An American Editor

September 27, 2016

On Politics: Mirror, Mirror

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Adin, An American Editor

 

September 26, 2016

On Books: Visions and Revisions (Part III)

by Alison Parker

Have you ever heard about the inverted pyramid?

I have. You write your news stories with the important facts up front, and because news copy has to fit around the ads, you can easily slash and burn from the bottom. It’s hardly pretty, but you might meet deadline because copy of that sort is easy to cut. Sadly, you still won’t win any prizes. “All the news that fits we print.”

You lose the all-important ending, the big bang. And after the first two or three paragraphs, it’s just the facts, ma’am — if that. Every discussion of proper news writing focuses on the “lede.” Suck the poor basters in with a boffo beginning. (I want to be fair. For a generally positive take on the pyramid, see “Writing from the Top Down: Pros and Cons of the Inverted Pyramid” by Chip Scanlon [Poynter, June 20, 2003].)

That boffo beginning isn’t a bad idea for starters, but what happens when your story trails off? Yes, you need drama. And you won’t have drama without conflict. You probably know the basics: woman versus woman (or man, of course), woman versus her environment, woman versus herself. Et cetera. I just read an interesting book on the subject, James Scott Bell’s Conflict & Suspense (Writer’s Digest Books, 2012).

Bell writes suspense novels as his day job, and his take on conflict is consequently skewed just a bit toward action. And why not? We all like fight scenes, don’t we? Most of you are too young to have seen Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton tussling in the hayloft when Petruchio (Burton) is trying to get the better of “Kate” (Taylor) in The Taming of the Shrew (Columbia Pictures, 1967). It’s a classic, and no clear winner emerges at the end of either Shakespeare’s play or Franco Zeffirelli’s film. (For an overview of critical response to the play, see Barbara Hodgdon’s introduction to the Arden edition, 3rd series. For a lighter take, see the high school movie based on the play, 10 Things I Hate about You [Touchstone Pictures, 1999].)

But violence between romantic leads doesn’t make everyone happy. And in Kate Walker’s 12-point Guide to Writing Romance, for example, we’re told that conflict doesn’t necessarily mean duking it out in any way, physically or verbally. By this calculation, the impossible situations that keep two “soul mates” apart drive the suspense. Even when readers know that a happy ending will come — if they bought a book in a reliable category (or series) romance and are smart enough to avoid cliff-hangers — the difficult logistics of overcoming the odds and the obstacles will keep the pages turning.

Still, the rape romances of the 1980s (see Janice A. Radway’s Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature [2nd ed., 1991]) are mirrored in the bondage fun and games selling nowadays.

I prefer verbal fireworks to fisticuffs or handcuffs — at least in a romance. My bookshelves are doubtless nothing like yours — we all know different things and we all feel different things — but for my taste, I can think of no scene more dramatic than the one in Pride and Prejudice in which Elizabeth rejects Darcy’s first proposal. “You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way than as it spared me the concern that I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner” (Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen, Ch. 34).

He had assumed that she’d say yes. After all, no one richer would offer for her, and with her lack of fortune and social standing, she had little choice but to get married as soon as possible. Good guess but bad judgment on Darcy’s part.

It takes Darcy a little while to figure out Elizabeth’s virtues in full. She’s not like the generally more submissive heroines in other Austen books, but those heroines aren’t playing off prickly, insulting men. Still, Austen’s favorite protagonist (yes, Elizabeth) isn’t at all like the “kick-ass” heroines of books such as Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games and Veronica Roth’s Divergent.

Times change and tastes change. When published library lists gave a seal of approval to children’s books (see, e.g., the discussion in Beverly Lyon Clark’s Kiddie Lit: The Cultural Construction of Literature in America, 21–22; see also 29ff), The Secret Garden didn’t make the cut in the early days. But it’s now the Frances Hodgson Burnett book taught in courses on children’s literature. The heroine, Mary, starts out as a little shrew, and she never quite gets over that failing. She is most effective when she rails at her even brattier cousin, Colin, who has been terrorizing the servants at Misselthwaite Manor almost since he was born.

It was not until afterward that Mary realized that the thing had been funny as well as dreadful — that it was funny that all the grown-up people were so frightened that they came to a little girl just because they guessed she was almost as bad as Colin himself.

She flew along the corridor and the nearer she got to the screams the higher her temper mounted. She felt quite wicked by the time she reached the door. She slapped it open with her hand and ran across the room to the four-posted bed.

“You stop!” she almost shouted. “You stop! I hate you! Everybody hates you! I wish everybody would run out of the house and let you scream yourself to death! You will scream yourself to death in a minute, and I wish you would!” A nice sympathetic child could neither have thought nor said such things, but it just happened that the shock of hearing them was the best possible thing for this hysterical boy whom no one had ever dared to restrain or contradict.

He had been lying on his face beating his pillow with his hands and he actually almost jumped around, he turned so quickly at the sound of the furious little voice. His face looked dreadful, white and red and swollen, and he was gasping and choking; but savage little Mary did not care an atom.

“If you scream another scream,” she said, “I’ll scream too — and I can scream louder than you can and I’ll frighten you, I’ll frighten you!”

Mary’s outburst, I should tell you, comes late in the book, after the secret rose garden and a number of good people have almost redeemed her. Oops. Some scholars believe that Mary’s continuing unfemininity might explain why the spoiled little boy, Colin, suddenly walks off with the story. Are post-Victorian heroines allowed to be persistently imperfect and still command pride of place? Phyllis Bixler, in her 1996 study The Secret Garden: Nature’s Magic, delves into the problem of class and gender, and Peter Hunt gives a nice overview of scholarly reaction to the ending in the introduction to his 2011 Oxford World Classics edition of The Secret Garden. Short answers to the heroine’s demotion: Some critics believe that Mary’s shrewishness is being punished, and at least one thinks that Burnett is working out her own “ambivalence about sex roles.”

Devotees of traditional heroines can’t be as worried about A Little Princess, which doesn’t operate in the same way. Though Sara was far from perfect in the original magazine serial, she’s a constant nurturer of the oppressed when Burnett turns the novella into a novel. Still, there’s conflict. Because the reputedly hot and oppressive climate of India was thought to be particularly dangerous to females (note the scene in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre in which the climate in Calcutta is treated as a killer), Sara’s father thinks he has to leave her at a cold boarding school in London. The similarly cold headmistress hates sweet little Sara almost from the start, as do some of her envious classmates. But because Sara was brought up by a loving father, and because of his example and her vibrant imagination, which helps her understand other people’s feelings and sufferings, she cares about the oppressed even before she becomes one of them. “If Sara had been a boy and lived a few centuries ago,” her father used to say, “she would have gone about the country with her sword drawn, rescuing and defending everyone in distress. She always wants to fight when she sees people in trouble.”

But when she’s called upon to defend Lottie, an annoying toddler who has lost her mother and whines about it incessantly, Sara’s real fight is with herself. Because she’s trying to emulate the restrained behavior she considers proper for princesses, she resists her impulses toward physical violence.

Lottie cuddled up to her with a consoled sniff.

“Come and sit in the window-seat with me,” Sara went on, “and I’ll whisper a story to you.”

“Will you?” whimpered Lottie. “Will you — tell me — about the diamond mines?”

“The diamond mines?” broke out Lavinia. “Nasty, little spoiled thing, I should like to SLAP her!”

Sara got up quickly on her feet. It must be remembered that she had been very deeply absorbed in the book about the Bastille, and she had had to recall several things rapidly when she realized that she must go and take care of her adopted child. She was not an angel, and she was not fond of Lavinia.

“Well,” she said, with some fire, “I should like to slap YOU — but I don’t want to slap you!” restraining herself. “At least I both want to slap you — and I should LIKE to slap you — but I WON’T slap you. We are not little gutter children. We are both old enough to know better.”

Here was Lavinia’s opportunity.

“Ah, yes, your royal highness,” she said. “We are princesses, I believe. At least one of us is. The school ought to be very fashionable now Miss Minchin has a princess for a pupil.”

Sara started toward her. She looked as if she were going to box her ears. Perhaps she was. Her trick of pretending things was the joy of her life. She never spoke of it to girls she was not fond of. Her new “pretend” about being a princess was very near to her heart, and she was shy and sensitive about it. She had meant it to be rather a secret, and here was Lavinia deriding it before nearly all the school. She felt the blood rush up into her face and tingle in her ears. She only just saved herself. If you were a princess, you did not fly into rages. Her hand dropped, and she stood quite still a moment. When she spoke it was in a quiet, steady voice; she held her head up, and everybody listened to her.

“It’s true,” she said. “Sometimes I do pretend I am a princess. I pretend I am a princess so that I can try and behave like one.”

After Miss Minchin tells young Sara that her father is dead, that she’s penniless, and that being kicked upstairs into a bare and unheated attic and turned into a drudge is a kindness, our little princess only rarely displays her less princesslike feelings. Rage and abject grief don’t figure into her fantasies. When she finally breaks down in tears under the cold, the hunger, and the loneliness, one of her young friends, Ermengarde, is absolutely gobsmacked at the melting of “the unconquerable Sara.” In the original story, I should note, Sara tormented poor Ermengarde with nightmare-making stories of the Bastille. In the remake, Sara uses those stories as a form of comfort, not passive aggression. She’s fierce but motherly.

Even when there’s no apparent conflict, there’s a big opening for conflict. You just have to be clever about working it in to your story. Or about complaining to the author (mildly, of course) when the novel you’re editing just doesn’t trip your trigger.

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

September 25, 2016

On Politics: Do Facts Matter?

When editors discuss editing — whether among themselves or with clients — it is pretty clear that facts are important. If an author were to write that Columbus sailed the ocean for the Americas in 1692, I’m willing to bet that the manuscript’s editor would note that factual error. Getting facts right is one of the pillars supporting the concept of consistency in editing.

Alas, as we all know an editor’s penchant for fact accuracy does not seem to be a cornerstone of politics and this year’s presidential campaign may be the worst example of factual honesty thanks to Donald Trump. I doubt Pinocchio’s nose could grow long enough to envelope all his falsities.

With the first debate quickly approaching (Monday, September 26, 2016 at 9:00 PM EST), the question of facts in politics takes a front seat. An excellent opinion essay  on the issue of whether facts matter, see

Facts Matter

by Barbra Streisand at The Huffington Post. And when it comes to corruption, Trump is no slouch, as noted in this opinion piece by Paul Waldman in The Washington Post:

Trump’s history of corruption is mind-boggling. So why is Clinton supposedly the corrupt one?

I find it odd that facts matter to editors and authors in their daily work but that some are willing to set aside the requirement for facts when choosing the president of the United States. Perhaps the presidential debates will demonstrate why we should be supporting and voting for Hillary Clinton and against Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

For me there is one overriding fact that supports my decision to support and vote for Hillary Clinton: I am confident that with Hillary Clinton as president there will still be an America for grandchildren 4 (or 8) years from now. I have no confidence that will be true should Trump be elected.

And if I were younger, a second fact that supports my decision is the economic harm that Trumpism promises to bring to America with his isolationism, and which I discussed  in On Politics: Freelancing in a Trumpian World.

Just as facts matter in editing, they matter in politics — especially when electing a president of the United States.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 21, 2016

Thinking Fiction: Factors That Make a Novel Publishable

by Carolyn Haley

A common belief among authors and editors is that any well-written novel will find a publisher. Although that is broadly true, there are other factors at play, such as luck, perseverance, subjectivity, and economics. These factors, in varying combinations, explain why novels get published at different quality levels of writing and storytelling — or not at all.

A saying I heard decades ago puts the equation simply: an author must get the right book onto the right person’s desk on the right day. Published novelists who have submitted a book to multiple parties can affirm the veracity of that statement. Some writers nail the combination on their first attempt; others labor for years before success; some never achieve success. Still, whether they get published depends on somebody’s accepting their book, based on personal or corporate criteria.

Multiple choices

The right-book/right-desk/right-day combination applies only to traditional publishing. Until recent times, that was an author’s sole path to publication (unless the author wanted to spend thousands of dollars with a vanity press, which carried a stigma most writers didn’t want to bear, even if they could afford it). Authors had to satisfy the gatekeepers of the publishing industry — agents and acquisition editors — who always had to consider a novel’s commercial potential, as well as the author’s potential for long-term output. Some of the larger publishing houses could afford to take risks on unknown or radically different authors, and indeed that’s how many now-household-name, award-winning writers got their break. For the most part, though, a novel’s publishability depended on whether the house thought it could sell the book to enough readers to justify the cost of production and distribution, and generate enough profit to pay the writer and refill the publisher’s coffers.

The same conditions apply today, but novelists now have publishing options that lie between the opposite poles of traditional and vanity publishing: self-publishing. Self-publishing is considered by some to be vanity publishing under a different name, but with the electronic era have come new outlets for distribution, new tools giving authors desktop production and control, and myriad author-service vendors to help at different skill levels. The combination has created a third arena, one that places publishability determination into authors’ hands. The vanity stigma is fading fast as well-known authors reject suffocating corporate contracts and release new novels or reissue their backlists through self-publishing alternatives. A small but growing cadre of new authors is building their names and making great incomes from bypassing the old system. As a result, what makes a novel publishable has changed with the times.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is reader desire for a good story. Many authors have great story ideas, but their narrative technique is weak or sloppy. That’s where hands-on editors (copyeditors, line editors, developmental editors) enter the publishing process. But it’s rare for those editors to have decision-making authority regarding what novels get accepted for publication.

Whose standards apply?

Today a novel’s publishability depends on context. In self-publishing, authors have sole decision-making authority, influenced perhaps by their support circle and understanding of the market for their work. For them it’s a matter of getting the right book into the right channel, and they can release it at whatever writing quality level suits them and their audience.

In traditional publishing, a house’s acquiring editor makes the initial decision on behalf of the company, although managing or executive editors, and/or key people in accounting or marketing departments, might overrule their choice. Writing quality may be important to a house, but sometimes the best-written works have the narrowest audience appeal, so novels of perhaps lower writing quality but higher demand continue to be acquired in order to subsidize the less-popular books and any high-risk extraordinary works the house wants to take a chance on.

Publishability might also depend on a multibook-author’s track record, in both sales and reliability in producing new books on time, without hassle. Each publishing house has a hoodoo–voodoo equation on how best to invest their marketing dollars. Do they want to build an author’s readership over time, or make a fortune on a single novel’s potential to expand into other media? Are they interested in prize-winning literary candidates, or cultivating a mass audience in popular genres? Any or all of these factors influence which manuscripts are selected for publication.

The largest and most influential publishing houses have candidates fed to them by literary agents. The “Big Five” publishers (Hachette Group, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, Macmillan, and HarperCollins) are corporate giants whose multiple imprints still offer the prestige, support, and income possibilities sought by many authors. The agents who direct material to the Big Five have no decision-making clout beyond which authors they choose to represent, which manuscripts they choose to submit, and the timing of the submissions. An agent’s job is to apply marketplace savvy to the flood of submissions they receive, and select the most appropriate novels to pitch to the editors in their network. Agents live on commission, so they look for novels they can sell. At the same time, they understand the subjectivity and unpredictability of public and editorial taste, and may choose to gamble on novels they love. In that frame of reference, they decide what’s publishable, though they are subject to the same fickleness of fate that authors must endure: getting the right book onto the right person’s desk on the right day.

Outside the Big Five, authors can fend for themselves with independent and genre-specific publishers. The smaller or more focused the house, the easier it is for authors to have their work accepted. Ebook-only houses seem to be the path of least resistance for many.

Where’s the editor?

Noticeably absent from the above scenarios are the hands-on editors — copyeditors, line editors, developmental editors — the people who actually get involved in the revision and fine-tuning of an author’s writing, as compared to acquisition or managing editors who make business decisions about a work. Hands-on editors are involved in publishability decisions only in small companies, where most everyone wears more than one hat. Still, there’s always someone who has executive authority and deems a novel worth the economic risk of publishing it, regardless of a hands-on editor’s passion (or lack of passion) for the project. It might be that the rejected book is worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, but if the deciding party doesn’t think so, then it goes back to the author to try somewhere else.

The larger the publishing company, the farther away from decision making a hands-on editor sits. Self-employed editors are farthest from that decision, especially if they work with self-publishing authors, who alone decide what to do with their edited books. For hands-on editors, it’s a built-in job frustration to diligently contribute to a novel’s publishability while the outcome is beyond their control. So to be happy in their work, they need to know and manage their personal tolerance for quality deviations, and understand their role in the publishing process. Staff hands-on editors must be in tune with their employer’s overarching policy and criteria so they can either edit what’s handed to them or pass it on with instructions to freelance editors. The self-employed hands-on editor, often the editor a book is being passed to, must establish her own parameters so she can decide what projects to accept and how to handle them. Hands-on editors must always bear in mind that once a manuscript leaves their desks, someone else decides whether the book merits publishing.

More variables

Different publisher types have different factors to balance when deciding what to novels to publish. A senior acquisitions editor at, say, Random House, who serves best-selling authors in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook, with subsidiary rights involving translation and film options and ancillary products, will have one set of criteria to juggle. A managing editor at a genre press that employs eight people who work out of their homes, producing mainly ebooks with print-on-demand options, will have different, often less stringent, criteria for deciding what to accept and reject. An indie author self-publishing through CreateSpace can do whatever she wants, limited by how much time, effort, and money she wants to spend—just like the publishing companies.

Competition among authors to get accepted by a top-tier house is fierce, and those with the best-crafted, most-compelling story ideas with broadest appeal have the best chance of being accepted at that level. “Best crafted” and “most compelling,” however, do not always equate with “well written.” Separating literary excellence and commercial viability can be difficult for authors and hands-on editors, but it helps both to grasp the fluid balance between these elements and adjust their expectations accordingly. A high-aspiring author paired with a relaxed-standards editor may not be a good match; likewise, an editor with classic literary standards may not work well with authors shooting for easy commercial success.

It serves both parties to share an understanding of the author’s goals for the novel vis-à-vis what the author has actually written, as well as the author’s potential and willingness to push to higher standards if need be. A realistic perspective on whether a novel is “good enough” to be published helps the work become the right book on the right person’s desk on the right day — or, in the case of self-publishers, the right book in the right channel. Professional hands-on editors are able to guide authors along the path to finding that perspective and help them achieve the writing and storytelling quality desired by their audience.

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 19, 2016

On Language: The Art and the Science

by Daniel Sosnoski

The science of editing is mainly concerned with technical rules and procedures, things you can apply with recourse to established rules and style dictates, the rules of formal grammar, and orderly checks that bring documents into consistency with themselves. The art comes into play when you need to apply judgment or opt to break the rules when doing so results in a better read.

The theme of this essay comes from a class I took in teaching English as a second language, in which the instructor asked, “Do you think teaching English is an art or a science?” The answer of course was, “A bit of both.” I’ve found this to be true in the craft of editing as well.

How much of each quality one brings to the task is an individual matter, but there are instances where you see each play out. For example, if you are concerned about which preposition to use with “different” (from, than, to), that is a widely commented subject addressed by virtually every style guide — you can look it up. Any question about style and usage that can be addressed this way lies on the “science” side of the equation.

About That Science

Editing by pure instinct is conceivable, but the job ultimately requires both talent and study. You might work with a mentor, research grammar and style problems online, and read books about editing. If you want formal training, there are certificate programs like the Poynter ACES Certificate in Editing, and Copyediting.com offers courses and webinars on editing. If you’re an editor or want to become one, it’s a given that you have more curiosity about English and writing than most. It’s virtually guaranteed that when you encounter a word you don’t know, you look it up and add it to your vocabulary.

Other parts of the science are the specific skills and habits you acquire through experience. You probably have a long list of words that you know you should always spot check because they give you trouble (for me, hemorrhage, Mediterranean, and ophthalmology are cases in point). You make style sheets as you go along. You develop checklists. These are all learnable skills.

Art Class

If you spend time on social media and watch the conversations writers, editors, and language learners have among one another, you’ll see cases where questions arise that do not have clear-cut answers. These can be matters of comma placement, position of the word “only,” epicene “they,” informal intensifiers, and types of redundancies. Here’s where matters of taste and judgment come to the fore.

Is this fragment allowable? Is a semicolon in this position too fussy for the text? Does this “whom” sound pedantic? No text will solve these problems — your feel for the language and the context will be your guide.

Some people opine that you don’t have to be a good writer to be an editor. Enough respectable editors say this that I can’t dismiss it out of hand, but it is surely an “art” question. In polling some of my colleagues the consensus is that for straight copyediting and proofreading, it may be possible to do the work without strong writing skills. But for developmental, structural, and line editing, the editor will need to know what good writing looks like, be able to spot clunky wording, and smooth over rough passages. Reading widely and often is the ticket.

Meaningful Things

To be sure, some of your best catches come from editorial intuition — something has jumped out at you and you don’t know why. And that is a signal to look closer. As a case in point, I recently had one of those moments. The sentence in question was: “Average HDL was 50–59 mg/dL in men, 40–49 mg/dL in women.” What was wrong here? I knew that “mg/dL” was correct — the usual error you see is “mg/dl.” I looked it up; the figures for men and women had been reversed.

This falls under the practice of asking yourself “what does this mean?” When I supervise junior editors, I often see them correcting mechanical problems in text but they are missing errors in meaning. As a case in point, consider this discussion from a Facebook group about the following:

“On 9 September 2001, two planes full of passengers…”

The commenters who focused on the styling of the date checked the publisher, determined that it was indeed a UK-produced text and were pleased to report back that in British English, this ordering of the date was preferred style and there was thus no error as presented. Focusing too tightly on the mechanics can lead to misses like that.

Because there are so many things to check in a typical manuscript, relying on memory alone is likely to fail you at some point, so style sheets and checklists are helpful tools. With the kind of material I handle, after the general read and line editing, I’ll run through a document several times more looking for specific problems, such as errors in names and publication titles (which are common). Your style or working environment may not allow for this technique, but I’ve found it useful if time and resources allow.

Method, Not Madness

The science of editing requires that you understand grammar at a deep level and can explain clearly and persuasively why you’ve made your edits. If challenged, you should be able to defend your actions with something better than, “It just looked better to me this way.”

One of my colleagues has a visceral dislike of the word “that” and dutifully excises it from sentences like

  1. Be aware of the specific skill-sets that each duty will require.
  2. Recognize that it is very common that these two positions may be filled by one person at a time.

In A, it’s possible to remove the bolded “that.” But the bolded “that” in B follows a verb and seems to have a stronger hold on life. Bryan Garner in Garner’s Modern American Usage calls this problem “wrongly suppressed that” (3rd ed., pg. 808). He notes that when clauses follow certain verbs or nouns, “that” can be an effective signal to the reader preventing a miscue or ambiguity.

For example: “The belief you are unable to recognize your own voice is common,” is a miscue because a conjunctive “that” before “you” would clarify that a relative clause is following, as opposed to “a belief you are following…” And “The officer acknowledges being too fast on the draw is a common mistake” is ambiguous because without a “that” before “being” we can’t be certain if he is referring to himself or others.

But Know the Routine

The use of style sheets and checklists is one way editors obtain consistency and maintain quality in publications. You might have a house style sheet, which applies to all documents, and a project style sheet, developed during the edit of a specific work. Checklists are similar, and they encourage the practice of making multiple passes through a text, each time focusing on one or two particular issues.

Practice and experience will inform your style, which raises the question of how long, exactly, this might take. In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell claims that 10,000 hours of study is the baseline metric for achieving mastery in most advanced skills (although later he clarified that his meaning is that extensive practice is needed, but not necessarily sufficient, to master a skill). But because the editor is attempting to master English to the greatest extent possible, I would argue that one never “masters” this particular craft. You can only improve your ability over time.

Most editors I know possess a range of reference books, style guides, and books about grammar and usage. If you encounter a problem or find yourself wanting to make a change and you don’t know why, it’s good to have tools on hand that explain the matter. Know where the battle lines are in debates that remain unsettled (such as the epicene “they”). And it’s good to have a mentor or belong to a mastermind group where you can exchange ideas with colleagues in the field.

Daniel Sosnoski is the author of Introduction to Japanese Culture and editor-in-chief of Chiropractic Economics magazine. He has been the staff editor for numerous medical associations and is the founding editor of the PubMed-indexed Journal of Clinical Lipidology. He currently belongs to the American Copy Editors Society.

September 17, 2016

On Politics: One Billionaire on Donald Trump

Filed under: Politics — americaneditor @ 4:01 am
Tags: , , ,

Wonder what Republican-Libertarian billionaires think about Donald Trump? I have wondered what successful business people really think of Trump’s capabilities, his business acumen, and his fitness to be president. Here is one view:

Mark Cuban Changes His Mind
An e-mail conversation about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton with the billionaire NBA owner and Shark Tank star.
by Ira Boudway

I particularly like these quotes:

He [Trump] cares about two things, how people perceive him and how much cash he has in the bank.

Trump never takes on the intellectual challenge. He doesn’t even try. He just talks about having a good brain.

This week’s Bloomberg Businessweek (September 15, 2016) is about the U.S. electorate. It makes for fascinating reading. If you are interested in the 2016 race for the presidency and wonder what motivates Americans to support/oppose a particular candidate, I highly recommend this issue of Bloomberg Businessweek. It is an in-depth analysis, including interviews and profiles, of the 2016 American electorate.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 14, 2016

The Business of Editing: The Kneecapped Editor

We all have goals, whether adding new clients, making more money, or having more time to spend with the grandchildren. Yet you’ll notice two distinguishing features: first, our goals are often not challenging; second, if they are challenging, they are often not met or accomplished.

If we look around, we see goal-attainers like Elon Musk (PayPal, Tesla Motors, Solar City, SpaceX) and Jeff Bezos (Amazon, Washington Post, Blue Origin) and think “There but for the lack of luck go I!” Such thinking really amounts to self-deception. We deceive ourselves into thinking that the difference between being a Musk or Bezos and being ourselves is something other than vision and self-esteem.

Think about how you tackle your editing work. It isn’t with imagination or vision. You tackle it today just as you did yesterday, last week, last month, last year. After all, how “visionary” or “imaginative” can one be when dealing with spelling and grammar? More importantly, think about how you go about finding new business and increasing your rates and doing myriad other business-focused tasks. All of us are constrained by how we view ourselves — some more than others — but our sense of self-esteem figures prominently in the outcome.

Colleagues who are excellent editors think of themselves as just average — not outstanding and certainly not as “the best.” As a consequence, they struggle to raise prices, to say no, to find new clients, to move outside their lifelong comfort zone. Be assured that this problem of low self-esteem is not unique to editors; we have been taught it since our babyhood, usually framed in the message of how important it is to follow rules and not rebel.

Yes, we all need to follow rules for society to function well, but there are levels and degrees of rebelliousness, ranging from meek acquiescence to outright defiance. The key is to find the proper levels and degrees — the ones that paint a positive portrait of your skills and make you so desirable that clients are willing to at least negotiate with you.

The editor–client relationship is like a mating ritual. We need to be the colorfully feathered peacock who makes clients want to dance with us and not some other editor. As in other aspects of life, the first step is belief in yourself.

When I give presentations, I often introduce myself by saying something like “I am the greatest of all editors.” I am always amused at the reaction, especially as I tend to repeat that several times during the course of the presentation. Some editors take umbrage, some just shake their head, and some get the message, which is that I have confidence and that I believe in myself, which is the foundation to success.

It is important, not because I say directly to clients, “You need to hire me and pay whatever I demand because I am the greatest of all editors,” but because my belief in myself and my abilities gives me the confidence to say to a client, “No, I cannot accept this project at the proposed fee and schedule. If you want me, you must agree to my terms.” And, even more importantly, it gives me the confidence to decline a project because I know — with confidence and certainty — that another project will be coming my way.

How do I know this? Because I message the confidence that I have built in myself when I discuss whether or not I will accept a project. Because I have convinced myself that I am an editor any author would be thankful for; because I have convinced myself and conveyed to clients that I am the superstar of the editing world.

Okay, I can hear your derision even over the internet. But think about it. Do you approach business meekly or like a lion?

Most of us approach life meekly; we want to avoid conflict. And in many cases that approach works fine. But it doesn’t work when you are self-employed, reliant on what you earn, and in competition with thousands of others for the same jobs. It is not that you need to be aggressive; it is that you need to stand tall, even to yourself, and not be led by others.

You also need the confidence to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. For example, famous author Richard Adin (who, after all, is more famous than the author of the chart-topping book The Business of Editing?) asked you to read and critique his book. It doesn’t matter whether this is paid or volunteer work; what matters is that you were asked. If it were me, I would be adding to my spiel to clients that I helped Richard Adin perfect his book — I do not need to say that I just critiqued Chapter 3. But few editors do that. They think their contribution was too minor or insignificant or that clients wouldn’t consider it important. Or they do not want to sound boastful. Or they offer up myriad other excuses. Yet if you are the world’s greatest editor, it is only right that a great author has asked your opinion or had you edit their book or proofread it or whatever. You worked on it; so boast about it.

Understand the way business operates: money is attracted to money, and greatness is attracted to greatness. Setting aside Donald Trump’s sad campaign for president, he is a perfect example of the concept — not the execution — of the importance of outward self-esteem. What does Trump sell? He sells the image of prestige and luxury. How does he do it? By believing that properties that bear his imprint are the world’s finest examples of prestige and luxury, and by convincing others of the same. Of course, the properties that bear his name need to also meet that standard, but when he started, there was just his self-belief.

And that is what the most successful editors do — they project an image, which they back up with skilled editing. But the purpose of having self-esteem and confidence is to obtain the opportunities to demonstrate that you have the skills. It does little good to be highly skilled but have little work.

Remember that your editorial business is about you and how you, because of your great skill, can and will help clients achieve their goals. Be confident in yourself and your clients will be confident in you. Never forget that low self-esteem can kneecap the best of us. Believing in yourself is the difference between being one of the crowd and one of the few.

And if you do nothing else, watch the following video to its end, and especially note the final words.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 12, 2016

The Proofreader’s Corner: Testing Editorial Pricing Models

by Louise Harnby

(Editor’s Note: This is Louise’s last essay for AAE. Because of demands in her business, she has found it increasingly difficult to find the time needed to write the high-quality and informative essays she has been writing since she first began contributing to AAE in 2013. All of us at AAE wish her continued good fortune and hope that sometime in the future she will be able to resume writing for AAE.)

This isn’t an essay about what one should charge. What you should, want, or need to charge to make your editorial business sustainable may be different from what I should, want, or need to charge to make my proofreading business sustainable. Rather, I’m focusing on how even experienced editorial freelancers should regularly evaluate what they are charging and how they are determining the price for a job, and whether they should introduce new pricing models that could increase their income. We’re back in the world of testing.

Tracking the data

If you don’t know what you need to earn each fiscal year (required earnings) and you don’t know what you are earning each fiscal year and how many hours you are working to achieve this income (actual earnings), you can’t evaluate whether your business is profitable or unprofitable, nor whether it is in financial growth, stagnation, or decline. And if you can’t evaluate the health of your editorial business, you won’t be able to evaluate the impact of introducing new pricing models, new services, new working-week regimes…new anything, in fact!

Data tracking doesn’t have to be complicated. I use an Excel spreadsheet to track my work schedule and earnings (a very basic template, which you can adapt for your own purposes, is available on The Proofreader’s Parlour at “Editorial Annual Accounts Template (Excel)”). Each line in my annual spreadsheet tells me the name of the client, the client type, the title of the project, the word count, the price charged, the time taken to complete the job, the dates for arrival and completion, an invoice number, the number of words per proofread per hour, and £ per hour earned.

At the end of the year, I can see at a glance my total earnings, my average billable hourly rate, and my average billable rate per 1,000 words. I like to record previous years’ totals on my current spreadsheet so that I can make quick annual comparisons. In this way, I have a macro view of my business.

I can also look at micro issues including, but not limited to, whether particular types of work are proving more lucrative than others (e.g., students vs. indie authors vs. publishers). I can see what’s working well and what’s working less well. That tells me how I might want to focus future marketing activities in order to expand the amount of work I do in the most profitable sectors.

Importantly, I track all requests to quote, so I know how much work I turn down, refer, make an offer on, and whether those offers convert into bookings or are rejected by the client. I keep a spreadsheet on my mobile phone that logs all requests from new clients. This logs the type of client (e.g., student, agency, author, publisher), the date the request was received, the type of work (e.g., thesis, book, report), and my response (offer, referral, decline). If my offer converts into a booking or if the client declines my offer at a later date, I amend the spreadsheet. Requests to work for existing clients are logged in a separate file on my PC. All confirmed bookings are entered into my annual accounts spreadsheet.

The data that you need to collect and evaluate will not necessarily be the same as the data that I need to collect and evaluate. One thing’s for sure, though – the more data you collect, the more insightful your conclusions will be.

Testing different pricing models

Even experienced editorial freelancers can fall into the trap of not testing different ways of pricing. When I set up my proofreading business, most of my work was for publishers. In the main, the publisher offered an hourly rate and a budgeted number of hours in which they expected the work to be completed. I would accept, negotiate, or decline. I became used to thinking in terms of hourly rates and this model was the one I used to build a price when I was quoting for other client types, even when I was in control of setting a price. So when a student asked me to proofread a thesis, I’d estimate (based on a sample) how many hours the job would take, and then multiply the figure by my self-determined hourly rate.

There’s nothing wrong with this type of model. Many people prefer it and believe it to be the most profitable way of working. However, it is not the only option; and even if it is the most profitable way of working for person X, it may not be the most profitable way of working for you. Furthermore, different models may yield better returns depending on client type or editorial service.

What is certain is that unless you test different pricing models, and record the data acquired during your tests, you won’t know whether model A or model B is your best choice. Here’s a breakdown of how I went about testing an alternative pricing structure.

The pretest micro view

Note that my data tracking, reviewing, and testing decisions are particular to my business. I’m a proofreader who specializes in working on book-length projects for academics and independent authors. I sometimes work on postgraduate dissertations and theses, business reports, journal articles, and promotional material. In general, my proofreading service is fairly uniform in terms of what I’m required to do. Projects rarely overlap — it’s a case of project in, project out, move on.

After several insightful discussions with a trusted colleague/friend who used a different pricing model to my hourly rate one, I decided to take another look at my data. First, I looked at my macro-level totals. These told me that my business was growing year on year. That’s all well and good, but what about the micro data?

By looking at the micro data for each client, I was able to see which client types were giving me the best value for money for every hour I dedicated to working for them. Remember that at this point I was charging by the hour. My data told me, among other things, the following:

  • When I was offered an hourly rate by publishers, I earned less per hour on average for this client type than when I charged independent authors, students, and businesses a fee based on price per hour.
  • Three publishers were outliers and were competitive with my other client types.
  • Many publishers were offering uncompetitive (for me) rates, though they were low-risk clients — long-term customers who paid on time, offered regular work, and were thoroughly enjoyable to work with.
  • I was turning down a lot of work from indie authors and students because there was no room in my schedule. Some of those slots were being taken up by the less-competitive but long-term, low-risk, much-loved publishers!

The pricing-model test

I decided to take a leaf out of my colleague’s book and test the per 1,000 words pricing structure for indie authors, students, and businesses. I created a formula in an Excel spreadsheet that uses an array (see “Guidelines and examples of array formulas”). The array is useful because it takes a large number and break it into blocks of units. Those sections can be priced differently. So, for example, one could set up an array formula such that the following proofreading prices might be generated (these are fictitious examples for demonstration only):

  • Initial 2,000 words: £18 per 1,000 words
  • Next 3,000 words: £14 per 1,000 words
  • Next 5,000 words; £10 per 1,000 words
  • Next 20,000 words; £7.50 per 1,000 words
  • Next 10,000 words; £7 per 1,000 words
  • Next 10,000 words; £6 per 1,000 words
  • Next 10,000 words; £5 per 1,000 words
  • Next 20,000 words; £4 per 1,000 words

Thus:

  • 100K-word novel = £658. Average rate per 1,000 words = £6.50
  • 40K-word novella = £348. Average rate per 1,000 words = £8.70
  • 10K-word business report = £128. Average rate per 1,000 words = £12.80
  • 2K-word children’s book = £36. Average rate per 1,000 words = £18

You could build different arrays for different client types or different services. These would reflect the different demands of the work. Fundamentally, the array formula allows you to build economies of scale into a pricing structure.

The test results

I introduced the test pricing model in August 2015. One year later, my average earnings per hour are now 40% higher. That increase is a piece of macro information that’s pleasing to note, but the micro data are worth discussing, too. My posttest evaluation of the data told me the following:

  • When I charged indie authors, students, and businesses on an hourly basis, I earned less on average than when I set the fee on a per 1,000 words basis.
  • When I set my fees on a per 1,000 words basis, I earned more per hour from businesses than from students and indie authors.
  • The business projects tended to be much shorter in length. Therefore, the total earnings per project were higher when I worked with indie authors and students.
  • All of the businesses wanted a fast turnaround, which incurred a premium rate (hence the higher per-hour earnings mentioned above) because of the out-of-hours nature of the work.

The posttest evidence-based decisions

Evaluating the micro and macro data (and talking to a trusted colleague) helped me to work out where I might have been guilty of basing my pricing structure on untested assumptions, and where there could be room for improvement. Testing, and evaluating the results of that test, enabled me to make evidence-based decisions about client focus and marketing. Personally, I prefer to have fewer short turnaround projects on my books, and a greater number of longer, but profitable, projects. That means:

  • I’ve whittled down my publishers to a those few whose rates are competitive with my other clients. That meant saying goodbye to some long-term clients whom I had very much enjoyed working with.
  • I’ve increased my promotion focus on the student and independent-author markets.
  • I now favor a price per 1,000 words model (there are exceptions) over a per-hour model.
  • Fast-turnaround work for businesses on a per 1,000 words basis is very lucrative but rarely fits comfortably into my standard proofreading schedule because of the large amount of book projects I am commissioned to work on (especially fiction). I prefer not to work out of hours so I’ve increased my out-of-hours premium levies (from double to triple) to reflect this position.

If I’d not recorded and evaluated my data, I would not have been able to evaluate the then current state of my business and identify opportunities for potential growth.

Following on from that, I’d not have been able to take actions (e.g., the pricing-model test) that would affect the future state of my business.

In my case, it’s not just the change in pricing model that impacted on the increase in my average billable hourly rate; looking at the micro elements of my work schedule and accounting information helped me to fine-tune my existing client base (e.g., publishers aren’t out of the mix — I do still accept work from a small number of competitive presses, even though they set the fees and even though these fees are based on hourly budgets; and my out-of-hours premium rates have increased).

Using your business ownership to make
choices for growth

Owning an editorial business means you have choice — choice about what to charge and how to charge, and choice about what to accept, negotiate on, or decline. What works for your colleague may be less fruitful for you. Some pricing models may work better for particular client types. And different types of editorial service may favor different fee structures.

When it comes to pricing, what you know is as important as what you charge. If you are basing your fee structure on untested assumptions, you may not be getting the best out of your editorial business. I’d recommend that we all regularly look at our work schedules and accounts in detail, evaluating the data at micro and macro levels. We should ask ourselves whether there’s room for improvement and consider testing new models (pricing, of course, isn’t the only thing we can test). In this way, we can make evidence-based decisions about how to charge, where to target our marketing, and which clients to say goodbye to and which to retain.

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

September 8, 2016

Worth Noting: AAE on LinkedIn

Filed under: Worth Noting — americaneditor @ 3:31 pm
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Now on LinkedIn: An American Editor

I am pleased to announce the opening of An American Editor on LinkedIn.

The group is an online “watercooler” where editors from around the world can gather and discuss with other editorial professionals topics related to the business of editing. Additionally, users of EditTools (www.wordsnSync.com) and Editor’s Toolkit (www.editorium.com) macros can ask questions about the best ways to use the programs and share tips, tricks, and datasets.

I also hope that publishers, packagers, and authors will use the AAE group to find professional editors.

The current moderators are Ruth Thaler-Carter, Jack Lyon, and me. We invite all readers of AAE to join us at LinkedIn. We look forward to discussing the business of editing with you around the “watercooler.”

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 29, 2016

See You in September!

Filed under: A Musical Interlude,Uncategorized — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
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An American Editor  will be on vacation thru September 11. The next scheduled AAE essay will appear on Monday, September 12. In the mean time, if you haven’t done so already, please peruse the 941 essays already published on AAE.

Also in the works is an AAE group on LinkedIn. It is hoped that it will be up and running sometime in the next two weeks. It is planned to be a place where editors can ask questions and get answers about the business of editing and other editorial concerns, as well as provide a place for more broad-ranging topics.

The AAE Group will also be a place to ask questions and exchange information about EditTools and Editor’s Toolkit Plus 2014.

See you in September!

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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