An American Editor

May 1, 2016

Mark Your Calendar: June 10, 2016

Filed under: A Video Interlude,Uncategorized,Worth Noting — americaneditor @ 10:09 am
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Why is June 10, 2016 worth marking on your calendar? Because on that day the movie Genius is released — and every editor, author, and publisher should see it (hopefully, it will be worth seeing :)).

Here is the movie’s description from the Sunday New York Times (June 10, 2016, Arts & Leisure Summer Movies, p. 36):

Yes, New Yorkers, there was a time (the 1920s and ’30s) when a book editor could be a superstar. His name was Maxwell Perkins, and everyone called him Max.…[T]his period drama [stars] Colin Firth as Perkins, Jude Law as Thomas Wolfe, Guy Pearce as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dominic West as Ernest Hemingway and even a couple of women — Nicole Kidman as Wolfe’s love interest and Laura Linney as Perkins’s wife.

For those unfamiliar with Maxwell Perkins, he is considered to be the greatest modern American editor and is noted for having edited and babysat some of American literature’s greatest 20th century authors. Max Perkins was the role model for hundreds of editors up through the 1970s.

Here is the official trailer for the movie:

I am looking forward to seeing this movie. It stars some of my favorite actors and is certainly a subject I can relate to. Perhaps the editorial profession will gain a tiny bit of stature from this release.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

April 27, 2016

The Business of Editing: 8 Reasons Why Editors Are Underpaid II

Part I discussed the first four reasons why editing is undervalued by clients. Those reasons were as follows:

  1. Few editors know their required effective hourly rate.
  2. Our profession has failed to convince “clients” of editing’s value.
  3. The market views us as low-level professionals who provide an unnecessary service.
  4. It is too easy to open an editorial business.

Part II discusses reasons five through eight.

5. For too many editors, the income is a second income.

For many entrants to the profession, editing is a second income, not the primary source of household income. Consequently, they offer absurdly low rates (I have seen as low as 50 cents a page) with promises of high quality and speedy return. Those offers get published all over the Internet — just look at LinkedIn — and thus form the “standard” that clients expect. As a group, we have done nothing successful to combat those low rates and to keep them from becoming the standard.

As a second income, this is usually money for vacations or to buy a better car, not usually money needed for survival. The result is that there is no need to justify a rate other than that the rate brings in business. If your basic necessities of life are already covered by a primary income, then your primary (and often only) concern is getting business. Consequently, too many second-income editors set their rates low and that low level is seen repeatedly. It soon becomes the “standard” that clients expect.

6. We refer clients to “rate charts” to justify our fee.

In my view, we make the problem worse by referring to fee schedules that are published but are clearly not statistically sound, such as the EFA rate schedule.

The EFA chart, which is the fee schedule commonly referred to in the United States, is 100% statistically invalid. The history of the chart is that a small percentage of EFA members respond to the survey, not all of whom are editors or proofreaders, but all of whom are EFA members. In addition, not all the responders define what they do the same, and not all are freelancers. It is one of the least-meaningful guides available for setting rates.

One problem with past EFA rate surveys was that there was no uniform basis for how responders calculated (i.e., originally determined) their fee, or of the rationale for the amount charged, or of what services were included in the charge. One editor who participated in a past EFA survey told me she was retired and had cut her fee in half because she didn’t really need the money but wanted the occasional project to work on.

My point is this: Experienced editors should know better than to consider the EFA survey as having any value whatsoever as a guide for setting or justifying a fee, and they should not be telling clients (or colleagues) to look to it for guidance. The usual reply is that it is better than nothing, or that it is the only thing out there, or at least that it gives the range. But even to the casual observer it is clear that the EFA rate survey is so riddled with holes that it is an unreliable guide. Consequently, instead of helping us convince the world that editors are worth more than a pittance, we are reinforcing the client’s beliefs by being unable to point to something objectively valid that supports our view.

7. We fail to give a client a cogent explanation of why we can’t accept a job.

We compound the problem of inadequate compensation by failing to provide a detailed explanation of why we cannot accept a particular job at the price offered, and by failing to explain what services are included and excluded at various price points. When we buy an automobile, we are told how much the basic car costs and then how much each add-on package costs and what is included in each package. Why aren’t we doing the same for editing?

How many of us take the time to explain our editing workday and workweek? Clients assume that because we are freelancers working from home (usually), we are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Few editors I know ever say otherwise. When I respond to a client’s project offer, I carefully delineate the editing workday and workweek, explain what services are included and excluded, and I offer various options at different prices. I let the client choose the editing package and price. In my early years I didn’t do this; today I almost always offer choices. This reinforces to the client that I am a professional and that the client can have certain expectations at certain price points.

The failure to give a cogent explanation and to offer choices reinforces the perception of low-level professionalism and justifies, in the client’s mind, the low compensation.

8. The lack of standard definitions for editorial services.

As professionals we have failed to establish standard definitions of various editorial tasks that all professionals adopt. Each of us defines copyediting, for example, differently — sometimes the difference is small, and sometimes it is great — but we all call it copyediting. Consequently, when a client sees that A will do copyediting for $7.50 an hour and B will do it for $35 an hour, the client has no reason to think of the services as other than identical, and will often choose A because of price.

The lack of standard definitions means that we need to diligently explain to a client what is included and excluded for the price we are charging. Yet most of us do not provide that detailed explanation. Consequently, if editor B includes the kitchen sink as part of her copyediting services, the client hiring editor A expects the kitchen sink to be included by editor A regardless of the disparity between what editor B and editor A charge for copyediting. And if editor A explains that it is not included, the editor may well lose the client. To save the job, editor A will include the kitchen sink, thereby setting a standard to which all editors will be held — a low price that includes the kitchen sink.

Our failure as group to establish uniform standards results in our hurting our own cause and in our (generally) not being well paid. If we tackled these eight reasons using a national organization with accrediting authority, we could greatly improve how professional editing and editors are perceived, valued, and paid.

The eight reasons discussed are not all of the reasons for the low pay–high expectations syndrome in editing; I am confident you can add additional reasons. Ultimately, the question we need to face and solve is this: We know the problem and the reasons. What as a group are we going to do to solve the problem?

What do you suggest? What will you do?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

April 25, 2016

On the Basics: So You Want to be a Writer

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

My freelancing business has evolved over the years from all-writing to a mix of writing, editing, and proofreading, but writing is my first love and I think of myself as a writer first and foremost. Writing comes easily to me, at least most of the time. In some ways, writing is more fulfilling than editing or proofreading because it’s an act of creation. I enjoy making someone else’s writing more readable, but I love creating my own written work. Giving voice to my ideas, and to the ideas and achievements of other people, through my writing is a wonderful way to live and work.

Many subscribers to An American Editor see themselves as editors or proofreaders only, but others have ventured into writing as well. Since adding writing to your business services, or just writing something for your own sake, might be on your mind, I thought I’d write about writing this month.

It seems as if anyone and everyone nowadays wants to be a writer, or at least get published, although wanting to get published is nothing new. There have always been people with a yen to write who have scribbled away in their garrets or kitchens, and never been published or earned a penny for their efforts. Writing has always had a certain cachet; it’s always been an accomplishment that attracted wannabes (and I don’t mean any disrespect by that term). From what I see in social media, the writing-related publications I read, and the publishing or writing events I attend, the majority of today’s aspiring writers seem to want to write memoirs, with fiction coming in second.

Some aspiring writers may not want to be professional, full-time writers and go the traditional publishing route for books or the equally traditional route of working for a publication as a staff writer. You may have a single idea, passion, or mission, or had a single “extraordinary” experience that you want to write about. You can do that, and find an audience, more easily nowadays than any time in the past.

Others do want to write for newspapers or magazines, but have no training or experience in producing professional, publishable material. If that’s you, some basic journalism training is probably in order.

There’s also a subset of this community — the businessperson who’s been persuaded that writing a book about his or her business/profession/path to success is a great way to get more sales. This is often someone with good ideas but no writing experience or skills, at least in the kind of writing that makes a good book that would attract readers (and, thus, new customers for the business). This is someone who could be a great client for a substantive or developmental editor, or for someone interested in ghostwriting.

What’s different today, and it’s not always a good thing, is that almost anyone — heck, maybe anyone! — can and often does get published. It isn’t a good thing when the writing is sloppy, careless, disorganized, rife with errors, unoriginal, and otherwise of poor quality. It can be a good thing because voices that traditional publishers ignore now have ways to be heard and read. You only have to look at the hundreds, if not thousands, of blogs; the many self-published authors and businesses catering to them; and the people who seek advice about getting published to realize that the desire to write for publication is strong and flourishing, regardless of the quality being produced.

So what do you do if you want to be a writer? If you’re a successful, skilled editor, you already have a good sense of what makes a piece of writing “good,” so you’re one step ahead of many aspiring writers who have no idea of how to craft something that other people will enjoy reading. If you have something you want to say, you have a reason to write. Don’t let other people dictate what you say and how you say it (unless they’re your assigning editors, in which case, do what you’re told, but find ways to retain your voice in the process).

There’s plenty of good advice “out there” for aspiring writers. Among the respected writers providing such advice are William Zinsser, Anne Lamott, Stephen King, Annie Dillard, Paula LaRocque, Bill Bryson, Ray Bradbury, Roy Peter Clark, Marie Arana, and Dean Koontz, making advice easy to obtain from your local bookstore. What most of the advice boils down to is this:

  • Just write — write every day.
  • Write what you know (although some say to write whatever you want — after all, who really knows anything about zombies, wizards, and fictional science?) And you can research professions, places, and other topics that interest you even if you’ve never experienced them.
  • Read all the time — a variety of authors and genres. The more you read, the more you absorb the essentials of what makes something readable and the more your own writing will benefit. You’ll develop an instinct for what makes good writing to emulate and bad writing to avoid.
  • Budget for an editor for any long forms of writing you plan to do. As everyone who subscribes to An American Editor knows (or should know), a good editor is essential for making a piece of writing its best.

For encouragement, feedback, and resources, it can’t hurt to join a writers’ group; bookstores and libraries often host such groups. If there’s a literary center in your area, look into classes there; if not, see if area universities and colleges, libraries, or even continuing education programs from your local high school offer writing classes (you don’t have to undertake a degree to benefit from college or university classes). There’s something especially valuable about personal, in-person interaction with a teacher and other students that will help you hone your craft. I can’t vouch for online resources because I’ve never used them, but I have seen colleagues recommend joining online writers’ groups and taking online writing courses if you can’t find anything local or just feel more comfortable in the virtual world than the real one.

It also helps to subscribe to The Writer, Writer’s Digest, and Poets & Writers magazines, all of which provide insights on the writing process and how to get published. If your goal is to write for pay for magazines, you will also want to have Writer’s Market on hand.

It’s important to keep in mind is that writing is work. It’s hard work, although I’ve never found it to be the painful process that many other writers experience. For me, the hardest part is just starting a project; once I get those first few words out, it “Feels So Good,” as Chuck Mangione’s song says, and the rest tends to flow like the proverbial river.

Most writing projects require research, interviewing, and organizing before you sit down and write the first few words. Part of the writing commitment is being prepared to repeatedly edit and revise your work until it’s as good as you can possibly make it. Depending on the project, you then may have to deal with being edited by someone else, which is not always easy to handle, especially if it involves rewriting.

It often helps to create an outline or timeline for a piece of writing so your ideas are organized enough for readers to follow you along. That even helps you stay on track, especially with memoir and other types of nonfiction.

Writing is exciting, interesting, fulfilling work, but it is work. Writing well is even harder work than writing in and of itself. You might have to spend more time on revising what you write than on producing a first draft.

If readers of this blog want to become writers, I have only one suggestion: Do it. Just sit down and do it. You might not do it well, but if you are a writer, you will write. If you are a good writer, you will write well — and you will take advice and editing from colleagues who will make your work even better (many of whom you can find right here, among fellow subscribers).

Get those ideas and opinions out of your head and written down. Let the need to write flow from your brain to your hands to the keyboard. Only when you actually start to do the work of writing will you find out whether you really have something to say in a way that other people will understand and respond to, and maybe even purchase.

The saying that anyone has a book in them may well be true; the worlds of blogging and self-publishing certainly make it seem that way. I haven’t had the discipline or courage to test that theory yet. My book is still lurking in there somewhere, but my voice gets heard in other kinds of writing, and that’s enough for now.

Today, there are thousands of outlets for your writing. Beyond the traditional publishing houses and publications, there are more online outlets than can be counted, and there’s always the option of creating your own outlet. Some outlets have stringent submission requirements, some publish anything they receive, and your own blog or self-published book has no limits. There is no reason not to write, even if you aren’t sure that your writing is any good.

Show us what you can say!

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.

April 20, 2016

The Business of Editing: 8 Reasons Why Editors Are Underpaid I

A recent discussion on another forum lamented over how underpaid (undervalued) editing is, pointing out that neither authors nor publishers appreciate and are willing to pay for the expertise editors bring to a project. Of course, this is not a new lament; it was the same 32 years ago, when I began my editing career, and it has been a constant since that day.

In the discussion I just mentioned, the lament was tied to the client command (or observation) that the manuscript requires only a “light” edit. Let’s set aside the initial problem — what a “light” edit is (for my perspective, see The Business of Editing: Light, Medium, or Heavy?) — and instead focus on some — not all — of the reasons the value of editing is viewed so poorly as to act as justification for low rates of compensation from our clients.

Part I of this essay discusses the first four reasons.

1. Few editors know their required effective hourly rate.

Like all businesses, we can set our own rates of compensation. The problem is that too many of us set them in an information vacuum. Too many of us have no idea what our Required Effective Hourly Rate (rEHR) is, and as a consequence we set our rate based on what some unscientific and invalid rate survey says is the “going rate.”

(For those who are unfamiliar with the concept of rEHR, and those who need a refresher on how to calculate it, see the five-part series Business of Editing: What to Charge. Additional previous essays worth reviewing are The Business of Editing: Fundamental Business Mistakes That Editors Make, the two-part essay The Business of Editing: Keys to a Project Quote, So, How Much Am I Worth?, and Business of Editing: The Quest for Rate Charts. Essays written by Ruth Thaler-Carter and Louise Harnby that touch on these and related topics can be found if you look for “On the Basics” and “The Proofreader’s Corner” in the Search field on this blog.)

Your rEHR is the minimum you need to earn for each hour of paid work if you hope to meet your living requirements. A survey that is of suspect validity to begin with can’t help you determine what you should charge if you do not know whether what the survey says is the “going rate” is more or less than you require just to have shelter, clothing, and food. When editors do not know their rEHR, they undermine themselves.

How are they undermining themselves? By helping to establish the validity of a rate that has no relationship to real-world economics. Haven’t you found that no matter how low your rate, a client readily comes back with a lower rate that was quoted by an editorial colleague? How was that lower rate established? Probably by waving an uncooked strand of spaghetti through the seas of Atlantis and watching the numbers magically appear. Or by going to one of the rate surveys that are constantly mentioned but aren’t any more valid than the spaghetti waving.

By approving and accepting rates that are lower than your rEHR, you are reinforcing the idea that editorial services are of little value.

2. Our profession has failed to convince clients of editing’s value.

In the olden days, when people like Bennett Cerf ran publishing houses and publishing houses were family-owned businesses, not international conglomerates, being an editor made you part of a prestigious profession. More importantly, high-quality editing was desired and properly compensated. I can still recall the lecture I received in 1987 from a Farrar, Strauss & Giroux editor about the publisher’s low tolerance for editorial errors. However, as the original family-owned publishers were bought up and merged into international conglomerates, bean counters took over and assigned a low value to editing, a low value from which the profession has not recovered.

As a profession, we have failed to convince our clients that they are devalued by poorly edited books. We have failed to demonstrate that consumers notice and care. We have failed to equate high-quality editing with reasonable compensation. By not making a concerted effort to convince clients of the value of editing, we have shored up the notion that cheaper is better for the bottom line. Finally, we have failed to make the consumer see that poor-quality editing means a poor reading experience, and that particular publishers and authors are noted for producing poorly edited books.

3. The market views us as low-level professionals who provide an unnecessary service.

Although we call ourselves professionals and think of ourselves as part of a profession, the market reality is that we are viewed as low-level professionals who provide an unnecessary service. This is a market view we have not successfully countered. Actually, as a group we have done little to nothing to counter that perception.

This is tied to number two above. We have let others determine whether our services are necessary. Look at how many times we see comments from authors saying that the author can edit his or her own manuscript as well as or better than any editor. Delve a little into the reason for the statement and what you find is that the author has had a poor experience with an editor and tars every editor with that tainted brush.

Of course, the author looked for the lowest-cost editor who claimed the most experience, and hired that editor. The author and the editor were both racing to the bottom, with cost driving both the author and the editor, who had set a low price to attract the business. The problem for many authors is that they personally have to foot the editorial bill, and so they look for the least cost. And the publishers? They assume that no one will notice if the editing is poor — not the author and not the consumer — and, unfortunately, too often they are correct. The publishers make the gamble and usually win.

If an author cannot get an editor cheaply enough, the author will self-edit or have friends do the editing, because the author does not view editors as high-level professionals who provide a necessary service in these days of self-publishing. It is our failure as a profession that we have not convinced clients of our professionalism and of the value of editorial services.

4. It is too easy to open an editorial business.

Unlike professionals who are able to charge much higher fees (e.g., doctors, lawyers, plumbers, carpenters, masons), we have no entry requirements in our profession — no apprenticeships, no degree requirements, no code of conduct, no licensing, no nothing. All a person has to do is declare to the world that she is a professional editor. (When you think about it, even McDonald’s fry cooks get some training from someone else, and cleaning-service personnel often need to be bonded. Our profession [different for content creators] has no insurance requirements, something most, if not all, other professions have.)

Let’s face it — even a sixth-grader could hang out a shingle as a professional editor. There simply are no professional standards. Writers and painters in the United States are better organized than editors and have more professional organizations (i.e., the organizations are more professionally organized and run) to create standards and promote codes of conduct than editors have.

Such ease of claiming membership in the editorial profession does us a disservice. It helps foster the notion that we are undeserving of better pay because there is no minimum standard of quality that a client can be assured of receiving in exchange for higher compensation.

Part II addresses reasons five through eight.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

April 18, 2016

What One Fool Can Do

by Daniel Sosnoski

In at item titled “Against Editors” at the website Gawker, Hamilton Nolan writes:

In the writing world, there is a hierarchy. The writers are on the bottom. Above them are editors, who tell the writers what to change. This is backwards. How many good writers has Big Edit destroyed?

Nolan’s view is not entirely exceptional. You can find similar sentiments elsewhere on the web, and you’ll sooner or later find yourself working with a writer who views their relationship with you as being purely adversarial.

The two chief routes by which writers come to detest editors are either a misunderstanding of the two parties’ respective roles, or bad experiences at the hands of editors who are unprofessional or uncaring in their approach to the craft. To that end, I advise my colleagues to be kind to authors because all of us are, arguably, representing our profession and we ought to present our work in the best possible light.

If you’re dealing with the first type of writer, one who thinks you are “the enemy,” then you might have a chance to reset their perception of the relationship and get things back on an even keel. Inexperienced writers sometimes think fighting with the editor is a normal part of the job. The second type of writer, who’s had bad experiences being edited, will be bringing that history along and you might have to address it head on.

Getting back to “Against Editors,” a key passage in Nolan’s article is as follows:

Go find a story published a few years ago in The New Yorker, perhaps America’s most tightly edited magazine. Give that story to an editor, and tell him it’s a draft. I guarantee you that that editor will take that story — well-polished diamond that it presumably is — and suggest a host of changes. Rewrite the story to the specifications of the new editor. Then take it to another editor, and repeat the process… You would never find an editor who read the story, set down his pencil, and said, “Looks fine. This story is perfect.”

The gauntlet is thrown

It is a point of pride in my office that we have a tag for documents that says, simply, “Clean.” The meaning is “I have read this document and have no changes.” Admittedly, it isn’t used often, but it is used, and it reassures me that we aren’t fiddling with text merely for the sake of imprinting our own voice on it.

Still, Nolan’s words nagged at me. Could he be right? How could his proposition be tested? Could I make an educational lesson from it? When we reached the end of the workweek, I called an editorial meeting and gathered five editors (in addition to myself) and passed out to everyone a page of raw, unedited copy — 12 point, triple spaced — and red pens.

Here is a sample of that text:

The smaller the office the larger the scope of your influence and the more you will see the direct correlation between your mood and theirs or your attitude toward a patient and how they treat that person. In this sense, leadership and the impact yours has, is all about you. But, isn’t it always?

For the next 20 minutes, we worked in silence. The instruction was to edit freely, but to make no edits that could not be fully justified — “it just looks better to me this way” was off the table.

Three of the editors were fairly new, and three were trained and seasoned. At the end of the time allotted I called halt and most had gotten through two to three pages of the text. We went around the table and each editor read the first sentence (as shown above) and indicated what they marked up and why. For example: “The smaller your office, the larger the influence of your mood and that of your staff upon patient care.” (My edit.)

As we went along, sentence by sentence, a pattern began to emerge: The junior editors were unpredictable. Some rewrote heavily, others lightly, none making the same changes. The experienced editors tended to seize upon the same faults and make similar — but not identical — edits in some cases, and in others the suggested fix was nearly identical.

For example: “I deleted ‘But, isn’t it always?’ as being extraneous to the flow of the text. It was a rhetorical question.”

Most made the same edit. There was disagreement about placing a comma after “office,” but in general you could see that the problem of “theirs” having an undefined referent in the original required a fix. Exactly how that problem should be corrected differed from editor to editor.

In this, I would say that Nolan had a point worth making. In text that is seriously flawed (but correctable), two editors might make different changes, but — and this is key — they will tend to repair the same problem. Much as two mechanics might approach the diagnosis and repair of a vehicle in slightly different ways, the end result will be functional transportation.

About that title

A phrase that Richard Dawkins likes to use in his writing is, “What one fool can do, so can another.” His meaning is that if someone can accomplish something, so can you. The task of editing, however, seems to be special in that, while any competent editor can spot and correct typos, punctuation errors, and adjust copy to meet house style, with text of the sort presented by the problem I assigned my colleagues, I see a clear divergence.

Junior editors see clumsy text but aren’t always sure how to fix it or why. They tend to make changes that could not be readily explained to the author (even if sensible). Experienced editors seem to agree on the same problems and find similar solutions to them. While in my exercise we didn’t all make identical corrections, the act of verbalizing our thoughts was a step toward harmonizing our approach to editing.

Repeating this exercise is definitely in my game plan for staff development. Listening to one another explain our approaches and rationale is valuable in that it gets us thinking the same way about editing. If you work with one or more other editors, I highly recommend trying this for yourself and gauging the results.

In the event you are presented with clean copy, by all means mark it “clean” and know that you did your job properly. Some might argue that not making any changes to a text could potentially raise problems regarding what is being paid for, but that’s a subject for another column.

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.

April 17, 2016

Worth Reading: Using Combo Boxes in Style Sheets

Every so often I read an article on another blog that is so informative and worthwhile, I think it necessary to mention it on An American Editor. Today, I read “Using Combo Boxes in Style Sheets“, which was written by Hazel Bird (Wordstitch Editorial Services) and posted at her blog Editing Mechanics.

Using Combo Boxes in Style Sheets

This is a great idea for those of you who maintain your stylesheets in Word or a similar word processing program that offers such an option and who provide the type of information on your stylesheets that can be formatted for combo boxes.

I encourage you to read the article. It is a great explanation of a little-used Word feature that is adaptable to many uses for editors.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

April 16, 2016

A Good Deal: Books on Sale

If you are like me, you always have an eye out for a good book sale. Here is one worth noting.

The University of North Carolina Press has a book sale going on. Save 40% on all purchases, plus get free shipping on orders of $75 or more (otherwise shipping at the cheapest rate — media mail — is $6 for the first book and $1 for each additional book). There is a good selection of scholarly books available; I browsed the first 70 pages. The 40% discount code (entered at checkout) is

01DAH40

To begin browsing the books, follow this link:

University of North Carolina Press

Happy book shopping!

Richard Adin, An American Editor

April 13, 2016

The Business of Editing: How Many Pages an Hour Do You Edit?

This question was asked, probably for the umpteenth time, on another editorial forum. I wondered then, as I wonder now, what the value is of a response like “4 to 6 pages an hour” or “10 pages an hour” — or any number.

I find surfing editorial forums interesting in so far as doing so reveals how colleagues think. Both questions and answers are revealing. Editorial colleagues want to be helpful to one another. Consequently, no matter the question, someone, if not many someones, will respond. I think that sense of community is heartening and helps make editing a great profession to be in. That surface impression of community helpfulness, however, begins to slip as the answers pile up.

A Great Question But of Little Value

“How many pages an hour do you edit?” is a great question that elicits a world of responses, the majority (possibly all) of which are valueless. While seeming to be a good way to measure one’s own efficiency and productivity, it isn’t. If my own speed is slower than the reported average and I consequently think I need to speed things up, I’ve simply elevated the responses to a status they do not deserve. If my speed is faster, must I be more efficient and productive? And if my speed is slower, must I be less efficient and productive? In reality, no.

Editing speed in itself is not indicative of anything, largely because the number leaves out myriad bits of necessary qualifying information. If I tell you that I edit, on average, 12 pages an hour, what have you learned about my editing? Nothing. Among other things you haven’t learned are what types of projects I handled; what the parameters were for those projects; what tools I use to speed up (or slow down) my editing; or, most importantly, how good an editor I am. I may be the greatest of all editors but only edit 4 pages an hour, or I could be the worst of all editors and edit 25 pages an hour. Conversely, I may be the worst of all editors but only edit 4 pages an hour, or I could be the best of all editors and edit 25 pages an hour.

The number of pages I edit each editing hour is a statistic with no meaning or value, even though colleagues and clients are intrigued by it. After all, if you can edit 20 pages an hour and I only edit 5 pages an hour, isn’t the client going to be better served economically by you than by me?

Type of Editing Matters

It matters whether my speed is reflective of my copyediting or of my developmental-editing speed. It also matters how I define the type of editing. For example, does copyediting include more than one editing pass over the manuscript? Does it include coding or styling of the manuscript? Do I include fact checking? What about references — are they APA or AMA style or some other convoluted style that requires a significant amount of work? And do I include formatting and verification of those references? The bottom line is that there are a number of variables in what we include and exclude as part of our definition. In the absence of having a uniform definition for editing type, the number of pages an hour that I can edit has no relevance in a discussion about how many pages an hour you should be editing.

What Makes a Page?

Another vital element that needs to be known is: What makes a page? Is it number of words, characters without spaces, characters with spaces, formatted pages, something else? And once the measure is chosen, how much of the measure makes a page? For example, is it 250 words, 300 words, or 350 words that make a page? Suppose there are a large number of words like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Do words like that count as one word? Two words? Three words? If you count characters, how many characters make a page?

Type of Manuscript Matters

It matters greatly whether my statement that I edit 12 pages an hour refers to editing advanced physics textbooks or cookbooks or illustrated children’s books or western novels. It matters whether the book is laden with photographs or with statistical tables. Without knowing what I am editing, how can you determine whether my speed is fast, slow, or middling?

Client Instructions Matter

Also relevant to determining the value of an editing speed are client instructions. It matters greatly whether I am instructed to simply run spellcheck and look for misspelled words or if I am asked to do a comprehensive edit that includes verifying Latin names for organisms against a particular database or to convert the form of measure the author uses to a more universally used measure. It matters whether there are 50 references or 1,000 references in a chapter and whether my instructions are to check each for accuracy and then format them, or accept them as accurate but format them, or just look for missing information and provide it but not format the references. (If you think a chapter cannot have 1,000 references, let me assure you that I often edit chapters with that number of references and more; I have edited chapters with nearly 2,000 references. Of course, such chapters tend to be “book length” in and of themselves.)

How Well Written Is the Manuscript?

Experienced editors know the importance of this bit of information. A poorly written manuscript slows editing to a crawl, whereas a well-written manuscript often means faster editing. Yet using terms like light, medium, and heavy to describe the difficulty of editing is not helpful because there are no universal definitions of these terms. In addition, there are gradations within each category — one editor’s medium-level edit may be another editor’s heavy edit.

Did You Consider This?

Okay, you tell me you know the answers to all of the previous questions and therefore are in a position to assign value to my being able to edit 12 pages an hour. But did you consider this? Do you know how many errors I create or miss as I edit that at the 12-page speed? This is important information. If I introduce an average of three errors per page or miss three errors per page, perhaps I need to slow my speed down because I am making/missing too many errors. Perhaps editing at 12 pages an hour is inappropriate for the material. On the other hand, if I am not introducing any errors and I am missing, on average, one error for every 5 pages, perhaps I am editing an appropriate speed or maybe can even edit a little bit faster.

Of course, there is the problem of what an error is.

The Universe of Editors

Another problem with the numbers generated by the main question is the representativeness of the responders. Getting 20 responses out of a universe of many thousands of editors is not very representative. The 20 responders may be the 20 best editors or the 20 worst editors or the 20 most middling editors. Or they may be a mix. But unless the responders are a match for you, their numbers are of no value. And even if they are a match for you, their number is too small to be statistically meaningful or indicative of average speed of editors irrespective of any other criterion.

The Bottom Line

Some questions we ask our colleagues will provide valuable information, but asking how many pages a colleague edits is not one of them. In the absence of universally agreed-upon terms and definitions to describe what we do, comparing my editing speed with your editing speed simply produces two unhelpful numbers.

When asked why they think this information is useful, editors often reply that if the majority of responders give a number that is faster than their number, then it is an indication that they are going too slow and need to take a look at how they can improve their number. The problem with this line of reasoning is that it is false reasoning. Because others are faster (or slower) than you is not an indication that there is anything wrong with your speed. There are too many variables.

Whatever my speed is, it is my speed and it is the speed at which I can produce a high-quality edit for a particular project. I keep detailed records and I know that over my 32 years of editing, I was able to edit some projects at what I think of as grand prix speeds and others at slower-than-turtle speeds. Speed was governed by the particular project, by my editing peculiarities, and by how much I could automate certain functions. This number was/is unique to me and meaningless to colleagues.

The One Thing Never to Do!

The one thing that no editor should ever do is estimate a project based on editing speeds claimed by colleagues. Estimates should always be based on your editing speed, your editing day, and your editing workweek. What a colleague does is at best anecdotal, not anything to use as a foundation for your work and business.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

April 11, 2016

Thinking Fiction: The Subjectivity of Editing Fiction II

by Carolyn Haley

Part I of this two-part essay described the experiment I conducted to learn more about the weight and importance of subjectivity in editing fiction, and to satisfy my personal curiosity about how different editors might handle the same material. Part I covered the experiment parameters, general results, and types of technical errors that occurred in the work of seven volunteer professional editors.

Part II continues the description of results, shifting to areas where errors are harder to define and recognize, and where individual backgrounds come more strongly into play.

Debatable errors

All the volunteers addressed the debatable items I inserted into the test samples, though no two editors addressed the same number and combination of them. This is where I expected the greatest variation between editors, and I was not disappointed.

Example debatable items were hyphenated or solid prefixes and suffixes; hyphenation of compound adjectives; one-word or two-word spellings that could vary according to dictionary; use or not of the serial comma; treatment of ellipses and dashes; treatment of dialogue tags and thoughts; words or numerals for numbers; location of paragraph breaks; casualness versus formalness of characters’ speech; spelling of common expressions (all right vs. alright, OK vs. okay); and the like.

These represent what I expect to see itemized on a style sheet. I deliberately did not request style sheets from the volunteers, because I wanted to see whether providing one with a copyediting job is a default practice, and what form the style sheet took if provided. Note that some editors, as a matter of policy, do not provide style sheets for tests but will provide them for live book-length projects. As this exercise resembled a short test, and I did not request a style sheet, I expected that not everyone would include one.

And not everyone did—just three of seven editors. Two of the submitted style sheets were organized and detailed, reflecting the editors’ long experience with traditional publishers. These greatly helped my review of those editors’ samples. The select debatable items they put on their term lists affirmed that they had spotted the variants and made decisions about them. I also knew what reference resources they were drawing from so had context to understand their choices. The thorough and professional presentation of the style sheets positively influenced my opinion of the editors’ knowledge and capability. While the editors who did not provide a style sheet might have done as good a job on the sample exercises as those editors who did provide one, I had to guess what they noticed or not, based on what I saw changed and unchanged. (Sometimes an editor removed the guessing game by deleting or rewriting a debatable item.)

Including a style sheet in an actual test for a publisher might give an editor a competitive advantage, based on the positive impression it gave in my experiment. And including a style sheet for an author is always a good idea. A style sheet shows that the editor really did examine the manuscript closely and think about fine points. It also gives organized information to the author during later revisions or expansion in a series, making the next round cleaner. At the same time it gives context and detail for any subsequent editors, as well as for the proofreader at the end of the line.

For more information about creating and using style sheets, see Amy Schneider’s four-part series starting with “Thinking Fiction: The Style Sheets Part I: General Style.

Fact checking and formatting

Whether fact checking should be included in copyediting is a scope-of-work item determined between editor and client. Commonly, copyeditors who work for publishers aren’t asked to do fact checking or don’t provide that service, whereas copyeditors who work for indie authors might include it. I did not instruct the volunteer editors on fact checking because I wanted to see if there was any pattern in who did and who didn’t provide the service. I tested it by inserting errors that could be found by simple online lookups, such as whether a mountain range’s formal name included “Hills” or “Mountains,” and the wrong manufacturing date for a vintage car. Four of the seven editors found one or more of these, although none reacted to them all, and I saw no correlation with anyone’s particular background.

At the same time, three editors queried subtle verisimilitude issues that would have embarrassed the author had the details gone through to publication. I had been aware of two of those bloopers but blind to the others; so, as the author in question, I would have been deeply grateful to those sharp editorial eyes (and as the test creator, I was duly embarrassed).

Formatting a manuscript is also considered a scope-of-work variable in copyediting. Here again I did not instruct the volunteers, wanting to see what they did on their own. The majority left the text as they found it, in terms of font, type size, and line spacing. I put one sample in 1.5 spacing instead of industry-standard double spacing; nobody changed it. I set the other one in Courier font; two editors changed it to Times New Roman, and one who let it stand apparently had trouble telling the difference between straight and “curly” apostrophes and quotation marks in that font, for that editor had the highest miss rate in those details.

I also inserted manual tab indents for paragraphs in one of the samples. Only one editor replaced them with automatic indent, as is required for production. A different editor inserted a note advising that they had spotted the tabs and other deviations from industry standard but left them in place, while another editor went for no-indent first paragraphs then auto-indented the rest without remark. Most of these changes were manually applied; only two editors used Word’s style feature on whole text.

Comments and queries

Everybody was polite, professional, and helpful in their comments. Some were so gentle and politically correct in their phrasing that, in my eyes, it undermined their authority. Somewhere there’s a happy medium between bullying and babying, and although everyone in the experiment found that middle ground, some conveyed their expertise and confidence better than others. If I were an author shopping for an editor based on these samples, it would have been easy to determine who best suited my preferences and needs.

At first the number of comments and queries for so little text seemed disproportionately high. Then I realized that some of the editors’ remarks covered subjects I ordinarily put on a style sheet. For instance, I list my grammar/style/spelling resources and operating premises together at the top of my style sheet, whereas some of the editors who did not include a style sheet used comments to explain, for example, that a change was supported by a particular style guide or dictionary.

I’m guessing that the editors made more queries than might be normal because the test was done in a vacuum. In a real job they would have more information than I provided about the story premise, client, and other parameters of the project. For example, the full novel one of the samples came from was loaded with telepathic communication between psychics, which I set in italics. To distinguish telepathy from private thoughts, I kept thoughts in roman type. But I did not give this information to the volunteer editors. One of them, when encountering the direct thought in roman text, selected it and applied italics:

“…but I can still make the autocross on Sunday.” Two hours in the other direction, I didn’t add.

This distraction led the copyeditor to miss the inverted close-quote mark immediately preceding the sentence. If editor had known that thoughts did not have to be italicized, then the editor would not have paused to change or query the sentence and likely would have noticed the punctuation error.

That example was not the only evidence of editors being distracted by adjacent problems. It appeared during highlighting text for comments, too. One editor was so focused on typing up a remark about writing style that they didn’t see this error lying inside the selected text: No more hazy envelop of pulsing bruises; instead, a bright, boundless world begging to be explored. I saw several oversights of that sort among the editors who commented heavily. The lighter-touch editors caught more mechanical errors, presumably because their eyes and minds weren’t bouncing back and forth as much between places on the screen.

Conclusion

What does the experiment teach us? Not much more than we already know. And with a sampling of only seven editors, along with the number of variables being evaluated at one time and my personal bias, we can’t call this a scientific test.

The experiment revealed little insight into the question, “How good is good enough?” Some aspects of that question will be discussed in a future essay covering editorial subjectivity from the author’s point of view.

From my editor’s point of view, the experiment affirmed my expectations. I now feel confident stating that every copyeditor has a different approach and editing style; that most copyeditors will address most elements in a manuscript while never quite attaining perfection; that their understanding of the distinctions between editing tasks varies; and that in the absence of explicit instructions, copyeditors will likely return results different from what the hiring party might expect.

The experiment also supported two beliefs I’ve long adhered to: (a) that a successful editorial job comes from a compatible fit and good communication between editor and client, and (b) that journalist William H. Whyte had it right when he said, “The great enemy of communication…is the illusion of it.”

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.

April 6, 2016

On Ethics: To Out or Not to Out Clients II

Part I ended with this general rule:

Ethically it is not improper to disclose the name of a client except when the client is a nonbusiness individual who would reasonably expect confidentiality.

and the statement that there is more to the issue of disclosure. One of the big questions is whether it makes a difference if the forum for disclosure is a private one (i.e., one not accessible by the general public) or a public one (i.e., one accessible by everyone).

In the world of Google, does it matter?

One problem with the private-versus-public dichotomy is that too often there really isn’t a dichotomy. Much too often “private” forums are indexed by Google and other search engines, and so what is thought to be private really isn’t — the information appears in a search result.

Even “private” Facebook chats aren’t very private, especially as Facebook keeps altering its terms of service in an attempt to defeat any privacy preferences.

Does the nature of the forum really change the ethics?

To my thinking, it does not matter whether the forum is private or public. Aren’t the real issues the client’s opportunity to respond, the client’s expectation of privacy, and whether the client is an individual or a business? Do either change based on your decision to reveal the client in a public forum rather than a private forum?

An argument could be made that disclosure in a public forum does give the client an opportunity to respond, but with the hundreds of thousands of forums in existence on the Internet alone, it is a false argument. And certainly it is a false argument if you go to a public editors’ group meeting and discuss the client when the client lives in Paris, France, and the meeting is a Thursday luncheon in Horsehead Falls, NY.

No matter how you construe the arguments, the type of forum — public or private — has no effect on the ethics of naming individual clients without permission. Again, naming a business is different because the purpose of a business is to make itself known, whereas individuals have an expectation of confidentiality.

What makes an individual a business?

Let’s begin with this truism: If the individual is incorporated (e.g., Jones LLC), uses a business name (e.g., Jones Enterprises), or otherwise holds himself out as a business, then the individual is a business. If the individual asks that you invoice in a company name, then the individual is a business. But if the individual does everything in his own name and clearly is not earning their living as an author (e.g., is a stock broker or marketer), then the individual is an individual. The point is less that these specific things make an individual a business but how the client presents himself.

A cautionary word: If the client has a business, that fact does not make the client a business within your relationship. The question is the client’s presentation to you within the confines of your relationship, not the within client’s general life.

Does what you want to disclose make a difference?

A lot of editors will include in their résumés or on their websites a list of books that they have edited. I do. The practice is okay if the client is the publisher rather than the individual author, unless you have permission from the individual author or the book has been published. Once the book has been published, I do not think the author can expect his book not to be listed as a book that you have edited. The book is now public.

Listing books you have edited for an individual author is more a matter of when than whether. The individual author’s expectations of privacy and confidentiality about the fact that you edited their book expires on publication. But other expectations of privacy and confidentiality do not expire, such as the client’s expectations regarding the details of your relationship.

Suppose a colleague sees on your website that you edited a book by John Jones. The colleague has been approached by Jones to edit a new book and the colleague contacts you, asking for all of the details of your relationship with Jones, such as the manuscript condition, payment, amount of handholding required, etc. Your relationship with Jones was problematic. The manuscript was in bad shape, Jones disputed every suggested change, and Jones refused to pay 100% of the final invoice, feeling that you overcharged by “fixing” problems that didn’t exist. What should you disclose to your colleague?

Is it okay to disclose relationship details to colleagues?

Our tendency is to disclose all of our miseries to our colleagues after first stating, “This is just between us and not for rebroadcast.” Alas, when an individual author is involved, I do not think starting the conversation with such a condition makes a difference. But with a business, such as a major publisher, I think the outcome is different — and it does not matter whether the conversation is preceded by the “between us” condition.

As I have said many times, the difference is expectation. Businesses may have the same expectation as the individual author, but in the absence of an express agreement to the contrary, businesses are not entitled to the same deference to that expectation, and that’s because of the difference in the relationship.

No matter how unsatisfactory our relationship was with Jones, we are not entitled to disclose the elements of the relationship even under the condition of its not being repeated. This is not to say that there is no response that we can give. We can respond succinctly and generally: “I would not agree to edit another book by Jones.” It is the details that we cannot discuss without client consent.

Why shouldn’t we discuss the details?

The primary problem with editing is that it is subjective. When we claim a client’s manuscript is poorly written, we are expressing our personal, subjective opinion — we are not expressing objective fact. It is the “tomayto”–versus–“tomahto” problem. I can’t even say that a client’s manuscript needs significant adjustment to meet Chicago style, because Chicago is not a set of rules that cannot be broken; Chicago is a collection of opinions from a group of people someone has declared have a more valuable opinion than mine.

Although editing is not objective, whether the client pays invoices in a timely manner would appear to be objective. But even that is not objective. A client can be delaying payment because the client is unhappy with our work, or believes we are charging more than was agreed, or thinks we padded the invoice by adding hours that we didn’t actually work or need to work, or for any number of other legitimate reasons.

It is client identification that rules the roost

Which brings us full circle, back to the ultimate problem: The client cannot defend himself or offer explanations; the discourse is fully one-sided. Consequently, from an ethical perspective, we should not discuss our relationship with an individual client in the absence of the client’s agreement. The client has an expectation of privacy and confidentiality that as professionals we should uphold.

Remember that the key is client identification. We can discuss a manuscript’s quality if there is no way to connect the manuscript to the client. It isn’t the manuscript that has an expectation of privacy; it is the client. Thus the rule:

Ethically it is not improper to disclose the name of a client except when the client is a nonbusiness individual who would reasonably expect confidentiality. Consequently, it is unethical to discuss any facet of our relationship with a nonbusiness individual, including compensation problems and quality or condition of their manuscript, if doing so would be connected to the nonbusiness individual, in the absence of prior consent.

Do you agree? What is your opinion?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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