An American Editor

April 5, 2020

On the Basics — Being alone in quarantine times (and normal ones)

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 6:11 pm

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

We’re seeing a lot of advice and resources to help couples and families who are quarantined together for the moment, with one parent/partner or both working at home for the first time, laid off/furloughed and otherwise facing unexpected new family dynamics because of the coronavirus crisis. No one seems to be focusing on how this works, and feels, for someone who lives alone. Since that would now be me, among many others, I thought I’d jump into the breach and see if I can help.

In the two years since my husband died, I’ve almost gotten used to living by myself again, but the current medical crisis is making this harder than usual, and I can’t be the only one experiencing some stress about it. My recollection of life-before-Wayne-the-Wonderful is that I didn’t mind living alone, but always hoped to find that person I could make a good life with. I was lucky to find him, even luckier to have 30 years with him and devastated to lose him, but am determined to have a good life on my own again. It was going pretty well until the current crisis. I’m starting to feel a little bored with my own company.

If you’re new to living alone, take heart; you can do it, even if it’s hard and not what you want from life. If you’ve been doing this for a while, congrats on making it so far; you can keep it going. Either way, this isn’t easy, even it’s become customary.

Being home alone might not be as much of an issue for the introverts among us, or those who have lived alone for a lot longer than I now have. Somehow, though, enforced isolation feels different from isolation by choice. Not only is it more conscious and public, in the sense that everyone is talking about it, but it always feel better to make our own choices about how we live. Being told how to live feels intrusive and … somehow undemocratic.

Even in good times, editorial workers are prone to losing track of time, being immersed in a project, and ending up with sore backs, blurry eyes and fuzzy brains as a result. We often do get lost in a project, surfacing after several hours of editing, for instance, and surprised at how much time has gone by. Focus is a good thing, but more than an hour without a short break and three or four hours without a longer one is not healthy, nor is it good for the quality of editorial work.

Now that so many of us are at home even more than usual, alone or otherwise, we have to space out our activity more than usual, especially the butt-in-seat, brain-fully-engaged things like writing, editing/proofreading, grading papers, research, etc. — anything that involves sitting for extended amounts of time. It’s especially challenging when we’re alone to remember to stop work and breathe, move and pace ourselves; we don’t have anyone at hand to remind us to stop work for a snack, a snuggle, a walk, an errand run … something and anything to enhance mental and physical health.

If you have a dog, of course, that does force you to stop and get out of the house a couple of times a day. A cat can be a good companion (I’m now happily a cat person again, after more than 30 years without having a cat, and she definitely makes it easier to rattle around the place by myself), but doesn’t require leaving the house, and we cat people don’t have cat parks to go to the way that dog people can enjoy socializing — for both themselves and their animals — at dog parks.

If you don’t already, this is the time to get in the habit of using an alarm of some sort (I started to say “alarm clock,” and then remembered that many of us use our computers and smartphones for such things!) as a reminder to get up and move around briefly, or stop work for more than a few minutes. It’s a good habit to have at any time, but especially now, when immersing ourselves in work or computer time — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, games, puzzles, etc. — feels like the only way to stay connected to the real world. Or to escape from it, now that I think of it.

Both before and after Wayne-the-Wonderful came into my life, I never had any real problems with finding ways to combat isolation as a freelancer who works from home (with the caveat that I’m the poster child for extroverts). In normal times, I combat loneliness and aloneness with being active in professional associations whose local, national and regional events I can organize or attend; getting together with friends and neighbors for meals and outings; running errands to the grocery store, bookstore, post office, hardware store (now that I’m a homeowner, the hardware store is a frequent destination!); going to concerts, lectures, fundraising events for nonprofits I support …

In normal times, I also suggest that home-based colleagues look for ways to break through a sense of isolation by joining hobby groups; volunteering in person for causes we believe in; extending ourselves to spend time with family, friends and neighbors, especially older folks who would appreciate our company (and maybe our help with using technology) — that is, not waiting to be called but initiating those interactions; not subscribing to home delivery of the daily newspaper so you have to get out of the house to pick up a copy; finding a congenial bar or restaurant as a regular “Cheers”-like hangout (you never know — I met my husband over Sunday brunch at my neighborhood pub!); taking the dog out on walks and to the dog park; joining a pool or fitness club (for both the physical health benefits and another way to interact with like-minded people); joining a church/synagogue/whatever. Some colleagues even prefer to have a post office box, both for privacy considerations and as a reason to get out of the house a couple of times a week. Keep all of this in mind for when life returns to normal.

Even in normal times, people living alone have access to a wealth of resources to keep from feeling isolated, much of which become lifesaving in times like now. We can get our daily news online easily (and perhaps too constantly, nowadays). We can order supplies, food, entertainment and more from home, and have everything arrive on our doorsteps. We can manage finances, for the most part, from home (thank goodness for clients who pay by direct deposit, PayPal, Zelle, etc.!). At least in the editorial field, most of us can do our work from home (often more productively and effectively than in the midst of the distractions of the average office environment). We can communicate and interact with family, friends, colleagues, classmates, clients and more on the web. No one who wants to be connected has to be unconnected. It’s worth remembering that many of us are in much better circumstances than people in other professions/industries and places.

By the way, many local animal shelters, especially Humane Society chapters, are doing drive-up adoptions these days (if you aren’t ready for the responsibility of adopting a furry companion, there’s always fostering on a short-term basis). Many have also figured out ways for volunteers to help with dog-walking and other ways to pitch in safely in these scary days.

These are not normal times, of course. Here’s wishing safety, survival and comfort to all of my colleagues here, whether you’re home alone all the time or just for now, or are lucky enough to have someone(s) with you whom you want to be with.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter ( is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and — as of 2019 — owner of An American Editor. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (, this year co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (, sponsored by An American Editor and (still) planned for October 2–4 in Baltimore, MD. She can be reached at or

March 25, 2020

On the Basics — What should be on your website?

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 11:43 am

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

Many of us have time on our hands at the moment, so this might be a good time to focus on creating, updating or revamping a website. That’s the kind of thing we tend to let slide when we’re focused on current deadlines; we might do updates or new content for our clients, but our own sites get left in the dust for “someday.” Well, friends, someday is today. Working on our websites is a good distraction from the chaos around us and a great investment in our professional futures.

What to include in an artist’s, designer’s or photographer’s website seems fairly self-evident, so this post focuses on tips for websites of writers, editors and proofreaders, and indexers.

General guidelines

As I’ve said in my presentations about websites, there are a few things we should all include in our websites, regardless of what kind(s) of editorial work we do.

Check for current contact information and make it easy for people to reach you. A simple contact form is often the best bet. You don’t have to publish a phone number or street address, and you don’t even have to have a link to your e-mail address, although that is my preference. If you don’t have a contact form now, consider creating one.

Make sure you have a copyright line on every page. If you haven’t updated yours with the current year, this is the time to do so.

You can include a photo of yourself if you want to, but don’t feel obligated — a photo might make you and the site seem more human and approachable, but visitors want to know about your work and usually don’t care what you look like. If you do use a photo, use one that does you proud. A headshot is all you need, or maybe one of you at your desk. Informal shots are fine; you don’t have to spend a fortune on a professional portrait. Just make sure it’s something that looks professional.

Don’t list hobbies unless they relate to the work you do.

An editor’s or proofreader’s site

Editors and proofreaders face a special challenge when creating websites for themselves, because it’s a lot harder for us to “show our work” than it is for writers, artists, designers, photographers, book layout and design professionals, indexers — most editing and proofreading clients would rather the world not see the “before” versions of their projects.

That said, there are plenty of effective editor/proofreader websites out there. Yours could include:

Information about your training and experience

List of skills

List of services

Definitions of levels of editing, especially the difference between substantive and copy- editing, and the difference between editing and proofreading

Descriptions of what you do (and don’t do)

Genres you work with

Style manual(s) you’re familiar with

Explanation of your process

Statement about providing samples, referring to a professional organization such as the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA;

Samples you’ve created

Testimonials from clients about your work

Information about payment options (deposits, methods — checks vs. PayPal vs. direct deposit, etc.) and deposit policy

Refund policy, if you have one

Organizations you belong to and what you do in them

Resources for more information (organization sites, for instance)

An author’s site

As a reader, what I look for in an author’s website are cover images, book synopses, reviews or links to the book(s), and buying info, along with a detailed author bio.

Let visitors and prospective clients know about:

The genre(s) you write in

Your training and experience, if relevant — usually more important for journalists and writers who work with publications and organizations than for authors of published books

If you write for clients rather than write your own books, include links to your published work — as long as the client says it’s OK to do so. I also put images of the first pages of some of the articles I’ve had published, but not entire articles, at my website; mostly to create visual or graphic interest, but also to “prove” that I’ve been published.

Your publishing history

Your writing process

The inspiration for your writing work

Organizations you belong to and your roles in them

Compliments about your writing voice and published work

Information about payment options (deposits, methods — checks vs. PayPal vs. direct deposit, etc.) and deposit policy

Refund policy, if you have one

Resources for aspiring authors (agents, books, self-publishing tips, courses, etc.)

Authors you admire

An indexer’s site

If you’re an indexer, you might have an easier time setting up your website than editing and proofreading colleagues. Consider including:

Software program(s) you use

Training and experience

Types/Genres of projects you work on

Covers of books and reports you’ve indexed (with client permission)

Client testimonials

Your pay model or rate

Information about payment options (deposits, methods — checks vs. PayPal vs. direct deposit, etc.) and deposit policy

Refund policy, if you have one

Organizations you belong to and what you do in them (especially if you belong to the American Society for Indexing;

What are the challenges of setting up and maintaining your website? How often do you do updates or revisions? What are some of the sites you’ve found helpful or inspiring?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter ( is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and — as of 2019 — owner of An American Editor. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (, this year co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors ( and planned for October 2–4 in Baltimore, MD. She can be reached at or

March 23, 2020

On the Basics — Passing the time in quarantine

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 11:02 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

The coronavirus crisis is forcing change on every aspect of society that I can see, and will have long-lasting effects on all of our lives, both professional and personal. I hope all of our subscribers here will be safe.

Among concerns is that scammers and spammers are ramping up their schemes to take advantage of this scary time, so be extra-vigilant. While situations like this bring out the best in most people, it also brings out the worst in others. I’ve already seen warnings about people going door-to-door peddling phony cures (although that’s likely to stop as more stay-at-home orders go into effect), and inaccurate suggestions are going the rounds in places like Facebook, especially its messenger service. Warn family and friends (especially older people and those who live alone) that the longer this lasts, the more fake “cures,” treatments and tips will circulate. Tell them not to take “advice” or buy anything from unfamiliar sources, and ask them not to “forward to everyone in your address book.”

We also have to be aware that being stuck at home for unknown lengths of time can create tension among family members, in addition to boredom. Domestic violence is expected to increase. I don’t know how to counteract that trend, but being aware of the possibility might help some of us hold it at bay.

It also could get dangerous to venture out if stay-at-home orders last for longer than we hope and people feel increasingly desperate or angry about the situation. If you have to leave home for groceries, medications and other essentials, try to have someone with you, be extra-alert, don’t forget your cellphone and don’t dawdle.

Between crisis anxiety and being stuck at home due to work closings and stay-in orders, we’re all likely to eat more than usual, and more stuff that isn’t healthy. Comfort food is one thing; junk food is something else entirely. Two suggestions: (1) If you’re doing a store run, don’t be tempted to stock up on junk food, even if the kids are demanding it; if you have some at home, stash it somewhere inaccessible. (2) Up your activity level – do calisthenics and hallway walking indoors, go for walks around the block every couple hours, take the kids or the dog on longer walks than usual, go to a park for a hike or stroll. You’ll feel better mentally and physically.

We’re also likely to spend more than usual on online shopping as a distraction, so be careful not to go overboard because you or your family members need something to do. Start looking around the house for projects to tackle that can be done without spending more money; make such projects into games and challenges for family and neighbors.

Don’t give up on professional development opportunities. While major conferences have been cancelled, most host organizations are finding ways to keep the learning and networking aspects going through Skype, Zoom, GoToWebinar and similar resources.

I came up with a few more ideas for passing the time as more and more of us are seeing restrictions on activity and in-person interaction with family and friends (not to mention clients, colleagues, employers and places we’re used to going to – stores, banks, museums, sports settings, concerts, meetings and more), as well as issues with work and income.

Find ways to help – family members, neighbors, colleagues, total strangers. Whether it’s running essential errands or communicating through GrandPads, videoconferencing and physical windows, the more we do to help each other, the better we’ll feel.

Sort, file and pitch – business and personal records, checkbook registers, credit card statements, clothes, unpacked boxes, souvenirs, photos, outgrown or never-used toys, expired canned goods and other staples or medications, collections, books, etc.

Plan to give away – any of the above that you realize you don’t need

Garden – mulch, weed, clear, soil-test, start planting; it’s good for your mental and physical health, and the results could help cheer you up

Catch up – on reading (book piles, magazines, newspapers in real life; online; in Kindle and other phone apps), laundry, redecorating, mending, repurposing

Write – that book you’ve been meaning to start or finish, poetry, letters to friends for mailing on paper or electronically, blog posts for later publication

Update – your résumé, will and health directives, savings and investment plans, marketing projects

Resurrect an old or start a new hobby

Learn a new skill or program — the Internet is awash with YouTube and other resources for learning on your own or at home with family members

Clean – the house, home office, car, garage, etc.

Assemble – puzzles, dollhouses, workshop/building projects, knick-knacks into art

Get out – walk around the neighborhood or drive and then walk/hike at a park

Communicate – with family and friends by phone, e-mail and Internet, both to reassure each other and to counter false information. You might even learn interesting things about family and personal histories that never came up before.

Invent games – for kids both at home and around your neighborhood. One of my friends posted about a game for kids that started in his Chicago neighborhood: putting teddy bears in your windows and coming together online to identify where they are – like an Easter egg or treasure hunt that can be done virtually as well as physically. Coming up with creative outlets and activities will, again, be good for our emotional and mental health.

How are you coping? How is your work life going so far?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter ( is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and — as of 2019 — owner of An American Editor. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (, this year co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors ( and planned for October 2–4 in Baltimore, MD. She can be reached at or


March 13, 2020

On the Basics: Tips for coping with the current health crisis

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

Many AAE subscribers have been working from home for years, so the current movement to that model as a response to the coronavirus crisis (yes, it is at crisis level in many ways) is no big deal. Others work in outside offices and are faced with transforming their own or their colleagues’ work styles into being home-based.

Based on my many years of working from home, here are some suggestions.

At home

  • If you live with family members, let them know that you need peace and quiet, with minimal interruptions or intrusions, when you’re trying to work. Both spouses/partners and younger kids will think it’s great to have you at home with them, but might have to be tactfully educated about why you’re there, what you have to get done for work and when (or if) you can take a break to hang out with them.
    • Ask everyone to let you answer the home phone if you have one, so clients and colleagues don’t get your adorable five-year-old on the line or someone who forgets to take important messages.
    • Set aside a dedicated workspace and make sure everyone knows not to mess with your computer and paper files. If you have a room that becomes your office, consider putting a Do not disturb! sign on the door.
    • Have a laptop for work that no one else in the house is allowed to use, or invest in an inexpensive desktop setup that is also hands-off to everyone but you.
    • Get dressed in something more business-like than jeans and T-shirts so you feel like you’re working — and your family treats you accordingly.
    • Get out of the house every day, for a walk around the block, lunch with family or friends, trips to the store or library as needed or appropriate, etc.
    • Keep a schedule similar to your usual workday so going back to the office won’t be as big of a jolt when you get the all-clear.
    • If your company doesn’t have a template to log your projects and time, create one — even if you aren’t asked to provide it.
  • If you have children of about grades 5 to 9 (U.S. system) who might have to stay home because local schools close down, a Facebook colleague suggested using (there’s even a PDF of lesson plans for “Teaching Literary Elements Through Song Lyrics”) and the site Every-Day Edits to keep them busy.
  • Splurge on some new books, toys and games for kids, partners, parents, pets, etc., and consider subscriptions to online movies, e-books and other sources of information and entertainment that you might not have needed until now. If you have to stay home for any unusual amount of time, the usual entertainments could get old pretty quickly.

For the office

  • Set up regular phone or Internet meetings to track project status and employee health or needs — not necessarily daily, but certainly weekly.
  • Create a template for individual employee project activity.
  • Expand sick day guidelines/benefits.
  • Provide laptops for anyone who needs them.
  • Set up special passwords and login access so people working from home don’t expose company materials to access by family members and visitors.
  • Triple-check health-related warnings and recommendations before sharing them with employees.
  • Stock up on sanitizers, gloves and face masks for employees.
  • Adopt a heightened routine for cleaning surfaces throughout the office, including door knobs, stairwell railings, elevator buttons, desks, keyboard, phones, etc.
  • Remind employees that any and all communications, quotes and comments about how the company is handling this issue must come from authorized spokespeople, and ask (or tell) employees not to post about it to Facebook and other social media.

In general

Whether you work in-house or freelance from home, you might feel the urge to stock up on household supplies and find that your usual grocery or big-box store is running low. Remember that drugstores and department chains (Target, Dollar Stores, etc.) carry things like toilet paper, dry goods, pet food and supplies, beverages, over-the-counter medications and other healthcare products, etc. Many also have refrigerated sections with perishable or frozen foods. There should be a variety of options for keeping your home stocked with whatever you might need in the next few weeks.

Best of luck to all!

How are you coping with and preparing for this situation? What other suggestions do you have for colleagues, whether in-house or freelance?

March 2, 2020

On the Basics: Enhancing diversity and inclusion in your writing (and workplace)

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 6:04 pm

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner, An American Editor

Being inclusive and diverse may seem as challenging as switching from two spaces between sentences to one, but really isn’t that hard to do — in many ways, both can be done easily, even though they continue to be a matter of discussion (in the case of spaces between sentences, contention!). Since the publishing world is publicizing, if not championing, the use of new pronouns and options for colleagues to self-identify by ones they prefer, our field can also lead the way in making written works — and the people or businesses producing them — reflect a wide range of variety in ethnic, religious, national/international and gender identities.

I’ve been surprised to notice that TV commercials have become far more inclusive and diverse than many of the programs they support. We editorial professionals can follow their lead in presenting or including a variety of faces and voices.

As writers, most (if not all) of us owe it to our readers to include, and accurately represent, people of all backgrounds, or at least enough to make it clear that we understand there is a world of variety that we live in, work in, and write/edit/proofread about.

As editors (and maybe even as proofreaders, although this should be managed before that stage), we owe it to our authors and other clients to say something when an opportunity to be inclusive is missed.

As anyone who hires writers, editors, proofreaders, etc., we owe it to our employees and the people they serve to widen the scope of where we look for new people.

As organizers of events, we owe it to participants to go beyond the usual group of presenters to find new and varied voices and faces to make those events more interesting and representative of an industry, profession and cause. It’s also smart to use new channels to reach participants who bring variety and diversity to the events.

That doesn’t mean every story or event has to include everyone, but that it’s worth making the effort to go beyond a standard, and somewhat limited, range of people to illustrate the topics we work on. It makes sense to create stories and publications that reflect the real world, and the reality is that world is one of variety, difference and diversity.

One of the best ways to be more inclusive and diverse is to look for versions of the professional associations we turn to first for advice, colleagiality, new hires, trends, projects, etc. In the USA, the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) might be the lead organization of and for journalists, but there’s also the National Association of Black Journalists and groups for and of journalists who are Pacific Asian, Hispanic, etc. If your company needs to bring in more women, look to the Association of Women in Communications. There are organizations for photographers and artists of color, and probably for other communications professionals as well; if not independent entities, there might be subgroups of standard associations that include people of color, various nationalities, different genders, etc.

This perspective isn’t limited only to organizations in communications to consult when hiring. If you’re a journalist, you need to look beyond the big, standard organizations to find people to interview who represent various voices and culture. Associations are a great source of, well, sources — experts in or members of almost any profession or field you can imagine. You might usually contact the American Medical Association for people in that profession to feature in profiles or include in interviews, but there’s a National Medical Association whose members are black. You might know about the American Bar Association, but there’s also the National Bar Association for and of attorneys of color, and the National Association of Women Lawyers or the Women’s Bar Association, just as starting points. Most national trade or membership associations have groups or committees for members of various backgrounds as well.

The not-for-profit sector is also a rich source of diverse sources, situations and experiences. No matter what you’re writing about, or what your authors/clients are writing about, there’s a nonprofit for that — and a lot of them are smaller than a Red Cross, AARP, United Way, etc., but doing important, productive work that includes and/or affects people of varied ethnic, religious, economic and other backgrounds. Some of the larger nonprofits partner with smaller organizations that can add diversity to an article or other project.

The Internet is full of sources of images, many copyright-free, that can be added to various projects when you want to include people of color, different genders, people with disabilities, nontraditional family units, etc.

An easy first step from the grammar perspective is to stop using he, him and his as the default pronoun, and even to avoid the somewhat-clunky s/he, her/him and hers/his or switching back and forth within a piece of writing. The easiest way is to use plural pronouns wherever possible, especially when you don’t know or need to identify the gender or preferred pronoun of someone being written about. To make this even easier, they/their as a singular has been adopted by the major style guides, but I’ve found that plurals usually keep the flow going more smoothly and don’t make readers stop to wonder about meaning.

In the aftermath of recent reactions to the novel American Dirt, where the author has been pilloried for writing about experiences of people from a culture she doesn’t belong to, this might seem risky. I’m not talking about presenting oneself as something one isn’t (although I don’t think that’s really what that author did, and canceling her readings seemed cowardly on the part of bookstores and other venues, even given the insane threats she and they received). I’m talking about realistically presenting the world as it is: full of variety in backgrounds, perspectives, opinions, experiences and more.

Whether you’re writing, editing, proofreading, illustrating, publishing, hiring or more, take time to look beyond the easy sources to find people who represent a wider world of reality. The results — more interest, more readers, more sales, more respect — will be worth the effort.

Have you encountered a lack of diversity in the editorial work you do? Have you succeeded in increasing diversity and inclusion in your projects?

Ruth E. “I can write about anything”® Thaler-Carter ( is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and — as of 2019 — owner of An American Editor. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (, now co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors ( She can be reached at or

February 21, 2020

Registration is open for 2020 Be a Better Freelancer® conference!

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 4:48 pm

Whether you’d like help with using editing tools or expanding your editing business, Communication Central‘s annual Be a Better Freelancer® conference can help — and you can register for the 2020 event now! The conference might not be until October 2–4, but registering early will save you money (that doesn’t mean the date and place haven’t been set, by the way; in case anyone wonders, it means “Just because the conference isn’t until …”).

An American Editor subscribers may use the lower registration rates along with past conference attendees and members of the conference co-host (as of 2019), the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE). This year’s conference — the 15th! — will feature presenters both new and familiar, with topics you need to make your editing work and business better than ever. We’ve reduced the costs to make it easier for more colleagues to attend and to offset the cost of parking for those who opt to drive to Baltimore for the event.

2020 C-C conf Registration

See you in Baltimore, MD, for this invaluable event!

February 5, 2020

On the Basics — Starting the new year by planning for emergencies

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 12:28 am

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner, An American Editor

There are two levels of emergency planning for people in our field, whether you write, edit, proofread, index, design, etc.: day-to-day protection of what you’re working on and what happens to your projects if you can’t work or when you die. I’ve written here about emergency planning a couple of times (,,,, but recently saw a slightly different twist that seems appropriate to discuss early in this new year: A colleague asked a discussion list about “what happens if … you’re unable to complete work you’ve started? How easy is it for your survivor(s) to send work-in-progress to your clients (assuming they’ve paid something down on the job already?”

My response was: “This is one excellent reason to participate in a (professional association) — not just join, but BE VISIBLE. Membership gives you a way to find colleagues you can partner with before there’s a crisis, to see how well their work style and quality meshes with yours, and to have names you can give to whoever will look after your business if you’re incapacitated or, well, dead. Your clients might want to find their own replacements for you, but you will be doing them a huge favor by having someone, or some people, in place to step in on anything currently under way.

“(The possibility of being contacted about partnering or subcontracting is a reason to make sure your posts to a group are as professional and letter-perfect as possible.)

“And this is why your potential survivor(s) should have access to some kind of business info — passwords, contract language/business policies, current client list with contact info, project status, etc.”

At some point in the conversation, I also noted that my will is in a safe deposit box, and my brother is a signatory for the box, so he can get access to it if anything were to happen to me. He also has a copy of my will, and of my passwords. I’m going to do the same with my niece, in case anything happens to my brother first.

This can work in various ways. The other day, I realized that I hadn’t heard from a regular client for more than a month; January was busy enough that I hadn’t noticed a lack of requests from her, and if I did think about it, I just figured she was focused on managing end-of-old-year/beginning-of-new-year stuff. I sent her an “Are you OK?” e-mail message just to check in, and she responded to say she had fallen in late December, had a major brain bleed and is still in rehab. Her comment that “I probably should have included you on a list of people whom my daughter clued in …” fit right into this post. I also remember a reliable colleague who hadn’t sent in her usual newsletter column; after several days of trying to reach her, I found out that she had fallen in her apartment and died because she couldn’t call 911 and no one knew anything had happened until it was too late.

I don’t want to be either of these people, and I’m sure none of you do.

Discussion list responses from colleagues provided some useful tips to consider, for both personal and business matters. Here are edited versions of their suggestions.

  • Have a will! And someone designated as your power of attorney, along with a living will and health directive. Every state has its own laws and having a will protects you, your assets and your family. In many states, dying without a will means your assets go probate and/or to the state, which is rarely (if ever) what any of us wants. If you don’t have family or friends to leave things to, designate a charity, professional organization, or educational or cultural institution you care about.
  • Use something like the LastPass password manager, which has the option to share a folder with specific permission giving access to someone you trust. Whatever method you use, make sure someone has passwords to your computer(s), programs, lists and social media so they can manage or inform contacts as appropriate.
  • Create a document that sits at the top center of your computer screen(s) titled “In Emergencies” and details where all the important files are on your system, both client and personal, so a partner, spouse, child or colleague can find what they would need if you become incapacitated.
  • Amazon sells a binder in which you can centralize all of your information — passwords, insurance docs, bank and investment accounts, friends to be notified, health directive, mortgage and other creditors, last wishes, etc. You could include a page with up-to-date client information. You also can create such a binder (on paper) or folder (on the computer) yourself.
  • Have your bank accounts converted to “TOD,” so they transfer immediately to the person of your choice, with no probate or lengthy delay. That way, the person you designate not only can pay any outstanding bills, but will have access to remaining funds in the account and can deposit any outstanding payments that show up.
  • If you do any subcontracting or hiring, make sure someone knows how to reach those connections in an emergency.
  • Put together a letter of instruction that says where to find all the details that have been discussed here, along with where to find safe deposit box keys, cemetery plot deeds and life insurance policies. It should outline your funeral wishes, what to do for any pets, and any other details your heirs/executors will need to handle after your death. Leave the letter and will somewhere easily be found and immediately accessible, and be sure to tell the people who need to know where they are.
  • If you live alone, especially in a detached house or even in an apartment building/condo where you don’t interact regularly with neighbors, consider setting up a daily call-in with someone in case you fall or come down with the flu, appendicitis, etc. Ideally, this should be someone local whom you trust with keys to your home so they can get in to check on you if you don’t answer the call and can let emergency personnel in if needed. At least get one of those Medic Alert (or whatever) buttons so you can call for help.

Are you prepared for the worst (which I sincerely hope doesn’t happen to any of us any time soon)? Are there any other steps we should take to make sure our business (or personal) matters are protected and someone knows what to do if we have an emergency?

By the way, the colleague whose list message inspired this post also asked: “Does everyone make it clear that those up-front payments are non-refundable no matter whether you finish the job)?” If I had received an advance or deposit but something happened before I did enough of the work to “use” those funds, and my backup person or people couldn’t finish the job, I’d expect someone to give the client back the difference. That’s the kind of possible situation that makes it important to keep some kind of log of how much time, how many words or how much of whatever measurement we use to track the progress of a project we’ve spent to date. It’s easy to get so immersed in a big project that we forget to keep track of that information, but this point in a new year is a good one to start trying to be efficient about it.

Here’s wishing all of our AAE colleagues a healthy, productive and profitable new year, whether you’re in-house, freelance, retired or simply interested in editing. I hope everyone has their records, documents and systems in place to make it easier to have that kind of year. L’chaim!

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter ( is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, publishers, associations, nonprofits, independent authors, and companies worldwide; editor-in-chief and — as of 2019 — owner of An American Editor (AAE); and owner of the A Flair for Writing ( publishing company. She created the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (, now in its 15th year and co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers & Editors ( and sponsored by AAE. She can be reached at or

January 30, 2020

Freelancers’ conference returns to Baltimore in October 2020

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 4:16 pm

You saw it here first: The 2020 Communication Central/NAIWE “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference will be held October 2–4 in Baltimore, MD! We’re putting together the program in the next couple of weeks, but wanted to give colleagues plenty of time to save the date — and start saving your shekels — to attend the 15th annual iteration of this practical, resource-full event. We’ll be back at the Courtyard Marriott Hotel in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor East neighborhood, just a couple of blocks from the Inner Harbor to the west and Fell’s Point to the east.

An American Editor is a cosponsor and there may be a special discount for subscribers. Watch this space for details soon.

Please note that the conference will be held all day on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 2 and 3, and in the morning of Sunday, Oct. 4. Continental breakfast and a buffet lunch will be provided on Friday and Saturday, and continental breakfast on Sunday, with dinner outings on your own at local restaurants in the neighborhood of the conference hotel. The conference hotel room rate will be available from October 1–5 for those who want to do additional sightseeing in the Baltimore area.

January 6, 2020

Thinking Fiction: Name-dropping in Fiction

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 1:40 pm

By Carolyn Haley

Novelists are often counseled to be specific with details, choosing one or two arresting ones to give a strong sense of a person, place, or thing. These focused items, often dubbed “salient details,” can convey information powerfully and succinctly, as well as better than the dreaded “info dump,” which tells too much and invites readers to skim.

This is good advice, but I frequently see it interpreted in a way that detracts from the story and leaves the reader confused. By that I mean an author uses brand names or jargon — any term, usually a proper noun, representing specialized knowledge — without offering a hint about what it represents.

For example, in a manuscript I edited a few years ago, the protagonist was a fan of Biedermeier furniture. This style of furniture played a brief but important role in an ill-fated love affair between characters — but in the narrative, the author didn’t tell the reader what Biedermeier furniture is. Similarly, the author at one point clothed the hero in a Tom Ford suit; another time, the heroine stopped at a Bi-Lo at the end of a long trip.

Hands up, please: How many of you know what these things are?

If you do, then I assume you are up to date on vintage European furniture, modern U.S. fashion, and store chains in the American South. If not, you’re probably doing what I did when I encountered the terms: scratching your head and muttering, “Huh?”

Editing for the few vs. the many

As an editor, I look for those “Huh?” moments in all manuscripts and query the author when they occur. These tend to be carefully chosen “salient details” that are exactly right for the situation, but that lose the effect if the reader doesn’t get it.

Now, if solely the target audience reads the finished book, then such salient details will draw a knowing and appreciative nod because they will be familiar to readers and achieve exactly what the author desires: an incisive way of characterizing a person, place, or thing. If, however, the book is read by people outside the target audience, then it’s guaranteed that some readers will not recognize the references, and go, “Huh?”

Also guaranteed is that every published book will be read by somebody outside the target audience. If the book sells really well, then lots of those people will read it.

The goal, then, is to minimize the number of “Huh?” moments for the full potential audience. To do that, authors must provide a little something extra any time they drop a name into the story.

Here’s how it played out with the above examples. In response to my queries, the author replied:

(1) On the furniture — “I could mention Biedermeier is a style of art and design that flourished after the Napoleonic Wars until the mid-eighteenth century. It heralded the rise of the middle class in Germany and the Scandinavian countries. You are correct that urban folks and people in the arts are more likely to know what a Biedermeier piece of furniture is, or a Bergère chair, with padded wooden arms, seat, and back and a curvy delicate silhouette. But damn, that gets clunky.”

Yep. The full info gets clunky, even if it’s crucial to the story. So the author’s challenge is to decide how much (little) has to be included so readers who are not versed in the subject understand what it is and why it’s important to the character, without disrupting story flow. Often, a single line will serve.

The author solved it just that way. Because the character was well-versed in the subject, it made sense in context for her to remark, “I love Biedermeier, a sleekly streamlined furniture style catering to the tastes of a budding European middle class during the mid-nineteenth century.” Then she cantered along with the story.

(2) On the suit: “I probably spent an hour looking at men’s suits online to find the right one. Comme des Garçons? Boss? Versace? Ralph Lauren? I chose Tom Ford since his clothes can only be worn by men in their absolute prime because of how close to the body he cuts.”

That last line nails it. Now I understand; but, unexplained, it still leaves unfashionable readers in the dark. How to convey to them why a Tom Ford suit matters?

In the novel, a conversation discusses the suit, during which we learn the heroine is something of an expert on formalwear because of her job, and the hero lets his mother choose his suit because she has superlative taste and Ford is her favored designer.

What actually matters in the story, however, is that the heroine thinks men in eveningwear are ultra-sexy, and this particular man looks fantastic in the Tom Ford suit because that designer’s clothes fit him so perfectly. In other words, the author told me what matters, but failed to tell readers. In the narrative, we learn only that this suit is eveningwear and the heroine notices. The salient detail isn’t quite doing its job.

The author solved the problem by resequencing the dialogue, so this bit of explanatory narrative tucked neatly between the characters’ lines: “Not a lot of men can wear Tom Ford because he cuts so close to the body. You have to be in really good shape and even so, his styling favors trim, long-muscled men. Which happen to be my favorite kind.”

(3) On the store: “Bi-Lo is a Southern chain. Its mention adds verisimilitude to the story. Anyone who has been to the South will recognize it. And if you don’t, Google it. Have you not seen Piggly Wiggly mentioned in Southern stories? Or Publix? I read books set in the South often because I’m interested in the area and find these mentions all the time. I concede that adding more description could be a good compromise. So I could definitely say, ‘Bi-Lo grocery store’ and even mention she is taken with the difference in the names of the markets down there compared to home.”

Here again, the full explanation is too much information. Where Bi-Lo occurs in the story, the setup gives the impression it’s a gas station/convenience store, when in actuality, it’s a grocery store chain where the heroine can buy stuff she wants and needs. The fact in itself is not important, but the store name broke my attention while reading because I had no idea what it was. I was intent on the heroine’s journey and expected from the specificity of the name that her reason for stopping there meant something. Instead, it was local color. (And, as a lookup showed, it’s spelled in all caps.)

The author solved the problem with: “At a BI-LO grocery store, a chain we don’t have in New England, I picked up a few provisions for snacks and breakfast.”

Simple and unobtrusive; no need for reader to pause and scratch head.

Unsafe assumptions

This author and I have worked together over many years, so we both felt free to discuss these topics in depth (and yes, she gave permission to quote her in this essay). In our discussions, certain broader but related points came to the surface.

In one message she pointed out: “If anyone is confused … they can figure it out or not. Plus, if you read on a Nook or Kindle, you can highlight the word and look it up there and then, or, as I often do, use your smartphone.”

Ah — there’s some of the problem’s origin: What an author assumes about readers may not be true. Part of the transition between writing a story and selling it is making the psychic shift between author intent and reader reception. This nexus is the twitchy space that editors occupy.

Both editors and authors have to remember that, even in today’s tech-smart world, many readers still read print books, and have no interest in getting up from their comfortable chairs, moving to their computers (if they have one — not everybody does), and going online to look up a confusing detail. What a great way to break their focus on a story! That isn’t something a savvy author (or editor) wants to do to a reader.

Some readers keep a notepad beside their reading spot and jot a list of new terms to look up afterward. That’s a good way to learn from novels, but not everybody does this. Other readers are happy to pause while reading to check something, while others let unknowns roll by. It all depends on the individual, as well as the number of times they’re left in the dark.

An author has to decide which and how many of these occasions matter. My client made her personal position plain: “How did I ever learn much of anything? By finding words or objects I didn’t recognize in text and then looking them up. Thus, I feel perfectly comfortable with these mentions. … We either skip over what we don’t know — nouns and verbs as well as others — or look them up. How did I learn what defenestration was? I looked it up. Fin de siècle? I looked it up, although I had to ask a French speaker for the correct pronunciation. That term is so much more descriptive than to say ‘the end of the nineteenth century’ … because it describes a glittering lost world, totally defining a time and place. … These descriptions, if you know them, are iconic. It’s the difference between someone having an iPhone and someone having an Android. A very big gap culturally and philosophically. I think it is okay for that stuff to go over some people’s heads and not others. Some people will see the word iPhone and think, mobile phone, and some people will see it and conjure the person (in their mind) who carries it — hip and pretty culturally savvy. Whether that is true or not, as a writer I’m using it.”

The last line exemplifies the author–editor relationship. Ultimately, the story belongs to the author and the editor can only query. There’s no right or wrong. But that’s what editors are here for: to check whether an element is a technical problem or part of the author’s creative voice. It’s all about confirming that authors are truly saying what they want to say.

Whose job is whose

The takeaway is: Authors, let it rip during the draft. When you review your work, pause and consider each proper noun or specialized term. Your editor is professionally obliged to look them up, if only to confirm the spelling; your readers, however, need to grasp the point you’re seeking to make. They want to learn new things and to learn about your characters, but they generally don’t want to stop reading or work hard to do so. If you are using technical, regional, cultural, or other special words, make sure that somewhere close to first mention, you drop in a phrase or sentence — paragraph, if necessary — that will put the detail in context. Your job is to keep readers in the story.

Editors, pause and consider each proper noun and unfamiliar term — not only to confirm the spelling, but to evaluate its universality. Does it support the story and enrich character or place, or does it come from the author writing too narrowly within their frame of reference? When in doubt, query. All that has to be achieved is for you to think about the term and make an an informed decision. Your job is to stand in for future readers and help them stay engrossed in your story — to keep those “Huh?” moments to a minimum.

(A different version of this article appeared at a client’s website. Copyright remains with the author.)

Carolyn Haley is an award-winning novelist who 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 three novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1997 and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at or through her websites, DocuMania and New Ways to See the World. Carolyn also blogs at Adventures in Zone 3 and reviews at the New York Journal of Books, and has presented about editing fiction at the Communication Central conference.

November 28, 2019

Thankful at Thanksgiving

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 11:12 am

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

Breaking our usual Monday-Wednesday-Friday structure to wish colleagues a happy Thanksgiving, even if you aren’t in the USA. I’m very thankful for the knowledge, friendship and colleagiality of everyone who subscribes and contributes to the An American Editor blog.

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