An American Editor

September 18, 2017

Lyonizing Word: Corruption

by Jack Lyon

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me on his back a thousand times, and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. . . . Now get you to my lady’s chamber and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favor she must come. Make her laugh at that.

Hamlet, act 5, scene 1.

Corruption is never funny, especially when you’re on deadline and the Word document you’ve been editing starts doing not-so-funny things, such as:

  • Repeatedly renumbering pages.
  • Repeatedly rebreaking pages.
  • Showing incorrect layout and formatting.
  • Showing strange or unreadable characters.
  • Producing error messages.
  • Omitting text that should be there.
  • Displaying text that shouldn’t be there.
  • Hanging your computer.

All of these are symptoms of document corruption, which is most often caused by one or more of the following:

  • Tracked changes in documents moved from PC to Macintosh or vice versa.
  • Master documents.
  • Nested tables.
  • Automatic list numbering.
  • Automatically updated document styles.
  • Fields, especially cross-references.
  • Deleted note reference numbers (in the notes themselves, not in the main text).
  • Saving when resources are low.
  • A corrupt printer driver (Word often crashes when printing).
  • A corrupt document template, especially Normal.dotm.

Early word processors, such as WordPerfect, kept track of text and formatting as a clean, continuous string of characters and codes that looked like this:

WordPerfect Reveal Codes

When creating Word, Microsoft took a different approach, using numeric pointers to specify what was going on in a document. For example, characters 7 through 15 of paragraph 10 might be given the attribute of italic. (That’s not technically exact; I’m just trying to convey the general idea here.) The problem is, those pointers can — and sometimes do — get out of whack and end up pointing at the wrong thing. A typical Word document has thousands of these pointers, which are stored in paragraph breaks and section breaks. Pointers for the document as a whole are stored in its final paragraph break, and this is often where corruption occurs. The usual solution is to “maggie” the document (a process named for Margaret Secara from the TECHWR-L mailing list). Here’s how:

  1. Back up your document, so if something goes wrong, you’ll have something to go back to.
  2. Select all of the text in the document.
  3. Hold down SHIFT and press the left-arrow key to deselect the final paragraph mark.
  4. Copy the selected text.
  5. Create a new document.
  6. Paste the text into the new document.
  7. Use the new document rather than the old one.

That, however, may not be enough. If your document has section breaks, they too can hold corruption, which means you’ll need to maggie each section separately—selecting its text, deselecting the section break at the end, and copying and pasting the text into a new document, adding new section breaks as needed. If you have lots of sections, this will take lots of time.

A better solution might be to use a macro that will automatically maggie each section (including the final paragraph mark). Here is such a macro that I hope you’ll find useful when corruption strikes. Note that when using the macro, you should have open only one document — the one you want to maggie.

Sub AutoMaggie()

Dim s As Integer
Dim secType As Integer
Dim secCount As Integer
Dim myDoc As Document
Set myDoc = Documents(ActiveDocument.FullName)

Documents.Add DocumentType:=wdNewBlankDocument
Documents(myDoc).Activate

secCount = ActiveDocument.Sections.Count
For s = 1 To secCount - 1
    secType = ActiveDocument.Sections(s + 1).PageSetup.SectionStart
    ActiveDocument.Sections(s).Range.Select
    Selection.MoveEnd Unit:=wdCharacter, Count:=-1
    Selection.Copy
    ActiveWindow.Next.Activate
    Selection.Paste
    Selection.InsertBreak Type:=wdSectionBreakContinuous
    ActiveDocument.Sections(s + 1).PageSetup.SectionStart = secType
    myDoc.Activate
Next s

'Copy and paste final section
ActiveDocument.Sections(secCount).Range.Select
Selection.MoveEnd Unit:=wdCharacter, Count:=-1
Selection.Copy
ActiveWindow.Next.Activate
Selection.Paste

End Sub

Now let’s look at the macro to see how it works.

Sub AutoMaggie()

That first line simply gives your macro (technically a subroutine, or “Sub”) a name, which can be anything you like.

Dim s As Integer
Dim secType As Integer
Dim secCount As Integer
Dim myDoc As Document

Those four lines set up (dimension) four arbitrarily named variables, which simply hold information. (If you remember high school algebra, you were always trying to solve for the variable X.) Here, s, secType,  and secCount are defined as integers (whole numbers); myDoc is defined as a document.

Set myDoc = Documents(ActiveDocument.FullName)

That line assigns the name of your soon-to-be-maggied document to the variable myDoc.

Documents.Add DocumentType:=wdNewBlankDocument
Documents(myDoc).Activate

Those two lines create a new blank document and switch back to your original document (whose name is stored in myDoc).

secCount = ActiveDocument.Sections.Count

Here, we count the number of sections in the active document (our original) and assign the number to the variable secCount.

Now the fun starts:

For s = 1 To secCount - 1

That tells word to do whatever comes next a certain number of times, starting with the number 1 and ending with one less than the number of sections in our document. Why one less? You’ll see in a minute.

secType = ActiveDocument.Sections(s + 1).PageSetup.SectionStart

Here we get the type (continuous, next, odd, or even) of the next section (“s + 1”) and store that information in the variable secType.

ActiveDocument.Sections(s).Range.Select
Selection.MoveEnd Unit:=wdCharacter, Count:=-1
Selection.Copy

In those three lines, we select the text of the section specified by s: If s is 1, we select the first section; if 2, the second section; and so on. After selecting the section, we move the cursor one character to left so that we’re not selecting the section break (which could hold corruption). Finally, we copy our selection.

ActiveWindow.Next.Activate
Selection.Paste

Here, we switch to our new, clean document and paste the text that we copied from the section in our original document.

Selection.InsertBreak Type:=wdSectionBreakContinuous
ActiveDocument.Sections(s + 1).PageSetup.SectionStart = secType

Next, we insert a continuous section break. Oddly, the first line alone won’t do what we need, even if we specify the Type using the variable secType. We must add the second line, which needs an existing section break in order to work. It turns that break into whatever type we stored earlier in the variable secType. (It took a lot of experimenting to pin down this wretched fact.) Again, we have to add 1 to the section number (“s + 1”) because we’re inserting the breaks after the section text.

myDoc.Activate

Here, we switch back to our original document.

Next s

This is the line that has been incrementing the s variable that we specified earlier in the line “For s = 1 To secCount – 1”.

ActiveDocument.Sections(secCount).Range.Select
Selection.MoveEnd Unit:=wdCharacter, Count:=-1
Selection.Copy
ActiveWindow.Next.Activate
Selection.Paste

We select the last section in our original document, move back one character, copy the text, move to our new document, and paste.

End Sub

Finally, we end the macro.

After running the macro, you’ll be left with your original document (unchanged) and a new, unnamed document that is identical to your original but without the corruption.

That’s it! There are ways to make this macro more elegant and efficient, but, to paraphrase Blaise Pascal, I would have written a shorter macro, but I did not have the time. Nevertheless, the macro works for me; the next time you encounter corruption, I hope it works for you.

________

How to Add a Macro to Word & to the QAT

Here’s how to put this macro (or any other) into Microsoft Word so it will be available when you need it:

  1. Copy the text of the macro, starting with the first “Sub” and ending with the last “Sub.”
  2. Click the “View” tab on Microsoft Word’s ribbon.
  3. Click the “Macros” button.
  4. Type a name for the macro in the “Macro name” box — probably the name used after the first “Sub.” For this macro, that’s “AutoMaggie.”
  5. Click the “Create” button.
  6. Delete the “Sub AutoMaggie” and “End Sub” lines that Word created in the macro window. The macro window should now be completely empty (unless you already have other macros in there).
  7. Paste the macro text at the current insertion point.
  8. Click “File,” then “Close and Return to Microsoft Word.”

To actually use the macro:

  1. Place your cursor at the beginning of the document.
  2. Click the “View” tab on Microsoft Word’s ribbon.
  3. Click the “Macros” button.
  4. Click the name of your macro to select it.
  5. Click the “Run” button. (If you wanted to delete the macro, you could press the “Delete” button instead.)

Here’s how to put the macro on Word’s QAT (Quick Access Toolbar):

  1. Locate the QAT (it’s probably on the top left of your screen either above or below Word’s Ribbon interface).
  2. Right-click the QAT.
  3. Click “Customize Quick Access Toolbar.”
  4. Under “Choose commands from:” click the dropdown list and select “Macros.”
  5. Find and select your macro in the list on the left.
  6. Click the “Add” button to add it to the QAT.
  7. Click the “OK” button to finish.

Jack Lyon (editor@editorium.com) 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.

September 15, 2017

If the bomb was dropped . . .

Filed under: Politics — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , ,

An interesting website where you can enter a location, a bomb yield, and some other information (there are preselects to make it easy), then click the red Detonate button. “Detonating” the bomb tells you how much territory the bomb’s detonation affects. Makes for a very interesting experiment.

Click the following link to go to the Nukemap website:

If the bomb was dropped . . .

Another interesting website is Missilemap. Using this map, you can determine whether a missile launched from your backyard (or from any place in the world) can reach any location in the world. Click the following link to go to the Missilemap website to launch your missile:

When the missile blows . . .

Both interactive “maps” were created by Alex Wellerstein.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 13, 2017

The Business of Editing: Undercharging?

Recently, Jake Poinier wrote an essay titled “Stop Worrying About Freelancers Who Undercharge.” It is an interesting essay and one certainly worth reading, especially as the advice he gives, which is summed up in the article title, is sound — as far as it goes.

Overall, I agree with Mr. Poinier’s advice. However, two things particularly struck me about the essay. First, “undercharging” is never really defined. The implication is that people who charge on the low end of the fee scale are undercharging, or if your competitors charge less than you think is the correct rate, your competitors are undercharging. The second item that struck me is that the essay fails to give guidance as to what is a proper amount to charge. After all, undercharging only has meaning if there is a universally accepted amount against which to measure.

(Okay. Actually there is a third thing that I find bothersome: the use of “undercharge” to describe the issue. Undercharging and its opposite, overcharging, are generally associated with a seller–buyer relationship, not with a competitor–competitor relationship. Competitors underbid and undercut. The reason is that there has to be a universally definable and applicable sum against which under- and overcharging can be measured for everyone. That can occur with a readily defined product in a seller–buyer relationship, a good example being price shopping a specific model of automobile. In contrast, with undercutting [or underbidding] there is rarely [if ever] a standard sum; there are too many variables that are unique to each competitor so no standard price exists. Undercutting is relative to the competitor’s pricing strategy, not to identical goods and services. But for this essay, I’ll accept that “undercharging” is the correct term.)

These issues are not only intertwined but need to be tackled in reverse order. So I begin with the measure.

What is the proper amount to charge?

In the world of editing, there isn’t a readily definable, measurable, or acceptable “going rate.” When someone asks the question, “What is the going rate for copyediting?,” no single, universal rate is ever quoted. Just as importantly, there is no universal definition of what constitutes copyediting. True, there are some commonalities that nearly every editor will name but then there are the variations that appear when defining their own services.

If the service does not have a universally definition and if editors cannot state a “going rate” that every editor recognizes as the “going rate,” then how can anyone determine “what is the proper amount to charge?”

More importantly, this is a question that cannot result in universally accepted answer because for each of us the point at which loss becomes profit differs. As importantly, this number changes as circumstances in our life change. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t an answer to the question. It means that the answer is personal and cannot be found by asking in online forums.

The proper place to begin is — as I have stated numerous times — with determining your required Effective Hourly Rate (rEHR). (For details on how to determine your rEHR, see the five-part series, The Business of Editing: What to Charge.) If you do not know what you need to charge in order to be profitable, you cannot know whether you are undercharging — you need something to measure against.

This raises another point, which is implicit in saying that the answer is personal: each editor’s rEHR is personal and different from that of another editor. For example, in my case, my rEHR 25 years ago was significantly higher than my rEHR of today. Twenty-five years ago I had to plan on paying for college for my children, I had to support two automobiles, I had a mortgage to pay, I needed to fund my retirement. Today, my children are years out of college, my mortgage is paid, I only need one automobile, I no longer need to fund my retirement. My circumstances have changed and so has my rEHR. If 25 years ago my rEHR was $50 an hour, then I needed to earn the equivalent of at least $50 an hour to meet my expenses. If I earned $49 an hour, I wasn’t earning enough to break even — I was losing money.

It made no difference if my colleagues were charging the equivalent of $20 per hour — I couldn’t charge that and put food on the table if my rEHR was $50. Were colleagues who were charging $20 undercharging? Or was I overcharging?

Colleagues charging $20 were undercharging if their personal rEHR was higher than $20; if they had calculated their rEHR and it was $15, then they were not undercharging for themselves. That they were able to charge less than me and still be profitable has nothing to do with undercharging — instead, it is a reflection of their business status (and, perhaps, acumen).

That today my rEHR is significantly less than it was 25 years ago and thus permits me to charge significantly less than what a colleague can charge for copyediting (assuming my colleague knows her rEHR and doesn’t charge less than her rEHR) does not mean I am undercharging — underbidding, perhaps, but not undercharging.

What is undercharging?

Editors do not define the services they provide under the rubric “copyediting” identically. Each of us defines what we will do in exchange for a quoted fee. That is the basis for the adage “quality, speed, cost — pick any two.” The idea is that something must be sacrificed and we often define “copyediting” based on this adage.

If, for example, “copyediting” usually includes basic fact checking but the client wants the 500-page manuscript edited in 2 weeks and is willing to pay $500 for our efforts, our definition of copyediting might change to exclude any fact checking. The point is that the definition of the services we each provide is both fluid and not universal.

Yes, some professional organizations and some editors do post online a definition of copyediting, but those are not universally accepted definitions and, at least in the United States, not mandated. So, in the absence of a universally accepted and applied definition of what constitutes copyediting, how can it be determined that someone is “undercharging” for copyediting services? If you include fact checking and I exclude fact checking, our services are not comparable and my lower price may reflect my exclusion of fact checking.

In the end…

What all of this amounts to is this: Ignore what colleagues are charging unless you can determine that everything about your and your colleagues’ services (both as defined and as provided) are identical in every possible way and that everyone’s rEHR is identical. Absent that you should focus your energy on determining what your rEHR is and making sure that you can meet (or better, exceed) that number.

Asking what a colleague charges is a waste of time except for satisfying curiosity. Your fee should be based on your needs (your rEHR). There will always be someone who charges less and the reasons are many, including they are less skilled, they offer a lower-quality end product, their rEHR is very low, or, most likely, they have no clue what their rEHR actually is and have picked a number out of the air because it seems in line with what others charge or has been mentioned online somewhere.

If you haven’t read it recently (or at all), in addition to reading The Business of Editing: What to Charge, take the time to read The Business of Editing: “I Can Get It Cheaper!” A client can always get it cheaper because there is always someone who is willing to work for less. Fighting back by lowering your price is a losing proposition. Instead, learn how to set a correct price, stick with it, and convince clients you are worth it.

Remember this: If you do not think you are worth at least your rEHR, you probably aren’t, and clients will think the same. Clients almost always believe the same about you as you believe about yourself.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 11, 2017

Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap III

by Carolyn Haley

In Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap I and Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap II, I introduced the four stages of my editing process — preflight, formatting, editing, and cleanup — then discussed the first stage: preflight. Preflight involves document setup for the job, then mechanical tidying-up of errors and inconsistencies using editing software tools, so I can focus on content while reading the manuscript. The next stage in my process, formatting, serves the same purpose but focuses on different aspects.

Stage 2: Formatting

Aside from story content, formatting is the biggest variable among the manuscripts I edit. Whereas publisher manuscripts usually come groomed and styled so I don’t have to do anything except copyedit, indie-author manuscripts can arrive in any condition, and I usually have to clean them up in some way beyond editing the words.

Some authors have studied submission requirements to agents or publishers, and send their manuscripts to me in “industry standard” format of one-inch margins all around, double spacing, and conventional font such as Times New Roman 12 (with a few still using the now old-fashioned monospace font, Courier). Other authors present their work with a gaudy cover page, autogenerated table of contents, headers and footers, and fancy typefaces, with the text in single space or something — anything! — else. Many older authors know how to type and spell but have no word processing skills, so they use manual tabs or spaces for paragraph indents and insert extra returns for chapter breaks; other authors, lacking knowledge of conventional publishing practices, use all caps and/or bolding and/or underlining for chapter titles and emphasis.

These flourishes must be removed from the manuscript before it’s published or, in many cases, before it’s submitted to an agent or acquiring editor. Consequently, I offer preproduction formatting as one of my editorial services. I spent years as a typesetter and enjoy that kind of work. As well, it’s more efficient for me to format a manuscript than to teach someone to do it or wait while my client has someone else do it, as would be the case if I insisted on specific formatting before accepting the job. I am frequently the last (or only) person to handle a file before my client submits it anywhere, so I like to deliver it ready for its fate. In situations where the author plans to pay someone for formatting, the author gets a better deal having it done as part of editing — and I get a better paycheck for the extra work.

Where I remain inflexible is with file format, meaning, which software created the document. A few maddening, time-wasting, unprofitable experiences with Pages and OpenOffice files moved me to only accept files created in Microsoft Word. PC or Mac doesn’t matter, release version doesn’t matter, but the file must be native to Word — this is nonnegotiable! This policy is not only to avoid problems for myself, but also for the production people after me, whose layout programs are designed to play nicely with Word. The day will come when I’ll have to change my policy, but until it becomes obvious that I must adapt to demand or lose work, I’m holding firm on this requirement.

Formatting as a supplement to preflight

Formatting the manuscript myself has an additional benefit. As mentioned in Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap I, I have a blind spot to work around. Because of the way my memory functions, I can’t preread a manuscript without dulling my eye to editing it. Formatting provides a passive preview that gives me a sense of the book and lets me spot oddball elements not picked up during preflight, while keeping the story fresh to discover during editing.

I don’t use any editing software tools for formatting beyond Word’s built-in Styles features and menu. They serve for my approach, so I don’t feel compelled to change. I like to crawl through the whole document with nonprinting characters and coding showing, with Word’s Styles pane open and set to show what styles are used in the document. I may do this in Print Format view or Draft view; which view alters with circumstance and mood.

During the crawl, I look for and fix anything that wasn’t caught during preflight. There’s almost always something aberrant, and I can’t predict what it might be. The most common irregularities pertain to numbers. Examples include time indicated in different ways (e.g., 2:00 PM, 4 p.m., seven o’clock), variations in measurement (e.g., five-foot six, 5’6”, five-feet-six; or 20 miles vs. twenty miles), different styling of years (e.g., the sixties, the 60s, the 1960’s, the Sixties) or firearm terms (.45, 45-caliber, a 45; or 9mm, 9-millimeter, nine millimeter). In each case I need to choose which style to use and apply it consistently through the manuscript. Sometimes it’s a matter of correctness (e.g., changing the 60s to the ʼ60s); most times it’s a matter of whose preference to follow (mine, Chicago Manual of Style’s, or the author’s). Whatever I decide goes onto my style sheet, which contains a section specifying which types of numbers are spelled out and which are expressed in numerals, including examples of each. Attending to these types of consistency elements during formatting reduces the number of details I must notice and address during editing.

Styling

My dual aims in formatting are to make the manuscript easy for me to read and navigate, and to make it clean and consistent for future production. If the document arrives neatly put together, all I do is style the chapter heads with Heading 1, one of Word’s default styles. The Heading 1, 2, 3 (etc.) styles appear in Word’s navigation pane, enabling me to jump back and forth between chapters with a click instead of scrolling or searching.

I also make sure that chapter breaks are formed by a “hard” page break (either manually by CTRL+Enter or with “Page break before” selected when establishing the Heading 1 style), rather than any kind of section break or insertion of returns. This is to help whoever follows me in the chain. The production person, for instance, may need to do a global find/replace for some styling or layout purpose I’m not privy to. Consistency makes that task much easier, so I ensure that there’s only one return between the last paragraph of every chapter and the page break for the next, and no returns preceding the next chapter number/title.

For messier manuscripts, I’ll get in deeper, if scope of work allows. Many times I style the body text and chapter heads using Word’s defaults: Normal for text, and Heading 1 (2, 3, etc.) for chapter number/title/subtitle. This combination is a reasonably safe, generic setup for when I don’t know the book’s ultimate configuration. I modify the fonts, line spacing, and indents of these styles to suit the job, but might change them during editing for easier viewing onscreen. For example, the job may need to be delivered in Times New Roman, but I find that font hard to read, especially punctuation. My eye is more comfortable with a sans serif font, such as Calibri. By using Word’s Styles for text and headings, I can change fonts simply and swiftly, then enlarge them onscreen as needed.

With the basics done, I focus on italics, which are heavily used in fiction for emphasis and many forms of silent communication, as well as for media titles and ship names, noises, and foreign or alien words. To ensure that italics survive any font changes or cross-platform file moves during the manuscript’s progress from creation to publishing, they need to be set in a character style rather than a paragraph style. Although italics set with Word’s default tools (taskbar icon, menu commands, or keyboard combo [CTRL+i]) hold up well during most manuscript manipulations, they sometimes come undone for no apparent reason, and it’s a miserable waste of time to restore them.

I avoid this random possibility by one of two means. If the manuscript comes in clean, then I just create a character style for italics and globally find Word’s default italics and replace them with the character-style italics. Using a character style makes the italics always identifiable because even if the text doesn’t appear italic, the text that is supposed to be italic can be located by finding the text to which the character style is applied. If the manuscript is really messy and I must change something in Normal or any different style(s) the author used, I first globally find/replace the default italics to put them into color and then do whatever else I have to do (sometimes clearing all styles and restoring just the ones needed). Finally, I replace the colored italics with the character-style ones. For technical reasons I don’t understand, font color survives heavy text manipulation, whereas the default italics setting sometimes does not. By using one of these methods, I don’t lose the italicization even if I have a corrupted file to salvage or foul things up with my own mistakes.

Upon completion of formatting, I create a new copy of the manuscript and plunge in to discover its story.

Carolyn Haley, an award-winning novelist, lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1977, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at dcma@vermontel.com 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 8, 2017

On Politics: A Great Song Made Greater

One of the classics in pop music is Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence.” A future classic in the satire hall of fame political collection is this lyric-updated, politically astute version of that classic (here’s the link in case it disappears again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CxCjvEabN70):

Some of you might prefer the original untainted, nonsatirical, but not nonpolitical version by Simon and Garfunkel, so here it is:

Additional parodies worth viewing include these:

Perhaps this is the best thing, so far, about the Trump presidency: a never ending resource for comedy.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 6, 2017

A New Season on AAE

Filed under: Breaking News,Uncategorized — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
Tags:

Monday, September 11, begins a new season of essays on An American Editor. In addition to our current contributing essayists — Ruth Thaler-Carter, Jack Lyon, and Carolyn Haley — I am looking for additional contributors. If you are interested in writing for AAE, please contact me (rhadin[at]anamericaneditor.com).

The new season will begin with part III of Carolyn Haley’s Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap series. Parts I and II were published just before the summer hiatus began. They are available on AAE: Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap I and Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap II.

We hope you will find our new season of essays valuable, interesting, and helpful.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 4, 2017

The Lesson of Bohemian Rhapsody

Sometimes an editor can learn a lesson from another discipline. Here are different performances of the same song (except for the Colbert parody). It reminds me of the differences between editors — some are competent, some are incompetent; some are professional, some are unprofessional; some are ethical, some are unethical; some are good, some are great.

But most importantly, it illustrates an important lesson that too many editors have either forgotten or failed to absorb: Often the original is best.

First up are the Muppets:

Pentatonix does an excellent job, and certainly one that is praiseworthy, but is it really an improvement — in contrast to simply being different — of the original?

These children also do a fine job performing on the Colombia version of The Voice, but is this an improvement over the original?

In this tribute performance to Freddie Mercury, who had died, Elton John, the remaining members of Queen, and Axl Rose perform Bohemian Rhapsody. Although it is clear that the performance is professional, I don’t think it rises to the same level as the original. Modifications were needed to accommodate the voices of the singers, thereby, I think, providing a good, but not great, performance.

Finally, before we get to the original, here are two parodies based on Bohemian Rhapsody. The first is Stephen Colbert:

The second is a Star Wars parody:

At long last, here is the standard against which all other versions are judged — the original Queen version as written and performed by Freddie Mercury:

Although all the versions of Bohemian Rhapsody have their merits (and demerits), in the final analysis the original Queen version rises to the top. This illustrates that sometimes the original is best, a lesson a lot of editors need to learn. Probably the single, most often made complaint by authors against editors is that the editor changed what didn’t need to be changed, that the editor made it worse.

Every editor needs to remember that change for change’s sake (or because the editor thinks he/she can say it better) is not the best approach to editing.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 30, 2017

From the Archives: The Editor’s Interest: Copyright or Not

(The following essay was originally published on
An American Editor on March 1, 2011. The addendum
was added and published on August 30, 2017.)

A question that sometimes arises, usually when an editor has difficulty getting paid for his or her work, is: What can the editor do to collect payment? I’ve been a long-time advocate of the position that the editor has a copyright interest in the edited version of the manuscript, a card that the editor should play in payment disputes.

We need to step back a little. First, if you are an editor and have a written contract governing the relationship between you and the client, unless the contract specifically provides for your copyright interest, you don’t have one — your relationship is governed by the four corners of the written contract.

Second, the law is unsettled, not clear, or whatever other description you want (muddy, perhaps?) as regards an editor’s interest in the edited manuscript.

Third, the editor’s interest I advocate extends only to the edited version. The author and/or publisher have an unencumbered copyright interest in the original manuscript the editor received; it is only the editor’s edited version in which the editor has an interest — and that interest is wholly extinguished upon being paid in full (i.e., the check has cleared, not the check has been received).

As you can see, I am talking about a narrow interest, not the broader interest that an author has in the manuscript. This narrower interest can readily be extinguished in two ways: (1) payment for service in full or (2) wholesale rejection of the edited manuscript. Acceptance of even a single comma, or corrected spelling — that is, of any single edit — is, in my view sufficient to retain the editor’s interest.

Here is where opinions begin to scatter. I have been told by lawyers for one major publisher that I do not have such an interest. It was a great thrust to the heart by the publisher but, alas, it missed. If lawyers scare you, then this isn’t the position to take. But if you have some titanium backbone, the response is (and the one I made)

I am willing to find out in a court of law. Are you willing to take the chance that the court sides with me, because if you are and if you lose, you will make life exceedingly difficult for your publisher client. Isn’t it smarter to simply pay my bill?

The reality is that it is smarter to pay my bill and not hire me again. It is unlikely that what is owed me is such a large amount of money that the risk of losing in court is worth taking.

Of course, there are steps that should be taken when using this collection method. You should send both an e-mail and a certified-mail return-receipt letter to the client notifying the client of your interest and demanding that they either pay your invoice in full immediately (be sure to give a specific payment date) or

  • not publish the edited manuscript;
  • if they publish the manuscript, that they not sell any copies or distribute any copies;
  • if they sell or distribute any copies, that they place 100% of all receipts in a trust fund pending outcome of litigation;
  • and that they notify the author(s) in writing that you are claiming a copyright interest in the edited version of the manuscript because of the client’s failure to pay for your services, which payment would extinguish your copyright interest.

You’d be surprised at how much influence a screaming author can have, especially if the author liked your work! If you know how to contact the author, you should send a copy of the e-mail and letter directly to the author as well as to the publisher.

Alright, I admit we haven’t yet determined how valid the editor’s claimed copyright interest is, but I’m not sure it is possible to determine its validity in the absence of a major court’s definitive decision (lower court decisions have little precedential value, just witness the 5 decisions on Obamacare). Because it is an open question, I see no problem in making the claim. Personally, I see no problem in defending the claim, either.

A court decision adverse to a publisher and in favor of an editor on this could have significant ramifications for publishers. It would add pressure to pay on time because an editor could prevent release of the manuscript in its edited form. Of course, it could also encourage publishers to add editing to the list of items to be bypassed in the book production process, but doing so would remove one of the few remaining justifications for traditional publishing.

The most likely result would be the influx of contracts. Today, most publishers still work on the handshake basis; that is, they contact an editor and ask if the editor is available, tell the editor what is wanted, and send the manuscript for editing. Sometimes a purchase order is included. In return, the editor edits the manuscript, returns it with an invoice, and receives timely payment. Welcome to the world of 99% of publishers and editors.

The problem is the 1% with whom a handshake is like striking a bargain with the devil who has its fingers crossed behind its back. They promise payment in 30 days and then when the work is done tell you it will be 6 months. Or they tell you how much they love your work until the invoice arrives, at which point they tell you how bad your work is and want you to reduce the invoice. Or they tell you the manuscript is 250 pages and only requires a very light edit when the reality is it is a 400-page manuscript that requires a very heavy edit because the author’s English language skills are virtually nonexistent.

With the 99% of clients a contract or a handshake means the same thing and either will work. With these clients the issue of the editor’s copyright interest never arises. Even if they hate your work, they will pay your invoice on time and just not call again. Paying your invoice costs less than 2 hours of attorney time, so business sense dictates payment.

With the 1% of clients neither a contract nor a handshake has any meaning. It is with these clients that one must be prepared to use the complete arsenal available to collect for work done. Unfortunately, we often don’t discover that a client is part of the 1% until the work is done (perhaps a particularly good reason to bill and get paid in instalments), at which time the 1-percenter thinks we are over the barrel. It is with these clients that the copyright claim is most effective and should be invoked.

Do editors have a copyright interest in the edited version of the manuscript? Maybe, maybe not, but it is a weapon in the editor’s collection arsenal that should not be ignored.

[Addendum added August 30, 2017: If you have a contract with a client that specifically states that you retain a copyright interest until paid in full, that clause is enforceable under contract law — it is no longer a copyright question. Copyrights are transferable and saleable property. Recall that in olden days, by contract, authors assigned copyright to publishers or movie studios or record companies and it was the publisher, the movie studio, the record company that enforced copyright. The change — that is, the author keeping copyright — began in the late 1960s and became standard in the 1990s. However, authors are still free to assign copyright as they wish via contract.

The main essay above focuses on those instances where there is no contractual provision assigning copyright pending payment to the editor. Best practice is to include a clause in your written contract as there is no question about the enforceability of such a clause.]

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 28, 2017

From the Archives: The Business of Editing: Noncompetition Agreements

(The following essay was originally published on
 An American Editor on January 29, 2014.)

As I have discussed in the past, I rarely am asked to sign a contract. Yet lately it seems that an increasing number of packagers are asking for contracts. The terms are one-sided and onerous, and in some cases want me to agree to be bound by the law of a country to which I have never been and with which I have no legal or cultural connection.

But there is one particular clause that I find to be especially irritating, and unlike sand in an oyster, does not produce a pearl. I am referring to noncompetition clauses.

I am a freelance editor. By definition it means that I have more than one client. If I have only one client, the IRS is likely to look askance at my claim to being a freelancer and call me an employee, something neither I nor my clients want. Consequently, I sometimes wonder if my clients are confusing noncompetition clauses with nondisclosure clauses, although they assure me they are not.

The illogic of the noncompetition agreement is that clients are unwilling to divulge their client list. How can I possibly know who I should not solicit as a client because of such an agreement if I do not know who the packager wants me to not solicit? The answer is, all too often, that the packager basically wants me to stay away from everyone who could possibly provide me with work except them — even though they are unwilling to commit to giving me more work than the current project.

More importantly, from their perspective, I would think, is the possibility that the IRS would ask why a freelance book editor, someone who is supposedly not an employee of the packager, be required to sign a noncompetition agreement when by the very nature of being a freelancer, I am in competition with the packager, at least to the limited extent of the limited number of services I provide. The normal situation is that an employee who is leaving the packager’s employ would be asked to sign a limited noncompetition agreement because it would be expected that the leaving employee is leaving with knowledge about the employer’s clients and business.

I have raised this issue several times with those who ask me to sign a noncompetition agreement. I have even suggested that we submit it to the IRS for an advisory opinion, because if I am going to be made an employee, I want to bargain for all the benefits. Not only has there been a general refusal to discuss the matter, there has been universal refusal to get that IRS opinion. I am not surprised.

For the purpose of the noncompetition agreement, it is editing that is the subject matter. These agreements need to spell out exactly what areas I cannot compete in (which they do not), and it basically has to be limited to the services I actually provide the packager (again, which it is not), that is, limited to editing.

But then the packager would need to attest that my editing services are unique and particularly valuable. If they are run-of-the-mill, they cannot be restrained by a noncompetition agreement. When I raise this point, I ask if the packager intends to pay me a premium for my services, so that it would be clear that they value my editing skills much more than the skills of any other editor, which might make my editing skills unique, not run-of-the-mill. Alas, that has not yet occurred — but I keep trying.

Part of the problem is that some lawyer somewhere has given the packager a bunch of papers for freelancers to sign without stressing that the forms are appropriate for certain types of work but not for others. The people who do the freelance hiring at the packagers are told to have the freelancer sign the forms and so they become insistent, and impervious to any suggestion that the forms (or clauses) are inappropriate for the work I am being hired to perform.

So that puts us at a stalemate: the packager won’t hire me without my signing and I won’t sign.

I know that some of you are saying “just sign, get the work, and move on.” The problem is that there may be nowhere to move to. If I sign a noncompetition agreement without knowing who I am to avoid and without narrowing down the services involved, I could be putting myself out of business. The usual case is that the packager and I both often do work for the same client. Think about a publisher the size of McGraw-Hill, Pearson, Wiley, or Elsevier. They produce thousands of books and journals every year and have numerous divisions. How unusual do you think it is for both a packager and an editor to work with one of them? But if the packager’s agreement is signed as presented, you may be precluding yourself from working with such companies.

Besides, why should such a limiting agreement be signed without appropriate compensation? If you give up valuable rights, in this instance, the right to work with clients you may have worked with for years, should you not be compensated?

I am constantly amazed by editors whose job it is to deal with words, language, and meaning, yet who will blithely sign contracts without considering the ramifications of signing. Just as I give the manuscripts I work on a careful read and think about what message is being communicated, so I do the same on my own behalf when it comes to signing contracts for editing work.

Would you agree not to edit a spy novel in the future because you are being hired to edit one today? Sign a noncompetition agreement and you might be saying exactly that. Would you agree not to edit a book on pediatric medicine for McGraw-Hill because you edited one for Elsevier three years ago? You might be agreeing to that.

The point is that you need to read noncompetition agreements very carefully. You need to be sure that its scope is very narrow and that all of the entities you are not to approach are identified. Even more importantly, you need to negotiate compensation for the rights you are giving up. Finally, I would think about whether signing the agreement would change your status from freelancer to employee in the eyes of the IRS. Because I am averse to signing such agreements, I make it clear that I plan to send the agreement to the IRS for review. So far, that has been enough to have the agreement disappear without my signature.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 25, 2017

Charlottesville: Truth, Trump, & Alternative Facts

Will Charlottesville be Donald Trump’s Donnybrook? Only time will tell, but the following VICE News mini-documentary on Charlottesville certainly makes it seem so. (The documentary runs approximately 20 minutes but I encourage you to watch it in its entirety.) What I have trouble understanding is how easily and readily some people will ignore truth because the facts support a point of view that is counter to what they wish was true.

Watching the above documentary reminded me of the 1960s and early 1970s — Selma, Alabama; Kent State; Los Angeles and Detroit; and myriad other “incidents”.

Returning to the topic at hand, the following The Daily Show segment regarding Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Phoenix following his three Charlottesville addresses to America illustrate how divorced some people’s view of events is from truth.

Editors are supposed to be factually centered when editing. I wonder whether that will be the standard in coming years or will the adoption of alternate facts “trickle” down to editing? Will we have a new phenomena called “alt-editing”?

For a more humorous view of Trump’s flip-flop-flip view of Charlottesville, I give you Stephen Colbert:

What do you think about Charlottesville and Donald Trump’s responses to what happened? Will Trump successfully sideline facts and truth?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

 


 

A Humor Bonus!

As serious as the Charlottesville incident is for America and America’s future, we still should not lose our sense of humor. To that end, I offer the following Saturday Night Live reenactment of Trump’s Phoenix rally.

 

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