An American Editor

October 30, 2013

The Commandments: Thou Shall Establish the Rules of Engagement Before Beginning a Project

In our continuing series on commandments for editors and authors, Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, contributes the following essay discussing what should be established at the beginning of an editor–client relationship and why it should be established.

(Ruth E. Thaler-Carter [www.writerruth.com] is a successful freelance writer/editor, the author of “Get Paid to Write! Getting Started as a Freelance Writer” and “Freelancing 101: Launching Your Editorial Business,” and the owner of Communication Central [www.communication-central.com], which hosts a conference for freelancers every fall.

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Thou Shall Establish the Rules of Engagement
Before Beginning a Project

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

If anything should be a key guiding light for freelance editors, it is our third editorial commandment:

Thou shall establish the rules of engagement before beginning an editing project.

Those rules can cover a number of aspects of freelancing. Here are the ones I find most important to success as a freelance editor.

Define a “Page”

It doesn’t matter if you use 250 words, 1,800 characters or some other formula. What matters is to have a standard definition of a page, relay it to the client, and stick to it — or ask for the client’s definition — before accepting anything about a new project.

Why is this important? Because clients don’t always play fair when it comes to describing their projects. When you hear from a prospective new client about editing a manuscript of x number of pages, don’t assume you can rely on that page count. Whether through laziness, ignorance of the publishing process, or deliberate attempts to get more editing work for less money, many clients misrepresent the size of a manuscript and the scope of its problems.

You’ll be told a project is 25 pages, so you expect to receive 6,250 words and you promise to turn the manuscript around in five hours, knowing you can usually handle five or six pages per hour. You receive a manuscript that actually has 15,000 words because the client has formatted it single-spaced in 8- or 10-point type. You’ve just lost money and committed to a timeframe that is probably impossible to fulfill.

I have one client whose manuscripts include large photos. At first look, the page count seems higher than it really is, as an average photo takes up half a page. He thought his 70-page document would actually be something like 55 or 60 pages of editing. However, his documents are also single-spaced, so his 70 pages became 100, even after “discounting” the photos.

Let the client know that you define a page as 250 words (that’s what I use; Rich Adin, An American Editor, uses a character count), that you will check the word count when you receive the project, and that only then will you commit to a deadline and fee.

Define Your Fee

With many projects, it can be challenging to pin down a fair rate for our work. With new projects or clients, setting a flat or project fee can backfire — either the project is a lot bigger than expected, as explained above, or it’s a lot more demanding than expected.

With project rates, include language to protect yourself against “scope creep” — where the project ends up being much longer and more complex than expected, the client keeps adding to it, or the client doesn’t like what you did on a first go-round and expects you to redo the work again and again and again.

If being paid by the hour, protect yourself with a range, rather than a specific, limited amount of time. Usually it is better to use a page rate, so you benefit from working efficiently and don’t lose out if the project is longer or more complex than expected. Even with a page rate, however, be sure to include your definition of a page at the earliest moment in your negotiations.

It isn’t only the amount of the fee that is important. When you will be paid is also a factor. Be sure to state whether you require a deposit/advance, when your interim payments are to be made, and what will happen if a payment is late. Specify your late fee for those (ideally rare) occasions when a full or final payment doesn’t show up on time.

Define the Service

Many clients have no idea of what the difference is between editing and proofreading, or between substantive, developmental, and copy editing. You may have to explain the difference, and you may have to stand firm on doing a lesser level of work than the client would like to get for the agreed-upon fee.

Before you accept a project, be sure to establish what it needs, what you will do, and what effect that will have on the fee and deadline. Just as it’s risky to accept a page count before the manuscript is in hand, don’t commit to a “light edit” or “only proofreading” sight unseen.

You also may need to declare whether charts, figures, and other pieces of artwork are included in the fee. Notes can add significantly to the length of a work and the time needed to edit it (although there are tools to help you manage that process, as has been discussed by Rich many times).

Define Who Does What

As Rich has said, “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. … The responsibility for a manuscript is a shared responsibility.”

Let your clients or authors know whether you prefer, for instance, to receive a manuscript that is both complete and as final as possible. You don’t want to edit a first draft just to find out that the author is still rewriting and expects you to (re)edit the new version. Then again, some editors are comfortable with receiving only a few chapters at a time — the idea is that the author/client will learn from the early edits and incorporate that knowledge into subsequent chapters.

Establish the author’s responsibilities in terms of when you will receive the manuscript or segments of it, what format it should be in, whether the client wants you to use Track Changes (make sure the client understands how to use or respond to Word’s Track Changes), and timing of responses to your questions. Set ground rules early about things like phone and e-mail contact — when it’s OK for the client to call, how phone and e-mail discussions will be billed, etc.

Establish your responsibility for deadlines and for what you’re going to do with the project. Putting these details into writing, even by e-mail, makes the project go much more smoothly and the relationship between client and editor a much healthier one than otherwise.

It all comes down to this commandment: Thou shall establish the rules of engagement before beginning an editing project.

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Do you agree with Ruth? Would your commandment be different? Would the components of your commandment be different?

October 28, 2013

EditTools 5.1 with Code Inserter Released

A new version of EditTools has been released. It is available at wordsnSync and is a free upgrade to current registered users of EditTools.

In addition to some minor bug fixes, version 5.1 includes a powerful, new macro, Code Inserter — an easy way to insert codes into a manuscript — and Assign Hotkeys — a new function that provides an easy way to assign hotkey combinations to EditTools macros.

Code Inserter

The idea behind Code Inserter is to make inserting codes, such as <ca>…</ca>, quick and easy. Code Inserter is a new top-level menu item. The process begins with the Insert Code Manager, which is shown here:

Code Inserter 3

As you can see from the image, there is a lot going on in the Manager. The Manager has the usual Open and New options. You can create a generic coding system for a client or one tailored to a specific project. You can also copy codes from one file to another using the Move/Copy Codes button.

If it is a new file, the Manager will be empty. You enter a name for the code in the Name: field (Chapter Author in the example) and the code that is to appear in the manuscript in the Code: field (<ca> in the example). You then indicate where the code is to be inserted: At the start of the line (At Start), at the location of the cursor (At Cursor), or at the end of the line (At End). You also indicate whether, after inserting the code, your cursor should move to the next line automatically. Finally, you indicate whether an end code is needed.

If you look in the main data field (where all of the codes in the dataset are listed), you will see that Chapter Author is highlighted. By looking across, you can see the name you gave the code, the code that will be entered, and which options you chose for that code (the Xs).

Note the Setup Hotkey button. Hotkeys are a new feature for several of the EditTools macros. This allows you to assign a key combination to run the macro. As shown in the image below, you can assign any keyboard combination to be the hotkey for this macro. (The hotkey runs the Code Inserter macro; it does not open the Manager.)

Code Inserter 4

When you run the Code Inserter macro, it brings up the box shown below, listing all of the codes you have created alphabetically by the name you assigned to the code.

Code Inserter 5

Just click on a code’s name or the checkbox next to the name, and the code will be automatically inserted according to the instructions you gave.

Code Inserter 6

If you also need an end code and checked that option for this particular code in the Manager, this dialog box will appear:

Code Inserter 7

Clicking OK will cause the end code to be inserted where you indicated and your cursor will return to where the beginning code was placed.

Code Inserter 8

As currently setup, to run Code Inserter you either need to click on Code Inserter in the main menu, then Run Code Inserter in the drop down menu, and finally on the code to be inserted. Alternatively, if you assigned a hotkey to the macro, you can press that key combination and then click on the code to be inserted.

However, there is a third option: You can assign to the main menu bar a Run CI button. The Code Inserter menu has an option called Activate “Run CI” Button. If you click this option, a button called Run CI appears in the main menu bar as shown below. Instead of using a hotkey to activate the macro, you can use this button. (The Deactivate “Run CI” Button deactivates this button and removes it from the menu bar.)

Code Inserter 9

Hotkeys

New in version 5.1 is an easy method for assigning certain macros to hotkeys. Not all of the macros are assignable; only those macros that are likely to be used more than once while editing a document. For example, it is expected that the Never Spell Word macro will be run just once on a document, whereas the Enhanced Search, Count, & Replace macro might be run multiple times.

In the case of Toggle, you run its Manager, and for Insert Query, you run the macro to access the Setup HotKey button. The Toggle Manager is shown below:

hot key 1

For those macros that can have hotkeys assigned to them but that do not have Managers, you access the Setup by going to Preferences > Hotkeys > Setup Hotkey for Macro, as shown in the image below. This opens a dialog from which you can choose which macro(s) you want to assign to a hotkey.

hot key 4

The other macros for which hotkeys currently can be set are Enhanced Search, Count, & Replace and Smart Highlighter. Select the macro to which you want to assign a hotkey, and then click the Setup Hotkey button. When done click Close.

hot key 3

These enhancements to EditTools have been under beta testing for a while and the reports are that Code Inserter has made coding quicker, easier, and typing-error free.

Information about these and the other macros included in EditTools is available at wordsnSync. If you haven’t tried EditTools, you should. To download the latest version of EditTools, go to the Downloads page and click on “Download EditTools v5.1”.

If you are interested in the ultimate deal, take a look at “A Special Deal: Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate!” This package includes the latest versions of EditTools, Editor’s Toolkit Plus, and PerfectIt at a significant discount.

October 23, 2013

Business of Editing: Editing in Isolation

I am constantly perplexed at how people who want to be acclaimed as editors or writers can pass on material to readers that is less than clear. In the editors’ case, I hope it is because the author ignored queries or left queries unresolved — but I cannot be certain of that except in my own work.

I suspect that the problem is that the self-editing author, as well as the “professional” editor, is “editing” in isolation. What I mean is that the author is looking at each sentence in isolation rather than looking at each sentence as part of the global mix.

What brought this to mind was a sentence I recently read: “I prefer epics.”

By itself, the sentence is complete and clearly understandable by me, the reader. But placed in context, I wondered whether the author meant “epics” or “e-pics.” The problem was that the article was talking about both books and pictures, thus both or either could have been meant. This was a case of the editor and/or the author not looking beyond the sentence — any editing that was done was done in isolation.

Isolation editing is a clear sign of nonprofessional editing. Professional editors know that no sentence stands alone; every sentence must be considered in context and as part of the more global text, as well as being complete in and of itself. Increasingly, however, I read books that suffer from the narrow view. In its most blatant form, a character is 5-foot tall on page 10 and 6-foot tall on page 25; has brown eyes on page 11 and blue eyes on page 27; spells her name Marya on page 3 but Maria on page 50. We’ve all come across these types of gaffes, but they seem to be occurring with increasing frequency as traditional publishers and authors make price, rather than quality, the number one consideration.

There are many answers to the problem of changes in character descriptions, not the least of which is a comprehensive stylesheet. Yet that is another red flag as regards the quality of the editing: the skimpy, incomplete stylesheet.

I have been working on second and subsequent editions of books in the past few months. With two exceptions, none of the manuscripts were accompanied by a stylesheet that was created by the editor of the prior edition. One exception was the book that was a second edition of a book whose first edition I had edited. In this instance, the client didn’t send the stylesheet from the first edition, but I had a copy because I have stored online every stylesheet for every book my company has edited since at least 2006 and often earlier.

But it is the second exception that signaled a poor editing job was likely done by the original editor. In this instance, the client sent a copy of the stylesheet for the prior edition. However, the stylesheet was one page. I knew immediately that it was incomplete as the manuscript for the book ran more than 3,000 pages and was medical, with each chapter written by a different author or group of authors. It is not possible to do a comprehensive stylesheet of such a manuscript in one page.

As I edited the manuscript, my initial reaction was correct — the prior (existing) edition clearly had not been professionally edited (or proofread). There were numerous sentences that should have been flagged and/or corrected, sentences that were like “I prefer epics” and thus potentially misleading, in the manuscript. The more I progressed into the manuscript, the clearer it became that the editor edited in isolation: If a sentence was grammatically correct, it was accepted as is, even if a more global view would have raised queries or caused the editor to modify it.

I am sure that some of you are thinking, “but are we talking about developmental editing or copyediting?” I am talking about both. True, the primary function of the developmental editor, but not the copyeditor, is to think globally, but even the copyeditor has to think globally. We are not talking about reorganizing a manuscript, which is the realm of the developmental editor; we are talking about ensuring that the author’s message is clearly conveyed, without confusion or uncertainty, to the reader, which is the realm of both editors.

Professional copyeditors will not rewrite paragraphs, will not move paragraphs or sections of text (i.e., will not reorganize) except on rare occasion. Yet professional copyeditors do have a responsibility to at least query the author and ask whether “epics” or “e-pics” is meant, which cannot be done in the absence of a more global perspective. A sentence-centric perspective views sentences in isolation: the previous sentence could talk about women, while the current sentence talks about men. Whether that change in gender is correct depends on what was said in the prior sentence, what is said in the current sentence, and, perhaps, what will be said in the following sentence.

Isolated editing is a sign of the nonprofessional. Isolated editing is on the rise because of the rise of the nonprofessional editor, which is driven by making cost concerns and limitations, rather than quality, the primary decider of whether and whom to hire as an editor (see What is Editing Worth?). We have discussed this several times, and you know that I believe that quality should be the initial driver when hiring an editor, with cost taking a secondary role. I recognize, however, that because of publisher and author misperceptions about the value of editing, those roles are reversed and cost is the primary driver.

At one time I thought the way to combat this was to send the publisher or author a few corrected pages as examples, but I quickly learned that publishers ignore the corrected pages and authors too often reply with a “how dare you question my writing!” I also quickly learned that the problem rests mostly with professional editors who fail to educate publishers and authors on the value of editing. (The value of editing was discussed in greater depth in What is Editing Worth?)

Yet even those authors who do understand and appreciate the value of quality editing are often stymied by their budget. Authors are being asked to gamble money on a service that will have some, but not a compelling, impact on sales. Self-publishing is making it clear that even poorly edited books can sell a lot of copies and that well-edited books can sell few copies — there are just too many other variables in play, such as how the author markets the book, the quality of the story and the writing.

In the end, editors are between a rock and a hard place. Do they lower their fee to meet author budgets and to compete with nonprofessional editors? If they lower their fee, do they move closer to isolated editing? Or do they stick to their more reasonable fee schedule and the more global form of editing knowing that they will lose a significant number of clients by doing so? This is the dilemma of the professional editor. It is a dilemma that is not easily resolved because of market pressures and the ease of entry into the profession of editing.

October 21, 2013

To Hyphenate or Not to Hyphenate?

Recently, in editing my essays for my forthcoming book, The Business of Editing: Effective and Efficient Ways to Think, Work, and Prosper (ISBN 978-1-4341-0369-7; Waking Lion Press; 2014), Ruth Thaler-Carter raised this question:

“Shouldn’t custom built locally be custom-built locally?”

There are three editors on this project — Ruth, myself, and Jack Lyon — which has meant there have been some lively language discussions and this was another such discussion. The opinion was split 2-1 in favor of hyphenation. I was the dissenting opinion and so won the battle as the author and final decider, but that doesn’t mean my decision was the grammatically right decision; it just means that as the named author I had final decision-making power and exercised it.

If you lookup “custom built” in the dictionary (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language [5th ed] and the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary [11th ed]), you find the entry hyphenated followed by “adj.” It is those three letters that cause the problem.

I agree that custom built needs to be hyphenated in an adjectival phrase, such as custom-built computer. But when not used in an adjectival phrase, as in “custom built locally,” I see no reason to hyphenate. What does hyphenation accomplish? Is a reader misled in the absence of the hyphenation? Is “custom built locally” more understandable when hyphenated and, conversely, less understandable when not hyphenated?

This is similar to the questions raised by short term and long term. A look at the dictionaries indicates that these are also adjectives and hyphenated. But there is no mention of when they are not adjectives. For example, “When the short term expires, payment will be due.”

Editors rely on dictionaries and other usage tomes for guidance — and so editors should. But the emphasis has to be on guidance. Editors are supposed to consider, evaluate, and exercise judgment with the ultimate goal of ensuring that the reader understands the author.

So the question arises: Do phrases that are hyphenated when used as adjectives continue to be hyphenated when not used in adjectival form? (Yes, I recognize that there are other forms in which the hyphenated version is needed or required, including in certain noun situations; let’s ignore those situations and look toward a more general rule.)

(Let me make clear that editors have and should have differences of opinion about such matters of grammar as hyphenation. Regardless as to how we ultimately “resolve” today’s question, there is no absolute right or wrong. Rather, we seek a guiding rule. Ultimately, it is my belief that a professional editor can and should make decisions, such as whether to hyphenate or not, based on whether the editor can support the decision.)

Perhaps a good phrase to evaluate is decision making. I raise it because it does not appear in the dictionary yet whatever rule we generate would be as applicable to decision making as to short term and custom built. I suspect that we would all agree that in this instance, decision making should be hyphenated: “In the decision-making process, …” But should it be hyphenated in this usage: “It is clear that the decision making was faulty.” In this latter sentence, the absent but implied word is “process.” Is implication sufficient to warrant hyphenation?

Or what about these pairs: “Betty was the decision maker” versus “the decision-maker Betty”? In the former, the modifier precedes the phrase; in the latter it follows on its heels. The latter is clear that hyphenation is warranted; not so in the former.

In the end, I fall back on my “rule” that what governs is clarity. If hyphenation will make the meaning clearer, then hyphenate; if it neither enhances nor decreases clarity, then don’t hyphenate. I do not stand alone in this view. The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed., §7.85 for those who require “authority”) says:

“In general, Chicago prefers a spare hyphenation style: if no suitable example or analogy can be found either in this section or in the dictionary, hyphenate only if doing so will aid readability.”

The problem with Chicago‘s guidance is that it still leaves us in the dark whether to hyphenate short term, long term, decision making, and custom built — unless we latch onto the final clause, “hyphenate only if doing so will aid readability,” which is what I use to make my decision. In the case of decision making, I can also latch on to the noun + gerund examples Chicago provides in the table that accompanies §7.85, where Chicago specifically says “decision making” and “decision-making group.”

On the one hand, it strikes me that short term, long term, and custom built should be no different than decision making. On the other hand, however, it seems that in the case of these three phrases, the fact that the dictionaries hyphenate them is sufficient fallback justification to hyphenate them (even though they classify the hyphenated form as adjectival). I prefer, however, to base my decision on what counts most: readability.

Do you hyphenate? What is your justification for doing/not doing so?

October 18, 2013

Worth Noting: Republican Fears of Democracy

Filed under: Politics,Worth Noting — Rich Adin @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , ,

I realize that everything in Washington, DC is done with politics in mind, but this ploy by the Republicans seems to me to strike at the very heart of democracy. Although I disapprove of the Republican tactics to defund the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), I was at least willing to say that the basis was a philosophical disagreement. But after seeing this video, from the floor of the House of Representatives, and thinking about what it means, I wonder if the problem is less about health care and more about Republicans wanting to move our country away from democracy and toward authoritarianism.

October 16, 2013

On Language: What Did He Feel When He Felt?

Filed under: On Language — Rich Adin @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , ,

As an editor, I am concerned with how words are used. It is not that I do not fall into the informal usage trap myself; rather, it is informality has its place and whether or not to accept informal usage depends on context and audience.

Consider the use and misuse of felt and feel as substitutes for thought and think. When I read “he felt,” the first question that comes to mind is, “What did he feel with his hands?” Usually that question is quickly dismissed because the context clearly indicates that what was meant was “he thought.” But if you mean think/thought, why not use think/thought?

I view feel as a weak version of think, almost as an indicator that the person who is feeling isn’t really thinking, but is doing something else which is not explained. Unfortunately, feel replaces think in most authors’ writing.

Some types of writing are less formal than others and can withstand the substitution of feel for think. Feel is particularly apt in dialogue, because dialogue mimics how we speak and most speech is informal. Speech (and thus dialogue) can turn toward informality because it relies on other clues to spread the message.

In contrast, more formal writing, especially science, technical, and medical writing, relies on word choice to both convey and firm the message. There are no gestures that accompany the writing that serve to enforce intent and meaning. Consequently, in more formal writing, the difference between feel and think is important.

When I read in a medical text, for example, that the author feels something is true, I interpret that as meaning the author hopes it is true but only has vague knowledge regarding whether it is true. As always, the ultimate question boils down to one of clarity: Does the use of feel accurately convey what is meant?

The argument can be made that feel has become synonymous with think, both in meaning and strength, in today’s usage. Yet, I’m not convinced that is true. Besides, feel serves other meanings. Consider the sentence, “Jim feels blue today.” We cannot substitute thinks for feels (“Jim thinks blue today”) because doing so completely changes the meaning.

Similarly, if the sentence is “Jim thinks today is Tuesday,” substituting feels for thinks would change the sense of the sentence, if not the meaning. It also would raise a variation of the question with which we started: How does one feel that today is Tuesday?

The usual answer is to see what the dictionary says. Both The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.) and Merrriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) include think and believe as meanings for feel, although not as one of the top two definitions (they are fifth and fourth, respectively). Both dictionaries are reflecting a common usage; that is, both are taking a descriptive approach rather than a prescriptive approach to word usage.

That these dictionaries include such a definition invites continuing substitution of feel for think and believe. If the role of the editor is to help an author make crystal clear what the author intends to say, then recognizing that think and believe are not among the first two definitions of feel should lead an editor to use the correct word and not just accept that common usage has devolved so far that at some level feel, think, and believe are wholly synonymous when, in fact, there are meaningful shades of difference.

Authors, too, need to think about use of feel when they mean think. Granted, in fiction the rules are looser and there is less compulsion to choose between feel and think, but even with that looseness, the choice should be thought about. Choosing the right word can be the difference between humdrum and forceful writing.

Feel invokes a sense of intuitiveness whereas think invokes a sense of decisiveness. Consequently, the choice of word imparts the author’s sense of authority. Feel sends a message of less authoritativeness, whereas think sends a message of greater authoritativeness.

In formal writing that sense of authoritativeness is important. Readers want to believe that the author of a medical tome knows what he is writing about or that when an historian draws a conclusion that she is basing it on the strength of facts, not a feeling. The choice of word makes a difference in the strength of the message conveyed to the reader.

The message strength is less important in fiction than in nonfiction, but that doesn’t mean it should be discounted. As has been discussed many times on An American Editor, clarity of meaning and intent is as important in fiction as in nonfiction. Consequently, all authors and editors need to think about word choice, with the understanding that greater laxity is permitted in fiction than in nonfiction.

If there is a concern that by changing a word the editor may also be changing the author’s tone, then the correct course is to query. In this instance, the query should not only be about the word choice, but should also inquire about whether the tone presented is the tone the author wants presented considering the subject matter and audience.

Do you change or query weak word choices that could be made stronger?

October 14, 2013

What is Editing Worth?

As with all such speculative questions, the answer to “What is editing worth?” depends on who is answering. To me, it is worth many times what I am paid because my efforts help bring focus and understanding to those with whom an author wishes to communicate.

Ask an author, and the answer may well be different. It certainly is different if you ask a publisher, especially a very large publisher. But the answer that surprises me most is that of some academics.

In the past month, I have been asked by three academics to edit their manuscripts. Once the discussion veered toward the money, the jobs were lost.

In each case, the manuscripts were very important to the authors. In one case, it was to be reviewed by the retention committee to determine whether the professor’s contract would be renewed. In a second instance, it was to be reviewed by the tenure committee as part of the process of deciding whether to recommend tenure for this professor. In the third case, the professor was anxious to have the book published by an academic press because the publication would enhance the professor’s career.

In all three instances, it seems to me, quality should be the number one concern. Yet, it wasn’t. The number one concern was cost.

After I made my bids, I was told that my price was higher than that of already-contacted editors who were not hired because of price. As we discussed in “Business of Editing: ‘I Can Get It Cheaper!‘,” I suggested that they keep on searching but lower their expectations.

I also said that it is clear that they think editing has some value, so why, I asked, do they place the value so low? None had a true answer; they had never thought about it in terms of value.

I tried to get across to them the value of reaching the prize each was aiming for– retention, tenure, career enhancement. For each, the prize was very valuable, yet they saw no real value in professional editing help. There was no equilibrium in their calculations. What they saw was that their goals were worthy and valuable and editing was of middling importance compared to those goals. They did not equate quality of editing with achievement of goal.

It is that disconnect that editors fight daily. Novelists often think that self-editing or group editing that costs nothing is sufficient. Few ever think about the books that end up being better sellers and about why they are better sellers. True, a lot more goes into the mix than the editing, but little or bad editing can negatively impact sales, especially with ebooks where a potential buyer can read a sample.

As the professors said goodbye, I asked them to think about the relationship between their manuscript and their future. Although it is true that no editor can guarantee that as a result of the editor’s efforts the author’s goals will definitely be achieved, it is almost certain that in the absence of professional editing the goals will not be achieved. In terms of career and money over the course of the expected career, how valuable is it to achieve tenure? Would you spend the money for an attractive new suit for such an interview or would you wear the jeans and sweatshirt in which you painted your bedroom? Why is editing any different?

Few people argue with the auto mechanic over the cost of installing new brakes when new brakes are needed because the value of having new brakes installed by a knowledgeable mechanic is perceived to exceed the savings that would occur if one were to do the installation one’s self. Most of us view the price for brakes as both worthwhile and nonnegotiable. But having one’s career-forming document edited is viewed differently.

I suspect that much of the problem is the failure of editors to communicate the value of editing well. Certainly, it is a problem that there is no concerted effort to educate people about the value, much like Coca-Cola educates consumers about Coke.

Editors walk the marketing world with their eyes shut. Few editors have ever deeply thought about the Amazon approach to consumerism, yet Amazon has valuable lessons to teach those willing to learn. Amazon spends a lot of money “educating” consumers about its eco system. Ask someone where they plan to buy a book and the answer often comes back as “Amazon.” Even though the same book can be bought elsewhere for a similar price, Amazon is the draw. Why? Because Amazon has, over the years, hammered home that it has the best shopping experience, even if the same item can be found elsewhere for the same or slightly less.

Editors, on the other hand, have not taken the lead and created a “campaign” that has our audience asking first about what matters most: quality. Instead, we have been led by our audience so that cost is the dominating factor in the decision to hire or not hire us. We are not asked to compete on quality but on price, and through our own inaction, we have let others direct the discussion.

As a group, editors have failed to make the case that if a manuscript is important to an author’s career, quality should be the primary, if not the sole, criterion whether or not to hire a particular editor. If we knew we had to take a 3,000-mile drive and that to do it we needed to buy a new car, we would not buy a car because it was the cheapest; we would look for a car that gave us the confidence that it could make such a trip comfortably, safely, and reliably. That is how an editor should be hired; cost should not be ignored but it should be secondary or tertiary to quality.

How do you convince a potential client that quality should be the number one factor in the decision to hire an editor, especially when the material to be edited will impact the author’s career?

October 9, 2013

Welcome, Brenda

Sometimes in life it seems pretty obvious that the fates intervene. Nearly 20 years ago, we adopted our first Cocker Spaniel as a result of such a twist of fate.

Carolyn and I never watch TV while cooking or eating. It is just not something we do or ever did. Except one fateful evening, when Carolyn turned on the local news while preparing dinner. The lead story was a raid that the local ASPCA had conducted on a puppy mill that day. One of the animal shelter employees was speaking about the raid while holding a tiny, irresistible Cocker Spaniel puppy. Carolyn and I were at the shelter the next morning and adopted Jasmin (below at age 14 years), our first Cocker.

Jasmin in a good moment April 2010

When we bought our house, we decided to get a second Cocker Spaniel puppy to keep Jasmin company. So we adopted Lilly (pictured below at age 12 years).

Lilly General summer 2011 027

Jasmin died several years ago and Lilly is now 14 years old and although still a wonderful dog, also a dog loaded with medical issues. So in conversation we have discussed adopting another Cocker Spaniel, but agreed to wait. We weren’t in a hurry.

But fate intervened once again. The parent of friends of a neighbor died leaving a Cocker Spaniel. The neighbor asked Carolyn if she knew of any rescue agencies. Instead of saying to the neighbor, “No. I’d have to search for one, which you can also do,” Carolyn said, “No, but I’ll check and let you know what I find.” So Carolyn did a search and came across Abandoned Angels Cocker Spaniel Rescue. Alas, she looked at the dogs they had for adoption and came across Brenda (pictured below, age 9 years, in our kitchen).

Brenda 015

Brenda is a 9-year-old rescue Cocker Spaniel who is blind. We adopted her as of last Thursday, so she has delighted us for nearly a week.

Brenda is a wonderful dog. She is quiet and patient and quite independent. The first thing she did was wander through our house, on her own (we followed), to learn the layout. She learned quickly and now wanders throughout the main floor without a problem.

One thing a blind dog can teach is patience. Although I generally am patient with children and dogs, Brenda really drives the lesson home. Within minutes of entering our home, Brenda became an integral part of the family. We look forward to many wonderful years with her companionship and hope that she and Lilly bond.

Even our cat, Shade, seems smitten with Brenda.

One of the advantages to working from home is that when our heartstrings are tugged, we can respond. I would be reluctant to adopt a dog with disabilities if someone wasn’t around all the time to ensure needs are met.

Brenda has adopted well to our routines. I tend to rise very early and she and Lilly rise with me and keep me company as I read the newspapers and have my breakfast in the dark hours of the morning. I admit that having pets brightens my days. If we could, we would adopt several more, but until I win the lottery, we’ll stick with the three we have.

October 7, 2013

On Today’s Bookshelf (XIV)

Filed under: On Today's Bookshelf,To Be Read — Rich Adin @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , ,

I spend my working hours editing books and then spend my pleasure hours reading more books rather than watching TV. I can’t recall the last time I turned on the TV (except to watch a rented video). What follows 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 –

  • Harry Truman and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Robert Shogan
  • A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War by Amanda Foreman
  • The History of the Renaissance World: From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Conquest of Constantinople by Susan Wise Bauer (I already own and have read the first 2 volumes in this outstanding history: The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome and The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade, as noted in prior On Today’s Bookshelf posts)
  • The Tribunal: Responses to John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid edited by John Stauffer and Zoe Trodd
  • Glorious Misadventures: Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America by Owen Matthews
  • The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 2: The Complete and Authoritative Edition by Mark Twain, edited by Harriet Elinor Smith and Benjamin Griffin (I already own and have read volume 1)
  • Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott
  • Iron Curtain by Anne Applebaum
  • Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson
  • Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
  • Stalingrad by Antony Beevor
  • The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership by Yehuda Avner
  • Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell
  • The Last Tsar by Donald Crawford
  • Thomas Becket by John Guy
  • Hiding Edith by Kathy Kacer
  • The Girl Who Loved Camellias: The Life and Legend of Marie Duplessis by Julie Kavanagh
  • A Monarchy Transformed by Mark Kishlansky
  • The Mitford Girls by Mary S. Lovell
  • Shooting Victoria by Paul Thomas Murphy
  • Those Angry Days by Lynne Olson
  • The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter
  • Nixonland by Rick Perlstein
  • The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain by Paul Preston
  • Six Women of Salem by Marilynne Roach
  • The Last Greatest Magician in the World by Jim Steinmeyer
  • Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel by Andrew Graham-Dixon

Fiction –

  • Blood Land by R.S. Guthrie
  • Shadowborn by Moira Katson
  • Ascendancy by Jennifer Vale
  • Witch Wraith by Terry Brooks
  • Two Fronts: The War that Came Early by Harry Turtledove
  • Treecat Wars by David Weber
  • Shadowborn, Shadowforged, & Shadow’s End by Moira Katson (trilogy)
  • The Song of Eloh Saga by Megg Jensen (7 books combined in a single omnibus)
  • The Dream Thief by Shana Abe
  • Something Blue by Emma Jameson
  • Venice by Peter Ackroyd
  • The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin
  • Devil’s Garden by Ace Atkins
  • The Algebraist by Ian Banks
  • Bone Thief by Jefferson Bass
  • The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
  • Bridge of Dreams and Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop
  • Killing Rain by Barry Eisler
  • First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde
  • American Assassin by Vince Flynn
  • Seventy-Seven Clocks by Christopher Fowler
  • The Apostates Tale by Margaret Frazer
  • Haunted Ground by Erin Hart
  • Chosen, Exalted, Stained, and Stolen by Ella James (4 books)
  • The Iron Legends by Julie Kagawa
  • The Devil’s Star by Jo Nesbo
  • A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny
  • Resurrection Men by Ian Rankin
  • The Chair by James Rubart
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

As you can see, I have no shortage of reading material. As I have noted before, my to-be-read pile keeps growing at a pace faster than I can read books. Perhaps if I ever retire I will have enough reading time to read faster than I acquire.

What is most interesting to me is not how many books I read but how many I start and never finish. Being an editor has its downsides. For example, I get frustrated by books that wander, or where the same character has 14 names (and counting), or the bad editing sticks out like a beacon, or the author has a lot to say but lacks even minimal storytelling techniques. (Note I have not mentioned those books that frustrate because of poor grammar and English, which is a category unto itself.)

The holiday season is soon upon us and I need to begin to put together a wish list of hardcover books I am interested in. Have you given thought to what books you will ask for this holiday season? How is your to-be-read pile growing/declining?

October 2, 2013

I’ve Been to the Mountain . . .

Generally, when someone says “I’ve been to the mountain,” the person means they have gone somewhere and been enlightened about some topic. Well, that’s me — I’ve been both to the mountain and enlightened.

Last week I both participated in and attended the Communication Central conference, “Be a Better Freelancer! Marketing Magic and More for Your Business.” I admit that before the conference I wondered whether I would learn new things or just hear things I already knew. I should have known better than to wonder.

Every session I attended as a conference goer, taught me new things. My biggest complaint is that I had to choose between sessions; were it possible, I would have attended every one of them. Next time I’m asked to present at the conference (assuming there is a next time), I think I’ll try to negotiate the right to set the schedule so that I can attend more sessions that interest me. 🙂

This was the eighth annual conference put on by Communication Central; I have attended six of the eight, sometimes as a presenter, sometimes just as an attendee. I have never been disappointed by the depth and breadth of the offerings and of the speakers. The conference is almost always held mid to end of September or early October, so for those of you who didn’t come this year, you should begin making plans to attend next year’s conference.

The conference is an excellent way to network. I am aware of one participant who has already received a referral and I suspect others have also. It is also a time to catch up with “old” friends, that is, friends one has met at prior conferences or just in online groups, and learn more about how others view the state of our business. And it is also a time to learn.

The one thing that I noticed at the conference and which disappointed me about my colleagues (again, this is a sweeping generalization and does not apply to all of my colleagues in attendance) is the low self-esteem that seems to hang around editors. When I went to the mountain, I knew I was the best, the greatest, and the smartest editor in the world. What surprised me was that so many others did not think the same of themselves.

Editorial success is much more than being able to identify a part of writing or to query a sentence that reads as if it had been stomped by a team of Clydesdales pulling a wagon of beer. Success in editing is, in great measure, a belief in one’s self, a belief that one is the best, the greatest, and the smartest.

It is not that we need to emblazon that mantra on our letterhead and ram it home to clients; rather, we need to ram it home to ourselves, and our messages — written or oral — to clients need to convey that “I am the best; I am the greatest; I am the smartest” and that the client can search forever and not find a better editor than “me.”

This is much the same message we discussed just a few months ago in Business of Editing: “I Can Get It Cheaper!” in which I wrote:

What I am doing is making the client confident that the only smart decision is to hire me as a professional editor.

Think about this: If you don’t believe you are the greatest, who will? (Right-click on the following link to download a PDF that can be printed and then posted near your work area to remind you to believe.)

If you don’t believe

Business success is always a combination of skills, acumen, and attitude. A positive attitude goes a long way toward building a successful career. Positive attitudes are infectious. More importantly, if you display confidence in your skills and proclaim that confidence, there is less likelihood that your clients will doubt or question the decisions you have made. Timid attitudes make clients wonder and question.

This does not mean that you should tattoo the client with your proclamation of self-esteem. It does mean that you should project confidence in your decisions, in your questions, in your statements.

There is one other thing that I noticed at the conference that is worth discussing here: efficiency. Many of the attendees I spoke with thought that they were highly efficient in their work habits. That is not a good thought to have because if you believe you are efficient, you will not strive to be even more efficient.

As efficient as your process is, it is not efficient enough!

should be your guiding philosophy. Successful freelancers are always reevaluating the procedures they follow and try to wring ever greater efficiency out of those procedures. And if you cannot wring greater efficiencies out of a particular process, you should think about the process and whether there is not a better process that you should implement.

Efficiency and productivity are two cornerstones of successful freelancing. They require constant attention because improvements that can be made in them have a direct impact on profitability.

These were some of the general lessons that were passed on to conference participants. I expect there were others to which I was not privy because I could not attend all of the sessions. Next year come to the conference and see what lessons you draw. Whatever they are, you can be assured that they will help you in your freelancing business.

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