An American Editor

December 6, 2017

On the Basics: The Holiday Season Is Upon Us — How Do We Manage Client Greetings?

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Freelancers face this issue every year: How do I greet and thank my clients/customers during the December holidays? Is it appropriate to send gifts to my clients/customers?

I’m a big believer in end-of-the-year gestures for my clients. Sending a holiday or end-of-the-year greeting, with or without a gift, is a good business and marketing move. Expressing appreciation for a client’s business shows you don’t take them for granted. With clients you only hear from once in awhile, that holiday greeting is also a great reminder of your services and contributions to the success of their business or projects. The arrival of my holiday greeting always triggers at least one response along the lines of, “What great timing – your package made me realize that we need your writing/editing/proofreading services for this new project. Are you available for…?”

Colleagues have noted that they get similar responses when they announce that they’re going on vacation (whether for the December holidays or at other times of the year). There’s something about saying you won’t be available that makes clients want you for a project at that time.

I also try to remember to send holiday or new year’s cards to clients I haven’t worked with in the past year. That’s almost a guarantee of new business in the new year!

Because I don’t know what everyone celebrates, I use a thank-you message rather than “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Chanukah,” or even “Happy Holidays.” I respect everyone’s choice of holiday to celebrate, and I don’t assume that everyone celebrates the same things that I do.

I collect items throughout the year to use as part of a small gift box for each client. Since I’m known for being somewhat obsessed with all things purple, these tend to be purple candies and knick-knacks. Each box includes a mug and pen with my business contact information, business card, and greeting card. I usually include packets of local coffee or hot cocoa, and exotic teas. Some years, I’ve sent candles (purple, of course – lilac-scented, in honor of our Rochester lilacs!) or seed packets with appropriate language in the card. The overall value is well within the limits that government employees are allowed to accept, and the nature of the gift stands out from the common gift basket, generic chocolate, bottle of wine, etc.

Customizing your holiday gift is the ideal. Even if some of the elements in mine are not labeled or marked with my business info in some way, key pieces are branded with my logo, e-mail address and/or website URL, and phone number: a mug or wine glass; a pen with the same information; my business card, of course; the greeting card itself. I haven’t used a professional printing service for the greeting card yet, but am seriously thinking about it for this year. I’ve accumulated a major stash of thank-you cards for this purpose and I’ve been creating my own greeting to print, sign and insert, something more polished might be a better idea.

Timing may be everything, but we can be flexible. If the month of December gets really crazy, I sometimes send out my holiday greeting and gift in early January as more of a “thank you for your business last year, here’s to a great new year together” message than one that references the holidays. (The advantage of waiting until January is that my greeting doesn’t get lost in the flood of everyone else’s holiday messages, not to mention all those catalogs and other advertising junk.)

Assembling the boxes (free from the post office) and filling them is time-consuming, and time can get away from us, so some colleagues may prefer to reach clients with just a card for the holidays. That’s fine — there’s no requirement to send a gift, and not everyone will feel comfortable doing so. One way I plan to reduce the time and hassle factor on my own behalf is to pay a friend’s teenager to help me with putting the boxes together and filling them up. I envision a day or two of the living room being carpeted with boxes lined up to receive their fillings, and a mini assembly line for the two of us to use in putting everything in each box.

As for practical considerations, inexpensive gifts and the cost of sending them are tax-deductible business expenses as marketing or promotions (at least under current guidelines), making them not only a gracious gesture but a practical investment in your business.

I enjoy the opportunity to tell my clients that I recognize that my business would not exist without them, and to let them know that they mean more to me than just a payment with each completed project. My clients seem to enjoy receiving this annual gesture, and the goodwill it creates is as valuable as when it triggers a new assignment.

Here’s to a happy holiday season and profitable new year to all my An American Editor colleagues!

How do you handle client greetings at the end of the year?

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, which hosts an annual conference for colleagues, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

December 4, 2017

On the Basics: Wrapping up the Old Year and Preparing for the New One

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

The end of the year is nigh, which means it’s time to think about wrapping up the old year and clearing the decks for the new one, including gifts for clients or colleagues, among other aspects of freelancing as an editorial professional.

To Gift or Not to Gift

A perennial question for editorial freelancers as the end of the year approaches is whether to give gifts to clients. The answer is easy if you work with government clients: Most government workers, including “privatized” agency workers like postal workers, are forbidden from accepting gifts of high value — in many cases, of any value — as well as any gifts from contractors or freelancers.

For private-sector clients and individuals, the decision is trickier. Some companies have policies about gifts from contractors. The good thing about that is it takes care of any decision-making for us. The bad thing is we might not know what the policy is, and asking is a little awkward. I lean toward sending something and hoping that doing so doesn’t violate any client policies or guidelines, rather than asking and spoiling the surprise if gift-giving is acceptable.

The gifts themselves can be challenging. You want to express appreciation for business from the client, but not look as if you’re trying to bribe the client into providing new work in the new year. There’s also the issue of who celebrates what. Rather than say anything that someone might find insensitive or intrusive, I couch my holiday gifts as thank-you gestures rather than recognition of any particular holiday.

When this topic comes up, as it does every year, some colleagues say they send gifts like chocolates — our own Rich Adin orders chocolate bars with his company logo impressed in them. Others order from companies that create gift baskets with fruit, chocolates or other candies, cookies, and similar goodies. I enjoy putting together my own gift boxes. I know there’s a risk in giving candy — people might be allergic or (horrors!) just not like them, but colleagues who know me will understand when I say that I get a kick out of finding candies that are either purple or wrapped in purple paper.

I’ve also sent seed packets, small stuffed bears, and other trinkets with appropriate messages on personalized cards. One thing I haven’t done, but probably should do, is order professionally printed cards. I have a stash of (purple, of course) thank-you cards that I personalize and I think my clients enjoy receiving, but something more formal might make a better impression.

Because chocolate, fruit, and other edibles tend to disappear fairly quickly, I include at least one nonperishable item in my client gifts — for example, a pen or a mug —something that will last and provide an ongoing reminder of my existence and services. For a few years, I would find ceramic purple mugs at local arts fairs, but now I use ones that have my logo, website URL, and e-mail address or phone number on them.

The Recordkeeping Routine

Gift-giving is fun. Recordkeeping is a dreaded chore. If the end of the year is near, it’s time for checking, organizing, and updating your business records to prepare for filing taxes in the new year. Whether you do your own taxes or consult an accountant, having the information organized now will make the process go much faster and feel like less of a hassle.

Take a few minutes to review various sources for information about any changes in taxes for the year — mileage rates, new deductions, and the like.

I’m pretty good about recording information in a spreadsheet or at least a list for each category of expense, but sometimes I have to set aside an hour or two a week in November or December to move receipts and other records from a pile on my desk to folders for each category of business record. Like many colleagues, I don’t enjoy filing, even though I realize it’s essential good business practice to stay on top of it.

Rich Adin suggests investing in a program like QuickBooks Pro. Although expensive (and tech support is far from the greatest), QuickBooks Pro does several things for you. First, it provides an easy way to track both business and personal income and outgo. Rich has multiple “accounts,” including one for his freelance business and one for his personal accounts. He creates invoices, tracks payments, and tracks and pays business expenses through the business account. He ”pays” himself by “writing” a business check to himself that is “deposited” into his personal account (all of this is done electronically). He pays business expenses, such as purchases of software, by writing a business check (or by making an electronic payment) to a vendor. He uses checks that have the business name imprinted and that he can run through his printer using QuickBooks Pro.

Having a separate bank account for business and using QuickBooks Pro helps confirm in client eyes that you are a business. Using QuickBooks Pro makes it easy to pay quarterly taxes and to create reports for your accountant to prepare your taxes. Because you can create and assign accounts, you can have as detailed a view of your business as you want. Most importantly, in Rich’s view, is that there are no pieces of paper to lose — QuickBooks Pro is his check register, so every time he spends money, it gets recorded. And unlike other methods, multiple backups (Rich backs up daily with Backup4All and continuously with Carbonite), both local and remote, mean that accurate financial records are always available.

Polishing Promotions

The end of the year is also a good time to review your website (or plan to launch one) to see if it needs refreshing. Rewriting content, adding new images or sections, and deleting old information all contribute to a more-effective site — and higher rankings. Do what you can now to enhance your site’s quality and impact for the new year.

Some people are saying we no longer need business cards, but I disagree. Take the end of the year to either consider revamping yours for a new look in the new year, or create one to use in the new year. You might not need it to promote your editorial business electronically, but it will come in handy in the real world. You never know when you might meet someone who could become a client or colleague, and who will remember you better with that little piece of cardboard in hand. If nothing else you can use it to qualify for giveaways at the Communication Central conference!

This is also a good time to do some research, perhaps with Writer’s Market or Literary Marketplace, on potential new clients for the new year. Identify potential new clients/outlets to contact now and plunge into the promotional effort in January.

Basics to Tackle

Now that you have the old year’s wrap-up under control, here are some reminders of things to consider in preparing for the new one. Do these either now or in early January, and your new year is likely to be an improvement over your old one. (For details, see my January 2017 essay, On the Basics: Some Ideas for a Strong Start to the New Year.)

  • Change your passwords.
  • Update your account contacts.
  • Update copyright dates on your website, blog, and newsletter, and remind your clients to do the same for their websites or publications.
  • Budget/start saving for professional development activities, such as conferences and courses.
  • Plan your promotions and marketing projects.
  • Update your résumé.
  • Review your expenses and income to see where you can reduce the former and increase the latter (Rich does this every six months by creating detailed reports in QuickBooks Pro). (A reminder: If you spend a dollar on a business expense, you can deduct that dollar on your taxes, but the value of the deduction is only equal to your tax rate. In other words, if your tax rate is 28%, your actual tax value as a result of spending the $1 is 28¢ — not $1. Consequently, lowering expenses is always a good idea. On the other hand, if you have to spend the money anyway, you might as well get some tax relief, even if it won’t be 100%.)
  • Improve your health — and be sure to review and compare health insurance plans.
  • Think about service — the new year might be a good time to give back to a worthy cause. Remember that charitable contributions of money and items are tax–deductible, although volunteer work is not.
  • Look ahead.
  • Start something new — learn a new skill or develop a new hobby.
  • Become active in online discussions or new groups.
  • Budget to invest in tools for your business, such as new equipment or software.
  • Budget/start saving for retirement. Think about (and implement) a firm percentage of income that you will put toward retirement from every client payment.
  • Start mapping out your marketing campaign for the new year.
  • Budget/start saving for marketing. Think about (and implement) a firm percentage of income for marketing from every client payment.

However you use these last few weeks of this year, here’s wishing all of our readers good health, fulfilling work, high incomes, and happy home lives.

Feel free to share your plans for making wrapping up the old and preparing for the new year. How are you approaching the end of the year?

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, which hosts an annual conference for colleagues, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

November 27, 2017

A Continuing Frustration — The “Going Rate”

Sadly for me, I still read editing-related blogs and posts on forums like LinkedIn. I say sadly because there is little more frustrating to me than to read the repetitive, advice-seeking posts and the repetitive, well-meaning, but usually incorrect and nearly always factually incomplete responses.

How many times does it have to be said that what I charge a client and what Betsy charges a client is wholly irrelevant to what you should charge a client? Apparently, it is something that cannot be said either frequently or emphatically enough because rarely does a day pass without someone (or multiple someones) asking something similar to “What is the going rate?”

If I say I charge $50 an hour and Betsy says she charges $20 an hour and Phil says he also charges $20 an hour, what is the answer to the going rate question? Add Susan ($10), Robert ($15), and Jeremy ($25) to the mix. Does the answer change? Have you really gotten an answer? Even if the universe of editors is small (say, 1,000 editors in total), which we know is not the case (there are more than 100,000 editors in the United States alone), how representative of the whole universe of editors are the responses from me, Betsy, Phil, Susan, Robert, and Jeremy?

After getting a bunch of responses, the asker usually decides she now has an answer, say $20/hour. But she has such incomplete information that the number she has decided is the “going rate” is useless — too much necessary information is missing, information that qualifies (explains) each response.

For example, I didn’t tell you that I have been in the editing business for more than 30 years, bill at least 1,800 hours each year and have done so for at least the past 25 years, only work with tier 1 publishers, and only do copyediting of manuscripts that exceed 1,500 manuscript pages. Betsy didn’t mention that she does editing part-time (after her day job as a senior executive at a Fortune 100 company) for relaxation, has been editing for 3 years, and bills no more than 200 hours in a good year. Phil didn’t mention that he is struggling to find enough work to edit full-time and is slowly building his business, which is focused on working with university students to improve their research papers and resumes. Fortunately for Phil, his spouse is the primary household income provider and they live in a low-cost area where a household income of $35,000 lets one live decently. Phil also didn’t mention that he started his business only 3 weeks ago and has edited only two 5-page papers.

Susan, the low-baller, didn’t mention that she is a retired software engineer (retired 8 years ago) who took up editing to stave off boredom. She was a database specialist and now edits only technical articles intended for publication in specific database journals. She doesn’t need the income but feels she has to charge something for her work. And because she is retired, she limits the number of hours she is willing to work as an editor each month to 15 or fewer.

And so it goes.

Is this information important? Surely it is if you want someone else to tell you what to charge your clients. Why? Because you are a new fiction editor working with your first indie author on the author’s first novel and when you ask what the going rate is, shouldn’t you compare apples with apples, not apples with oranges? Doesn’t (shouldn’t) the response of the fiction editor who has edited 200 novels over the past 5 years carry more weight than someone like me or Betsy or Phil or Susan?

The usual response is that having an idea of what others charge is important so that the asker doesn’t price herself out of the market. Really!?

Suppose every responder to your question said exactly the same number — $15/hour. Now you feel confident that you, too, can (should) charge $15/hour. But you are still ignoring significant missing information and its impact on what you should (need to) charge. If you can only get enough work to enable you to bill for 20 hours a week, your gross earnings will be $300 per week. What if you can’t get enough work to bill for 52 weeks? Your gross yearly income will be less than $15,600 (the 52-week amount). Will that be enough to pay rent, utilities, and food, let alone anything else? Is the 52-week total ($15,600) enough?

My point is that not only do you need more information from responders to be able to make any use of their responses, but you need to have already analyzed your own economic needs. If you have analyzed your economic needs, then why do you need to ask the question? You already know what you have to charge in order to survive, so what difference does it make what the rest of the world charges? Either you can earn what you need to earn or you need to find a job (or a combination of jobs) that enables you to meet your financial needs.

The answer usually given is that if the going rate is $20 an hour, then that is all I can expect to charge, so it doesn’t matter that I need $50 an hour. And this is where the businessperson in you needs to come front and center.

Few editors can charge more than the “going rate” and actually get work. The confusion is in the terminology: for the businessperson, “I need to charge $50/hour” = “my effective hourly rate (EHR) needs to equal $50.”

The businessperson calculates what she needs to charge to make a profit and then figures out how to charge so that she makes that profit. It may mean using a different charging method; for example, charging by the page rather than by the hour, or defining a page by character count rather than by words, or something else. It may mean changing niches; for example, going from working with packagers to working directly with authors or changing from fiction to academic treatises.

The businessperson also plans what steps she needs to take to meet that EHR. As I have stated many times on An American Editor and elsewhere, I realized that to meet my financial goals I needed to streamline editing processes without sacrificing quality. My answer was macroizing as many tasks as I could and figuring out how to make Microsoft Word work for me. That process was what led to my creating and expanding EditTools. The process also led to my buying other software, like Editor’s Toolkit Plus, rather than reinventing the wheel.

Editors need to rethink their approach to the business side of editing. I know a lot of editors who are excellent editors but not-so-good businesspersons and who prefer to downplay, if not outright ignore, the business side of being an independent editor, that is, all the things that were done by someone else when you were an employee instead of a business owner. The balance needs to be changed so that editing skills and business skills are more in balance. It is one thing to have the scales tip in favor of editing, and quite another to have the scales heavily weighted toward editing. Perfect balance is not needed, just closer to balance.

One step in that direction is to get sufficient information about a responder’s business when a responder tells you what the “going rate” is. In addition, you might inquire how the responder decided to charge what she charges. Is she charging $20/hour because her client offered that amount, or because she calculated what she needs to earn an hour, or because someone else told her that was the “going rate”? I would give the least amount of credence to an answer that was based on someone else having told the responder that was the going rate, and the most credence to the number she actually calculated.

Regardless, it is time for editors to wise up to the fact that there is no such thing as a “going rate” — there is only what rate someone else is earning/charging and usually that rate is an arbitrary one, essentially grabbed from air and not supported by a solid informational foundation. With a new year arriving soon, it is time to become more of a businessperson and focus more on the business aspects of being independent editors.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

November 20, 2017

Romanized Arabic in English Texts — Part 1: Sources of Variations

by Ælfwine Mischler

As a native English speaker and editor in Cairo, I am often asked how to spell a name or Arabic word “in English,” meaning with the Latin alphabet and for an English-speaking audience. A child’s name on a birth certificate, a name and address on a visa application, Islamic terms in a web article or book. English-speaking copyeditors frequently joke or complain about the multiple spellings of Arabic names (“twelve ways to spell Muhammad”), and other difficulties might appear in a manuscript.

In this and subsequent essays, I explain why these differences occur, what you as an author or editor need to know, and how to use special characters if you (or your publisher) choose to include them.

Romanize, Spell, Transcribe, and Transliterate

Transcribe and transliterate are often used interchangeably, but if Wikipedia rather than Merriam-Webster is to be believed, transliterate is to represent a word letter by letter from one alphabet to another, whereas transcribe is to represent the sounds of a language. Arabic does not write short vowels, so (according to Wikipedia) the Arabic كتب (“to write”) should be transliterated as ktb, which does not give enough information to pronounce it. A transcription would show the vowels: kataba. Some transcriptions, especially for linguistic studies, use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to show the precise pronunciation. I do not have expertise in such transcriptions and do not discuss them.

For these essays I avoid using transliterate. I usually use transcribe for romanizing Arabic in more-precise ways using diacritics, such as in an academic text, and spell for romanizing without diacritics, such as in documents, newspapers, and trade books.

My focus is on Arabic represented by Latin letters in an English text, as that is my area of expertise. Speakers of other languages that use the Latin alphabet, such as German and French, will have their own ways of romanizing Arabic.

Why So Many Spellings?

As noted earlier, there are often multiple Latinized spellings of the same Arabic word. The four primary reasons for this are as follows:

  1. Several Arabic phonemes don’t exist in English. Among these are pairs that when spoken sound very similar to non-Arabic speakers. In less-precise English spelling, these pairs are usually represented by the same letter, but in more-precise transcription the emphatic consonant is shown with a dot or other diacritic underneath (e.g., ḥ or ḩ versus h). Some other phonemes may be romanized with a digraph or diacritics (e.g. kh or ḫ).
  2. The short vowels are not written in Arabic. Their pronunciation and romanization can vary across dialects.
  3. Arabic names and terms are used by Muslims in many countries, and the spelling of phonemes varies across languages. For example, the Arabic letter shīn (ش) is written by English speakers as sh. French speakers render the same letter as ch, and Malaysians as sy. The letter jīm (ج) is written as j in English if it is pronounced as “soft g” (see below), but it will be spelled as dj where French influences the spelling. The Arabic ḍāḍ (ض), an emphatic letter, is often spelled dh by South and Southeast Asians, so they spell the month of fasting as Ramadhan.
    A doubled consonant in Arabic changes the meaning of a word, but sometimes names are romanized with doubled consonants to prevent a mispronunciation in English. The name Yāsir (ياسر) does not have a double consonant in Arabic, but a common spelling in English is Yasser because with a single s the name would likely be pronounced “Yazer.”
  4. Another source of variation is that a few Arabic letters are pronounced differently in different dialects. The letter jīm (ج) is pronounced as English “hard g” in Cairo and northern Egypt. (Gamal Abdul Nasser’s first name begins with jīm.) Meanwhile, the letter qāf (ق) — an emphatic consonant pronounced in classical Arabic something like a k but with the tongue touching the palate farther back than for k — is pronounced as English “hard g” in some dialects. In the more popular academic transcription systems it is written as q, but many people use k in spelling their names (therefore not distinguishing qāf [ق] and kāf [ك]). In Cairo, qāf is usually pronounced as a glottal stop, but in romanized place names it is written as k, leading uninitiated tourists and expats to pronounce the neighborhood Dokki in a way that might confuse taxi drivers. The letter qāf is also one reason the world had such trouble spelling al-Gaddafi (al-Qaddafi, al-Qadhdhafi) (القذافي), the ousted Libyan leader. The Libyan dialect pronounces qāf as “hard g.”

So How Do You Spell…?

When I am asked how to spell an Arabic name or term in English, I usually ask what is being written (e.g., an academic paper, a trade book, a letter, a journal article) and who is the audience. If you’re deciding the spelling of your child’s name or writing something for a general reader, my answer will be different than if you are writing an academic paper.

If you are writing an academic paper, several different systems for romanizing Arabic exist. If you are writing or editing a scholarly text, you will have to follow the publisher’s preferred method. The Chicago Manual of Style recommends ALA-LC Romanization Tables: Transliteration Schemes for Non-Roman Scripts and the IJMES system of the International Journal of Middle East Studies. There are others.

If you are completing a form or writing for a general reader, I usually recommend a simplified spelling without using diacritics. If you are writing Islamic materials for a general audience, you might prefer to use diacritics for Islamic terms. Editors have asked me about spellings when their non-Arabic-speaking authors apparently took materials from various sources that used different systems of romanizing. Whether you choose to use diacritics or not, be consistent in spelling or transcribing terms.

Place names and personal names are more difficult. Names of recent and living people will unlikely be transcribed following an academic system, but there are exceptions. I indexed a book on Arabic literature in which the names of authors who had only published in Arabic were transcribed with diacritics, even if their works were well known in translation. Thus Nobel Prize–winning Naguib Mahfouz was written as Najīb Maḥfūẓ.

If recent and living people have a preferred spelling for their name, use that. If a personal name or place name appears in the news or is otherwise well known, use that spelling. If there is variation between news sources, choose one and stick to it.

In Part 2: Other Challenges for Editors, I discuss some other features of Arabic that may cause problems for editors and writers who are unfamiliar with the language.

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

November 13, 2017

The Business of Editing: Tax “Reform” & Editors

Dominating the news is the Republican “plan” for tax “reform.” If you are not closely following the proposals, you should be. You need to keep in mind that you are both a business and an employee, so whatever changes are made to tax laws will affect you.

With nothing finalized, it is hard to determine exactly what the proposed changes will do to my tax bill, but based on what has been leaked so far, I will be paying more, not less, federal tax. More worrisome, however, is what effect “reform” will have on my state and local taxes.

In speaking with one colleague, he told me he didn’t care if they eliminated or capped the mortgage interest deduction because he rents. On the surface, that sounds right, but it isn’t — he forgets that his landlord likely makes use of the mortgage interest deduction and if losing it causes the landlord’s taxes to rise, the loser will be him, not the landlord, because his rent will rise to cover the additional tax burden. He also was dismissive of the limits proposed for deduction of real estate taxes, yet the same scenario plays out for real estate taxes as for mortgage interest deduction.

Do you work for nonprofits? Nonprofits are concerned that charitable contributions will decrease under the proposed “reform.” If that occurs, might that affect your business? Early reviews indicate that most middle class taxpayers will see little to no lowering of taxes actually paid and that many will see an increase.

If you are a corporation that generates more than $5 to $10 million in annual revenue (as a professional editor, wouldn’t you like to see such a balance in your bank account?), the proposed reforms will be beneficial (the U.S. Chamber of Commerce can’t praise the “reforms” enough). In contrast, smaller businesses are expected to either remain the same or do worse (which is why the National Association of Small Businesses is opposed to the proposed “reforms”).

Similarly, if your personal income (after business expenses) places you in the top 1% (possibly even the top 5%), you tax bill will be lowered by an average of $133,000. Alas, those whose after-business-deduction income brings them down to a more earth-like number of around $60,000 (or less), will either see a very little relief (averaging less than $300) if they have the right additional personal expenses or no relief (because they do not have the right additional expenses) or even a small increase in taxes.

Are you deducting medical expenses or student loan expenses? Those will be passé under the “reform.” And so it goes. Of course, nothing is yet settled but things could be settled without your input if you aren’t paying attention. (It is worth noting that taxpayers residing in high tax states like California, New Jersey, and New York, are likely to see increases in their tax bill, but residents of no-income-tax states like Nevada and New Hampshire have no reason to gloat. Apparently many in those states will see a rise — it will be indirect, e.g., increased rent or local tax, rather than direct.)

We also need to think about the “drip” effect of the proposed “reforms.” Republicans are betting that by lowering corporate taxes, corporations will move more of their money onshore and take their tax savings and hire more American workers and/or give their current non–senior-level American workers pay raises averaging more than $4,000 a year, rather than hold on to the money or pass it out to senior-level management and shareholders. Unfortunately, there is no precedent to support this expectation of pay raises for lower-level employees. (It also ignores a fundamental of business: it is cheaper to give a bonus than a pay raise. A bonus is a one-shot deal that may never happen again and leaves the worker’s pay amount the same, whereas a pay raise is forever.)

What I find most interesting is that no one is talking about Sam Brownback’s Kansas, the first true real-life experiment in trickle-down economics. Brownback and the Republican legislature were firm believers in trickle-down economics: companies will flock to Kansas and create jobs, wealthy folk will move to Kansas and spend their money in Kansas, state coffers will overflow. Unfortunately for Kansans, reality is not the same as fantasy. All of trickle-down’s promises — more jobs and revenues, higher incomes for everyone, more money for education, and so on — failed to materialize, so much so that Kansas was on the cusp of bankruptcy and the Republican legislature had to raise taxes.

The point is that when discussing taxes, there is much more that needs examination than the surface promises. Additionally, that examination needs to be made from both the business side and the personal side. We cannot take a politician’s word that benefits will accrue to us. We need to dissect each proposal and determine what effect it will have on us. We also need to think about what effect each proposal might have on our clients. For example, if you edit for the real estate industry, what is the likelihood that a change in the mortgage interest deduction will impact your clients and cause them to consider not using your services as a way to save money? Or that it will cause clients to lower what they are willing to pay for your services?

Once you have examined the tax proposals, you need to participate in the process. As independent contractors, we need to be proactive, not reactive. We need to let our legislators know how we will be affected — whether positively or negatively — and what we want our legislators to do. But we need to do this from a position of knowledge, not from sound bites.

I know what I will be telling my legislators. Do you know what you will be telling your legislators?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

November 6, 2017

On the Basics: Overcoming a Freelancer’s Isolation

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

One of the concerns that many people have when they contemplate going freelance and working from home is feeling isolated from colleagues (and even the nonwork world). Depending on where you live and your personality, isolation could be an issue. If you’re in a rural area or suburbia, you could feel cut off. If you’re an extrovert who needs to interact with people in real life, freelancing alone from home could feel almost like punishment. (If you’re an introvert, you might actually feel better freelancing at home because you would have control over when and how much you interact with other people.)

The good news is that today’s electronically connected world makes it easier than ever to combat isolation by providing constant connections with colleagues, friends, and family. In fact, that always-on environment could be overwhelming; many people remove themselves from online communities at least occasionally because it can be too much interaction and activity.

The easiest way to overcome isolation is to join a few online communities or discussion lists — and not just ones focused on the type of editorial work that you do. Participating in such activities expands your horizons in many ways. You meet new people, stay connected with valued friends and colleagues, learn new information, solve problems, provide solutions, and more. You do have to discipline yourself not to get so immersed in that social media world that you neglect your freelance work or real-life relationships, but online engagement is a great way to conquer isolation. How can we feel isolated when we’re in contact with the whole world?

If isolation does worry you, here are a few ways to head it off by engaging with the real world that beckons outside your home office.

  • Don’t subscribe to home delivery or online versions of your newspaper, so you have to get out of the house every day to keep up with the news. This works best in neighborhoods where there’s a newsstand in walking distance, and serves as both an antidote to isolation and an exercise routine. Depending on your current deadlines, you can choose a cybercafé or coffee shop for picking up and reading the paper rather than taking it right back home. That gives you the opportunity to connect with neighbors, or at least the café staff and customers, which also helps reduce feelings of being cut off from the world.
  • Get a pet. Dogs are particularly good because you have to get out of the house every day for “walkies,” giving you opportunities to meet and make friends with neighbors and other dog people. If you have a cat, dog, or other animal companion, veterinary appointments will get you back into the real world, and could provide opportunities to expand your personal and professional networks — people you talk to while waiting for your animal’s appointment could become friends and even new clients (always carry business cards with you!), or the clinic itself could become a client. If you notice errors in the clinic’s website or office flyers and brochures, find a tactful way to present your writing, editing, proofreading, or other relevant skills. If they don’t want to pay, you might be able to barter or swap services.
  • At the beginning of every new year, budget to attend at least one work-related conference and, if possible, one hobby-related conference. Conferences are a wonderful way to enhance your skills and build your network, as well as combat isolation. You get exposure to new places and new people, along with new skills and information. If you put targeted funds aside starting in January, it will be easy to commit to these events and the related expenses as soon as you see an announcement of a conference that might interest you.

If the thought of going to a big conference full of strangers frightens you, keep in mind that there are smaller events you can attend. Most organizations also have special sessions for first-timers or hospitality committees dedicated to making new attendees feel welcome.

  • Develop a hobby that involves going somewhere. Instead of staying home to knit, crochet, quilt, collect stamps, etc., join a group for whatever hobby interests you and work on your art or obsession in company with other people who share that interest. You can take lessons in new hobbies or crafts, and join various clubs based on your nonwork interests. There’s an organization, association, or business for any hobby or craft you can imagine, and they all hold meetings in real life. Sometimes meetings are based on creating charity projects, which means you not only get out of the house, you do something nice for other people.

Keep in mind that those same associations, clubs, organizations, and businesses all have — or should have — activities that probably could use your professional skills. As an example, one of my all-time favorite projects was editing and producing the newsletter of the American Kiteflyers Association — which paid its editor!

  • Get out and walk or run. This may seem obvious, but it’s an invaluable habit to develop, and one that’s good for your health as well as for overcoming a sense of isolation. Even if you don’t plan to interact with other people, you’re out and about with the potential of meeting or joining others.
  • Volunteer with a not-for-profit organization or cause you believe in. Volunteering gets you out of the house for a good cause, so you can make new friends, meet potential new clients among organizational staff and other volunteers, learn new skills or enhance existing ones, and contribute something to society in the process. Most nonprofits also host events, which adds to your ability to network while conquering isolation.
  • Be the one to organize something. Instead of waiting for family, friends, and colleagues to contact you about outings, make an effort to be the one who hosts a get-together, whether an informal brunch at a new restaurant, a museum or leaf-peeping outing, a movie or bowling night … whatever you’ve been wanting to do but haven’t gotten around to because no one has invited you.
  • Join — or start — the local chapter of a professional association. Most organizations have local or regional units, and many others would if only someone would step up to be the host or coordinator. If one already exists, get to a few meetings. If one doesn’t, be the guiding force. The national level is usually more than glad to provide tips and resources for local chapters. You don’t have to hold monthly meetings, but even bimonthly or quarterly ones have value, and will get you out of the house and enhance your networking efforts.

Do keep in mind that coping with or defeating isolation is an important aspect of freelancing, but that we must be disciplined about finding and maintaining a proper balance between work and play. If your efforts to combat isolation start taking time away from meeting your deadlines, it’s time to restructure your schedule.

How do you combat feeling isolated when working from home? Which works better for you, in-person activities or online engagement?

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, which hosts an annual conference for colleagues, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

October 30, 2017

“Net 15” or “Net 30”? — Don’t Get Your Hopes Up

by Elaine R. Firestone, ELS

Part of being a good (and profitable) freelance professional is understanding the business side of business — both yours and your clients’. Even though I’ve been an editor for more than 30 years, I’m also a businessperson who understands the vagaries of accounting departments (I come from a long line of accountants and bookkeepers).

Unfortunately, what most freelancers lack is basic knowledge of bookkeeping and accounting systems in Corporate America. I’m not talking about what software your clients use for their accounting. I’m talking about what happens on the other side, that is, what happens to an invoice once you submit it and how it gets processed, which ends in you getting paid. You need to have verbiage in your contracts that spells out the payment terms and the schedule for payment(s), and the client has to agree to your terms. There’s more about contract terms later.

First let’s talk about corporate accounting departments. Most firms have an accounting cycle that is made up partly of their particular business practices and partly by when certain filings are due for local, state, and federal reporting and taxes. Large firms have separate Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivables departments, whereas in smaller firms these accounting functions are often in the same department or even the same person doing all of the bookkeeping work. Checks are “cut” (made out) on a given date every month; entries may be put into ledgers on a given date; various reports are run on certain days; various taxes are paid on certain days; and a whole host of other things go on in between.

That’s all well and good and nice information to have, but how does this affect you and your business? As an example, let’s say you have “net 15” in your contract with a client. You finish a project on June 4, and send the invoice to them on June 5. According to the net 15 terms in your contract with them, you expect to have a check in hand on June 20 because June 20 is 15 days after June 5, that is, the “net 15” in your contract. But…you don’t get the check until July 20. You are frustrated, annoyed, ticked off, etc., because in your mind it’s a month overdue. To the company, however, this is acceptable. Why? What are you missing? You are missing two vital pieces of information: knowledge about (a) the review process for your invoice — and every firm has a review process in place, even if it is nothing more than the person who ordered the services writing “OK” on the invoice, and (b) when the company actually cuts checks.

Let’s talk about the review process first. Sometimes the review process is to see whether your work is up to the client’s standards. On occasion, someone other than your immediate point of contact may insert his opinion into the review process; and sometimes the review process is to make sure everything is there and complete.

Sometimes, having your work go through a review process before you can get paid greatly slows the timing of your payment. Two examples of this are:

  1. When the customer thinks it knows what good English is when it doesn’t (or its related problem of when the customer insists an element of style is a grammatical “rule”); and
  2. When the customer (or someone higher in the approval cycle) decides something should be added or deleted in the text and refuses to OK your invoice until everything is as they think it should be — regardless what it said in your original scope of work and/or your contract with the company.

It is, however, the customer’s right to see if your work is OK. The review alone could take a week or two depending on how big the project is and what else your contact has on her plate to do.

Once your client says the work is fine and approves the invoice, your invoice is sent up the chain for further OKs through however many approval levels it has to go before it gets to Accounts Payable (AP). Now, let’s say (using the example above) it finally gets to AP on June 18, but AP only cuts checks on the 10th of each month. Because AP has already cut the checks for June, it won’t cut any more until July 10. The check is cut on July 10, and then the check may or may not go to a junior person to put into an envelope, seal, and mail. However, because of the distance between where you are and the company, and mail delivery service what it is, you don’t get it until July 20. See?

Most firms are not going to drop everything to cut a check just for you if it’s out of their regular cycle, even if payment is to be made electronically, directly to your bank.

Some of the payment problems you might face may be contractual, especially if you didn’t specify payment terms in your contract. If you just put “Net 15” on your invoice, the client might not be capable of meeting a 15-day payment schedule. This needs to be kept in mind when negotiating your fee. Actually, during contract negotiations is the time to learn your client’s payment procedures and to account for —in your fee —any payment delays that are likely to occur.

Other problems might be because of the client’s internal logistics. For example, your contact OKs your invoice right away, but the next person in line to OK it is on vacation for a week and didn’t appoint someone to approve payment during their absence. (Unfortunately, I’ve seen this happen too many times to count, although, thankfully, not in my freelancing career.)

The two primary methods for dealing with a client’s failure to pay on time are:

  1. Don’t work for them — which would be a shame if you value them, and they value you; and
  2. Grin and bear it and work in the time the client takes to pay into your personal budgeting and, as noted earlier, in your fee.

If you didn’t find out ahead of time and put it in your contract, ask what the AP schedule is so you can submit your work and invoices in time for you to get paid at the earliest possible date. That said, you should always try to have a financial cushion to draw from if the need arises, such as the case here with late payers, or if you lose a customer (or your health). You should never depend on just one or two clients for the bulk of your livelihood.

Elaine R. Firestone, ELS, is an award-winning — and board certified — scientific and technical editor and compositor specializing in the physical and agricultural sciences. After a 25+-year career editing for NASA, Elaine started ERF Editorial Consulting, where her motto is “ERF” aren’t just my initials — it’s what you get: Edits. Results. Final product.©

October 23, 2017

On the Basics: Make Your Editing Identity Clear and Constant

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

In a Facebook discussion of how to vet people who ask to join a specialized editing group, a colleague recently noted that “many people don’t have obvious ‘I am an editor’ parts of their profiles.” That made me think about how we identify or brand ourselves in this ever-increasingly electronic world so prospective clients or employers can find us easily.

The first step in this important process is to make sure that everything you do makes it clear that you are, indeed, an editor.

Some version of “edit” should be part of your website domain name (the part of the site name between “www” and “.com,” “.biz,” “.info,” or whatever other suffix you use). JoeTheEditor, EditorJoe, EditingByJoe, etc., all make what you do clear at first glance. A more-general business name might be appealing, but if it doesn’t identify you as an editor, freelance or in-house, it will not work for you, whether you need to attract business or be hired for a staff job.

Website/domain or business names like these also make you easier to find when prospective clients or employers do Internet searches for people with your skill set. Nowadays, online is how most of us will be found by new clients or vetted by new employers, so we have to be easily findable. We can’t count only on in-person contacts or interviews.

Once you have a useful name, every page of your site should also have some reference to the fact that you are an editor and offer editing services, starting with the page names themselves and progressing to the content in general. You don’t have to go overboard with this aspect of identifying yourself as an editor — it doesn’t have to be mentioned in every sentence — but that fact should be clear and obvious. No one should have to make an effort to immediately see from your website that you are an editor.

Once you have a domain name and website that makes your identity clear as an editor, make sure you capitalize on it by using it for your e-mail address. Joe@JoeTheEditor.com is more memorable than Joe@gmail.com, Joe@yahoo.com, etc., and helps maintain and strengthen your brand as an editor.

The same goes for whatever other ways in which you promote your editing services or skills: business card, brochure, directory listings, social media accounts and profiles, ads, bios, signatures (siglines) in e-mail discussion lists. Take some time this very week to look at everything you use to present yourself to prospective clients and employers, as well as to colleagues. Try to look at all of your promotional material — and yes, a LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook account is a promotional tool — with an objective eye to make sure your identity as an editor shines through.

Do your website and online accounts clearly identify you as an editor (or other editorial professional)? If not, why is that? If so, can you enhance them in some way?

Here are some things you can do to enhance your identity:

  • Review site and account language to make sure your identity as an editor is clear and immediate. If you think you might not be able to do that objectively enough to catch any gaps, ask a colleague to look things over for you. Consider swapping services — proofreading each other’s sites, for instance.
  • Include client testimonials at your website, and make them easily visible. Make sure you use LinkedIn’s recommendations function. The opinions of people you have worked with can be even more powerful than work samples. You don’t have to include actual names of clients or their employers.
  • Announce your training and experience, also clearly visible and easy to find. List not only editing jobs, but any courses you’ve taken, whether through a college degree or certificate program, or offerings from a professional association. Let prospective employers and clients know that you have invested in your career and skills. Even volunteer projects are worth including — no one has to know that you weren’t paid for editing work that you did pro bono.
  • Say which style manual(s) you are skilled in using. Depending on the type of editing you do, that could make the difference in getting a new job or project. Individual authors might not know the difference between Chicago, AP, APA, MLA, GPO, etc., but publishing colleagues do — and look for editors who can use their preferred styles.
  • Create samples for your website to show how you work and the kinds of elements you would notice and fix. If you wish to use actual client samples, be sure to get permission from the client first and do whatever it takes to anonymize the material; clients usually don’t want the world to see the “before” versions of their projects.
  • Write about how you work — your approach to a project, your process, your philosophy.
  • Describe your ideal client or project. That could encourage prospective clients or employers to choose you over someone else.

How have you identified and promoted yourself as an editor in various venues, from your website to your social media activities?

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, which hosts an annual conference for colleagues, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

October 16, 2017

Lyonizing Word: Workflow for Writing

by Jack Lyon

I do a lot of writing, and over the years I’ve investigated many a tool that’s supposed to help with that process. The most prominent of these, of course, is the bloated but powerful Microsoft Word. With my various add-ins at the Editorium, it can be a terrific editing tool. But for writing, something else is needed. Why? Because (as with most word processors) writing in Word is like scribbling on a scroll. Access to text is sequential rather than random (as I explained in my essay, “Changing Formats: From Scroll to Codex to eBooks”, although if you’ve used Word’s built-in heading styles, it’s possible to jump to those headings using the navigation window.

Rather than scrolling (or jumping) around a long, long document, I prefer to write in bits and pieces and then combine selected bits and pieces into a single document ready for editing. It’s possible to do this (kind of) in Scrivener using its “corkboard” feature (on both Mac and PC). Unfortunately, like Word, Scrivener strikes me as clunky, uncooperative, and overly complex.

Notebox Disorganizer

I’ve tried nearly every writing program out there, and the best solution I’ve found is the idiosyncratic and free Notebox Disorganizer from the Squirrel Technologist. (Sorry, Windows only — but please keep reading, as the other tools I’ll be discussing here work on Macintosh or Linux as well as Windows, and they’re well worth having.)

Notebox Disorganizer is a sort of spreadsheet for writers. It looks like this:

Notebook Disorganizer

The top part of the screen consists of boxes divided among rows and columns. Each box represents a separate document (although all of the documents are in the same file). We can move the cursor to the box we want to use and press ENTER. The cursor jumps to the document at the bottom, and we’re ready to write. To return to the boxes, we hit the ESCAPE key.

With Notebox Disorganizer, we can see the entire structure of our book laid out in a grid. Here, the book is broken up into parts that include the various chapters, but we could just as easily have each column be a chapter, and the boxes in that column be scenes. For nonfiction, each column could be a chapter, and the boxes could be sections of the chapter.

We can move boxes and columns around as needed. If we realize that scene 4 in chapter 2 should really be in chapter 8, we can cut the box and then paste it where it belongs. If we see that scene 4 should actually be scene 5, we can move it down. The program offers lots of flexibility. If you’d like to see the Notebox Disorganizer file in which I wrote this article, you can download it from the Editorium’s website.

(Note: The source code for Notebox Disorganizer is in the public domain and can be downloaded from the Squirrel Technologist website. So if you’re interested in customizing the program or incorporating its ideas into something else, the developer, Forrest Leeson, encourages you to do so.)

Markdown Syntax

Out of the box, Notebox Disorganizer uses Rich Text Format (.rtf) which means we can apply various fonts in various sizes and colors. Unfortunately, that encourages us to apply various fonts in various sizes and colors, when what is really needed is a proper document structure: headings need to be identified as headings, block quotes as block quotes, and so on. Directly applied formatting, no matter how beautiful, won’t supply that. To make that happen (and to keep writing rather than fussing with formatting), we can do two things:

  1. Change Notebox Disorganizer’s preferences (under Tools > Set Preferences > Misc > Forbid Formatted Text) so that it uses plain text only — no formatting allowed.
  2. Use Markdown syntax to specify (rather than apply) formatting — for example, use *asterisks* to indicate italic. Heading levels are specified with cross-hatches: # Heading 1, ## Heading 2, ### Heading 3, and so on. A complete reference for Markdown syntax (which is intuitive, human readable, and platform and program agnostic) is available as a downloadable PDF or online from GitHub.

Making a Manuscript

After we’ve written the various sections that make up chapters, it’s time to combine the text in all those boxes into a single document. To do that, we add boxes to the program’s “outbox” by selecting them and then pressing the spacebar. The result looks like this:

Outbox

If there are certain boxes we don’t want to include (research notes, for example), we just don’t include them in the outbox. After we’ve finished with our selection, we click File > Export the Outbox and give the document a name. Under “Files of type,” we select “Text.” Then we click OK, and the text is exported as a single text file, with Markup codes intact.

Turning Markdown into Formatting

Now that our document is finished, we need to turn it into a Word document. Why? Because that’s what publishers seem to want, unfortunately. But because it’s properly structured and marked up, we can just as easily turn it into a web page, a PDF, or just about anything else using the marvelous and (again) free Pandoc. (Pandoc works on Mac, Windows, or Linux.)

Pandoc is a tool that every writer and editor should have, as it can turn almost any document format into almost any other document format, which is something you might need to do sometime. For that reason, I’m going to ask you to try an experiment with me. It’s not hard, and I think you’ll like the results. Do this, in this order:

  1. Download and install Pandoc.
  2. Download and install Typora. (Typora, too, works on Mac, Windows, or Linux. Click the little arrow at the bottom of the home page; then click Download on the upper right.) Typora is an editing and rendering program for Markdown.

Have you finished installing? Great, then download from the Editorium website the Markdown document I created after writing this article. Put it on your desktop and then double-click it to open it in Typora.

Beautiful, no? Nice formatting and proper document structure. Just for fun, try some of the alternative CSS themes (click Theme) — or open the file in a plain old text editor to see the Markdown codes.

You can actually use Typora on its own to write just about anything (note the document outline on the left). As soon as you type something (using Markdown syntax), Typora renders it into an appropriate format. But we need a Word document, right? Well, one of the beautiful things about Typora is that it works automatically with Pandoc, so we can easily export our document as a Word file. To see this in action, click File > Export > Word (.docx). Now open the Word file (same folder and name as your Markdown document) and marvel at the result — a nicely formatted and structured document that any editor would be pleased to work on and any designer would be happy to import into InDesign. Please take a moment to contemplate how revolutionary that actually is.

Authors and Styles and Fonts, Oh My!

Now, if we could just get authors to write using Markdown, what a wonderful world it would be! Here’s why:

As you’ve seen, editors can easily convert a Markdown document into a Word document for editing, with all of Word’s tools at their disposal. The Markdown codes will be appropriately converted into Microsoft Word paragraph styles, with no extraneous formatting or messed-up footnotes to be cleaned up. Wouldn’t that be nice!

But what about authors? Why should they work in Markdown when they could just as easily work in Word? The reasons are many:

  1. They can’t just as easily work in Word. In fact, most authors have no clue about how to properly do so. Word makes it easy for authors to mess up a document almost beyond belief, with inconsistent and meaningless formatting, document corruption, fouled-up footnotes, incorrect AutoCorrect “corrections,” and on and on and on. Editors are left to clean up all that stuff.
  2. Microsoft Word is expensive — $149.99 for Office Home & Student 2016 (but doesn’t include newer versions as they’re released); if you go with Office 365 Personal (which does include new versions), you’re looking at $69 per year; for Office 365 Home, $99 per year. And those years add up.
  3. Markdown is intuitive — easy to learn, read, and use.
  4. Authors can create or read Markdown documents in any text editor or word processor (even Word) on any platform — Mac, Windows, Linux, Android, iPhone, whatever, without problems of compatibility.
  5. Markdown documents can easily be converted into all kinds of properly structured and formatted documents, including Word, XML, HTML, LaTeX, and PDF — true single-source publishing.
  6. Markdown documents will be readable and usable as long as text files are readable and usable — which is to say, forever.
  7. As Markdown documents are nothing but text, they’re small, taking up very little room on a hard drive or thumb drive, and they’re easy to send by email. In fact, you can use Markdown to write email.
  8. Perhaps most important, Markdown allows authors to simply write, without worrying about formatting and other complexities, thus increasing their productivity — which is something that benefits everyone.
  9. If you can persuade your authors to write with Markdown, the benefits should be great for all concerned. Well, for all except Microsoft:

Imagine there’s no Redmond;
It’s easy if you try.
No styles or wonky footnotes—
Something easy on the eye.
Imagine all the people
Writing stuff in peace! (No “helpful” automatic formatting, AutoCorrect, etc.)
You may say I’m a dreamer,
But I’m not the only one. (There are lots of Markdown editing and rendering programs out there.)
Just try to write with Markdown,
And you’ll see it can be done!

(Apologies to John Lennon.)

Jack Lyon (editor@editorium.com) owns and operates the Editorium, which provides macros and information to help editors and publishers do mundane tasks quickly and efficiently. He is the author of Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals, Wildcard Cookbook for Microsoft Word, and of Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word. Both books will help you learn more about macros and how to use them.

October 9, 2017

Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap IV

by Carolyn Haley

In Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap III, I described my approach to formatting client manuscripts (Stage 2 of a four-stage workflow). As in preflight (Stage 1), formatting gives me a preview of content while attending to technical preparation of the file, so when I finally settle down to edit (Stage 3), I can give content full attention.

Preflight is described in The Novel-Editing Roadmap I and II; formatting is described in The Novel-Editing Roadmap III.

Stage 3: Editing

Part of my rationale for not prereading a manuscript is to be able to see it as a regular reader would: start on page one and read to the end. I have a hint of what’s to come from preflight and formatting, just as a reader of the published book might have a hint from jacket copy and reviews. Beyond that, the novel is as unknown to me as it is to them.

My editing modus operandi is to read until I stumble. Depending on the manuscript, my stumbling may occur often or intermittently; and depending on the scope of work, I’ll emend, query, or ignore the stumble once I’ve identified its cause.

A stumble can be anything. Because different readers perceive the same book differently (i.e., reader subjectivity), it’s impossible for an editor to anticipate every conceivable stumbling point. Consequently, I frame my expectations according to genre conventions and commonly held standards of craft (writing technique and storytelling), and respond to what breaks my attention.

Where start-to-finish reading differs between me and the pleasure reader is that I stop and act at any stumble, whereas the reader reacts to stumbles by sliding past them or abandoning the book if there are too many of them. My job is to keep the reader attached to the story by removing stumbling points.

The first few chapters always go slowly, for that’s when characters are introduced, the plot and conflict(s) are established, and the writer’s skill or lack thereof becomes evident. It’s also when I construct the primary elements of the style sheet and decide upon its best layout. After that, things proceed more steadily and smoothly.

Simple corrections, such as spelling, punctuation, and minor deletions and transitions, can be popped in as I go. Stumbles that require more than a few seconds to address get highlighted in yellow. Some of them might be explained later in the story, so there is no point spending time on them prematurely. If a stumble is not explained by the end, I’ll have to do a bit of research, or give further thought to recasting or querying. I make these decisions in a dedicated pass after completing the main edit.

The need to highlight occurs so often that I created a macro to reduce multiple menu steps into a two-finger keyboard command that’s easy for me to remember. For yellow highlighting, I use the command CTRL+y, and to insert a comment balloon, I use CTRL+F11. My comments range from simple queries, such as selecting a word and suggesting an alternative with a question mark (e.g., in a description of a sword with an ornate handle, the query would be hilt?), to complex descriptions of a story problem and suggesting solutions. Other queries are just requests for clarification of ambiguous phrasings or actions.

I also use some of Word’s built-in keyboard shortcuts, such as ALT+F6 to jump between open Word documents (e.g., the manuscript and style sheet), and ALT+Tab to move between applications (e.g., between Word, email, reference websites, and a search engine). This saves a lot of mouse clicking.

One of the most time-saving macros I’ve found is one of the hundreds provided in Paul Beverley’s macro collection, Computer Tools for Editors. I overlooked it until Louise Harnby wrote about it in “How to never forget you’ve switched off Track Changes!” in her Proofreader’s Parlour blog. Once the macro has been installed, it places a symbol on Word’s toolbar, which upon clicking changes screen color to signal that Track Changes is OFF. This alert has saved me hours from having to backpedal and reedit after getting crossed up with Track Changes’ active/inactive status. The alert plus two single-key commands I recorded for showing and hiding tracking (F10 to show, F12 to hide), put an end to Track Changes fumbles.

Another big time-saver came from purchasing access to Merriam-Webster’s online unabridged dictionary. I used to check spellings in my paper copy of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., until I realized how rapidly seconds were adding up to minutes and hours. I recovered my cost for the online version in the first book I edited afterward. I’ve not yet made the paper-to-online switch with my primary style guide, Chicago Manual of Style, because in fiction adherence to style is more flexible than in nonfiction, and I use CMS much less often than the dictionary. Nevertheless, I gained efficiency through an online/hardcopy combination. I’ve always found the CMS index to be confusing, and therefore time consuming, so I was prone to not consulting the reference when I should. I’m also frugal, so I didn’t want to spend for a resource I wasn’t going to heavily employ. Now I use the online CMS site as an index (no charge) by searching for a topic. That usually brings up the relevant chapter number and section, leading straight to the information I want in the book.

Second pass

After completing the main edit, I review everything I highlighted and address whatever the highlights flagged. That may require rephrasing clumsy wording, or investigating a questionable fact, or composing a technical explanation about a hitch in scene logistics and suggesting solutions. At first I searched for each highlight by scrolling; then I tried opening the Find/Replace window and searching for Highlight. That required a tiresome number of menu steps, so I recorded a macro for keyboard commands that advance to the next highlighted text and remove its highlighting. The pair of close-together key sequences (CTRL+Shift+| for find highlight and ALT+\ for unhighlight) lets me use my nonmouse hand to rapidly jump to and clear highlighting. (This combo is also useful during preflight when reviewing the many highlights inserted by Never Spell Word.) When I want to mass-clear highlighting or catch any highlight I failed to remove manually, I run EditTools’ Remove All Highlighting macro. Although this tool can remove particular highlight colors on demand, I don’t differentiate colors during my process so have not employed that option.

Next I review my comments and queries, to make sure they are courteous and clear. This, too, I previously did by scrolling, but now I use EditTools’ Comment Editor. This tool puts all comments in one window and lets you jump to whichever one you want with a click.

Last, I attend to miscellaneous. Throughout the main edit I jot notes about items I don’t highlight or query in the manuscript because they might not fall within scope of work. Usually they involve the writer’s technique. For instance, if the manuscript was loaded with fuzzy phrasing, like he made his way through the crowd (vs. he wove or shoved through the crowd); or weak phrasing, like he was running (vs. he ran) or he started to run (vs. he ran); or the author has a pet word or phrase that’s been overused (one of my memoir clients hopped on his bike about two hundred times, when he could have gotten on, jumped on, or mounted the bike occasionally), I might run searches for the phrases in question and reconsider them for editing or querying.

Once every note is crossed off my list, I tidy up any lingering mechanical and consistency details.

Stage 4: Cleanup

I start cleanup by making another copy of the file, then work down a checklist.

Quotation marks come first, owing to the prevalence of dialogue in fiction and the myriad typos it can contain. Using a series of search strings I haven’t bundled into a macro yet, I ferret out missing punctuation inside quotes (Find: ^$”) and missing periods at paragraph ends (Find: ^$^p), then switch to wildcard searches for incorrect punctuation between the quoted matter and the speaker, such as, “I’ll go to the store.” she said (Find: .^0148 ([a-z]), with variations on caps and period/comma). I also make sure all quotation marks and apostrophes are “curly” typographer style rather than straight (Find: ^0034 for ” and ^0039 for ‘).

Finally, I run Paul Beverley’s MatchDoubleQuotes macro to catch any quotation mark pairs that are incomplete. I use another Paul Beverley macro to find duplicate phrases, since Word’s spellcheck will only find duplicate single words (e.g., the the). The Duplicate Phrase macro finds two-word repeats and three-word repeats, including a variant that highlights them, to catch such errors as she went to went to the store. However, it can’t find illogical sequences resulting from clumsy revisions, like he the will. For those, I must reread the document and hope my eye will catch them second time around.

It’s been suggested that I save the illogical phrases as I come across them to an F&R Master dataset in EditTools, which is a good idea that I plan to try. No such phrases have popped up since I received the suggestion, so I can’t yet testify to the utility of the idea. In the meantime, I’ve tried different settings in Word’s grammar checker, and investigated other grammar checkers on the market, but not found anything to help catch my worst and most frequent editing error (he the will and its ilk). I therefore never promise a client a perfect job.

Before my own proofreading pass, I run PerfectIt to find consistency errors in spelling, hyphenation, abbreviation, and capitalization, followed by Word’s spellchecker to catch the last typos and dropped spacing between words or sentences. When that’s done, I set up for proofreading: change the font (and eyeglasses), move to a different computer and chair, hide the tracked changes and comments from showing onscreen, and read the book from start to finish. Leftover bloopers and questions reveal themselves during this phase.

Last, I play it safe by manually checking for little mistakes I might have introduced during the edit, such as extra spaces between words or before punctuation — but I don’t rerun File Cleaner, having done so in preflight. At the end of the edit I’m afraid to do anything involving a global replace as I will not see the whole manuscript again and deeply fear an ugly surprise when the author reviews it.

Closure

Before delivering the edited manuscript, I take an extra spin through the comments to make sure they meet the three p’s: polite, professional, and precise. That’s the final editing step. For delivery, I prepare two files: the first with all edits showing, to demonstrate that I’ve done my job and let the author accept or reject whatever they please; the second with all edits accepted and only comments showing. Most clients work with the second document because they are satisfied with the edits and want a clean version of the manuscript to enter their own revisions into.

Finally, I organize and pretty-up the style sheet and prepare a cover letter to the author (or project coordinator for a publisher job). With new clients or iffy payers, I create a PDF of the all-changes-showing file and send it with the bill. With proven clients, I just send the final Word files and the author sends back a check.

The job usually ends here because most of my jobs involve copyediting or line editing and the client moves on from there. Sometimes I get the book back for revision checking and commentary, and I always keep the door open to author questions. Many of them keep in touch regarding their progress. Better yet, they come back with their next project.

By the time I receive the author’s next project, I’ve learned another tool or trick and refined my procedure — although not always for the better. Learning is as much about figuring out what doesn’t work as what does. The route to finding out what editing process works best for oneself is to acquire the proven software tool packages — EditTools, Editor’s ToolKit Plus, PerfectIt, and Paul Beverley’s macro collection, Computer Tools for Editors — and start experimenting. Also, take classes, read how-to books and blogs, and participate in forums where colleagues discuss their methodology. It’s a dynamic process that never really ends and can be adjusted as one’s skill set matures.

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.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: