An American Editor

May 8, 2013

The Commandments: Thou Shall be Efficient

Filed under: Commandments for Editors,The Commandments — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , , ,

It is not enough to say that an editor has to be profitable (see The Commandments: Thou Shall be Profitable); a business must also be efficient in the delivery of its goods and services. Thus the commandment: Thou shall be efficient!

Efficiency has many facets. Included under the efficiency umbrella are the steps an editor takes before editing a manuscript — the preparatory steps (see, e.g., Business of Editing: The Logistics of Large Projects). Also included are the steps an editor takes during editing to promote speed, accuracy, and consistency, as well as the steps (the planning) the editor takes to meet a schedule and those an editor takes to find and retain clients.

With today’s worldwide competition for editorial work and the resulting depression of fees — and let us not forget the rise in authors who believe they can do it all themselves, which rise is a result of the rise of ebook self-publishing — the need for editorial efficiency is greater than ever.

Two things clients look for are low price and short schedule. Everyone is in a hurry. When I started as an editor, my clients’ primary concern was getting it right — schedules were flexible. Today, as a result of the continual consolidation in the publishing industry and the rising power of the accountants, schedule is the highest priority among publishers (with low editorial and production costs a very close second). In addition, authors and publishers often do not have large reservoirs of patience for the editing process.

The pressure of low fees and short schedules means that editors need to be more efficient in order to earn a reasonable living from editing. The effective hourly rate has to be foremost in an editor’s mind (see Thinking About Money: What Freelancers Need to Understand for a discussion of the effective hourly rate). The ultimate question is: How does an editor become more efficient?

Some ways we have discussed previously, such as our discussion on macros (see, e.g., The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online II — The Macros). But mastering macros is not enough. We must also be, for example, masters of Microsoft Word. We must also revise our approach to editing.

When we are paid by the hour, we can be less efficient than when we are paid by the page or the project, because the client is paying us without regard to efficiency, although there are limits to the number of hours for which a client will willingly pay. The problem from an editor’s perspective is that when we are paid by the hour, we are limited in our earning capacity and it becomes ever more important that we be able to fill our work week with work. If we are paid $30 and hour, all we can earn is $30 an hour and if we only work 20 hours in a week, we are paid only for those 20 hours.

In addition, there is no incentive to quickly finish a project because the next project will also pay us $30 an hour and it doesn’t matter which project is paying us as long as we are getting paid. (Of course, we are not really earning $30 an hour because that number is reduced considerably when we include the hours for which we are not being paid but which are also work hours; that is, when we calculate our effective hourly rate.)

Yet efficiency can bring some rewards even to the hourly earner. Being efficient reduces the hours we need to spend on a project and thus enables us to take on additional projects and additional clients — we can expand our base. Efficiency can help move us from being dependent on a particular client to a broad base of clients.

One aspect of efficiency is the number of reading passes an editor makes. Discussing with colleagues how they process a manuscript can be revealing. Some do multiple passes over a manuscript in an attempt to find and correct lingering errors. Others try to minimize the number of passes, especially if they are not being paid by the hour.

Limiting the number of passes to one or two is doable, depending on the type of manuscript (e.g., novel, nonfiction book, journal article), the client (e.g., whether author or publisher), the software used (e.g., PerfectIt, EditTools, specialized spell checkers), the client’s requirements, and the type of edit one is hired to perform (e.g., developmental, copyedit; see Editor, Editor, Everywhere an Editor). It is not true that every pass an editor makes over a manuscript makes the manuscript more error-free. That may be true for one, two, possibly three passes, but there comes a point when returns diminish — not because there are no errors, but because we begin to see what we expect to see, not necessarily what is really there. We become overfamiliar with the manuscript. Consequently, doing fewer passes can be both more efficient and more productive. (We, and our clients, need to accept that there really is no such thing as a 100% error-free manuscript, especially when many “errors” are subjective errors.)

Efficiency is also had by using the correct tools. Studies are very clear that using multiple monitors, for example, increases productivity and efficiency. Using two monitors increases efficiency by 50%; add a third and gain another 25%; add a fourth and gain another 5%. Basically, editing with three monitors seems to be the most efficient and productive. I know that I have found using three 24-inch rotating monitors has made it much easier for me to edit quickly, efficiently, and accurately. It allows me to, for example, drag and drop between documents, each document on its own screen. It also allows me to have my stylesheet open and before me at all times, as well research tools.

Efficiency is also found in reducing the number of keystrokes needed to process information. I have found invaluable a keyboard accessory called XKeys. I have used the Pro PS2 version for more than 10 years; it is what allows me to access many of my macros by the press of a single key. I have assigned each of the buttons on the XKeys to a key combination that I would not normally use (e.g., Ctrl+Alt+Shift+K) and I assign one of my macros to that key combination. Using Xkeys makes using macros like Toggle much more efficient.

Efficiency also means tracking one’s time carefully. An editor needs to know what areas of editing go relatively “fast” and what go “slow.” By identifying the areas that take longer to process, the editor can focus on ways to make such work go faster. More importantly, if an editor finds that she can process certain types of material faster and more accurately than other types, the editor now knows where to focus her marketing efforts.

Similarly, an editor needs to know her strengths and weaknesses. For example, I know that I am a fumble-fingered typist. Consequently, I know that if I have to type nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs, I am likely to mistype it and need to correct my typing, which makes both the original typing and the correction typing inefficient. Thus I know that I can increase my efficiency by having that phrase typed correctly once in my Toggle dataset and then pressing a key combination (or, in my case, an Xkeys button) to have it automatically typed.

Efficiency is good for the editor and for the client. No client wants to pay for an editor’s learning or redoing curve, and most editors want to increase their earning power. Analyzing how you work and trying to improve on it is a fundamental part of any business.

Thus the commandment: Thou shall be efficient!

7 Comments »

  1. It’s interesting (to me, anyway) how the skills required for editing have changed. When I began, all you needed was a pencil (or pen; McGraw-Hill wanted you to edit in green ink, which could be “erased” with chlorine bleach) and reference books, plus your own knowledge of language.

    Now you need computers and a lot of technical knowledge about how to use ever-changing software. I think it’s a tradeoff. Computers simplify some of the boring parts of editing, but editors are now expected to do more of the boring parts that typesetters used to do. (“Boring” is, of course subjective, but I’ve always been more interested in content and clear expression than in formatting.)

    But another thing that has changed is the ability to communicate with other freelancers, to share knowledge about how to edit more effectively. When I began, I felt very isolated. I had no idea if I was doing more or less than was expected of me, had no idea if my approach to the work was the best one. In-house people were overworked and had no time to give me feedback.

    So thanks for writing about these things.

    Like

    Comment by Gretchen — May 8, 2013 @ 7:05 am | Reply

  2. […] The Commandments: Thou Shall be Efficient | An American Editor. […]

    Like

    Pingback by Editors’ Commandments: Thou Shall be Efficient #editing | More Than Words — May 9, 2013 @ 3:57 pm | Reply

  3. I’ll second Gretchen on the yawntrification of editing with the shift into formatting. Some clients think that’s all that editing is–setting tab indents and squeezing text into the available space. Meh.

    I also love being castigated for “missing” italics on projects when the layout software erases the italics that were inserted during editing (in word processing software). Or having to edit in, say, InDesign.

    A sure sign that the digital age has arrived is the recent irruption of young editors who have no knowledge of standard copyediting marks. They do all their editing in Track Changes. Hand them hard copy and they look at you like they’re examining a museum fossil.

    Like

    Comment by Will Harmon — May 9, 2013 @ 6:55 pm | Reply

  4. […] The Logistics of Large Projects, wherein I discuss using my Journals macro. Also see, e.g., The Commandments: Thou Shall be Efficient.) Knowing that I have certain efficiencies in my business allows me to be flexible with rates for […]

    Like

    Pingback by Business of Editing: Lower Your Rate? | An American Editor — July 1, 2013 @ 4:02 am | Reply

  5. […] The business side includes such things as record keeping, calculating rates, determining the services to provide, advertising, etc. — in other words, all of the same things that every other business has to do. The twin goals of the business side are to be profitable and to be efficient (see The Commandments: Thou Shall be Profitable and The Commandments: Thou Shall be Efficient). […]

    Like

    Pingback by Is Editing Teachable? | An American Editor — December 4, 2013 @ 4:04 am | Reply

  6. […] As I mentioned earlier, this is when you simply read the story to familiarize yourself with the author’s style, the characters, the setting, the plot, and so on. No style sheets are required at this point, except perhaps for quick reference. Don’t get bogged down in making and noting style decisions while you are acquainting yourself with the story. In fact, this pass is the only time (except when I’m traveling) that I use my laptop for paid work, because I can do it on one screen, whereas I do the rest of my work on my mighty desktop, HARV (named for the Harvard Mark I; see “IBM’s ASCC Introduction (a.k.a. the Harvard Mark I)”), and its four screens. (I’d like to point out that this is one more monitor than Rich Adin has, heh heh.) I find the multiple monitors especially useful for fiction, because I keep five documents (plus browser and e-mail) open as I edit: the manuscript plus my four style sheets for characters, places, timeline, and general style. (See Rich’s discussion of the increased efficiency of multiple monitors at “The Commandments: Thou Shall Be Efficient”.) […]

    Like

    Pingback by Thinking Fiction: The First Pass — Just Read It! | An American Editor — November 10, 2014 @ 4:00 am | Reply

  7. […] The American Editor quantified the time savings. […]

    Like

    Pingback by Multiple Monitors for Editing Efficiency » Right Angels and Polo Bears — June 14, 2016 @ 11:11 am | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: