An American Editor

March 27, 2013

Marketing in an eBook World

I was asked some time ago whether I thought traditional marketing techniques are still relevant in our Internet world. The question was from an author and was directed at marketing ebooks, but the question really has broader implications, including for editors seeking work.

I recognize the limits of my view. Those who know me personally, know that I am not of the youth generation. In my youth, the addition and subtraction calculators were the computers of the day, and they had just barely advanced from the abacus. Pinball machines at the local store were the “advanced” game entertainment, and a trip to the library was a weekly event. Twitting was not on the horizon and email was a term in science fiction literature, if it even existed. Consequently, I look at marketing from a different perspective.

Many years ago, in my long-past early work years, I worked in marketing. I began with marketing of advertising trinkets. When I entered the world of publishing, one of my responsibilities was to devise marketing strategies for specific titles. Again, all this was in the dinosaur age, long before the open Internet of today.

In those days, there were certain principles, certain inviolate rules, that pertained to marketing — no matter the product or service. Those same basic rules, albeit perhaps considered old-fashioned, still apply. Today’s successfully marketed products and services are marketed following the same principles we used in the dinosaur era. The reason is that basic human reactions haven’t changed.

Consider, for example, email versus snail mail. Think about your own lives. How much quicker are you to discard without reading an email than a piece of snail mail? Most people will at least open the snail mail envelope and start to read the pitch; the same people will look at the subject line of an email and delete it without opening/reading the email. We’ve become so attuned to email scamming that we make very quick decisions about hitting delete.

Although marketing today is more complex, the rules haven’t changed. One can neither ignore snail mail and email nor embrace one to the exclusion of the other. Both have to be part of the campaign.

And that holds true for marketing of ebooks (or editorial services). It is not enough to market an ebook using modern-day Internet-based tools to the exclusion of the more traditional methods of marketing. Not everyone reacts to Internet-based marketing positively.

However, this argument is somewhat moot until you have identified who your market is and how best to reach that particular market. For example, if your market is fans of military science fiction, I suspect the balance has to tilt more toward the Internet-based marketing than toward traditional marketing. Science fiction aficionados are usually more receptive to “futuristic” methods of marketing. On the other hand, if your market is steampunk fantasy fans, then perhaps the balance tilts more toward traditional marketing methods as these readers are looking backward in time. (I’ve often wondered why, for example, promotional pieces for mysteries aren’t mysterious themselves; why aren’t they written in such a manner as to draw the reader into the mystery that can only be explored by buying the ebook being promoted?)

Regardless of what you write, knowing your audience is key — it is key to the story you write and to the marketing you do to sell the story you write. All that changes is the tilt of the balance, not that there has to be both Internet-based and traditional marketing.

Years ago I taught a marketing class for editors. It was an interesting experience. There were two camps then, just as there are two today. One camp avoided Internet-based marketing, the other embraced it. The transition was underway to online editing and so “logic” would dictate that online marketing should follow. But if an editor looked at the editor’s target audience, the editor would have realized that although editing was transitioning, the target audience was still primarily involved with the traditional pbook. Online editing was but a small piece of the whole process.

With ebooks the transition from paper to bytes has been made — but only for a small portion of the marketplace. Although ebooks are now approximately 25% of sales, 75% of sales are not ebooks. Of that 25% that is ebooks, more than 60% seem to be made to middle-aged and older readers. The challenge for indie authors is to determine where their readers fall in the age categories and how many get their information from online or traditional sources.

I’ll use myself as an example. Much of the information I get about books comes from print sources, not online sources. I already spend too much time at my computer and online, and do not want to spend even more trying to find something to read. I prefer to look at ads and reviews in my print magazines.

Of course, there is also the question of trust. The New York Review of Books, for example, has earned my trust over the years. I find their reviews reliable and accurate. But anonymous online reviewers are a different story. I find it hard to give credence to bubba345’s opinion. I know that the reviewer in the NYRB has read the book; has bubba345? Consequently, a more traditional marketing approach is more likely to grab my attention.

Having said that, I recognize that many readers prefer to do their searching online. To reach them, Internet-based marketing is the primary way to go.

Someday, online marketing will be the only viable method, but that day has not yet arrived. Authors need to do a mix of marketing — traditional and online — shifting only the tilt of the balance based on the audience they are trying to reach.

For those of you who are authors, do you agree or disagree? For editors, although we are discussing marketing ebooks, the same principles apply to marketing your editing services. The mediums have changed but not the fundamental principles of marketing. Are you relying solely on Internet-based marketing?

March 25, 2013

The Elusive Editorial Higgs Boson

Physicists believe that they have discovered the subatomic particle, Higgs boson or “God particle,” that will help explain what gives all matter in the universe size and shape. For us editors, that “God particle” of editing remains elusive.

As we have discussed many times, editing is much more than looking at Chicago section 8.18 and applying the “rule” that president is lowercase unless the president is named, as in “The president boasted…” versus “Boasting about his tenure, President Smith….” So, just as physicists search for the Higgs boson of life, I search for the Higgs boson of editing. What is the essence of editing that gives it life? That gives a well-edited manuscript style? That makes editing a great and learned profession? That sets editors apart from other users of the same language?

It is true that, these days, a goodly portion of an editor’s time is spent on mechanical work. There is little genius in play when we manipulate a reference to make it conform to a set style. The genius is not in fixing those references, but in helping authors communicate their intent and meaning to readers, which is done by word choice and sentence structure.

It is true that today, for example, the meanings of since and because have so blurred and merged that they are nearly synonymous. Consequently, authors and editors often don’t choose between them — each is viewed as a 100% substitute for the other. (And I also admit that there are only a handful of us editors, like me, who still insist on the difference and who are reluctant to embrace the “new” English. The dinosaurs, perhaps, of editing.)

Yet isn’t there a subtle, oh so slight, yet meaningful difference between the two words? Doesn’t since still cast off an aura of time passing? Doesn’t because still conjure up its root in causation?

I raise the since/because issue because I see it as a good representation of the subtleties of the editorial “God particle” and the difficult search for that element. Just as we have a whisper of difference in today’s meanings of since and because, so we have just a whisper of the existence of the editorial Higgs boson.

I asked a colleague whether she ever thought about the philosophical underpinnings of editing. She looked at me as if I was from another planet and said: “No, and I don’t know of any editor who has done so.” To be truthful, neither do I know any editor who has spent even a fleeting moment thinking about the philosophy of editing. Instead, we tend to focus on the job at hand; after all, thinking about philosophy (or philosophically) pays no bills.

But as the years have passed, I have been increasingly thinking about the philosophy of editing. I know what good editing does (and perhaps why I am a good editor), which is this: Good editing enhances the communication between an author and a reader, making sure that the author says precisely what the author intends to say and that the reader understands what the author says as what the author intends it to say. Diagrammatically, the editor sits between the author and reader as the “translator,” ensuring that communication flows unerringly. But that is only what makes for good editing; it doesn’t address the loftier philosophy of editing.

The philosophy of editing seeks to answer the why questions, rather than the what or how questions — the philosophy, rather than the mechanics. Why do we choose particular structures? Why do we resist the singular their? Why does English lack…? Why is “to go boldly” not the same, or as understandable, as “to boldly go”? Why is the editor’s role more like that of a librettist than a composer (and why is it that the composer gets all the credit)? Why is it that, in editing, there are only guides and not written-in-stone rules as in other learned professions?

And on and on go the questions — the questions for which there are no style guides to provide answers or to point the searcher in a search direction. But perhaps the overarching question — the question that truly embraces the philosophy of editing concept — is this: Why does editing lack a universally accepted and applied moral and ethical code of conduct, that is, one that is universally understood and accepted by all parties to the editorial transaction and to which all parties subject themselves?

Sure, there are rogue scientists and rogue soldiers and rogue priests and rogue politicians and rogue whatevers — but there are no rogue editors, because there are no ethical and moral expectations, outside the standard, run-of-the-mill, societal expectations, that are applicable to and bind the parties of an editorial transaction. And that is because there are no editors hunting for the editorial Higgs boson.

Editing should be a serious profession. Yes, I know that we editors claim we are a serious profession, but then we act otherwise. We do little to no deep thinking about our profession. (Consider this: Nearly all professions have a “think tank” — except editing. Nearly all professions have a lobbying group to promote the their ideas and goals among policy makers and the public — except editing.) Individual writers may do little deep thinking about the philosophy of writing, but that gauntlet is picked up by those whose focus is on “literary criticism” — the H.L. Menckens and George Bernard Shaws and Michel Foucaults and Harold Blooms and Noam Chomskys who are both writers and literary critics.

Literary criticism is based on the philosophical discussion of literature’s methods and goals. The editorial Higgs boson could be defined as being “the philosophical discussion of editing’s methods and goals.” Where are the editors who focus on the philosophy of editing? Where are “the philosophical discussion of editing’s methods and goals?”

As I wrote earlier, increasingly I am thinking about the philosophy of editing and I am searching for that editorial “God particle” — that wisp of truth that will change the profession of editing at its core, that will ultimately lead to the “laws” of editing. Just as physics and chemistry and language and business have their immutable laws (Murphy’s being the most commonly invoked one that crosses all professional boundaries), so does editing — they just wait to be discovered.

Think about how a pursuit of the editorial Higgs boson could reshape the conversations that editors have amongst themselves. Instead of “What does Chicago say about xyz?” the question would become, “Why does Chicago say this about xyz?” and the discussion would be less about a supposed “this is the way it must be” to more like “should this be the way it is done?”

Such discussions might eventually lead to the creation — or perhaps more accurately, the recognition — of the Ten Editorial Commandments, which might govern all parties to the editorial transaction. At that moment in time, editing will be able to take its place in the pantheon of the great professions; the editorial Higgs boson will have been found.

What do you think? More importantly, if you were asked to contribute to the creation of the Ten Editorial Commandments, what would your contribution be?

March 20, 2013

How Do You Know You Are a Good Editor?

Sometimes from out of the blue, a question is asked that causes not just a little hesitation but weeks of pondering. Philosophy and religion are riddled with such questions. Yet, editors, too, have such a question to deal with: How do you know you are a good editor?

By good editor, I mean a status closer to, or akin to, great rather than to adequate or normal or usual or level of the mass of editors. It is not that an adequate editor cannot be good in the ordinary sense of good, and thus an appropriate editor to hire for a project, but rather that a good editor in the sense I mean — and the sense meant by noneditors who ask the question —  is closer to the pantheon of editorial gods than to the mass of editors — the cream of editors. Perhaps good is a poor word choice, but the question is usually phrased in terms of good, not in terms of great, by those who want an editor to distinguish him-/herself from all other editors.

The quick answers that will roll off the tongues of most editors are these:

  • I’ve been an editor for x years and I am still busy all the time.
  • My clients tell me I’m the best.
  • My clients keep coming back.
  • My clients refer colleagues to me.
  • Fellow editors tell me I’m good.
  • I must be good because I make $x.

And the list goes on.

None of the above responses really address the question except superficially. The heart of the question is beyond such surface responses. After all, how many of our clients are really knowledgeable about editing skills and standards? How many of our colleagues would we really put on a pedestal as exemplary editors we wish we could emulate? What really is the relationship between years of experience and being busy to how good you are? How much of how well we edit is governed by the combination of pay we receive and the schedule we have to live with?

Unlike some other professions, editing lacks an objective group of core standards against which an editor can be judged. And while I do think many of my colleagues are good editors, do I really know that to be true? When was the last time I reviewed a manuscript a colleague edited? And even if I did review such a manuscript, how do I know whether the problems I see are the editor’s or the client’s fault?

Yet the answer to this question is important. It is important for clients and prospective clients, as well as for the editor him- or herself, and the editor’s colleagues.

I suppose there are myriad ways of approaching this problem of how to define what makes an editor a good editor, but none are objective and many, if not all, can only be defined by the editor him- or herself. It is clear to me, however, that a grasp of language and grammar is insufficient on its own to declare a person a good editor, just as being a good business person but lacking language skills would not make a person a good editor even though editing is a business that requires business skills, at least for a freelance editor or an editor with an editing company.

Instead, I think, it is a melding of many attributes that bring a person success as an editor that defines a good editor. I think it is the combination of being a good business person and being facile with language and grammar that can define a good editor. The combination brings together the years of experience, client praise, repeat business, referrals, and all the other things that we give as quick answers.

Which roundaboutly brings us back to several things that we have discussed in previous articles, such as the resources we use and have handy, our command of the tools we use, our decision-making process, and whether we can support our decisions other than by saying “Chicago says….”

In addition, how our colleagues view us adds to how good an editor we are. Although insufficient on its own, that our colleagues seek our opinion, praise us to others, listen to what we have to say, indicate that others in our profession think we are good editors. The better editors our colleagues are, the more valuable are their opinions of us.

We need to be careful that we do not base our decision on whether a colleague is a good editor on differences of opinion about things like word choice and the other matters with which we deal daily that are subjective rather than objective. It is objective to note whether an editor regularly meets or misses deadlines; it is subjective whether the right word choice is since or because.

But we do need to base our opinion on an editor’s understanding of the basic tools of the editorial trade: language and grammar and the editing process. The editor who constantly misses homophones and homonyms, no matter how good the editor’s mastery of the other elements of what makes a good editor, should not qualify the editor as a good editor.

Needless to say, I have avoided two significant questions: Once I ascertain that I am a good editor, how do I communicate that to colleagues and clients? and How does a potential client identify a good editor? I admit that I have no better answers to those two questions than I have to the original question: How do I know I am a good editor?

I am almost tempted to say that I am a good editor because no one has said otherwise. But then, is an editing test that we take but do not pass a comment on our skills? Not really. Because I judge tests, I know that there are lots of reasons why a person does not pass, reasons that may have little to do with language skills, which is what many editors think the sole criterion should be, and more to do with mastery of the editor’s tools.

I suppose one sign of my being a good editor is that clients ask me to cobid with them. I do work for a vendor who bids to provide a package of services to a publisher and that client asks me to prepare the editorial services portion of the bid, expecting me to do the editorial portion of the work if the bid is successful.

But even that doesn’t satisfy my editorial soul. There is still something missing. Do you have answers? How would you define a good editor?

March 18, 2013

Author Lamentations: eBook Week Sales

The week of March 3-10 was “Read an eBook Week,” which is a week that I particularly look forward to each year. It is the week when many authors put their ebooks on sale, with discounts ranging from 25% to 100% of the normal price. Smashwords is a major promoter of this event, and is usually where I go to buy more ebooks for my to-be-read pile.

In past years, I have spent several hundred dollars on indie ebooks during this week, and I have also “bought” a goodly number of 100%-discount ebooks. This year I bought 3 ebooks plus a dozen of the 100%-discount ebooks. I simply could not find more ebooks from indie authors that interested me; I did find several that I am interested in buying in the future, but I felt no rush to buy them now because they were not on sale. If I’m going to pay full price, I’ll pay it when I am ready to read the ebook, not before.

On some of the fora in which I participate, authors were lamenting that “Read an eBook Week” didn’t boost sales. One complaining author noted that before eBook Week his sales were at zero and during eBook Week his sales remained flat at zero. In his case, I think three things were at work: first, he didn’t discount his book at all during a week when readers expect to find a discount; second, the subject-matter/genre of his ebook was not one that draws readers like bees to honey; and third, whether his book had ever seen the helping hand of a professional editor was doubtful based on the sample.

Other complaining authors noted slight upticks in sales, but not anything to boast about.

This year, unlike past years, authors seemed to be quiet about “Read an eBook Week.” I saw very few pushes to get the word out by these indie authors, which made me wonder how they expected to get readers to notice their books. Many of them also opted for the smaller discounts. I admit that I didn’t even bother to look at books in the 25% discount category and only once spent a little time in the 50% discount category. Most of my browsing was on the 75% and 100% discount categories, and based on comments made in response to the complaining authors, it appears my browsing was typical.

It is clear to me that authors with low to middling sales during eBook Week made several fundamental errors. First, they did little to no self-promotion so potential readers were not made aware of their ebooks. Stores like Smashwords promote the week itself, not individual ebooks; it is up to the indie author to promote his or her ebook, which means the author needs to make sure that tags are appropriate and numerous, that descriptions are well-written and targeted, and that the correct genre(s) are associated with the ebook. For example, I do not like books about vampires or the Harlequin-type romances or “gothic” novels. Consequently, when I see tags that identify an ebook as fitting in one of those categories, I pass it by. Of course, other readers cannot get enough of those categories, so they would be attracted — if the ebook is properly tagged and described.

The second error was that they had a bad combination of too high a retail price and too low a discount for their book. Many ebookers are like me — reluctant to spend $5.99 on an ebook from an author with whom they are unfamiliar and a 25% discount is little inducement. Authors need to think about the promotion. Many of these same authors joined Amazon’s exclusive program and offered their ebook for free at Amazon for 5 days. So why not offer a steep discount for the 7 days of eBook Week?

The third error that a number of authors made was to offer the steep discount on the second or third book in a series, rather than on the first book. I cannot imagine what thinking lies behind that decision. Once I saw that the ebook was the second or third in a series and that the first book was not being discounted, I just moved on. I suspect many readers did the same.

The fourth error was in offering the same ebook this year as they offered last year and even the year before. I would think that by now most readers who are interested in the offered book have already obtained it. One of the purposes of eBook Week is to not only introduce your ebook to new readers but to reignite interest in you in readers who have some familiarity with you but who do not view your ebooks as “must” reads.

The fifth error was the failure to take the opportunity to rewrite the blurbs. Poorly written blurbs can kill a sale. If you haven’t been selling a steady stream of ebooks, perhaps it is time to rewrite the blurb — give the ebook a fresh coat of paint, but paint of a different color.

The sixth error is really not an error except in broad terms: It is the failure to recognize that it is possible that the subject matter of your ebook just doesn’t have broad appeal or that if it does fall into the broad appeal area, that perhaps other books are better written (and better promoted). In other words, this isn’t like A Field of Dreams where “if you write it, they will find it”

or “if you write it, they will buy it.”

Readers tend to be a bit fussier than that.

I’m sure that only a few authors not guilty of all six failures, but every author who had disappointing sales during eBook Week is guilty of one or more of these failures. As an indie author, it is the author’s responsibility to fix these failures, yet I am sure that many will take no corrective action and will find other excuses for why eBook Week was a failure for their ebook.

I have said this before, but it is worth repeating: There is a natural progression to getting someone to buy your ebook. It begins with the cover, runs through the story’s development to the editing of the manuscript, and ends with the promotional efforts made by the author. A weakness in one area can be devastating. The indie author needs to be sure that current weaknesses are identified and addressed so as to pave the path for success. Authors who were disappointed by this year’s eBook Week have a year until the next eBook Week and so can work toward making next year a success.

March 13, 2013

The Little Man Who Wasn’t There

Today’s guest article is by Jack Lyon, an editor, the owner of The Editorium, and creator of many macros that editors and publishers around the world use (his macros are available at The Editorium). In his article, Jack ponders on some of the “invisibles” in book publishing.

____________

The Little Man Who Wasn’t There

by Jack Lyon

Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today;
Oh, how I wish he’d go away!
—Hughes Mearns

In a recent post on An American Editor, Rich Adin posits that eBooks may be sounding the death knell for authorial greatness (see Are eBooks the Death Knell of Authorial Greatness?).

Why? Because unlike printed books sitting on a shelf, ebooks are not immediately visible to our view; we have to go find them on our ereader, or search for them online. “Out of sight, out of mind,” as the saying goes.

I won’t repeat Rich’s arguments here; you should read them for yourself. But I do believe that Rich is onto something important, and his post made me think about other things that are becoming invisible in this modern age.

Note References

A recent trend in book publishing is the use of “blind” notes; that is, notes that exist in the back of a book but have no indication in the text that they exist. The only way to see if a particular passage has an associated note is to turn to the back of the book and check. “Fascinating paragraph,” you think. “I wonder if there’s a note about this.” You turn back to the notes and look. “Nope.”

What if your cell phone worked that way? Suppose your phone gave no indication—no ringtone, no flashing light—that a call was coming in. The only way to know would be to pick up your phone periodically and listen. Does that seem like a good system?

Is an author’s text really so elegant that it should not be besmirched with superscript note references? Give readers a break; if there’s a note, give them some indication.

Well-Written Indexes

Professional indexers and seasoned readers know that a good index is an essential part of a good nonfiction book. Not only does it allow you to find particular passages, but it also gives you an overview of a book’s contents. Does the latest tome on Microsoft Word have anything new to say about macros? Check the index.

But some authors and publishers think that an index can be generated by a computer—just feed the computer a list of important terms, and it will mark those terms as index entries in the text. Generate the index, and off  you go! (Microsoft Word actually includes a feature that will do this; I don’t recommend it.)

Similarly, those who publish in electronic form often think that a program’s “search” feature is all that’s needed for readers to find what they’re looking for. But consider the old saying “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” It refers to motherhood, of course, but if you look for “motherhood” in a computer-generated index or with an electronic search, “The hand that rocks the cradle” won’t show up. A good index is a form of writing; it requires the application of a human mind, which can see meanings where a computer sees only words. (This, by the way, is why grammar checkers don’t work.)

Functional User Interfaces

Some web designers think that how a web page looks is much more important than how it works. They’re wrong about that. Imagine a web page so “artfully” done, so minimal in its design, that it offers no indication of how users should navigate the site. You would actually have to move your cursor around the screen to see what areas might be “clickable.” That’s the extreme, of course, but there are sites that offer little more than that. Google “minimalist web page” and you’ll find some.

Several years ago I attended the product launch for a specialized search engine. The interface had an elaborately designed logo with the word “Search.” Below that was a box where users could enter the text they wanted to find. Wanting to demonstrate the simplicity of the new search engine, the CEO invited his wife to step onto the platform and search for something, implying that if she could use the program, anyone could. (Unfortunately, this also demonstrated his own stupidity and callousness, but that’s another story.)  His wife entered some text but then couldn’t find where to click to activate the search. There was no button, no menu, nothing. Finally the CEO grabbed the mouse and clicked on the logo to activate the search. After all, it did say “Search.” The problem was, it didn’t look like something to click; it looked like a logo. Furthermore, it was above the text box; but things should always appear in the order of use: First enter your text, then click “Search”—which means that the Search button should have come below the text box, not above it.

Form should always follow function; how something looks should always be subordinate to how it works. A button should look like a button.

Not that there’s anything wrong with simplicity. As Albert Einstein once said, “Everything should be as simple as possible, but never simpler.” Those who are involved in any kind of communication—which means all of us—need to keep that in mind.

__________

What do you think? Is Jack onto something that has changed with the advent of technological changes to how books are produced? Has technology changed us from specialists to generalists who know just enough to get us into trouble?

March 11, 2013

The Drama of “And” and “Or”

One thing that I see with great frequency in manuscripts I edit is the and/or construction. I see it so often that I wonder if authors have a specific key that automatically inserts and/or into their writing.

It isn’t that and/or isn’t sometimes correct; rather, it has become a way for an author to fudge. Basically and/or adds drama to a manuscript because it leaves the reader wondering what precisely is meant (assuming the reader thinks about it at all). And/or gives at least two options, both of which are true, both of which should be exclusive of the other.

The expression dates from the 19th century and is a legal and business expression that has made its way into the daily lexicon. It serves as a great way to not commit, to not make a decision. And because it is so ambiguous, it could lead to disastrous results. Consider if your doctor told you to take “10 mg of Xyz and/or 10 mg of Abc.” What do you do? Do you take both Xyz and Abc, which is what and implies, or do you take either Xyz or Abc, but not both, which is what or implies?

What I find interesting is how editors and authors rarely question the use of and/or. Edited manuscripts that I have reviewed for clients so rarely have a query asking an author what and/or means, that I wonder what the editor thinks it means. I try to make it habit to always query the and/or construction as follows:

AQ: Do you mean both Abc and Xyz? Or do you mean either Abc or Xyz but not both? Please clarify for the reader by rewriting and replacing the and/or with either both or but not both.

Of course, as is so often true with editorial queries, the query often goes unanswered, although I did have an author once reply, ” I mean both both and but not both and thus and/or.” I did try to point out the illogic of that position but and/or remained in every instance in the manuscript.

The point of noting the travails of using and/or is to note how easy it is for an editor to fall into the colloquial trap. We are not just editors; we also are readers and consumers. As readers and consumers, we have become inured to constructions such as and/or and too often skip over them, assuming that any reader will fully understand what is meant because we think we understand.

“We shall smite our enemies and/or their allies at the city gates” is a line from a novel I read quite a few years ago. However, the inanity of the sentence has stuck with me. My first question was, “Why is a novel using the and/or construction?” My second question  was, “Are not my enemy’s allies also my enemy?” But my most important question was, “Who will be smitten? Both my enemies and their allies or just their allies, which would let my enemies smite me?”

We editors have a lot of language prejudices, prejudices that distinguish one editor from another. For example, I loathe reading people that instead of people who, and I make it a point when editing to replace due to with what I think the author really means. (If I’ve gotten it wrong, won’t readers also get it wrong?) I also distinguish between since and because. Like my editor colleagues, I have more pet language peeves. Yet, many editors take an opposite view from mine — they don’t distinguish between since and because, considering that fight long ago resolved in favor of the words being synonymous; they don’t worry about the ambiguity of due to, arguing its use has become so common place that readers can ably substitute the correct words without any guidance; and they just ignore the that/who misuse because today’s readers are unaware of the distinction. And, unfortunately, too many editors find and/or acceptable, arguing that it covers all the possibilities — which is exactly the problem: the possibilities aren’t being narrowed.

Yet, and/or is unlike the since/because issue. English has come to accept since and because as synonymous, and thus readers are not really misled by the use of one or the other. But and/or is different; it is a construction that cannot lead to clarity, only to obfuscation. This is not to claim that I never use the construct; I do — and I shouldn’t — but like all other users of English, I, too, fall into the trap of lazy usage. I do not use the construct, however, when precision of communication is required, and I do query the construction when hired to apply my professional editorial skills.

As I have said many times, the key to good editing is to ensure that the author’s intended message is communicated clearly and without misunderstanding (or the possibility of misunderstanding). That goal requires that the and/or construct be abandoned with alacrity by authors and be questioned every time by editors. Remembering that the construct had its origins in legalese, which is noted for its obfuscatory tendencies, should suffice to encourage editors to challenge the construct’s use.

If you want support for a decision to avoid this construct, take heart that both Garner’s Modern American Usage 3rd ed. and Chicago Manual of Style 16th ed. urge avoiding this construct. For an interesting history of the construct, see Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (1994). But when questioning the construct’s use, be prepared to begin with “I say” rather than “Garner says” — think of how much more impressed a client will be when you are authoritative and resources like Garner and Chicago simply support your rationale rather than provide it!

Do you agree? Do you find the and/or construct acceptable?

March 6, 2013

When Editors and Authors Fail

There is at least one area of the manuscript process in which authors and editors equally fail: Their lack of mastery of the tools of their trade, especially Microsoft Word.

What brings this to mind are recent queries on several fora by editors and authors asking how to accomplish what I view as basic procedures in Word, as well as queries asking how to do something in Word for which they already own an add-in to Word, such as EditTools or Editor’s ToolKit Plus, that easily accomplishes the task. I would probably have ignored those fora queries were it not for a manuscript I was asked to look at which was a nightmare of formatting.

What is it about text boxes that attracts authors? What is that compels authors and editors to create yet another new style in a futile attempt to make the manuscript look visually like what they think it should look like as a typeset product? What is it about Word that seduces authors and editors into needing to try “features”? What is it about the tools we use that entices us to take the lazy way of learning how to use them?

Word is a great product except when it is the bane of my existence. I used to curse Microsoft every time I received a manuscript that was riddled with poor formatting choices and myriad styles — more styles than there are pickles in the universe, or so it seemed, and certainly more than needed — as part of the basic (Normal) template. Now I don’t curse Microsoft so much because I realize that it is us end users who succumb to the lure of Word’s “exotic” options who are the primary problem.

Have you ever wondered why Word isn’t flagging a word as misspelled when you think it should? Some basic possibilities that every Word user should know and should check before threatening to punch out their monitor are: Is spell check turned off for the document or for text to which a particular style is applied? Is the wrong language governing the manuscript? Yet, much too often neither the editor nor the author has checked these possibilities.

The problems begin with the author of the document. Every author should know how their manuscript is going to be processed. Is it going to be edited and then typeset in a program like InDesign? If yes, then why worry about “formatting” the manuscript to make it look like you want it to look when published? The reality is all that work will be for naught, and 99% of the time will be done wrong anyway.

If you are writing a manuscript that will be published in English, shouldn’t you make sure that English — not French or Spanish — is the language choice for the document? I am always amazed when I receive a manuscript  that is to be published in English and the language preference is French. Of course, the very first thing an editor should do is verify that the correct language module is being applied by Word and fix it if it is wrong — yet, I often receive for review a document that a client has had edited only to find that the wrong language module is applied.

And why text boxes? Of all the things that are wrong about Word, the text (and graphic) boxes are the absolute worst. Text boxes don’t stick in place; text boxes do not break over pages; if the text box is too big for the page or not big enough to display all of the text it holds, it gives no clue that there is hidden in-box text; text boxes obscure text and other text and graphic boxes — basically, text boxes are evil and not easy to get rid of. Need to box some text? Use a table cell. It works just as well and has none of the evil features of a text box.

More importantly for the author: If the author is paying the editor, the author will save money by not using text boxes because you can’t convert a text box to text like you can convert a table. To avoid the evils of text boxes, the editor has to find each text box, select the text, copy it, paste it outside the text box, then delete the text box — and hope that all of the text was copied.

I know it is called a text box by Microsoft; that doesn’t mean it should be used to put text in a box!

Consider the styles that you create. Is it really necessary to have 18 of the same style with the only difference being the amount the text is condensed or expanded (and why expand or condense the text?) or the fraction of an inch of spacing there is between lines (why not have equal spacing between all lines?). Of course, the editor should be cleaning out excess styles, but there are usually so many, we all give up and let it be someone else’s problem.

What is being missed from this picture is that if the manuscript is going to be professionally typeset, all of these efforts by the author and/or editor to “design” the manuscript and make sure that what is wanted on a page actually displays in Word on a single page are wasted. All will be ignored by the designer and the typesetter; they will use programs and tools appropriate to the design and composition function, such as InDesign, not Microsoft Word, which is a strong word processor but a very weak composition and design engine.

There is much more, but you have the idea. The real problem is that neither author nor editor has taken the time to master the basic tool of their trade. I know editors who use Word but do not even have a single dedicated reference book for the version of Word they are using. They prefer to stumble through, thinking that their role is limited and so they need limited features. Perhaps they do only need limited features, but they can never know if there is another feature that would make their job easier if they were aware of it in the absence of stumbling across it. (When I buy a new version of Word, I also buy several different manuals and spend a full day going through them and the new version.)

Authors use text boxes without thinking about the feature because they think to themselves “I want this material boxed” and so they use a text box — after all, why would it be called a text box if it wasn’t intended to be used to box text? Authors want text to be in columns so they use tabs (or worse, spaces) to try to align the material, when a table would be so much better. (Did they not ever notice that the text they have so beautifully aligned using tabs or spaces is no longer aligned when they change computers or fonts? Or that it often wraps and becomes confusing when moved to another computer?) Why not use the table feature? Usually authors tell me it is because they do not want lines (rules) around the material. OK, but tables do not have to have visible rules.

Authors and editors fail to create the best and least-expensive document to process because neither understands Word’s functions. If both took some time to master the basic tool of their trade, the author could save some money, and the editor could focus more on the editing and less on the peripheral matters that take up so much our time (and thus either raises the author’s cost or decreases the editor’s effective hourly rate and profit).

A lost point is that a feature’s name is not always indicative of what the feature is best used for. To know what feature to use, one must be knowledgable about the tool and all of its features. An editor should be asking, “Why do I need to ask in a forum how to change the language preference from French to English? Why don’t I know how to do this already?”

When it comes to formatting a Word document, less is infinitely better than more.

March 4, 2013

What Do Editors Forget Most Often?

In a way, this is a trick question. After all, editors forget lots of things, just like everyone else. But what I have discovered through very unscientific surveying is that editors forget three very specific things with astonishing frequency.

Who’s Who in the Relationship

The first thing editors tend to forget is their role in the editor-client relationship. Now, I grant that even more egregious forgetting occurs on the client side, having suffered that many times myself, but editors too often set themselves up to “fail” by forgetting their role in the relationship. An editor’s role in the relationship is to either do what the client wants or not undertake the job.

It’s pretty simple but one of the hardest things for an editor to do. Why? Because we are knowledgable about our business, have many years of experience dealing with issues of language and grammar, and as between the client and the editor, we are the “experts” on matters of language. Alas, all that is meaningless

Were we in a corporate setting and sitting in the chair of the vice president for communication discussing with a secretary whether the phrase is simply myriad or is a myriad of or whether it even matters, we know that our decision in favor of one would be binding: the relationship between us and our secretary is such that the secretary has to take the lumping. And so it is in our relationship with our clients: we are in the secretary’s position, yet we too often think that is our client’s position.

Perhaps we know better than our client, but it is the client who is the decider and we need to either learn to live with it or drop the project and the client.

Is it More Than Opinion?

As much as the editor-client relationship power struggle reigns high on the list of things editors tend to forget, the matter of opinion is the sticking point with me.

There is nothing I dislike more than being told by either a colleague or a client than “Chicago says…” or “AMA says…” or “Garner says…” in a manner that conveys that nothing more needs to be said. Don’t misunderstand. It isn’t that I don’t value their opinions, because I do; rather, it is that I am told what they say as if what they say is gospel from the Mount, a universal truth that can neither be questioned nor ignored nor deviated from.

In a way, this ties in to the editor-client relationship. If a client tells me that I am to follow the dictates of Chicago 16, then I either agree to do so or I decline the project. I do not dispute the client’s right to dictate whether compound adjectives should be hyphenated or not.

So my gripe is not with the application of the rules as disclosed by these authorities; instead, my gripe is with clients and colleagues who believe that these are truly rules by which we must live and edit rather than opinions by which we should be guided.

I am of the firm conviction that treatises like Chicago are merely suggestions, guides, if you will, to a method that enhances clarity and consistency. It is nice to be able to point to the hyphenation table on page 375 of Chicago 16 and say to a client that what I did is correct according to Chicago. It relieves me of the burden of justifying my “decision.”

Yet, that is precisely the problem. Reading and understanding the chart is not difficult. It requires little to no discretion on my part. I become just a pencil-pusher, because all that matters is that whatever “decision” I make I can justify by Chicago chapter and verse. So why should a client pay me more for my expertise when there really is no “my” in the “expertise”; the expertise, if any, lies with the team of contributors to the chosen style guide.

Consider, for example, how much discretion an editor has when styling references. None, really. I understand this when applied to references because references are really a more mechanical task than most editorial tasks. But should this mechanical approach also apply to the explanatory text, the main body of the book?

I think an editor has an obligation to remind a client that the style guides are just that — guides, not the holy gospel of editing. A professional editor brings to a project much more than the ability to read and understand a table of hyphenation or the mechanics of styling a reference. A professional editor brings to the project — or should bring to the project — the ability to understand language and make editorial decisions that enhance the author’s communication with the reader. And, most importantly, the professional editor should bring the ability to justify those decisions without saying “Chicago says…” or “AMA says…” or “Garner says….” The professional editor should be able to say “I say…” and then build the case for the decision based on multiple sources and reasons, even if contrary to what a style guide declares. And if the editor’s decision conforms to that of the style guide, the editor should be able to justify that decision by saying “I followed Chicago‘s suggestion because….” In other words, the editor should be the decision maker and should be able to justify the decision made using the style guides as one leg of support but not the whole support.

Isn’t the knowledge to make and ability to justify editorial decisions that fall outside the purview of a guide’s opinion the hallmark of the professional editor? This is what editors too often forget. We need to remind ourselves and our clients that although we often agree with a style guide, we sometimes disagree, and when we disagree, we do so knowledgeably and because we have the client’s interest in communicating clearly with readers uppermost in our mind.

Editing is a Business

The third, and final (for this article), most often forgotten thing is that editing is a business, not a hobby. Long-time readers of An American Editor recognize this statement: I make it often, and do so because the mantra too often falls on deaf ears or goes in one ear and out the other.

Here the focus is on the editor. Editors too often forget that they are a business and that they must view everything from that perspective. It is wonderful that you want to undertake the local SPCA’s newsletter as a freebie to give it the professional polish that organization deserves. But that doesn’t mean abandoning business principles. No matter how much you love the SPCA, you need to demand that it approach its dealings with you on a business-to-business basis. Payment or lack of payment is not the determinant.

Your time is valuable. You must respect it and the demands made on it; you must also insist that others do the same. A client is a client; a project is a project. Decisions you make should be made exactly the same way whether the client is a charity you love or a corporation you are indifferent about. And charity clients should be subject to firing on the same terms as a noncharity client. Being a business means acting like a business.

Thus we have three things that are important to editors that editors too often forget: (a) the client is the ultimate editorial decider in the editor-client relationship; (b) that editorial “authorities” such as style guides are simply one opinion in a spectrum of opinions and that the knowledge to make and ability to justify editorial decisions that fall outside the purview of a guide’s opinion is the hallmark of the professional editor; and (c) that no matter what project we do, whether a freebie for a local charity or a highly paid corporate document, we do so as a business and all decisions relating to any project need to be made as business decisions.

March 1, 2013

A Video Interlude: All of Life Should Be Like This

Filed under: A Video Interlude — Rich Adin @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , ,

Sometimes people do great and wondrous things for fellow beings — they create magic moments for others by demonstrating respect for them, as well as self-respect, thereby restoring faith in the overall goodness of humankind.

The following link will take you to video that is a wonderful example of exactly that. Kudos to the parents, coaches, players, and the classmates. This should be must watching for everyone, but especially for politicians who could learn a very important lesson.

A Magic Moment

It is amazing what a simple gesture can do to change one’s life.

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