An American Editor

September 2, 2015

The Business of Editing: The Profitability Difficulty

In making any decision about my editing business, my number one consideration is profitability. I do not mean to denigrate other important matters, especially not ethical matters, but once past ethical considerations, profitability is the ultimate determiner as to whether I take on a project or retain a client.

Ensuring Profitability Is Difficult

What I have noticed is that increasingly, profitability is more difficult to ensure, not only on a project basis but over the course of multiple projects. I have always adhered to the Rule of Three (see The Business of Editing: The Rule of Three for more information about the rule). The rule has served me well for decades, but even that rule is coming under attack from the types of projects I am consistently being asked to take on in recent months.

As we have discussed many times on An American Editor, the underlying key to profitability is efficiency. It is that striving for ever-increasing efficiency that lies behind my EditTools macros. Yet even though they increase efficiency, the projects I have been seeing in recent months strain attempts to be efficient. It is nearly impossible, for example, to efficiently deal with references when they need to conform to a convoluted style like that of the American Chemical Society and the author has made little attempt to conform to that style.

The problem of efficiency and working style is what led me to abandon proofreading. When I first began my freelance career, I offered both editing and proofreading services. But because of how I work, I found it increasingly difficult to make a profit from proofreading. With the advent of PDF proofreading, my workstyle was such that I went from low profitability to loss.

(For those wondering how to determine profit and loss, the place to begin is my five-part series, Business of Editing: What to Charge. If you don’t know what you need to earn, you can’t possibly know whether you are making or losing money as a freelancer.)

Schedule and Profitability

Even more deadly to profitability than efficiency is schedule. Long-time editors probably remember the guideline that editors and publishers used to follow, but publishers and packagers seem to have abandoned, that set the editing pace. For example, an editor asked to copyedit a medical or science textbook that required a “heavy” or “high-level” edit was expected to edit two to four pages an hour; a “medium” edit’s pace was five to eight pages an hour; and a “light” edit’s pace was eight to ten pages an hour. An editing “week” ran 30 to 35 editing hours.

(An editing hour is the time actually spent editing, not the time you are open for business. I calculate an editing week as 25 editing hours because I have learned that after 5 editing hours, the quality of editing begins to deteriorate — slowly but steadily. Consequently, I try to limit my daily editing time to between 5 and 6 hours. In addition, an editing week is Monday to Friday exclusive of holidays.)

Thus, clients expected that with a medium-level edit, an editor could competently edit 150 to 280 manuscript pages a week, depending on the subject matter. The range for a high-level edit was 60 to 140 manuscript pages per week. But all of that has changed with the outsourcing of editing to companies (“packagers”) that are skilled at book layout and production but which themselves outsource the editing work to freelancers like me.

The Triad

What has occurred is that these packagers have a lot of competition and they need to separate themselves from the pack. So, when they seek work, they promise quick turnaround, excellent editing, and low price — the triad that editors often tell clients that they can pick one of, but not two of, and definitely not three of. When the packagers come to the editor, they refuse to accept that they cannot have all three. Unfortunately, too many editors simply acquiesce without a “fight” although whether the editing is excellent is definitely questionable.

All of this impacts on profitability. Although a key to profitability is turnover — the idea being that the faster a project can be completed, the more projects that can be undertaken, and the higher the gross revenue — the hoped for increase in number of projects doesn’t come to fruition in the absence of the quality editing.

What made me realize this was that I have not stopped telling my clients that they cannot have more than one leg of the triad. About two months ago, I was asked to edit a book that required “heavy” editing. The subject matter was quite technical and the extensive number of references were all in the wrong format. The problems were that the fee was low and the schedule unreasonable — the client expected 400+ manuscript pages to be edited per week when a reasonable and likely schedule was 125 to 150 pages.

The reason this would not be profitable work is that by rushing the project to meet the schedule, I could not provide the editing that the project needs. When the clients see the editing, they will complain and will insist on corrections being made — I know this from past experience — which will eat up ever more time. Consequently, additional hours will be spent on the project but without additional compensation.

Meeting the Triad

The danger is, of course, that not only will I lose money on the project, but the client will be wary of sending me additional work because by not providing a quality edit according to their schedule I caused delays, which cost them points with their client. It is a vicious cycle with the ultimate loser being me, the freelance editor.

Consequently, I have not given in to the demands that I accept these types of projects and the requirements of the triad. I prefer to turn down work, which I regularly do, than try to meet unreasonable requirements. When asked to undertake a project, I always do the page count myself and I always determine, myself, what the schedule should be. I advise the client of the page count, my proposed schedule, and what options they have.

The first option is my schedule at my “usual” fee; the second option is a shorter schedule with a higher fee; the third option is the shortest schedule I am willing to accept at a yet higher fee; the final option is for the client to find another editor. Note the relationship between schedule and fee: the longer the schedule, the lower the fee; the shorter the schedule, the higher the fee.

This fee–schedule relationship revolves around two very important bits of information that I possess: the first, is the page count. The method I use allows for figures without having to actually go through each figure and trying to determine how much of a page should be allotted to the figure. The major weakness in my method, and one that I have yet to ascertain how to overcome, is how much work the references will require. On that, I have just “bitten the bullet” and let the law of averages take over. (Now that I have had the experience of dealing with the ACS style, something I hadn’t done for many years, I will, in the future, apply a multiplier to ACS style projects.) Most importantly, I do the page count and tell the client what the count is; I do not ever accept or rely on the client’s page count.

The second bit of information I possess is this: I know how many pages an hour I can edit under various scenarios. Like the page count, I determine this number, not the client.

With this information in hand, I prepare my “report” to the client. Recall that I have not yet agreed to accept the project. What I am doing is justifying to the client my decision if it is “no, I cannot accept the project” or building the foundation for the terms on which I will accept the project. This tells the client I have carefully considered the offer and that I have business reasons for turning down the project or setting acceptance conditions.

My experience has been that very often the client either ups the price or extends the schedule. If I say “no” to a project, it is not unusual for the client to try to work something out with me. I think that these situations resolve in my favor more often than not because the client knows the quality of the editing I provide and wants to avoid discussions with their clients over quality.

The Lesson

The lesson is that an editor needs to know their price point and their editing rate and resist the idea that it is better to lose money (i.e., earn less than their Required Effective Hourly Rate as discussed in Business of Editing: What to Charge) and have the work than to say “no” to such work offers. Saying “no” to unprofitable work helps you establish ground rules with your client. After all, why be in business if you are not going to make a profit?

What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 31, 2015

Lyonizing Word: Assigning Macro Shortcut Keys

by Jack Lyon

I recently had the pleasure of doing an interview for the Chicago Manual of Style “Shop Talk” column. In the interview, I explained how to record a simple macro for transposing characters while editing.

After reading the interview, editor Kristi Hein commented:

Terrific. Next, please discuss the process of choosing a keystroke combination for your macro: not using one of the many you’ve already assigned, making it a combo that’s not too convoluted for the hands (defeating the purpose somewhat), and that you will remember among all the other keystroke combinations you’ve assigned. Therein lies the true art of automating Word effectively and efficiently.

Kristi is right, but wow, that’s a tall order. Let’s look at each requirement separately.

Not using one of the many we’ve already assigned

To not use one of the many keyboard combinations already assigned, we need to know the keystroke combinations we’ve already assigned. Here’s how to do that:

  1. Click CTRL + P to open Word’s “Print” dialog.
  2. Under “Settings,” click the dropdown list that begins with “Print All Pages.”
  3. Under “Document Properties,” click “Key Assignments.” (Also, notice the other things you might want to print, such as styles and AutoText entries.)
  4. Click the “Print” button.

You’ll get a nicely formatted document that shows all of your existing key combinations. The entries will look something like this, with the key combinations on the left and the macro names on the right:

Alt+Ctrl+Shift+S — Normal.NewMacros.ChangeStyleBasedOn
Alt+Ctrl+Shift+I — Normal.NewMacros.CheckIndexCodes
Alt+Ctrl+Shift+C — Normal.NewMacros.FixCodes
Alt+Ctrl+Shift+M — Normal.NewMacros.ParseMetadata

“And how do I assign key combinations to begin with?” you’re wondering. There are (at least) a couple of ways:

When you go to record a new macro (under View > Macro), one of your options is to assign a key combination by pressing the “Keyboard” button:

Using the keyboard option

Using the keyboard option

When you do that, you’ll see the following dialog:

The dialog for entering the key combination

The dialog for entering the key combination

If you were working with an existing macro (editing rather than recording), you’d see any existing key combinations under “Current keys.” To assign a new combination, put your cursor in the box labeled “Press new shortcut key” and, well, press a new shortcut key.

If the new key is already assigned to a macro, you’ll get a “Currently assigned to” message like this:

Currently assigned message

Currently assigned message

That’s handy because it helps you avoid accidentally overwriting a combination that you’ve already assigned (although you can overwrite one on purpose). If you don’t get that message, you’re good to go, and you can click the “Assign” button (on the lower left) and then the “Close” button (on the lower right) and then record the keystrokes that will make up your macro. (When you’re finished recording, click View > Macro > Stop Recording.)

If you want to assign a key combination to an existing macro, things get a little more complicated:

  1. Click “File > Options.”
  2. Click the “Customize Ribbon” button (on the left).
  3. Under “Choose commands from,” select “Macros” (unless you want to use one of Word’s built-in commands, which you can also do).
  4. At the bottom of the dialog, you’ll see “Keyboard shortcuts: Customize.” Click the “Customize” button and proceed as explained above.
Customizing

Customizing

But to continue…

Making it a combo that’s not too convoluted for the hands

This, of course, depends on how many fingers you have (I have ten so far) and how large or small they are, along with your native dexterity. As you can see in the picture above, I’m partial to ALT + CTRL + SHIFT, which I actually find easy to press with my left hand while pressing a letter key with my right. If that’s too convoluted for you, you might try CTRL + SHIFT or CTRL + ALT, both of which are easy to do. ALT + SHIFT is a little more difficult. You can even use plain old CTRL or ALT with another character, but that starts to encroach on Word’s built-in key combinations (like CTRL + S to save a document).

There’s another system, however, that you may not know about:

  1. Press your desired key combination.
  2. Press another key.

The result will be something like this:

Two-step key

Two-step key

See that ,”1” after the “Alt+Ctrl+Shift+M”? That means I’ve just created a two-step key combination. To run the macro, I press ALT+CTRL+SHIFT+M. Then I press 1 (the one key, all by itself). At that point (and not before), the macro will run. Pretty slick!

What that means is that you can assign all kinds of two-step combinations (letters will work as well as numbers), which gives you two characters for the mnemonic you use to remember what a combination does. That’s twice as good as one! (Unfortunately, Word won’t let you use more than two.) It also means you can create shortcuts like these:

ALT+CTRL+SHIFT+H,1 (to apply the Heading 1 style)ALT+CTRL+SHIFT+H,2 (to apply the Heading 2 style)

Or these:

CTRL + SHIFT + T,C (to transpose characters)
CTRL + SHIFT + T,W (to transpose words)
CTRL + SHIFT + T,S (to transpose sentences)
CTRL + SHIFT + T,P (to transpose paragraphs)

And so on. The mind reels at the possibilities!

Making it a combo that you will remember among all the other keystroke combinations you’ve assigned

Using two-step combinations should help with that requirement as well, but for serious keyboard junkies there’s another solution — XKeys. The company manufactures various models, from 24 keys on up to 128 keys! You can assign the keys to your macros, label the keys, color code them, and so on. The 60-key model looks like this:

The 60-key XKeys

The 60-key XKeys

Rich Adin swears by this gadget, and he’s one of the most productive copyeditors I know. Maybe you’d find it useful too.

We’ve met the requirements

In summary, we’ve figured out some ways to meet all of Kristi Hein’s requirements for key combinations:

  • Not using one of the many you’ve already assigned.
  • Making it a combo that’s not too convoluted for the hands.
  • Making it a combo that you will remember among all the other keystroke combinations you’ve assigned.

These may seem like small things, but small things add up to greater editing efficiency, and that means more money in your pocket and less time at work, both of which are big things. I hope this essay will help you achieve them.

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 and of Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word. Both books will help you learn more about macros and how to use them.

August 26, 2015

House Guide Plus Style Guide: Why?

Last week’s essay, Style Guide Terrorism: A Formula for Failure (the “ACS essay”), was devoted to what I consider one of the worst style guides editors and authors may have to deal with, The ACS Style Guide: Effective Communication of Scientific Information, 3rd ed., by the American Chemical Society. But there is a corollary problem with style guides that is not the fault of the style guides themselves: the (often, usually) contradictory companion house exceptions (style) guide.

I work with publishers and packagers (packagers being the full-service third-party service providers that contract with publishers to provide all of the production needs for a particular project). Publishers use packagers as a way to reduce costs; the same work is needed and required, but because the packager is often based in a developing country, the packager prices the services at a price that reflects the packager’s lower costs and then finds freelance editors to provide editing services at a price even lower than the already low packager quote to the publisher. It is a way for a publisher to still get a book edited by an editor from a higher-priced country, which is desired, but without paying that higher price.

When I receive a project, I also often receive a lengthy house style guide that contains the exceptions to the style guide I am supposed to apply. For example, not too long ago, I received instructions to follow the AMA Manual of Style, 10th ed., which is, roughly 1,000 pages, and my client’s client’s 105-page house style. Where the guides conflict, the house style controls. Of course, there is another style guide lurking in the background, because both the AMA Manual and the house style say to check The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed., for items not covered (or sometimes even for items covered) in the AMA Manual or the house guide.

It is not enough to be a great editor; one needs to also have a near photographic memory so as to keep the rules, the exceptions, the exceptions to the exceptions, and a third style guide’s strictures in mind.

And what do you do when a usage guide like Garner’s Modern American Usage contradicts the older house style or one of the powerhouse style guides?

What greatly bothers me are those house style guides that tell you to follow a specific style manual except where the house guide contradicts. Why bother telling me to follow the specific manual? Why not just give me a comprehensive house guide? Or, better yet, why not just scrap the house style guide altogether and let me follow the standard style guide?

The answer lies in the belief that each publisher needs to have its own distinctive and recognizable style. When a book published by Oxford is picked up, it believed that it should be immediately recognized as being an Oxford book. The reality is that very few, if any at all, readers recognize the publisher of a book by the style applied to the text. Not only do readers not care, but, much more importantly, it is the very rare book that actually faithfully follows any firmly recognizable style.

That’s because of the ultimate style and usage instruction given editors: “Follow the author’s style!”

I mentioned in the ACS essay the problem with references. Here is what a journal reference conformed to the ACS style would look like:

Hesk, D.; Delduca, P.; Koharski, D.; McNamara, P.; Magatti, C.; Saluja, S.; Thomas, L.; Shapiro, E. L.; Gentles, M. J.; Tiberi, R. L.; Popper, T. L.; Berkenkopf, J.; Lutsky, B.; Watnick, A. S. Synthesis of Tritium Labeled Mometasone Furoate. Med. Chem.: Immunol., Endocr. Metab. Agents 1993, 33, 439–442.

Here is that same reference but in my project author’s style:

Hesk, D.; Delduca, P.; Koharski, D.; McNamara, P.; Magatti, C.; Saluja, S.; Thomas, L.; Shapiro, E. L.; Gentles, M. J.; Tiberi, R. L.; Popper, T. L.; Berkenkopf, J.; Lutsky, B.; Watnick, A. S., Synthesis of tritium labeled mometasone furoate, Med. Chem. Immunol. Endocr. Metab. Agents, (1993), 33(5), 439-442.

The difference is even greater with a chapter-in-book reference. A conformed chapter-in-book reference would like:

Barnes, P. J. Glucocorticoids: Pharmacology and Mechanisms. In Advances in Combination Therapy for Asthma and COPD; Lotvall, J., Ed.; Wiley-Blackwell: London, 2012; Vol. 2, pp 16–37.

whereas in the author’s style it looks like this:

Barnes, P. J., Glucocorticoids: pharmacology and mechanisms, in Advances in Combination Therapy for Asthma and COPD, (Ed. Lotvall, J.), (2012), (Wiley-Blackwell), vol 2, 16-37.

Because of the number of references in the project and the schedule that had to be met, it was decided to follow the author’s style and make the references consistent. So what was the value in telling me to follow the ACS style?

What we end up with is a mishmash of styles. It also means that the editor spends more time styling than editing, because form has become more important than substance. Don’t believe me? Time how long it takes to conform the two author-styled references above to ACS style, including looking up the journal abbreviation. Multiply the time it took by 5,000 (the number of references in the project) and add 50% to that number. That is approximately how long it will take to conform all of the references. (The 50% addition represents the time that you will need to spend looking up each reference for the missing information and the correct ACS journal abbreviation as found in the American Chemical Society’s CAS Source Index [CASSI] Search Tool.) How much time is left for editing of the text in a 30-day schedule?

Also think about how much time is added for deciding whether something is a house-style exception to the style guide’s rule governing the item.

The point is that we have lost sight of the purpose of styling, of style guides, and of editing: to enhance the author’s communication with the reader. Instead, editors are increasingly being sidetracked to deal with mechanical issues (is styling references really what an editor should spend his time doing?) that often do not make communication between the author and the reader more effective.

For the most part, there is little reason for a house style guide as opposed to simply endorsing the use of a standard independent style guide. Sure there is a need to list certain preferences, such as capitalization of heads and whether, for example, “since” and “because” or “about,” “around,” and “approximate” are synonymous. But those preferences should be few; there should be no need for a lengthy exceptions document, especially when those exceptions are rarely strictly enforced, are often set aside because the author wants something different, and because trying to keep straight all of the nuances of the conflicts between standard and house style guide requirements often leads to mistakes.

Perhaps it is time to return to the original purpose of editing. What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 24, 2015

Thinking Fiction: Categories of Fiction

by Carolyn Haley

Independent editors can help independent novelists reach their publishing goals by factoring book categories into their editorial approach. Most of us are familiar with these categories from shopping at online or physical bookstores, where titles are separated into fiction and nonfiction then arranged by category, which make it easier for customers to browse and retailers to sell. Categories also help publishers and agents sort through submissions.

Independent editors, who usually see novels prior to submission, can use categories in two ways. At the proposal stage, an editor’s knowledge of categories allows quick screening of prospective clients; for instance, an editor who favors Literary novels may decline a Thriller. At the editing stage, category knowledge influences the nature of the work. Romance and Science Fiction, for example, emphasize different story elements and are written in different styles. Readers of each category expect to see those elements and styles underneath the author’s unique voice. If a novel deviates too far from category norms, it may flounder in the marketplace. Editors can help prevent that by querying anything in the manuscript that doesn’t fit the category the author is writing for.

The value of category knowledge

Understanding categories lets editors help clients align their publishing desires with their skills. For example, a first-time author writing a Thriller may present a draft too verbose for their target readers. If the editor helps them recognize that, then they’ll be more open to the cuts and tightening of a substantive or developmental edit than the simple copy edit they requested. Conversely, a skilled storyteller planning to self-publish might only need a copy edit to polish the writing, but they’re aiming the book at the Suspense market when it’s actually a quest story suited for Fantasy. If the editor makes the author aware of the difference, then the author will appreciate content tweaks and suggestions to better suit the book to category. Or, they’ll know to redirect their promotional efforts toward the right audience.

A common vocabulary

Fiction categories are guidelines for publishing in the same way editorial style books are guidelines for language. They provide a vocabulary that editors can share with their clients to help them along their publishing journey.

Vocabulary-sharing starts when an author seeks editorial help for, say, a Thriller. The novel might in fact be a Mystery or Romantic Suspense, but the editor won’t know that until they’ve read some or all of the work. So requesting a sample or the complete manuscript is an appropriate first response. It gives the editor an informed basis for making a decision and, if positive, building a proposal. Once both parties are speaking the same language, they can advance to working together, or move on.

Category types

Both editor and author need to know that fiction falls into two broad categories: Commercial and Literary. The distinction is neatly put by publishing guru Nathan Bransford, who describes Commercial as having “out-in-the-world” plotting and Literary as having “in-the-mind plotting” (for elaboration see his essay, “What Makes Literary Fiction Literary?”).

The terms “Literary” and “Commercial” distinguish between story types and styles on a macro level. They are not rigid terms—Literary novels can be commercially successful, and Commercial novels can have the qualities Literary is known for: meticulously crafted prose that touches upon universal themes and draws readers deep into character and place for an enriching drama. The point is to channel books from manuscript through publication with best chance for success, and Literary/Commercial is the first subdivision.

Genre conventions

Whether Commercial or Literary, all novels must have a beginning, middle, and end, with a central challenge that the main character is compelled to overcome, resulting in some internal or external change. Editing for that central challenge comes first, followed by fine-tuning for genre.

Commercial novels subdivide into genres with characteristic conventions. These vary between publisher and industry sector (as do the terms “genre” and “category”) and often nest inside each other. But they have enough commonality to be useful to editors and their clients. A sampling of the variation is shown in the links following this interpretation.

Romance

Romantic stories may occur in any category of novel, but what makes a book a Romance is its focus on one couple’s relationship, plus an ending that must be either “happily ever after” or “happy for now.” Within those parameters almost anything goes. Romance has so many subgenres now that there’s something for almost every taste, though for some subgenres and publishers, the story must be written from a specific viewpoint, such as first person. In Romance, editors watch for sidetracking plots, implausibility, and pacing that gets bogged down by description.

Erotica

Erotica covers the territory between Romance and pornography. A new term is coming into use, Romantica, for erotic novels that meet Romance’s one-couple-relationship and happy-ending criteria via frequent, graphic sex. Erotica in general, despite its explicitness and openness to alternative lifestyles and values, still has boundaries. Editors handling Erotica need to familiarize themselves with what practices are taboo and discuss them with the author if any appear in the book.

Mystery/Crime

Mystery and Crime are often lumped together but differ in main elements. Mystery is a whodunit, often a puzzle, whereas Crime may cover broader ground. In both the storyline must feature a crime (usually murder) and its resolution. Crime novels tend to be dark in tone and revolve around police procedure, forensics, and violence, with subgenres featuring private investigators and rogue detectives. Mysteries commonly feature amateur sleuths, and the crime usually occurs offstage. These stories, especially the subgenre Cozy Mystery, are lighter in tone and focus on a troupe of characters and a lovingly evoked setting. All crime-based novels are difficult to construct and take much detail work to be credible. Editors must watch for technical inaccuracies (especially involving guns) and pacing that reveals too much too soon or too late.

Suspense/Thriller

Suspense and Thriller emphasize danger and breathless page turning. They might involve a crime but often focus on preventing or escaping one. Suspense leans toward psychological drama, and Thrillers tend to be action-oriented with big stakes. Popular works in these categories favor a lean, noun-and-verb writing style, so verbosity is a common writing fault that editors need to address, along with plausibility.

Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror/Supernatural

Collectively these genres fall under Speculative Fiction. Sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart, but simplistically Science Fiction is based on known scientific principle and logical extrapolation thereof; and Fantasy is based on magic, often involving beings that can’t exist (fairies, dragons, and the like). Horror/Supernatural covers the gray areas in between, but if pushed will fall under Fantasy. These genres subdivide into more variations than Romance—no surprise for works of unlimited imagination.

In Spec Fiction editors need to watch for problems with world-building. Even if the story is set on a different planet or millennia in the future, the world still has its own laws of physics. Beginning authors may cut corners and just tell an Earth story against an alien or supernatural backdrop. Convincing worlds have their own vocabularies, cultures, and environments, even if based on Earth. Tracking world details makes for extensive style sheets, so editing this type of novel may take longer than others.

Historical

The line defining “historical” used to be drawn at World War II; however, that leaves 70 years for “contemporary” fiction to cover, so some publishers are redrawing the line or inventing new subgenres (e.g., Vintage) to cover the 1950s through 1980s. Regardless, in a Historical novel the period drives the characters and defines the setting and action, and factual accuracy is imperative. That means more fact checking for editors (who must resist the urge to replicate the author’s research, unless that’s in the scope of work). As with Spec Fiction, building style sheets is an important part of editing Historical Fiction.

Chick Lit/Women’s

Women’s Fiction has emerged as a deeper, more literary exploration of life and relationships than Romance allows, and Chick Lit has followed as a sassier version for younger women. Editing these mainly contemporary stories is as much about tone as anything else.

Inspirational

This category emphasizes personal faith. Depending on which faith is involved, there may be limitations on vocabulary (no profanity), sex (offstage or within heterosexual marriage only), or violence (forbidden, or else story focus on the psychological effects). The faith may fall within an established church or be a personal odyssey. Editors might need to bone up on the idioms and practices of a particular faith in order to catch the nuances in this type of work.

Western/Men’s Adventure

Typically, Western novels are historical, because most take place in the decades when the American West was explored and settled. They feature men, guns, horses, land, and storylines wherein justice prevails. Fact checking and style sheet building may be big time-consumers on these books, depending on what facet of Western history the author is covering. Men’s Adventure is similar in flavor but set in other places and times.

Young Adult/New Adult/Middle Grade/Children’s

Novels for youth can embrace any subject. The main difference between subgenres is the presence and/or degree of sex, vice, and violence, and the progatonist’s age. Broadly, Young Adult: high school; New Adult: college and first job; Middle Grade: junior high; Children’s: preadolescence. Authors have to be careful about “dumbing down” their language for young readers, so editors can assist with age-appropriate words and straightforward sentences.

General

General Fiction can be considered a catchall for novels that may sell better unlabeled. This includes Hybrid novels, which combine two more or standard genres or subgenres (e.g., futuristic vampire romance mystery) without one dominating enough to place it in an established slot. Such novels have become more common since the advent of self-publishing, where genres are more subdivided and flexible than in traditional publishing. They’re the easiest to edit because they lack conventions.

Sample alternative definitions

A win–win arrangement

Editors with category knowledge on top of writing-craft knowledge can help authors in a meaningful way. The benefit is mutual: An editor’s proposal personally tailored to an author’s publishing goals is likelier to win the job than one focusing only on the manuscript in a vacuum; and an editorial approach that guides authors in honing their novels for category is likelier to earn happy, published clients who come back with their next book.

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

August 21, 2015

Worth Reading: Is Wikipedia Reliable?

Need to know whether a “fact” is really a “fact”? A lot of editors turn to Wikipedia. Is that what an editor should do?

A recent study, written by Adam Wilson and Gene Likens, regarding Wikipedia’s reliability was published August 14, 2015 in the journal PLoS ONE and is well worth reading:

Content Volatility of Scientific Topics in Wikipedia: A Cautionary Tale

I admit I rarely look at Wikipedia and have never been comfortable with crowd-sourced “research”, but I attribute that to a generational hangup. Yet perhaps there is some reason to be cautious.

What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 19, 2015

Style Guide Terrorism: A Formula for Failure

Maybe the headline exaggerates a little — but not a lot! I am nearly, finally, happily, finished with a project that has been the most difficult project I have worked on in years if not all of my 31 years as an editor.

The problems begin with English not being the native language of the authors. If that was the extent of the problems with the project, then there really wouldn’t be a problem; the project would just be difficult, but not extraordinarily so.

What makes this particular project so difficult is the style guide that is to be followed: The ACS Style Guide: Effective Communication of Scientific Information, 3rd ed. by the American Chemical Society (ACS) (Anne E. Coghill and Lorrin R. Garson, editors) — especially when you combine its strictures with the American Chemical Society’s CAS Source Index (CASSI) Search Tool for bibliographic information.

The purpose of a style guide should be to simplify communication between an author and a reader by making it easy to comply with a group’s style preferences and easy for a reader to have all the necessary information that the author wishes to communicate. Although I have my quibbles with The Chicago Manual of Style 16th ed., Council of Science Editors’ Scientific Style and Format 7th ed. (the 8th edition has been available for a year but I haven’t had need for it yet), AMA Manual of Style 10th ed., and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association 6th ed., none of these publications seem to go out of their way to make an author’s and editor’s work destined to fail as the ACS does.

I take pride in the quality of the editing I provide my clients. I believe one of the reasons I have been as successful over the years as I have been is that I am a topnotch editor who delivers well-edited manuscript in a timely fashion. I do know that I am offered many more editing jobs than I can handle, which I take as an indication from my clients that they perceive great value in my editing skills.

Yet even providing a client with a well-edited manuscript, I am able to maintain a decent rate of pages edited per hour. Those of you who have been long-time readers of An American Editor know that I charge on a per-page basis, which means that I have to be able to edit at a decent rate in order to be profitable.

But I have met my waterloo with the ACS style.

The reference styling requirements are illustrative. Most styles tell you, for example, to list only the first few authors of a journal article followed by et al. Not ACS. ACS style is to “Include all author names in a reference citation” (p. 291) unless a specific publication says otherwise in its in-house style manual. That wouldn’t be too terrible (until you hit the articles with a large number of named authors) except that author names are punctuated like this:

Cotton, F. A.; Rose, T. J. P. A.; Blinker, J. P., II; Muskrat, E. P. S., Jr.; …

Note the punctuation. And the spacing. And think how easy it is in a reference list of 200 entries to miss a space or a punctuation mark, especially when many of the references list more than five authors. This is a design for failure.

Complicating the problem is that the journal names, which are abbreviated, often do not adhere to the common abbreviations found in databases like PubMed. In addition, punctuation is required. For example, the journal Acta Crystallographica. Section C, Crystal Structure Communications‘s PubMed abbreviation is Acta Crystallogr C and its CASSI abbreviation is Acta Crystallogr., Sect. C: Cryst. Struct. Commun. Combine the CASSI abbreviation with the instruction in the Style Guide that essentially says you can ignore the approved abbreviation, and chaos reigns.

Consider the publication Science. According to CASSI, the approved name is Science (Washington, DC, U.S.) (note how U.S. is punctuated but DC is not). However, because CASSI doesn’t list another journal by the single name Science, it is OK to omit the place of publication. (My immediate question was: “Suppose I know of another publication by that name but CASSI’s database doesn’t yet list it. Do I keep the place of publication?” The Style Guide doesn’t say.)

What all this means is that the chance of error increases and the editor needs to check every entry in CASSI (you can also check Appendix 14-1 of the Style Guide for “CASSI Abbreviations for the 1000+ Most Commonly Cited Journals”). Fortunately, as I did each chapter I built my Journals dataset so that I could run EditTools’ Journals macro, which reduced the number of journal names I needed to lookup and/or correct. (See The Business of Editing: Journals, References, & Dollars for more information about the Journals macro.)

ACS reference styling has many more quirks that make the system so different from other styles. But the real question that is not answered (and I don’t really expect to see it answered directly in any style guide) is this: Do all of these requirements actually help the reader or are they make work that, because of complexity, are likely to lead to author and editor errors?

That is the real crux of a style guide. Every rule, every pronouncement, every decision made by the editors of a style guide needs to be weighed against this standard:

Does it actually help the author and reader or does it add a layer of complexity that is likely to lead to error?

Complex, difficult-to-master requirements not only greatly slow the authoring and editing processes, but also make it easy to “err” by violating the requirement. I view this as style guide “terrorism” largely because the style is difficult for no clear betterment of readability and because too often a style guide’s “rules” are too rigidly applied, with adherence to the “rule,” rather than readability, being the measure of editorial competence.

Unfortunately, The ACS Style Guide‘s complexities, of which the reference requirements are just one example, serve no purpose that I can discern other than to be different from other style guides. To my way of thinking, such a purpose — to be different so one can claim to have one’s own style guide — is unworthy. As I said above, it would be better to make readability the test. The current edition of The ACS Style Guide was published in 2006; perhaps a fourth edition will rethink the guide’s approach.

Have you found other style guides similarly overly complex for no clear betterment of readability?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

 

 

August 17, 2015

The Proofreader’s Corner: Testing for Successful Editorial Business Marketing

by Louise Harnby

  • “Is [directory name] worth advertising in?”
  • “Should I include a full portfolio of work on my website or just a selection of completed projects?”
  • “Are business cards necessary?”
  • “Should I include images on my CV/résumé?”
  • “Does cold calling work?”
  • “How much text should I include on my homepage?”
  • “Is it best to charge per hour or per 1,000 words? Or should I charge a flat fee?”

These questions, and many others, are frequently asked by new entrants to the field of editorial freelancing. They’re perfectly good questions and our colleagues usually have some excellent answers. There’s nothing wrong with asking more experienced professionals for advice on how to go about promoting one’s business; indeed, I’d recommend it as one tool for deepening one’s marketing knowledge and stimulating one’s creative juices.

However, it’s important to remember that “advice” is just that — guidance and recommendations for action; advice is not a rule of thumb that needs to be followed without consideration of our own individual business goals, target clients groups, and required income streams. We all, too, have our own voices — some people shine when promoting their businesses face to face or over the telephone; others make more of an impact using their written communication skills.

In brief, the marketing tools that work for me might not work as well for you, and vice versa. That’s why we need to incorporate testing into our marketing strategy. Testing involves experimenting with particular marketing activities over a fixed timescale, and evaluating the results.

Testing allows you to discover which promotional activities are effective for generating business leads in particular segments of the editorial market. The results may well match the experience of many of your colleagues, but don’t be surprised if they differ too.

Before you start …

Before you begin testing, it’s crucial to consider what you are trying to say and to whom. Spend some time reviewing your business plan so that you have the following in mind:

  • Your core skills and services
  • The types of client for whom you can provide solutions
  • The problems those clients need you to solve
  • The key selling points that will make you interesting to each client group

A fictive case study

Let’s return to just one of the questions that I posed at the beginning of this article and consider how testing offers a constructive approach to acquiring market knowledge that complements the advice gleaned from colleagues.

“Is [directory name] worth advertising in?”

Ash is a recently qualified proofreader. He’s considering advertising his services in his national professional association’s online editorial directory. The cost would be $300 per annum, which is a big chunk of his marketing budget. He asks 3,000 of his fellow association members whether the directory has proved successful for them. He receives 30 responses, which at first sight is useful, but when he reads the replies in full, the advice is mixed. One-third of the responders have had work from the directory, primarily from publishers. These publisher clients have offered repeat work over several years; and even though some considered the rates of pay to be on the low side, the advertisers have seen a positive return on their annual investment. A further third of responders tell Ash that they have had a few enquiries off the back of their advertisement, but the enquirers were one-off student clients who had small budgets; the advertisers struggled to break even on their investment. The remaining responders have had no work from the directory, though a few felt that their presence in the directory, with its backlink to their personal business website, had SEO benefits.

Despite the mixed responses, there is some really useful information to be gleaned. Ash considers the following:

  • Are publishers a target client group that he’s a good fit for?
  • Why did two-thirds of the responders receive little or no interest? Are their core client groups not using that particular directory to source editorial suppliers, or are these responders poorly communicating their ability to provide the required solutions?
  • What about the experiences of the 2,670 members that didn’t read the question or respond to it?

Ash reviews his business plan (including the skills he has, his career and educational background, the editorial training he’s carried out) and concludes that, although he has little experience, publishers are a good fit for his business model. The price tag of $300 is a little on the steep side for him, but he wants to acquire experience from publisher clients. Publishers seem like a core client group for the directory, though Ash is cognizant of the fact that he only has feedback from a small percentage of the society’s membership and he’s unsure whether their views are statistically significant.

He decides to test the effectiveness of the directory for 1 year. He constructs a listing that is designed specifically to appeal to the publisher client group. In 12 months’ time he will evaluate the results. If the listing has generated his required income-to-cost ratio, he can continue investing in this marketing activity, confident that his money is well spent. If the listing doesn’t generate the desired results he will have two choices: (a) test a reworked version of the advertisement or (b) abandon the directory and explore other methods of making himself discoverable to publisher clients.

Whatever the outcome, Ash’s test will provide him with evidence that he can use to make informed and confident decisions about how best to market his editorial business.

What should you test?

What you should test will depend on what you want to know. Here are three ideas that I’ve either already tested, am currently testing, or are on my to-do list — one is a small adjustment that costs no money and little time; the other two require a greater commitment:

  • TEST COMPLETE: I wanted to decrease the number of enquiries from students requiring proofreading work on Master’s dissertations and PhD theses. I no longer have the capacity to take on this work but I was spending at least 30 minutes each working day responding to these enquiries. That 30 minutes could be spent on marketing my business or doing paid work. I felt cautious about placing text on my website that clearly stated what I don’t do; it felt negative, and it cluttered up the page. I decided to test it over a 4-month period. If the number of student enquires didn’t decrease, I’d remove the text, since it was ineffective. The test was informative — I now only receive a one or two student queries a week, so I’ve left the text in place.
  • TEST IN PROGRESS: I wanted to know whether creating a profile on Reedsy would make me more discoverable to independent fiction authors. It costs nothing financially to generate a listing, although Reedsy takes a percentage of any income earned. Feedback within the UK and the international editorial communities has been mixed. In May 2015, I decided to carry out a test over a 12-month period so that I could evaluate the potential benefits for my own business. Early results have been positive — I picked up a high-value client within only a few weeks and completed several projects for him. The process was smooth and payment was timely. I’ve had a couple of bites from other potential clients since then, but neither resulted in being selected for proofreading work. In May 2016, I’ll review the experience and make a decision as to whether to continue to advertise on this platform.
  • TEST IN PIPELINE: If I create short audio streams of some of my written blog posts, will there be SEO benefits? Will the project generate sufficient additional high-value work opportunities to make the investment in time worthwhile?

Don’t mix things up

Take care when carrying out more than one test. Multiple tests on one marketing tool are problematic — it won’t be clear why any changes to response rates, either positive or negative, are occurring. For example, if I decided I wanted to find ways of increasing the speed at which I receive payment, I might consider tweaking my invoice as follows:

  • Highlighting the late-payment-penalty information in a yellow box
  • Offering a 5% discount for early-bird payment
  • Adding a thank-you message and an emoticon smiley

It’s crucial that I test each of these things separately; otherwise, 12 months down the line, I’ll have no idea which of these tactics is working (or not working). It could well be that the message and emoticon are just as effective as the 5% discount. Unless I identify this by carrying out the tests separately, I’m needlessly throwing money out of the window. Tests can, of course, be carried out separately but simultaneously by dividing similar clients into groups, with one tweak applied to each group. So, in the invoicing case, I might divide all my publisher clients into three groups and send out invoices with the late-penalty payment info highlighted to group A, a 5% discount for early-bird payment to group B, and a thank-you message and emoticon smiley to group C. Then I would track the results for each group.

Track the results

Make sure you track test results. If, for example, you’re mailing your CV to a large number of publishers, and testing different designs, or different wording in the accompanying cover letter, make a note of who was sent what. That way you’ll be able to identify whether a particular test is generating a higher response rate.

Codes can be a useful way of collating data if you’re want to work out where your best leads are coming from. Many editorial freelancers receive emails and phone calls from clients who don’t identify how they discovered them. Adding a distinct code to each call to action on your website’s Contact page, leaflet, business card, or advertisement helps you to distinguish the results of your marketing efforts. Likewise, if you are testing different pricing models with, say, students (e.g., a flat fee vs. $X per 1,000 words), you might issue them with different ordering codes if they decide to commission you (FF2015 for those offered a flat fee vs. PK2015 for those offered a price per 1,000 words); this would enable you to track which test generated the best likelihood of being hired.

Summing up

  • In my book Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business, I include some words attributed to Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” It’s a marvellous quotation — a great reminder that marketing is as much about learning as about being interesting and discoverable to potential clients. Testing is integral to marketing because it provides a considered framework in which we can look at what we don’t know and move to a position where we do know.
  • Don’t be frightened to test new ways of doing things; your colleagues can provide guidance but there is unlikely to be consensus, especially so given the number of voices in the online editorial community. What works for one person may not work for another. If some of your colleagues have found a particular promotional platform to be unfruitful, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will have the same experience; they may have mismanaged the way they communicated their message, or they may have a less-appealing skillset than you.
  • Testing allows you to make the decisions that are right for your business, rather than your colleagues’ business. Seek advice and use that guidance to help you through the thinking process. Ultimately, though, your decisions need to reflect your business goals, your target client groups, your skills and services, and your income requirements — no one else’s.
  • Set time frames for your tests and track the results.
  • Avoid confusion — carry out one test on one marketing tool at a time. Simultaneous testing is possible where the number of targets is large enough to apply different tests to groups of similar-type clients.
  • Most importantly, keep trying new methods. Even methods that are successful today can become unsuccessful tomorrow — innovation is as important in market testing as in any other endeavor.

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.

August 12, 2015

The Business of Editing: Keeping Reference Callouts in Number Order

One of the most tedious and troublesome tasks for me when I edit is making sure that references are called out in number order in the text. In past years, I used a pen-and-paper system. I wasted a lot of paper and — much more importantly to my editing business — I wasted a lot of time having to move my hand from my mouse or keyboard to take up the pen-and-paper number order checking system material.

Because I tend to work on long documents, many with a large number of references, the time the pen-and-paper system took really added up. With the Reference # Order Check macro I have been able to reduce the time significantly, as well as increase accuracy.

Reference # Order Check is found on the EditTools ribbon in the References (A) submenu (B), where it is listed as Ref # Order Check (#2).

Reference # Order Check on the EditTools Ribbon

Reference # Order Check on the EditTools Ribbon

Clicking on Ref # Order Check (B) brings up the dialog for the macro, shown here:

The Reference # Order Check dialog

The Reference # Order Check dialog

If you work on multiple projects concurrently, you can track the references in each project by saving each project’s reference number list to its own file and then opening that file when you next work on the specific project (#1).

To populate Reference # Order Check, you enter the last reference number in a document in the # of references field (#2) and click Update List (#3). For example, if your document lists the last reference number as 123, you would type 123 in the # of references field (#2) and then Update the List (#3). The numbers 1 through 123 will appear in the display field (#4).

If your document has “a,b” references (e.g., 57a, 62a, 62b, 62c), you can add them to the list using the Insert feature (#5). You would enter the “a,b” value to be inserted in the Value to insert field, then indicate either the number it should be inserted before (Insert before field) or the number it should be inserted after (Insert after field) in the list. The “a,b” number will then appear in the list. For example, to insert 62b, you would type 62b in the Value to insert field and then type either 62c in the Insert before field or 63 in the Insert after field — assuming you had already entered 62a but not 62c in the list. To enter the number, click Insert (#5).

The Count (#6) gives you a total count of the number of references and, as with other EditTools macros, you have the option to Save, Save & Close, or Close (#7) the dialog.

Let’s assume that in our sample document there are 117 references. We would click on Ref # Order Check (B above) to open our dialog in which we would type 117 (#8) and click Update List (#9).

Setting for 117 references

Setting for 117 references

Clicking Update List populates the reference number list field (#9).

Populating Reference # Order Check

Populating Reference # Order Check

If the reference list also has a reference numbered 102a, that number would be added to the list by typing the number in the Value to insert (#10) and typing either 103 in the Insert before (#11) field or typing 102 in the Insert after (#12) field and then clicking Insert (#13).

Insert after

Insert before

Insert after

Insert after

As shown here, the number 102a is automatically entered (arrow). Clicking Save & Close (#14) saves the number list.

102a inserted

102a inserted

When Reference # Order Check is reopened, the saved number list appears (as demonstrated by the inclusion of 102a in our example [#15]) and the count now displays the total number of reference numbers as 118 (#16), which is our original 117 plus the addition of 102a.

The count

The count

In the excerpt from our sample document, the reference callouts have been highlighted. The first called out reference is 1 (#17), which we long ago came across; the next is 43 (#17).

Reference callouts in text

Reference callouts in text

A look at the Reference # Order Check dialog tells us that 43 is the next reference number that should be called out (#20), so we single-click on number 43 in the number field (#20) to remove it from the list. That will move the number 44 to the top of the list (#21), indicating that it is the next expected-to-be-found-in-the-document number.

Next reference number is 43

Next reference number is 43

After removing 43

After removing 43

However, the next reference number in our document is 47 (see #18 above), not the expected 44 (#21). This tells us that reference callouts 44, 45, and 46 are not called out in number order or may not be called out in the document at all. As editors, we would take the next necessary steps to deal with this problem.

Some other points: Using our example, if you Save & Close Reference # Order Check at this point (after having had 43 deleted from the number field) and reopen Reference # Order Check, your number list still begins with 44 as the first number (#22) but your count (#23) now indicates the number of numbers remaining in the number list. If you just Save, then the file is saved but the count (#23) does not change. The count changes when the file is refreshed as a result of its being closed and reopened.

After reopening the Reference # Order Check dialog

After reopening the Reference # Order Check dialog

Finally, numbers can be removed from the number field in any order; just click on a number. If you accidentally delete a number, reinsert it using the procedure outlined above for inserting a number (#10 to #14).

Reference # Order Check replaces the pen-and-paper method of tracking reference callouts. It is a more efficient method and allows me to keep my hand on my mouse, thereby reducing the time necessary to track the references. Like other EditTools macros, Reference # Order Check saves me time each time I use it, thereby increasing my profits. Reference # Order Check is one of the three macros I keep open on my desktop as I edit, the other two being Bookmarks and Click List.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays are:

____________

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August 10, 2015

On the Basics: Step Away from that Project — Professionally and with Class

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

The Background

Ten years ago, the three-person team responsible for editing an association newsletter quit for reasons never explained, with no notice, and without providing any material for a successor — no formatting or style information, no backlog of unused material, no contact information for vendors or past contributors; nada. The organization’s board of directors was gobsmacked, to quote our British colleagues.

That was a textbook example of how not to step away from a project, client, or job. No matter how badly you’re treated or how much you hate the project (and it was never clear that there was a reason for that team’s move), it’s always smart to take the high road on leaving. That even goes for being laid off or fired. You never know when such behavior will come up in a future workplace, freelance, or volunteer setting. You don’t want to be known as the unprofessional, even childish, person who took her toys and went home in a huff, leaving everyone at a loss in her wake. You want to be remembered as someone who behaved in a professional manner that made the transition smooth for your successor.

I stepped up to take on editing that publication and kept it rolling for more than 10 years. When I was ready to let it go and give someone new a chance at the editor’s role, I was reminded of how I came into the project. I also remembered starting a couple of new in-house jobs and feeling somewhat at sea because a predecessor didn’t provide much of a roadmap for what to do and how. I was determined to handle this transition very differently from my predecessors. I felt that I owed that to myself as a professional, but also to the organization and to whoever was next to serve as editor — perhaps most to my successor.

6 Tips

Here are a few of my tips on how to hand off a project gracefully and professionally.

  • Give decent notice. That seems obvious, but it can be tempting to throw a hissy fit and just walk off the job if it has become onerous or unpleasant. Professionals, though, don’t do that unless there’s genuine provocation, and sometimes not even then. Publications and projects don’t run themselves, and it can take time to find a replacement. The standard is usually two weeks, but it might be smart to give a month’s notice, especially if the publication or project you handle is on a monthly publishing schedule. Take the high road, be the better person, and give the employer, sponsoring organization, or client a chance to find a replacement before you leave.
  • Put it in writing. Create or update a job description that details what your replacement will be expected to do, when, how, and with whom. There might have been one when you started the job or assignment, but you may have put your own stamp on the role or taken on additional responsibilities, so add those details to the original description. In many instances, especially for freelance projects, there is no job description. Providing one will make it easier for the client or employer to find an appropriate replacement and for your successor to handle the work.
  • Help a replacement out. Some may say that this is more appropriate for a volunteer project than a paid one, but I think it’s a good idea to provide as much information as possible about the publication or project, from the preferred or house style manual to the look of the book, whether you’re an in-house employee, a freelancer, or a volunteer. I know I appreciate that kind of information when I begin a new project. Prepare a list of relevant details: publishing schedule and deadlines; programs or applications used; formatting — typefaces and sizes; columns numbers and widths; character styles (headlines and subheads, body text, captions, indents, bullets, etc.); vendor roles, names, and contact information; contributors for writing, artwork, and any other roles; budget details if that is part of your responsibility. Have at least a couple of unused articles in place to hand over so the new person doesn’t have to start with a totally empty quiver of material. A new person might want to do a wholesale redesign of that newsletter or magazine that you’ve loved editing, and may want to use all new contributors and freelancers, but probably will need to know how to put together at least one first issue based on the current version. (This might seem like a lot to do to help out a replacement, but it can also be seen as an organizing function for oneself.)
  • Offer insights. Don’t be a gossip and don’t badmouth colleagues, but — if appropriate — let your replacement know something about the hierarchy of the organization; most importantly, any chain of approvals and command to follow, along with who is likely to be the most helpful to a newcomer. If a client or supervisor has certain unpredictable quirks, consider sharing that information informally. For instance, new editor or freelancer might think that “due on Monday” means they have until 5 p.m. to finish an assignment or prepare material for collegial review, but the client or supervisor might be expecting it at 9 a.m. that day.
  • Suggest a successor. If you know someone in or outside the organization who would be your ideal replacement, recommend that person. You’ll do a favor to both the organization and the individual, and they’ll remember it. This is especially important if you’re a freelancer and decide to leave a project for some reason. Good freelancers can be harder to find than good employees.
  • Be available. Let your contact, supervisor, or colleague know how to reach you in the case there are questions that only you can answer. You won’t want to be taken advantage of once you’re out the door by spending a lot of time on helping out the organization or your replacement, but you do want — again — to leave with the image of someone who is professional, responsible, and helpful. Within reason, of course.

What else have you done, or wished someone had done for you, to make a professional exit from a project or position?

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

August 7, 2015

Worth Reading: MIT Claims to Have Found a “Language Universal” that Ties All Languages Together

As manipulators of language, editors have an interest in the origins and connectedness of languages. Noam Chomsky has theorized that all languages are interconnected via an “universal connector.” Proving his theory has been challenging, but MIT thinks it has done so based on a study of 37 languages.

Alas, the original article, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science U.S.A., is behind a paywall ($10 buys access for 2 days). However, Ars Technica provides a summary and if you click the DOI at the end of the article, you can read the official abstract:

MIT claims to have found a “language universal” that ties all languages together: A language universal would bring evidence to Chomsky’s controversial theories.

Has MIT made the connection? Is there an “universal connector” as Chomsky theorized? What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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