An American Editor

October 7, 2015

On the Basics: Turning Freelancing Lemons into Lemonade

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

It’s been said that adversity is good for us, and failure teaches us important lessons. I’m sure most of us would just as soon do without either one, but there are times when something bad can turn into something good.

I have a history of making lemonade out of lemons. When I was turned down for my high school’s literary magazine many years ago, I started my own. When I ended up in an “I quit/You’re fired” situation at a job I mostly enjoyed, it pushed me to do more freelancing and eventually freed me to relocate from St. Louis to D.C., where my career and collegial network really took off. When a toxic colleague bumped me from a speaking engagement, I wrote up the topic and have made money ever since from selling the result as a booklet. When I chaired a national conference for one of my professional associations and the board decided not to do another one for reasons that made no sense, I started my own conference for colleagues, which just had its 10th annual event and promises to keep bringing colleagues together as long as I have the energy to keep it going.

Freelancing in any niche or field is an ongoing challenge, and there are likely to be opportunities to turn lemons into lemonade for all of us. Those lemons can range from unfair treatment to unpleasant clients to our own failures — we’re human, and we’re probably all going to make a few mistakes, blow a deadline once or twice, encounter problem clients and painful projects, miss errors we should have caught in a project, or get stiffed on a payment. Here are some ideas for making your own version of lemonade from such lemons.

Losing a client or project

This is probably the most common “lemon” experience for any freelancer — writer, editor, proofreader, graphic artist, website designer, indexer; whoever. It can be devastating, both personally and financially. But look at it carefully: What can you learn? Where can it take you?

One flavor of lemonade in such a situation is having colleagues to fall back on. Describe what happened as objectively and rationally as you can, and ask for input about whether you really did screw up. Be prepared to be told that yes, it’s you, not them, and to learn from the experience. Even if you were in the wrong, you are likely to get sympathy and encouragement from your colleagues.

If you lost the client because of something you did do wrong, accept the responsibility and find ways to improve your skills or process so you don’t make the same mistakes again. Apologize to the client, try to offer something to make up for the problem (a discount, perhaps), and move on. Learn the appropriate style guide, improve your organizational systems, develop a checklist to refer to, refresh your basic skills — take a course, read a book; become better for the experience.

If you did nothing wrong but simply encountered an unpleasant client who turned out to be impossible to work with, or one who refused to raise your rate of pay, the lemonade is that you are free of a difficult client, or one who doesn’t pay very much. You now have the time and freedom to replace that one with a client who’s more pleasant and easier to work with, and who pays more. Make the most of that opportunity.

Sometimes we have to be pushed or even kicked into stretching ourselves to walk away from negative work experiences and find better ones, because even a low-paying or unpleasant client seems to be better — and more secure — than no client. You may find that you’ve been holding onto a client you didn’t really need because it was easier to do that than to make the effort to find a better client. Get your networking and cold-querying into gear, and see what you can find.

Losing a client also could push you into new directions. It might give you the impetus to try offering a different editorial service or skill — one that you’re better at or more comfortable with doing. Losing the income from that client also could motivate you to try being more independent of clients for a living. This might be the moment to try coming up with something you can sell on your own — a book or booklet, a webinar about something you’re good at, speeches, and workshops. You may have skills you never thought of profiting from; now is the time to explore the market for those skills. Create something and take control outside the traditional client–service provider relationship.

If the disruption is major, it might mean that it’s time to think about your career direction. Maybe editorial work is simply not for you. You might need to take a different fork in the road. The “lemon” might push you into looking at something other than editorial work to make money — crafts, for instance. Maybe that artsy, creative hobby could earn you a living.

Difficult clients

Sometimes a difficult — rude, uncommunicative, unpredictable — client can be fixed. Try to pin down what the problem is. Maybe you can do more to keep the client informed about the status of the project. Maybe the client’s personality or style is different enough from yours to seem worse than it really is. You might be able to educate the client about aspects of the project that are unclear, or ask a few questions that would clarify the process and reassure the client that you can handle it after all. Perhaps you could suggest a better, more straightforward process or a formal schedule of not only when the project is due but when you and the client will communicate about it.

Then again, some people are simply impossible to work with. Another flavor of lemonade in this situation is to walk away and remove yourself from that situation.

Low rates

We all want to be paid what we think we’re worth, but sometimes a project comes along that is below that amount at a time when we really need the work, or when the project is genuinely interesting. There are a couple of ways to make lemonade out of such a lemon.

With a writing assignment at a low per-word rate, for instance, you might be able to rethink it in terms of an hourly rate. That is, if you can do the research and actual writing fast enough and easily enough — that low per-word rate might actually look pretty good. A 1,000-word assignment at 15 cents/word is only $150, which isn’t much — but if you pull that piece together in three hours, you’re making a respectable $50/hour. If the story means something to you, gets you experience with a new topic, supports a cause you believe in, or otherwise seems important enough to write even at a low per-word rate, and you can justify it in terms of an hourly fee, there’s your lemonade.

For editing and proofreading work, you might not be able to get a higher fee from some clients, but you can work better, faster, and smarter so that fee works in your favor. Try to get paid by the page rather than by the hour, for instance, and use macros and other shortcuts to speed up the number of pages you can get through in an hour.

Take some time to look through the An American Editor essays. Many of them discuss rates and productivity, and could help you rethink either how you work or how you charge for your work.

Health issues

Getting sick or being injured — or caring for someone in such situations — can throw a huge monkey wrench into your freelance business. One area where this could have the greatest negative impact is in your ability to travel to do presentations or lead workshops. In this situation, technology is your lemonade. Figure out how to do presentations via Skype or webinar. Turn your presentation or workshop material into a book you can self- or copublish and sell. If your health is OK but you’re caring for someone who needs you to stay put, look for local sites where you can do programs and invite people from out of town, as well as nearby, to attend.

Isolation and loneliness

We’re constantly being told about how important it is to network and socialize, but many of us live alone and some of us live in rural areas where we might the be only editorial professional for miles. Again, technology can be your lemonade — but you also can be your own. If you don’t live near any other people to network with, look to the Internet for places to interact online, from e-mail discussion lists to Facebook and LinkedIn groups to forums of national professional organizations.

If you live in a town or city, there may be dozens of potential colleagues (and clients!) nearby whom you’ve never met. Set a few dollars aside so you can join a national organization that has a chapter in your area — or start a new chapter, or even a new organization, yourself. It’s easy nowadays to get the word out about such groups. Ask at your local writers’ center, bookstore, library, college, art gallery, or coffee shop about holding occasional get-togethers on the premises. Get the word out through social media and a standard press release to local media, and go from there. It doesn’t have to be anything especially structured or fancy; it just has to be an opportunity to get out of the house, meet colleagues, and expand your horizons. It might even turn into connections that lead to work.

Have you encountered any lemons in your freelance life that turned into lemonade? What did you do to sweeten the situation and turn it to your favor?

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, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

October 5, 2015

A Question of Ethics: If the Editing Is Running Behind Schedule…

The Background

A project I recently completed was originally scheduled to be done by August 31 — a 4-week schedule; it ended, instead, 3 weeks later. The price I quoted was based on the short schedule that the August 31 must-meet date represented. (For this particular project, a 4-week schedule was quite tight.)

The delay in completing the project was caused by delays in the client delivering the manuscript to me. The delays were such that it seemed as if nothing was going right with the project. For example, references were called out in the text using the author-date system, with all of the references appearing in a bibliography at the end of the manuscript, not in each chapter. Although I requested the references early in the process, I didn’t receive them until a few days before the absolute final extended due date. Consequently, the editor had no opportunity to check whether the bibliography actually contained all of the cites called out in the text or if there were references cited in the bibliography that were not called out in the text.

A fundamental part of editing is to check the references to make sure that all that are called out are cited in the bibliography/reference list and to identify any that are cited in the bibliography/reference list but not called out in the text. When the client insisted that I return the edited references on a particular date, I pointed out that to do so meant the editor could not check callouts against cites; all the editor could do was look for missing information in the cites, try to locate that missing information, and style the cites.

Because callout–cite checking is fundamental to editing, I required the client to explicitly direct us to not do the checking, which the client did. As the client noted, it was not our fault that there was no time left to do the job. I replied to the client, “It is not a problem from our end. We do the job you want as best we can within the limits you impose.”

The Questions

At least three questions arise out of these circumstances, each raising ethical issues:

  1. In the case where the client instructs you to not perform a service that is normally included because the client is late delivering the files, should the fee be reduced by the value of the service not provided?
  2. In the case where the client instructs you to not perform a service that is normally included because the you misjudged the time needed to edit the manuscript and so are now late in delivering the manuscript to the client, should the fee be reduced by the value of the service not provided at the client’s instruction?
  3. Does the answer to either of the previous questions depend on whether the editor is charging by the page, by the project, or by the hour?

The client delivers late

In the first scenario (client is late deliverer), I think the editor has no ethical duty to reduce the fee. The editor is willing to perform the service if given the necessary time to do so. That the client has schedule constraints that do not permit the editor to perform the service is outside the control of the editor. The decision for the editor to not cross-check the cites was made by the same party that was late in providing the material, which is outside the editor’s control.

However, the basis for the billing does affect the amount to be charged. If the editor is billing by the page or the project, the invoiced amount should be the same regardless of whether or not the cite cross-checking was performed. But if the editor is charging by the hour, the invoice should not include a sum for time that would have been spent doing the cross-checking but for the client stopping the cross-checking. It would be unethical for the editor to bill for time that was not actually spent because the basis of the hourly charge is that the editor gets paid for hours worked.

Some commentators would argue that the billing method is irrelevant because all billing methods are based on time; that when an editor sets a per-page rate or a project-fee rate, part of the editor’s calculation is based on an estimate of the time it is expected the work will require. This is one of the elements of creating a quote (see The Business of Editing: Keys to a Project Quote).

I agree that every price calculation method contains a time-expected-to-spend-editing component, but there is a significant difference between hourly-based and per-page– and project-fee–based projects. With per-page– and project-fee–based projects, the expectation of the amount the editor is to be paid is set based on a factor other than time; that is, it does not matter whether the editor completes the project in 20 hours but took 50 hours nor does it matter what the editor’s or client’s time expectation was — the fee is not time dependent, it changes only if there is a change in some other factor other than time (e.g., if the page count changes). In contrast, with an hourly-based fee the amount to be paid rises and falls based solely on the number of hours the editor spends editing; that is, unlike with per-page and project-based fees, the final hourly-based fee is not calculable until the project is complete.

The editor miscalculated the time needed

In the case of the second scenario (the editor is taking longer than expected to edit), I think the client is entitled to a reduction in the fee, even though it is the client who instructs the editor to not perform the service. In this instance, the editor knows the schedule that binds the client and that must be met. It is the editor who is late as a result of matters that are within the editor’s control. It is the editor who miscalculated and now jeopardizes the client’s schedule.

The reason for the fee reduction is that the agreed-upon price included the service that is now not to be performed and the reason it is not to be performed is because of the editor’s miscalculation, not because of anything the client has done. It is, in my view, unethical for an editor to be paid for work not performed at the fault of the editor. If there were no reduction in fee, the editor would be rewarded for not adhering to the bargain the editor’s made.

Here, also, the manner of calculating the fee affects the reduction. If the editor is charging by the hour, then no specific fee reduction is required because the client will not be billed for work not performed (i.e., hours spent editing). Only when the billing is per-page or project-fee based does there need to be a reduction in the set fee. How much of a reduction depends on the value of the service and whether the client will need to secure the service elsewhere. This is a matter of negotiation. But it is the to the editor’s advantage to initiate the reduction rather than wait for the client to raise the question or, perhaps more troublesome for the editor, for the client to not say anything but decide not to use the editor in the future.

A Question of Ethics

It is not unusual for an editor to ask on a forum whether a fee should be reduced or partially refunded. I do not consider the sense of ethics that governs my business to be a question of group ethics or group decision making; rather, I see it as a sense of my personal moral code, a sense of what I view as right and wrong. What does it matter whether 99 out of 100 editors would not issue a refund if I think one is warranted? That I would even ask the question is, to me, an indication that I think the client is entitled to some refund.

Ethics is a matter of taking the moral high road, of trying to seek a fairness balance, a balance of right and wrong.

What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 30, 2015

Lyonizing Word: But Wait—There’s More!

by Jack Lyon

Replacing Basic Text

Searching with wildcards in Microsoft Word can accomplish miracles in editing, but some people find wildcards a little too arcane to deal with. If you’re one of those people, you might benefit from some of Word’s lesser-known but easier-to-use search options. But first, let’s do a basic find and replace. Open Word’s “Find and Replace” dialog by pressing CTRL + H (or click Home > Editing > Replace on Word’s ribbon interface). Then:

  1. In the “Find what” box, enter a word you want to search for. (We’ll use the misspelled “millenium” as an example.)
  2. In the “Replace with” box, enter a word you want to replace the incorrectly spelled “millenium” with. (We’ll use the correctly spelled “millennium” as an example.)
  3. Click the “Replace All” button.
Find & Replace

Find & Replace

That’s it. Every occurrence of “millenium” will be replaced with “millennium.” Simple and quick.

Refining Your Search

But wait—there’s more! Microsoft Word provides many ways to refine your search. See the “More” button at the bottom of the “Replace” dialog?

More Button

More Button

Click it. Here’s what you’ll see:

The "More" Options

The “More” Options

Under “Search Options,” you can specify whether to search up, down, or through all your text:

Search Options

Search Options

You can also match case and find whole words only:

Additional Options

Additional Options

There are actually lots of options, all worth exploring:

Match case

Obviously, this option finds only text that matches the case (capitalized or lowercased) of the text in the “Find what” box. If you enter “Hello” in the “Find what” box with “Match case” checked, Word finds “Hello” but not “hello.” If you enter “hello,” Word finds “hello” but not “Hello.”

Find whole words only

This option finds whole words only. For example, if you search for “sing,” Word finds “sing” but not “singing.” If this option is not checked, Word finds both “sing” and “singing,” as well as “using” and “kissing.”

Use wildcards

This option tells Word that you want to search using wildcards:

Use Wildcards

Use Wildcards

Wildcards are important, but in this article we’re trying to avoid these. For explanations and examples, see my past articles (e.g., Lyonizing Word: From Easy to Impossible — Three Variations on a Theme, Lyonizing Word: The Easy Way, Not So Easy, Lyonizing Word: The Easy Way, Not So Easy, and Lyonizing Word: We Can Do This the Easy Way, or . . . ; if you use EditTools, see The Business of Editing: Wildcarding for Dollars). Please note, however, that if this option is checked, you can no longer select “Match case” or “Find whole words only.” Even so, during a wildcard search, “Match case” is automatically enabled, even though it’s not shown as enabled (an oversight on Microsoft’s part). “Find whole words only,” on the other hand, is inactive.

Sounds like (English)

This option finds words that sound like the word in the “Find what” box. For example, if you search for “cot,” Word also finds “caught.” If you search for “horse,” Word also finds “hoarse.” This could be useful if you’re working on a document in which certain words have been confused or mistyped. Basically, this feature works on words that are homophones; it doesn’t seem to work on words that sound almost alike, such as “horse” and “whores.” On the other hand, while searching for “horse,” it also finds “horsey” but not “horses,” so who knows?

Find all word forms (English)

This option finds what Microsoft calls “all” forms of the word in the “Find what” box. For example, if you search for “sit,” Word also finds “sat” and “sitting.” The word “all” is a little misleading, however. The feature relies on an underlying database of word forms that is pretty good but has some omissions. For example, if you search for “eat,” Word finds “eat, “ate,” “eaten,” and “eating” but not “eater.” Similarly, if you search for “horse,” Word finds “horse,” “horses,” and “horsing” but not “horseless.” It’s a useful feature, mostly for finding verb forms; just don’t expect it to actually find all forms of a word.

Match prefix

This option matches words beginning with the search string. For example, if you put “pre” in the “Find what” box, Word finds “prepare,” “present,” and so on. This isn’t a “smart” feature; it searches for characters only, not word roots. For example, searching for “pre” also finds “prestidigitation” and “pressure,” even though “pre” isn’t really a prefix in those words.

Match suffix

This option matches words ending with the search string. For example, if you put “ing” in the “Find what” box, Word finds “singing,” “typing,” and so on. This isn’t a “smart” feature; it searches for characters only, not word roots. For example, searching for “ing” also finds “boing,” “spring,” and “thing,” even though “ing” isn’t really a suffix in those words.

Ignore punctuation characters

Ignores punctuation characters between words. For example, “trees plants and flowers” finds “trees, plants, and flowers” as well as “trees plants and flowers.” This might be useful for fixing problems with serial commas.

Ignore white-space characters

Ignores all white space (spaces, tabs, and so on) between words. For example, “webpage” finds “web page” as well as “webpage.” This is the inverse of “Find whole words only” and could be useful for fixing words that are sometimes spelled open and sometimes closed.

Other options

If you’re working in a language other than English, other options may be available, including Match Kashida, Match Diacritics, Match Alef Hamza, and Match Control. I know almost nothing about these options, so I can’t comment on them with any degree of expertise.


One of the most important tools in Microsoft Word’s find and replace toolbox is the ability to search for formatting — all kinds of formatting. To do so, click the “Format” button:

Format Button

Format Button

Here’s what you’ll get:

The "Format" Options

The “Format” Options

Each option (such as “Font”) opens the usual dialog for that feature:

Font Format Options

Font Format Options

I won’t go into all of the options in these dialogs as they’re basically the same ones you’d get while formatting any text in Word. “Font” displays font options, “Styles” displays styles, and so on. You can select any of those options and use them as something to find or replace. For example, if your cursor is in the “Find what” box and you select “Italic” in the “Find Font” dialog, here’s what you’ll get:

Displaying the Font Option Choice

Displaying the Font Option Choice

Now Word will find text in italics but not in roman. If you also enter a word, you’ll find that word in italic but not in roman. If you don’t enter a word, you’ll find anything formatted as italic.

But what about the “Replace with” box? What happens if you use formatting there?

If the “Replace with” box includes some text, whatever is found will be replaced by that text in the format you specified. If the “Replace with” box doesn’t include text, whatever is found will be replaced with itself in the format you specified. For example, if you search for the word “apples” to be replaced by “pears” in bold, that’s exactly what you’ll get — “pears” in bold. If you search for the word “apples” to be replaced by bold alone (with no text), you’ll get “apples” in bold.

If, on the other hand, you search for “apples” but don’t specify text or formatting in the “Replace with” box, “apples” will be replaced with nothing; in other words, it will be deleted.

Many variations are possible. Here’s a basic summary:

Find Replace Result
apples pears pears
apples pears [bold] pears [bold]
apples [bold] apples [bold]
apples [nothing] [apples deleted]
[bold] [nothing] [bold text deleted]
[bold] pears [bold text becomes “pears” in bold]
[bold] pears [italic] [bold text becomes “pears” in bold italic]
[bold] [italic] [bold text becomes bold italic]

Note that you can also specify not a certain kind of formatting, such as “not bold” or “not italic” in either find or replace. You can also use combinations of formatting (and “not” formatting). For example, you can search for bold but replace with italic and not bold, which will turn any bold text into italic (but not bold italic) text.

Built-In Codes

In addition to all of those options, Microsoft Word includes lots of built-in find-and-replace codes that are not wildcards (although lots of people call them that). You can use these built-in codes to search for things like paragraph breaks, tabs, section breaks, column breaks, dashes, footnotes, endnotes, graphics, and many other things that aren’t actual text, and codes are a whole lot easier to use than wildcards. In fact, codes should be your default tool; you should use wildcards only when built-in codes won’t do what you need (which is actually fairly often, unfortunately).

Some of Word’s built-in codes can be used only in the “Find what” box; others can be used only in the “Replace with” box. Some of the codes can be used in both boxes.

“Find What” Codes

To see the codes that can be used in the “Find what” box, put your cursor in the box. Now click the “Special” button at the bottom of the “Find and Replace” dialog.

The "Special" Button

The “Special” Button

You’ll get a list like this:

The "Special" Options

The “Special” Options

Identify the item you want to find and click it, for example, “Paragraph Mark.” You’ll get the following code in the “Find what” box (since that’s where your cursor was located):


That tells Word to find a paragraph break — that is, the end of a paragraph.

Each item on the list will insert a different code. For example, here’s the code for an em dash:


And here’s the code for an en dash:


“Replace With” Codes

Now put your cursor in the “Replace with” box and click the “Special” button again. This time, you’ll get a different list:

The Codes

The “Replace with” List

Again, clicking one of the list items will insert a code into the “Replace with” box. For example, if you click “Clipboard Contents” you’ll get this:


That’s an extremely useful code, because ordinarily the “Replace with” box can hold no more than 255 characters. But using the ^c code, you can replace with anything that is currently copied to the Clipboard, which can hold many pages of text, graphics, or anything else.

After you’ve worked with built-in codes for a while, you’ll find it easy to just type them in by hand. In the meantime, you can use the “Special” lists to insert them.

You can also use combinations of codes. For example, you could search for tabs followed by paragraph breaks (^t^p) and replace them with paragraph breaks alone (^p).

Here’s a summary of Word’s built-in codes and where they can be used:

Character or object Find what Replace with
Annotation Mark (comment) ^a
Any character ^?
Any digit ^#
Any letter ^$
Caret character ^^ ^^
Clipboard contents ^c
Column break ^n ^n
“Find what text” (whatever was found during your search) ^&
Em dash ^+ ^+
En dash ^= ^=
Endnote mark ^e
Field ^d
Footnote mark ^f
Graphic ^g
Line break ^l ^l
Manual page break ^m ^m
Nonbreaking hyphen ^~ ^~
Nonbreaking space ^s ^s
Optional hyphen ^- ^-
Paragraph mark ^p ^p
Section break ^b
Tab character ^t ^t
White space ^w

Even without wildcards, Microsoft Word’s find and replace features can do an awful lot — much more than you might think. You probably already knew how to use “Match case” and “Find whole words only,” but did you know about those other options? “Ignore punctuation characters” and “Ignore white-space characters,” for example, can be very useful in editing. Being able to find and replace formatting is essential, especially when using styles. And using Word’s built-in codes lets you search for all kinds of things (graphics, page breaks, dashes, and so on) that would otherwise require more advanced techniques (like wildcards and numeric codes). In other words, Microsoft Word’s basic find and replace features aren’t so basic — at least not in what they can do!

Wildcard Cookbook

This article is a slightly modified excerpt from my new book, Wildcard Cookbook for Microsoft Word, now available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other fine bookstores:

"Wildcard Cookbook" by Jack Lyon

“Wildcard Cookbook” by Jack Lyon

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


September 28, 2015

The Proofreader’s Corner: Using the Stamping Tool for PDF Proofreading Mark-up

by Louise Harnby

When I first started my proofreading business, most of my work was on paper. Back in 2006, I was working primarily for publishers. These clients often wanted me to proofread against copy rather than blind. That meant that I was receiving large packages through the mail containing not only the final page proofs but also the galley proofs. Postage costs were huge, though my clients bore the cost; but I still had to factor in the time I spent either waiting for couriers or hopping into my car and driving to the post office so that I could return the galleys and marked-up proofs.

These days, things are different. Many of my publishers have embraced digital mark-up. I’m still required to work on final page proofs, and the clients still like me to annotate using UK-industry-standard mark-up language, but I can do it all onscreen — using my PDF editor’s commenting and mark-up tools — and the stamping tool. This saves the publisher money by eliminating postage costs and removing the need to print hundreds of pages of hard copy. It also saves me time, and, for those of us in the business of editorial freelancing, time is money.

Many editorial professionals have already embraced digital mark-up (either on PDF or in Word). Little of what follows may be news to them. Even though this essay is aimed at the novice who is in the process of investigating digital workflows and the tools available to assist them, experienced professionals, and professionals seeking to expand into proofreading, are likely to find the information valuable.

Two caveats

First, I’m a UK-based proofreader. If you’re from elsewhere, you might not recognize some of the symbols shown in this essay. That’s not because the symbols are wrong, but because there are differences in mark-up language between countries. The British Standards Institution has issued the BS 5261C:2005 “Marks for Copy Preparation and Proof Correction,” (readers can buy a hard-copy list of these marks from the Society for Editors and Proofreaders) and that’s what my publisher clients expect to see. Your clients might have different expectations. In my October column of An American Editor, I’ll show you how to create your own digital proofreading stamps. This may be useful if you need proof-correction symbols that aren’t already available from the resources provided below, or if you need to a modified version of an existing symbol.

Second, stamping tools can be used in a number of different PDF editors. My own preference is PDF-XChange (from Tracker Software). Some of my colleagues prefer Tracker’s PDF Editor. Others, still, use Adobe Acrobat Professional or Adobe Reader. If you’re not sure what suits you best, take advantage of the various free trials on offer. For demonstration purposes, some of the screenshots in this essay are based on working in PDF-XChange. However, the underlying principles are the same.

What are proofreading stamps?

Proofreading stamps are simply digital versions of the symbols you would draw by hand on a paper proof. Below is a screenshot of some of the BS 5261C:2005 symbols that UK proofreaders use. (Double-clicking on images will enlarge them.)

Some of the symbols used by UK proofreaders

Some of the symbols used by UK proofreaders

The screenshot above shows a partial view of the PDF-XChange stamps palette. I’ve chosen to number the symbols, rather than naming them, because this allows me to change the order easily (see “Onscreen proofreading tips: Reorganizing your stamps palette in PDF-XChange”).

Each symbol in a palette can be selected and then stamped onto a PDF using the relevant tool, usually accessed through the PDF editor’s comment-and-mark-up toolbar.

Below, the stamping tool in PDF-XChange is circled:

The stamping tool in PDF-XChange

The stamping tool in PDF-XChange

Here’s what it looks like in Adobe Reader:

The stamping tool in Adobe Reader

The stamping tool in Adobe Reader

And, finally, below is a screenshot from Adobe Acrobat 9:

The stamping tool in Acrobat 9

The stamping tool in Acrobat 9

Which mark-up language should you use when stamping PDFs?

The answer is not actually as straightforward as one might hope! As far as I’m aware, my Irish and Australian colleagues find the BS 5261C:2005 symbols acceptable (feel free to correct me if I’m mistaken); in the UK, these BSI marks are absolutely considered standard. However, my Canadian colleague Adrienne Montgomerie, in her essay “The Secret Code of Proofreaders” (Copyediting, October 15, 2014), points out that for editorial professionals in parts of North America “[t]he challenge is always whether or not the designer will understand the marks. It’s hard to say that there are standard marks.” She goes on to illustrate the differences between the Canadian Translation Bureau’s Canadian Style guide marks and the marks preferred by the Chicago Manual of Style. The best advice I can give to novices is that they check with their national editorial society and their clients before embarking on this type of work.

Why use mark-up language on digital proofs?

Using stamps isn’t the only way to mark up a PDF, of course. Some of my colleagues’ clients prefer sole use of the commenting and mark-up tools embedded in their PDF editors. When I use the stamping tool, it’s because my client wants to see all the suggested corrections in the page-proof margin (just like with a hard-copy proofread) rather than in pop-ups (see the example later in this essay under “What does a stamped PDF proof look like?”). Ask your client what they prefer.

In “Are proof-correction marks redundant? Not even close!” (Proofreader’s Parlour, October 16, 2014) — an introductory guide to using proofreading mark-up symbols — I consider the issue of why these little hieroglyphics are useful. If you’re new to proofreading, you might like to read the essay in full. For the purposes of this essay, the key points can be summarized as follows:

  • If your client wants all the annotation in the margins of the page proofs, there’s very little room in which to work. Specialized mark-up language, even when working digitally, is an efficient way to tell the typesetter/designer what to do.
  • The ability to use professional mark-up language, when required to do so by a client, demonstrates professionalism. Some editorial societies’ codes of practice demand knowledge of standard mark-up language. See, e.g., The Australian standards for editing practice, 2nd ed. (2013); The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) Code of practice; and The Editors’ Association of Canada’s Professional Editorial Standards: “E. Standards for Proofreading
  • Stamping a symbol on a PDF, or drawing a symbol on paper, is quicker than writing out an instruction. Being able to mark up in this way can therefore increase efficiency and productivity. If you’re working for fixed fees, it’s a timesaver and money-earner.
  • If you don’t understand how to mark up using this specialist language, you’re marketable to fewer clients. It therefore makes good business sense to acquire the skills to mark up in this manner, both on paper and digitally.

Where can I find digital stamps?

If you want to use the BS 5261C:2005 proof-correction marks to annotate a PDF, you can find everything you need on my blog, The Proofreader’s Parlour, in the Stamps archive. In particular, “Roundup: PDF Proofreading Stamps (quick-access links)” provides the access links to a full set of downloadable PDF proofreading stamps and the installation instructions.

U.S. stamps files are available via the Copyediting-L site, under the Resources tab. Scroll down to “Diana Stirling’s (2008) editing marks for PDF documents (Zip documents)”.

Finally, search the Editing Tools section of Katharine O’Moore-Klopf’s Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base using the key words “PDF Editing Stamps.” This will bring up a number of useful resources that you might prefer to try.

Where can I learn onscreen mark-up?

If you’re already familiar with standard proof-correction marks, and have used them extensively on paper-based projects, you might well be able to teach yourself to mark up onscreen with stamps. That’s how I went about building my digital mark-up skillset. However, if you’re a novice or lack confidence, you might prefer more formal training that introduces you to using proof-correction language correctly and clearly (whether on paper or digitally).

In the UK, the SfEP and The Publishing Training Centre, to give just two examples, include onscreen mark-up as part of their distance-learning proofreading training. In June and July 2015, Adrienne Montgomerie ran webinar on “Editing on PDF” via the folks at the Editorial Bootcamp. You can still buy the five video-recorded sessions and the companion handouts and exercises here.

There is also some good, and free, online guidance on the Right Angels and Polo Bears blog under the Acrobat PDF archive. See also the Stamps and Working Onscreen archives on the Proofreader’s Parlour.

What does a stamped PDF proof look like?

A PDF that’s been marked up using proof-correction stamps looks just like its paper cousin – the only difference is that it’s in a file on your computer rather than in a pile on your desk. As you can see from the sample below, you can, of course, use the onboard tools. Here, I’ve added in a query for the author (using the Commenting function); if, however, my client had wanted all annotation to be viewable in the margins, I’d have created a separate query sheet to communicate my concern with the highlighted spelling issue.

Sample showing mark-up with stamps and comments

Sample showing mark-up with stamps and comments

Summing up

Proof-correction marks are not a thing of the past — far from it. Whether you are working on paper or onscreen, being able to offer this method of annotating a proof is a valuable business asset. It gives both you and your clients choices. There will be times when a client will prefer you to work on paper, or directly in Word. And there will be times when you work with clients who don’t know the meaning of proof-correction symbols, and will ask you instead to use a PDF editor’s onboard commenting and markup tools. But if you are going to be working with clients who want a traditional margin-based proofreading service (where all your annotations are made on the typeset page) but in a digital format, the ability to mark up using proofreading stamps will serve you well.

Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.

September 23, 2015

Two Books Every Author (& Editor & Publisher) Should Read!

I won’t keep you in suspense. The two books are Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman.

I was reading Diane Johnson’s review of Go Set a Watchman (“Daddy’s Girl,” The New York Review of Books, September 24, 2015, pp. 22–26) when I realized that Harper Lee’s two novels should be read by everyone who touches — no matter how peripherally — on the editing process. The two books provide a stark contrast of the value of editing. Johnson wrote:

According to its editors and Harper Lee herself, To Kill a Mockingbird had profited from extensive editing at R.B. Lippincott by the late Tay Hohoff, who said she and Lee worked for two years on the project. (p. 22)

The result was the production of a classic that continues, 50-plus years later, to sell 1 million copies each year.

Contrast that with Go Set a Watchman, which was published as written — without editorial input. Although Watchman has sold a phenomenal number of copies, those will be one-time sales and they came about because of the high expectations readers of Mockingbird had. The consensus seems to be that Watchman is a disaster and a blight on the reputation of Mockingbird; its primary value is to demonstrate what should not be done if one values one’s writing and reputation as an author.

Authors & Wannabe Authors

Watchman was the parent from which Mockingbird was spawned. Yet it is as different from Mockingbird as night is from day. What it demonstrates, however, is how a good editor can help an author.

Too many authors on too many lists promote self-editing or no editing or friend editing. The complaint is that a good editor costs too much and there is no reason to hire one when the author can do it herself. Too many authors also say that they would like to hire an editor but editors are too expensive; they cannot afford an editor.

If you believe you really have a good story to tell and that people will buy it, then shouldn’t you figure out a way to get that editorial help? Your book will not sell like Watchman has sold because you do not have the reputation that Harper Lee has been trading on for 50 years. And it is expected that sales of Watchman will fall precipitously now that the book has been seen. What Watchman does demonstrate, however, is that the editorial investment made in Mockingbird has paid off doubly: first, by creating a phenomenal bestseller that keeps on selling, and second, by creating a reputation that allowed the author to sell drivel, which is what Watchman amounts to. Watchman would not have sold except for Lee’s reputation built on Mockingbird.

It is hard to convince authors (and readers) of the value of good editing because editing is an invisible hand — but these two books, a before and after, should clearly demonstrate what a good editor brings to the table and why authors need editors.

The two books also offer one other insight that I think authors need: They graphically demonstrate the difference between — and value of — developmental editing and copyediting, as well as the value of each. Watchman was neither developmentally edited nor copyedited; Mockingbird was both. Could you self-edit both developmental editing and copyediting?

Skilled and professional authors know that it is almost impossible to edit one’s own work because we see only what we meant to say; we cannot be objective enough to see where our work might be unclear, clunky, disorganized, or simply grammatically lacking (suffering from misspellings, wrong or missing punctuation, close-but-not-quite-right word choices, missing or doubled words, poor transitions, and more).

It is true that a very few authors have the skills to self-edit, but those are the rare authors. Most, if not all, of the most successful authors did not self-edit. Either they or their publisher hired a professional editor. As an author, you may have spent years writing your book. You know every word, every nuance, but you do not know where you are going wrong, because your book is “perfect” — you have said so.

As did Harper Lee when she originally submitted Watchman. What a difference a skilled, professional editor made for Harper Lee — and could make for authors and wannabe authors today.


Editors should read these two books to see what a skilled editor can do. This is not to suggest that you are not a skilled editor, but to suggest that rarely are we given the opportunity to see a before and after of such radical dimension as in the case of Watchman and Mockingbird.

Even more importantly, however, these books give us the opportunity to create an explanation of the value of our services. They also give us the opportunity to graphically demonstrate the differences between developmental editing and copyediting, and what each does for a manuscript. How many of us would reread Watchman or call it a classic or even want it taught in our schools? I know I struggle to envision a movie based on Watchman or caring about the characters or the storyline.

But Mockingbird remains a highly praised novel, 50 years after its publication. It is still discussed in schools and in conversations about race relations. The movie is considered a classic that is still shown. The novel still sells a million copies each year with no advertising to speak of. And all of this is because the original version, Watchman, was developmentally edited and then copyedited by professional editors to become Mockingbird.

Editors should use these books as teaching experiences for clients. They illustrate the benefit of not creating an artificial schedule and of taking the time needed to properly develop the story and to do the editing the story requires.

Editors have looked for years for a way to clearly illustrate why they are worth what they are asking and why editing is a valuable service that is ignored or avoided at an author’s and a publisher’s peril. Watchman and Mockingbird graphically demonstrate the value of editing and editors.

Publishers (& Packagers)

Today, publishing is run largely from the accounting perspective, not the art perspective. Schedules are artificially imposed without regard for the true needs of a manuscript. Editors are asked to do more of the mechanical work and less of the judgmental work; in my earliest years as an editor, for example, the emphasis was on language editing, not on applying styling codes. We did macro-level styling at most, and left micro-level styling to designers and typesetters. But in today’s editing world, the emphasis has switched 180 degrees to emphasize micro-level styling and a deemphasize language editing.

Yet Watchman and Mockingbird can provide a useful lesson for publishers, too. Sure, HarperCollins reaped a quick influx of cash with the publication of Watchman, but if I were the publisher, I would rather have the year-after-year sales of Mockingbird than the one-time sales of Watchman. Watchman will have no lasting value in the marketplace except as an illustration of what publishers used to provide authors versus what they no longer provide authors.

Today, the mantra is “how low can I go”; that is, how little can I, the publisher, spend to take a book from manuscript to bookstore? And the first services publishers squeeze are those that are deemed “invisible” — editorial services. Instead of two years of developmental editing, as was done for Mockingbird, two weeks of copyediting may be provided today (even if the book requires two months of copyediting, let alone additional months of developmental editing).

Watchman and Mockingbird, however, demonstrate the value of the editorial process. Good editing changed a book with no potential into a classic that sells 1 million copies each year and has done so for more than 50 years, with no end in sight. Whatever the editing cost for Mockingbird, it was recouped decades ago, yet keeps on giving. Quality editing is the Timex of publishing — it is the service that keeps on giving.

Publishers and packagers should read these books and use them as guides and reasons why changes to the current editorial and production methods need to be revamped and more attention and money needs to be given to editing. Editing has to be seen today as it was in the early days of publishing. Isn’t it a shame that the books that we treat as classics and must-reads, decade after decade, were nearly all published several decades or longer ago — before accounting supplanted editorial as the decision makers?

Perhaps it is time to rethink the current model. Certainly, Watchman and Mockingbird make that point.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Selected related An American Editor essays:

September 21, 2015

The Business of Editing: Keys to a Project Quote (II)

Part I (The Business of Editing: Keys to a Project Quote (I)) discussed the required Effective Hourly Rate (rEHR), the churn rate, and calculating a page. Part II discusses additional elements and how to put the quote together and present it.

The style manual

Few editors consider the style manual to be applied to the project when calculating a quote. The reason is that we tend to fall into niches and to use, and thus become facile with, a particular style manual. Many editors rarely, if ever, use any style manual but one. Consequently, few editors think about the impact of the style manual on the project.

Then there are editors like me who work with and use multiple style manuals. The projects may be similar but the clients have different style manual preferences. Even so, there may not be much difference between the style manuals or not enough difference such as which style manual is required has an impact on the project price.

But after my recent experience with The ACS Style Guide (see Style Guide Terrorism: A Formula for Failure), I realize that I do need to factor into the calculation the impact of the choice of style manual. This is especially true when the client-selected manual is so radically different from other style manuals and/or when it is accompanied by a house exceptions manual (even if not by a difficult style manual).

The choice of style manual impacts the churn and the schedule. I suspect that no other allowance for it needs to be made in the calculation.

The schedule

Another element, and a very important one, is the client’s schedule.

What usually happens is that a client contacts an editor and says something like this:

I have a 320-page manuscript on eating your vegetables that I need edited in 2 weeks. It requires a medium-level copyedit and the files will be ready to send you tomorrow. The fee is xyz. Can you take it on?

The editor responds almost instantly with “sure,” thinking that 160 pages a week is easily done. And it may be easily done — or not. (I know that many editors insist on seeing a “sample,” or even the whole manuscript, but unless you are going to read it all — word by word, beginning to end, which is an editing task being done at your expense — you can never really know for certain what problems you will face during actual editing.)

Whether it is easily done — or not — depends on many of the factors discussed earlier. Is the page count accurate? What does a “medium-level copyedit” entail? And so on. Once you have all of that information, you can then evaluate the schedule.

Over my 31 years, I have learned that my best editing is done within a 5-hour window. What I mean is that of a typical 8-hour workday, only 5 hours can be spent editing if I want to provide a high-quality edit. After 5 hours of concentrated editing, the mind tires and error creep begins.

This does not mean that I do not ever edit for longer than 5 hours in a day. Some projects are easier than others and editing can go on for longer; some are so difficult that editing for 5 hours is very difficult if not impossible.

What it means is that I have determined that an editing day is 5 editing hours and an editing week is Monday to Friday. Note that it is Monday to Friday and not 25 editing hours. This is important when calculating a project fee. It means that I work Monday to Friday and weekend or holiday work is not part of the workweek; weekend and/or holiday work, or more than 5 editing hours in a day, are premium services.

So, when I calculate the viability of a schedule, I calculate it based on an editing workweek or 5-editing-hour days, not on a 7-day workweek of unlimited hours.

The First “Rough” Calculation

Assuming that the proposed 320-page manuscript is really 320 pages, then to meet a 2-week schedule means a maximum of 9 editing days (not 10, because I cannot start a project within seconds of receipt from a client; I always figure next day), which means 45 editing hours, which translates into a required churn of approximately 8 pages an hour (actually 7.11, but I always round up to the next whole number; I don’t know how to edit 0.11 pages). I check that against my churn rate for a “medium-level copyedit” and, depending on the subject matter, may conclude that the schedule is doable.

But the calculation is based on a lot of assumptions, not least of which is that the page count is accurate.

Getting more information

At this point, I have not yet responded to the client. Now is when I make my first response, which is that I am interested but need to have the manuscript sent to me so I can do a page count. Even if the client doesn’t have the whole manuscript, I want what they do have. I also tell them it is not necessary to send me any figures except tables and all-text figures; I do not need the 30 photo images to do my count or evaluate the project.

The Second Calculation

Once I receive the manuscript, I do a page count using my preferred method. It is rare that my count and the client’s count match. It is not unusual to find that the client’s count is anywhere from 25% to 50% (and sometimes more) lower than my count.

With the page count in hand, the next thing I do is open a couple of chapters and look at the references. If the references are close to the preferred style, that is a good sign. I have found that where the references are pretty much in what is to be the end format, the author has paid attention to detail and the text generally is in decent shape. But if the references are a mess, are missing a lot of information, are not close to the desired end style, I know that I need to spot check the text of several chapters to get a flavor of the author’s writing style.

Next, after the page count and checking a few chapters, I determine how many pages a day and an hour will need to be churned to meet the client’s schedule. For example, if the page count in our hypothetical is really 500 instead of 320, instead of 8 pages an hour, I will need to edit 12. I now need to determine whether it is possible to churn that many pages during my editing workweek. If I can, then the schedule is fine; if I can’t, I need to be able to explain why I can’t and what is a more realistic schedule.

With the information in hand, it is time to put together the project quote.

The Quote

In my quote, I outline exactly what I have found: the level of edit required (and what that means), the number of pages I found, what is included and excluded from the service requested, and the difficulties, if any, presented by the requested style manual in light of the condition of the manuscript. I use all of this information to justify the price I am asking and any schedule changes. I also include a description of the services I will provide, as well as what I will not do, and I include an explanation of the editing workweek to forestall any expectations that I will work 7 days a week, 24 hours a day to meet the client’s requirements.

One caveat

My price is never less than my rEHR. In fact, it is usually more than my rEHR because the rEHR really is my breakeven number, not a profit-making number. The rEHR is simply the line below which I will not go. I do not consider it my job to subsidize my clients; they do a fine job of protecting their interests without my help.

Why this quote-building process?

An editor needs to go through this quote-building process to be sure she can justify her requested fee when challenged by the client. I used to wait for the challenge before justifying my fee, but for many years I have included the justification in my quote as a means of educating the client about the project. Most clients have a fee in mind and any deviation from that fee is unacceptable to the client — unless you can explain its necessity. In addition, most clients assume that because we are freelance editors, we have no other life interests and that we can devote all our waking hours to their project.

The more professional your quote is made to appear, the fewer problems you will have with a client, the more likely you are to receive your wanted fee, the more likely you will receive the project on your terms, and the more likely you will be treated as an equal.

What do you do? Do you do things in addition to those listed here?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Selected related An American Editor essays:

September 16, 2015

The Business of Editing: Keys to a Project Quote (I)

One of the most difficult things for an editor to do is to calculate an appropriate quote for a project. Clients usually use a formula approach that doesn’t waver from project to project. Most editors who work for publishers simply accept what is offered.

Accepting what a client offers without doing your own calculation is bad business! And if you work directly with authors, you need to correctly calculate your quote.

I begin with a reminder: You are a business. You are an independent business of the same stature as the client. Too often editors view themselves as unequal to their clients; too often they forget the value and importance of simply saying “no.”

I always remember that my clients have come to me to ask for my services as an editor. They come because of my reputation for quality and/or because they have firsthand knowledge of the value of my editing. The result is that I view the relationship as one between equals — and I act as if we are equals in all aspects of the business relationship.

What that means is that I calculate the price for a project. I consider the client’s offer, but I make sure that the offer is one that represents profit to me. I also recognize that pricing editing is a guessing game. Until I have actually done the editing, it is not possible to truly know how difficult or time-consuming the project truly is.

Elements of the Calculation

The rEHR

There are lots of things that need to be considered when creating a quote. The absolute must-have information that an editor needs is her required Effective Hourly Rate — the rEHR. This has been discussed several times on An American Editor and is discussed in depth in The Business of Editing: What to Charge series of essays.

The rEHR is the bottom line. The rEHR is the foundation from which your quote will rise. If you are not meeting your rEHR, then you need to rethink your approach to your business.

The churn rate

The next bit of information you need to know is how fast you can accurately edit at different editing levels. For example, if a project calls for a “light” edit, can you expect to edit 5 manuscript pages an hour? Or 10? Or 20? Suppose the project calls for a “heavy” edit? How does that impact your churn rate?

Which brings us to several other items about which you need to have a firm grasp for multiple reasons, not least of which is that they affect the churn rate:

  • The definition of the service you are being asked to perform
  • The definition of the level of service you are being asked to perform
  • How the variations in service and level of service definitions affect your churn rate
  • Your effective number of net editing hours per day (“net” here means actual time spent editing, not the length of your “work” day)

For example, if a client asks you to copyedit a manuscript (the “service”) at a “medium to heavy level” (the “level of service”), what precisely does that mean? What tasks are included and what tasks are excluded? Do you understand what the client means by medium to heavy level copyediting? Does the client understand what you mean by copyediting? Is what the client expects copyediting or is it more akin to developmental editing or something between or even something else?

The churn rate is also affected by both the style to be applied and the type of manuscript involved. As we recently discussed, some styles are significantly more cumbersome than others (see, e.g., Style Guide Terrorism: A Formula for Failure).  In addition, the requested style may be one with which the editor has less (or greater) facility. If you have edited 100 books and applied the Chicago style and are now asked to apply a different style with which you have little to no familiarity, your churn rate will be slower as you need to spend time determining the requirements of the new style. Similarly, the churn rate will be slower if there is a comprehensive exceptions style manual provided by the client.

Of course, it also matters whether the project is fiction or nonfiction, has a handful of references or thousands of them. Here, again, the style to be applied matters. Depending on how diligently the author adhered to the desired style, the editor may have to look up and modify every reference. A complex style like that of the American Chemical Society can be, as I discovered to my personal chagrin, exceedingly time-consuming and tiresome to apply.

The page

Once your rEHR and your churn is determined, the next step is to establish your method for calculating a page. Some editors have varying formulas they apply depending on the type of project they are asked to edit. And many editors, without giving it much thought, simply accept that 250 words equals one page. Some clients use 300 words equal one page, some use 250 words, some use a typeset page. Some, I have discovered, simply open the file as provided by the author and accept whatever page count is shown (and are oblivious to the fact that the author set the text to 8 point type and single spacing).

Many, if not most, editors and clients count words; some count characters without spaces and some count characters with spaces.

It both matters and doesn’t matter how you calculate a page. It matters because if you use the wrong method, you cheat yourself; it matters because the method the client uses may make for a larger page and so a shorter project page count and, thus, a lower per-page rate. What really matters is that you have a method that you are satisfied with and that you enforce.

Also key is that you count the pages using your method. You should never accept a client’s page count. And if the client insists on using its page count as the compensation basis, you need to insist that the client share with you how a page is calculated.

This is critical in nonfiction because of figures. Over the years, I have had clients refuse to count figures yet expect me to edit them. It may be that the figures are text-free images, but if I have to open a file to look at a figure and to determine if it looks like a match to the figure legend, then I need to be paid for the work.

Figures are tricky. How do you know how many figures equal one page? I once had a client tell me that because the images were small, they calculated 24 images equaled one page; the client ignored the fact that each image was in its own file and required specialized software to view and adjust. Needless to say, that was unacceptable. But it prompted me to devise a method that accounts for figures in the page calculation to my satisfaction. Again, it doesn’t matter whether I am actually counting each figure; it matters that I am willing to accept the number I get as including the figures.

Part II discusses additional elements and the putting together of the quote.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essay:

September 14, 2015

On the Basics: Recognizing Self-Imposed Limits to Your Editing Business

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

I’m often surprised or amused, depending on the incident, by people who seem determined to limit their success as freelancers. Here are some of the ways that people limit their efforts (many of which also apply to writers, proofreaders, indexers, graphic artists, website developers, etc.) — and some ideas for overcoming those limits.

Limit: Refusing to use current technology

Years ago, I met a colleague who refused to use word processing or faxing, and was upset because clients didn’t want to receive her typewritten manuscripts by mail. There are fewer such Luddites around these days, but there are editors who use outdated versions of Word or programs that aren’t considered current leaders in the field, don’t bother to spellcheck their documents, and otherwise seem to be allergic to current technology that makes both their and their clients’ jobs easier. Someone who refuses to adapt to a changing world or understand that clients prefer to use the editors who make their lives easier is not going to prosper.

Limit: Keeping your focus local

You can probably find good projects and clients on a local level — and some of us like the opportunities to interact in person with local clients — but today’s work world is global. Thanks to technology, we can work with clients all around the country and all over the globe. Through the electronic world, you can do your research and work at all hours, send and receive information at any time, and be accessible to clients no matter where they are.

You’ll be more successful if you extend your reach beyond your geographic location — you’ll have more clients, and you just might find ones that pay more than your local contacts. Take advantage of that fact of contemporary life.

Limit: Not investing in your business

Whether you work in-house or freelance, editing is your business. That’s especially true, of course, of freelancers. Refusing to invest in that business is a great way to limit your income and success.

What does it take to invest in an editing business? Making sure that you, or your employer, have current versions of software, hardware, style manuals, dictionaries, and other tools that keep you on the cutting edge of what it takes to get the work done. It also means participating in professional associations and attending events where you can learn more about trends and new resources or techniques, as well as meet colleagues who might hire you for projects.

Limit: Not continuing to learn

Language changes. Tools evolve. New approaches arise. The business of editing is an ongoing process. Those who think they know everything there is to know about editing are doomed to limit their success.

Taking courses, purchasing new editions of style manuals or dictionaries, attending events, interacting with colleagues online and in person, reading leading publications, even enjoying hobbies all help editors keep learning and thus be more productive, professional, and successful.

Limit: Not networking

Many editorial professionals are shy, retiring, or introverted by nature and find it uncomfortable to network with colleagues or potential clients. Even those of us who are more extroverted may find it difficult to network because of where we live or because we do not know how to find outlets for meeting colleagues.

Make the effort to network, because getting to know colleagues is a great way to break out of limits on your editing business. Not only are you likely to learn more about trends, tools, techniques, and other aspects of language, editing, and business; you also are likely to meet people who might refer, recommend, or contract with you for new projects. People recommend those whom they know. Being visible in a professional association in person or online, in a Facebook or LinkedIn group, or at conferences (as either presenter or participant) can be a major factor in expanding your editing business by establishing yourself as a skilled colleague or expert in some aspect of the editing world and process.

Keep in mind that networking is a two-way process; it isn’t all about you. Before you ask for help or referrals to new clients, offer advice or answer questions — try to establish yourself as someone with knowledge to share and skills worth using.

Limit: Not understanding & knowing your effective hourly rate

Many of us simply take projects and get to work on them, accepting whatever clients offer in terms of rates or fees without tracking the time it takes to finish a given job or type of job. As a result, if a potential project comes in without an agreed-upon rate, we’re stymied — we don’t know what to charge.

Not knowing your effective hourly rate — how fast (or slowly) you work and what you need to earn to cover your expenses — puts you at a disadvantage when asked to quote a rate or fee for a new project. From now on, track how long it takes to edit whatever comes across your desk or inbox. Look at the income from each project. Use those numbers to figure out what you really earn, and compare them to your costs of living. Then you have a basis for establishing appropriate rates and fees for your work. This might even give you the courage to ask for higher rates and fees. (For a discussion of Effective Hourly Rate, see the Business of Editing: What to Charge series.)

Limit: Not promoting or publicizing yourself & your business

Promoting your editing business might be the hardest part of being in business. If you work in-house, this aspect of your job is less of a concern, although you still might want to help your employer promote the publication, company, or organization. If you work for yourself, marketing and promotion is essential. Those who sit back and wait for work to magically appear limit themselves to a nominal income.

Marketing or promotion is a constant, ongoing process. The classic example of a non–marketing crisis is when you’re so immersed in a current project that you forget to do any marketing for new work. When you wrap this one up, you have at least the traditional 30 days to wait before getting paid and nothing on hand to work on while you wait. To keep a regular income flowing in, you have to market yourself and your services regularly.

If you can’t handle doing your own marketing and promotions, find someone to help you out. Consider bartering editing services in return for designing a website for you, creating and distributing a newsletter, or helping you use social media to expand your visibility.

Being active in professional organizations and online contributes to your marketing efforts. If you at least do that much, you’ve expanded the limits on your business.

What have you done to limit your editing success? Even better, what have you done to overcome limitations on that success?

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, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

September 9, 2015

Thinking Fiction: Mastering Subjectivity

by Carolyn Haley

An earlier essay on this blog, “The Ethics of Distaste,” focused on the professional aspects of editing distasteful material. The following essay supplements the ethics discussion by focusing on a manuscript editor’s emotional challenge that may occur behind the scenes. Although this essay’s context is fiction, some of its ideas and techniques apply, as well, to nonfiction editing.

The Personal Dilemma of Distaste

What makes a novel distasteful to you personally could be anything: incoherent writing, a repellent subject, plots or characters so ludicrous or undeveloped that the book is painful to read — all or none of the above. Even if you handle the business side of a distasteful novel with impeccable professionalism, there remains the head–heart strife that comes from getting stuck with something you should turn down but can’t afford to, or ethically back out of once committed. That stress, unmanaged, can undermine the quality of your editing, which, in turn, could lead to client payment problems for independent editors, employment repercussions for staff editors, or reputation damage for both. The stress might possibly damage your health, too, from fighting against yourself internally.

What to Do?

When burdened with a distasteful novel, you as editor must make mental and emotional adjustments to deal with it successfully. The first step is to rationalize what the book really is, and the second is to take time for some do-it-yourself training and therapy.


Novel writing is an art form: a literary art, like poetry, scripts, or short stories; a sister art to painting, sculpture, music, dance, and theater. People compelled to create art have different mindsets than those who evaluate their work. Creative compulsion is often inarticulate, driven by emotion. A novel’s purpose is to create an emotional experience for readers through story (as compared to nonfiction, whose purpose is to inform).

A fiction editor’s role is to help authors express their vision as coherently as possible to the audience most inclined to value it. Developmental editors have the best opportunity to untangle gnarly books and make them shine, but line editors and copy editors enter the process after content decisions have been made. They can only address mechanical elements and make a lot of queries. All editing tasks are much easier to embrace when you fathom the subjectivity of art, and remember that a fiction editor’s job is to help actualize art in the form of a novel.

Distasteful novels will keep many of us employed for years to come. Today we are seeing a growing number of authors who don’t write well and never will. Although almost everyone in the industrialized nations can read and write, they’re not all being trained in basic composition or required to study classic literature. Fewer and fewer take courses in creative writing or have workplace mentors disciplining their prose. Yet more and more have the tools and freedom to easily express themselves, adding to the distasteful-novel parade through editors’ hands.


If your tolerance for distasteful novels has worn thin, or your art appreciation has gone stale, then it’s time to reprogram your emotional response. That starts with physically altering your perspective.

For example, step outside literature and walk through an art museum, a gallery, or an arts-and-crafts fair. Look at every piece and assess how you feel about it, what you’re willing to spend money on. Surely you will pass by most of the offerings then stop when something catches your eye or heart. You’ll note that most pieces are produced with mediocre to extraordinary skill, and reveal an astonishing range of imagination.

You’ll see people cheerfully buying paintings you wouldn’t dream of hanging on your walls, while those you consider masterpieces are left behind. At the same time, you may be tempted by something to blow your budget on and enjoy in your own home for the rest of your life.

Try the same exercise in the other arts. Attend, in any combination, a play, a ballet, a Broadway show, a child’s musical recital, a rock concert, a symphony, a folk festival, an open mic session at a coffee house poetry night. Alternatively, close your eyes and select a DVD off the shelf from three or more categories and periods, then play them back to back. What’s your reaction to each?

Perhaps watch a TV show such as NBC’s The Voice, which is a singing competition that parallels a novelist’s apprenticeship from raw talent to star performer. The show displays what an artist goes through to become competent and accepted, and how helpless they are against other people’s tastes and opinions— or boosted along by them.

Then visit a bookstore. Allow yourself to be amazed by the total number of volumes on the shelves. Wander through each fiction section and peruse a few titles, observing how different each is from the next in subject and style, and how widely they range in quality. Watch what people bring to the cash register, and count how often their choices differ from yours.

Then go back to the distasteful novel on your desk.

New Eyes

The book hasn’t changed; it may still be off-putting gobbledygook. But you’ve been colorfully reminded that it wasn’t written for you, and your job is to help it along its path to reaching others. Now you can see it as a project begging for a stronger application of craft; a story struggling to get free; an object needing refinement. Now you can roll up your sleeves and tackle its language with all your skill. When the process is over, the result will be a better novel. Maybe it will even be great.

Maybe not, but what happens after you deliver the manuscript is outside your control. Although your soul may agonize over the book’s imperfections, your professional duty is to deliver what you were hired to do. As part of that, you’re obliged to establish mutual understanding of expectations with your client or employer so all parties, especially the author, are pleased with your contribution. Bottom line: Your job is to improve the book within employment parameters, not to guarantee its publication or success.

The onus for that falls on other parties. A book’s fate depends on how far an author is willing or able to go in upgrading their work, combined with where and how they choose to expose it. Success or failure depends on the following, singly or in combination:

  • an acquiring editor’s taste in novels or directive to find what the house seeks for publication;
  • an agent’s sense of what is likely to sell within the categories they serve, and who they try to place the work with;
  • a contest judge’s pile of manuscripts, time available to review them, and mood of the day;
  • the self-publishing venue a book is released through;
  • any marketing and promotion done for the book, and reviews it receives;
  • ultimately, readers’ moods, tastes, and where they shop.

These all fall beyond the scope of work for editors who handle manuscripts prior to submission. Ironically, a book’s success may come down to how well an editor managed the project: how enthusiastically she greeted the story, how seriously she took it, how supportive she was to the author, how lightly or heavily she touched the text, how conscious she was of reader viewpoint.


If you can’t unplug your subjectivity, and your desire to influence what enters the marketplace still burns, then reorient your career. Acquisitions and managing editors have the power to accept or reject, as do literary agents. Developmental editors have much more hands-on opportunity to direct a manuscript’s course than do line and copy editors. Alternatively, you can volunteer to judge writing contests in your free time, or become a book reviewer so you can publicly proclaim your opinion.

Regardless, increase your exposure to all the arts so you can better appreciate their variety and impact on other people’s lives. Then support what you think deserves success by spending your own dollars on it. Earn your next dollars by welcoming each manuscript as a challenge to your own creativity; a puzzle, perhaps, to solve within tight rules. Approaching editing distasteful novels this way eases frustration and revives the joy and marvel of being paid to read stories.

Accepting and Moving On

By accepting the editorial bottom line — improving the work within employment parameters — we can free ourselves from the downside of distasteful novels. The upside comes from regarding our job as helping literary artists achieve their dreams and touch other lives through their creative work. Even novels we consider distasteful may go on to great sales and acclaim, win awards, snag lucrative movie deals. They may build the foundation for long and prolific writing careers. We can help that happen by cultivating a pro-author, art-loving attitude.

The key is to remember that all novelists have to start somewhere, and each is at a different point on a journey. Understanding that our personal taste must sometimes be put aside releases us to edit darn near any fiction manuscript and help authors advance toward their goals.

Carolyn Haley 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.

September 7, 2015

Today is Labor Day & We’re Celebrating

Filed under: A Musical Interlude,A Video Interlude — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , ,

Today is the American (and Canadian) Labor Day Holiday, so An American Editor has the day off.

Want to know about the Labor Day holiday? This TED video gives a history:

Raena White provides a musical perspective:

Labor songs were the “meat” of folksingers like Pete Seeger. Here he sings, “Which Side Are You On?”

and “Union Maid.”

Labor Day is (was) a celebration of the rise of the American and Canadian worker from oppressive, free market working conditions. Alas, it seems that the tides are flowing out again.

Enjoy your Labor Day. An American Editor will be back on Wednesday, September 9.

Richard Adin, An American Editor



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