An American Editor

February 29, 2012

Shuddering in Fear: What if Santorum Becomes President?

I thought it couldn’t get worse, but American presidential politics continues to prove that worse is coming tomorrow. Now I’m shuddering in fear that Rick Santorum, or someone with his beliefs, might be elected president.

There are lots of reasons why he troubles me, but his views on public education worry me to no end, especially as they draw rousing cheers. For those unfamiliar with his views, they can be summarized as follows: eliminate public schools and return to the pre-twentieth century methods of home schooling or one-room school houses.

I admit there is a lot wrong with public education. I also admit that I believe a lot of public education’s failures can be laid at the feet of teachers and teacher unions. But as bad as I think public education has become, I firmly believe that forcing everyone to home-school would be a Titanic disaster for America.

Yes, there are some parents who are quite capable of home schooling; but most parents are not. Most parents are neither capable nor interested. As well-educated as I am, I, for example, would have a great deal of difficulty teaching my children math or a foreign language. I was not particularly astute in those subjects during my school days and I am now 45 years removed from those classrooms.

In addition, much of the American economy is based on a two-person income household. So who would do the teaching? Which parent would give up his or her job? Perhaps the idea is to indirectly force women to become stay-at-home moms, which would fit with Santorum’s other beliefs.

Home schooling is also another way to impose resegregation of America. Even the separate-but-equal classrooms that were finally found to be separate-but-unequal in 1954 would be better for minorities and less-educated and low-socioeconomic families than being required to home-school their children. Do we not have enough problems getting a well-educated workforce in the current system without compounding the problem?

Santorum and believers also want to do away with all federal and state regulation of education, believing that parents can do a better job without government interference. I think they are correct if we are talking about the successful handful of home-schooling that occurs, but are quite wrong when expanded to the population at large.

A program like that proposed by Santorum and friends will turn America from a first-world country into something less than a third-world country faster than any other program that conservatives could invoke. Education is the root of America’s success. The institution of a free public education for all children is what changed America from a follower to a leader, regardless of how we may feel about how well it has fulfilled its leadership role.

But Santorum lays down a challenge that American educators need to pick up. Whether they will before it is too late is doubtful. I haven’t read of any teacher union beginning to fight back; local teachers I know aren’t even aware of Santorum’s ideas about education — they ignore Santorum in the belief that neither he nor his ideas could possibly succeed. They are blind-siding themselves.

American education is really declining. Consider the recent posing in Afghanistan of U.S. Marines with a flag that bore the Nazi SS lightning bolts. The Marines thought the double “s” meant “sniper scouts” and admitted they were unaware that the stylized lightning bolts symbolized the Nazi SS, nor did they know about the Nazi SS atrocities. How can anyone graduate from an American high school and not have at least rudimentary knowledge of Nazi Germany?

The answer is really simple. It is the same answer that I give when asked why so many of the younger generation have such poor language skills. Teachers cannot teach what they themselves do not know and American education underemphasizes fundamental learning skills. Have a discussion with an 18-year-old about almost anything and try to follow their reasoning/logic.

Talk with a teacher about what constitutes a sentence in English (as opposed to a fragment). You would be amazed at the answer you get; the younger and closer to college graduation the teacher, the more incorrect the answer.

Yet, with all the problems of American education, it is still better than the chancy proposition of home schooling, especially among the socioeconomic strata that most desperately needs a good education to break the cycle of poverty.

Santorum and believers worry me greatly. It is not that in the broadest possible sense the idea of home schooling isn’t appealing; rather, it is that few people are equipped to provide the education needed to economically compete and survive in the twenty-first century. How many of these home-schooled children, if there were no state or federal regulations to which they had to adhere, would learn anything outside the corners of the Bible? How well-equipped would a person entering today’s workforce be to compete and survive if the extent of their knowledge is to quote the Bible? How likely is it that such a person would find the cure to cancer, design the rocket engine that will carry humans to Mars, or competently edit a book?

To say that ideas like Santorum’s will go nowhere is to bury one’s head in the sand. Sadly, too many American voters do bury their heads.


February 27, 2012

The Business of Editing: Are Editors to LinkedIn Like Oil is to Water?

Today’s guest article is by Ruth Thaler-Carter. Ruth is a freelance writer and editor and is the owner of Communication Central, which sponsors each year a fall multiday conference for freelancers.


The Business of Editing:
Are Editors to LinkedIn Like Oil is to Water?

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

I spend a lot of time – some colleagues would say too much time – participating in more than a dozen LinkedIn discussion groups, as well as several e-mail discussion lists — the Copy Editing List (CEL), a Google Group for freelancers that I manage, a Yahoo Group list for DC-area publishing professionals that I co-own, the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) members-only list, all of which are pretty active, and a few others that are more sporadic or occasional in nature. Not to mention Facebook!

I’m not sure that the relationship between an editor and such online activity is the same as that of oil and water, but they do mix, even as they also can separate.

I could easily spend entire days doing nothing but reading and responding to online discussions. I’ve joked with my husband that these groups make it much too easy to stay glued to the computer, even when my better instincts and extrovert nature say to get off my duff and out in the real world, or at least get a little exercise.

In some ways, social media are like reading the newspaper, both in (some) content and how they become part of a daily routine. My husband is retired and gets up later than I do, so checking e-mail and social media sites is my first-thing-in-the-morning routine these days; I read the newspaper with my second cup of coffee, when he’s up, and the rest of it still later in the day, when we have dinner together; anything I haven’t finished by then, I read in the evenings.

From a business perspective, my online activity has two sides. The negative is that it can be a timewaster or distraction — it takes time away from consciously and organizedly prospecting for new clients; it could take time away from doing work; and it could be considered economically foolish, because I’m giving advice or answering questions without getting paid for doing so.

The positive side is that I’m increasing my level of visibility and status as an expert in writing, editing, proofreading, and freelancing in general; I’ve gotten some new, well-paying clients through my activity in most of these environments; I’ve made wonderful friends and gained valuable colleagues; I’ve learned a lot, especially from CEL; I’m usually up to date on breaking news, both in my profession and in the world at large; and I like to think I’m helping people do things better and more professionally than they might otherwise. That’s a mitzvah — a good deed, a service to other people — and I do believe in networking from a helping perspective, not just for promoting or getting something for oneself.

The important thing is that I don’t let this activity interfere with actually getting my work done, no matter how much fun, and occasionally how rewarding, it is to participate in these online communities. Work comes first.

I do get frustrated at some LinkedIn discussions. So many of the people in these groups aren’t at a level of expertise, experience, skill, or professionalism for me to consider them as equals, but that can make someone with actual editorial experience and knowledge an important member of a group. And it can be annoying to see the same questions and comments come up again and again and again. It is incredibly frustrating to see accurate information be argued against by people with no training who have no idea what “professional” means in terms of writing, editing, proofreading, or other aspects of the editorial business, much less what it means to be a professional freelancer.

A recent LinkedIn discussion, for instance, started out by posing this question: “Would I be burned as a witch if I were to posit that all style guides are worthless?” and added: “Especially since I’m not a professional in the field of publishing?”

For one thing, you get burned at the stake for fiercely upholding a conviction, and somehow this scenario doesn’t fit (I can’t quite pin down why the image doesn’t work; I just know it’s off somehow). For another, and more importantly, why is someone who isn’t even in publishing pontificating about whether style guides are worthwhile? And — perhaps even more importantly — why should those of us who are in publishing care what someone like that thinks or says?

It seemed worth responding if only because style manuals are so basic to our work as editors that their role and value should be defended whenever and wherever possible. The asker might be one of the thousands (millions?) of people who want to publish their precious ideas these days and considering whether to hire an editor, so it could be worth trying to make him understand why a professional editor would use a style guide. Most of the other participants in the discussion agreed that style guides and manuals are important to professional-level writing and publishing, especially in nonfiction work. It became clear that the original poster really didn’t want to be convinced or educated, though, and I finally left the discussion in annoyance at myself for spending more than five minutes’ time and one answer on it.

In a LinkedIn group for self-professed “grammar geeks,” some discussions answer grammar and usage questions accurately and interestingly, but many of the responses are from people who know even less than those asking the questions. It’s especially funny — albeit a little aggravating — to see non-native speakers of English present themselves as experts and give erroneous answers to fairly basic grammar questions. I chime in to make sure no one takes such answers as gospel. Someone has to provide accurate information.

One LinkedIn irony of the past week was seeing someone called a “top influencer” and knowing that was because she was unusually active over several days with increasingly incoherent and inflammatory posts complaining about being moderated (censored, in her words) in several groups.

Answering questions in various online forums often does help me fine-tune my own thinking about a topic, and has given me ideas for articles to write and conversations to have with my real peers – colleagues at CEL and my Google Group e-mail and Yahoo e-mail lists, and members of the EFA, American Copy Editors Society, Society for Professional Journalists, American Independent Writers, etc. I much prefer e-mail lists for discussions of the editorial profession and the freelance life, but LinkedIn adds a different dimension — and can be a good way to reach and educate people who need either editors or insights on how to be better ones.

The trick to making smart use of these online forums is to use some discipline. I have colleagues who are also active in discussion lists and online groups, and many of them find the volume of messages overwhelming. They are time-takers, even when they provide useful information.

Some people set aside certain times of the day to participate in online conversations – first thing in the morning, last thing in the evening; I like to start the day by clearing out the overnight accumulation of forum and list messages, but will post responses only if I’m not on deadline for a current assignment.

I have a sorting process: First to be read in e-mail are messages from real people — clients, colleagues and friends; then my various discussion lists; then, and only then, LinkedIn; Facebook once in the morning and then at the end of the day or in the evening.

Some colleagues only check on e-mail at certain points during the day; I keep my e-mail program open throughout the day in case some of my on-call clients want to reach me for fast-turnaround assignments, but I’ve trained myself to take a quick glimpse at incoming messages and not respond to them if I’m in the middle of a writing, editing, or proofreading project, because work comes first. If I’m immersed in a project and need a short brain-break, though, I’ll stop and respond to a couple of list messages or group posts as a way of refreshing my brain — after I’ve gotten up and jogged around the apartment for a few minutes, that is.

It’s tempting to receive discussion lists as individual messages, because then you get to be the first person to answer someone’s question. However, constant individual messages from a busy list are overwhelming, so I receive my livelier lists in what’s called digest mode — batches of messages that arrive together a few times a day, instead of dozens or a couple hundred that flow in individually throughout the day. That’s a good way to manage the influx of information and messages.

As long as I can enforce some discipline on myself, I’ll stay involved with my online groups and lists with the goals of adding to my client list and making the world a better place for editors and those who use us. For this freelance writer/editor, LinkedIn, other online activity, and editing do mix like oil and water — in a good way!

February 24, 2012

Worth Noting: Amazon is an Author’s Friend — Or Maybe Not

Filed under: Worth Noting — Rich Adin @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , , ,

An article worth reading about one author’s travails with Amazon and its KDP program: Who Controls Your Amazon E-book Price? by Jim C. Hines.

Hines’ experience is one of the problems that authors — and consumers — will increasingly face as Amazon’s control over the ebook market grows. The more authors think short-term, the more they will hurt themselves long-term. Similarly, the more consumers think short-term and refuse to worry that today’s consumer-friendly Amazon may not be tomorrow’s Amazon, the more likely consumers will be the recipients of the treatment Jim Hines received — and other authors, as well — from Amazon.

Particularly worth noting is the following recent change Amazon made to the terms and conditions of the “contract” with KDP authors:

KDP relies on complex systems and processes. We strive to make our systems and processes error-free, but we cannot guarantee that they will be, and we will have no liability arising from system or process failures, interruptions, inaccuracies, errors or latencies.

Just remember — Amazon is my friend and will do me no harm! Like Fantasyland at Walt Disneyland, as long as you believe…

February 23, 2012

Breaking News: Amazon vs. IPG

In today’s business section of the New York Times, I read “Amazon Pulls Thousands of E-Books in Dispute.” Then, at Nate Hoffelder’s The Digital Reader blog, I found a link in his “Morning Coffee” column to an article at PaidContent about the controversy, “Update: Amazon Yanks 5,000 Kindle Titles In Fight Over Terms.” Page 2 of the PaidContent article reprints a memo IPG sent to its publishers about the controversy. Both articles are worth reading and thinking about.

As you know, it is not my habit to run more than two articles (plus an occasional Worth Noting) each week, but this is an exception.

Recent news from and about Amazon has been disturbing. (Watch for tomorrow’s article, Worth Noting: Amazon is an Author’s Friend — Or Maybe Not, and for Priming the Pump: Amazon’s Prime Program, which is scheduled for March 5.) For quite sometime, I’ve been saying that the rosy picture painted of Amazon can’t last, and I think we are beginning to see that prediction come true.

I think the New York Times sums up the dilemma neatly: “Amazon is under pressure from Wall Street to improve its anemic margins. At the same time, it is committed to selling e-books as cheaply as possible as a way to preserve the dominance of its Kindle devices.” These are two conflicting goals and there are limited ways available to Amazon to meet them.

Exclusivity is one way. If consumers want certain books, make them available only on Amazon and ebookers will come. Most ebookers will buy a Kindle because they do not want to deal with stripping DRM (Digital Rights Management) and the conversion process, not matter how easy to do; most consumers want to buy and go.

The second available method is putting the squeeze on distributors and publishers, then authors, then consumers. The lost agency fight (remember how quickly Amazon capitulated?) demonstrated that as powerful as Amazon was, it wasn’t yet powerful enough to win a battle with the Big 6 publishers (Penguin, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins). Amazon has begun striking back at the Big 6 with the establishment of its own publishing arm and its exclusivity deals.

But Amazon is probably powerful enough to win the fight against the mid-tier and low-tier distributors and publishers. It is testing the waters with the battle with IPG. If Amazon wins, especially if you combine the win with how cavalier Amazon is in its dealings with exclusive authors (see tomorrow’s Worth Noting), Amazon will not only dominate the ebook marketplace but be in a position to squeeze lower-tier publishers and distributors, and, ultimately, perhaps the Big 6’s margins to the point that they will not be able to survive. When that squeezing is done, the next in line has to be the authors, followed by the ebookers.

A monopolist is not anyone’s friend. The ebooker mantra that “Amazon is my friend and will do me no harm” is as false today as it was yesterday and as it will be tomorrow. Amazon is not anyone’s friend — it is a business that has to ultimately satisfy its investors by giving an acceptable return. There is nothing wrong with Amazon being a business; what is wrong is that so many ebookers are lulled by the way things are today and fail to look at the long-term implications of Amazon’s success in moving toward becoming a monopoly.

I am aware that many ebookers would be happy to see every publisher and distributor disappear, thinking that when that happens authors will flourish by directly dealing with megacorporations like Amazon and that the consumer will benefit from even lower prices. Unfortunately, history proves that such expectations, in the absence of government price regulation, simply do not come to fruition. Monopolies ultimately result in price rises for consumers and the continual squeezing of suppliers.

Once authors have to fend for themselves, they will be even more susceptible to being squeezed because they will have to stand alone against the 800-lb behemoth. I hope IPG stands firm; I hope it can stand firm. Other small distributors, like Publisher’s Group West, should think about their own vulnerabilities. Will they be next if IPG fails? Should they support IPG?

My questions are these: Once Amazon has squeezed the publishers and distributors dry, and once many authors have decided that they are better off self-publishing and dealing directly with Amazon, how long will it be before Amazon starts squeezing authors dry? And once authors are squeezed dry, how long will it be before Amazon starts squeezing consumers?

Contrary to ebooker belief, neither a monopolist nor a wannabe-monopolist like Amazon is the consumer’s friend.

February 22, 2012

The Failure of the Gatekeepers

One of the arguments that many of us have made in support of traditional publishing has been the role that traditional publishers have played as gatekeepers. Gatekeeping means more than just making sure that a manuscript is literate; it includes making sure that it is original.

Increasingly, traditional publishers are failing at this aspect of gatekeeping. They are failing to detect the plagiarized book. A recent article in The New Yorker, “The Plagiarist’s Tale” by Lizzie Widdicombe, explores this problem. If you haven’t read the article, it is well worth reading.

In this case, the publisher failed to recognize that the entire book was made up of takings from numerous books. But not only did the publisher fail, so did numerous others in the chain, including the author’s agent. And in reading the author’s writing history, over the years many persons missed his plagiarizing, including the editors at the Paris Review.

If gatekeepers are failing at this fundamental task, what purpose are they serving that warrants anyone caring about their future survival? I understand missing a plagiarized paragraph here and there, but in the book that is the subject of the article, it appears as if hardly a single paragraph was original to the author.

For me, traditional publishers as gatekeepers served three primary purposes. First, they weeded out those works that really belonged in the slush pile and were not worthy of going further, even though they occasionally missed some gems. Second, they nourished writers who deserved being nourished thus enriching our culture. Third, they weeded out plagiarism. I don’t mean the one-paragraph-in-500-pages-of-manuscript kind; I mean the one-paragraph-on-each-page kind — the blatant plagiarism.

With the advent of ebooks and self-publishing, the first role has pretty much disappeared. There are so many publishing house labels that it is nearly impossible to know whether the publisher is a giant or a mouse. Smart self-publishers are creating their own “publishing houses” to publish their books. The result is that there is no weeding of books in the marketplace because books rejected by an established traditional publisher are now published by a new “publishing house” — and few readers know that they are buying from the slush pile until they buy the book and start reading it, only to discover that the book should never have found its way out of the slush pile and into the retail book market.

The second function, that of nourishing new writers, has been falling by the wayside in the last decade. Financially, traditional publishers are struggling (at least so they claim; it is hard to give too much credence to such cries when I read that a publisher had nearly a billion dollars in profit in 2011) — the competition has turned fierce. Reading is down as are traditional book sales. Fewer blockbusters are being published so there are fewer blockbusters available to generate the kind of income needed to nourish nonblockbuster authors. And authors are increasingly going their own way because they get to keep more of the money and don’t need to worry about publisher rejection.

That leaves the third function, the weeding out of plagiarists. Alas, publishers are failing in this role as well. I think there are many causes for this failure. The editors that traditional publishers hire are under the gun to publish books that make a profit and increase the publishing conglomerate’s bottom line. The accountants have taken over from the craftsman and the editor’s ability to keep a job and a steady paycheck is dependant on satisfying the accountants.

In the olden days of publishing, a book was rarely published before it was ready to be published. Publication dates were flexible; if an extra round of editing by a professional editor was needed, it was done. The consolidation of the publishing industry into the conglomerates changed that. Now publication dates are fixed in stone, regardless of whether a book is ready or not. The result is increasing numbers of errors that slip by and the inability to gatekeep for plagiarism.

Also in the olden days, editors were trained to recognize possible plagiarism. Perhaps more importantly, editors were widely read themselves and thus suspicious based on their own broad reading. A book editor, in the olden days, was not an entry-level position. One rose to it; it was a position of prestige. It attracted people like former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and master writer Bennett Cerf. Today, the editor is closer to, if not, an entry-level position. The glamour of being an editor at a prestigious traditional publisher is gone — gone with the consolidation of the industry into a few international conglomerates whose first interest is the quarterly bottom line.

Consequently, traditional publishers are no longer fulfilling their role as gatekeepers. In the absence of fulfilling that role, what purpose do they serve? Many ebookers today would say traditional publishers serve no role at all and should follow their dinosaur ancestors into oblivion. Perhaps they are right. Perhaps the time has come for the breakup of the conglomerate publisher and the return of the smaller, independent publishers, the ones who made publishing a great profession and brought great literature to the reading public.

February 20, 2012

The Making of a Professional Editor

On a list for professional editors in which I participate, a colleague posted about a post she recently read in an online forum from someone calling herself an editor. This “editor” related that she had been asked by a prospective client if she used the Chicago Manual of Style — and she had never heard of it! Her approach to editing and proofreading is not to “touch the style of the manuscript or document (but) simply proofread and correct any mistakes in grammar, spelling etc.” The “editor” wondered whether her approach to editing was “odd.” I think the real questions are not is her approach odd, but is her approach professional and is her approach the mark of an editor?

The issue is not one of using the Chicago Manual of Style — after all, the majority of the work I do does not use the Chicago Manual of Style; my work relies on other style manuals — but familiarity with the tools of professional editing and an understanding of the role that style manuals (What is style?) and other tools play in editing.

The quote raises multiple issues from a professional editor’s perspective, not least of which is this: Does “simply proofread[ing] and correct[ing] any mistakes in grammar, spelling, etc.” make someone not a professional editor? (And foundational to these questions are: What is proofreading? and What is copyediting?)

To answer the question, one must delve into what separates the professional editor from all those people who claim to be professional editors but really are, at best, amateurs. Most of us would accept that the idea that reading a novel and catching a few typographical errors doesn’t change us from reader to professional editor, nor does it signal that “I should be an editor!”

On the surface, not knowing what are the dominant style manuals used by professional editors in your country is a sure sign that you are not a professional editor. (By the way, I do not know the country of the person being quoted, which could make a difference, but when read in context, I think it safe to assume that either the person or the prospective client or both are from the United States where the Chicago Manual of Style is prevalent.) Why? Because how can you know the correctness of a “grammar or spelling” decision in the absence of two things: an appropriate dictionary and an appropriate style manual?

Style manuals give you guidance on whether, for example, certain prefixes should be closed up rather than hyphenated; they give you guidance on whether it is proper to spell out ten or leave it as a numeral; they give you rules to follow to ensure that the grammar decision made on page one is followed on page twenty-three. Perhaps most importantly, they act as verification for the decision being made. Style manuals promote consistency not only within a single document but across multiple documents. It is that consistency that prevents readers from getting bogged down in the wrong things when reading a book.

To say one does not correct style is the same as saying that one has chosen to accept a hodgepodge style. There is nothing wrong with deciding not to apply a particular style to a manuscript, regardless of how pedestrian or undisciplined such a decision makes a manuscript. What is wrong is not knowing that you are making such a decision because you have no idea what style, as applied to a manuscript, means.

Over my 28 years of editing, I like to think I have progressed from a novice with little knowledge to a professional with lots of knowledge, even though there are many professional editors with even greater knowledge about our profession. One of the paths to that growth is familiarizing oneself with the tools of our trade, namely, dictionaries, style manuals, usage manuals, and the like.

Also over those years, I have become savvier about discerning who is and is not a professional editor. I emphasize professional because I think that is the keystone. Our world does not lack for people whose shingles proclaim “Editor Inside.” Our world does lack, however, for standards by which to judge just how professional that “Editor Inside” is. Thus, I have developed my own criteria against which I judge, in the absence of actually having the claimant edit manuscript for me, whether the claimant is a professional.

The first criterion is dictionaries. When I speak with an editor, one of the things I am interested in is the number and types of dictionaries the editor uses and has at his or her fingertips. Not all dictionaries are created equally; some have international reputations for quality, others have reputations for simply being. I do not put much stock in the skills of an editor who relies on The Free Dictionary and Wikipedia alone, or a medical editor who doesn’t subscribe to Stedman’s Electronic Spell Checker Pro.

The second criterion is style manuals. I expect a person who is an editor to have a broad interest in the things editors do and so I want to know what style manuals an editor uses and has at his or her fingertips. I know many editors who own one style manual, and that manual is often not even the latest edition. (One editor told me that the last good version of the Chicago Manual of Style, which is now in its 16th edition, was the 11th edition and that the 11th edition is the only manual the editor uses.) I have never had a project that uses the Council of Science Editor’s Scientific Style and Format manual, but I own a copy of the current edition because sometimes I need to learn more about a subject area than I can find in the manual of style the client wants me to use.

The third criterion is usage guides. Language usage changes, sometimes rapidly, sometimes slowly, but the English we use today is not the English we used 50 years ago, let alone even 10 years ago. I think a professional editor is attuned to this changing and one way of keeping attuned is through the use of usage manuals. When an editor tells me that they rely on Fowler’s Modern English Usage, I pause — American English has changed significantly since the release of the Burchfield edition. It is not that Fowler’s shouldn’t be on the editor’s shelf and consulted, it is that an absence of Garner’s Modern American Usage makes me question the editor’s professionalism.

The fourth criterion is ancillary texts. Depending on the editor’s areas of expertise, I expect a professional editor to make use of subject-matter-specific ancillary texts. For example, I would expect a medical editor to have resources about drugs available, or a resource like The Merck Index to verify chemical composition. An editor who works on contemporary novels may need to have access to resources on slang or quotations.

The fifth, and final, criterion is a basic one. I expect an editor to have resources devoted to grammar.

I think the difference between the amateur editor and the professional editor is witnessed by the above criteria, although not wholly determined by that criteria. To me, the criteria afford clues as to whether this editor is an editor I am willing to trust to do a professional editing job. Of course, a person could score perfect on the foregoing criteria and still be a poor editor — it is almost impossible to know in the absence of the actual editing of manuscript (be it project or test) — but an editor whose professional library is barren is an editor who edits by the seat of his or her pants. An editor who is unfamiliar with the leading texts in the profession and their field of editing is unlikely to produce a professional edit.

In the end, editing is a profession of decisions and many decisions to be made have more than a single answer. A professional editor is one who is aware of the alternative answers to a question and then makes a decision that is justifiable and supportable by more than “because I say so.”

February 17, 2012

Worth Noting: Citing Medicine 2e from the National Library of Medicine

On another list in which I participate, I was reminded about Citing Medicine, 2nd edition: The NLM Style Guide for Authors, Editors, and Publishers, by Karen Patrias with Dan Wendling, Technical Editor, and published by the National Library of Medicine. This is a free publication and regardless of your editing specialty, a very worthwhile manual to bookmark or download.

(I downloaded it on its original release in 2007 and combined all the chapters into a single PDF thinking I would print it out. However, this manual runs close to 1700 pages, so I never did get around to printing it, although I still occasionally think about do so; I simply call it up from my hard drive when needed.)

Citing Medicine is the most complete manual on citation style I think I have ever seen. Even when a client tells me to follow a certain style manual, I find that there are times I need to get some guidance from Citing Medicine. Its comprehensiveness makes it useful as an adjunct to probably all of the more traditional style manuals, and its price cannot be beat — FREE!

Also worth knowing is that it is maintained and updated. The version currently available, although originally released in 2007, has been updated and is current through October 2011.

Citing Medicine, 2nd edition belongs on every editor’s virtual resource shelf.

February 15, 2012

The Business of Editing: Pricing Yourself Out of the Market When Applying for Work

Part of my business involves having editors work for me on projects that I obtain from major publishers in the medical field. I constantly receive applications for work from editors. Every applicant receives my editing test, but I often never hear from them again, which is just as well, as their pay expectations are unrealistic.

One of the things that an editor who is looking to work for me has to state, when applying, is the minimum per-page fee the editor will accept. After all, why waste my time if I know that, no matter how good an editor the applicant may be, the minimum fee the applicant will accept is unrealistic and exponentially greater than the gross amount I will receive from my clients?

Of ten applicants, nine will state a minimum acceptable fee that is stroking the stratosphere. It isn’t that difficult to translate a per-page fee to an hourly fee to determine the “realness” of the asked-for amount. Most publishers expect editing of six to eight pages an hour and, when setting a budget for a project, base it on that rate of editing. So if you state your minimum acceptable fee is $25 per page, which I see often, you are asking for $150 to $200 an hour — a great fee if you can get it, but not based in the reality of the editing world.

There are four basic types of “employers” for editors: the publisher, the author, another editor, and a packager. (“Publisher” includes businesses and government agencies and anyone who ultimately will put their name on the document as the publisher.) In the case of the publisher and the author, the relationship between them and the editor is a direct one, so the editor can expect to receive the full amount of the fee the publisher or author is paying. And in the case of the author, the author may be expecting to pay a higher hourly rate than the publisher.

The latter two, however, are middlemen, and the job applicant should expect to receive less than what a middleman receives from the ultimate client. Middlemen are entitled to some return for their effort in finding the work (not to mention putting together and managing the team to produce it).

The finding of that ever-elusive work can be a costly endeavor.  Plus, it is the middleman’s reputation that is at stake when an editor is hired, not the editor’s reputation. I know the difficulties of finding enough work to keep editors busy year-round and I know that my clients never ask who the editor is/was: If the job was done well, I get the kudos (which I then pass on to the editor who actually earned the kudos), but when something goes amiss, I’m the one who has to smooth ruffled feathers and I’m the one who spends hours doing so; I’m the one who stands to lose the client and future work. In addition, I’m the one who spends money promoting the group’s services.

The middleman also acts as a buffer between a problematic client and the editor.

Perhaps more importantly from the editor’s perspective, at least in my case as middleman, I’m the one who gambles on getting paid. Of course, I am speaking only for my own business in this regard, but I make it a habit to pay an editor for the editor’s work within 24 hours, which is often before I bill the client and long before I actually receive payment. Should a client delay payment by weeks or months, or even never pay at all, the editor never knows as the editor was paid.

When applying for editorial work, the applicant needs to both keep in mind who the work is for and investigate what the going rate of pay is — and how it is calculated — for the type of work that the “employer” does. Of course, it would also help the applicant’s chances if the applicant had the requisite skill and knowledge to edit the types of publications the employer works on or produces.

But a realistic financial expectation is a key to getting past the initial stages of review by the employer. No matter how good an editor you may be, no prospective employer will give you a second glance if you price yourself out of the market. You cannot assume that if you pass a test but your fee request is above what the employer pays, you will have the opportunity to modify your request to bring it into line. That may occasionally happen, but it happens so rarely that an applicant should assume it never happens at all.

Again, it is the combination of realistic financial expectations and excellent editorial skills that wins work in today’s very competitive editorial market. Applicants for editorial work need to know and understand the market in which they are seeking editorial work. Does your experience indicate otherwise?

February 13, 2012

The Business of Editing: Editing Tests

A constant refrain over the years has been, “I’ve been editing for x years and they still want me to take a test!” Some editors routinely refuse to take editing tests, considering them an insult, whereas others take every test offered and wonder why they aren’t getting work from the companies that tested them.

On my editor side, I understand the reluctance to take an editing test. After all, I’ve been a highly successful editor for 28 years and the person who is likely “grading” my test (should I take it) probably has no more than a few years’ experience and maybe not even more than a few months. On my business side, however, I have learned — the hard way — the importance of requiring a test, regardless of the number of years of experience the editor claims.

Tests are a difficult proposition. For all the reasons that two editors will edit the same manuscript differently, so will editors complete a test differently. And taking a test means trying to figure out what the test giver is really looking for.

I can’t tell you how many times over the years I have taken a test and thought I did exceptionally well, only to never hear again from the test giver. Clearly I missed something or what I did may have been correct but not what the test giver wanted. The third possibility, which does occur with more frequency than it should, is that the test giver lacks the experience to properly grade a completed test.

In the beginning, oh so many years ago, I thought there was a key to being successful with editing tests. Ultimately, I learned there is none — unless I could figure out what the test giver was testing for. I have taken tests where the key was intricate knowledge of a particular style manual, others where it was how queries were framed, others where it was to determine my knowledge of the tools I was using, and yet others where it was a test of my knowledge of English usage. Needless to say, I suppose, is that there were also numerous tests where I had no clue as to what knowledge was being tested.

When I first began hiring editors, I looked at their résumé and hired them or not based on those. No test was given. My belief was that an experienced editor would be capable of handling the work. To my chagrin, I learned that, more often than not, it was not true and hiring the editor without a test was a major mistake, occasionally costing me clients. Consequently, I no longer will hire an editor who hasn’t taken a test and passed it.

That experience also convinced me that if I wanted new clients, I had to be willing to take their tests. And so I am. Passing or failing the test is a hit-or-miss proposition because the tests rarely give enough guidance and it is difficult to discern exactly what I am being tested for.

Often the tests are a hodgepodge of author manuscripts — a paragraph from this author, another from that author. The more hodgepodgy the test is, the more likely it is a test for developmental editing rather than copyediting. The less hodgepodgy the test is, the more likely it is a straight copyediting test and/or a test to demonstrate your knowledge of your editing tools.

When taking a test, a comprehensive stylesheet is important. The stylesheet gives you an opportunity to indicate just how fluent you are with the resources you would be expected to use should you be hired by the test giver. I make it clear, for example, in the stylesheet exactly which dictionaries I used and that I am aware that, while dictionary A prefers xyz and dictionary B prefers xzy, I chose dictionary A to be the dominant dictionary.

I also use the stylesheet to explain my choices when it comes to English usage. I am not afraid to say that Chicago Manual of Style prefers abc over acb but Garner’s Modern American Usage prefers to distinguish between the two, and to use each in specific circumstances. I also try to point out where style manuals differ. My objective is to demonstrate my mastery of the tools I will be expected to use.

My point is that I assume the test giver needs to be educated and that I need to be the teacher. It may not win me the job, but I can at least believe I did all I could to get the job. Both test givers and takers need to remember that editing is often a matter of personal preference and, because that is so, more detailed explanation is often required.

I also include a cover statement that explains my approach to editing. It is important, I think, for the test giver to understand the steps I take with every author manuscript and why I take these particular steps. Such understanding can help explain the editing choices I made on the test. My cover statement also includes a listing of the tools and resources I have and use. To say that I am a medical editor implies that I own at least one medical dictionary, but it is so much clearer when I say that I own and use both Dorland’s and Stedman’s medical dictionaries and that I have a subscription to the tri-monthly Stedman’s Medical Spell Checker software.

The point is that I have a lot of competition for the work. The competition is both domestic and foreign in the Internet Age, so passing a test is insufficient by itself. I believe I need to do more to impress the test giver that, of all the candidates for the work, I am the best choice and that the test giver can back up any decision to choose me with all this additional information.

Does it always work? No. There are lots of reasons why I may not be chosen; reasons that fall outside the parameters of the test. The test is but one facet of a multifaceted decision tree. A number of times in recent years I have been told that I was by far the best choice except for how I calculate a page or my minimum fee, or because I only work on a per-page basis and cannot accept an hourly rate, or that my payment terms are at odds with their terms, or whatever.

Test taking is necessary. Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet to assure that one passes the test and fulfills every other consideration that enters the hiring decision. Like life itself, test taking is a gamble and the odds are stacked.

February 8, 2012

Amazon vs. Big Publishing: 800 lbs vs. 798 lbs.

Last week’s issue of Bloomberg’s Businessweek included an article titled Amazon’s Hitman. If you haven’t read it, you should. It is enlightening.

The gist of the article is that Amazon is gearing up to challenge the publishing world on its own turf: the signing of and creation of big-name authors who sell hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of books. And this assault worries the Big 6 publishers — Hachette, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Penguin, Random House, and Harper-Collins — with good reason: Amazon has more market value and disposable cash than they do combined.

The article discusses the history of the relationship between the Amazon and the publishers, along with what Businessweek thinks is Amazon’s thinking. But with all of their crying the blues, the Big 6 currently are in the driver’s seat; all they have to do is be willing to drive.

There is no reason why the Big 6 can’t offer exclusive deals to Kobo and B&N. Give them a 3-month exclusive selling period for expected ebook best-sellers and do away with the agency pricing during that period. After 3 months, make the ebooks available to everyone and reinstate agency pricing. This would boost competition and play against Amazon’s exclusivity program.

I suspect that this scenario won’t occur because the Big 6 simply do not have the spine. I don’t see any antitrust violation — if Amazon can do it each of the Big 6 can do it, too — but even if there were a possibility of antitrust violation, do it anyway and keep the program going while you hash out with the government the antitrust issues. That hashing out could take years, which would give Amazon’s competitors an opportunity to become real competitors. More importantly, it might well be an effective weapon in the crusade to keep competition in publishing alive.

Instead of wringing their hands and acting as if there is little to nothing they can do, publishers need to creatively fight Amazon’s onslaught while they are in a position to do so. Right now Amazon has no Stephen King-level authors in its stable. Amazon still needs the resources of the Big 6 to fill out its ebookstore. Remember that it was Amazon that caved in the dispute with Macmillan and brought agency pricing to ebooks. But the day isn’t far off when the advantage will shift to Amazon and the Big 6 will be able to spend their days writing their own obituaries.

The difference between Amazon and the publishers is that Amazon is willing to continue to lose money on its book operations for as long as it takes to control the field, relying on its other business to shore up its balance sheet. In contrast, the Big 6 are unwilling to lose money even for one day, even if it means their ultimate survival. Jeff Bezos is capable of thinking years ahead, like a great chess player who can think dozens of moves ahead; in contrast, the Big 6 CEOs are like the starting chess player, unable to think strategically even one move ahead, let alone several. Bezos has the spine to tell shareholders no payout this quarter or next; the Big 6 CEOs do not.

Yet the Big 6 have an opportunity to shakeup the ebook market and turn it, at least temporarily, until Bezos’ next countermove, in their favor while simultaneously shoring up Amazon’s biggest competitors, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

Right now exclusivity is working a one-way street. Although the Big 6 declined to participate in Amazon’s current experiment, it is worth noting that Bezos had no compunction about asking them to do so. If the Big 6 won’t offer exclusivity to B&N and Kobo, perhaps B&N and Kobo should approach the Big 6. This is the one area in which Amazon is vulnerable. It is one thing to have exclusive rights to a self-published author’s books, but quite another to have them to a Stephen King’s writings.

The ball is now in the court of the Big 6. What will they do to counter Amazon? If I were a gambler, I’d say the odds were that all they will do is complain but do nothing substantive. There wasn’t much at stake in the agency pricing showdown on either side. An exclusivity arrangement with B&N and Kobo, however, puts a lot at stake. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

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