An American Editor

August 17, 2010

Struggling with eBooks: To Read or Not to Read

Don’t get me wrong — I love my Sony 505 and read on it every day for at least a couple of hours. But what I read on it are novels, fiction that goes in one brain cell and out the other, rarely making a lasting impression. (There are a few exceptions, such as Shayne Parkinson’s Promises to Keep quartet [see On Books: Promises to Keep are Promises Kept] which I keep thinking about and wondering why no major traditional publisher has scooped her up, in contrast to Ruth Francisco’s Amsterdam 2012, which I have yet to review because it was such a disappointment, yet the storyline is intriguing and one I think about, but I keep wondering where to begin a fair review).

No, the problem is with the mainstay of my reading — nonfiction, particularly history and biography. I keep trying to read nonfiction biography and history in ebook form and I inevitably stop and return to the pbook version. This shouldn’t be; there is nothing inherently wrong with the ebook experience — or there shouldn’t be — to make reading of nonfiction so difficult for me. Yet, it is.

I have been trying to analyze why and have yet to come up with a satisfactory answer. Surely part of the problem is the way ebooks handle images, which is poorly. I admit that I don’t really care about studying the fake maps that some novels include for “informational” purposes. I’m not really looking to delve into the deep psychoses of the characters or the lands; I’m looking for easy entertainment after a day of reading and correcting manuscript. But in nonfiction books, I really do care about the maps and photos. I don’t want to commit them to memory, but they often provide an insight to the history being related. When told that an army marched 60 miles, I find it hard to imagine how long and hard a march that must have been 2000 years ago and a map helps. When describing a sarcophagus, a photograph helps. And these are weak points of ebooks — the ability to show such images clearly and in a readable form. The problems lie in how the ebook file was created and in the fact that I am trying to view the image on a 6-inch grayscale screen (although I’m not sure that a 6-inch color screen would be much improvement).

Perhaps another problem I have is that most histories and many biographies are riddled with footnotes (or endnotes) and references. (For my view of the use of these notes, see Footnotes, Endnotes, & References: Uses & Abuses.) I know that some readers, if not most, simply bypass these annoyances, but I admit I’m one who reads everything in a book, including the copyright page. I find myself compelled to check the notes and references — the notes because authors too often have some of the most valuable information tucked away in them, and the references because they often lead to other books I need to buy. (My to-be-purchased [TBP] list is probably as long as, perhaps even longer than, my to-be-read [TBR] list; usually what holds me back from buying a book on my TBP list is the cost. These books tend to be out of print and if I am going to buy an out-of-print book, I want to buy it as a first edition, first printing, in near fine or better condition — not a cheap undertaking in many cases.) Sadly, too many ebooks come with broken links to the notes and references because publishers and/or the converters of the books do a lackadaisical job of activating the links.

Consequently, I am always in a struggle when it comes to buying ebooks. I have little hesitation with fiction, it being difficult for publishers and converters to do a horrendous job (although far from impossible as many ebookers can attest) and because so much fiction can be bought so very inexpensively, but I hesitate, and hesitate, and hesitate when it comes to nonfiction. With one exception, For the Thrill of It by Simon Baatz, the story of the Leopold and Loeb murder trial and Clarence Darrow’s brilliant defense, which focused not on guilt or innocence but on the death penalty, my nonfiction purchases have been unsatisfactory and have resulted in my purchasing the pbook version. Some examples are Bruce Watson’s Sacco and Vanzetti and Taylor Branch’s trilogy about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement, Pillar of Fire, Parting the Waters, and At Canaan’s Edge. (If you haven’t read these books by Baatz, Watson, and Branch, put them on your list. It is better to read them as ebooks than not to read them at all.)

I keep trying, however, to read nonfiction in ebook form. I have purchased and tried reading in ebook form several books but nearly always gave way to finishing reading in the pbook form. Perhaps it is the ease of accessing the notes and images, perhaps it is easier to contemplate passages, reread them for deeper meaning or better understanding, perhaps it is just me. I’m not certain about the “why” but I am certain that authors, publishers, and converters have to spend more time and effort thinking about ebook design and how an ebook is read (or, in the case of nonfiction, how it should be read) by the reader. At the current juncture of development, ebooks are ideal for fiction, less so for nonfiction, but there is no reason why the ebook form shouldn’t be/can’t be ideal for any type of book.

(P.S. Some worthwhile nonfiction books I have bought in both ebook and pbook form are the following: On the Laps of Gods: The Red Summer of 1919 and the Struggle for Justice That Remade a Nation by Robert Whitaker; From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America by Christopher Finan, The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual: A History of Terror in the Name of God by Jonathan Kirsch; The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker; A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America’s First Presidential Campaign by Edward J. Larson; The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window Into Human Nature by Steven Pinker; The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox by Stephen Budiansky; and The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher by Debby Applegate. I recommend each of these books whether you read them in ebook or pbook form.)

August 16, 2010

75 Years of Success: Happy Birthday!

Yes, it is 75 years this month since the birth of Social Security, one of America’s most successful social program.

Yesterday, my wife and I went to the home and presidential library of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Hyde Park, NY, to view the opening exhibit in the museum celebrating 75 years of Social Security. It is an excellent exhibit, as is FDR’s home. A visit to the FDR presidential library and museum is to transport one back to the days of desperate struggle and to discovery of how the charisma of one man and his equally charismatic wife — and their concern for the average American — lead a country from despair to recovery.

Aside from what we learned about the birth of Social Security, we did pick up a few tidbits of presidential history. FDR’s presidential library was the first presidential library and is the only library that was used by a sitting president (it was opened in 1941 and FDR had an office in it that he used).

The house and estate land were owned by FDR’s mother. She died in September 1941 and FDR wore a black armband in memory of his mother. Americans thought, however, that he wore the armband in memory of Pearl Harbor, which took place 3 months later. The house is the house in which FDR was born, grew up, and raised his family. When he died, he willed the house to the National Parks Service, but gave his wife Eleanor, and his children, life estates in the property. Eleanor and the children all agreed to immediately turn the house over to the NPS. When asked about the speed with which she gave up the house, her response was to the effect that the house was Sara Delano Roosevelt (FDR’s mother) and FDR’s house, not her house. (This was borne out by FDR’s refusal to let Eleanor change anything in the house that his mother had done.)

Although there are a lot of rooms (35) and bathrooms (9) in the house, the house is really quite modest and lacks the grandeur that is evident in the Vanderbilt summer house just down the road. There was no room at the home for Secret Service to stay, so they were lodged at the Vanderbilt Mansion, which was also owned by the Park Service.

The Social Security exhibit is a reminder of how desperate lives were in the mid-20th century. Few people had pensions (less than 20% of workers) and most had to live off savings, which were wiped out with the bank failures of the Depression years. The letters written to the Roosevelts are poignant and heart-breaking.

When Social Security was established, it did not cover all Americans. In order to get the necessary votes to pass the legislation, certain classes of workers were excluded, including agricultural workers, most of whom were minorities. Even so, the legislation was challenged in the courts and it was a 5-4 Supreme Court decision (reminiscient of decisions today) that finally affirmed Social Security.

Today, Social Security serves as the safety net for many American workers. In the recession of the past few years, absent Social Security many Americans would starve.

As I left the grounds of FDR’s home, I remarked to my wife that here is an example of the fundamental difference between Democrat and Republican administrations: Democrats prefer to tinker to make things, hopefully, better for all citizens, whereas Republicans prefer to encourage people to stand up for themselves, hopefully to make things better for the individual. Each is right at times, but each is wrong at times. It is knowing when one is right and when one is wrong that is difficult.

Roosevelt gave us Social Security (and the first woman cabinet member who was also responsible for Social Security, Frances Perkins); Truman integrated the armed forces; Eisenhower gave us the interstate highway system, which propelled economic growth; Johnson gave us social equality; Nixon made us a true world player.

Alas, it seems that the greatness of immediate postwar presidents has declined. More recent presidents have been less visionary and more partisan, and perhaps less good for America as a whole. After seeing the exhibit, I have no doubt that politics were as partisan then as they are today. The difference was the leadership qualities and abilities of the president, the ability to transcend partisanship.

Americans should renew their faith in America by visiting the FDR library and museum. FDR brought us a new world, one that still benefits Americans 75 years later. Happy birthday, Social Security!

August 13, 2010

A Scary Morning

This morning, I booted up my computer as usual. As I noted in another article, I have made the switch to Windows 7 and have been pleased — until this morning’s bootup. It nearly gave me a heart attack!

First, my entire setup (customization) had disappeared and Win7 had reverted to its original settings. And in doing so, it stripped out my IE8 settings — e.g., all of my Favorites had disappeared. I feared to open Outlook and so didn’t.

Second, I thought this problem was easily resolved by a System Restore. One of the nice things about Registry Mechanic is that it creates a restore point every time it runs, and I have it set to run at bootup. But it turns out that no restore points had been saved. The reason was that when Win7 was installed, no one remembered to allocate space for the restore points. Registry Mechanic tried to make the restore points but had no space allocated for saving them.

So now I’m thinking about pulling out what little hair I have. I called my computer guy and left a message. While waiting, I decided to simply shut down and reboot on the off-chance that this would solve the problem.

To my surprise — it did! My system rebooted into the proper settings and all was well. But I am taking no more chances. I confirmed that space has been allocated for restore points (10% of the hard drives is now allocated) and I rushed out to Office Depot and bought an external 1 Terabyte Seagate drive, which is on sale this week for $90, which I immediately plugged into my computer so I could make a System Image through Win7’s Backup and Restore program. That took about 20 minutes and as I write, the Seagate drive has been attached to another of our computers and a System Image is being created for it.

So some words of caution: (1) Check to make sure your computer has sufficient space allocated to save multiple system restores. (2) Create system restore points regularly. (3) Consider doing a System Image as just-in-case insurance and do so on a regular basis.

August 12, 2010

Sony, Sony — Wherefore Art Thou?

The “big” news ebook reading devices recently has been Amazon’s new Kindles with their Pearl screen. OK, ebookers got the point: Amazon is moving right along in its attempt to capture the wallets of all ebookers. Which raises the question, here in the United States, “Sony, Sony (and Barnes & Noble, as well) — Wherefore art thou?”

Not a hint, not a misspoken word, not anything leaked to eBookland about a response by Sony and/or B&N to Amazon’s new Kindles. I, for one, am desperately seeking solace, especially from Sony, that there will be new competitive devices forthcoming. As I have made clear in prior articles, I am not a willing Amazon (or Apple) buyer.

But I need to know that my expectations will be met. I love my Sony PRS505 reader. It’s now 2.5 years old and works as well as the day I received it as a holiday gift. It has never been repaired and never failed to delight. My wife waits in the wings to take it over as soon as I buy a new reading device, and my credit cards are itching to be used to do so.

(For what it’s worth, I am also pleased with the service I have received from the Sony Reader eBook Store. A few weeks ago I bought the second and third volumes of Brian Ruckley’s Godless World Trilogy only to discover that the type size couldn’t be enlarged and the fixed size was much too small for my eyes. I assumed it was a publisher problem so I e-mailed the Hachette Book Group this past Sunday, with a copy of my receipt for the books, asking them to fix the problem. On Monday I received a response saying they had checked the original files and could find nothing to cause the problem so they had contacted Sony and asked Sony to check it and contact me. On Wednesday I received a telephone call from Sony saying the problem had been fixed and I needed to redownload the books, which I did. Kudos to both Hachette and Sony. Now, back on track…)

What I have been waiting for is a device with an 8- or 9-inch screen from a company that I think will be around for more than a week or two. Everyone and everyone’s aunt is producing 6-inch screen e-ink devices, and if that is all that Sony or B&N are going to produce, I will not buy a new device until my 505 dies; I’m not looking to buy a new device just for the sake of buying a new device.

I want that larger screen so I can switch my New York Times subscription from print to electronic and read it comfortably. For me, this is the driver behind my desire for a new device. And no, I do not want a multifunction LCD screen device. I already own several.

The situation is this: Amazon is king of the hill right now. It has the leading device and bookstore and gains ground every day. B&N desperately needs to at least maintain its market share and preferably grow it in the one growth area in publishing — ebooks. Every day it remains silent about device plans and every day that passes without a new device becoming available (at least for preorder) is another day that Amazon increases its market lead.

Sony, which isn’t noted for its ebookstore but is noted for its quality electronics, will soon take on the mantle of Wile E. Coyote in the ebook reading device tug-of-wars unless it does two things: First, is put out a firmware update for all of its already sold and available devices that updates the ePub DRM schema. Sony owners need to know that Sony is not asleep and that it is committed to the ePub standard and the way to do this is to release an update that will allow Sony owners to access the B&N ebookstore without stripping DRM. This is the easy fix to owner anxieties for Sony.

Second, it needs to “leak” to the press and the blogosphere information about any forthcoming e-reading devices. Get the buzz going; give ebookers a reason to hold off purchasing a new Kindle. It doesn’t need to be a full-blown, detailed initial announcement but it needs to be sufficient to maintain interest. Perhaps a leak-a-week until the big news event.

The strength of Amazon is in its ebookstore, not in its Kindle. The Kindle simply provides a means to access Amazon’s strong point. Sony’s strength is in its electronic devices, its readers, not in its ebookstore. The ebookstore simply gives Sony Reader owners a place to make use of the device. But unlike Amazon, which craftily takes advantage of its strength, Sony turns its strength into a weakness by being so rigid in its information release schedule. Sony needs to loosen up — especially now that the new Kindles are available and have been getting good press.

B&N needs to find its footing. Contrary to its corporate “wisdom,” releasing its ebooks in ePub form but adding its own flavor of DRM was not a smart move in B&N’s fight against the Amazon behemoth. By adding that flavoring, B&N gave Amazon at least a year’s free ride to build sales share. We will never know with certainty, but I’d bet that had B&N emulated Sony in terms of ePub and DRM flavor, B&N’s ebook market share would be at least 25% higher than it currently is. The battle would have been truly joined between B&N and Amazon and Sony’s ebookstore would be drifting into a netherworld.

Sony needs to regain momentum and spark interest in its products. It needs to immediately begin leaking information about forthcoming products to prevent ebooker defection to the new Kindles. B&N needs to get its act together in nearly every sense, and it, too, needs to begin leaking information about its plans. If they do not maintain ebooker interest in their respective products, it will soon be too late and it will be an Amazon world.

August 11, 2010

Why, Microsoft, Do You Insist On Torturing Me?

I admit that as between a Microsoft world and an Apple world, I’m in the Microsoft camp. I prefer to have my computers custom built with the best components I can buy, rather than being told I need to settle for what someone else has decided is good enough. It’s also a reason why I go to a local shop to have my computers built rather than buy from a mass merchandiser like Best Buy, Dell, or HP.

Occasionally, over the many years I have been using computers, Microsoft has come up with a winner or two. (Can we forget Windows 98/Me?) For me two winners of “recent” vintage were Windows XP (especially with Service Pack 3) and Word/Office 2003. XP worked and worked and worked, essentially without a problem. Similarly, Word/Office 2003 kept on chugging, letting me get my work done efficiently, and all consumer versions, including the Student Edition, included Outlook.

But the Microsoft world moves on and this past weekend, while I was away for 4 days, I had my local computer shop upgrade my system from XP to Windows 7. Subsequently, I added Word/Office 2010 to my system.

Clearly the best way to move from XP to Win7 is with a completely fresh install, which is what I did with one of the computers being upgraded. But I couldn’t do that on my workhorse computer. I am too busy and it would take too much time to install and recustomize all of the programs I rely on to get my work done. So I opted for a temporary solution. I had all the hard drives on my workhorse converted to removable drives. I actually did this for a couple of reasons. One is related to the Win7 upgrade but the second is related to securing my hard drives when I travel. With removable hard drives, I can simply remove them and store them in a bank safe deposit box or have a neighbor take care of them for me while I travel. I do have several backup plans in operation, including Carbonite (which has saved me several times over the past couple of years), but this is just another bit of insurance.

The second reason I converted to removable hard drives for Win7 is that as a temporary fix I did the operating system upgrade path (Win XP > Vista > Win7); everything works just fine. But at the same time, I bought another hard drive for a fresh install of Win7. With this removable fresh install drive, as I have time, I can plug it into my computer, bootup, and install and recustomize my work programs; no need to take a couple of days and just get upgrading but no billable work done. After I am done setting up the fresh install drive, I can just swap drives effortlessly. (One note: Going the upgrade path meant I had to go for 32-bit Win7; but on the fresh install drive, I can go for 64-bit Win7.)

As far as Win7 goes, the upgrade was easy. It took my local computer shop a few hours to do the upgrade route on my workhorse and a few more hours to resetup my computer in my office, and almost no time at all to do the fresh install on our other computers plus a few hours to reset them up in our offices. While I’m at the “Finding Your Niche/Expanding Your Horizons” conference (which was discussed in A Gathering of Freelance Editorial Professionals), my local shop will create the fresh install drive for me and install many of the programs I need for work; unfortunately, they need my computer to create the drive or it would be done by now.

In contrast to my Win7 experience (and after a week of using Win7, I can say it is an excellent OS), is my Word/Office 2010 experience. One was a breeze, the other torture. 

As an editor I rely on Microsoft Word. It’s not because I love Word, but because my clients demand it. It brings a certain amount of standardization to manuscript processing and allows more forward-thinking clients to design templates for editors (and authors) to use. Also, Word comes with a fairly robust macro programming language, VBA (Visual Basic for Applications), which lets me, as well as clients, create efficiency enhancements. EditTools, discussed in The 3 Stages of Copyediting: II — The Copyediting Stage, is a good example of what can be done with VBA to make editing more efficient. I have invested lots of time, effort, and money into creating macros to better the editing process and into customizing Word to make it work most effectively for the job of editing. Word 2003 works beautifully for me in this regard.

Then came Word 2007 and Microsoft’s changes to how Word works. It was like going from Shangri-la to a Tim Burton nightmare. I tried it and it was so bad I passed on it. What took seconds in Word 2003 took minutes in Word 2007. Customizing the ribbons in 2007 was not easily done. I had to buy a book that discussed nothing else but how to reprogram the ribbons. After seeing how difficult customization was and how much more time it was taking to work in Word 2007, I junked the program (and fervently prayed that Microsoft would do the same!).

But I began noticing an increase in the number of manuscripts I was receiving that had been created in Word 2007. The temporary solution was Microsoft’s free converter, but it wasn’t a great or complete solution. So I waited for Word 2010 because Microsoft said the ribbon would be customizable. It is, but so what — it still isn’t easy to use if you have any long-term experience with Word.

Remember WordPerfect and WordStar? The transition from either program to Word was a cakewalk compared to the transition from Word 2003 to Word 2010. It is bad enough that Microsoft has decided it knows better how I should use Word than I do, but it also changed how macros are accessed and how they need to be written. So now I have hundreds of macros that need to be rewritten, I have ribbons with useless commands on them, and I have ribbons that can’t be removed and replaced with something more logical. Why, Microsoft, do you insist on torturing me? You could have made it a seamless transition. You could have given me the option to retain the Word 2003 setup. At minimum, you could have retained the VBA basics so that macros don’t need to be rewritten. Hours of work await me.

What Microsoft has done, besides making my life significantly harder, is typical of big business thinking: paternalism at its worst. Word 2010 is probably a truly wonderful program for the person new to Word or to the person who does simple things with a word processor — or, as seems to be true for many authors, the person who likes to play with formatting every line and character. But for the advanced user and for the user who has invested time and money into customizing Word to make it functional for his or her business, it is a nightmare, perhaps even a catastrophe in the making, at least until sufficient time has passed using it to make peace with the new paradigm and to get necessary macros rewritten. I suspect that 6 years from now, when Word 2016 is released and I need to upgrade again, I’ll be writing the same complaint yet again.

Microsoft truly knows how to make friends of its customers!

(Addendum: As I am discovering, there are signifcant changes in Win7 from WinXP, including where things are located and terminology. Consequently, I decided to buy a third-party manual. For Win7, I bought Windows 7: The Missing Manual [ISBN 978-1-596-80639-2] by David Pogue, the New York Times tech columnist. I spent several hours at my local B&N comparing Win7 books and decided that this was the best of the lot; plus it is an O’Reilly book, which usually means good quality.

Similarly, I decided that if I am going to make the transition from Word 2003 to Word 2010, I better get some help. So I also spent time with Word 2010 books and settled on these two: Microsoft Office Word 2010 QuickSteps [ISBN 978-0-07-163487-8] by Marty Matthews and Microsoft Word 2010 on Demand [ISBN 978-0-7897-4281-0] by Steve Johnson. The book I want but haven’t yet found is one that provides comprehensive coverage of Word 2010 macro writing.)

August 10, 2010

There’s No Joy in eBookville Today

Probably the biggest news of the past week in eBookville (and pBookville, or just plain ol’ Bookville to cover the universe of books and readers) is that Barnes & Noble may be put up for sale. The speculation in the blogosphere is that B&N is on a deathwatch. There is no joy in Bookville today!

From a financial perspective, B&N is pretty solid; the primary impetus for the possible sale is that some investors think B&N stock is too undervalued, that is, the company would be worth more to them if it were sold than if it were to continue to make money at a steady level. (Yes, I’m aware that they lost money, attributable to nook development, in the last quarter, but I prefer to look long-term and not focus on a quarter or two.)

This raises a lot of issues, not least of which is the focus of investors on making a quick buck. I’ve always considered the complaints about IBM stock as an example of misdirected investor greed. Consider that IBM is pretty consistently profitable, owns tons of valuable real estate and patents, and returns a regular dividend. Then compare that to, for example, Amazon. No more need be said on that score.

But the real threat if B&N goes under is to consumers of books. One blogger, Mike Cane, has suggested that Amazon should buy B&N and gives 15 reasons why (see Barnes & Noble Is For Sale: Amazon Should Buy It). Some of the reasons on the surface appear attractive for a company like Amazon and for consumers, but giving careful thought to the proposition might lead to a different conclusion for consumers. Of course, whether the Department of Justice would approve of such a purchase is uncertain and I think unlikely for lots of reasons, but those are not the subject of this article. Once again, Mike Cane and I disagree. (We also disagree about whether Amazon has won the ebook war; he says yes and I think the outcome is yet to be written. I agree that Amazon is winning, but until the finish line is crossed, anything can happen. More than one megalomaniac has fallen before crossing the finish line.)

Let’s assume that Amazon currently controls 30% of the retail book market in the United States, which is a figure that has been bandied about in recent times. B&N is credited with a 20% share of that market. Between the two competitors, 50% of the U.S. book market — print and electronic — is controlled. That makes these two competitors an important outlet for authors, publishers, and consumers. For consumers, the value is in the competition between the two, which helps keep prices low. Add in Wal-Mart and Target, both of which are growing booksellers, and other similar box stores, and you have a pretty competitive playing field. (Remember the holiday price war between Wal-Mart, Target, Amazon, and B&N?)

Consumers who are focused solely on price need to look beyond today’s pricing and wonder about tomorrow’s pricing should Amazon own 50% of the book market. There are several reasons for concern. First, is Amazon’s attempt at vertical integration of the market by offering both publishing and retailing services on a grand scale. If an author is given a choice between publishing with an entity that controls 50% of the retail market or with a traditional publisher who controls 0%, with whom is the author likely to sign? Down the road will such integration really benefit the author or will it put Amazon in a position of dictating terms? I haven’t forgotten the problems of just 18 months ago when trying to negotiate contract terms with Amazon to sell books on the Kindle.

Second, we must consider to whom Amazon owes its loyalty. By law, if nothing else, Amazon owes its primary duty to its shareholders, shareholders who want maximum return on their investment (which is the problem B&N is facing with investors believing it is undervalued). I wonder whio is the largest individual shareholder of Amazon? I know it isn’t the consumer me. How do you get maximum return? By maximizing profits, which is often done by increasing the spread between costs and sales price. If Amazon owns 50% of the market and has no significant individual competition, it is in a position to set prices at whatever level it believes maximizes its return on investment. Even the Agency 5 would have to cave to Amazon’s pricing demands — 50% market share is a whole lot of market share. Isn’t this what Steve Jobs does at Apple? Once you get past Apple’s hype, is a Mac really worth that much more than a Windows PC? Why would anyone believe that what Jeff Bezos says today about being the consumers’ friend will still be true when he is in a position to dictate terms without competitive concern?

Third, is the question of open format. Mike Cane believes that Amazon’s buying of B&N would give Amazon the opportunity to drive the final nail through the heart of ePub, and he may well be right. But how does that benefit consumers? Has anyone noticed that Amazon refuses to let anyone else build a Kindle clone or include on their ebook-reading device the Kindle formats? Does this look like (smell like?) Apple yet again? Imagine if the market dominance of Microsoft and Apple were reversed. I wonder how much more people would be paying for a Mac than the premium they are already paying. I fail to see how Amazon’s replication of Apple’s closed system in ebooks would be good for the consumer; I can see how it would be good for Amazon, just not for me. If B&N goes under and the ePub format suffers a major blow, with Amazon’s unwillingness to open its proprietary formats, we would see the decline of other device manufacturers and ebook sellers — neither a pretty nor a desirable picture.

B&N or an outfit like B&N needs to survive to provide Amazon with competition. It is the competition between these two giants that best serves the reading consumer. Perhaps to survive B&N needs new management — I certainly wouldn’t give Leonard Riggio any kudos for how he has brought B&N into the 21st century, whereas I would give Bezos a lot of credit for what he has done for Amazon — but a management change is a lot different from a funeral march. If B&N is to be sold, then I have to hope for a particular buyer, which I hope is Wal-Mart because it could give Amazon a run for its money and even beat Amazon at its own game. Now that would make for an interesting competition!

August 9, 2010

The Times are Changing! Will Editors Change with Them?

Everyone knows that time doesn’t stand still, except in science fiction and fantasy. Time keeps marching on, even for the publishing world.

The first pebble in the pond appears to be Dorchester Publishing. I admit I hadn’t heard of the company, but then its focus is on mass market romance books, not a category I read (although I have always wondered why the cover models romance books so often use should be physically what I should aspire to in order to have that “hot, passionate, romantic adventure of a lifetime”). Dorchester announced the firing of its 7-person sales force and most importantly for Bookville that it was going 100% digital — only ebooks and POD (print on demand).

Although  there is speculation as to what was the impetus for this move by Dorchester, it really doesn’t matter. Dorchester’s move to all digital is a portent of the change that will overcome publishing during the next decade. Sales figures indicate that the two medium of growth in publishing have been hardcover books and ebooks, with ebooks showing triple-digit increases nearly every month.

Why does this matter to editors? It matters because just as the introduction of the personal computer altered our world, so will the move to all-digital publishing. When PCs (used generically to mean personal computers, not Windows OS computers) became commodities, nearly every editor was expected to own one, to have mastered the necessary software (remember WordStar and WordPerfect?), and to change how editing was done.

I remember when I started offering my services as an editor to publishers 26 years ago, how I promoted myself. Every editor was doing paper-based editing and minimal coding. I advertised my services as online only — I wouldn’t accept paper-based editing projects — with a willingness to do more extensive coding (largely SGML, Standard Generalized Markup Language) that would enable a publisher to bypass the typesetting stage, all for a small premium over what my paper-based colleagues were charging. And it worked when I gave small demonstrations of how using my services could save publishers thousands of dollars in production costs.

But to do that, I had to learn new and different skills and adapt them to the editing process. Today, those skills are minimally required of any editor, so I am constantly looking for ways to differentiate my services from that of my colleagues and to justify a higher price (at which I am not always successful).

As seismic as the change from paper-based to online editing was for professional editors in the 1980s, this change to all-digital publishing, as it overtakes the publishing industry, could be cataclysmic for professional editors. The question is whether professional editors will be better prepared this time.

Dorchester’s switch to all digital is just the first pebble being tossed in the massive pond of publishing. Its ripple is barely noticeable, but like the shamans of old, I find it to be a sign of a vast change that is about to overwhelm professional editing like a tsunami, and one for which few editors are well prepared. I expect to see a rapidly increasing number of small publishers follow Dorchester’s lead, with medium- and large-size publishers not too far behind. But an even larger force in the tsunami will be the author-driven market.

The trend will, I expect, follow this path: Increasingly authors will “abandon” the large publishing houses and strike out on their own. In the beginning, they will believe they can do it all themselves, with the help of a few friends, and they will be encouraged to believe so by their organizations, such as SWFA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America). But as fewer authors succeed in making a living from their writing, the trend will begin to alter and authors will start seeking professional help. (For past discussions along these lines, see, e.g., I Published My Book But Readers Keep Finding Errors and Question of the Day: Investing in eBooks by Authors & Readers.)

When should editors start preparing for the trend changes? My belief is that they should start as soon as they identify the change that is coming. To devise a strategy to address the coming changes and to become proficient in the techniques that will be needed to to ride the change waves takes time and effort. The earlier the start, the more likely the success.

The switch from pbooks to ebooks won’t happen tomorrow, but it will happen in the next decade, perhaps even in the next 5 years. There are too many pluses to going digital from the perspectives of consumers, authors, and publishers, even though all are currently struggling to find the right path through the current morass. But once that “right” path is found, movement will go from a turtle’s pace to rocket speed as everyone tries to maximize their experience.

Which brings me to my original question: Will editors help lead the various groups through the current morass or will editors simply be followers who react, as they have done in the past? Will editors change with the changing times? I can only speak for myself, but I’m already working on the problem; how about you?

(The topic of professional editors in an ebook world will be part of my discussion at the upcoming conference “Finding Your Niche/Expanding Your Horizons”, which was discussed in A Gathering of Freelance Editorial Professionals. If you are interested in joining the discussion and learning more about the effects of all-digital publishing on professional editing, join me and other editing professionals at the conference.)

August 6, 2010

A Gathering of Freelance Editorial Professionals

Today’s guest article is by Ruth Thaler-Carter. In her article she discusses the forthcoming “Finding Your Niche/Expanding Your Horizons” conference. If after reading her article you are interested in learning more, you can visit Communication Central’s website. Registration information for the conference, which includes a complete schedule,  is available here. Worth noting is that attendees will have an opportunity to discuss some of their concerns about the future, especially about competing and working more efficiently, with some of the most successful freelancers around and who are experts in using the tools of editorial freelancing.

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Freelance editors (and writers, proofreaders, graphic artists,
desktop publishers, indexers, designers, etc.) unite! Or at least congregate … 

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, co-owner of Communication Central 

It’s an increasingly competitive world for editorial professionals these days, as publishing contracts, e-publishing expands, and outsourcing continues to drive down prices in some areas. One reality is that we all need to get ready to cope with the changing face of publishing. Regardless of the kind of editorial work we do, we need to become more familiar with e-books and how to compete globally, rather than locally — even if that globe might only encompass a state or a nation. Not everyone has to function internationally, but we all need to expand our perception of where to market our skills.

 

What’s a hardworking, skilled, experienced editor supposed to do? 

One thing to consider is getting together with colleagues (and maybe even competitors) to brainstorm ways of fine-tuning, and perhaps enhancing, an editorial career or business. One way of doing so is, if you’ll pardon the self-serving mention, attending a conference like “Finding Your Niche/Expanding Your Horizons,” the fifth annual Build Your Communications Business conference of Communication Central, a business I co-own. 

Freelance editorial professionals tend to be solitary types. There are professional associations we can join, but a lot of editors, writers, and other freelancers use their memberships only to get access to job opportunities or participate in online conversations. If someone joins a national association that doesn’t have a local chapter, the likelihood of meeting other members in person is slim. At an event like “Finding Your Niche/Expanding Your Horizons,” editors (and other colleagues) from all over the country can get together in person, put faces to all those electronic names, and share ideas about how to manage their business lives more effectively. 

In putting together this conference every year, we look at the tools being used by editorial professionals these days and the trends in how we work — and how we can work better and more profitably. Then we find people who can speak to those topics. Sometimes we go the other way around — we know of someone we respect and find a way to include that person in the conference. We aim to combine theory and practice, in a sense, by offering sessions both on ways of doing business and on making the best use of important tools in editorial freelancing. 

I am confident that this year’s program has something for everyone — those thinking about freelancing, just starting out, and/or with substantial experience in the field and their businesses. Here’s an overview of what we will explore at this year’s Communication Central conference: 

Rich Adin (of this blog) on getting the rates you deserve; Michael Brady on building a brand through effective design; Bevi Chagnon on using Word to go to InDesign; Katharine O’Moore-Klopf on profiting from being online; Karl Heinz Kremer on using Acrobat in editing; and Jack Lyon, Hilary Powers and Dan Wilson in an unprecedented “Word Summit.” I’ll present a session on what it takes to start and manage a communications business, and Communication Central co-owner Kat Nagel will offer tips for effective websites. 

And that’s just the formal sessions. Before, during, and after, the networking and friend-making elements of a gathering like this are immeasurably valuable — not to mention a lot of fun! 

If you’re serious about your editorial business, I think you’ll find this conference to be eminently worth attending. 

Full details are at: www.communication-central.com

August 5, 2010

The 3 Stages of Copyediting: III — The Proofing Stage

In part I of this series (The 3 Stages of Copyediting: I — The Processing Stage), the focus was on getting the manuscript ready for editing by taking care of the mechanical things — the clean up — of author-provided files using macros created by The Editorium and wordsnSync. Part II (The 3 Stages of Copyediting: II — The Copyediting Stage) focused on EditTools, a group of macros designed to make editing faster, more accurate, and more consistent.

Now that the manuscript has been prepped and copyedited, it is time to take one last look through the manuscript to catch some things that may have been missed and to do a final cleanup. This is the proofing stage — the third stage of copyediting — and the stage where PerfectIt is so valuable.

Stage III: The Proofing Stage

No matter how good an editor is, the editor will have missed something; the more complex the manuscript, the more somethings that are likely to have gotten by the editor’s eagle eye. For example, 18 times in the manuscript the editor hyphenated time-consuming, but twice did not. Are the 2 exceptions correct or just missed hyphens? That is the question — among many questions — PerfectIt asks.

PerfectIt analyzes your document in detail, looking for certain types of “common” errors. For example, if the rule is that numbers 10 and below are to be spelled out, it will flag instances of the number 10 in digit form and ask you whether it should be corrected. And what about capitalization of heads? Was it correct to use sentence style in this head when all other heads use title case style?

PerfectIt comes with 27 built-in tests, that is, things to look for. The tests include

  • hyphenation and dashes, including phrases with hyphens and dashes, singles words split by hyphens or dashes, and compound words
  • spelling consistency, including spelling variations, numerical characters, common typographical errors, and contractions
  • abbreviations, including abbreviations in 2 forms, defined two ways, used before being defined, defined the same way more than once, abbreviations without definitions, and abbreviations not used
  • capitalization, including capitalization in phrases and heads
  • list punctuation and capitalization
  • tables, boxes, and figures, including capitalization, punctuation, consistency, and order
  • comments and highlighting left in the text
  • final cleanup tasks, such as removing for double spaces and creating a table of acronyms

PerfectIt also lets the editor create his or her own custom word lists, which are the tests to be run and the parameters for the tests. For example, rather than being presented with having to choose each time whether self esteem or self-esteem is preferred, the editor can create a custom word list that tells PerfectIt to (a) never find self-esteem, (b) always prefer self-esteem and so find instances of self esteem, or (c) always prefer self esteem and so find instances of self-esteem. This customization also works with spelling (i.e., not just phrases and hyphenation) so if the editor prefers distension over distention, the editor can make distension the always preferred spelling and instances of distention only will be found.

If the editor chose self-esteem as the preferred form, when PerfectIt finds self esteem it tells the editor how many locations this form appears in and provides an opportunity to go to those locations if needed. If the editor is certain that it needs to be corrected, clicking the Fix or Fix All buttons makes the corrections (with tracking on). No need to manually fix each instance.

PerfectIt’s display is divided into several informational panels. At the top it tells you what test is being run and what percentage of the proofing process has been completed. Immediately below the test name, PerfectIt describes the error it has found and how many. For example, if the test is “Abbreviations in two forms,” the error description may say “Error description (1 of 3),” indicating that 3 errors have been found and this is the first one.

This panel is followed by the “Choose preferred abbreviation” panel. If the error is that sometimes the abbreviation is USA and sometimes it is U.S.A., this panel will tell you, for example, “USA (found 5 times)” and “U.S.A. (found 2 times).” You click on your preference and then look below this panel to the final panel which shows the locations of the nonpreferred form. You can then fix them one at a time or all at once — or you can decide that these are not errors based on the context and thus not change one or more of the “errors.” The editor always has the option of leaving something as it is. PerfectIt is mechanically finding these errors so that the editor can apply his or her editorial judgement.

PerfectIt is a perfect way to do a final check of an edited manuscript. It can save an editor from embarrassment and can reduce the number of errors that clients find. Although not a panacea for all errors and missed items, PerfectIt does focus on the more commonly missed items.

Editors who do not already use PerfectIt in the proofing stage should consider trying it. I can tell you that when I found PerfectIt, I downloaded the trial version, and within 5 minutes of running it on a chapter I bought it. I immediately saw its value, and have been recommending it since.

The combination of  Editorium programs, EditTools, and PerfectIt is a combination that will enhance every editor’s accuracy and efficiency. Improving efficiency is a sure way to improve any editor’s bottom line; improving accuracy is a sure way to improve editor and client relations because better editing results in lower client costs.

(Disclosure: I have no financial connection to or other interest in either Intelligent Editing or The Editorium. I have purchased their macros and use them in my own editing business. I am the creator of EditTools and an owner of wordsnSync Ltd.)

August 4, 2010

The 3 Stages of Copyediting: II — The Copyediting Stage

In part I of this series (The 3 Stages of Copyediting: I — The Processing Stage), the focus was on getting the manuscript ready for editing by taking care of the mechanical things — the clean up — of author-provided files. Authors love to “help” their publishers (or even themselves if they are self-publishing) by formatting the document to make it look like they think it should look when published. As most editors will tell an author, doing so really adds to the cost of the editing because a good editor needs to clean out all these extraneous features and properly tag the content.

The simpler the formatting/styling done by an author, the less costly and time-consuming the copyediting will be because it will free the copyeditor to do what the copyeditor is supposed to do (and for those of you who need a reminder about what a copyeditor is supposed to do, see Editor, Editor, Everywhere an Editor).

Again, the mechanical aspects of the preparing the file are addressed by various macros from The Editorium and some of the macros in EditTools. But it is here, in the second stage of copyediting — the true copyediting stage — where EditTools becomes a key component of the process.

Stage II: The Copyediting Stage

EditTools is a group of macros designed to improve accuracy in the editing process while increasing efficiency. Not all of the macros are usable in all projects but each serves a purpose that when combined enhance the quality of the editing.

Consider, for example, Toggle, which is particularly useful in nonfiction books and articles but is equally usable for fiction. One of the things that a copyeditor has to do is make sure that there is consistency in a book. If the style is for all numbers 100 and lower to be written out except when used as a measure, the copyeditor has to convert 99 to ninety-nine but only where appropriate. And this is where Toggle comes into play. Think about how long it takes you to press a single key versus to type ninety-nine; and add up all of the single key press times versus the typing times (and the retyping because you mistyped!).

My current Toggle list has more than 1,300 entries in it, which means that with the press of a single key (I assign my primary macros that I use repeatedly as I edit to single key presses such as to F4) I can change any of 1300+ items; for example,

  • which to that
  • about to approximately
  • since to because
  • US to United States
  • Marvin to Martha
  • CFO to treasurer
  • HIV to human immunodeficiency virus
  • 100 to one hundred
  • x to the correct times sign
  • hyphen to the correct minus sign
  • and hundreds of other things

and whatever else I put in the list through the Toggle Manager (no need to understand programming or to open and close lists; the Toggle list is dealt with through the easy-to-use Toggle Manager) — all by the press of a single key. Creation of the list is wholly up to me and my needs, it is not prepackaged or limited.

Most books have multiple chapters and it is the rare author who creates a single file when writing. Thus the need for MultiFile Find and Replace. Should I discover that the character name Mariah is suddenly spelled Marya, I can now look for Marya in all of the files the author submitted and replace it with Mariah (with Track Changes on) immediately. This avoids the problem of missing a fundamental correction in a subsequent chapter.

One of the things I try to learn from a client before I begin editing is if the client has particular preferences, especially for spelling. This is particularly important when a book is being written by teams of authors, a common occurrence in medical books. When I learn of these preferences, or if as the editor I make a decision to accept one spelling over another, I enter the information in the Never Spell Word macro via the Never Spell Word Manager. For example, in medical terminology there are two accepted spellings for distension: distension and distention. Once one form is chosen I use NSW to ensure that it is used consistently. I could use either MultiFile Find and Replace or Word’s own Find & Replace but that would mean I have to go through a list of words repeatedly and manually. NSW lets me create a standard list as I edit — I can always add to it.

More importantly, perhaps, NSW through its color coding system, tells me that certain terms are OK as they are. For example, if the author decrees that WHO never needs to be spelled out as World Health Organization because everyone knows what it means, I can enter WHO in NSW, choose “no spell/OK as is” and every instance of WHO will be appropriately highlighted, reminding me that I do not need to spell it out.

As part of the NSW macro there are several other tabs. There are some default names, but with the current release you can customize the tab names and the data files they call upon. But these tabs serve a purpose, too. For example, because I do a lot of medical editing, drug names are important. But I admit I can’t remember all of the drugs that are available, used to be available, and that will be available. So I enter drug names as I come across them into the drug tab list and next time I run the NSW macro for a medical project, every correct drug name in the manuscript that matches a drug name in my data list will be highlighted in green, telling me that the entry is correct — one less thing I need to verify because I have already done so. NSW builds on experience: Once I have verified something and entered it into a portion of the NSW macro, I no longer need to reverify it.

One last example of how valuable EditTools is to a copyeditor. I do a lot of nonfiction books and most of them are replete with citations. And if there is a subject you can think of, there is probably more than one journal that is published that addresses it. Thus the Journals macro and its Journals Manager.

The task of editing reference material is complicated and time-consuming. There are a lot elements that the editor has to address and authors tend to complicate the editing of references by not being either consistent or accurate in their typing. It isn’t unusual, for example, to find in the same reference list New Engl J of Medicine, N Engl J Med, N England Journal Med, and other variations of New England Journal of Medicine. In fact, in the PubMed database that is used for medical journal names and abbreviations, there are more than 10,000 named journals — and that isn’t a complete list.

To the rescue comes the Journals macro. My medical journals dataset currently has more than 5,700 entries in it. Not all are unique journal names; there are also the author variations. But I run this macro over a reference list and if the author has correctly cited the journal name, it is highlighted in green; if the cite is incorrect and the incorrect to correct form is in my data list, the incorrect form gets automatically corrected. If it isn’t in my list, it will be — I will add it as I come to it during the editing process, thereby growing my list. I recently had to edit a reference list of 732 entries — a whole lot of cites that would take a whole lot of time to do. Fortunately, every journal cited by the authors — and every variation they used — already was in my data list. Within seconds I knew which journals were correct and those that were incorrect were automatically corrected.

The Journals macro also solves another problem: Like drugs, there are thousands of journal names. Who can remember them all? (Would you remember, for example, that a cite to the Chinese Journal of Radiology should be a cite to Zhonghua Fang She Xian Yi Xue Za Zhi?)

Although I’ve only skimmed the surface of EditTools, it is important to know that its primary function is to work with the editor during the copyediting stage, not before and not after. A professional editor uses tools to make the editing process quicker, more efficeint, and above all, more accurate. In the not-so-long-ago days, we had to keep track of everything by hand, repeat tasks endlessly, and use pencil on a paper manuscript. Today we can harness the power of computers, and using the tools described in the 3 parts of this article — Editorium macros, EditTools, and PerfectIt — we can harness the power of Word macros to make editing quality and accuracy better than ever.

The least satisfactory method is to address each problem as you encounter it during the copyediting stage. Not only is this time-consuming, but it is distracting. During the copyediting stage the focus should be on the substance not the mechanics, although there will always be some overlap. Editors who do not already use EditTools in the copyediting stage should consider trying them to see if the macros make their editing more efficient and accurate and less time-consuming.

Part III addresses the proofing stage and using PerfectIt for this stage of the editing process.

(Disclosure: I have no financial connection to or other interest in either Intelligent Editing or The Editorium. I have purchased their macros and use them in my own editing business. I am the creator of EditTools and an owner of wordsnSync Ltd.)

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