An American Editor

February 27, 2013

Losing Money the Paper Way

A reader of An American Editor asked: “Can you comment on copy editing on paper vs. MS track changes? What do most clients expect and is there a difference in your opinion on the quality of the editing?” I had thought these were matters long resolved, but apparently not.

I began my freelance career in 1984, which was the dawn of the computer age as regards online editing. This was before Microsoft Windows and was in the days when WordPerfect ruled what world there was to rule in word processing. This was still the age of editing on paper.

By 1985, I was refusing to accept freelance editing work that was on paper. In fact, I advertised — including with graphs and charts — that I could save clients money by editing online rather than on paper and that I could improve consistency, reducing EAs (editor alterations), the correction of which the client would be charged by the compositor a handsome sum (each EA and AA [author alteration] bore a charge).

Within a year, I had convinced several clients that online editing was the way to go and I was one of the very few editors who had that capability or — more importantly — who was willing to edit online rather than on paper. And so my business boomed.

It was many years, however, before paper editing was truly abandoned by publishers. In fact, I recall taking an Editorial Freelancer’s Association class on editing with several of the people who worked for me (the hope was that I would learn something I didn’t already know about the editorial process) and being shocked when, in response to a question, the instructor said it wasn’t necessary to learn how to edit online because few authors provided digital files and few publishers were encouraging the move away from paper. The instructor claimed online editing was a fad that would pass. And so no time at all was spent on electronic editing.

Needless to say, the instructor and those who shared the instructor’s thinking were wrong and were rapidly being left behind as the technological revolution hit even staid publishing houses.

I tell you this history because there is a reason why authors and publishers migrated from a paper-based world to a digital world: technology really was everyone’s friend when it came to publishing.

I made the transition early because I quickly recognized that paper-based editing was a way to lose money, not make it. Recall the recent article Editing Tools: MultiFile F&R and Search, Count, Replace. In paper-based editing, how would you find, for example, every instance of the phrase “, and on days” in both the chapter you are working on and in the ten preceding chapters that you have already edited? Or how about ascertaining whether an acronym is repeated in a chapter, how many times it is repeated, and whether the spelled out version also exists, and how many times it exists?

With the computer it is easy, but on paper it is unlikely you will find every instance and to do so would require an excessive amount of time. If you have to do such searches frequently, in paper-based editing, you would rapidly exhaust your client’s budget and thus your prospects of earning a decent return for your efforts.

Of course, searching for items that need correcting is just one facet of editing that a computer can do better than paper-based editing. Let us not forget the “what-you-expect-is-what-you-see” phenomenon. I discussed this some time ago in The WYSIWYG Conundrum: The Solid Cloud. It is not unusual for an editor to see the correctly spelled word because it is expected when what is actually written is misspelled. In paper-based editing, too often the error remained and was picked up by the proofreader, which resulted in an EA. Online editing doesn’t cure the problem, but does help minimize it with spell checking.

(Another phenomenon of the EA/AA allocations in paper-based editing was that if there were too many, the publisher reserved the right to charge the editor or the author for the excess, thereby, in the editor’s case, reducing the editor’s earnings. The usual penalty for the editor was, however, simply to not be hired again and not told why.)

No matter how you cut it, paper-based editing is time-consuming, subject to more errors not being caught, and likely a money-losing proposition for the editor unless the client has an unlimited budget and is willing to spend it. Because paper-based editing is slower, schedules have to be longer, but in my experience few clients consider that need.

As between paper-based editing and online editing, I do not think there is much of a contest. I wouldn’t accept a paper-based editing project nor would I recommend someone else accept one. Yet, there is a caveat to this: If the paper-based project is, for example, a five-page journal article, then some of the benefits of online editing are not so overwhelmingly beneficial. Most of the benefits of online editing as compared to paper-based editing are evident with long documents such as books and reports. This is not to imply that there aren’t benefits for short documents as well, just that the benefit-to-nonbenefit ratio comes closer to 1:1 the shorter the document to be edited. In my case, I would not accept a paper-based project regardless of length.

As for what most clients expect, I think today that most expect an editor to edit online, not on paper. Considering that few authors submit a paper manuscript as opposed to a digital manuscript, client expectations would seem to me to follow; that is, digital file equals online editing. Publishers today generally will not accept a paper manuscript, except in very exceptional cases.

Tracking an editor’s changes in Microsoft Word seems to be the standard today. Publishers give authors the option to accept or reject changes, and tracking makes it easier to know what changes have been made. I know that in my business we always edit with tracking on.

The final question was addressed to the quality of the editing. This is a very complex question. No matter whether a project is paper-based or online, in the first instance, the quality of the editing depends on the skill of the editor — the more skilled the editor, the better the quality of the editing.

I think the real question is less addressed to quality than to consistency and accuracy, which are part of quality but also separate. I think that consistency and accuracy are much greater in online editing than in paper-based editing because there are so many tools available to help increase consistency and accuracy, tools that are not available for paper-based editing.

What are your thoughts regarding paper-based versus online editing?


February 25, 2013

Veterinarian or Editor?

The New York Times had an interesting article on February 24, 2013: “High Debt and Falling Demand Trap New Vets.” The article made several points that surprised me.

First, the profiled veterinarian had $312,000 in student loan debt solely from veterinary school. Second,

This would seem less alarming if vets made more money. But starting salaries have sunk by about 13 percent during the same 10-year period, in inflation-adjusted terms, to $45,575 a year, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Third, that fewer vets will be needed in the future and that new vets can expect to see further erosion of starting salaries. And, finally, fourth, that  a vet who is paid $60,000 a year is considered to be well paid.

I know that I spend a small fortune every year at our veterinarian’s office for our dog and cat, let alone the fortune I spend on the food they eat. Had I been asked to guess at the starting salary for a vet, I would have guessed $85,000, and for the median salary, I would have guessed $115,000.

If one of my children had asked me whether they should be a veterinarian or an editor, from the strictly income perspective, I would have said veterinarian. Not after reading this article.

Interestingly, what is being seen in the world of veterinary medicine is also being seen in other fields. Going to law school or obtaining an MBA from a business school, although it resulted in high student loan debt ($150,000 to $300,000), meant a good chance at a high-paying career. But not today. Today, law school graduates are struggling to find jobs and those they do find pay $40,000 or less. The same is true of those with an MBA degree. The only ones making money are the schools that offer these expensive programs.

I look at all this costly education and wonder why anyone would choose such a career path — especially when an editor can earn significantly more than these new lawyers and vets and MBAers — only to put themselves in a position where they can never get out of debt and never enjoy the fruits of their labor.

The job market is changing drastically. Consider this article from the February 19, 2013, New York Times, “It Takes a B.A. to Find a Job as a File Clerk.” As noted in the article,

Even the office “runner” — the in-house courier who, for $10 an hour, ferries documents back and forth between the courthouse and the office — went to a four-year school.

What will that mean for editors?

I think we will see, in the not too distant future, many universities and colleges offering “advanced” degrees geared to editing and we will see publishers and authors demanding that editors have such an “advanced” degree — even if the degree is really meaningless. After all, what will the editor study to warrant the cost and time of an advanced degree? We know that the schools will insist on it being at least a 1-year, if not a 2-year degree.

More importantly for editors, I think we will see a glut of new editors and a further depression of fees based on a tiered system (see my earlier article, Does the Future of Editing Lie in Tiers?). Those editors with just B.A. degrees will be paid less than those with the advanced degree, even though those with the advanced degree will not be paid very much because of the glut of editors.

As it stands now, editing can be a very good profession economically, even with the depression of fees. But newer and younger editors do not seem to be doing so well in today’s editorial market, or at least not as well as those of us who have been in the profession for a decade or two (or more). I am constantly amazed at for how little new editors are willing to work.

In a way, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Everyone in the “food” chain seems to devalue editorial skills. Authors and publishers will someday face the problem of a shortage of capable editors. The shortage will be the result of the penurious approach to paying for editing skills that is in force today. Just as fewer people are thinking of entering the legal profession, fewer people will think of entering the editing profession, if barriers are raised.

These barriers to the editing profession will be the need for advanced degrees and the simultaneous depression of pay. Younger generations are much smarter than my generation when it comes to the need for the cost of the education to balance against the financial gain that can be expected as a result of incurring that cost. In my college days, cost was a secondary, if not a tertiary concern — getting the education and degree is what mattered because the more advanced the degree (generally speaking), the higher the income earnings would be.

Can editors still earn the “big” bucks? I’d like to think so, but I’m not really in a good position to know, because my earnings are derived from a combination of factors, not least of which are 30 years’ experience as an editor and consistent application of business principles to what many colleagues consider a craft.

Would I recommend to my children that they become editors? It depends. It depends on how they would approach the profession, how skilled they really are, and what their expectations are.

Would you recommend editing as a profession to your children? Would you do so if an advanced degree were required?

February 20, 2013

The Business of Editing: Difficult Clients

Who is a difficult client? What does difficult mean? Is it really the client who is difficult? These basic questions need resolution before any discussion can be had about what to do about difficult clients.

Editing is an interesting profession in the sense that there really is little that falls outside the purview of subjective; that is, very few of the decisions an editor makes are objectively made. Should it be since or because? Does it matter? Hasn’t English evolved to the point that since and because are synonymous? Should the commas be serial or not? Can their be both singular and plural? Does copyediting include fact checking? Reference lookup? Rewriting? And the list goes on.

Yes, we can point to a style guide, but let’s not forget that it is just a guide and that it only represents the collective opinion of a group whose members I may or may not recognize as being particularly noteworthy or valid. Besides, style guides change over the years, so what was a style guide no-no yesterday is a style guide yes-yes today and is likely to be a style guide perhaps tomorrow.

I raise this because we have to decide what makes a difficult client. In the first instance, is it the client who refuses to accept your recommendations as regards word choice or how a sentence can be better written? Or how complete a reference is needed? Or whether something is grammatical? Or something else that is really a subjective opinion by you?

Or, in the second instance, is the difficult client the client who hired you to do copyediting but wants you to also do developmental editing as part of the same work for the same fee? Or who wants you to add additional tasks at no charge to the tasks you agreed to perform for the quoted fee? Or who agreed to a delivery and review schedule but now ignores it yet expects you to meet your portion of it or that you will drop everything else you are doing because the client is now ready to work with you?

Or, in the third instance, is the difficult client the client who refuses to pay for your work for whatever reason? Or is it the client who will pay but instead of paying within the agreed time frame, has unilaterally decided to pay over a much longer time frame?

Or, in the fourth instance, is difficult defined some other way?

In the case of the first instance, I do not think the client is difficult. I know it bruises our professionalism to think that someone has the audacity to insist on describing people as that instead of who. It bruises our self-esteem to think that we who have devoted our careers to the perfection of the art of language are being dismissed like dirty dishwater by someone whose language skills are questionable. But isn’t the truth pretty simple?

We are hired to give our opinion, not to dictate terms. No matter how correct we may be in terms of standard and accepted language conventions, the bottom line is that we are simply being asked for our opinion, which the client has always been free to accept or reject or qualify. We may not like it, but it is the nature of being in business, especially a business such as ours. Consequently, I think if anyone is being difficult in this scenario, it is the editor, not the client. So let’s scratch this possible definition.

The second instance does present the possibilities for a difficult client. But even here, I have to ask, what didn’t the editor do to nip this type of behavior before it could even bud? Is there a written contract? Is it complete? Does it define both the editor’s and the client’s responsibilities? Did the editor discuss with the client the relationship before undertaking the project? Or, as is often the case, is it a matter of the editor having done everything correctly before starting the project and client simply choosing not to hear what the editor has said?

Even with a contract, these types of difficulties arise because clients rarely understand the world of publishing. A written contract can help to alleviate some of these problems but my experience has been that clients tend to ignore the contracts because they think it is not in their interest to follow it. Or, as is too often the case, the client views the editor-client relationship as a personal rather than as a business relationship.

In this second instance, I think an editor’s choices are really limited. The editor can grin and bear it and keep working for the client or the editor can call a halt to the relationship. Over my 30 years of editing, it has been my practice to halt the relationship. In the beginning I chose to grin and bear it, only to learn that once I took that stance, there was no end to difficulties with the client. Acceding to one request led to a demand for accession to a second, then a third, and so on. After my first such experience, I chose to terminate early and quickly such relationships in similar future situations.

I don’t think there is much one can do in second instance cases other than to talk to the client, explain the editorial process, point to the terms of the contract, ask for more money for additional tasks, and hope for the best.

Why do editors grin and bear it? Because of the money and because they have no other project to fill the void. Yet these are not good reasons, in my opinion, to keep the relationship going. Instead, the editor should view ending the relationship as an opportunity to work on fixing the editor’s deficits in obtaining work. Whether to keep or end a relationship is a conundrum that is not easily solved. I suppose that the other alternative is to grin and bear it for this project, but then decline future work from the client.

It is worth noting that an additional problem with the grin-and-bear-it solution is that it sets the client’s expectation standard for future work. Once the editor establishes that he is willing to fulfill the client’s demands, the client will always expect that her demands will be fulfilled and on the same terms as previously; that is, any agreements will be ignored and the client can demand and obtain additional work at no additional expense. Not a good way to run a business.

The third instance, lack of payment or untimely payment, is not really a definition of a difficult client. It is a business frustration, but not much more. Recourse ranges from chalking it up as a loss and moving on to filing a lawsuit to claiming a copyright interest in the edits you made to the client’s manuscript and trying to enforce the copyright interest. But no matter how you cut it, these are just standard, run-of-the-mill business problems.

The fourth instance is so nebulous that it isn’t worth discussing.

The real crux of the difficult client is the second instance — the client who wants more, expects more, and ignores the negotiated terms of the relationship. In the end, it boils down to just how much abuse you are willing to accept in exchange for the promised fee. The more desperate you are for work, the more abuse you will be willing to accept. Consequently, the real solution is for you to improve your business to the point that you are willing to say, early in the relationship, “You are fired!”

It is not that difficult to reach that point. And sometimes, even if you are not yet at that point, it is better for you to say goodbye to a client rather than to agonize over every interaction you have with the difficult client. From experience, I can tell you that firing the first client is difficult; subsequent clients become increasingly easy to fire.

February 18, 2013

Are eBooks the Death Knell of Authorial Greatness?

I was sitting in my library and my eyes scanned the bookshelves filled with hardcovers. I occasionally would pause on a title and think about the book’s contents. It is not that I remember every book in my library sufficiently that I can recall the content of each as if I had just read the book yesterday; rather, it is that I can recall having read each book and for many of the books, I can recall the content at least generally.

I then thought about my ebooks. The number of ebooks I have read since buying my first ebook reader far exceeds the number of pbooks I have read in the same time frame, yet I can rarely recall an ebook like I can recall the hardcovers on my library shelves.

Part of the problem, I think, is that recalling my library books involves a visual scan of its shelves, something that is easy to do with shelves of hardcover books staring at me and difficult to do with ebooks because that casual eyescan is not as readily accomplished. This visual scanning acts as a stimulus to my memory because it thrusts the title to the front of my mind, which triggers the content recall. (This is also why good cover design is important. Covers — even ebook covers — act as memory triggers.)

This led me to wonder about authorial greatness and the problem of out of sight, out of mind. Authors like Dickens, Twain, Steinbeck, and Hemingway carved their greatness in an era in which their books would appear on library shelves (personal and public) and each time a person scanned the library shelf looking for a book, one of their books would present itself. This has begun to change with ebooks, especially with those books that are published only as ebooks. (Books that are also available as print-on-demand books but not as mass distributed pbooks are, for all intents and purposes, available only as ebooks and should be viewed that way.)

I think most ebookers probably store read ebooks and never peruse them again. I wouldn’t be surprised if many ebookers simply delete read ebooks from their devices. The devices are designed to highlight new purchases, not to scan library shelves. When we are faced with new ebooks that we have yet to read, I suspect that most of us quickly choose the next available not-yet-read ebook and go no further. This is unlike the experience with a library of pbooks that are physically always in front of you and reminding you that a book is available for rerreading (or even for reading for the first time), even if we rarely reread a book. The point is that the library of pbooks constantly acts as a stimulus for recalling the content of the pbooks, and this phenomenon is lacking with ebooks.

Getting back to the great authors like Dickens, Twain, Steinbeck, and Hemingway, I think part of their lasting greatness is a result of their pbooks being always in front of us. I grant that the bulk of their greatness lies in their writing, but even great tomes can fall into obscurity when they are absent from the eyes of readers. Part of the reason I think this is truth is that I have tried, unsuccessfully, to identify any ebook-only author of the past decade who is viewed similarly to Hemingway or Steinbeck.

I am not talking about sales numbers; I am talking about backlist longevity and how readers talk about the author and the author’s ebooks. I understand that an ebook can sell hundreds of thousands of copies and earn an author millions of dollars (need we look any further than Shades of Grey?), but popular sales within a short time span are not reflective of longevity, quality, or any other characteristic that one might apply to a Dickens or a Steinbeck.

Which makes me wonder whether ebook-only publishing is the death knell of authorial greatness?

Whether Steinbeck is a great writer or a hack is a subject for debate. Similarly, whether J.A. Konrath is a great writer or a hack is a subject for debate. What is not a subject for debate is that if one were to ask knowledgable readers to name 10 authors who are recognized generally as being great authors, the likelihood is greater that Steinbeck will appear on the list than will Konrath. Readers over the decades have coalesced around certain writings that are considered timeless for one reason or another, with the result that the books by such authors are repeatedly recommended over decades and generations.

At least to date, each of those “great” authors’ books were published as pbooks and mass distributed — and continue to be available as pbooks and mass distributed, even if also available as ebooks. Perhaps this will change as ebooks become more commonplace, but I wonder if ebook-only authors will ever reach that pantheon of greatness populated by Dickens and Hemingway, and if the reason why they do not will be that they are ebook-only authors and thus lack the library eyescanning that reminds a reader of a book’s (and author’s) existence.

There are a lot of reasons why an ebook is viewed as superior to a pbook, but none of those reasons addresses the issue of future generations recognizing authorial greatness. Are there any of us who think 30 years from now any of J.A. Konrath’s ebooks will be required or recommended reading? Do any of us think they will even be remembered? Do we think, however, that A Tale of Two Cities may well be required, recommended, and remembered?

Again, I am not knocking ebook-only authors like Konrath who sell hundreds of thousands of ebooks. Rather, I am wondering if authorial greatness — something that very few authors attain —  that lasts decades and generations is obtainable in a world in which eyescanning of a pbook library’s shelves is absent. Will the transition to ebooks and ebook-only authors decrease the pool of authors available for authorial greatness? Will the transition distort authorial greatness so that it is very time limited and transitory, resting primarily on sales numbers?

I do not have the answers and it will be many years before the answers are available, but I do know that when I sit in my library and scan its shelves of hardcovers, I can recall having read the books and the pleasure they gave me, whereas with my ereader, I generally only see the newest books I bought that I haven’t yet read and never see the ebooks I bought and read 4 years ago.

February 15, 2013

Are There Topics You Would Like to See Discussed?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rich Adin @ 4:00 am

Are there topics about the business of editing, editing techniques, books/ebooks, publishing/self-publishing, or something else that you would like to see as the subject of a future column? If so, please let me know in a comment to this post. I’ll see what I can do to fulfill your request for knowledge — no  promises, however. 🙂

February 13, 2013

Editing Tools: MultiFile F&R and Search, Count, Replace

As regular readers of this blog know, I occasionally discuss macros that are included in the EditTools package. I created EditTools to enhance my editing skills, and to increase my productivity and efficiency, and thus increase my effective hourly rate.

In past articles, I have discussed the Author Query (The Business of Editing: Author Queries), Never Spell Word and Toggle (The Business of Editing: Consistency), and Journals (The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online IV — Mastering Macros) macros. In this article, I tackle two more of the macros in EditTools: MultiFile Find & Replace and Enhanced Search, Count, & Replace.

MultiFile Find & Replace

On occasion, while editing a chapter, I discover that I made an error in previous chapters or that a style decision I made in earlier chapters has met its nemesis in the current chapter and needs to be changed. In the olden days, this meant that I had to reopen each chapter I had previously edited and do a find-and-replace. This was time-consuming, and because I work on a per-page basis, potentially costly. Thus was born MultiFile Find & Replace (MFR).

When I have finished editing a chapter (document), I place it in a different directory than the directory that contains chapters yet to be edited and the chapter I am currently editing. Edited chapters that I have not yet sent to the client are placed in an MFR directory; once they are sent to the client and thus no longer subject to my revision, they are moved to the Done directory.

(My directory structure for a project is as follows: The parent directory is the name of the client [e.g., XYZ Publishers] and each project from this client has its own subdirectory, which is the name of the project or its author(s). The subdirectories within the project directory are Original, CE, Figures, Count, MFR, and Done. Original contains all of the files I receive from the client for the project. This assures me that I always have access to the base files. The files in Original are then sorted, with figure files copied [not moved] to the Figures directory and the text files to be edited copied to the Count directory. I next count the manuscript pages contained in the files in the Count directory. [I often do not receive all of the files for a project at the same time, which is why there is a Count directory.] Once a file has been counted, it is moved [not copied] to the CE directory for editing. After editing, the edited file is moved to the MFR directory, where it remains until it is added to a batch of files for shipping to the client. When sent to the client, the file is moved to the Done directory.)

MFR works just like the normal find-and-replace except that it works on every file in a directory and it automatically tracks changes. The same caution that you would exercise with Word’s find-and-replace, you need to exercise with MFR. MFR opens a file, does a search, replaces where appropriate, and then saves the newly revised file.

Before I created EditTools, I used MFR in a prospective fashion. I used it to make changes to files that are waiting to be edited. However, I rarely do this anymore, preferring to make use of EditTool’s Never Spell Word macro for prospective changes.

Enhanced Search, Count, & Replace

Enhanced Search, Count, & Replace (ESCR) is a workhorse macro for me. It is one of my most often used macros; perhaps the only macro I use more frequently is the Toggle macro.

As I have said in prior blog posts, I work on a lot of professional books. The one commonality to every professional book — regardless of subject matter — is that acronyms are used extensively. Acronyms are the shorthand language to which “insiders” of a profession are generally privy. Yet not all acronyms are commonly understood even by “insiders.” I daresay that most people know what is meant by AIDS, even if they cannot give the definition of the acronym, but do not know either the meaning or definition of CREST as used in CREST syndrome (for the curious, CREST means “calcinosis cutis, Raynaud phenomenon, esophageal motility disorder, sclerodactyly, and telangiectasis”).

Consequently, my clients generally have a rule that they want applied: Every acronym — except the most commonly understood acronyms — has to be spelled out at first use in a chapter (sometimes a book); to be kept as an acronym, it must be used at least three times in the chapter (otherwise spell it out); and subsequent spell outs of the acronym need to be changed to the acronym for consistency.

In olden days, this was a problem. It was a nightmare when editing was done on paper; it downgraded to a headache (albeit a severe one) with the advent of computers and increasingly sophisticated word-processing search functions. Yet even today this is a major headache in the absence of ESCR.

ESCR is not perfect by any means, but it is a significant improvement over other methods of searching for an acronym and its spelled out version, counting the number of times each appears, and replacing the miscreant versions. With ESCR, my process is greatly simplified and the time it takes to search, count, and replace is reduced to seconds.

By the way, although I am always talking about using ESCR for acronyms, the macro is not limited to acronyms. That is just how I primarily use it. ESCR will work on any word or phrase that you can select, so if you want to know whether the author excessively uses the phrase in order to, ESCR will do the job — and it will let you change the phrase to something else.

At the first appearance of an acronym, I ascertain whether it is spelled out; for example, does it appear as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) or just AIDS? If it doesn’t appear both spelled out and in acronym form, I add the spelled out version so that both appear. I then select both the spelled out phrase and the acronym, including the parens or brackets, and run ESCR. (How do I know that it hasn’t been spelled out previously? Because if it had been, it would have been highlighted, which is the signal to tell me that I already have checked this acronym and it has already been verified and spelled out.)

ESCR generates a report that tells me how many times, for example, each of AIDS, AIDs, Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome appears in the remainder of the open document. It excludes from the count the selected text; it only counts subsequent instances. I then have, for each item it reports, the option to have ESCR replace the existing text with different text or to highlight the existing text. So, if ESCR reports the following (the number following the text indicating the number of times the text appears subsequently in the document):

  1. AIDS     15
  2. AIDs     2
  3. Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome      5
  4. acquired immunodeficiency syndrome     10
  5. Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome     1

I can tell ESCR to highlight every instance of items 1 and 5, indicating they are OK as they are, and to change the text of items 2, 3, and 4 from what they currently are to AIDS. ESCR will then go through the document — and with track changes on — will highlight every instance of AIDS and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, but will change every instance of AIDs, Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome to AIDS. (The highlighting serves two purposes: [a] as already noted, it tells me that the acronym was spelled out earlier in the document, and [b] that the highlighted material is correct.)

What could be easier or more efficient? ESCR and MFR make my editing more productive, more efficient, and more accurate.

February 11, 2013

Why Some Indie Authors Fail


I recently finished reading a series of books by an indie author and I wanted to buy more of the author’s books. Apparently, there aren’t any more of the author’s books available, but the next volume in the series is due … sometime. My questions are: How will I know when the next book become available? Will I care when it is finally available?

There are certain authors who I occasionally check to see if they have published another book. I check at Barnes & Noble and Smashwords; I do not check at Amazon because I can’t use an Amazon-formatted or DRMed ebook on either my Sony or Nook. (Yes, I am aware of Calibre and know that I can format shift DRM-free ebooks using it, and even that there are plug-ins that will remove some DRM — but many, if not most, ebookers won’t go to the trouble or don’t know how to do it, and I do not support authors who go the Amazon-exclusive route.)

So how does the indie author who wrote a decent enough book that I am interested in the author’s next book (a) let me know the book is available and (b) keep my interest? What I have discovered is that many indie authors provide no way for a reader to say “please e-mail me when volume 2 is available.” Too many indie authors think that in 1 month, let alone in 6 months, I will still remember who they are or that I want to buy and read their next book.

The truth, of course, is otherwise. Yes, I will remember the exceptional authors — the ones who I rate 5 or 5+ out of 5 stars, but there are very few of them. I will not remember the author whose book was a good, not great, read — the 4 out of 5 stars (and possibly even the 3 out of 5 stars) ebook.

Every indie author should have a live link in their ebook that lets a reader signup to be notified when the next book by the author becomes available. Not a signup for a newsletter or for anything other than a single e-mail that says “you read my book XYZ and asked to be notified when my next ebook became available. It is now available at these stores/places: (here insert links).” Very few authors are memorable, so readers need an easy way to add their name to a remember-me list.

I should point out that this is a major failing of Smashwords and Barnes & Noble, too — perhaps even Amazon, Apple, Sony, and Kobo, but I am not familiar with their systems as I do not shop at their stores. Smashwords and B&N should allow me to go to my purchases and click a button to ask to be specifically notified when an author (of my choosing, not all authors whose books I have purchased) publishes a new book that is available at their bookstores.  In the case of Smashwords, this option should also be available even if I have not purchased the ebook from it, because Smashwords is both a bookstore and a distributor and I may well have bought the book at a different retailer.


As important as it is for an author to let me know that the author has a new book available, that failure to provide me with a means to learn of the new book is really a secondary reason of failure. The primary reason is a disrespect for words and language, which is really a lack of respect for the reader.

This disrespect takes many forms and ranges from not caring to ignorance. For example, I just read an ebook (no, I didn’t finish it and will not finish it) in which the author repeatedly refers to people/person(s) as that instead of who, uses wonder when wander is meant, and uses common when c’mon is meant. There are also numerous other poor word, punctuation, and grammar choices, which poor choices make me wonder if the author has ever read a book he didn’t write.

Words are an author’s weapon of choice. They must be carefully chosen and used correctly to ensure that the message is sent and understood as intended. I’ve said this before numerous times: writing must communicate the author’s message accurately and understandably.

Consequently, if nothing else, every author should have a good grasp of two fundamental legs of writing: grammar and spelling. If an author wasn’t a brilliant grammarian in school, perhaps the author should invest in a grammar book. Note that I said a grammar and not a style book. It does not matter whether the author writes one hundred or 100 — that is a matter of style but in neither instance will a reader misunderstand. But it does matter if an author uses due to when caused by is meant, or uses that when who is meant, or a sentence is confusing because the first clause is in the present tense and the second clause is in the past tense.

As you know, I think every author needs a good, professional copyeditor, and oftentimes also needs a good, professional developmental editor (for the difference between the two, see Editor, Editor, Everywhere an Editor). A good editor would prevent embarrassments like common for c’mon and give the author some credibility that perhaps the author doesn’t deserve. It is this disrespect for language, whether intentional or unintentional, by some indie authors that causes them to fail.

The Editor

Recently, I had a discussion with an indie author about some editing suggestions I had made. The author was livid, believing that my suggestions — and it is important to note that what an editor proposes are suggestions for the author to accept or reject — distorted her writing. To no avail, I tried to point out that you cannot have the heroine arrowshot in the left shoulder on page 10 and a healer fixing the arrow-made wound in the right shoulder on page 12, unless you indicate between pages 10 and 12 that the heroine was arrowshot a second time in the opposite shoulder.

There were many of these types of mistakes in the text but even more important, I think, the author kept writing sentences like “Justine, that was shot by….” I kept suggesting that “Justine, that” should be “Justine, who” but the author knew better.

Needless to say, we parted ways, but I found the discord instructive. An author should be hiring an editor to fill a gap in the author’s knowledge and skills, not for the sake of being able to claim that the book was edited — especially not if the author intends to discard all of the editor’s suggestions. Yet a number of indie authors are unable to recognize their limits and thus cannot make good use of the professional editor’s skills. Viewing your editor as your enemy rather than your friend is asking to fail.

Some indie authors fail because they do not provide a means to notify readers of future writing; some because they disrespect the language of writing; some because they view their editor as their enemy and not their friend. Each of these failing ways is correctable; it just takes effort and determination.

February 8, 2013

A Musical Interlude: Les Militaribles

Filed under: A Musical Interlude — Rich Adin @ 6:13 am
Tags: ,

This parody was made by the Air Force of the Republic of Korea as a tribute to its soldiers who worked hard to clear excessive snow over the winter. It was hoped that it would encourage more youth to volunteer.

This video is well-worth watching in its entirety. Enjoy!

February 6, 2013

Can Barnes & Noble Be Saved?

With the release of both Amazon’s and Barnes & Nobles quarterly figures, which include the 2012 holiday season, the blogosphere has been rife with posts foretelling the demise of Barnes & Noble. I find it interesting that Amazon’s results weren’t much better than B&N’s (according to Businessweek, Amazon earned one-half cent for each dollar of revenue), yet investors continue to support Amazon and blast B&N.

I suppose the reason for the different treatment by investors is that Amazon has a broader range of goods for sale and that investors think eventually Amazon will be able to increase margins by raising prices as soon as Amazon can force competitors out of business.

So, what it boils down to is what can B&N do to revive its fortunes? Can its fortunes be revived?

As it stands today, pessimism is probably appropriate for B&N. Mitchell Klipper, B&N CEO, Leonard Riggio, chairman, and management crew have shown that they are incapable of forward or strategic, or maybe even tactical, thinking. Yet they remain in control of B&N.

It was not so long ago that my wife and I visited our local B&N nearly every week. We rarely left the store without purchasing at least a couple of books, and my purchases were always hardcovers (my wife would buy both hardcovers and paperbacks) — and that was in addition to what I would buy online at B&N and to my ebook purchases. But Klipper and his predecessor have done everything they can to turn me away from B&N stores.

First, they did away with the discount that membership gave me. The first time was by the refusal to sell me Nooks with a member’s discount. The tale then told was that the Nooks were already being sold at cost (remember when the first Nook was sold for $249?). So for the same price, I bought Sonys, which were better devices and bought ebooks at the Sony store and Smashwords instead of B&N, because B&N ‘s DRM was incompatible with my Sonys (although B&N could have made them compatible). It wasn’t long after that Amazon began cutting the price on its Kindles and B&N began cutting the price on the Nook. Riggio and Klipper should have given that discount to members!

Second, they changed the discount members received. I bought hardcovers at the B&N store and received a 20% discount on adult hardcovers that were not already discounted. This was not as much a discount as was being offered at B&N online, but it was satisfactory and I bought more than 100 books a year at the local store. Then the terms changed — the discount became 10%. That wasn’t competitive at all, and so I stopped buying locally, shifting to online purchases.

Third, when B&N finally offered a reasonable deal on a Nook, I bought a Nook tablet. The tablet has been wonderful. In fact, it has become my preferred reading device. But the device has a terrible built-in flaw: the worst customer service imaginable. Even though I have spoken to several higher-ups at B&N about the customer service problems, nothing has been done. It hasn’t gotten worse, but it hasn’t gotten better.

Let me clarify this: The customer service I am referring to is the online customer service, not the customer service at my local store. My local store gives great customer service — as good as Amazon’s and perhaps even better — but it can’t give me the customer service I need for the Nook and Nook ebooks. Also, it is worth noting that I rarely have ever needed customer service for a pbook.

When I need to call B&N customer service, I know I am in for a runaround and an aggravating time. The Nook “technical” support people are so ill-trained and so lack product knowledge and so lack customer service common sense that they do not even warrant being called a joke — it would be an insult to jokes. And this is Klipper’s fault. Based on what I see as a customer, B&N places no emphasis on customer service and apparently little on training. As the CEO of B&N, Klipper should be making customer service the #1, #2, and #3 priorities. You cannot keep frustrating customers and expect them to keep coming back. At some point they will abandon you for the competitor who is viewed as caring. Some of us will hold on longer, but not because we love B&N; rather, because we do not want to see one company become so dominant that there is little market competition. That’s why I continue to buy at B&N.

Klipper and crew also need to become innovative. It is clear that they cannot compete with Amazon based on either price or customer service, so they need to be innovative. They need to increase reasons for Nook owners to visit stores; they need to increase the number of members they have and entice them into stores; they need to entice the general public into the stores.

There are things that they can do. For example, arrange with publishers and authors to exclusively offer limited numbers of first edition, first printing, signed copies of new books. Some of us are collectors and would be willing to pay for such books. Make it so that these limited edition books can be bought online for a minimal to no discount but if bought at the local store — even if having to be shipped from a warehouse — the buyer would get a 20% to 25% discount on the book but also the same discount on any other book purchased at the same time at the store.

Make membership truly worthwhile. Increase the price to $50 a year (from the current $25) but give the member a guaranteed minimum discount of 20% to 25% on everything purchased, whether in the store or online, and if purchased online, with free 2-day shipping.

Another thing that can be done is to offer a free copy of the ebook with the purchase of the hardcover. Nonmembers would pay full price for the hardcover but members would get a 15% to 20% discount (or receive a higher discount if they chose not to get the free ebook). Get a jump on Amazon by getting publishers to offer this arrangement exclusive to B&N (i.e., the free ebook with hardcover purchase) for at least 90 days.

B&N could also make it so that a Nook owner could visit the local store and check out books but buy, on the spot, only the ebook version using a special code that gives the Nook owner a discount off the normal ebook price because it is bought while in the store.

Because the Nook and ebooks are central to B&N’s future, really make the stores a place for Nook buyers. Have a problem with your Nook or a Nook ebook purchase? Come to your local store for real customer service. Train local staff to do real technical troubleshooting, not what is currently done when you call tech support, and authorize local staff to really resolve customer service problems, including giving refunds.

One thing that B&N should immediately implement is a new library system and a new option button. What I mean is this: Now when I buy an ebook, the ebook appears in my Nook Library. In the Library there are option buttons that let me, for example, download the ebook so I can save a copy locally and recommend or lend the ebook. B&N needs to add an option button that tells B&N to notify me when the author has published another book that is for sale by B&N. Additionally, my Nook Library should be changed to my B&N Library and should include all books — p and e — that I buy from B&N, whether online or in-store, each with the notify option button. The one thing that should not happen is that I receive notification for books by authors for whom I did not ask for notification. In that case, a good idea becomes a bad idea and spam.

Most important of all, spend some money on providing real online customer service. Fire your current providers/staff and start from scratch with people who speak English and do not read from a script.

Can B&N be saved? Yes. Will it be saved? Not unless it changes its attitudes and direction.

February 4, 2013

Is Editing a Future Safe Harbor?

One of the newspapers I read had an article discussing the future workplace and what kinds of jobs will be lost to technology. The article pointed out that both white-collar and blue-collar jobs are subject to loss as technology advances and gave some examples.

One example it gave was the truck driver. As automated cars and driving are perfected, will there be a need for the truck driver? The article concluded no, but I’m not so sure. Perhaps there will be no need for a person to actually do the driving, but there will still be a need for someone to make sure that the items are delivered correctly. In other words, the role may change but the need for a real person may not.

The article got me thinking about editors. I know we’ve discussed the future of editing before (see, e.g., Is There a Future in Editing? and The Business of Editing: Will the Tide Turn for Us?), but not from the perspective of technological advances.

With each passing year, computer software gets smarter. Increasingly, the tasks that editors perform are being performed by software. Consider just spell-checking and grammar software. I remember when the software first appeared and how limited it was. Now it offers suggestions that were unimaginable 15 years ago — and it is increasingly accurate when it suggests whom instead of who.

It wasn’t so long ago that spell-checking software was only found in word processing programs; now programs like Acrobat and InDesign include spell-checking software and third-party vendors sell enhanced versions.

I don’t want to get hung up on a particular type of software because what editors do is so much more than just spell checking and grammar. Yet the issue remains: Do editors face technological extinction?

I think that if we do, it is yet many decades in the future. It is not because our routine skills cannot be emulated by a computer, but because of nuance. If the only thing that mattered was that there are no spelling mistakes in a document, editors would be far down the path to being jobless. But the real key to being a successful editor is nuance competence, that is, the ability to understand the subtleties of language and language choice and what those subtleties communicate.

Consider this example: “Up to 20% of fractures are missed on plain film.” Both the spelling and the sentence are correct and so should pass muster if the a computer is evaluating it. Yet an editor should note a problem: What does the sentence really mean? It simply isn’t clear. Does it mean that the radiologist will miss these fractures even though they appear on the plain film or does it mean that the imaging technique itself doesn’t display (i.e., misses) these fractures? The difference is one of nuance but is also one of great importance.

If it is the radiologist who will miss the fractures, then it is one type of problem that needs resolution. Perhaps better training or perhaps a second or third set of eyes to review the film or maybe something else. If it is the imaging technique that misses these fractures, then what other technique should be used either instead or as supplemental to the plain-film technique or is there no technique currently that will image these fractures? In both instances, questions of treatment are raised. This is a nuance that only a human (at least for now) can provide.

Consider this second example: “Left-handedness, above average weight and height for age, family history and spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis are associated with Scheuermann disease.” Again, nuance is important. The editor should be asking whether family history of or family history, and is meant. Each is a possibility and each leads to a different conclusion and perhaps affects treatment. How likely is it that computer software will be able to identify the problem and ask the pertinent question?

Because editing is more than just rote spelling and grammar, because it involves nuance and understanding of possibilities, it is likely that for the foreseeable future that editing will be a safe harbor while technology advances. Although some forms of white-collar work will disappear as technology advances, even some of the functions that editors currently perform may fall to technological advances, it is likely that editing as a profession will remain viable.

A companion question to viability, however, is whether potential clients will believe that there is a need to go beyond what computer software can do. This problem is one that editors face today. A goodly number of publishers and self-publishing authors believe that Microsoft Word’s built-in spell-checking and grammar software are all that is needed; the eye of the professional editor can be bypassed.

I recently received an “ad” from a new author for his new fantasy ebook. Although I found the summary in the notice a bit confusing, I decided to look at a sample of the ebook. Perhaps the summary got garbled but the ebook was fine. Within the first three pages I discovered a dozen problems, so I privately wrote to the author and mentioned a few, suggesting that it would be worth his while to hire a professional editor. The response I got was that he would take care of the problems himself.

My thought was: If you didn’t catch these types of error before you published the ebook, what makes you think you will find them now?

His response is the response I increasingly see as publishers and authors fall into the trap of believing that technology is the savior. Increasingly, no one thinks about the nuances of language. The consequence is that the story is not well communicated and readers (and authors) are made poorer for that lack of communication.

To combat the rise in reliance on technology, editors need to discuss nuance and to focus prospective clients on the nuances of writing, the things that technology is not adept at finding. This is truly our value. I expect that in the not-too-distant future software will be able to accurately distinguish between the proper and improper use of, for example, your and you’re, but not the nuances that choosing one word over another may entail. This is the editor’s strength and what should be pushed as we fight to maintain our relevance in the future.

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