price at B&N $38.46), addition to any professional editor’s resources, even if your clients consistently prefer a different dictionary. AHD is worthwhile as a supplement that provides insight into our language, something that many of its competitors lack.

One negative I have found to being a professional editor is the constant procession of new or updated resources that I “need” in my library. I admit that I am always on the lookout for print resources that improve my editing skills and knowledge, which, hopefully, increases my value to my clients and prospective clients. But I am careful not to let these resources sidetrack me, which can easily happen. Books like Cite Right and The American Heritage Dictionary serve useful purposes, but they are not a substitute for a good grasp of editing fundamentals. That is something to keep in mind, especially if you are looking to hire a professional editor: An editor’s bookshelf can provide an insight into the editor’s skill level and interest, but is not a substitute for those skills. The resources an editor uses should complement the skills the editor has and applies.

December 19, 2011

Working Effectively Online VI — The Books

One thing I have noticed when discussing resources with my colleagues nowadays is that they often rely on online resources rather than printed books for everything they can. For example, rather than opening The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, now in its just-released fifth edition, to check a spelling or a definition, they will go to Dictionary.com or Merriam-Webster online.

The good about doing so is that (presumably) the online sources are not only accurate, but are updated regularly and thus more current, than a print book can be, at least if the supplementation is in print form. Even the venerated Oxford English Dictionary has turned to online, offering a year’s subscription for the (relatively) paltry sum of $295.

I don’t disapprove of using online resources — as long as one is choosy about the resource. What is good about the Internet is also what is bad about the Internet. It is easy to post information; anyone can do it. I make use of online resources that are specific to the type of editing I do and that are no longer available in print form or I don’t use often enough to warrant purchase of a print version. Three good examples for me are the National Library of Medicine (NLM)’s Catalog, which provides access to NLM bibliographic data for journals and books; NLM’s PubMed, which comprises more than 21 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books; and Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS)’s Catalogue of Life: 2011 Annual Checklist, a comprehensive catalogue of all known species of organisms on Earth that contains 1,347,224 species, which is probably just slightly over 2/3 of the world’s known species.

But when it comes chemical compounds, spelling, definitions, grammar, and usage, I prefer the printed book.

I was thinking about this anomaly — doing 100% of my editing work online yet still using print resources to check things — and wondering whether my continued reliance on print books as resources lessens the effectiveness of my online editing. Alas, I can come to no definitive conclusion.

The answer is, at best, “maybe or maybe not.” For example, in experimenting with using Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary (31st ed.) online versus the print version, I discovered that the online version is ill-designed and requires multiple steps to get to what may be a dead end. Generally, I found using the print version easier and quicker. The same was true when I experimented with Stedman’s Medical Dictionary (28th edition).

I also have a habit of liking to look in multiple sources. As a result, I have built up a good library that is focused on my subject areas. I also like to check history. For example, while Dorland’s 31st likes eponyms to be nonpossessive, the possessive was preferred for years and many editions past. When a client insists that, for a particular book, the possessive needs to be used except in those instances that were specifically noted to be nonpossessive (I always loved that about Dorland’s — there was no rhyme nor reason to when an eponym was possessive or not; they were just possessive or not — before the 31st edition), I simply whip out a copy of an earlier edition, something I cannot do with online sources.

Let’s not forget the expense. A lot of colleagues use only free resources. I’ve always been leery of free sources. After all, it takes time and money to put this material together, to check it for accuracy, and to update it. I know I struggle just to find time to update the list of books I’ve edited, to the point that I have neglected to do the updating for a couple of years. I’ve viewed this like the free antivirus programs — they are great until the first time they aren’t great. We all know that the free antivirus program cannot be as good as the paid version of the same program for the logical reason that, if it were as good, the company would be out of business.

The online sources that I would rely on in many areas are not inexpensive. And the cost grows as one renews each year. In contrast, I buy a print book and its cost amortizes over the years of use; it is a one-time payment, which appeals to the frugal in me.

Regardless of whether we use print or online resources, the bottom-line is whether we use a sufficient number and variety of resources to ensure that we are providing the best quality of editing or information that we can to our clients. I once asked at a seminar, “How many editors present regularly check word usage and if you do, in how many sources?” I was surprised to discover how few check usage and wasn’t surprised that those who do usually check one source. When I probed further, I discovered that usage was checked by Binging or Googling.

I admit that I had never thought to Bing or Google a usage question; I have always turned to the various usage books I have sitting next to my desk. Interestingly, the most important usage guide for American English, Garner’s Modern American Usage (3rd edition) by Bryan Garner, isn’t available online except as part of Oxford University Press’ Dictionary Pro package, which must be expensive because they don’t post a price — you have to request it.

I guess this is one area where one has to compromise. Some things are readily and reliably researched online; some things are better researched in print. Whatever your editorial field is, you need to keep handy both online and print resources. The biggest advantage that print has is the ability to go back to earlier editions if necessary — online resources tend to always go forward without preserving the previous. Yet, as I have discovered on several occasions, there are times when the answer to a question cannot be found in the current edition, but can be found in a previous edition, which is why I keep past editions of all my resource books.

I suspect that in future years fewer print resources will be used by editors and a greater reliance will be placed on online resources, especially as those of us who grew up using print resources retire and those who grew up on the Internet take over.

December 14, 2011

eBook Exclusivity — A Good or Bad Idea?

The answer really is “it depends.” It depends on who you are and where you are in the ebook world.

Recently, Amazon started a program for its Prime members: they can borrow 1 ebook for free each month, choosing from a list of more than 30,000 titles (and the list is growing). The source of these ebooks appears to be the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program. Amazon is encouraging self-publishing authors to participate in KDP. KDP will “lend” books in its program to Amazon’s Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, which is part of the Prime membership.

Amazon hasn’t ignored compensation, either. It has set up a pool of money ($500,000), which is the pool for the first month (Amazon plans to set aside $6 million for the 2012 pool). Every indie-author-participant whose book is borrowed will receive a share of the pool based on the number of times the book is borrowed as a share of total borrowings of all particpating ebooks. Presumably, if your book is borrowed 100 times and the total number of borrowings is 500,000, you would receive $1 for each borrowing (hopefully my math is correct). If, on the other hand, your book is lost in the ever-growing list and not borrowed at all, you will receive nothing except for whatever royalty you are due in the normal course of business with Amazon as a result of sales.

So far, so good — or so it would appear.

Let me say upfront that I am not a friend of Amazon. I disapprove of Amazon’s attempts to dominate the ebook market. But I do admire Amazon’s creativity. The one thing I truly feel confident in stating about Amazon is this: whatever Amazon does, it has carefully thought about how it will ultimately benefit Amazon and further Amazon’s dominance interests. In other words, Amazon is a business’ business. Unfortunately, a corollary to that equation is that what is good for Amazon may not be good for consumers and/or authors and publishers in the long-term. Amazon is proving adept at focusing everyone outside Amazon on the short-term and assuming that the long-term will be equally glorious. As the song goes, “It ain’t necessarily so.”

The deal with Amazon is this: The author/publisher agrees to give Amazon’s KDP exclusive rights to the ebook. The author/publisher agrees that the book will not be available at any place other than Amazon, not even the author’s own website, during the exclusivity term, which term runs for 90 days and is automatically extended unless the author/publisher takes affirmative action to withdraw from the program — with the long-term consequences of withdrawal not currently known.

Exclusivity both bothers me and worries me. It bothers me because Amazon’s environment is a closed environment (yes, I know one can strip the DRM but most consumers can’t and won’t, and I know that Amazon has application for nearly every reading device known to humankind, but that means that even though I’ve chosen Sony or Barnes & Noble over Amazon, Amazon is pressuring me to kowtow to it), unlike virtually every other ebook retailer (with the notable exception of Apple). To read an Amazon DRMed ebook, you must use an Amazon device or application; with most other ebook retailers all that matters is that your device be ePub capable. (And, yes, I do know that there is a DRM problem with B&N and even more so with Apple.) So the exclusivity program bothers me because Amazon is locking up authors and their books to the Amazon platform, whether I want to be on it or not.

Yet worse is what worries me about this program — all the unknowns. I know that Amazon’s big ebook authors — its million sellers like J.A. Konrath (whose books I have never read or bought) — signed on but what I don’t know is whether they signed on under the same terms as Sally Unknown has to sign. More importantly, however, is that Amazon is trying to get the Agency 6 to sign on and is rumored to be offering them a set fee for each borrowing, that is, they would not participate in the pooled money.

If the deal being offered the indie authors is such a sweetheart deal, why isn’t it the same deal as being offered to others? The mighty shaft is rising and it’s not aiming for the Agency 6!

I am also concerned that authors may feel they must join this program in order to stay within Amazon’s good graces. After all, for most authors currently, the bulk of their sales are via Amazon. Yet, there is something that indie authors need to look at, and do so carefully: how are their sales trending?

Jeff Bennington, a suspense writer, explains at his The Writing Bomb blog his decision to participate. Personally, I don’t find his arguments convincing. Bennington states he is joining because 97% of his books have sold via Amazon. One needs to back up a bit from giving that fact too much credence. For example, that number represents past sales not future sales. More important than past sales is the sales trend: has growth on Amazon plateaued while sales at B&N are growing at a 30% rate? What has the author done/not done to promote his book at the Sony store? Have all his promotion efforts been geared to Amazon?

Ultimately, the exclusivity arrangement will hurt lesser-known authors for several reasons: (1) once on the exclusivity bandwagon, it will be difficult to get off (not only must one take affirmative steps to get off, but one has to overcome the fear factor of doing so). (2) Amazon dominates the U.S. market but does it dominate elsewhere? As I understand it, the exclusivity is worldwide. (3) Authors face the same problem in KDP that they face outside KDP — who knows of them or about their book? If KDP already has more than 50,000 participating titles, what are the odds of someone picking your book over another book? (4) If Amazon is successful in getting the Agency 6 to participate and that participation includes the top-tier authors — the Stephen Kings and Clive Cusslers and Ruth Rendells of the publishing world — how likely is it that someone will pick Sally Unknown’s ebook to read for free as opposed to one of Stephen King’s ebooks, especially when the reader can only borrow 1 ebook a month?

What exactly is the indie author getting by participating — not what does the indie author hope to get by participating? All I see that is definite are benefits flowing to Amazon, which has put itself in a no-lose situation; it is wishful thinking and hopes that flows to indie authors.

One other issue matters, I think. What KDP indie-author-participants earn is based on the percentage their sales represent of all sales (unlike the Agency 6 who get paid a set amount each time a book is “borrowed” and who knows what the million ebook club members get). Who has the right and is going to audit the program to verify that the numbers are correct? As far as I can tell, authors are not given the right to audit the entire program, which seems to me to be fundamental to determining whether exclusivity with Amazon is the right move for your book. When Amazon sends you a check for $10, how do you know that it shouldn’t be for $100 if you cannot audit the whole program? And if this is such an up-and-up sweetheart deal for the indie author, then why can’t an indie author or a group of indie authors audit the program? I guess it all boils down to believing “Amazon is my friend and will do me no harm.”

As I noted earlier, I am not a friend of Amazon. I fear what will happen when the only choice for buying an ebook is Amazon, and Amazon is doing everything it can to hasten that day. It is worrisome when indie authors are willing to jump on Amazon’s bandwagon without looking in depth at Amazon’s KDP program and its exclusivity arrangements and the red flags that should be arising. Instead of joining the herd and singing the mantra “Amazon is my friend, I need not worry,” indie authors should be singing the mantra “Amazon is Amazon’s friend, and I do need to worry.”

Indie authors — and all publishers and authors — need to think and look long-term and not be seduced by the possible but uncertain short-term. The waters are shark infested.

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December 12, 2011

On Books: Saladin

History and biography captivate me. Although they seem intertwined, and they usually are, I find that I can read with great pleasure a biography of someone whose importance in history is perhaps marginal or of importance only in a narrow set of circumstances. Biographies of Louisa May Alcott, Henry James, and Paul Cézanne come to mind as examples. Although interesting, I suspect if their biographies were never read or written it would not matter much to history.

In contrast, there are people whose biographies are so intertwined with history that one does not get a full picture of the historical events with which they are associated in the absence of reading their biography and the biographies of those both close to them and in opposition to them. Some examples that come to mind are Abraham Lincoln, Julius Caesar, Adolph Hitler, and John Brown.

I would add to this list of indispensable biography that of Saladin. I have long searched for a good, comprehensive biography of Saladin and finally found one. Published in the United States just last month (a translation from the original 2008 French edition) Anne-Marie Eddé’s Saladin, translated by Jane Marie Todd, is an exceptional look at one of the great figures of history.

Over the years, I have read, or attempted to read, several “comprehensive” biographies of Saladin. Not only were none comprehensive, but most were very cursory. Eddé’s Saladin, on the other hand, is rich with detail and clearly the fruit of original research. (Kudos also have to be extended to Jane Marie Todd. Her translation is outstanding. Much too often I find translations to be accurate but lacking in flow and tone, especially the tone of the original. I admit that I do not read French and so have not read Saladin in the original, but I feel confident in stating Todd captured the nuances and tone of the original. This translation was easy to read; I would have thought that English was Eddé’s native tongue.)

Even today, the Muslim world celebrates the achievements of Saladin. Interestingly, although the Arabs claim him as one of their own, Saladin was a Kurd, not an Arab. More important, however, to both ancient and modern history is that Saladin was a Muslim who fought for the Muslim cause against the Christian crusaders.

Saladin was a living hero and remains a hero today. He united Egypt and Syria under a single ruler, he fought Richard the Lion-heart in the Third Crusade to a draw, cementing a relationship in history between two giants. (For an excellent dual biography of Saladin and Richard that is focused on their complex and intertwined relationship during the Third Crusade, I recommend James Reston’s Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade [2001]. Unlike Eddé’s Saladin, the focus of Reston’s book is narrow.) And he recaptured Jerusalem, perhaps the most fought-over city in history. (Sitting on my to-be-read shelf is the newly published Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore. This is at the top of my TBR list, although I also have several other books that are vying for the next-to-be-read position.)

During his lifetime and over the course of subsequent generations, the myth of Saladin grew, to the point that it is sometimes difficult to separate fact from fiction. In this sense, Eddé has a difficult road to walk but she does so admirably. A reader comes away with a better sense of the real Saladin, which is not a denigration of his greatness — Saladin was great for his time.

Eddé’s biography does one other thing, and I think does it well: it provides the Western reader with a view of the Muslim world and of the Crusades from a Muslim perspective, rather than solely from a Western perspective. In addition, we get to see Saladin as more than just a warrior; after all, he was responsible for governing as well as military affairs.

During his lifetime, Saladin gained a reputation for chivalry, trustworthiness, and magnanimity. This reputation was extant among both his followers and his enemies. Saladin’s magnanimity, however, did not preclude his enslaving thousands of prisoners or beheading those who refused his offer of a reprieve if they converted to Islam. He was a semi-enlightened ruler for his era, not a revolutionary ruler who changed the dynamics of the time. Eddé’s biography of Saladin gives us the opportunity to learn more about Saladin as a man of his time, rather than as a mythical warrior-hero.

If you are interested in the history of the Crusades, Medieval history, or great biography, I highly recommend Saladin by Anne-Marie Eddé. It will change your perspective about an important moment in human history. If the book has a failing, it is, perhaps, that it is too richly detailed. Regardless, this is a 5-star book that deserves space in one’s permanent book collection.

December 7, 2011

Working Effectively Online V — Stylesheets

When professional editors work on projects, they create a stylesheet for each one, a central form that details the editing decisions they have made. For example, in the medical world, distension and distention are correct spellings of the same word. An editor would decide which spelling is to be used for a project and note it on the stylesheet. Some may be handwritten, some may be online. I (and those who work for me) use an online version.

The stylesheet serves multiple purposes, the two most prominent ones being a guide to the editor as the editing project moves over days, weeks, even months, and as a guide to the proofreader. In my editing world, our online stylesheet serves additional important purposes. First, it is designed to enable two or more editors to work together on a project, yet use the same stylesheet and see decisions made by other editors in real-time. In my system, there is virtually no limit to the number of editors who can access and use the same online stylesheet.

Second, it lets me make a project’s stylesheet available to my client 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In my system, the client is given access to the online stylesheet to view it and to print it but the client cannot make any changes to the stylesheet. Because this is where all editorial decisions regarding the project are stored, the client can review the decisions and alert us to any of which the client disapproves. That allows us to make changes before the “mistake” becomes very costly to correct. Client access also means that, when the client sends material from the project to the proofreader, the client can also provide the proofreader with a current-to-the-minute stylesheet.

Beyond these vital functions, I can give the book author(s) client-type access (i.e., view and print but not change) so the author can give us guidance. (It should be noted that just as editors need to create a stylesheet, so should authors. The smoothest editing projects I have encountered in 28 years of editing have been those in which the authors created stylesheets and provided them before I began editing.)

I realize that much of what is, in my eyes, wonderful about my online stylesheet is because of the type and size of projects on which I work. The projects are often medical, with thousands of pages of manuscript, and require two to four editors. My system helps reduce inconsistencies that would otherwise occur when multiple editors work on a project. What is wonderful for my work may be inappropriate for most editors who work on much smaller projects by themselves.

Yet every editor needs to use a stylesheet to reduce inconsistencies and to alert, ultimately, the client to the decisions made. Many editors still do stylesheets on paper, which works when stylesheets are kept small, which leads to the question of how large should a stylesheet be?

Editors are in disagreement about this. I believe a stylesheet should be comprehensive. Many of my stylesheets run 40 to 50 pages. Again, my view is colored by the types of projects I do. Most of the books I do will have subsequent editions — a comprehensive stylesheet can clarify decisions made in earlier editions.

Many editors think short and sweet is better. After all, who can remember what is contained in 40 pages of style information? I think that misses the purpose of a stylesheet, which is to answer a question when it arises. No one has to read and remember everything in a stylesheet; an editor needs to concentrate on certain information, such as what form to follow for references, and then use the stylesheet to answer questions as they arise.

Regardless of how you use a stylesheet, I think editors universally agree that one must be created and kept. And this is another instance of when a mastery of your tools, especially macros, can be timesaving. Even if not timesaving, it can make using a stylesheet easier.

In the years before I created my current online stylesheet, which is based on my website, I used a local online stylesheet with macros. The macros let me select text in the main text and then process it. The selected text would be copied, the macro would then shift focus from the main text to the stylesheet and would put the cursor in the correct alphabetical box on the stylesheet. Then the macro would paste the selected text into the box, select all entries in the box, sort the entries alphabetically, save the stylesheet, and return focus to the main text. Looks complicated and difficult, but it was (is) neither, and adding to and using the stylesheet was quick and accurate.

I am an advocate of using multiple monitors when editing. My current setup uses three 24-inch pivoting monitors — usually two in portrait orientation and one in landscape, although occasionally two are in landscape. (I am thinking about adding a fourth.) I think editors should use at least two monitors, keeping the text they are editing on one and the stylesheet open on the second. With this system, macros won’t be needed as it is easy enough to select, copy, and paste and occasionally alphabetize.

The ultimate point is that, to be an effective editor, you must use stylesheets. To be an efficient editor, you should use a readily available electronic stylesheet. A stylesheet is intended to promote consistency; consequently, an editor should not only keep it handy, but should note all editorial decisions on it.

Curious About My Online Stylesheet?

For those who are curious about my online stylesheet, for a limited time you can view it and even make entries to a demonstration project. (If you do try it, I ask that you make no more than a few entries and that you be courteous and careful with your word choice so you don’t offend others who may view it.) Below is how to access the demonstration project. Please be sure to log-out when done.

NOTE: I haven’t previously given numerous people simultaneous access using the same username and password; usually each editor has his or her own username and password, and when I have given a demonstration, access was to one person at a time. Consequently, I hope this will work but do not know if it will.

  1. Go to www.freelance-editorial-services.com and click on Client Services.
  2. Cclick FES Staff Log-in, which will bring up the log-in page.
  3. Eenter as the username demo and as the password staff and click Log-in (if someone is already logged in with this username and password, you may see a message stating you are already logged in toward the top of the page; if you see the message, click Go to Staff Service Home and continue with step 4).
  4. In the directory at the left, under All Your Projects, click wordsnSync Max to open the wordsnSync Max home page.
  5. Because you only have access to the demonstration project (A History of Freelance Editorial Services), only the demonstration project appears in the dropdown menu; click Load to bring up the stylesheet for A History of Freelance Editorial Services.

You are now viewing my online stylesheet just as an editor sees it and you can use it just as an editor can (a client sees a different view but does see the same content in the alphabetical “boxes”). Scroll down to see entries that have already been made. Feel free to make a few entries yourself. How it works should be self-explanatory. You type (or copy and paste) entries in the box at the top. If you type an entry such as

bluebird of happiness (BoH)

you can click the Add Entry to Stylesheet button (Reset Form clears out the entry box) and your item will automatically be entered in two places: first under B and in the form you typed it, and then in B acronym but in reverse form, like this: BoH (bluebird of happiness). If you try to add an entry that is already present, it won’t be permitted. Placement choices appear below the entry box.

After clicking Add Entry to Stylesheet, you are taken to a confirmation “page” where you will see other, “similar” entries. You can also change placement here. When satisfied, you can either click Confirm Entry to immediately add the text to the stylesheet or you can do nothing and, after 45 seconds, the text will automatically be added to the stylesheet.

After making an entry, watch the Newest Entries box at the left. Your addition will appear there. Via that box, each editor working on a project can see the newest entries as they are being added to the stylesheet or can check for entries made while that editor was offline.

I look forward to reading your comments on how my online stylesheet works and whether it convinces you to adopt online stylesheets for your editing work.

December 5, 2011

Editors and Contracts: Editor Beware!

My editing world is, admittedly, fairly narrow. Years ago, I decided that I would only do a certain type of work (subject matter-wise) and only for select clients (i.e., publishers, not authors). Consequently, the following discussion is shaped by 28 years of that narrow world and is focused on contracts between freelancer and publisher/vendor.

Over my editing career, I have been asked to sign a contract less than six times; I have never asked a client to sign one. Until recently, the last contract I was asked to sign happened a decade or more ago. I’m not sure why this is the case, except that I think my clients view the situation as I do — a contract isn’t necessary between companies.

Also until recently the purpose of the contract wasn’t really to detail the relationship’s obligations but it was to establish that I am not an employee and cannot be construed to be an employee of the client. In other words, it was to protect the client from my claiming that I was an employee of the client and entitled to employee benefits. The contract was designed to establish my relationship with the client should the Internal Revenue Service come knocking on the client’s door.

For the most part, once a client realized it was issuing payment to a company rather than to an individual, and once the client realized that I have payroll obligations, something employees of the client wouldn’t have, I think the necessity for a contract disappeared.

But recently I was asked to sign a contract.

The story begins with a publisher who asked me to edit a book that will run between 7,000 and 9,000 manuscript pages. The book has a “fussy” author (that’s fussy in the good sense of being both knowledgable about and caring of the use of language, not in the negative sense of being troublesome) and a short deadline of 12 weeks. Manuscripts of this size are what I commonly deal with and the short deadline just raises a challenge, not an obstacle that can’t be overcome. (And it is projects and deadlines like these that make investing in macros invaluable!)

Although I was asked by the publisher to take on the project, the work and payment would come through a third-party vendor. The publisher would simply tell the vendor that I was to be hired to do the editing and that the rate had been agreed on. I was to work with the vendor and not the publisher.

That arrangement is not unusual in today’s publishing world. It is more common, perhaps, at least in my niches, for my name to be on a list of preapproved editors from among which the vendor can choose and negotiate a rate. I admit that I rarely find that to be good for me.

So the project is agreed to and the procedure agreed to and the work starts. Nothing more occurs until I submit the first batch of edited chapters and an invoice. That is when the vendor tells me that there is a contract that the vendor requires every freelancer to sign. The purpose, I’m told, is to ensure confidentiality. (I wonder who would want to see the edited manuscript for one of these books other than the author, but I also have no problem with agreeing to confidentiality.)

So the standard agreement was sent for my signature.

Let’s start with a few questions to set the stage: How many editors read such agreements? How many understand the agreement? How many editors are willing to say no and refuse to sign absent significant changes? How many editors are fearful that if they do not sign the agreement an avenue of work will dry up and leave them in dire straits? How many editors would say to themselves “although I don’t want to sign I better because I’ve already completed x% of the work and I want to get paid”?

Okay, you have the idea as to the stage-setting questions and undoubtedly can add more to the list, yet it is the answers that matter.

The contract I was offered was wholly one-sided. I had all of the obligations and none of the benefits. I wasn’t even assured of receiving the project I had been hired for if I signed the contract. In addition, the contract was riddled with grammar and spelling errors, which would leave the terms of the contract in a state of flux. But the worst clause of all — and there were many candidates for this honor, not least of which was the clause that required editing perfection and set the vendor up as the sole judge of whether the editing was perfect  — was that any dispute arising from the relationship between myself and the vendor had to be resolved in a court in India! The contract even mentioned Indian labor laws, as if I would have any idea of what Indian labor laws permit, do not permit, or require. Interestingly, the contract was open-ended; no work was promised and no specific project named — the contract remained in force until explicitly terminated by the vendor. Does indenture sound familiar?

I have nothing against India but I have never visited the country, I have never worked in the country, I have no plans to either visit it or work there, and I know nothing about Indian labor laws. Why would I sign such a contract? More importantly, why would any non-India-based editor sign such a contract (perhaps it shouldn’t even be signed by an India-based editor)?

And consider the perfection clause I mentioned earlier. Professional editors know that there is no such thing as perfect editing. There are very few rigid rules in editing that apply universally and never change, which is why we have, for example, 16 editions of The Chicago Manual of Style and 11 editions of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and 3 editions of Garner’s Modern American Usage.

I offered to sign a modified contract, but that was rejected. A colleague, Ruth Thaler-Carter, suggested to me that at the very least I should insist on a clause that reads along these lines (with additional modifications by me): “Freelancer cannot be held responsible for changes made by the Vendor once freelancer has submitted his/her/its editorial work to vendor and that should Vendor make changes that result in any form of liability to Freelancer, Vendor agrees to indemnify and hold harmless Freelancer at Vendor’s expense.”

Editors face a dilemma. They want and need the work that comes to them via third-party vendors, yet they really shouldn’t sign open-ended, one-sided contracts, especially ones that require them to use a foreign court system to resolve disputes. What editor could afford to go from the United States to India to enforce a claim for $500?

There is no easy solution to this problem. In my case, it was resolved to my satisfaction, but that was because of the intervention of the publisher, not because the vendor wanted to be reasonable. The vendor’s position was that you either sign the agreement as presented or you get no work. The vendor is really in the catbird seat because there are thousands of editors from which it can choose, but there are, by comparison, few vendors.

Could you walk away from such a job? Most editors cannot, which brings me back to a topic I’ve mentioned before: Professional editors really need a professional guild, at least a national one but preferably a worldwide one, whose focus is on protecting the member editors and finding the member editors work.

Even if you believe you have no choice but to sign on the dotted line, you should take the time to carefully read and evaluate any proffered contract. In addition, you should try to negotiate the more onerous clauses. Under no circumstance should you sign a contract like this that is open-ended. If you must sign such a contract, limit it to the project at hand. You never know when an open-ended contract will come back to bite you.

November 30, 2011

The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online IV — Mastering Macros

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 28, 2011

The Indie Bookstore in the Amazon Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least it is something to think about.

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