An American Editor

July 31, 2013

The Business of Editing: The Demand for Perfection

In a LinkedIn group, there has been a discussion about errors that are missed by editors. The discussion is a great illustration of the disconnect between reasonable and unreasonable expectations in editing.

On the one hand, you have an author who admits his manuscript is far from perfect and who expects the editor to make it error-free or keep working on it at the editor’s expense until the manuscript is error-free. On the other hand, you have editors who offer a broad range for what constitutes an acceptable number of errors. The discussion began with the question, “How many errors is it acceptable for an editor to miss in a 200-page manuscript?” The answers ranged from zero to (you pick a number).

Needless to say, there was a gap that could not be bridged. Authors (and some editors — usually editors who were also authors) remained steadfast in the belief that an error-free manuscript was not only a desirable goal but an achievable goal. Others, including myself, remained steadfast in the belief that, as long as editing is done by humans, there will be errors.

Fundamentally, however, the entire discussion missed the salient point. The discussion remained focused on coming up with a number, such as 5 errors in 1,000 pages, rather than on the core issue: What constitutes an error?

Editing has always been a profession of opinion. Unlike the physical sciences that are governed by strict “laws,” editorial decisions are governed by informed opinion, nothing more. One person’s error is another person’s artistic breakthrough. Although we point to “authorities” such as dictionaries and manuals of style and usage to justify decisions we make, we really aren’t pointing to immutable, unbreakable “laws” or “rules” — we are pointing to consensus opinion at best.

That the consensus opinion is formed by a group of people who we grant the power to be the diviners of what is and what should not be, the truth is that their opinion is rarely more informed or valuable than our opinion. Their opinion has an aura, a mystique, if you will, of authority, something our opinion lacks, but that doesn’t change their opinion from opinion to gospel. It has the force and validity we give it.

Which brings me back to error. Is it error to be diametrically opposite consensus opinion? If it were, we would still be preaching that the sun revolves around the earth — or is that something different? Surely it is different because it is fact, immutable, provable, and today unquestionable (except by the fringe few) —  it is nothing like an editorial opinion.

Is it grey or gray? One or 1? Is they singular or only plural? Can we safely and correctly split the infinitive? Is due to acceptable or must it be replaced with the correct, precise phrase? Can since and because be used synonymously or is since only for expression of time passage?

At precisely what point in the journey do we pass from opinion to error? Who decides what is error?

Perhaps of all the questions, this last question is the most important, because once we assign the power to determine error, we assign the right to make editorial decisions and we determine whose opinion is superior. The fallacy in my argument is, of course, demonstrated by the three Ws (or is it W’s?): w8, weight, wait. Is it an error to leave unchanged “I’ll w8 for you” or “I’ll weight for you”?

The immediate answer I expect from colleagues is, “Yes, it is clearly error to use w8 or weight when you mean wait.” But let us consider the response. First, it assumes that I intend wait. Based on the education we have received and our years of experience with interpreting language, it is very likely that wait is intended. It is a 99.9999999% safe bet. But it is not a 100% sure bet in the absence of surrounding information.

The second problem is that to declare the use of w8 or weight for wait as an error is to declare that English is a static language; that meanings and spellings never change; that because it was linguistically true yesterday, it must be linguistically true today, and will be linguistically true tomorrow. Where, then, has the growth in dictionaries come from? How did since become an acceptable clone of because?

So we go round and round, with no beginning and no end, in resolving the question of what is an error. No matter how it is sliced and diced, what is an error in the editorial sense is a matter of opinion, not a matter of fact. We can turn it into a matter of fact by prefacing the editorial process with a declaration that these authorities — x, y, and z — shall govern matters of spelling, grammar, and usage, which is what we do in our daily work.

When dealing with publishers, such parameters are usually laid out in advance of the work. In my experience, few authors have enough familiarity with these editorial resources to make such a predetermination. I suspect that it is one novelist in 5,000 who says “Please follow the _________ style manual” when hiring an editor.

When an author demands perfection as the standard, predetermining who and what will be the arbiters of what constitutes an error is fundamental. However, there are other factors that need to come into play as well. Consider time.

Most novelists I have dealt with have said that they spent more than a year, often many years, on writing and rewriting and having their novel peer-reviewed and redrafted again to bring the manuscript to its current state of readiness for editing. Then they drop the bombshell of wanting an error-free edited manuscript in 30 (or fewer) days. After years of writing and rewriting and not producing an error-free manuscript, the expectation is that the editor can fix all problems quickly. Does anything more need to be said about the matter of time?

Consider money. I have yet to meet the publisher or author who says that neither time nor money is a problem. Editors are rarely, if ever, given unlimited time and an unlimited budget in which to produce an error-free edited manuscript. I also have not met a publisher or author who will agree to pay $150 an hour for as many hours as it takes to achieve an error-free manuscript. Usually what I hear, and what colleagues tell me they, too, hear, is that the edited manuscript is needed within 30 (or fewer) days and that the budget is capped at, say, 30 hours at $20 an hour.

It isn’t clear to me how perfection is to be achieved on a limited budget with a limited amount of time. It took months or years to bring the manuscript to the more perfect, but still imperfect, state it is in at the time it is presented for editing. Why is the expectation that it can be moved from its current state of imperfection to a state of perfection within days at very little cost? Why do some authors consider this a reasonable expectation?

An error-free manuscript should be the goal for which an editor should strive, but it should not become an albatross. It is unreasonable, I think, to demand perfection from someone else when you do not produce it yourself. But if you are going to demand editorial perfection, be prepared to define what constitutes an error in advance and who and what shall be the arbiters of right versus wrong (error vs. nonerror), to accept an open-ended schedule, and to provide an unlimited budget at a reasonable (to the editor) rate of pay.

The Countdown: The Last Day

Filed under: A Good Deal — Rich Adin @ 4:00 am
Tags:

A final reminder that on September 27-28, 2013, Communication Central will hold its fall conference for freelancers, “Be a Better Freelancer: Marketing Magic and More for Your Business.” For more information about the conference, see Communication Central’s conference website.

Communication Central is offering a special discount for readers of An American Editor. Today is the last day for you to take advantage of the special conference rate for readers of An American Editor. The special discount is available only through today and only from this link:

An American Editor Registration

If you are planning on attending the conference, be sure to take advantage of this discount and the opportunity to reserve a seat at my special two-part, 4-hour session, “The Business of Freelancing.”

For more information about the conference, see A September Meetup: Make Your Plans Now.

July 29, 2013

Making the Decision to Move to Lightspeed

The one thing that is true about technology is that obsolescence is built-in. Whatever you buy today will, after a manufacturer-predefined time, begin to turn to dust.

Before we go further into my tale, let’s sidestep for this bit of music:

As I have mentioned in other posts, I have my computers custom built locally. That allows me to choose higher-quality components from manufacturers that I prefer. One part from here, one from there. More importantly, my local computer shop warrants those components for 3 years.

For years, I replaced our computers every 18 to 24 months. The technology was changing rapidly and by the time 2 years had passed, it was like moving from the paleolithic era of computing to the future. And the more complex my macros became and the more I wanted them to do, the greater the computing power I needed and wanted. The one thing I didn’t want was to have time to twiddle my thumbs while waiting for my macros to do their tasks.

About 6 years ago that changed with the building of our current computers. I had finally hit the top of the hill. Sure changes continued to occur and components continued to improve, but none of them would have had much of an impact on my needs. The machine I had custom built would outlive my editing career — or so I hoped.

As with all such wishes, there was something I forgot: components are designed to fail. Manufacturers don’t want things to live forever, so obsolescence is built-in.

This past week, my boot drive began to fail. I could tell because it took longer and longer to boot up my computer each morning; because where once the computer easily handled a dozen open applications simultaneously, now it struggled to hand three or four; because I would be working and suddenly everything would freeze for a few seconds.

I also began to notice that my data drive also was generating errors. Reads and writes to the data drive (a separate physical drive from my boot drive) took a little bit longer; instructions weren’t being carried out quite as fast (or so it seemed) as in previous times.

Although these two hard drives were high-quality drives when purchased, time had passed them by. All traditional-type hard drives have moving parts, parts that eventually wear out. The one thing I didn’t want to happen was for the drive to start writing data to bad sectors, causing corruption, so I took the hints I was being given and called my local computer shop.

It took 3 hours of downtime, but in that time, I went from what now seems like crawling to near the speed of light. It previously took a little more than 90 seconds to boot up; now it takes less than 20 seconds. The cure was not only new drives but going to solid-state drives (SSDs).

Unfortunately, SSDs are expensive, at least double the price of traditional drives. But with that increased price comes compactness (four SSDs fit within the same space as one traditional drive), no moving parts to wear out (although these drives do eventually lose the ability to write to the disks, they, supposedly, never lose the ability to read from them), no heat generation, and no noise (no moving parts to make noise).

An advantage of custom building my computers is the ease with which these types of repairs can be made. As I have noted previously, all of my hard drives are hot swappable, which means that I can pull them out of their slot without turning off and opening the computer, and I can put a different hard drive in the slot and access it. It makes for great backup and for easy storage when I travel. It also means that my computer shop could do the repair in my office — I didn’t need to be without the computer for more than a few hours. (Most of the time I was “down” was spent cloning my old drives to the new SSDs. The physical replacement of the drives and getting Windows to recognize the new drives took only a few minutes.)

Now that I have new primary hard drives, I am thinking about updating my remaining traditional hard drives (six of them: one for storage of completed projects; one to hold my imaging backups; four in my NAS [network-attached storage] box for my daily backups) to SSDs. I am unlikely to do that upgrade soon because of the cost and the lack of real need. None of those drives get the use that my two primary drives receive.

The upgrades I will be doing in the coming few months are upgrades to my motherboard, processor, RAM, and video cards. With the new SSDs, my Journals macro that took nearly 26 minutes to run through 15,000 dataset entries on a list of 500+ references now takes closer to 11 minutes (see Business of Editing: The Logistics of Large Projects). It will be even faster once I upgrade the motherboard, processor, and RAM to ones that can take full advantage of the SSDs.

With my computer working great with just the SSD upgrade, why would I consider spending even more money to upgrade these other components? Because I will get a high return on my investment — I will make back the cost of the upgrade in just a couple of projects. Remember, I charge by the page so that the faster and more efficiently I can process data, the higher my effective hourly rate will be (see Thinking About Money: What Freelancers Need to Understand).

In other words, I am investing in my business. My pre-SSD computer configuration performed well for about 6 years. I received an excellent rate of return on that investment. Now it is time to invest for the next 6 years (or longer). When I make decisions about whether to buy new equipment/components, the biggest factors in my decision-making process are the answers to these questions: “Will it help to increase my effective hourly rate?” and “If it will, how quickly will it do so?”

If the answer to the first question is no, then I proceed no further. The only time I will buy is when I must because of, for example, a component failure. I haven’t bought a tablet for work because a tablet can neither improve my speed/efficiency nor positively affect my effective hourly rate. If the answer to the first question is yes, but the answer to the second question is a time frame that I think is too long, such as 20 or more projects or 1 year or longer, then I also do not buy. The return on investment is not sufficient to justify the investment. I need to wait for further technological improvements.

In the case of the hard drives, the decision had to be made whether to buy traditional drives or the SSDs. I decided to buy the SSDs because the answer to the first question was yes and to the second it was no more than 2 projects to recoup the price differential; in other words, it made fiscal sense to spend more now to reap long-term benefits.

What analysis do you do when deciding whether to buy new equipment or to upgrade your current equipment or even what type of equipment to buy?

July 26, 2013

The Countdown: 6 Days to Go

Filed under: A Good Deal — Rich Adin @ 4:00 am
Tags:

A reminder that on September 27-28, 2013, Communication Central will hold its fall conference for freelancers, “Be a Better Freelancer: Marketing Magic and More for Your Business.” For more information about the conference, see Communication Central’s conference website.

Communication Central is offering a special discount for readers of An American Editor. There are 6 days left for you to take advantage of the special conference rate for readers of An American Editor. The special discount is available only through July 31, 2013 and only from this link:

An American Editor Registration

If you are planning on attending the conference, be sure to take advantage of this discount and the opportunity to reserve a seat at my special two-part, 4-hour session, “The Business of Freelancing.”

For more information about the conference, see A September Meetup: Make Your Plans Now.

July 24, 2013

On Books: A World on Fire

It has been a long time since I last reviewed a book. It is not that I haven’t been reading; rather, it has been a long time since I read a book worthy of my expending the effort to write a review. Most of what I have been reading would fall into the 3- to 3.5-star category at best. The remainder generally would be 4 stars with a few pushing 4.5 stars. (For a refresher on my rating system, see On Books: Indie eBooks Worth Reading (I).)

At long last, however, I have hit the jackpot with a genuine 5-star book: A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War by Amanda Foreman (2011; ISBN: 9780375504945).

As long-time readers of this blog know, I like to read nonfiction as well as fiction. Each serves its own purpose for me. Fiction’s role is primarily to entertain me. A particularly well-written novel may stay with me (two good examples are the mystery novels by Vicki Tyley and the historical fiction by Shayne Parkinson, both of whose books I have reviewed; just do a search on their names. Other excellent writers whom I have reviewed can be found by searching for the On Books tag), but its most important function is to be entertaining.

Nonfiction’s purpose, on the other hand, is primarily to educate me. It is a bonus when a nonfiction book not only educates me but entertains me. Such is the case with A World on Fire.

America’s Civil War has been the topic of thousands of books. One would think that, as one would also think true with books about World War II, that by now there was nothing new to discover or learn about the Civil War. But Foreman shows that there is still more to learn about the Civil War.

Rather than repeat the stories of the various battles (was this one more important than that one?), Foreman tackles the diplomatic front, concentrating on England. At the time, England was sympathetic to the Union cause but economically bound to the South. The economic ties were such that it was accepted wisdom that once the Confederacy declared itself an independent nation, it would become one on the world stage because the world powers — primarily Britain, France, Russia — would extend recognition to the Confederacy.

This belief, which was held in both the North and the South and even privately by Lincoln, was based on Britain’s need for the South’s cotton and France’s Southern leanings. More than 4 million Englishmen were economically dependent on Southern cotton (which is what led to Southerners declaring that “cotton is king”. The declaration came about in response to the question of whether Britain would recognize the South as an independent nation or remain neutral). The failure to maintain steady access to cotton would cause a major economic disruption in Britain.

But Britain abhorred the South’s commitment to slavery. It also did not want to encourage rebellion for fear it would encourage rebellion in its own colonies. England was in a diplomatic predicament. It is this story that Foreman tells.

Interestingly, Britain and France had agreed that they would only recognize an independent South together; neither would act on its own. It was this agreement, coupled with Britain’s unwillingness to take sides that kept the South from gaining international standing as a separate country.

What the South wanted was for Britain to break the North’s blockade of Southern ports. Britain was the undisputed naval power and probably the only country that could do so. That could only occur if Britain was not neutral. Britain feared getting involved for many reasons, not least of which was a fear of losing Canada and possibly the Caribbean in a war with the North.

Foreman tells of England’s struggle to remain neutral, and why it was such a struggle. It was not just a struggle philosophically; it was a struggle also because of the ineptitude of William Seward, America’s secretary of state, and Charles Francis Adams, America’s ambassador to the Court of St. James — and because of the South’s refusal to state publicly that slavery would end. Of course, Lincoln hadn’t yet so declared, which posed a quandary for Britain.

Seward believed that if he could make Britain an enemy of the United States, the Southern states would give up their secession to return to the fold and make a unified fight against Britain. Seward also believed that Canada should be part of the United States, not a British colony. Consequently, Seward was always threatening Britain with war and conquest of its North American colonies. The British struggled to deal with him. Adams, who was part of the Adams presidential dynasty, also disliked Britain and let his dislike color his actions.

Seward was also arrogant in his belief of America’s superiority. Contrary to reality, which was that America was, at best, a fifth rate military power, Britain was, by world agreement (except for Seward and much of the anti-British American press), the first-rate military power. Seward’s egotism, arrogance, and belligerence strained British-American relations.

Britain was also crucial to the South. Not only was Britain a primary market for Southern cotton, but the South had neither weapons manufacturing plants (they were all in the North) nor warship-building capability or expertise. Britain had both, and the South wanted access to them; Britain could be a help or a hindrance to the South.

The South also was arrogant. It was the common belief in the South that Britain would do whatever the South wanted because “cotton is king.” The South did not reckon with Britain’s keen antislavery beliefs and how much they shaped British policy toward the Civil War. Even those of the working class who were losing their jobs because of the cotton shortage were disinclined to support the South because of slavery.

Foreman’s coverage of the history of British-American relations during the Civil War is thorough and eminently readable. She writes as if she were a novelist. The prose is fluid and fact-filled. She makes the frustrations of the British, the Union, and the Confederacy seem alive. A World on Fire provides a new-to-me perspective of the Civil War. I found the book hard to put down. I also found it fascinating how much effort Britain and its citizens put into getting Lincoln to view the war as a war of emancipation and how much they pushed the South to give up slavery as a pariah institution.

If you are looking for a different perspective on the American Civil War, this is the book to read. If you are looking for a well-written history, this is the book to read. If you are just looking for a well-written book to read, A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War is highly recommended.

July 22, 2013

Relationships & the Unwritten Rules

Every relationship is governed by rules. It doesn’t matter whether the relationship is between spouses, parent and child, government and citizen, rock and a hard place, or authors and editors. If there is a relationship, there are rules that govern it.

Some of the rules are written. The relationship between spouses is partially governed by the rules (laws) enacted by their place of domicile or even by a prenuptial agreement. Similarly, sometimes some of the rules that govern the relationship between author and editor are written, such as when there is a contract between them.

But the majority of the rules that govern relationships are unwritten. They come about as a result of the values we have absorbed each day that we live. We begin as a blank slate and with each day that passes we gain a little bit more of our moral compass. It is these unwritten rules that are the more important rules.

In the author-editor relationship, it is the unwritten rules that are most important. I do not disagree with the notion that a written agreement that says author shall pay editor $x on y date is not important; rather, I believe that the moral compulsion for the author to actually make the payment is the more important part of the relationship. As I used to tell clients when I practiced law, an honest handshake was much more valuable than a dishonest signature on a contract.

One unwritten rule (really, a group of rules) in the author-editor relationship addresses responsibilities. Who is responsible for what. Left unsaid, just like the rule is left unsaid, are the reasons why the author has certain responsibilities and the editor has others. But these unwritten rules, which are often the basis for controversy between the author and editor, are the rules that form the foundation of the relationship. In their absence, chaos reigns; in their presence, a foundation for dispute resolution is available.

What brings this to mind is a recent experience I had with an author. Let me be clear about several things. First, I did not have a direct relationship with the author; my direct client was a third-party who hired and paid me. Second, the parameters of the work I was to perform were negotiated between my client and the author. My client relayed the decisions made between the author and them to me.

Even though there was no direct relationship between the author and me, the unwritten rules of responsibility are still applicable.

The parameters of the job were to copyedit the author’s 400-page manuscript on specialized financing within 8 workdays. The edit was specified as “light,” a term that really has no meaning but which indicates that neither the author nor the client thought there were major problems with the manuscript. (For a discussion of light, medium, and heavy as descriptors of the level of editing, see Business of Editing: Light, Medium, or Heavy?)

It is important to note that my company was hired to perform a copyedit, not a developmental edit (for a discussion of copyediting versus developmental editing, see Editor, Editor, Everywhere an Editor) and that there was a rush schedule. The normal process, and the one I expected to be followed, was copyediting, return to author to accept or reject copyediting, proofreading, publication.

After the book was printed, reviewers began panning it. Complaints about content, editing, and proofreading arose, with some complaints about comprehensibility. The author was incensed and decided that all the fault was with the third-party and the author demanded that my client, the third-party, insert author corrections into the manuscript and reprint the book. The author provided a PDF of the book with author corrections added. Needless to say, my client was not happy.

I was asked to review the author’s complaints and the editing and advise my client. My client provided me with the reviewer’s comments, the printer file, and the author-corrected files; I had my own copies of the edited manuscript that I had submitted to my client. (I make it a point to keep copies of what I submit to clients for years.) Let me say upfront that I have an excellent relationship with my client and have edited numerous books for them. This kerfuffle has no effect on our relationship; the question is how to respond to the author.

I spent some time going through the author’s complaints. Two of the author’s complaints regarding mistakes in spelling that we missed were justified. We probably shouldn’t have missed them. On the other hand, there were more than a dozen errors surrounding those missed spellings that we did catch, including one that resulted in an AQ (author query) regarding the word immediately adjacent to one of the missed spelling errors.

The reviewer specifically quoted a sentence that the reviewer found incomprehensible. The reviewer was certainly correct, but the evolution of that sentence is what intrigues me. It turns out that the copyedited version that we submitted differs from the version that was printed. The author rejected one of the editor’s suggested changes to the sentence and made a couple of additional changes that we knew nothing about.

Another complaint was that a theory name was misspelled (the name began Sho when it should have been Scho) and the editor didn’t catch the misspelling. I searched the entire book and discovered that the name appeared twice in the book, both times spelled the same way by the author (i.e., spelled incorrectly), with more than 200 pages separating the two appearances.

I think you are getting the idea.

I then looked at the author’s corrected files to see what corrections were being proposed as necessary because of editing errors. This was revelatory. Some of the corrections were rewrites that added additional information that could not be gleaned from any of the surrounding material. There was nothing particularly wrong with the sentences before the additions, but the additions did add clarification. The question is, “How would the editor know to add the clarifying material?”

Other corrections made incomprehensible what began as poor writing; that is, the corrections would do more harm than good. Importantly, a large number of them were simply wrong, such as adding commas where no comma belongs, deleting a word or two so that a sentence went from poorly written to incomprehensible, adding a misspelled word or the wrong word to an otherwise difficult sentence, and so on.

Bottom line is that most of the author’s proposed corrections would make things worse, not better.

One other thing I noted is that some of the errors the author complained of should have been caught by a proofreader. Whether the manuscript was proofread or not, I do not know, but I do know that if it was proofread, the proofreader was not a professional, or at least not one I would consider professional. More importantly, the author should have caught these errors during the author review.

The author also refuses to accept that there is a difference between a developmental edit and a copyedit, that separate fees are charged for each service, and that the author paid only for a copyedit.

The question is the unwritten relationship rules. Who has responsibility for what. It is not that there weren’t some editor errors; there were. However, all of the editor errors could have been and should have been caught by the proofreader and the author during their review. It is one reason why there are proofreading and author reviews.

More important, however, is that the responsibility for a manuscript is a shared responsibility. This author insists that the responsibility lies solely with the editor. The author refuses to accept the idea that the author-editor relationship is a partnership and that the editor’s responsibilities are limited by the parameters imposed, ultimately, by the author; the author denies the commandment we discussed in The Commandments: Thou Shall Treat Editors as Partners.

Ultimately, my client has to make a political decision: Should they appease the author or stand their ground? I think they have a solid basis for standing their ground. The book desperately needed a developmental edit, but no one wanted to spend the money to have it done. The author did not determine in advance what was needed and expected by way of a copyedit. For example, the author assumed that fact checking was automatically included, yet did not specify that as one of the tasks, did not pay for it, and did not allot sufficient time for it to be done (remember that the editing schedule was 8 workdays).

Realistic — and knowledgeable — division of responsibility is important in the author-editor relationship. As an unwritten rule, however, division of responsibility is so fluid that it is easy for one party to attempt to shift what should be their responsibility to the other party. Both the author and the editor should give careful thought to the division of responsibility before they begin the relationship and should recognize that such division is governed by the parameters set for the project.

More importantly, authors should clearly state, in writing, their expectations and the services they want an editor to perform, and be prepared to pay for those services.

July 19, 2013

The Countdown: 13 Days to Go

Filed under: A Good Deal — Rich Adin @ 4:00 am
Tags:

A reminder that on September 27-28, 2013, Communication Central will hold its fall conference for freelancers, “Be a Better Freelancer: Marketing Magic and More for Your Business.” For more information about the conference, see Communication Central’s conference website.

Communication Central is offering a special discount for readers of An American Editor. There are 13 days left for you to take advantage of the special conference rate for readers of An American Editor. The special discount is available only through July 31, 2013 and only from this link:

An American Editor Registration

If you are planning on attending the conference, be sure to take advantage of this discount and the opportunity to reserve a seat at my special two-part, 4-hour session, “The Business of Freelancing.”

For more information about the conference, see A September Meetup: Make Your Plans Now.

July 17, 2013

Business of Editing: Workdays & Schedules

Every business has business hours. Some businesses are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. In the Internet age, people too often assume that because they can access your website at any time, they can contact you at any time and get a response. Unfortunately, I have seen an increase in the number of clients and prospective clients who pay no attention to day or hour and calculate editing schedules as if an editor works 24/7/365.

When I am hired to edit a project, I make it a point to discuss schedule. This is important for many reasons, the most obvious one being an assessment of whether I can take on a project based on the expected starting date or does it conflict with current commitments.

A “perk” of being self-employed is that I can set my own work hours. The reality is that I am not wholly free to do as I please when it comes to setting my work hours. For example, once I accept a project I commit to meeting the deadlines that accompany it and so my freedom to determine my work hours is curtailed to the extent that I need to accommodate the project schedule. In addition, if I want to remain in business, clients have to have some idea of when they can reach me.

Yet I am a business and I want to be treated as a business. At the same time, I want to make it clear to clients that I — not they — determine my work hours. Consequently, I always have the schedule discussion.

Editors are effective for a limited number of hours a day. Some editors can effectively edit for 5 hours a day, some can do more, some can do less, but the longer the editing workday, the more likely errors will be missed or introduced. Productivity and efficiency are subject to the bell curve phenomenon.

I have set my workday hours to be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday to Friday, excluding holidays. That doesn’t mean I am not in the office at other hours or on holidays (alas, I usually am at my desk much earlier than 10 a.m.); rather, it means that a client can expect to be able to reach me during my business hours.

Having those hours is, of course, less important these days because most communication is done electronically and the expectation is that if you are available, you will respond promptly; if you are not available, you will respond as soon as you become available. But those hours are important — very important — for project scheduling. They establish a standard against which expectations can be measured.

I scrutinize schedules that I receive from clients. I make sure that clients understand that the normal workweek for an editor is 5 hours a day, Monday through Friday, exclusive of holidays. Thus the client who wants a “heavy” edit of a manuscript and wants the first 500 pages returned in one week is told that such a schedule is impractical for a single editor. It would require churn of 20 pages an hour, which is much too high for a “heavy” edit. (For a discussion of light, medium, and heavy editing, see Business of Editing: Light, Medium, Heavy?)

I also make it a point to explain clearly to the client that I cannot require editors to work on weekends in the absence of extra compensation. Too many clients just pull schedules out of the air. (For a discussion about schedules, see Business of Editing: Schedules and Client Expectations.) I want clients to see me as an equal, as a partner, and to reinforce that view, I make sure that I act as an equal, as a partner, as a business. One way I do that is by having established business hours and by making it clear that when I consider a project’s schedule, I weigh the proposed schedule’s demands against my established standard workweek.

The standard workweek is also important when negotiating the rate of pay for a project. The worst bargaining tactics that can be employed are those that have an aura of desperation about them. A client who knows you are desperate for work is less likely to negotiate pay or schedule. But a client who wants you to do the work and knows that you are willing to say no as readily as you will say yes, is more willing to negotiate. Again, this status of negotiation with an equal is one that is gained by making it clear that you are a business, an equal, a partner, and by reinforcing that impression each and every time you speak with a client or potential client.

Even one day matters. A client recently approached me to edit a book. The end date for the project was scheduled for July 31 and the start date was to be July 8. The first chapter had to be edited and submitted by July 12. I replied to the client thanking them for asking my company to undertake this project, but that I had to decline. I would not have an editor available until July 15 and I would need until August 5 to complete the project.

The client came back the next day and after stating they wanted us to do the editing, said they could modify the schedule so that the end date would be August 5 with a July 15 start date, but that they needed the first chapter by July 16. The first chapter was 84 manuscript pages. I pointed out that it was not possible for me to guarantee to meet that deadline, and countered with my own deadline for the first chapter. In my counter, I explained, yet again, that we work a 5-hour day, Monday through Friday and that I could not assume that we would be able to edit the 16 pages an hour that would be required to meet the one-day deadline. Until we actually start on the project, we have no idea of how well or badly written the manuscript is or whether such things as references are in proper format or need to be modified to meet the style. If it is well written and if the references are in proper format, it might be possible to meet the deadline; if not, then more time will be needed. Consequently, any deadline has to accommodate the possibility of problems.

In the end, we got the project with a modified schedule that fit my needs. But we got it because the client negotiated with us as an equal. I was as willing to turn down the project as to accept it. More importantly, when I explained our workweek to the client, it was the umpteenth time they had heard the explanation. I have been consistent over time as to what constitutes our workweek and workday. Similarly, I am consistent about the cost of working weekends and holidays. Even if a client is prepared to pay for such work, I make it clear that doing so is voluntary, not something I can require an editor to do.

The reality is the editors who work for me, and myself, set our own work schedules based on the time we need to devote to a project to meet the deadlines. But those are schedules we set; they are not imposed on us. That may seem like a small difference, but it is not. It is the difference between being regarded by a client as a business and thus as an equal and a partner, or not being regarded as a business but as someone to whom the client can dictate.

The first step toward negotiation equality is to have well-established business hours that you faithfully maintain and repeatedly letting the world know what those hours are.

July 15, 2013

A September Meetup: Make Your Plans Now

On September 27-28, 2013, I will be in Rochester, NY, attending (and presenting* at) this year’s Communication Central conference, “Be a Better Freelancer: Marketing Magic and More for Your Business.” Ruth Thaler-Carter, owner of Communication Central and today’s guest columnist, talks about the conference.

There are two important points for readers of An American Editor:

  1. A special discount has been arranged for An American Editor readers. By registering for the conference by July 31, 2013, using this special link, An American Editor Registration, you can save at least $50.
  2. Early registration will not only save you money, but it will give you an advance opportunity to reserve a seat for my two-part, 4- hour session on The Business of Freelancing. This will be an opportunity for you to ask your questions and get in-person responses from your colleagues and me.

Now, about the conference — here’s Ruth:

____________________

Coming to Rochester:
An Opportunity to Learn from and Network
with Colleagues Up Close and In Person

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, owner, Communication Central

In this increasingly electronic world, opportunities to meet, learn from, and network with colleagues in person are still valuable — and may even be more useful than some of the online interactions we all depend on so much these days.

That’s one of the factors behind Communication Central, an annual conference I created a few years ago as an opportunity for colleagues to get together in person to make their freelance writing, editing, proofreading and other communications businesses more effective and successful by learning from each other. As I’ve been putting finishing touches on this year’s speakers and topics, I’ve been thinking about why it’s worthwhile for colleagues to come to this event.

First, the conference offers a variety of topics that most, if not all, of us find useful or challenging. This year’s event includes sessions on:

  • using Acrobat, because clients increasingly ask for Acrobat-related services;
  • several aspects of marketing, including creativity, which can be a lot of fun; learning the secrets of success; and branding, which not enough of us think about as a way of distinguishing our freelance businesses from the herd (especially the Internet herd);
  • juggling work and family, which is a constant challenge;
  • creating and using macros, which can save a lot of time and make our work more efficient;
  • self-publishing, which offers both writers and editors some exciting opportunities, if we could only figure out how to take advantage of them;
  • social media, which only gets more important as time goes on; and
  • the business of freelancing, from the unique “tough love” perspectives of An American Editor, Rich Adin, as only he can relay important points.

Conference speakers are among the gems of our profession as freelance editors, proofreaders, writers and more – people with solid credentials and impressive expertise: brand marketer Chuck Ingersoll; publisher and blogger extraordinaire Yvonne DiVita; macro magician Jack Lyon; self-publishing pro Ally Machate; Copyediting newsletter editor Erin Brenner; National Association of Independent Writers and Editors leader Janice Campbell; creativity guru Ellen Koronet; editing expert Geoff Hart; Editorial Bootcamp owner Laura Poole; and, of course, Rich Adin — the American Editor himself. Those who are new to the event will add fresh perspectives, while those who have presented at previous conferences have new insights, topics, and experiences to share. Their generosity in sharing their expertise is amazing — and all are great examples of how we must constantly look for new ways of doing business as freelancers.

Second, there’s that personal interaction. Sure, you could get some of the basic information about any of these topics online. You can get immediate answers to urgent questions through e-mail discussion lists, LinkedIn and Facebook groups, professional associations, etc. But you can only get the personal touch from an in-person event. And you can only go in-depth on some of these topics when the expert is right at-hand to ask about details or demonstrate important points.

Most of us freelancers have few opportunities to get out of our garrets and into situations where we can meet and mingle with each other. Beyond the content and the personal touch of attending a conference like this, there’s also a wonderful sense of camaraderie among participants, some of whom have become good friends over the years, and some of whom have established working relationships as a result of meeting in person at one event or another. (Even in this increasingly digital age, some people still prefer to hire or subcontract to people they’ve actually met.)

Finally, as an incentive to attend, there is a special deal for this year’s conference just for An American Editor readers. This is especially appropriate, as Rich is both our keynote speaker and also will present a special two-part, four-hour session on the business of freelancing. The special discount is available only until July 31, so don’t delay! To take advantage of this offer, go to this special link:

An American Editor Registration

The conference will be at a Staybridge Suites hotel, with rooms that are sharable. The hotel is on the Genesee River, across from the University of Rochester, with a bridge to the campus for exercise and a dock for one of the local riverboats. The Rochester area offers plenty of activities for spouses/partners and kids who might want to tag along.

More information about the conference itself is available at Communication Central’s conference website.

For your special registration rate as a subscriber to An American Editor, go to An American Editor Registration.

____________________

As you can see, this year’s conference will be exciting; I know I am looking forward to it and am already planning on which sessions to attend. I encourage you to take advantage of the early registration special and join me, Ruth, and the other conference speakers in Rochester.

Remember that the An American Editor registration discount is only available via the links above and that it expires on July 31, after which the link will no longer work and the pricing will no longer be available.

*Disclaimer: I will be an attendee and presenter at the conference. I have no financial interest in Communication Central or the conference. In exchange for my presentation at the conference, I will receive reimbursement for my actual expenses, but no other compensation.

July 10, 2013

The Ethics of Editing

Most professions have a code of ethics that governs what members can and cannot (or should and should not) do. Editing, unlike many professions, lacks a standard code of conduct or ethics. Whatever code governs editing, it is unwritten and unique to the individual.

Consider this issue regarding billing. The editor and the client agree that the editor will be paid on an hourly basis but that the client has a budget. In the course of the negotiations, the editor asks the client what the budget is, and the client tells her. Let us assume that the budget is 100 hours at the agreed upon hourly rate.

The project goes much more smoothly than either the editor or the client expected, taking the editor 50 hours to complete. The question is: Should the editor bill for 50 hours or 100 hours?

I would have thought the answer was obvious, but in discussions with colleagues, I find that opinion is split. Some editors believe that the agreement was for an hourly fee and thus only 50 hours should be billed; others believe that although the fee was based on an hourly rate, the client expects to pay for 100 hours and the project was completed in less than the budget number because of the skill of the editor, consequently, the editor should bill for 100 hours — the client should not be rewarded for the editor’s extraordinary skill.

My follow-up to the latter argument is to ask what would happen if under these circumstances the editing took 125 hours: Should the editor bill for and the client pay for those additional 25 hours? In this case, there is yet a further split among the editors, this time among those who would charge for the 100 hours. Some say no, the client is not responsible because the editor knew there was an outside limit; others say yes, the client is responsible because the agreement was for an hourly rate, not a project rate.

Setting aside for the moment whether I agree or disagree with any of my colleagues, the bottom-line issue is one of ethics, and editors have no ethical code, outside of their own moral code, to guide them as to which decision is the correct decision. This is a failure of the editing profession and does harm to our clients.

A client really has no recourse against an editor except to not pay the invoice, not hire the editor again, not recommend the editor, and to sue the editor. The last option, to sue, is really a weak remedy except in the case of billing disputes. A number either adds up or it doesn’t, but word choice and quality of editing are matters of opinion.

In the example at hand, I think the only ethical editor is the one who bills for the 50 hours. When the editor bid her price, she did so knowing her skill level. The editor was in the best position to determine the likelihood of finishing within budget. That the client is getting an unexpected “bargain” as a result of the editor’s skills doesn’t really play into the equation. After all, doesn’t the editor include her skill level in determining her fee rate? Isn’t that one of the arguments editors make to justify why they charge more than another editor?

I think the other editors are wrong because the client doesn’t expect to pay the budgeted amount; the client expects to pay only for the actual hours the editing took with the budget amount acting as a maximum. In the instance where the editor went over the budgeted time, the editor’s underestimating the amount of work involved is not the client’s fault or problem; the editor is supposed to be the expert when it comes to editing and have the experience to estimate the time more accurately. Neither charging the client the budget amount nor for additional hours strikes me as justifiable.

That is the problem: They do not strike me as justifiable, but I cannot point to an ethical rule that governs the situation.

The scope of the problem is readily seen when it is understood that there are no guidelines for what constitutes a proper edit; no uniform rule that governs how a page is calculated; no clear outline of what copyediting, for example, includes or excludes; no universally accepted guidelines that have to be met to call oneself a professional editor. In terms of professions, editing is a Wild West.

What it means is that each editor should make these things clear to clients, preferably in writing. Doing so serves both the editor and the client because it clarifies the duties and responsibilities of each party and the remedies in case of violation. What is really needed is a code of ethics and conduct to which editors can subscribe and to which they can point clients. With such a code, a body of guiding principles, explanations, and opinions can be created. Essentially I am talking of the creation of a “style guide” for editor ethics.

Until that happens, however, we are stuck with personal ethics. It is not that personal ethics are necessarily or inherently bad, it is just that no one has an idea what action will be taken until the problem arises and the editor has to apply her personal code of ethics to the problem at hand. By that time, it may be too late; the problem may have gotten out of hand.

I do not know how one finds an editor whose personal code of ethics matches a client’s expectations. There are so many possible ethical disagreements that it is impossible to ask about them in advance. In the end, it comes down to trust. Trust can be a very shaky foundation for a business relationship in which the end product is but a collection of opinions, especially as loss of trust can be the result of misunderstanding.

What suggestions do you have?

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