An American Editor

November 23, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

It’s that time of year again — time seems to pass very quickly at my age — when the family and neighbors come to our house and celebrate (and be thankful for) all the good things that came to us since our last gathering. Each of us has something for which we are grateful; my list is headed by my granddaughters, my children, and my wife.

To celebrate another wonderful year, and to have time to prepare (cooking the turkey is my job :)), An American Editor is taking a break. We’ll be back on Monday, November 30.

All of us at An American Editor — Ruth Thaler-Carter, Jack Lyon, Louise Harnby, Carolyn Haley, and myself — wish you a happy Thanksgiving. We hope you enjoy the following:

A great Johnny Cash moment:

What is Thanksgiving without Charlie Brown?

For the young children:

Happy Thanksgiving!

Richard Adin, An American Editor


November 18, 2015

Lyonizing Word: Why Computers?

by Jack Lyon

Dan A. Wilson, of The Editor’s Desktop, once advised editors that a computer is “far and away your most valuable tool, your ultimate enabler, your brain’s second-in-command. A brain with a pencil in its hand cannot compete — indeed, cannot even credibly challenge — a brain with a computer and computer-sophistication at its disposal.”

Why would that be so? After all, even under the guidance of the most brilliant programmer, a computer can’t ensure that a manuscript has accuracy, clarity, or elegance of expression. But a computer can fix hundreds of mechanical problems that editors shouldn’t have to worry about, and it can do it quickly and consistently.

If something can be automated, then automate it! Let the computer do the heavy lifting. Why is that important? Because it enables you to do more work in less time, and it frees your mind to concentrate on the things that a computer can’t handle (like accuracy, clarity, and elegance of expression). If you’re working for a corporation, that makes you more valuable as an employee (making raises more likely and layoffs less likely). If you’re working for yourself, it enables you to earn more money for the time you put in (as long as you’re charging by the job, the word, or the page, which you should be [see, e.g., On the Basics: Dealing with the Perennial Question of Setting Rates for Our Work]).

Editors working on a computer almost always use Microsoft Word. Love it or hate it (I do both), it is unquestionably the de facto word processor in the publishing world. So how can you use Word to automate whatever can be automated? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Learn to use the full power of Word’s find and replace feature, including wildcards. My Wildcard Cookbook for Microsoft Word will teach you everything you need to know. (No brag, just fact, as we used to say in grade school.)
  2. Learn to record and run macros to automate repetitive editing tasks. My Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word is a good starting place.
  3. Use Microsoft Word add-ins (like the ones I create at The Editorium) that expand Word’s features to automate various editorial tasks. Let’s look at what some of those add-ins can do to ease your workload.


We’ll start with one of my most popular add-ins, FileCleaner, which cleans up some of the most common problems in electronic manuscripts, including:

  • Multiple spaces in a row
  • Multiple returns in a row
  • Spaces around returns
  • Double hyphens that should be em dashes
  • Hyphens between numbers that should be en dashes

And much, much more. Here’s a screen shot of the options available:

FileCleaner Options

FileCleaner Options

Want to try it? All of those options are included as part of my Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2014 add-in, which I highly recommend that you download and try. The program offers a 45-day trial period so you can make sure it does what you need before deciding to buy. And if you need help using it, I’m always available by email.

I’d like to point out one special feature of FileCleaner that is frequently overlooked. See that option (under “Formatting”) to “standardize font formats (remove overrides)”? It removes all those odd, inconsistent uses of different fonts that authors like to use, but at the same time it leaves italic, bold, superscript, and styles intact. You won’t believe what a difference this can make in cleaning up a manuscript!

FileCleaner also offers to clean up the active document, all open documents, or all documents in a folder, which means you can run the program on a whole batch of files at once while you go back to reviewing manuscripts (or spending time with family and friends).

Document options

Document Options

Remember all of my talk about automating what can be automated? This is what I’m talking about. Instead of manually doing dozens of find-and-replace routines on dozens of documents, let FileCleaner do the work.


FileCleaner is great for cleaning up common problems, but what if you have uncommon problems that you need to clean up? What if you need to go through three dozen documents and change millenium to millennium in all of them, along with dozens of other misspellings (manger to manager, rarify to rarefy, and on and on and on)? That’s what MegaReplacer is for. Again, it works on the active document, all open documents, or all documents in a folder. But unlike FileCleaner, it allows you to define your own find-and-replace items and then run them en masse. You start by creating a list of the items you want to find and replace, with the find item on the left and the replace item on the right, separated by a pipe symbol (|), which you’ll probably find under your backspace key. Your list will look something like this:


Save the list as a Word document, and you can use it over and over again.

So far, so good. But you’re not limited to finding and replacing individual words; you can find and replace whole phrases that you’d ordinarily have to fix manually while editing:

at this point in time|now
alright|all right
an historical|a historical
a large number of|many
a small number of|some

To give you even more flexibility, MegaReplacer allows you to specify Match Case, Whole Words Only, both Match Case and Whole Words Only, or Use Wildcards by appending a code to the items on your list:

“+c” for Match Case
“+w” for Find Whole Words Only
“+&” for Match Case and Find Whole Words Only
“+m” for Use Wildcards

Here’s an example of each:

per|according to+w
p ([0-9]@.\))|p. \1+m

To get you started, MegaReplacer comes with a long list of useful corrections that you can modify to meet your needs.

Editor’s ToolKit

The most basic functions of Editor’s ToolKit Plus reside in the section called “Editor’s ToolKit”:

Editors ToolKit Menu

Editors ToolKit Menu

In particular, they automate some of the most common editorial tasks:

Text Features

Text Features

Furthermore, Editor’s ToolKit assigns these tasks to the function keys on your keyboard. Need to italicize (or romanize) a word? Press F8. Want to transpose two words? Press F11. To lowercase a word, press F10.

Please note that these keyboard assignments are the default setting for Editor’s ToolKit, which Rich Adin has correctly pointed out should not be the case (and will not be the case in the next version of the program). You can easily go back to Word’s original settings, however, by clicking the Editor’s ToolKit Plus icon and then clicking “Clear Keyboard Shortcuts.”

Keyboard Shortcuts

Keyboard Shortcuts

But if you find that you like the Editor’s ToolKit keyboard assignments, you can activate them by clicking “Set Keyboard Shortcuts.” The program download includes a keyboard template that lists the default shortcuts; print it out and place it above your function keys, and you’ll have a handy guide to which key does what (remember WordPerfect 5.1?).

The keyboard shortcuts for Editor’s ToolKit are not arbitrary, by the way. I’ve tried to arrange them so that the most common editorial tasks are right at your fingertips. For example, F7 toggles italic on and off. Yes, CTRL + I does the same thing, but after you’ve used F7 a few times, CTRL + I will seem clunky and annoying. Something that small does make a difference in how easily and smoothly you’re able to work in Word (see Lyonizing Word: The Right Tool for the Job and Lyonizing Word: Assigning Macro Shortcut Keys).

Many other features are available from the keyboard, but my favorite is Cap Title Case. To use it, select the text you want to put in title case and press F9. But doesn’t Microsoft Word already have that feature? Yes, it does. But take this example:

The call of the wild

Microsoft Word will turn it into this:

The Call Of The Wild

Editor’s ToolKit will turn it into this:

The Call of the Wild

In other words, Editor’s ToolKit properly handles common articles and prepositions. (The next version of the program will allow you to specify those you want to use.)

All of these are small things, but in the pressure-cooker of day-to-day editing, small things make a big difference in the ease and even the pleasure with which these tiny tasks can be accomplished. I’ve been a working editor since 1978, so I’ve been doing such tasks a long time. I created these tools (and the many others included with Editor’s ToolKit Plus) so that my computer can handle the boring, repetitive, mechanical tasks, allowing me to do the more enjoyable and important work that a computer, no matter how sophisticated, simply cannot do. That, right there, is the reason for computers.

How do you use your computer to make your work easier and faster? I’d love to hear your ideas.

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.

Looking for a Deal?

You can buy Editor’s Toolkit Plus 2014 in a package with EditTools and PerfectIt and at a special savings of $78 off the price if bought individually. To purchase the package at the special deal price, click Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate.

November 16, 2015

The Proofreader’s Corner: Tackling Editorial Learning Anxiety (or Embracing Change Rather Than Resisting It) — Part I

by Louise Harnby

In this two-part series, I consider how resistance to change can stop us from learning new skills or testing new methods to make our editorial businesses more successful.

Part I looks at “learning anxiety” and how it can stop us from embracing change. It introduces three ideas for how to tackle our anxiety: planning the change so that it’s considered and systematic; redefining “failure” as “lessons learned”; and doing a cost-to-benefit analysis.

Part II presents a personal case study of how I dealt with anxiety about offering a new customer-engagement service with regard to quoting. I explain how I used a cost-to-benefit analysis to identify my concerns and come up with a solution that enabled me to move forward rather than rejecting change.

“I’m not trying that!”

Editors, like any other professionals, can fall into the trap of resisting change – for example, not trying out a new marketing strategy; claiming they have no need for business tools such as macros; or refusing to take on work that requires using a new platform, software package, or format. All of us have either said, or heard one of our colleagues say, “I don’t work in that way,” “That’s a bad idea,” “I don’t like the idea of that,” “That’s not the way I do things,” or “I just couldn’t bring myself to do that” at some point in our careers.

We work in a highly competitive, crowded, and international marketplace. We’re business owners, not hobbyists. That means our businesses have to earn us a living. Our market isn’t static – it’s always shifting. New software and digital tools are developed; new platforms on which we can make ourselves visible emerge and expand in terms of their importance; our clients ask us to work in ways that colleagues in the editorial field 40 years ago likely never anticipated; the types of clients for whom we are discoverable, and the ways in which they find us, are more varied than I expected when I set up my proofreading business only a decade ago.

All of that means that resisting change and failing to learn the new skills or to try new methods (whether technical, promotional, or practical) simply doesn’t make sense for today’s editorial business owner. If we refuse to change, we refuse to compete – and that’s a path to business failure.

So why do we resist change? According to psychologist Edgar H. Schein, Sloan Fellows Professor of Management Emeritus at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, it can be a result of “learning anxiety” (Diane Coutu, “The Anxiety of Learning,” Harvard Business Review, March 2002). Says Schein:

“Learning anxiety comes from being afraid to try something new for fear that it will be too difficult, that we will look stupid in the attempt, or that we will have to part from old habits that have worked for us in the past. Learning something new can cast us as the deviant in the groups we belong to. It can threaten our self-esteem and, in extreme cases, even our identity.”

Back in 2002, Schein discussed the issue in relation to the challenges of organizational change and transformation, corporate culture, and leadership. But that quotation can apply just as well to the editorial solopreneur in 2015. We may be anxious about making a change for fear of not doing it well; equally, we might have heard or read negative opinions from our colleagues about using a particular technical tool, testing a new marketing effort, or changing to a new way of working — and that makes us wary of being seen publicly to be trying such things, lest they draw negative attention.

So how might we go about tackling learning anxiety so that we can embrace change rather than resisting it? There are several options:

  • Plan the change so that it’s considered and systematic
  • Redefine “failure” as “lessons learned”
  • Do a cost-to-benefit analysis

Plan the change so that it’s considered and systematic

If you think there are changes that should be made, or new skills learned, approach them as you would a business plan. By breaking the changes down into components, they will seem more manageable and less anxiety-inducing.

  • Write down the proposed changes (e.g., learning how to use macros; working with a new editorial tool; working in a new format, such as PDF using digital markup; studying a new editorial skill such as proofreading or localization; testing a new marketing technique or pricing model; making yourself visible to a new type of customer group such as self-publishers, students, or publishers).
  • Make a list of the objectives (e.g., increased productivity, new work stream, more diverse skill base to offer potential customers, enhanced customer engagement).
  • Make a note of how difficult you think the task(s) will be to learn and implement.
  • Make a note of how making the process of bringing in these changes makes you feel (e.g., reluctant, anxious).
  • Record the financial outlay required to make the changes to your business.
  • Consider the time frame in which you think you could make the changes. If there are several, you can stagger them so as not to overload yourself in terms of action and pressure.
  • Ask yourself whether you will need assistance to make the changes (e.g., a trainer or mentor) or whether you can implement them on your own.

Redefine “failure” as “lessons learned”

We must accept that change always brings risk. However well we plan change, however well it appears to meet our business objectives, the outcomes aren’t always what we hoped for or expected. The key here is to redefine those results in a positive light whereby “failure” becomes “lessons learned.” What if that cold-calling session to local businesses doesn’t bring in any immediate new clients? What if that training course in a particular software program won’t pay for itself because no clients will ask you for that skill? What if some people in your social media network think that the directory you’ve chosen to advertise in is disreputable and encourages a race to the bottom, rates-wise?

All those outcomes could occur; but it’s also possible – particularly if you’ve made thoughtful, informed decisions about what changes to test – that you might acquire a new lead, take on a piece of work using your software skills, or generate interest from your online colleagues about your marketing efforts. And even if you do end up in the worst-case scenario, who’s to say that the changes you’ve made won’t reap rewards farther down the line? Who’s to say that those colleagues who were disparaging about your efforts are correct in their assumptions?

Being prepared to try new things is how we learn. When the outcomes are not as expected, that’s not failure; that’s information on which we can make future decisions about what not to do, what needs tweaking, and what needs retrying. Not being prepared to learn and change in a competitive market is more likely to lead to failure that trying something new. If you don’t try, you don’t know.

There’s nothing wrong with trying something new, only to find that it didn’t work. Any normal human being trying to be creative when running their business is not going to get it right every time. And if things don’t go to plan, you’ll be in great company. Here’s Woody Allen: “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.” And here’s Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Do a cost-to-benefit analysis

If you’re nervous about making a particular change, do a cost-to-benefit analysis by considering the following questions:

  • What will I gain from the change?
  • What will I lose if I change the way I do things?
  • What will stay the same, even though I’ve changed things?
  • How will the changes make me feel once I’ve completed them?

Working through these questions can highlight benefits and challenges, and help you to think through ways to maximize the former and minimize the stress of the latter.

In Part II, I’ll discuss how I used a cost-to-benefit analysis to help me introduce a change to the way in which I invited customers to engage with me over pricing. I wanted to make things as easy and as quick as possible for my customers to ask me for a price, but in a way that wouldn’t ignore value. Up until this point, I’d let my anxiety stop me from testing a new method. However, by thinking about what I might gain, what I might lose, what would stay the same, and how any changes would make me feel, I was able to come up with a solution to test.

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.

November 11, 2015

The Business of Editing: A Fifth Fundamental Business Mistake That Editors Make

Profit & Business Model

A business has to either be profitable so that its owners can earn a living or it has to have investors who are willing to fund the business for years and let the business lose money during those years because of greater future profit expectations or the business has to go out of business.

The first option is usually the option of the freelance editor. We rarely can convince people to invest in our business and let us generate losses for years (the Amazon model), because of the type of business editing is — personal and hands on. Amazon sells goods; the goods are not unique and buyers of the goods do not care whether Jeff Bezos has ever touched the goods. Amazon sells to us based on customer service and price.

Editing, as we know, is different. We are usually hired because of our skills (there are semi-exceptions as in my business model in which clients hire me because of my skills and because of the skills of the editors who work for me) and those skills are hands-on skills. We are hired to read each and every word and pass judgment on the words, the sentence structure, the grammar, and so on. Editors are hired to exercise judgment and improve a product; we do not expect Amazon to edit the book we buy from it.

As a result of this difference, Amazon can go years without making a profit, but freelance editors cannot. And Amazon can get people to invest money in it based on a not-written-in-stone promise of future rewards; outside editors themselves and immediate family, it is the rare person who will invest in an editor’s business with the expectation of a future profit.

Yet there is something in our business model and in Amazon’s business model that is identical (aside from the need for stellar customer service): We both need data to determine how we are doing and what we should be doing. The types of data we need are different, but we both need data.

Why Collect Data?

And this is where editors make a fundamental business mistake. Many editors simply do not collect data or if they do collect data, they make no business use of it. Yet data can tell us lots of things about our business. For example, data can tell us whether

  • a client should be kept or fired
  • certain types of projects should be avoided or sought
  • we are charging too little or too much
  • our focus is wrong or right
  • we need to start a marketing campaign now or can wait
  • our marketing campaign is a success or failure
  • making an investment is likely to increase or decrease our profitability
  • subcontracting would be a smart or dumb direction to go
  • and myriad other things

— all we need to do is gather and explore the data.

We’ve discussed several times how to calculate what to charge (see the five-part series, Business of Editing: What to Charge), but knowing what you need to earn and charge does not necessarily equate to profitability. It is not difficult to have calculated the rate you need to charge, charge that rate, yet be unprofitable. That’s because knowing what to charge is only part of the necessary information.

Consider the type of editing you do. I focus on long manuscripts, the longer the better, preferably 1,000 manuscript pages or longer. Offer me a manuscript that runs 15,000 pages and you will make me happy. Over the years I have been professionally editing, I have collected data on hundreds of projects — in fact, on every project that has passed through my office. Among the information I collected was project subject matter; whether single author or multiauthor; number of manuscript pages (which was calculated using my own formula); the time it took to complete the project; the number of projects I was offered, indicating the number I accepted and the number I turned down; the reason for acceptance or rejection; and the fee I was paid. (I gathered other data, too, but for our discussion, this list is sufficient.)

Analyzing Data

From this data, I learned what manuscripts were likely to be profitable for me. It is important to remember that we are not all alike; that is, what is profitable for me may be highly unprofitable for you. What is important, however, is to know whether what you are doing is, in fact, profitable for you.

Editors focus on editing — it is what they know best and what they feel most comfortable doing. But freelancers wear multiple hats. Not only do they wear an editing hat, but they wear the business owner’s hat. When wearing the business owner’s hat, editors need to assess their business objectively. It does not matter whether they love or hate editing; what matters is whether they are running a profitable business. To make that determination, editors must objectively collect and analyze data about their business.

One of the most important bits of data is time. How long a project takes to edit — not approximately, but exactly — is key information. It is information that is used to determine your effective hourly rate as well as the number of pages you can edit in an hour. It also is information that is needed when giving a client a quote. An editor needs to know whether, as a general rule, a heavy edit means 2 pages an hour or 6 pages an hour, because that helps you determine the likelihood of profitability at different price points.

The Excuses

I have heard editors say that data collection isn’t all that important for them because they bill by the hour, not by the page or project. Contrary to such sentiment, it is equally important to collect data regardless of how you charge, unless your clients have unlimited budgets (and I have yet to meet a client who does). It is also important because in the absence of data, it is not possible to determine whether you are making a sufficient profit.

Editors have told me that they know they are making a sufficient profit because they are able to pay their bills, put a little bit away in savings, and have money for entertainment, and that they are doing this without collecting and analyzing data about their business. Accepting that as true, data collection is still necessary because you may well discover, for example, that you can earn the same but in less time and with less effort. Or you might discover after analyzing the data that although you are making a profit, you are spending more time and effort to do so than is warranted and that making some changes in your business would increase your profit but require less effort.

The Reason

Data collection is key to business growth and profitability. Data inform decisions; data provide a foundation for action. It is a fundamental business error to not collect as much data as you can about your business.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays include:

November 9, 2015

The Business of Editing: A Fourth Fundamental Business Mistake That Editors Make

Flexibility and Accessibility

When someone is asked why they chose to be a freelance editor, quite often the response centers on flexibility — the idea that freelance editors can set their own schedule. Need time to watch a child’s soccer game? No problem. Need to schedule a doctor’s appointment? Again, not a problem.

Flexible scheduling is nice in concept but the schedules of freelancers aren’t really all that flexible. Sure we can do our work in the wee hours so we can attend that soccer game, but we still have deadlines to meet and it is those deadlines that dictate how flexible our schedule truly is.

When we focus on the flexibility of scheduling, we tend to forget that we are a business and that there are certain expectations that those who would make use of our services have about our schedule. The mistake is not the flexible schedule but the failure to make ourselves accessible as expected by clients. Flexibility and accessibility are not synonymous. Ideally, we can combine flexibility with accessibility.

One hallmark of a business is hours of operation. We know, for example, that the brick-and-mortar repair shop where we take our automobile opens at 7 am and closes at 5 pm. There are posted hours of operation and we know from experience that an 11 pm call to the business finds it closed — and often gives us the message that the business opens at 7 am. We get these same types of messages from online stores — you can make purchases 24/7 but customer service is open only during posted hours.

Granted that our business is not like an auto repair shop or an online retailer, but client expectations are similar: Clients expect to be able to reach us during “normal” business hours. Our flexibility is in what constitutes our business hours, not in our accessibility during those hours.

Accessibility Is…

This does not mean that we need to be accessible 24/7; it does mean that we need to be accessible during set, established times with occasional exceptions. It also means that, depending on who our clientele are and who our target audience is — that is, what our target market expects — when a client contacts us when we are not accessible, the client should receive a message saying when we will be accessible. For example, in response to an email inquiry we might autoreply, “I am sorry to have missed your email. My office is currently closed but will reopen at 9 am local time tomorrow, at which time I will respond. However, if you believe it is vital to contact me before that time, please.…”

Clients have problems that they want us to solve. They do not want to wait to know that they can entrust the problem to us or that they need to look elsewhere — our client’s goal is simple: assign the problem to a problem-solver as quickly as possible so that it is off the client’s list and on someone else’s list. Consequently, clients want to be able to reach us during known times; that is, they want to feel assured that if they wait to contact you during what they expect your business hours to be, that they will, in fact, reach you at that time — without that feeling of assurance, clients simply move to someone else, to someone who is accessible as expected.

Accessible today — at least in my business — usually means by email; I rarely receive a telephone call anymore. In olden days, clients wanted to be polite and chat for 60 seconds before getting to the point of the call; today, they want to avoid “wasting” those 60 seconds, just as we do. (I admit that I have a certain nostalgia for those olden days when chatting with my clients let me learn how their children are doing or learn about the wonderful time they had in Paris. It “humanized” what was otherwise an isolated experience by providing a watercooler moment.) The advantage of email is that it is a 24/7 nondisturbing way to contact a client or an editor.


But there is also an expectation that when the client sends an email to me during my business hours, I will respond quickly — not in hours, not tomorrow, not when the client is not available, but nearly immediately. If I am accessible, I do make it a policy to quickly respond, even if it is to say something like, “I received your email and will give you a detailed response within the next 2 hours. If you need my detailed response more quickly, please let me know and I will address your email immediately.”

The issue of accessibility does go hand-in-hand with contact information, which we previously discussed (see The Business of Editing: A Second Fundamental Mistake that Editors Make). A reason to provide contact information is to make yourself accessible to clients. But it does no good to provide that information if the client cannot actually reach you. The counterargument is that clients who email do not expect a prompt response; clients know that the editor may not be accessible. Of course, we don’t know that as fact; we assume it is true because it fits within our needs and what we would expect.

I think that counterargument had more merit in past years. Increasingly, I receive client emails for “routine” jobs that have been sent to several editors and include the statement that the first to respond positively to the job offer (by which the client means the first who says he can meet the schedule at the offered price) will be awarded the job. If I wish to compete for those jobs, then a quick response, which means I am accessible, is required. (Fortunately, most of my work is “nonroutine” and clients seek me specifically for my editorial services.)

Clients with questions related to a job I am in the midst of editing also want their questions answered today and quickly, not tomorrow. (The Internet has altered greatly the concept of patience. Just as people wonder why they have to enter multiple clicks to buy an item instead of a single click, so they wonder why I can’t answer their email within a few minutes. Patience — meaning patience of hours rather than seconds — has become a lost virtue.)

Successful businesses are accessible to their clients and meet their clients’ expectations of accessibility. Freelance editors are as subject to those accessibility expectations as any other business. We have so much competition that clients do not need to be patient; clients can make multiple simultaneous requests and deal with the first responder, or they can internally decide to wait an hour for your response and if one is not forthcoming, seek another editor.

The Key

Consequently, we need to act like a business and set hours of operation that we mostly adhere to — and we need to let clients know what those hours are. Notice can be by posting on a website or by mentioning in correspondence; it doesn’t really matter, but it does depend on who you want to be your client — that is, who is your target audience. If I were seeking indie authors as clients, I would post that information along with my contact information at my website. With corporate clients, I try to have my accessible hours overlap my clients’ office hours and I let my clients know via email.

The key is being accessible when and how clients expect. Remember that we need our clients more than our clients need us. It is harder for us to find new clients than it is for our clients to find new editors. We need to approach this like Amazon does — by meeting our clients’ needs and expectations.

We need to avoid sending the message that we do not care or are not interested in our clients. We need to provide client-centric, not editor-centric, service. Failure to be accessible and to make known our accessibility as part of client-centric service is a fundamental mistake that editors often make.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays include:

November 6, 2015

Worth Celebrating: Ruth Thaler-Carter

The good news about An American Editor essayists continues.

Congratulations to our On the Basics essayist, Ruth Thaler-Carter, who will receive a Big Pencil Award on November 14, 2015, from Writers & Books in her hometown of Rochester, NY, for being “A teacher of adults who has inspired the creation and appreciation of literature” and having “contributed significantly in the advancement, creation, and understanding of literature in the Rochester community.”

Richard Adin, An American Editor

November 4, 2015

The Business of Editing: A Third Fundamental Mistake That Editors Make


It’s time to buy a gift for your niece. You know what you want so you go to one of the price comparison websites and search for the item. Within seconds the results appear and you find three online stores have the item:

Macy’s $79.99
Big Joe’s Discount $59.99
Rita’s Marketplace $69.99

Although you are familiar with Macy’s, you like a bargain and so decide to check out Big Joe and Rita.

Big Joe’s website is plain-vanilla, spartan. There is an image of the product and a short description. Because you are not sure whether your niece will really like the gift, you look at Big Joe’s return policy and find it to be pretty liberal. The only requirement is that you contact Big Joe for a return authorization before making the return. So far, so good, you think, and now you look for contact information. Under Contact Us, you discover that the only way to contact customer service is via email — there is no telephone number, no physical address, just an email address.

So you decide to also take a look at Rita’s website. This is a more substantial website than Big Joe’s. The product description has more details and there are customer reviews. As with Big Joe, you check out Rita’s return policy and discover that it is similar to Big Joe’s and that a return authorization is required. You check how to contact Rita’s customer service and find that contact can be by email or by telephone with a telephone number and available hours listed. There is also a physical address listed.


Now you face the question of from whom to buy the gift. Who would you buy from? When you buy something over the Internet from a company with whom you have not previously done business, do you buy if the only way to contact them is via email or a contact form on their website? Do you look for a physical address or a customer service telephone number? Does seeing a telephone number, a physical address, hours of operation, and the like make you feel more confident about the business?

Since the advent of email, I rarely get phone calls from clients or prospective clients — almost all contact is via email. Similarly, when I buy from an online business, most of my contact with the business is via email or the site’s contact form. But when deciding whether to buy from a business with which I have no personal experience, I look for things that give me a sense of confidence.

Which brings us to the crux of the matter: What is the purpose of our website?

Why a Website

I suspect that for most editors, the primary purpose of the website is to attract new clients who don’t know us and who aren’t being referred by their friends and family. If we are banking on referrals, then we really don’t need a website at all. Someone who has been referred will contact us — usually — regardless of whether or not we have a website. Instead, our website is intended to attract and capture the client who has used one of the search engines to look for editorial help, which is why there is so much concern and discussion about how best to design our website.

To snare that new business, we want to be sure to appeal to the customer. We know what our preferences are, but we do not know the preferences of the visitor to our site. Consequently, we generally try to make our website as appealing as possible. What we want to do is make it as simple as possible for clients to contact and interact with us.

Yet when we set up our websites, many of us do not list complete contact information. We have all sorts of reasons for doing so — we want to avoid spam, we want to avoid telemarketing phone calls, we don’t want people to know where we live in case they are criminals, etc. — even though we will provide that same information to other businesses and social media.

Sharing Information

Going back to our example, Big Joe doesn’t provide any contact information other than an email address. Yet if we placed our order with Big Joe, we would have to supply our name, address, telephone number, email, and, more importantly, our credit card information. We would have to trust that Big Joe is legitimate and will not use any information we provide for nefarious purposes. And we would do so because we have come to expect to give that information when we place an order.

Why are we comfortable giving that information to Big Joe and others who want to be paid by us, but are not comfortable giving that information (less the credit card information, of course) to people who want to pay us? A fundamental reason for being in business is to encourage others to buy our services and products, to pay us.

Fundamental Rule

A fundamental rule of business is this: You can always turn down or accept an opportunity that is offered, but you cannot turn down or accept an opportunity that is not offered. Consequently, the businessperson is focused on ensuring that opportunity comes knocking by removing potential barriers to opportunity. Yet editors find reasons to erect barriers.

In our three-business example, from whom would you buy? I know I would not buy from Big Joe. No one I know has recommended Big Joe and I don’t trust businesses that I can’t locate, can’t telephone, and was not referred to by several people I trust. I would consider buying from Rita because the contact information and design of the website give me confidence that this was a real business. Importantly, Rita is trying to meet my preferences, not forcing me to meet its preferences. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy from Macy’s because I am familiar with the company and it provides complete contact information.

Editors need to remember that we need the client more than the client needs us. As such, we should strive to make it as easy as possible for clients to engage us in a manner that makes the client comfortable. That we may currently have more business than we can handle doesn’t mean we will tomorrow.

Fundamental Error

It is a fundamental error when we make our business editor centric rather than customer centric. When we make decisions such as what contact information to include, we should strive to do so from the client perspective:

What information will a client want available as a prelude to doing business with us?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays include:

Worth Celebrating: Carolyn Haley

Congratulations to our Thinking Fiction essayist, Carolyn Haley, for winning second place in the Contemporary Novel category in the International Digital Awards (IDA) contest sponsored by Oklahoma Romance Writers of America for her novel Into the Sunrise. For those interested, the book is available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

November 2, 2015

On the Basics: Approaching Holiday Season Brings Recurring Question: To “Gift” or Not to Gift Clients?

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

As the end of the year creeps up (or rushes at) us, it’s time to think about whether and how to show appreciation to our clients for keeping us in work and in — I hope — good shape financially.

I’m a firm believer in doing something around the holiday season to let clients know that I appreciate their business. This isn’t bribery; it’s a thank-you gesture and, to me, a genuine one. I know that my clients could go elsewhere and hire someone else — a freelancer who is cheaper, better known to them, or more persuasive than I am — and I’m glad they don’t. I enjoy working with them and want them to know that I don’t take their business for granted. I do my best to convey that throughout the year, but a holiday thank-you gift is a formal way of doing so, and a classic gesture of appreciation.

There’s another advantage to giving clients thank-you gifts: Sending a gift, no matter how modest, is a great way to remind someone that you exist and are available for new projects. Every time this topic comes up in discussions among colleagues, at least one person says that sending a thank-you gift (or vacation alert!) results in at least one client getting in touch to say something like, “What great timing — your gift reminded me that we could use you for such-and-such a project” or “Thank you so much for the gift and, by the way, this made me realize that we have a project for you.”

I don’t send thank-you gifts to past clients who haven’t sent me any work in the current year — but a holiday card certainly doesn’t go amiss, and often generates a similar positive response.

I keep my client gifts simple and inexpensive; something practical that won’t spoil, but isn’t extravagant. That’s for a couple of reasons. For one, some clients aren’t allowed to accept gifts at all, or gifts above a given value. For another, extravagance doesn’t feel appropriate or comfortable — and isn’t affordable.

Some colleagues send food — Rich Adin often gets his logo made into chocolate bars! — but I stay away from edible gifts because they don’t last and I don’t know if clients have allergies, although I do sometimes include packets of coffee or tea with mugs. In earlier years, I’d scour craft fairs throughout the year for purple mugs and use those for client gifts; in recent years, I’ve aimed for something more professional while being equally “me.” I’ve worked with a local colleague who has a promotions business to find items that can be imprinted with my name, logo, and website URL, as well as my phone number and/or e-mail address if they’ll fit. The only disadvantage of that approach is that the minimum number for an order might be far more than you need, but you can always use the extras the following year, or — especially if you purchased wisely and not holiday-centrically — in other ways throughout the new year — to new or prospective clients, to valued colleagues, even to friends and family (after all, they can be good sources of referrals for new business).

I’ve sent ceramic coffee mugs (purple, of course), travel mugs for hot and cold beverages, calendars, candles with holders, and similar items as holiday thank-you gifts. I’ve also done certificates for “Valued Client” and “Client of the Year.” With every gift, I enclose a personalized note, a pen with my name and contact information on it, and my business card.

Timing for client gifts can be a challenge. Many of us are especially busy with both work and family obligations from November through December, and fitting client gifts into your time and budget isn’t always easy — it isn’t just choosing and ordering the gift(s), but signing the cards, and doing the packaging and shipping. I always start with great intentions of getting mine in the mail by mid-December (or even around Thanksgiving, for the fit with thankfulness), but don’t always manage to fulfill those intentions. Instead, I often send my client gifts in early January as new year’s greetings and wishes. No one seems to find that off-putting, and some clients have said it’s a welcome way to start the new year.

Clients aren’t the only ones who might be on your gift list. You might be thinking about gifts for friends and colleagues — or even yourself — as the holiday season approaches. If so, here are a few suggestions, some of which are, admittedly, self-serving.

  • Copies of “Get Paid to Write! Getting Started as a Freelance Writer,” a booklet I’ve written and produced to help colleagues get a better start on freelance success. While it’s primarily aimed at writers, much of the information is useful to anyone in the publishing or editorial field, from editors and proofreaders to indexers, photographers, website developers, graphic artists/designers, desktop publishers, and more.
  • A gift certificate for registration for the 11th annual Communication Central conference, coming up in the fall of 2016. The cost of registration should be the same as for 2015 ($225–$350 for both days, depending on whether you are a subscriber to this blog, member of a collegial professional organization, or previous attendee, and when you register), and hotel rates are usually around $125/night.
  • Fun and/or practical gifts for editorial professionals, such as:

• mugs with grammar and punctuation rules from the BBC (, among others;

• the newest versions of various style manuals;

• my “Freelancing 101: Launching Your Editorial Business” booklet and other useful publications from the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA)

• subscriptions to Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and Poets & Writers magazines, or Copyediting newsletter;

• the new edition of Writer’s Market or Literary Marketplace;

• subscriptions to online style manuals and updates;

• memberships in or registration for events hosted by professional associations, such as the American Copy Editors Society (ACES), EFA, Society for Technical Communication (STC), National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE), etc.;

• work-related jewelry, such as earrings or necklaces made using Scrabble keys and miniature versions of style manuals;

• a pair of so-called editor’s pants;

• grammar books or refresher courses; and

• gift access to EditTools, PerfectIt, and Editor’s ToolKit PLUS 2014 for greater editing efficiency and productivity.

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 28, 2015

The Business of Editing: A Second Fundamental Mistake That Editors Make

If you read your mortgage agreement, or the agreement you “accept” when you get a credit card, or the terms and conditions of any other contract you sign or agree to, you will note that all of the important terms are carefully, even if not intelligibly, defined. The bank, for example, wants no dispute over what default means.

Defining terms is a fundamental business practice. If you and the client do not define what is meant by copyediting, you may mean what editors generally define as a “light edit” and the client may mean an in-depth, detailed, developmental edit. You’ll quote your fee based on your definition and the client will expect its definition for the quoted price.

Let “error” rain (reign?): What constitutes “error”?

As part of our standard business practices, we need to include a definition of “error” in our discussion about whether we will accept a particular job. Just as failing to treat editing as a business is a fundamental error that editors make (see The Business of Editing: Fundamental Business Mistakes That Editors Make), so is failing to define “error” a fundamental mistake that editors make.

It is true that using “there” in place of “their” is an error, a “typo” if you will, that needs to be caught and corrected. And it is equally true that it is part of an editor’s (and proofreader’s) job to find and correct such errors. But if homophones formed the beginning and end of the definition of error, there would be little need for professional editors; computers can be “taught” to flag homophones (and homonyms) and, presumably, just about any educated person could correct the erroneous ones.

A fundamental mistake

There are at least four reasons why failing to define “error” is a fundamental mistake. First, in the absence of the definition, the editor sets no boundaries on her work. Second, clients are quick to note that an editor failed to catch an “error,” which does not boost an editor’s reputation, without either client or editor having first agreed on what makes something an error. Third, in the absence of a definition, it is difficult to set an appropriate fee — and get the client to agree to that fee — because the editor thinks oranges while the client thinks apples. Fourth, is the question of responsibility — who is responsible? —  and its companion, compensation — who pays?

An example

Not so long ago I copyedited a poorly written book. The client did not want to pay for the level of editing that the book truly needed, plus saddled the project with a very tight deadline. As a practical matter, I do not do fact checking unless specifically hired and paid to do so; consequently, it is the responsibility of the author to, for example, correctly spell names, with my job limited to checking for consistency in spelling and querying any inconsistencies.

In this project, the author twice, in a 200+-page manuscript, referred to a well-known person in the book’s subject area. Both times the name was spelled the same. From my perspective, there was no error. Alas, the book was published to scathing reviews. One of the errors the reviewers noted was the misspelling of the well-known person’s name. The author blamed the publisher, which blamed my client, which blamed me. I was asked to defend myself for this and a few other specific “errors” that the reviewers noted.

My first step was to point my client to our original correspondence in which I defined what the level of editing the client asked for meant — that is, its parameters — and, addressing the name situation more directly, the definition of “error” that was incorporated into that correspondence. I pointed out that there is a difference between what is commonly known (i.e., broadly known to general populations) and what is specially know within a specific discipline (i.e., known to subject-matter experts). There is also a difference between being hired for subject-matter knowledge and expertise and being hired for language–grammar expertise. I had been hired for language–grammar expertise, not subject-matter expertise. My definition of “error” was limited to well-recognized errors of language and grammar, not to subject-matter errors; in my definition, the author is responsible for the accuracy of all subject-matter “facts,” including the correct spelling of names of recognized-within-the-discipline experts.

I also pointed out to my client that “language–grammar errors” does not mean arguable choices. As an example I usually point to the debate regarding using “since” to mean “because” (for a short discussion of the temporal–causal distinction, see Garner’s Modern American Usage, 2009, p. 748 “since,” but be sure to also read the discussion of “because” on p. 91, and compare it to Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 2015, p. 98 “because”). My definition of error does not say that because a dictionary or a usage guide permits substitution of one word for another, the use of an alternate constitutes error. In other words, my replacing “since” (viewing it to be restricted to time-related uses/senses) with “because” (or other appropriate word) in non–time-related uses/senses (e.g., “Since 1975 it has been customary to classify…” but “Because it has been customary to classify…”) is not an error just because a dictionary or usage guide views the words as interchangeable. My change has to either make meaning less clear or be inarguably wrong; in all circumstances, it is not error for me to not have corrected a fact that would not be known as incorrect in the absence of subject-matter–specific knowledge.

(In this particular case, I also noted that the author had several opportunities to correct the misspelled name but had, instead, continued to approve the misspelled version. As a technical book, the author presents herself as the expert and thus has to accept responsibility for technical errors.)

The publisher was demanding that the packager pay the costs for correcting the errors, buying back and destroying the initial print run, and reprinting a corrected version. The packager was looking for me to shoulder those costs. (I also pointed out to my client that it had chosen the proofreader for the project — as well as deciding whether there would be proofreading — and that these “errors” were not deemed errors by its chosen proofreader.)

Without having defined “error” and the parameters of the level of editing the client requested before accepting the job, my client would have been able to assign the responsibility to me. In addition, the fee I had quoted the client would not have considered the value of my accepting such responsibility.

Value and fee

I know that many of you are asking, “What value?” In the usual case, there is little to no value under discussion because it is rare for a client to expect an editor to accept financial responsibility for editorial decisions; this was that rare case in which my client expected me to accept financial and nonfinancial responsibility for its client’s dissatisfaction. In the more usual case, the client asks the editor to reedit at the editor’s expense, to “fix these errors.” Without having defined what constitutes an error and what the requested level of editing includes and excludes beforehand, the editor is at the client’s mercy — and what may have been a profitable project can suddenly become highly unprofitable.

The questions

The questions are really these: In the absence of defining “error” and the parameters of the work to be done, am I implicitly promising the client an error-free job as defined after-the-fact by the client? Do I owe the client any compensation for not providing an error-free — as defined after-the-fact by the client — document? If I do owe the client any compensation, how is that compensation calculated?

The answers to these questions are for another day.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays:

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