An American Editor

June 26, 2013

On Language: Infer or State?

In a recent opinion column, the columnist wrote: The “annual rate fell 58 percent, from 5 [sexual assault] victimizations per 1,000 females age 12 or older to 2.1….” The editorial question is this: Should “age 12 or older” be edited to read “age 12 years or older”?

We, meaning readers as well as editors, “understand” that the writer means “age 12 years or older” — or at least we infer the years — but should we infer or should the author state clearly that years is the measure?

This is not as nit-picky as it appears. Sixty years ago, I do not think there was ever any mention of a sexual assault made on an infant; today, such crimes are reported regularly by the media. Consequently, how do we know that “age 12 or older” means years and not months or weeks? In fact, how do we know that a reader will infer years rather than days, weeks, or months? If I had just read a story about the assault of a 12-week-old baby, I might well decide that “age 12 or older” means “age 12 weeks or older.”

This is the fundamental problem with inferred or assumed matters. What the author intends to be inferred or assumed may not be what the reader infers or assumes, which can change the message entirely. (Not only was the article not clear about the measure, it similarly referred to incidents of “sexual assault” but never defined what that meant.)

What was an otherwise well-written op-ed piece, became a not-so-well-written-message-lost op-ed piece because both the author and the editor forgot the basic requirement of written communication: clarity. The acceptance of inferred/assumed terms in written material is too commonplace. Granted at times it has little consequence in a novel, because fiction often wants readers to draw their own conclusions — sometimes as in a good mystery to let the reader lead herself astray, sometimes because it doesn’t matter to the story — yet there are many times in fiction writing when the failure to be precise makes a story difficult to follow.

In contrast, however, allowing the reader to infer or assume in nonfiction is always problematic. This is one indication of poor authorship, and it is poor editing that allows it to stand unchallenged. Nonfiction is intended to be fact-based and to relate facts about the topic to the reader. When a reader has to supply some of those facts himself, the reader may choose erroneous facts — suddenly what was a demonstration of the existence of humankind’s impact on global warming becomes proof that humankind has no impact at all. To try to go back afterward and supply the missing information that had to be assumed/inferred by the reader subjects the author to charges of manipulation of the data after the fact and, more importantly, greatly weakens the author’s argument.

The difficulty that authors face is that they already know what they mean and so read “age 12 or older” correctly. The omission is not obvious; it does not stand out like a sword waiting to prick the bubble of the author’s argument.

The difficulty that editors face is that they are like authors in that they, too, see what they expect (see The WYSIWYG Conundrum: The Solid Cloud). Yet, this is one hallmark of the professional editor (in contrast to the nonprofessional editor) — the ability to set aside expectations and to see what assumptions readers are being asked to make and the implications of making those assumptions. It is not that the editor can decide whether “age 12 or older” should be, for example, “age 12 years or older” or “age 12 months or older,” although that may be possible from the context of the surrounding material, but rather that the editor can see the problem of letting the reader draw her own conclusion and can note the problem to the author who should provide the fix.

Ultimately the question becomes this: Is there a time when, in nonfiction, the editor should allow the reader to infer or assume or does the professional editor always query instances that require the reader to supply missing facts? Here opinions vary among editors. I am of the opinion that there is never a time when the reader should be allowed to infer or assume facts in nonfiction. I am also of the opinion that the times when it is permissible in fiction are very limited.

I think it is important to not permit a reader to infer or assume facts because to do so means that the author hasn’t provided the complete message that she is trying to communicate to the reader. If there is no complete message, what is the purpose of the writing? Why has the author invested time and effort in writing if the author does not intend to say something? Alongside the intent to send a message to the reader is the need to do so precisely and concisely and in a manner that does not leave the reader wondering whether the author means a or b or even anything at all.

I have repeatedly said that the one cardinal rule of editing, the one rule that supersedes all other rules, including those of grammar and spelling, is that the author’s writing must communicate the author’s message to the reader without any confusion on the part of the reader as to what the message is. The failure to meet that rule is an authorial and an editorial failure. The sole purpose of writing is communication. (Yes, writing is also intended to, for example, entertain, but this and purposes other than communication are secondary to the primary purpose of communication.)

In the example of “age 12 or older,” it is the editor’s responsibility to, at minimum, query the author to supply the measure. Because an author’s response is likely to be, “You’ve got to be kidding me. It is obviously years,” the editor needs to explain, at least the first time such a query is made, why precision is important and illustrate how easy it would be for a reader to make the wrong inference.

Do you query in these instances or let the author’s wording stand?

June 24, 2013

Ebooks, Nook, & Barnes & Noble

Long-time readers of An American Editor are probably wondering whatever happened to the articles about ebooks. The answer really is that nothing much has been happening in ebookworld. The novelty of ebooks has worn off and there really hasn’t been such great movement in hardware as to warrant regular posts. In addition, all the problems previously noted about self-published ebooks remain.

I also haven’t done any book reviews — pbook or ebook — in a long time because I haven’t read any exceptionally great or exceptionally poor books in months. Most of the books I have read are worthy of at least 4 stars and approaching 5 stars; none have been worse than 3 stars. Do not misunderstand: The ratio of good-to-bad ebooks hasn’t changed (I’d guess there is 1 good ebook for every 25 poor ebooks in the self-publishing market), I’ve simply gotten better at weeding through the garbage and not wasting any effort on unworthy books.

Alas, the one trend I have noticed, it having become more pronounced, is that the quality of traditionally published ebooks in particular, although this is also true of an increasing number of pbooks, is getting worse. There is clearly a lack of competent, professional proofreading and editing.

The one significant change in the ebook industry has been the question of whether Nook is a dying brand. Not being an industry insider, I have no crystal ball knowledge about what is happening with Nook, except that Barnes & Noble seems to be selling the Nooks at rock-bottom prices.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, a few weeks ago I bought the Nook HD+ tablet on a great sale at my local B&N. It is still on sale at the stores and online. If you are looking for an excellent Android tablet, you should take advantage of this sale. In the few weeks that I have had this 9-inch tablet (the 7-inch HD is also on sale), I have come to prefer this device to any of my other ebook reading devices. It also has the advantage of being a real Android tablet (with the exception that you can only install apps from either Google Play or the Nook App store), so I can readily use it just as I would use any other tablet. I’m even enjoying watching the BBC’s “Sherlock” via Netflix streaming on the HD+.

I wouldn’t worry about whether Nook is a dying brand. The HD tablets are sophisticated enough that they will be usable for several years at least and at the sale price are less expensive than other similar specification Android devices.

But this brings me to B&N itself. In past posts I have suggested that B&N could resurrect itself. I still believe it can; it needs to surgically remove the cancer of exceedingly poor leadership at the very top. I cannot imagine any company making a comeback under the type of leadership B&N currently has.

A long time ago, I suggested that B&N has a significant advantage over Amazon, an advantage it needs to exploit — to-wit, its physical stores. I’m still waiting. I suggested that B&N should turn the stores into Nook centers; that is, a place where Nook users can bring their Nooks for person-to-person help. B&N has taken the first step in that when I bought my HD+ I happened to notice a small sign saying that there are Nook classes available, just ask a bookseller. But no one mentioned it to me when I bought the Nook — nor to any of the other people who were buying Nooks.

This should have been part of a massive ad campaign something like this: “Need Kindle help? Go online or call. Need Nook help? Go online, call, or go to your local B&N store where you can get hands-on Nook help, browse books, have a complimentary coffee, and get a 15% discount on all books, including ebooks, purchased while in the store.” The point is that B&N should be taking advantage of the synergy of the Nook and the physical store. But that appears to be asking for too much creativity from current B&N management.

The question is this: What is the future for B&N if it abandons the Nook? I know that top B&N management thinks the future will be rosier if Nook is spun off or sold or, in a worse case scenario, allowed to die, but that is really just another example of why B&N will likely follow Borders in the absence of management change. Short-sighted thinking seems to be the rule, which is exactly the opposite of Amazon’s management. I have to give Amazon and Jeff Bezos the credit they are due — they think long-term not short-term, which is why Amazon controls the retail book market in the United States.

There are three changes I have called for over the years that need to be made at B&N: (1) change top management, (2) fix customer service, and (3) make Nook and the B&N stores synergistic. It is pretty clear that current management thinks the solution is anything but those three. The idea that if B&N goes private all its troubles will disappear is to be an ostrich. The exact same problems will persist, only the ownership will have changed from public to private.

Does it matter whether and how B&N survives? Yes, on many levels it does matter. The problem is that survival is unlikely as long as management continues to think 19th century instead of 21st century.

Which brings us back to the question of whether you should buy a Nook. The answer is still yes for a lot of reasons, not least of which is the quality of the Nook HD/HD+ tablet. Even if B&N does go under, it won’t be immediate and the tablet can still access nearly any ePub ebook. In addition, as noted earlier, it is an excellent Android tablet that should easily last several years.

June 19, 2013

Business of Editing: Raising Prices

It seems like there is no such thing as an easy topic when it comes to the business of editing. In reviewing past articles, it seems I have called nearly every topic a difficult topic for editors. And here I go again. The issues of whether, when, and how/how much to raise prices are three more difficult issues with which an editor has to grapple.

Whether to raise one’s prices depends on a lot of factors. Who are your clients; what types of documents you edit; what services you provide; whether quantity of work is more important to you than receiving what you consider fair or adequate compensation; what both your direct and indirect competitors charge; how easily a client can move the work to a lower-priced editor; and myriad other considerations.

Each editor is different. For example, I prefer to have every day of the year loaded with work — enough to keep myself and several other editors busy — and so am willing to accept a price that is lower than I think my work is worth. Some colleagues with whom I have discussed this topic prefer to have less work, even with not knowing how much down time they will have, but receive higher compensation. Where you fit in this scheme, only you can decide, as there is no single correct answer.

However, regardless of where your preferences fit, you must be aware of market conditions and what your competition is charging. I know that there is a school of thought that says we need to move away from thinking in terms of hourly pay (with which I agree) and instead think in terms of the value we add to a product (with which I agree philosophically but recognize the impracticability of in real-world editing). The oft-used example is web design, where the designer, when asked by the client what the price will be, replies with her own question, “Why do you want your website redesigned?” The client responds that the redesign will generate $100,000 of new business, so the designer says, “Isn’t it worth spending $20,000 to earn $100,000?” Needless to say, the client agrees, the designer charges what she values her work to be worth, and all is well. Alas, that doesn’t work for editing.

That is not how negotiations go between editors and clients. Editors cannot identify anything in their work that will increase a client’s sales by a sum certain or a definite quantity. No client says to an editor, “the value of your editing will increase my book’s sales by 50%.” Editing is more invisible than that. Additionally, editing protects the after-sale reputation of the client; it doesn’t generate the initial sales.

So whether we should raise (or lower) our prices depends on a lot of factors that are outside our control but are important to consider. Once that hurdle is overcome, the timing of a price raise must be considered.

Some editors do a general announcement at the first of the year. A new year seems like a logical time to raise prices, especially if your clientele is individual authors rather than companies. If your clients are companies, however, you need to consider timing in several ways: How much lead time is necessary between the announcement and the implementation? Is there a better (or worse) time of the year to raise prices for a company client? Should you even raise current client prices or just use the new pricing for new clients?

When raising prices, I try to keep in mind the client’s fiscal year. I recognize that my clients plan a budget far in advance and that trying to raise prices in the middle of a budget is asking the client to hire someone else. Consequently, if I raise prices, I try to give 6 to 12 months’ notice. I also make it clear that any already scheduled project will not be affected by the price rise. So, at the same time that I announce a price increase, I encourage the client to preschedule as many projects as it can to lock in the old price.

The last piece of the puzzle is the how/how much. Some editors announce a single price increase (e.g. $1 for the year); others announce an overall amount but in increments (e.g., $1 for the year in 25¢ increments every 3 months); and still other editors simply go for small but more often amounts (e.g., 25¢ every 3 months).

One thing that is important to consider in the how/how much contemplation is the percentage the increase represents. This has long been a trick of marketing. To say you will receive a $5 discount is not as effective as saying you will receive a 50% discount, even though that 50% equals $5. Similarly, it looks better and a client may more easily accept a small price increase represented in dollars than the same amount represented as a percentage if the percentage exceeds 5%. In my experience, 5% seems to be the magic percentage. However, what you need to do is make the raise look as minimal as possible; the more minimal it looks, the more palatable it will be to the client.

I am not a fan of incremental raises. Clients rapidly come to think you are nickel-and-diming them. I think it is best to do yearly increases of relatively nominal amounts.

Of course, all this assumes that you are able to raise your prices. Some editors are able to do so, but many editors, myself included in the past couple of years, have been able to only hold steady on our pricing and even have had to lower our pricing. This is a result of competition plus the lack of, in the United States, a true professional organization that separates professional from nonprofessional editors.

Ease of entry and the constant influx of people who claim to be editors has put significant downward pressure on editing prices. Combine this with the globalization of editing and trouble is brewing in raising-prices land. In addition, one’s approach to editing is important.

I, for example, have decided that I would rather be busy and keep other editors busy than raise my prices. I prefer quantity. Consequently, I consciously decided that it is preferable to compete within my sphere than to have idle time, even though I would receive a higher price. (This does not mean, however, that I will accept work at a price that is below what I have determined to be my minimum acceptable price — my pricing floor.) My ultimate earnings would be about the same, but I prefer not to have the idle time. Consequently, to meet my goal of no idle time for myself and additional editors, I had to lower my pricing.

Did I make the smart move? Again, it depends on what you want. But I also look at it like a challenge. This is one of the reasons I created EditTools and keep modifying and adding to it: I needed and wanted to maximize my effective hourly rate while lowering my price so I could keep busy. In other words, I take steps that have the same ultimate effect as raising my price — steps that make the editing go faster, although with increased accuracy, which means my effective hourly rate rises.

Raising prices depends on so many factors that no one can give you one-size-fits-all advice. The most difficult part of the equation is the whether factor. Resolving that question — whether to raise, retain, or lower your price — is the most difficult and the most important consideration; once you resolve that, the when and how/how much will fall into place.

June 17, 2013

The Commandments: Thou Shall Treat Editors as Partners

We recently edited a new book that was badly written. Not only was it badly written, but we were financially and time-wise constrained. So, as we typically do, we do the best we can within the limitations imposed.

The usual process is for us to receive a manuscript that an author has already gone through a few times and often has had crowd-editing by friends and colleagues. In addition, it has received whatever developmental editing it will receive. We are hired to copyedit the manuscript. (For a discussion of the difference between copyediting and developmental editing, see Editor, Editor, Everywhere an Editor.) After we have copyedited the manuscript, it goes back to the author to approve or reject any changes we have made, to answer/address any author queries we have inserted, and to give it yet another read in case we missed something.

This last step is important. Like authors, we editors are human and we make mistakes and we do miss things that seem very obvious. In this particular editing job, the editor missed a very obvious error. The author had written “Jack and Jill is a married couple” and the editor failed to change the is to are. Out of more than 100 changes the editor made to this particular chapter, the editor missed this change, but that was enough. The author latched onto this error and wrote: “I suggest you review the edited pages I sent in and develop a list for you to use when speaking with the editor of this project.  As I am not compensated to help you do your job, I will offer the most blatant example and then let you do your due diligence on your end.”

This author ignored the commandment: Thou shall treat the editor as a partner, not as an adversary.

I looked at the “edited” pages the author had returned and found only one change the author had made (added a description), which was clearly not a change because of an editing error. Aside from that one change and a comment that praised a rewording done by the editor, the author noted no other “errors.” So I went through the particular chapter and a couple of others to see if I could figure out what the author’s complaint was, but I couldn’t find anything.

The author failed to treat the editor as a partner; instead, the editor was treated as an adversary. First, by not listing or identifying what the author perceived as errors. It is difficult to address unidentified “errors.” Second, the author made a general, broad-brush complaint. This is not helpful to anyone. The author failed to understand that the editing of his book is a collaborative process between the editor and the author, not an adversarial process. The professional editors I know are willing to correct errors they have made, but they are not willing to keep reediting a manuscript simply because an author proclaims dissatisfaction.

The third error this author (and many authors) make is refusing to understand and accept the parameters of the editing process for which the editor was hired. For example, this author also complained about the layout (not an editor’s job at all) and about the failure of the copyeditor to provide both a copyedit and a developmental edit.

The fourth and most important error the author made is to believe that to point out errors is doing the editor’s job and that the author has no role in doing so because the author is “uncompensated.” The author is the one who has everything at stake, not the editor. The book will be published in the author’s name, not the editor’s name. Any error that remains will be attributable to the author, not to the anonymous editor. As the largest stakeholder in the final manuscript, the author does have a responsibility to identify perceived errors.

I find it troubling that an author would look at 100 errors, find 99 of them corrected, but ignore the 99 and rant about the one that was missed (the author should point out the error, but not go on a rant about the editing). I also find it troubling that an author willingly ignores the sorry state of the delivered manuscript and the time and financial constraints under which the editor is working, and focuses on the one error, which error was introduced by the author.

Authors need to look at the manuscript broadly and not focus on one or two errors that slip past the editor. Authors need to remember that editors are human and suffer from the same problem as do authors: they sometimes see what they expect to see. We are not immune just because we are editors. Authors also need to recognize that the editor could have as easily caught the error about which the author is now complaining, but missed one of the other 99 errors.

Authors need to recognize that the editorial process is a collaborative process. If an author is reviewing an edited manuscript, the author should at least point out the missed error. The author could also correct it.

In the instant case, the author was uninterested in the constraints under which the editor worked. When publishers and authors demand a short editing schedule, they have to expect errors to remain. Something has to give to meet the schedule; the most obvious thing to give is second passes. This is especially true when the client demands that material be submitted in batches.

As many of us have experienced, publishers and authors are also putting pressure on pricing. For many authors and publishers, the paramount consideration is price followed by meeting a short schedule. Quality takes a backseat to those requirements. Low price and fast schedule cannot equate to a perfect edit. A perfect edit takes time.

Authors do have responsibilities when it comes to their manuscript. To think otherwise is to end in the publication of a poorly prepared manuscript. Authors need to think of editors as their partners, not as their adversaries. Authors also need to get away from the false demarcations of who is responsible for what when it comes to their manuscripts.

Thus the commandment for authors: Thou shall treat your editor as a partner, not as an adversary!

June 12, 2013

The Struggle to Make a Living

It doesn’t matter the forum. Wherever editors gather, there are two groups of editors: those making a living from their editing work and those struggling to do so. By making a living, I mean earning enough to give the editor the life the editor wants.

I couch it vaguely because earning a living means different things to different people. Some people are very happy earning $35,000 a year; others aren’t happy unless they are earning $70,000 or more a year. Some are happy if they earn enough to pay the monthly bills and still have a little bit left over when their income is combined with that of a significant other; others aren’t happy unless they can easily pay the monthly bills solely from their own income and have quite a bit left over.

The key isn’t how much you are earning but whether what you are earning meets your needs and expectations.

If you are struggling to meet your financial needs and have been doing so for a number of years, you are doing something wrong. What you are doing wrong can be almost anything, from whether this is the right profession for you, to failing to promote your business in the right market segments, to being inefficient, to insisting on being a solopreneur, to myriad other possibilities.

Usually there are competing desires: to edit a particular type of manuscript (e.g., mystery, biography, fantasy, erotica, medical, science, educational, doctoral dissertations, etc.); to work with a particular audience (e.g., companies, authors, publishers, advertising agencies, etc.); to living location (e.g., rural, urban, north, south); and so on, all of which require compromise.

No matter what competing desires there are, if you are struggling to meet your financial needs and have been doing so for a number of years, you are doing something wrong. The question you should be asking is: “What am I doing wrong?” This is a very difficult question to answer because we are blinded by our self-perceptions and by our limited knowledge, especially of business. Editors tend to be high on creativity and low on business skills. Perhaps that is why we are often much better editors than we are businesspeople.

Yet strugglers cannot avoid in-depth self-analysis if they ever want to move from the struggling ranks to the nonstruggling ranks. The analysis has to begin with the business aspects, not the editing aspects, because it is often the business aspects that are our downfall. The business aspects include everything but the actual editing process. For example, whether to buy and use a software program like EditTools is an aspect of editing; whether to change focus from women’s fiction to American history is an aspect of business.

If you are struggling, you are not competing well in your chosen market. Why is that? What steps should you take to overcome that problem? Every aspect of your business needs to be scrutinized, including: how quickly you respond to e-mail queries; how much time you spend socializing online; how much time and money you spend on marketing; what kind of marketing you are doing that isn’t working; and so on.

But the most important thing that a struggler needs to do is change his thinking. We recently discussed the solopreneur versus the company. No one, except me, came forward in favor of the company approach; what discussion there was tended toward praising and defending the solopreneurship or saying “different strokes for different folks.” I understand the thinking, because when I started as a freelance editor, my thinking was precisely the same: solopreneurship forever! But I struggled and I rethought.

My point is not that solopreneurs should become companies. Rather, it is that, if you are struggling — be it as a company or a solopreneur — you need to be open to considering what you are currently not doing. You need to analyze objectively, setting aside the emotional aspects and focusing on the cold facts aspects (and later let the emotional aspects have a whack). If your marketing efforts are largely confined to social media and participating on LinkedIn, perhaps you need to think spending less time and effort on the social media and about running a classified ad in the New York Review of Books or Writer’s Digest. Maybe you need to
raise your rates – and come up with ways to support those higher rates when clients push back (see Business of Editing: “I Can Get It Cheaper!”). Expanding your thinking is the first step down the road to ending struggling to make a living.

After tackling the business aspects, the struggler needs to analyze the editorial aspects. This includes the fundamental question of whether you should be a freelance editor. Assuming you should, you need to objectively analyze your editing process. Are there things you can do to streamline the process? Can you make an editing job that normally takes 25 hours take 20 hours and still give a high-quality edit? Is it really necessary to include three passes for the fee you are charging? Should you change the way you charge?

One thing the struggler needs to do is to talk with nonstrugglers to try to learn what they do. For example, if you talk to nonstrugglers and find that most of them charge a project fee and you are charging an hourly fee, perhaps you need to rethink your hourly fee. Or if you find that nonstrugglers spend time macroizing routine tasks, perhaps you should take a few days and learn to write macros. Or maybe the nonstrugglers discovered that editing children’s literature could never pay well because of the uncompensated demands put on editors by the publishers and so changed from children’s literature to academic publishers.

A professional editor should not be struggling. I grant that the world has changed greatly through the globalization of publishing and the rise of book packagers and self-publishers. But there are still opportunities; we just need to position ourselves to grab them by making ourselves flexible. The model that worked yesterday may not work today and we need to adapt yesterday’s model to today’s needs.

It is difficult to do, but what we need to do — what strugglers need to do — is what every business and profession has to do: Change as the world changes around us or fade away.

June 10, 2013

On Today’s Bookshelf (XIII)

It has been months since I last shared what I am reading with you. (If you are interested in reading prior On Today’s Bookshelf articles, please click the link “On Today’s Bookshelf” above.) Alas, I wish I could say that my to-be-read pile is getting smaller, but it isn’t. It seems as if not a day passes when I am not adding yet another book or two or three to the TBR pile; although I am managing to make my way through the books, I am adding new books faster than I can read what books I already have in the TBR pile.

In a way, my situation has become more complicated. Recently, Barnes & Noble sent me a coupon for a great deal on the Nook HD or HD+. The HD is a 7-inch tablet with a 720p screen; the HD+ is a 9-inch tablet with a 1080p screen. I already own — and am very happy with — a 7-inch Nook Tablet (it’s just not high definition) but after looking at the device in my local B&N, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to buy the HD+ for slightly more than half price. So now I have a Sony 7-inch eInk reader that my wife uses, a 7-inch Nook Tablet, and a 9-inch Nook HD+ Tablet.

What I have done is divide my books. On the Nook Tablet, I read fiction; on the Nook HD+ I am reading nonfiction and occasionally watching a video. The Nook HD+ is perfect for nonfiction and for PDF documents. However, the more I use the HD+ tablet, the more I like it, so I expect it won’t be long before all my books are on the HD+.

Here is a list of some of the books that I am reading (or acquired since the last On Today’s Bookshelf post) either in hardcover or in ebook form:

Nonfiction —

  • If Rome Hadn’t Fallen by Timothy Venning
  • The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara Tuchman
  • Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
  • The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss
  • Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British by Jeremy Paxman
  • Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions by Susan Tice & Cami Ostman
  • Inside the Centre: The Life of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Ray Monk
  • Hitler’s Commanders by Samuel W. Mitchum, Jr.
  • Carthage Must be Destroyed by Richard Miles
  • Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham
  • Perfect Victim by Christine McGuire & Carla Norton
  • A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance by William Manchester
  • Scandalous Women: The Lives and Loves of History’s Most Notorious Women by Elizabeth Mahon
  • The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler’s Germany 1944-1945 by Ian Kershaw
  • Belisarius: The Last Roman General by Ian Hughes
  • The Forge of Christendom: The End of Days and the Epic Rise of the West by Tom Holland
  • All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945 by Max Hastings
  • The First Four Notes: Beethoven’s Fifth and the Human Imagination by Matthew Guerrieri
  • The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York by Matthew Goodman
  • Caesar: Life of a Colossus by Adrian Goldsworthy
  • The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language by Mark Forsyth
  • A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War by Amanda Foreman
  • Cicero by Anthony Everitt
  • Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan 1839-1842 by William Dalrymple
  • The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars by Paul Collins
  • The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang
  • The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century by Alan Brinkley
  • The Second World War by Antony Beevor
  • The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I by Stephen Alford

Fiction —

  • House of Steel: The Honorverse Companion, Vol. 1 and In Fury Born (2 books) by David Weber
  • Antiagon Fire by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
  • Inda; The Fox; Treason’s Shore; and King’s Shield (4 books) by Sherwood Smith
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
  • The Purples by W.K. Berger
  • City of Dragons and Blood of Dragons (2 books) by Robin Hobb
  • The Serpent’s Tale; A Murderous Procession; Mistress of the Art of Death; and Grave Goods (4 books) by Ariana Franklin
  • I am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits
  • The Cadet of Tildor by Alex Lidell
  • Season of the Harvest and Forged in Flame (2 books) by Michael R. Hicks
  • The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett
  • A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison
  • The Blade Itself; Last Argument of Kings; and Before They are Hanged (3 books) by Joe Abercrombie
  • Immortals of Meluha and The Secret of the Nagas (2 books) by Amish Tripathi
  • Game of Souls by Terry C. Simpson
  • Ruins of Legend; Nature Abhors a Vacuum; and In Defence of the Crown (3 books) by Stephen L. Nowland
  • The Traitor Queen by Judi Canavan
  • The Concubine’s Daughter by Pai Kit Fai
  • The Pledge by Kimberly Derting
  • Little, Big by John Crowley

That’s some of what I am currently reading. I’ve got about a dozen hardcovers on preorder and a growing list of hardcovers I want to purchase.

Please feel free to share your reading list with us. Doing so may well bring your favorite authors some new readers.

June 5, 2013

Business of Editing: “I Can Get It Cheaper!”

Perhaps the toughest issue to deal with as an editor is the prospective client (or existing client) who contacts you about a project, asks for a quote, and says, “I can get it cheaper!” Dealing with such a statement should bring out the editor’s professionalism (and business savvy). I discussed the matter of cheap pricing previously in The Business of Editing: Killing Me Softly. Now it’s time to discuss pricing in the face of resistance.

The most common responses are to tell the client about your experience. “I’ve been editing this type of manuscript for 30 years. Can the other editor match my experience?” Or to relate how happy your clients have been. Or any number of other general responses that don’t really highlight why you should be hired at any price.

The second most-common response seems to be an attempt to lower one’s price to bring it in line with the lower price the client says another editor quoted.

In both instances, I think the response is the wrong response.

Under no circumstance, once you have quoted a price, should you lower the price (subject to an exception discussed later). If you are not worth the price you quoted, why did you quote it? If you are worth the quoted price, why lower it to less than you are worth? And why would you start a bidding war with yourself — a war that you can only lose and even lose repeatedly, once the client learns that all it has to do is say “lower your price” and you jump to do so. I make it an absolute rule never to lower a price once given, except in the circumstance to be discussed later. You may be a great editor, but I am the greatest of all editors — and I let clients know that in many ways, not least of which is that I do not lower my price.

If the client insists, I suggest that it would be best for them to hire the other editor and call me when the editing needs fixing.

The exception is this: when I also reduce the services to be provided. In other words, I make pricing a companion to services: more service equals higher price; less service equals lower price. But even then, there is a limit to how little I am willing to do and to how low a price I am willing to quote. Which brings me to the nonfinancial response.

Years of experience is a great selling point, but it doesn’t mean anything in the face of a client’s budget. What does matter are the services to be provided. My first response to the client is, “Do you have the quote in writing?” If yes, which is the usual case in these e-mail-negotiation days, I ask for a copy of the quote. (At this juncture, I haven’t said yes or no to whether I will lower my price, so the client still has hope.) I am usually provided with a copy and then I start on my rebuttal. (When asked why I need a copy of the quote, I say I need to verify the terms and conditions of the price I am being asked to match or beat so that any quote I provide matches those terms and conditions. Although not said, I also want to verify that the person who made the quote is capable of delivering the promised quality and work.)

If I’m dealing with a prior client who should be familiar with my work and pricing, I ask why, knowing my pricing and having this quote in hand, did they contact me for a quote. What I want to do is draw the client into admitting that they like my editing and would prefer that I do the work than to hire someone else. This is important because it starts to draw the client toward my way of thinking about fees.

If this is a new or one-shot client, I have to take a different approach, so I ask what is most important to them as regards the project. Is it cost? Quality of the edit? Experience? Something else? If the answer is cost, I stop the discussion and suggest that they try someone else. I tell them that I take too much pride in the quality of my work to denigrate it by lowering my price to where I cannot justify taking on the work or would earn so little that my only concern would be getting the project done. If they ask for names of other editors, I tell them that I do not know any professional editor whose quality of work or pride in that quality is such that they would be willing to match or underbid the quote they already have and that I make it a policy not to provide names of nonprofessional editors whose work I cannot vouch for.

If they give me an answer other than cost, then I ask about what services are included in the other editor’s quote. Rarely are those services spelled out — the client doesn’t know what is included except “copyediting” or “editing,” which can mean anything. Usually the quote reads “copyedit of xyz at/for $abc.” If the quote is based on an hourly rate, I also ask if it includes a limit on the number of hours (usually not), and what happens if the editing is not done when that limit is reached (definitely never spelled out).

Once I have drawn all this information out of a client, I can begin my “defense.” This is where a professional editor can shine. Explaining what is included and what is not included in editing helps the client define precisely what work the client wants. As I go through the various options and the client says yes or no, I begin to build a quote. What I want the client to grasp is that, when the client hires me, she knows exactly what services she will get for the money. There is no gambling on what will be done or not done.

Importantly, it makes the client a part of the quoting process. If the quote is still too high for the client, I can now say, “If we eliminate this service, the price would be $xyz.” It is picking from the buffet and creating one’s own version of editing.

I also only quote a project or per-page fee, never an hourly fee. I explain to the client how this can save them money and is competitive with that lower bid they received. More importantly, I explain that it assures the client that a complete job will be done and that no additional money will be paid by the client to have the job done and done right.

What I am doing is making the client confident that the only smart decision is to hire me as a professional editor. I try to get a client to compare apples to apples, which the client cannot do with a quote that simply says “copyedit of xyz at/for $abc,” especially not if the quote is based on an hourly rate with no limit to the hours and no explanation of what happens should the limit be reached with the editing incomplete.

There are other things I do as well, but the important point is to be professional and make the client see the value of hiring a professional editor.

How do you deal with the client who says, “I can get it cheaper!”?

June 3, 2013

Business of Editing: Solopreneur or “Company” (III)

In the prior two articles on this topic (see Part I and Part II), the discussion centered around the what (what it means to be a solopreneur or a company). As one commenter pointed out, the reality is that even a solopreneur is a “company” with the solopreneur being an employee of that company. But the difference for our discussion lies less in the taxing authority definitions than in commonly understood definitions.

What was missing from the earlier discussions and needs to be addressed is what the future looks like. I’ve written on this topic before (see, e.g., Does the Future of Editing Lie in Tiers?The Future of Editing: Group Sourcing?, and Is There a Future in Editing?), but our discussion of solopreneur versus company prompts me to write again.

To see our future as editors in the context of solopreneurs versus company, we need look no farther than the changes that have come about in the legal and medical professions. Professions like plumbing are not good comparisons because both the worker and the work have to be local; it would be pretty difficult to hire a plumber located in San Francisco to fix a leaking faucet in an apartment in Los Angeles, much less one in New York or Bangladesh. But the limitation faced by the plumber, and at one time thought also to apply to doctors and lawyers, doesn’t apply to doctors and lawyers in the global economy. It certainly doesn’t apply to editors.

True there is still a “thriving” solopreneur approach to law and medicine, but if you watch the trends, you will discover that, whereas 90% of doctors and lawyers were once solopreneurs, today that number is rapidly approaching less than 25% with no end in sight as to the decline.

That there will always be some solopreneurs is really just an excuse. What doctors and lawyers have discovered is that solopreneurship is generally not economically feasible. Back in the days when I practiced law, the movement was toward two-person offices. It wasn’t long before it was a movement toward three- to five-person offices, and the trend has continued. Globalization and insurance and lack of insurance have made the change happen.

The discussion of solopreneur versus company, when phrased in terms of personal preferences, ignores changing economics — it misses the foundational point of the discussion: survival in one’s chosen field; in our case, the field of editing. To choose between solopreneur and company, one needs to answer this question: Am I earning the net amount of money I want or need each year in my current form? If I am, then nothing more needs be discussed. But if I am not, then one of the several things that needs to be thought about is whether I am in the correct “form” to survive.

Another question that has to be asked and answered is this: Where do I fall on the bell curve of working life? For example, in my case, I am on the downslope side; although I continue to work, I am eligible to retire. Consequently, my approach to the solopreneur versus company question is different (or should be different) than that of someone on the upslope side. If I were on the upslope side and not making the income I wanted, I’d be looking at what changes I can make to get me the income I want.

I don’t disagree that it is important for an editor to be comfortable in his business model. What I do disagree with is the idea that one needs to sacrifice income for comfort. Each of us has our own strengths and weaknesses. Some of us are better editors than others; some are better businesspeople than others. Some are better editors than businesspeople and vice versa. The idea of collaboration — or a company — is to take advantage of the strengths of each of the people who collaborate (make up the company).

I understand the reasons for solopreneurship but I do not understand making it a god so that one clings to it even in the face of not making a sufficient income.

When it comes to professions that are reluctant to change, I think editing is one of the most reluctant. We tend to cling to what has worked because it has worked, even if it hasn’t worked for us or it once worked for us but no longer works for us. Many of us still edit as if we are editing using paper and pencil — even though we are editing using a computer. (I even know a few editors who still refuse to edit or proofread except on paper — and they have clients who agree!)

The Internet has brought a sea change to editing. Before the Internet, we knew our competition. With the Internet, our competition is anyone and everyone, and that competition has acted as a brake on pricing. The other sea change has been the number of people who want to become editors to supplement their income or because “it looks easy to do.” These “editors” also are a brake on the professional editor’s income.

When we think about solopreneur versus company, we need to think about these economic factors, how they affect us, and what model — taking into account our business skills and interests — will best serve to maximize our incomes and best be able to deal with the sea changes of the future. Just as lawyers and doctors have realized that, to correct the mismatch between their income expectations and income realities, they have had to move away from the solopreneur model, editors, too, may have to come to that realization.

It is not enough to say that there will always be a place for the solopreneur editor. Although true, it fails to account for the ease of entering the profession and the growing number of people who are competing for that same group of clients. It also fails to account for the growing globalization of editing.

The most important thing is not to be quickly dismissive of the company model. Your future may be at stake.

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: