An American Editor

October 24, 2016

Plot or Characterization? (Part I)

by Alison Parker

Anyone can write romance and make big bucks off it. You just have to know the formula.

Sorry. I was dreaming. Romance fiction used to be the most reliable way to make money in fiction. In 2011, unknowns could breeze into Amazon and other such places, and their indie stuff would sometimes rake in amazing sums. One untutored author I know picked up a million bucks in her first year of indie fiction. Harlequin wouldn’t have her, and what’s now Harlequin Enterprises had long been accused of paying most of its authors on the down side.

Unfortunately, the marketplace even for indie romance is glutted now because everyone sees romance as a quick and dirty way to make a few bucks without breaking much of a sweat.

I’ve been reading short-form romance fiction for more than four decades. So could I write it for the indie market? Of course not — it takes a careful understanding of the audience for this sort of work and an odd sort of wit.

It’s also essential to put out roughly (the word roughly used advisedly) a book every two months; otherwise, readers find someone else to glom on to. I’ve been able to edit contemporary romance, but writing romance and winning readers can be tough. And the rules for success are many and often confusing.

The manuals and the trends in the short romances that I like to read fly in the face of Aristotle’s position that plot comes first and characterization second. Here’s what the ancient philosopher says about tragic drama in his Poetics:

The plot then is the first principle and as it were the soul of tragedy: character [ēthos] comes second. It is much the same also in painting; if a man smeared a canvas with the loveliest colors at random, it would not give as much pleasure as an outline in black and white. And it is mainly because a play is a representation of action that it also for that reason represents people.

To Aristotle’s way of thinking, giving characterization pride of place offers up something like modern art. It can be pretty, but not everyone gets it.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Your Romance Published doesn’t agree. In Chapter 7, we learn that “Characterization is probably the most important element of your story.”

Former Harlequin author Leigh Michaels might seem to find middle ground here in On Writing Romance. Though she says that character is all-important in romance — see Chapter 3, “Essential Elements” — she has to start out with the framework, which means plot. I have to add that The Complete Idiot’s Guide mentioned above also walks you through plot before moving on to character. But we’re all romantics. And those manuals were written before the indie revolution.

And if your romances go on for only 55,000 words, you can’t flesh out even the protagonists, let alone add vivid minor characters. Or at least the standard conventions since about the year 2000 won’t let you do that now. The hero is almost always an “alpha male,” quite often a billionaire (even if he’s a backwater fire chief), with a fear of commitment and often bent on ill-considered revenge. The heroine doesn’t have to be a virgin anymore, thank heavens, but she has to have greater moral fiber and less money than the hero to be able to delta her alpha.

Still, writers who focus on characterization give it the old college try. It took Harlequin/Mills & Boon some time to allow the man’s thoughts into the equation, and in the beginning it was a good thing, but now it can be all thought and little action, even in the sex scenes. We get pages and pages of mooning and lust and insecurity, but the plot doesn’t move forward. In fact, the conflict and the revelation scenes are sometimes lost in what I’d call not head-hopping but head-hugging drama.

And at least in indie romance, this tack seems to fail. I’ve followed a few authors of contemporary indie romance on the Amazon boards, and the only one who has been making it consistently into the top 100 of paid Kindle authors of any stripe doesn’t seem to be distinguished by good characterization or good writing. Tight and careful plotting doesn’t even matter all that much in her books. But a lot happens, and there’s a lot of conflict.

One more thing is important in the indie market. The author I just mentioned is careful to put out a new ebook roughly every two months. You have more leeway in publishing houses, but for readers of Kindle books and the like, fans will wander off to other writers if the adrenaline fix isn’t in quickly. And they can get thousands of cheap or free fixes through sites like BookBub and BookGorilla. I amassed more than a thousand of them before I bailed. No, I haven’t read them, but you never know when you’ll get desperate.

Customer reviews on Amazon, iBooks, and the like can be useful. The first batch isn’t — fans on an author’s “street team” (in this case, people committed to promote a favorite writer on social media), or the invited group of Facebook beta readers, will be urged to rush off and give five stars.

Soon after, you’ll get the grumblers. “I paid for this?” In the one-star reviews, you’ll see a lot of people recoiling at the filthy language and explicit sex scenes. Yes, you have to wonder why the poor saps didn’t do a little more research. “Sweet” and “inspirational” romance is out there and easily found, though it doesn’t sell the way sex does. Go figure.

But the other complaints head another way. Some dissatisfied customers speak of cardboard characters — what did they expect from barely edited romance fiction? — yet readers seem to growl more often that the protagonists are thinking or feeling all the time and that it all gets boring. The thrill is gone when you’re slogging through the initial disgust and the endless sexual tension on the way to the “HEA” — the happily-ever-after — when there’s nothing to watch. And you should see the howls from readers when they thought a book was going to give them the story that they really wanted but left them hanging at the last minute. You got the first book for free, perhaps, or maybe for 99 cents, but you have to buy two or three more to find out that Aristotle was probably on to a good thing.

After this cliff-hanger, we’ll learn better things about the value of characterization next time. Maybe.

Alison Parker has held jobs in libraries, bookstores, and newspapers. She has taught university courses in classical languages, literature, mythology, and etymology. Parker helped edit legal maxims for Bryan A. Garner. Garner’s Modern English Usage acknowledges her contributions, and she was an outside reviewer for his Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation. She has also worked as a columnist, a book reviewer, and an editor in various capacities, including developmental editing, rewriting, and plot doctoring.

October 17, 2016

The Business of Editing: The Card — Don’t Leave Home Without Them

Filed under: Business of Editing,Marketing — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , ,

A repeatedly asked question goes something like this: “Any tips on how to find clients?” There are any number of variations, but the question really is asking “how should I market and to whom should I market?”

The answers given are always the standard answers for today. Be on social media, have a website, ask for referrals, and so on. Never mentioned is one of the oldest and most effective methods of marketing: The Card.

“The Card” is the business card. That little scrap of heavier paper that acts as an introduction of the giver to the recipient — the one piece of paper that a businessperson should never leave at home. It is the gold mine of essential information about its giver.

Colleagues who have attended conferences at which I have spoken know that the first thing I do is make sure everyone present receives at least one of my cards. What they don’t know — because I never said so — is that I also made sure that every hotel or restaurant employee I came in contact with also received a card; I do not know who they know. Experienced conference colleagues also know that I expected to receive a card from them. Some gave me one, but some just made excuses for why they didn’t have a card to give me or for the quality of the card they were handing me. I’m willing to bet that since I stopped speaking at the conferences, the exchange of cards has withered — probably not thought of anymore because the value is not so evident in the internet age.

Yet that is a mistake. Sure, an online presence is important, and today’s young publishing professionals disdain the ways of the past. But I think of it more like I think of Sun Tzu (ca. 544–ca. 496 bc) and Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831) and Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527) — ageless, priceless, and still authoritative. Just as we study these past masters of war and politics because what they said hundreds of years ago is still relevant and accurate today, so the smart hunter of business views the business card.

If I were looking to edit indie fiction, I would attend local writers’ gatherings and I would hand out my card to every attendee every time. It doesn’t matter if they take it home and throw it away; what matters is that for at least a few seconds — and likely longer — the only editor they will think of is me. And the card reinforces my information because it isn’t easy (or polite) to refuse to accept the card, unlike an email that can be put on the spam list.

Years ago I did something a bit different when it came to the card: I had it made into a mini-chocolate bar and I handed out the bar freely, often several at a time. Because I wanted to make a “lasting” impression, I wrapped with the chocolate (sanitarily, of course) the paper version of the card — the recipient received a chocolate card and a paper card.

I’ve stopped using the chocolate card because I am semiretired and can’t make up my mind whether I want more business or less business — but every so often I think about doing it again. Why? Because people liked it enough to actually ask me for a card if I didn’t proffer one immediately — within my narrow market circle I became associated with the chocolate card.

The card is, as I noted earlier, a source for information about me. But it gets boring to read the same information repeatedly (although not to eat the chocolate :)), so I made it a point to redesign my cards every 12 to 18 months. I changed the text, its placement, the colors, the image, the feel. The card was my walking billboard and so it had to be treated as a billboard — it needed to reattract the recipient’s eyes.

The problems are several with relying on social media and online forums to spread your name and attract business. I’ll set aside for this discussion the amount of time it takes, much of which is unproductive (by which I mean not income generating), but will acknowledge that it takes a lot of time. A good example is this blog. It takes hours of work to produce a single essay and it would take even more hours to properly promote the essay across the internet. And the financial return is not commensurate with the amount of time spent to get that return.

Instead, I’ll focus on other problems. For a website to be effective you have to properly design it, maintain it, update it, and most importantly, provide some reason for someone to make the effort to come to it and once there, stay there, not just skate by. The card, on the other hand, requires minimal amount of maintenance and already has a reason for someone to accept it — you are face-to-face in the same room. People are generally social, so you do not need to entice them to say hello when you occupy the same space.

Which raises another problem with online selling — separating yourself from all of the spam that clutters the internet and that most potential clients try hard to avoid. You have to make the recipient of your message want to read your message and then act on it, usually by clicking a link to visit your website. We all know how reluctant most people are, just like we ourselves are, to click a link in an email from someone we do not know. But when I walk up to an author at a book signing, introduce myself and hand over the card, there is no resistance — the recipient sees I am real and has to do nothing more than what they would normally do.

The point is that the card has not lost its value in finding clients; we just need to use them differently in the internet age.

Business cards need to be well-designed and printed, not just slopped together on the home computer and printed on tear-apart business card stock on the home printer. The information on the card has to be just right for your audience. (At one time I used five different cards simultaneously. Each was designed for a different target market and I would hand to a recipient the card appropriate for the their market.)

I suspect few of my colleagues still use business cards to a great extent, which means there is a marketing opportunity for the adventurous. Old-fashioned marketing is still the most effective marketing in a business like editing because it is personal marketing of personal services. It gives us the chance to demonstrate our interpersonal skills, something that is greatly diluted by the internet.

If I were looking to build my clientele today, I would make business cards part of my effort, especially because it would force me to think about and define my market and how to reach it in a novel fashion.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

October 12, 2016

Thinking Fiction: What Do Editors Read? (Part I)

by Carolyn Haley

In thinking about subjectivity in fiction writing and editing, as I so often do, I became curious about my editorial colleagues’ reading preferences. What do they consider good novels?

Their opinions would be diverse, I knew, which led me to wondering just how diverse. If ten different editors walked into a bookstore and each bought ten books, how many would choose the same title(s)?

No better way to find out than to ask, so I turned to Copyediting-L, a long-standing e-mail list group of both self-employed and staff editors; current, retired, and aspiring. Seeking to satisfy my curiosity and maybe write an essay if enough people responded, I posted an informal invitation for anyone to send me a list of ten published novels that “you think are Really Good,” which the editors had read “any time from birth to today.”

Thirteen editors responded, with twelve providing a full list and the thirteenth providing a partial list, for a total of 127 titles. Only eight titles were duplicated, or 6.3%, making a total list of 119 unique titles. None of the eight duplications was selected by more than two editors.

These numbers satisfy my curiosity in general. A broader sampling and more formal questionnaire will show whether or not the baker’s dozen of responders represents the editorial community of many thousands. I will conduct a larger survey in the future and see what arises. For now, the starter sampling is interesting in what it does and does not present.

General results

To frame the list in some sort of context, I asked the responding editors for basic data about themselves, their work, and their recreational reading habits.

The thirteen responders comprised eight women and five men. Beyond that I have data for only twelve, because one did not submit details. The dozen are located around the world, with the majority in the United States. Their ages range from thirty-six to seventy-nine, and their years of professional experience range from four to fifty. Two of the responders edit full time, nine edit part time (a definition that includes “semi-retired”), and one is retired. Of those still editing commercially, ten are self-employed and one holds a staff position. Only four work on fiction at all, and none exclusively. This last point surprised me, as I would have expected fiction-dedicated editors to be the primary responders to my survey.

What did not surprise me is that the majority of responders prefer to read recreationally on paper. Whether this reflects their eyesight or personalities and lifestyles, I did not seek enough information to explain. I’m sure it’s not a matter of age, because the two responders who read exclusively ebooks are fifty-six and sixty-nine, while the two youngest (thirty-six and forty-one) are dedicated to print. Of the ten print devotees, six prefer print books only, while four mix print books with ebooks.

Another element that did not surprise me in the editors’ recreational reading choices was a bias toward literary novels. Most of the selected titles came from literary and general fiction, including the bulk of duplications. As mentioned above, there were eight overlaps in title (same novel mentioned by two different responders) but also eight overlaps in author (separate titles by same author mentioned by two different responders).

Title duplications

  1. 1984 by George Orwell
  2. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
  3. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  4. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  5. Pride and Prejudice, also by Austen
  6. The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis
  7. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
  8. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Author duplications

  1. Jane Austen
  2. Charles Dickens
  3. Umberto Eco
  4. George Eliot
  5. George Orwell
  6. J. R. R. Tolkien
  7. Anne Tyler
  8. Edith Wharton

Second to literary and general fiction came speculative fiction — “spec fiction” being the collective term for fantasy, science fiction, alternative history, and the like. This was unexpected (I would have guessed mystery), as was the number of series mentioned. Genre romance was conspicuous by its absence (no surprise), but other genres made an appearance, such as historical fiction, suspense, and mystery. It might seem at first that horror was also represented, because titles by well-known horror writers Clive Barker and Stephen King showed up, but both authors write other material, and in this case the responders selected from those authors’ spec-fiction novels.

Most titles were traditionally published. But three self-published novels made the list: Sentence of Marriage by Shayne Parkinson, via CreateSpace; Chermpf by William S. Russell III, via a private press; and The Martian by Andy Weir. The Martian exemplifies many writers’ dream scenario. The author, in his twenties, initially wrote the story as a serial on his website. Reader demand led to a book available via Kindle. When that became a best seller, the author was approached by a literary agent (compared to the usual situation of authors soliciting agent attention). A big-name publisher then acquired the novel, which made the New York Times best-seller list and went on to become a popular movie that received awards and its actors earned Academy Award nominations. It’s amazing to see that story on the same list as one of the oldest stories in the world, The Tale of Genji (ca. 1021, Japan).

The subjectivity factor

As always when I run a survey, there’s a rogue element I didn’t anticipate. This time it was interpretation of the request: “send me a list of 10 published novels you think are Really Good.” I should have emphasized you, because one editor glided past it and focused on the cap emphasis of Really Good, saying, “I’m not sure how far I can get with such a list. I’m not really a fan of Really Good novels. I lean more toward schlock. For example I read James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as a college freshman, and it left me cold. Never picked it up again, either. Maybe I’d think differently today. OTOH, I’ve read Josephine Tey’s The Franchise Affair probably three times. That’s not a Really Good novel; it’s well-crafted escape literature.”

That comment bowled me over. Why can’t “well-crafted escape literature” and “schlock” be Really Good for someone? Josephine Tey, as it happens, wrote what the British Crime Writers’ Association deemed to be “the greatest mystery novel of all time” (Daughter of Time) in its 1990 Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time. The same association placed The Franchise Affair at number eleven on the list. That kind of ranking suggests a novel that mystery lovers might find Really Good. (This is confirmed on our list of thirteen responders, two of whom selected titles that are on the BCWA’s top one hundred: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie.)

The commenting editor goes on to say, “I’m not sure if Dickens can be counted as Really Good. Pretty sure Gone With the Wind doesn’t count. Nor any of my childhood favorites — Burnett’s A Little Princess and Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, for example.”

The obvious subjectivity revealed here is why I asked the survey respondents what they, not their school teachers or other literary authorities, think is Really Good, and why I put Anne of Green Gables, Gone with the Wind, and The Franchise Affair on the results list instead of Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. I believe that literature comprises the body of written work produced by the general population, and that it contains something for everyone, and ranges as broadly in quality as it does in diversity. I sought, through this survey, to learn about editors’ different tastes in creative literature, specifically novels, and to assemble a book buffet for all of us to sample from.

A different responder similarly found a distinction between popular fiction and literature, mentioned in an exchange we had about Stephen King. This editor’s title list was predominantly literary fiction, so when commercial giant King’s 11/22/63 appeared on his list, I was startled enough to initiate discussion. King is reviled by some literati as a hack who produces schlock. But this responder felt that 11/22/63 “stands apart” and “may come to be recognized as his best book. The story is absolutely extraordinary…and the writing is really top-notch.”

That sounds Really Good to me!

You can see for yourself what the responding editors enjoyed reading in the break-out that follows. Although the list of editor’s favorites begins in this essay, owing to length, the list will conclude in the next Thinking Fiction column. Each editor’s list is accompanied by a brief profile.

Editors’ personal favorites (the first three)

Editor #1: female, 51, non-U.S.

  • Professional experience: 9 years; currently part-time self-employed in nonfiction (library and information studies) doing copy editing, proofreading, some developmental editing, plus teaching and consulting, for individuals (esp. students) and publishers.
  • Highest level of schooling: bachelor’s (English literature and history), master’s (library and information studies), doctorate in process (information science).
  • Recreational reading: 6–8 nonfiction and 1–3 novels per month, also poetry and essays, always in print. Prefers general fiction with special interest in fantasy and historical fiction. Favorite author: Terry Pratchett.
  • Top 10:

Foundation trilogy (Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation), Isaac Asimov
Interesting Times (17th of the 40+ volume Discworld series), Terry Pratchett
People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks
The Chronicles of Narnia (7 volumes starting with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), C. S. Lewis
The Emperor’s Winding Sheet, Jill Paton Walsh
The Evolution Man: Or, How I Ate My Father, Roy Lewis
The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien
The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco
The Night Watch (29th of the 40+ volume Discworld series), Terry Pratchett
The Third Policeman, Brian O’Nolan (writing as Flann O’Brien)

Editor #2: female, no other data provided.

  • Top 10:

Ahab’s Wife: Or, The Star-gazer, Sena Jeter Naslund
Atonement, Ian McKewan
Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Anne Tyler
Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
Sophie’s Choice, William Styron
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger
The World According to Garp, John Irving

Editor #3: female, 60, California

  • Professional experience: 12 years; currently part-time self-employed in memoir and occasional fiction, doing line and developmental editing for individual authors.
  • Highest level of schooling: bachelor’s (biology). Studied some literature and writing in high school.
  • Recreational reading: 2 books per month, mixed nonfiction and novels, always in print. Prefers romantic adventure, classics, and mystery. Favorite fiction author: Edith Wharton.
  • Top 10:

A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen
City of Thieves, David Benioff
Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, Richard Bach
Mrs. Mike (lead title of the 3-volume Mrs. Mike series), Benedict and Nancy Freedman
Scaramouche, Rafael Sabatini
The Call of the Wild, Jack London
The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
The Custom of the Country, Edith Wharton
The Importance of Being Ernest, Oscar Wilde
The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy

You can catch the trend of the list from just these first samples. Most of the titles have been around for years — decades, generations! — and can be considered classics; indeed, some have been standards for study in advanced English/literature classes in schools. They prove that good stories stand the test of time, and suggest that editors take their fiction seriously.

Carolyn Haley, an award-winning novelist, lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1977, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at or through her websites, DocuMania and New Ways to See the World. Carolyn also blogs at Adventures in Zone 3 and reviews at New York Journal of Books.

October 10, 2016

Lyonizing Word: Using Two-Part Buttons

by Jack Lyon

Nearly a year ago, I explained some secrets of Microsoft Word’s Ribbon interface (see Lyonizing Word: Secrets of the Ribbon), including two-part buttons like the one that activates FileCleaner in Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2014.

At first glance, this button looks ordinary, with a graphic icon at the top and a tiny arrow at the bottom:


Click the arrow, and you’ll get a dropdown list of FileCleaner’s features:


What many people don’t realize, however, is that the FileCleaner button is a two-part button. If you hover your cursor over the button, you’ll see a horizontal line splitting the button in two:


The bottom half, with the arrow, works just as before. But the top part is a different matter. If you click it, you’ll get full access to all of FileCleaner’s batch cleanup options:


Microsoft Word’s Ribbon interface includes quite a few two-part buttons, but if you don’t know about them, you may not be using Word as efficiently as you could. There’s no sure way to spot them without hovering your mouse pointer over them, although they always include a tiny black arrow (as do many one-part buttons). A good example is the Paste button on the Ribbon’s Home tab:


If you hover your mouse pointer over that button, you’ll see that it has two parts:


Click the part with the arrow, and you’ll have access to various paste options. Pretty neat!

So what other buttons have two parts? Here is the complete list, along with the default options you’ll see if you click each button’s arrow (as opposed to its icon). Please note that what you’ll see may vary depending on what’s going on in Word.

Home tab




Text Highlight Color




Font Color






















My Add-ins



Signature Line










Document Formatting




Next Footnote



Citations & Bibliography > Styles




Comments > Delete



Tracking > Display for Review



Tracking > Reviewing Pane



Tracking > Track Changes



Changes > Accept



Changes > Reject




Macros > Macros



I believe that’s all of them, although there’s one that’s not on the Ribbon that you should be aware of — the Undo button, which you’ll see at the top left of your Word window:



Here, you can select items en masse and undo them. Is that useful? Maybe sometimes.

One thing you can say about Microsoft Word: It’s not lacking in features. If anything, it has more features than most people will ever use (see Lyonizing Word: The Right Tool for the Job). I hope this article will help you find some useful features that you may not currently be aware of.

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

October 5, 2016

On the Basics: Dealing with Distractions

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

One of the attendees at a panel session I participated in recently asked about managing distractions when working from home. This comes up a lot in conversations among colleagues. It’s a good question in these days of what often feels like constant distraction — not just from friends and family whose demands for attention can pull us away from our editing (writing, proofreading, indexing, graphics, etc.) work — but, more invasively, e-mail and social media clamoring for both attention and response. It can feel as if we’re missing out by not responding to every incoming message or new Facebook post, but doing so breaks concentration on the project in hand.

How do we get work done with all this “stuff” going on around us, much of which seems either more urgent or more interesting than that open project on the desktop?

Everyone is different, so what works for one person may not work for another, but here’s my basic approach. Keep in mind that I don’t have children or pets, although I can share few tips for balancing them with working at home.

Nowadays, I check e-mail first thing in the morning, to make sure there’s nothing urgent and to clear out or respond to anything of interest that came in overnight. Then I check Facebook, because I belong to several work-related groups that might have conversations I want to participate in. I give myself permission to be distracted from work by responding to messages and by dipping in and out of both personal and work-related forums as a way to start my day. It’s like meeting at the office water cooler to gossip about what we did over the weekend before the real workday begins.

I dip into LinkedIn and Twitter less often than I go to Facebook, but am trying to be more active in both environments. That’s something else that I do first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening, mainly to keep up with what colleagues are doing and get my activities and opinions out there. Again, these are potential distractions, but ones that can be useful to my freelance business.

I usually keep e-mail and Facebook open throughout the day, in part because I have a couple of clients who send me editing and proofreading work on demand, but that doesn’t work for everyone. I have colleagues who close both while they’re tackling assignments, or turn off the sound so alerts to new messages or posts don’t distract them from the work. They go back to e-mail and online forums once they’ve finished, or have at least reached a good break point — such distractions can be used as rewards for getting a certain amount of work done. However, if I have to focus on a demanding writing, editing, or proofreading assignment, I do close both e-mail and my browser.

Some distractions actually are work. You might be focusing on a lengthy editing project when a smaller assignment pops up. Depending on the status of the deadline for that first project, you might be able to set it aside and take care of the new one then and there. It might even be a good change of pace from intensive editing of a complex manuscript. We all need the occasional break, both physical and mental.

Those distractions are reasonably easy to deal with. You can set a time for non-client e-mail interaction and social media participation, and limit the number of LinkedIn groups you belong to or the amount of time you spend in those groups. Managing distractions caused by family and friends can be a greater challenge.

Step 1 might be to establish office hours and stick to them (see, e.g., On the Basics: So You Want to be a Freelancer, The Business of Editing: A Fourth Fundamental Business Mistake That Editors Make, On the Basics: The Issue of Availability, The Proofreader’s Corner: How Lucrative Are Your Editorial Clients Really? Keeping an Eye on Creeping Costs [Part II], and Summertime & Wondering Why). Post them on your home office door so anyone in the house knows when you’re working and prefer not to be disturbed, and at your website so prospective and current clients can see when you’re available. If the phone rings, let it go to voice mail, or at least use Caller ID so you can shield yourself from nuisance calls — spammers, robocalls, unfamiliar numbers, etc., that get through the Do Not Call list. Plan ahead for saying “No” when friends or family call to chit-chat or ask you to run errands because you’re home all day. It can take constant reinforcement for the message to sink in that “I’m working here. I can’t stop to take Johnny’s lunch to school for you or pick up Susie at school or walk your dog” or “I’d love to chat, but I’m on deadline. I’ll give you a ring this evening.”

I was lucky in that I was already freelancing successfully when I met the guy who became my husband. We didn’t have to change any routines, and I didn’t have to justify or explain what I did for a living. He’s always been impressed by and supportive of my work (although there were times when he’d have preferred that I ignore it, such as when I’d spend part of a vacation day on finishing up something that came in unexpectedly just as we were leaving).

When my husband was working, he didn’t have to know very much about my work style or schedule. My routine was to get up at around 7 a.m., check messages, work for a couple of hours, run errands and get a light lunch, do some more work, break for an early dinner when Wayne got home around 3 or 4 p.m. (he was on shift work), and do another hour or two of work in the evening if I didn’t have something social going on. To my everlasting delight, he loves to cook and would fix dinner when he got home, so I could keep working until close to 5 p.m., when clients might expect me to be available by phone or e-mail.

Once Wayne retired and was home all day, I had to educate him about what it takes for me to get my work done, and I had to train myself a little as well. He had to remember to actually walk toward my home office to see if I was on the phone with a client, rather than holler from the other end of the apartment if he wanted to ask or tell me something. I had to remember to let him know if I was on a deadline and couldn’t take the day off for us to go on an adventure together. I made a point of staying ahead of deadlines as much as possible so I could drop everything for a play day as often as feasible.

Those with different spouse/partner situations may have to do more work on communicating what they need. You may have to set up something fairly formal about, for instance, who fixes dinner when, gets the kids to and from school and extracurricular activities, etc. It can help to show a spouse or child what you’re working on — and maybe your latest check for your freelance work. That makes it a lot more real to people who don’t understand what you’re doing and why.

Colleagues with babies or small children often schedule their work time around the kids’ naps. You may want — or need — to find someone to provide an hour or two of respite care/babysitting so you can achieve uninterrupted focus on work. That might mean going to a coworking space, library, or cybercafé, or just having a minder with the little one(s) in another room.

My dad once told a relative that as long as there was no blood on the floor and no detached limbs, my brothers and I were free to tussle around at will. You may need to adopt a similar philosophy. With older children, you may have to set very clear rules about when you can be interrupted, and even put a Do Not Disturb sign on your office door. The trick is to make the rule and stick to it.

People with pets schedule walks and play time around their deadlines whenever possible. Some let the animals join them in their home offices; others have doors (solid works a lot better than glass!) to fend off the beasts. As with any other potential distraction, the freelancer has to remember who is in charge.

As with everything else these days, there are apps for managing distractions; electronic timers come to mind. I prefer to be my own app — to train myself to manage distractions without outside assistance. It’s better for self-discipline, and it means I’m not depending on something that could go wonky when most needed.

Dealing with distractions, like much of freelance life, means developing a sense of discipline and self-worth. You’re in charge of your freelance business, which means that you also have to be in charge of your life in general. If you let distractions throw you off track, your business will suffer. Your personal life is likely to suffer as well, because you’ll be resentful or upset by interruptions and the inability to control what goes on around you and interferes with getting your freelance work done. Family members may be resentful as well, if they don’t have any idea of when you’ll be able to pay attention to them.

How do you manage, head off, or give in to distractions from your freelance work?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, which hosts an annual conference for colleagues, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

October 3, 2016

The Business of Editing: The Blame Game

I’ve always thought that the person who makes the decision should stand tall and accept the blame for anything that goes wrong as a result of that decision.

Consider, for example, where an author uses both ton and tonne in a book. If I were to decide to change tonne to ton on the (shaky) grounds that ton is the American spelling, who should accept the blame for having made the decision should it turn out to be a poor one? Usually, I would say me because I made the decision. But suppose I hadn’t made the decision; instead, those who hired me instructed me to make the change, and I did as I was told. When the author rightfully complains about the decision, who takes the blame — me or the person who gave me the instruction? I would have said that the instructor, not the instructed, should accept responsibility, but I am discovering that just as the chain of command has changed in publishing, so has responsibility.

The ton/tonne example is a good — albeit simplistic — example. Both are correct American English spellings because they represent different things: tonne is the equivalent of 2204.6 pounds (or 1000 kilograms), a metric ton, whereas ton is the equivalent of 2000 pounds for the short ton or 2240 pounds for the long ton. (Generally, in American English, ton means the short ton; if the long ton is meant, it is specified as the long ton.) Neither the short ton nor the long ton is the equivalent of the tonne — one is too light, the other too heavy. Of course, tonne could be changed to metric ton, but why is it better to use a word’s definition than to use the word itself?

To blithely change tonne to ton because ton not tonne is “the American spelling” in a book that uses both terms is inviting trouble, especially as both are correct American spellings, just with different meanings. And an instruction to make that change will inevitably lead to shifting of blame to the end of the chain, the editor, and is likely to result in the editor’s loss of a client.

Why does this happen? What can the editor do in this unfair situation?

Unfortunately, once the blame game has started, the editor rarely has a clue that it is on. The revelation comes when a source of work dries up. The cause of the blame game is the change in how publishing produces books. When I began my career, my dealings were with the publisher’s in-house production staff: the chain, in its simplest form, was

author > publisher > independent professional editor

In this chain, the in-house production staff and the professional editor were in constant communication, and decisions like changing tonne to ton were discussed and mutually decided. But the chain, too, has undergone change. The usual chain today is

author > publisher > packager > independent professional editor

When this chain was born, packagers were less confident and often relied heavily on the professional editor to make editorial decisions, even to provide the packager with guidance. But with the passage of time that changed. Packagers increasingly turned inward for advice.

As every professional editor knows (and hopefully would admit), professional American editors are more likely to have fluent command of American English than Indian editors, just as Indian editors are more likely to have fluent command of British-Indian English than are American editors. This is not to say that a professional editor cannot be strong in multiple versions of English, just that most editors are not. Consequently, using our ton/tonne example, for a book that is to be conformed to American English, it is more likely that a professional American editor will make a better-informed decision about replacing tonne with ton than will an Indian editor. Yet an Indian packager is more likely to ask for and accept a language usage decision made by in-house staff without consulting the American editor. And thus the problem arises.

Should the author complain about the substitution, the author’s complaint will be made to the publisher, who will then complain to the packager. But there the trail will stop because the packager already knows that if the editor is asked, the response will be “You [the packager] instructed me to make the change.” So why ask the editor? Instead, blame the editor, because blaming the editor is politic if the packager wants to keep the publisher’s business.

To minimize this blame shifting, which can have negative economic impact on the editor, the professional editor can only marshal her arguments against making such a change and hope to convince her client, the packager, of the rightfulness of her position. If unable to do that, the editor has little recourse, as someone has to be the scapegoat when authors start complaining.

The more distance there is between the professional editor and the ultimate client (the author), the greater the possibility of trouble. Unfortunately, in the current publishing model the editor has no assured position. As editors who work directly with authors know, the direct relationship doesn’t eliminate the blame game. When a negative review comes out, it is not unusual for an author to blame the editor for not recognizing and dealing with the problems raised in the review. Quickly forgotten are the instructions from the author that narrowed the editor’s role and said that identifying and correcting the problems noted in the review were outside the editor’s remit.

What all this means is that to be a successful editor, the editor needs to develop a thick skin, to understand the dynamics of the editor’s place in the chain, and to be prepared to gain and lose clients. The best safeguard for the editor is to actively market herself, knowing that while most of the time everything goes smoothly, sometimes the editor becomes a victim of the blame game.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

October 2, 2016

On Politics: Did You Pay Your Quarterly Estimated Taxes?

Filed under: Breaking News,Politics — americaneditor @ 4:25 am
Tags: , ,

Taxes were due for the third quarter a few weeks ago. I know because my accountant sent me the bad news. Like most Americans, I grumble about paying my taxes — which seems to be a never-ending chore — and I have never had a year when I owed zero.

Yet I see that there is hope for me. Hope that not only will I be able to avoid paying taxes for 20 years, but that I will be able to live a life of luxury while doing so. Even better, I will be able to look upon my colleagues and think about how smart I am to not pay taxes while living a life of plenty — all because you will pick up my share of the tax burden.

How do I do this? Easy. I just need to lose $916 million — just like Donald Trump:

Trump Tax Records Obtained by The Times Reveal
He Could Have Avoided Paying Taxes for Nearly Two Decades

The New York Times, October 1, 2016

What more does The Donald need to do to demonstrate he should be elected president? Even Hillary wasn’t smart enough to lose $916 million and pay no taxes.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 29, 2016

Should You Be Calling Yourself a Freelancer?

I just read one of the most intriguing essays I have read in years and it raises a question I hadn’t thought about in my 32 years of professional editing as owner of my own business. And now I recommend it to you:

Why I Hate the Term “Freelance Proofreader”
– A Letter to Newbies
by Louise Harnby

As editors, we know that words matter. Yet how many of us have considered the import of calling ourselves freelancers instead of proprietors or business owners or something similar?

What would you call yourself if not a freelance editor? How would you market yourself absent the word freelance?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 28, 2016

When Authors Look for Editors

I am certain that hundreds, if not thousands, of articles, books, and blog essays have been written to advise authors how to find the perfect editor. Even so, authors continue to ask about finding a good editor, especially if they have already had a bad experience, which tells me that the question of how to find the right editor remains unanswered.

The Plain-English List

There are several recurring problems. The first is that the searching author rarely knows what she wants or needs from an editor and so uses terms like “proofing,” “proofreading,” “light editing,” and “copyediting” with the expectation that the editor’s understanding will equate with the author’s meaning. The two rarely meet.

Rather than using terms like those, it would serve the author better to make a plain-English list of exactly what she wants an editor to do with her manuscript. As detailed a list as possible serves best. When the author gives that list to the editor, they can have a meaningful conversation.

The Editorial Budget

The second problem is deciding how much to pay for editing. Before searching for an editor, the author should decide on a budget. The budget should not be based on going rates or what the author thinks the editor’s services should be worth. The budget should be the maximum amount that the author is willing to spend on editorial help — a number calculated in the same manner the author would calculate the maximum amount she is willing to spend to buy a house or a car before actually shopping for the house or car. This number should be a gross amount; for example, it should be $5,000 and not $50 per hour.

The reason for the gross budget amount is that too often authors decide not to hire an editor they otherwise think is a good fit because they “feel” the cost is too high. An editor will quote a price of $50 an hour and immediately the author’s hackles rise, thinking that $50 is too much because she had budgeted for $20. Sometimes it is better to pay more per hour for fewer hours of work than to pay less per hour for more hours of work. Better editors, as with many things in life, also tend to be more experienced and efficient; thus the higher per-hour fee and the fewer hours needed. Having set a gross budget limit moves the focus of the discussion from the per-hour rate to whether what is wanted can be done within the budget.

The Evaluation Criteria

A third problem is that authors tend to use the wrong criteria to evaluate an editor. It is true that an author should carefully evaluate an editor, but not by applying criteria that do little to answer the questions of competence and fit.

Great editors do not have to be authors themselves, by which I mean writers of books or published in magazines or journals. But in today’s competitive internet world, the editor should be a blogger and a participant in public editorial forums.

If I were looking for an editor, I would begin my search at a place like LinkedIn. Not because LinkedIn is such a great website, but because it provides an opportunity to get a first look at a pool of editors — those who participate in the various editing and writing groups. The first information I would be looking for is the kinds of questions they ask and answers they give in editorial/writing-oriented groups. Editors whose contributions to LinkedIn conversations consist of “Joe is right,” or whose responses tend not to address where the conversation is currently, or whose answers are often not answers, just a lot of smoke, are editors I would avoid. I also would avoid those who need help with fundamentals such as the reasonableness of some request made by a client or what to charge (or what others are charging; while I would avoid someone who asks what is the going rate, I would consider someone who doesn’t want to know what others are charging but how to calculate what she should be charging). I would not want my book to be an editor’s learning experience at my expense.

The editors I would want to consider ask and discuss more “advanced” things, such as questions of ethics, grammar, underlying principles of editing, both as a business and as a craft, and the like. I want an editor who sees more than the surface of my manuscript. Every competent editor can find and correct misspellings or can understand what an orange is, but not every editor can grasp that a word has been deliberately misspelled or that what you really mean, based on the context, is not orange but tangelo. Editors give clues about themselves in the questions they ask and in the responses they write. One can determine with some accuracy an editor’s experience with certain areas of subject matter through their questions and answers.

Equally as revealing are an editor’s blog articles. Blogs are generally intended to sell the editors (bloggers) to their audience. When you look at editors’ blogs, who is the audience they are trying to sell to? What are they trying to sell that audience? If they address an issue, do they do so cursorily or in depth? Does their writing evoke a sense of editorial competence, or is it so casual that it is bothersome? Are there mistakes in their writing? (But be sure to consider “mistakes” in light of blogs’ tendency to be more casual, and remember that few people write perfectly.)

Questions, answers, and blog essays give an insight into an editor’s approach to business — and editing is a business. Note that I haven’t mentioned scrutinizing the editor’s website. The problem with using a website to form an opinion about an editor is that it is difficult to know who is responsible for the website’s content and design. I understand that the editor is ultimately responsible, but authors looking for an editor are looking for editorial skills, not for design skills, which is what the focus on a website is — design, not editing. One of the best editors I know has one of the worst websites to be found short of what pops up with a Not Found error from your ISP.

The Reliance on Recommendations

A fourth problem is that authors too often rely on recommendations — positive or negative —from fellow authors. The smart author avoids hiring or not hiring an editor solely because someone she knows recommended or dissed the editor. If the editor was recommended, the editor should be put on the author’s list of editors to check out. If the editor was dissed, the author needs to ask questions designed to elicit more in-depth detail about why the editor was dissed. It makes a difference, for example, if the dissing is the result of such things as these: editor incompetence; unreasonable author expectations that the editor did not, perhaps could not, fulfill; or a personality conflict between author and editor. Depending on the reason (e.g., personality conflict), the author might add the editor to her list. After all, each author is an individual and has different needs. Different authors have different personalities — some are easier to work with and some harder. Every author needs to find the editor with whom she can work successfully — even if that editor was fired by another author.

The Key to Finding the Right-Fit Editor

The key, I think, to an author’s finding the right-fit high-quality editor lies with the first-mentioned items: seeing the questions and answers the editor posts on editorial/writing forums and reading the editor’s blog. It is the culling done with the help of these items that will leave standing those editors the author should further interview using the first two items discussed in this essay — a description of what the author is looking for the editor to do and keeping within a preestablished budget. Once the author enters into a dialogue with the editor, the author can learn more about the editor’s skills and background in an attempt to find the perfect editor for the manuscript at hand.

Yet I offer one word of caution to authors: your budget can be a very limiting factor. Experienced, high-quality editors are in demand and rarely work on the cheap. Editing is their business, the source of their income, and thus the editor has to and does charge accordingly. If you are unrealistic in your budget, you will cripple your search for your perfect-fit high-quality editor by narrowing the pool of editors from which you can choose. This is why the discussion of money should not occur until you think you have found the editor you want.

Choosing editing for editing’s sake, by which I mean hiring an editor simply so you can say your book was edited, is not a worthwhile goal. Editing by a professional, highly skilled editor will enhance your manuscript and improve its likelihood for success. In contrast, hiring an editor largely because the editor fits within your budget is unlikely to advance your goals. Budgets do not have to be unlimited but they do have to be reasonable in relation to the work required from the editor.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 27, 2016

On Politics: Mirror, Mirror

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all” is the daily question asked of the magic mirror by the queen in the fairy tale Snow White. Thankfully, the magic mirror wasn’t a protégé of Donald Trump or the answer might never have become “My Queen, you are the fairest here so true. But Snow White is a thousand times more beautiful than you.”

Asking a magic mirror is not possible for most of us. Consequently, we look to messages from others. Some messages are very powerful, as was “Daisy” from the 1964 Johnson vs Goldwater presidential campaign:

In this year’s presidential campaign, we are seeing what may well turn out to be the next “Daisy” — Hillary Clinton’s “Mirrors,” which gives us a chance to see how a Trumpian magic mirror would respond to “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all”:

Every parent voting for Donald Trump should be asked how they will explain their vote to their children. How will they justify voting for a bully? I know I couldn’t give a credible justification were I to vote for Trump. Can you?

If you aren’t voting for Hillary Clinton, you should be!

Richard Adin, An American Editor


Next Page »

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: