An American Editor

January 29, 2014

The Business of Editing: Noncompetition Agreements

As I have discussed in the past, I rarely am asked to sign a contract. Yet lately it seems that an increasing number of packagers are asking for contracts. The terms are one-sided and onerous, and in some cases want me to agree to be bound by the law of a country to which I have never been and with which I have no legal or cultural connection.

But there is one particular clause that I find to be especially irritating, and unlike sand in an oyster, does not produce a pearl. I am referring to noncompetition clauses.

I am a freelance editor. By definition it means that I have more than one client. If I have only one client, the IRS is likely to look askance at my claim to being a freelancer and call me an employee, something neither I nor my clients want. Consequently, I sometimes wonder if my clients are confusing noncompetition clauses with nondisclosure clauses, although they assure me they are not.

The illogic of the noncompetition agreement is that clients are unwilling to divulge their client list. How can I possibly know who I should not solicit as a client because of such an agreement if I do not know who the packager wants me to not solicit? The answer is, all too often, that the packager basically wants me to stay away from everyone who could possibly provide me with work except them — even though they are unwilling to commit to giving me more work than the current project.

More importantly, from their perspective, I would think, is the possibility that the IRS would ask why a freelance book editor, someone who is supposedly not an employee of the packager, be required to sign a noncompetition agreement when by the very nature of being a freelancer, I am in competition with the packager, at least to the limited extent of the limited number of services I provide. The normal situation is that an employee who is leaving the packager’s employ would be asked to sign a limited noncompetition agreement because it would be expected that the leaving employee is leaving with knowledge about the employer’s clients and business.

I have raised this issue several times with those who ask me to sign a noncompetition agreement. I have even suggested that we submit it to the IRS for an advisory opinion, because if I am going to be made an employee, I want to bargain for all the benefits. Not only has there been a general refusal to discuss the matter, there has been universal refusal to get that IRS opinion. I am not surprised.

For the purpose of the noncompetition agreement, it is editing that is the subject matter. These agreements need to spell out exactly what areas I cannot compete in (which they do not), and it basically has to be limited to the services I actually provide the packager (again, which it is not), that is, limited to editing.

But then the packager would need to attest that my editing services are unique and particularly valuable. If they are run-of-the-mill, they cannot be restrained by a noncompetition agreement. When I raise this point, I ask if the packager intends to pay me a premium for my services, so that it would be clear that they value my editing skills much more than the skills of any other editor, which might make my editing skills unique, not run-of-the-mill. Alas, that has not yet occurred — but I keep trying.

Part of the problem is that some lawyer somewhere has given the packager a bunch of papers for freelancers to sign without stressing that the forms are appropriate for certain types of work but not for others. The people who do the freelance hiring at the packagers are told to have the freelancer sign the forms and so they become insistent, and impervious to any suggestion that the forms (or clauses) are inappropriate for the work I am being hired to perform.

So that puts us at a stalemate: the packager won’t hire me without my signing and I won’t sign.

I know that some of you are saying “just sign, get the work, and move on.” The problem is that there may be nowhere to move to. If I sign a noncompetition agreement without knowing who I am to avoid and without narrowing down the services involved, I could be putting myself out of business. The usual case is that the packager and I both often do work for the same client. Think about a publisher the size of McGraw-Hill, Pearson, Wiley, or Elsevier. They produce thousands of books and journals every year and have numerous divisions. How unusual do you think it is for both a packager and an editor to work with one of them? But if the packager’s agreement is signed as presented, you may be precluding yourself from working with such companies.

Besides, why should such a limiting agreement be signed without appropriate compensation? If you give up valuable rights, in this instance, the right to work with clients you may have worked with for years, should you not be compensated?

I am constantly amazed by editors whose job it is to deal with words, language, and meaning, yet who will blithely sign contracts without considering the ramifications of signing. Just as I give the manuscripts I work on a careful read and think about what message is being communicated, so I do the same on my own behalf when it comes to signing contracts for editing work.

Would you agree not to edit a spy novel in the future because you are being hired to edit one today? Sign a noncompetition agreement and you might be saying exactly that. Would you agree not to edit a book on pediatric medicine for McGraw-Hill because you edited one for Elsevier three years ago? You might be agreeing to that.

The point is that you need to read noncompetition agreements very carefully. You need to be sure that its scope is very narrow and that all of the entities you are not to approach are identified. Even more importantly, you need to negotiate compensation for the rights you are giving up. Finally, I would think about whether signing the agreement would change your status from freelancer to employee in the eyes of the IRS. Because I am averse to signing such agreements, I make it clear that I plan to send the agreement to the IRS for review. So far, that has been enough to have the agreement disappear without my signature.

Richard Adin, An American Editor


January 27, 2014

On the Basics: Editors and Education — A Lifelong, Ongoing Process

Today inaugurates a monthly series of essays by Ruth Thaler-Carter, “On the Basics.” In her essays, Ruth will explore the world of freelancing, drawing on her varied background as writer, editor, and conference host. Please welcome Ruth as a new columnist for An American Editor.


Editors and Education —
A Lifelong, Ongoing Process

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

To succeed as editors, we need to educate ourselves all the time, at all times. Because neither language nor editing is static, we can’t be static. Language evolves and changes (not always in ways some of us like, but such is life), and so must editors.

We have to start our careers by educating ourselves about the essentials of good editing and the types of editing (copy, substantive, developmental, project, and production editing, not to mention editing vs. proofreading) we might do. Then we have to continue to educate ourselves throughout our careers to stay professional and at the top of the editing game. We have to stay up to date and know more than our clients — at least about language, if not about the topics of the materials we edit.

I think of this every time I see a query about a term or usage that I’m not familiar with, or encounter one new to me. I think of myself as skilled and well-educated, but I would never say I couldn’t learn more about language in general and editing in particular. Constant learning creates an editor who is more skilled and more credible than people who think they’ve learned everything they need to know to do good work as an editor.

Our editing education started long before we entered the profession, at least ideally — we learned the ground rules of spelling, grammar, usage, and punctuation in grade school. We might have had some refinement of that information through high school and college, but most of us received our actual editing educations on the job, refining that basic knowledge by learning about a specific topic, field, or profession and how publishing worked in that area, or as humble editorial assistants in a more general environment, where the editing function itself was the focus, rather than one particular topic. We learned from colleagues and from whatever style manuals were the order of the day at a given company, publishing house, or publication.

Some of us started editing long enough ago to have used blue pencils as the standard tool of the game. We educated ourselves then to use the appropriate markup “language” on paper copy. As the publishing world changed, we changed, too, and educated ourselves about new tools of the trade — word processors and then personal computers; WordPerfect, MacWrite, Microsoft Word, Acrobat, and other programs. Many of us have educated ourselves about more sophisticated resources as well, such as macros and macro programs like Editorium products, PerfectIt, and EditTools. We might not have called how we picked up these new skills “education” — it might have been labeled training, or professional development, or adaptation, or simple survival — but that adaptation was still an education process.

For freelance editors, education includes learning the ropes of being businesslike and separating editing as our craft from editing as a business. That is not an easy thing to do and something many of us are still struggling to do well, but it is essential to financial success.

There is more to educating ourselves, however, than just adapting to the need to use new tools or techniques as they evolve. To be the best editor you can be, as well as the most successful you can be, you have to continually educate yourself about the world around you — new uses of languages, new ways of using language, new words in the language. We have to pay attention to changes in style manuals, advances in various fields, political changes that affect country names and borders, and more. We can never assume that we’ve learned enough; there’s always more to know.

That means reading, constantly and widely — daily newspapers; a variety of general and news magazines; blogs about editing but also about other topics; professional publications; books in different genres; and more. Even watching TV news and some popular culture programs, as annoying as they may be and as superior as it may feel to eschew them, has educational importance. You can’t be a great editor if you cut yourself off from general information about the world around you. Books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, and other information resources that cover the world outside editing all inform the world of editing, and the mindset, skillset, and overall ability of an editor.

What you read for pleasure is also a factor in self-education, whether it be fiction, poetry, or nonfiction. Reading expands the mind and the imagination, as well as increasing your knowledge base. You never know when something you just read, even in a mystery or a novel of historical fiction, will inform and enhance your ability to edit a new project. And the more genres you read, the more types of projects you become eligible to edit.

Ongoing editing education also means being active in social media — on organizational and independent e-mail lists, and in LinkedIn conversations, web forums, and other environments where discussions of language and world trends and news can be found. We learn from each other as well as from more formal sources. Even Facebook can be a platform for learning about trends and events that could help you be a better editor.

We may not like all the changes in language and in the world around us, but we still have to know of them and deal with them on behalf of our clients or projects. The bottom line is that the more educated an editor is about editing in particular and the world in general, the better an editor that person is.

What do you consider essential to your ongoing professional education? How do you educate yourself to stay sharp and up to date about the craft and business of editing and the world in which you operate as an editor?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and desktop publisher who also owns Communication Central, which hosts an annual conference for freelancers every fall.

January 22, 2014

If You Don’t Believe. . .

When I speak at conferences, I often start my session by saying:

“Three things I alone am —
• I am the greatest!
• I am the smartest!
• I am the best!”

As those who attend my sessions can attest, I repeat that throughout my presentation.

It doesn’t matter whether I truly am the greatest, the smartest, or the best. What matters is that I believe I am — that I have confidence in my abilities and skills and that I communicate my confidence to clients and prospective clients.

At the last conference at which I spoke, I also handed out, at the end of my presentation, a card for each participant to place by their workspace, which read:

If you don’t believe you are the greatest, who will?

A key to success in business is self-confidence. In the absence of self-confidence, we become plagued with doubts about how well we did our work. Those doubts get transmitted to clients on a subconscious level. Clients do not want to believe that they have to review everything you did to make sure you did the job correctly. Instead, clients want to feel confident that they have hired the right person and can have faith that they will receive the quality work that they are paying for.

Consequently, my mantra — I am the greatest! I am the smartest! I am the best! — is intended to maintain my self-confidence and ensure that when I communicate with clients, I communicate that by hiring me (and impliedly, unlike by hiring some other editor) they have nothing to worry about. By hiring me, they have hired the best possible editor, and I will treat their work as if I had birthed it.

Most editors lack self-confidence. They never declare to the world that they are the best. They speak of themselves as being good editors or excellent editors — they compare themselves to themselves, not to their competition. This, I believe, is a mistake.

Each of us must have the strength and confidence to be equal with our clients. When we lack that strength and confidence, we give our clients the upper hand in any negotiations; basically, we accept whatever the client dictates because we fear the consequences of disagreeing with the client.

And if a client expresses dissatisfaction with our work when we are done, we often do not defend our actions vigorously, largely because we lack self-confidence and the strength self-confidence gives us.

If I am the greatest editor, then to whom will a client or potential client turn if the client turns away from me? The only choice is to turn to a second-best editor. Turning to a second-best editor says that the client does not think much of its manuscript. That is the message that we want to communicate: Is your manuscript not worth the attention of the best of the best?

In my early years as an editor, it was not unusual for clients to “argue” with me over editorial decisions. In those days, I lacked the self-confidence to stand by my decisions, unless I could point to a specific passage in a recognized style manual that expressly supported it. Today, it is different. Today, I have the self-confidence to determine for myself what is right and wrong. I point to style manuals and usage guides as supporting authority, if such support is needed.

A successful editor has confidence in the work they produce and in their skills. The successful editor believes that she belongs among the editing elite, and she conveys her belief and her stature to clients. As with most things in life, attitude is important. Believing you have the skills to be the greatest of editors puts you one step closer to being the best (and greatest) available editor on the planet.

We all know shy editors. Many of these shy editors are very highly skilled. They became editors because, among other reasons, they could limit their interaction with other people — their world revolves around the words on a page. But many of these editors also struggle to find work. The reason is that they lack the self-confidence to say to a client, “You need me because I am the best editor on the planet.”

As we have discussed in earlier essays, the Internet has changed our profession. Clients now have the world to search for an editor and often focus their search based on the economics. If you do not stand out from the crowd, what will draw attention to you? If clients have the choice among equal editors, your chances of being asked to undertake a project are no different from your competitors’ chances.

When we lack self-confidence, we become part of the crowd. We do not communicate to clients that we are different and that we are different because we are the best. We are just another editor in the sea of editors. Thus, my mantra. First, you need to convince yourself that you are the best editor in the sea of editors. Once you have convinced yourself, you must exude that confidence so that clients perceive you in the same way. The way to begin is to keep thinking

“Three things I alone am —
• I am the greatest!
• I am the smartest!
• I am the best!”

and to place this reminder in your workplace:

If I don’t believe I am the greatest, who will?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

January 20, 2014

The Business of Editing: Credibility

Filed under: Business of Editing,Professional Editors — Rich Adin @ 4:00 am
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For businesses, whether large or small, solopreneur or with employees, a key to success is credibility, and a cause of failure is a lack of credibility.

In the olden days of editing, credibility meant proven knowledge of subject matter and proven grasp of the fundamentals of language and language usage. I recall being both interviewed and tested before being hired as a freelance editor for a publisher. I also recall how difficult it was to get added to a publisher’s list of approved freelancers.

Over the ensuing years, I have noted a change. The staffs at publishers have diminished in numbers yet workload has increased. An early casualty of this numbers change was the interview. Increasingly, publishers relied on the resume and the test. With the rise of the Internet, some publishers added to the mix a quick look at the freelancer’s website. (Of course, it didn’t help that the people responsible for hiring freelancers had tenuous editing and interviewing skills themselves.)

Today, credibility seems to mean something different than what it meant in my early freelancing days. Today, credibility’s meaning seems to change like a chameleon. Credibility appears to mean different things at different times and for different reasons. I find that some clients are only interested in what books I have edited; others have scrutinized my website or read my LinkedIn profile or even the An American Editor blog; others want a test completed. These people, if they have not worked with me before, are contacting me based on my reputation, not on my credibility.

Credibility and reputation, although similar, differ in their audience. Reputation is addressed to the broader audience, which can include clients and prospective clients; credibility is what is built up with individual clients. Each includes the other, but which is in the dominant position depends on the audience. Prospective clients who are searching for editors search based on reputation; they lack the direct experience with an editor to test the editor’s credibility. Clients who have worked with particular editors before offer work to an editor among that group based on the editor’s credibility.

I have been contacted about editing because clients have looked at my website, especially the list of past projects, or read my LinkedIn profile, or this blog, which are advertisements for me, and decided that I would be a good fit for their needs. But what they do not do is interview me, and often do not test me. They are relying on my reputation without any sense of my credibility, except for that sense that can be garnered by looking at my past projects and equating the past projects with the notion that I must be credible.

With the rise of the Internet, substitutes for traditional methods of hiring have also risen. How well these substitutes work remains unresolved.

Years ago I hired freelancers based on their resumes and an interview. I rapidly discovered that not requiring a test, too, was a mistake. Today, whether I require a test depends on how well I know the freelancer and the freelancer’s work, which brings me back to the matters of reputation and credibility.

There are many types of freelance editors, but in broad terms, editors fall into two basic types: those who do everything that comes across the transom and those who “specialize,” focusing on narrower areas. Similarly, reputation and credibility come in multiple flavors, but in the broadest senses there are reputation as an editor and credibility in editing and credibility in subject-matter editing. My observation is that the greater opportunity to build credibility lies with the specialists who can build credibility in both editing in general and in subject-matter editing, but within a tighter knit community of clients and potential clients.

Credibility and reputation are important because of the strength they give me when I negotiate terms for a project. The stronger my credibility and reputation are in relation to the project under discussion and the client with whom I am negotiating, the greater the likelihood that my complaints, concerns, and objections will be considered seriously and dealt with in a manner satisfactory to me.

We all recognize the importance of reputation, but not necessarily the importance of credibility. How important is credibility? Credibility is the handmaiden of opportunity and reputation’s sidekick. As credibility increases, so does positive reputation. The greater one’s credibility and reputation as an editor, the more opportunities that will present to the editor, which means the greater the likelihood of meeting or exceeding one’s goals.

In addition, the greater one’s credibility, the less argument one gets about editing decisions. When I first started as a freelance editor, I had little credibility. As a result, many of my editorial decisions were questioned; I was asked to justify them, and my client would then decide whether my decision was “correct or incorrect.” As my credibility and reputation grew, such questioning decreased. Now I am rarely asked to justify a decision and am usually given broad instructions, with the application of those instructions left to my discretion.

In other words, I went from an editor whose work was to be watched and carefully reviewed to an editor who could be relied on to deliver high-quality work.

When I am asked if I am interested in undertaking a project, the client tells me what they are hoping for. When I review the project and say that, for example, the desired schedule cannot be met unless certain adjustments are made, my clients generally try to work with me rather than tell me that there is no latitude or that they will find someone else. This cooperation, which is good for both the client and me, is a direct result of my credibility with the client.

Reputation and credibility also serve as magnets to draw new business. As word spreads, the greater the likelihood that I will be on someone’s radar.

With every project that I undertake, my goal is twofold: to further reinforce my reputation as an outstanding editor and to build credibility with the particular client so that the client will turn to me first for all of its editorial needs. I know whether I have succeeded in attaining these goals by the quantity and quality of the requests I receive for my editing services and by how negotiations on new projects go.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

January 19, 2014

Worth Reading: Lifting the Ladder

Mercia McMahon’s essay, “Lifting the Ladder,” is well worth reading, especially if you are interested in targeting the indie author market. McMahon offers an interesting idea, writing, “Instead of trying to lift the ladder up from the working classes, these middle class authors should seek their validation in a simpler and more traditional answer; establishing a publishing house.”

Richard Adin, An American Editor

January 15, 2014

American Education and the Future of American Editors

Public education and its cost are on the agenda of nearly every state government in the United States. Americans spend a lot of money on education and the return is not as good as it should be. There are myriad reasons for this, not least of which has been the politicization of the teaching profession and the war on government by Republicans.

Every state constitution includes a public education clause. These clauses were included to ensure that America could grow and compete. It was also a recognition that an educated populace could keep America from falling into a dictatorship.

In today’s global economy, the most successful competitors are those who have emphasized educating their populations. Companies also are looking for better-educated new hires, especially as increases in profit are so strongly connected to a better-educated workforce.

In the United States, individual states compete to lure new or existing businesses to their state. This is done, among other ways, by offering tax incentives and by reducing the tax burden. The problem is that a significant portion of a state’s budget is tied up in funding education and other social welfare programs, and because state budgets must be balanced, funding of these programs has to decline to offset the tax “relief” being given to companies.

Kansas is leading the way. It has slashed public education funding to 16.5% below the level it was at in 2008 in order to pay for a $1.1 billion tax break that primarily benefited the wealthy. California slashed school aid because of budget imbalance. New York slashed aid and increased mandates.

The companies and wealthy individuals who benefit from the tax incentives and breaks fail to see beyond the short-term. What happens to these companies in 5 years when they can no longer hire new high school and college graduates who have the basic skills needed by the companies to grow and expand? For years, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its members have complained about how poorly prepared high school graduates are to work. They want the education system to do better. Yet they never come forward and insist that a government increase education funding; instead, they want taxes reduced without looking at what benefits they would also be reducing.

When I went to college many decades ago, there was no such thing as a “remedial” course. To get admitted, you had to already be at a certain skill and knowledge level and have the necessary skills to succeed. Then college began to morph into a competitive business, which meant increasing the number of attendees. Consequently, the need for “remedial” courses grew. Today, remedial instruction is considered part of the “college experience.”

This all bodes ill for the future of American editors. Editing requires mastery of certain language-related and business-related skills. Most editors in the past were taught the language-related skills and were expected to be well-enough educated to learn the business-related skills on their own. But that began to change in the late 1990s and continues today.

Increasingly, I see editors who have not been taught the basic language-related skills that are fundamental to a successful editing career. And when I see the tests and resumes submitted by recent college graduates who are looking to be hired as editors, I see people without those basic skills. Neither the language-related nor the business-related skills are taught today. It is hard to focus on those skills when remedial education is the starting point.

The war on education funding creates its own never-ending circle of degradation. As people move from the education system into the editing profession without mastery of basic language-related skills, they apply their limited skills to the material that will become the teaching material of the next group of students. That next group of students will receive an education that is no better than, and likely worse than, that of the author and editor who has already come to the task with a decreased skill level.

The never-ending circle ensures that with each new class entry into the world of authors and editors, the skills that are passed on are less than the skills of the previous group.

Much of it boils down to funding. In Kansas, class sizes have increased greatly, which means that students cannot be given individual attention. To make oversized classrooms work, there comes a push toward the least rather than a pull toward the most. The slowest learners cannot be left behind so the fastest learners have to be throttled. It does not take long before the skills of the fastest learners begin to match those of the slowest learners, rather than vice versa.

Of course, there is also the problem of the teachers who have graduated from such a system and thus perpetuate the problem. A teacher who hasn’t been taught the difference between a noun and a verb cannot be expected to teach children the difference.

The education of future editors is important because of the role that editors play in the dissemination of knowledge. Editors are an integral and very important part of maintaining language standards. As an editor’s education diminishes, so does the editor’s ability to help facilitate communication — it is hard to facilitate the understanding of something you yourself do not understand.

At some point, if education funding keeps declining and with it learning continues to decline, there will be no need for editors as no one will know what contributions an editor can make to communication because editors won’t be able to make that contribution. It is difficult to edit a book at a high language level when your language skills revolve around twit feeds.

The saddest part of the education funding fiasco is that the Republicans who are pushing it see it as a way to lure businesses to their low-tax state. What they lose sight of is that at best such moves are temporary because even more important than tax savings to a business is finding workers with the education and skills to do the jobs that are required for the business to continue in existence and to grow.

When education and skills were fairly uniform across the United States, low taxes were alluring. But as those manufacturers who offshored in the 1990s and who now are onshoring learned, low wages and taxes can only carry a company just so far — the prime mover for company profitability and growth is a properly educated and trained work force.

Editing as a skilled profession and viable career path is reliant on a good education system. The demise of a good education system as a deliberate policy decision is not only a threat to the future of editing, but also to the future of the country. I’m not sure what can be done to halt the tide, but I’ve made it a point to let the politicians who claim to represent me know that defunding education is not the answer to a bright future; instead, it is the path to a very bleak future.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

January 13, 2014

Evaluating Editors

Last week our dishwasher died. It had served us well for 14 years but finally gave a last gasp, which meant it was time to buy a new one. But what do I know about dishwashers? Not much. I know what features I want and what I expect it to do, but among brands and models, I don’t know good from bad and really have no way to test them in advance of buying one and subsequently learning whether or not I made a good decision.

In the very olden days, filling this knowledge gap was difficult. The primary resource was anecdotal evidence from family, friends, neighbors, and advertising. If my cousin was ecstatic about her new dishwasher, then I would have likely looked at one from the same brand — even though her dishwasher was already 7 years old and the model was no longer available.

Today things are a bit different. The Internet has made it so. But even today much of the consumer’s decision making relies on anecdotal opinion, with the difference being the number of opinions that one can access. The opinion universe is nearly infinite.

Although I did look at comments about dishwashers, I rapidly found that they were not all that helpful. Some were much too general and broad, some were gripes about “defects” that I wouldn’t call defects, many were about models no longer available. In the end, I relied on my primary standby, Consumer Reports, which tested, reported on, and rated 228 models of dishwashers. We looked at the top 10 models and bought one of the top 4 models.

This shopping experience made me think of editing. I can find information from reliable organizations that test and evaluate both expensive and inexpensive appliances, but if I want to hire an editor, it is a crapshoot. In some countries and in some specialty areas, it is slightly better than a crapshoot because there are certifying organizations. However, the value of the certification lies in how well recognized that certification is among the consuming populace. I suspect that in many instances, the organizations are not well known outside the profession.

All of this brings me back to the complaint that I have made before about the lack of licensing standards for editors. Many, if not most, editors are generally opposed to any kind of national governing body that would test and license editors. They do not see the value of making the editorial profession akin to lawyering, accounting, therapy, doctoring, and even hairdressing; that is, minimum education standards followed by testing and licensing and, perhaps, even continuing education requirements. Such a scheme is viewed as just one more financial roadblock designed to curb individual freedom and prevent the marketplace from deciding (the idea being that cream will always rise).

Twenty-five years ago I thought similarly; today I think differently. The world has changed for editors. Thirty years ago, when I started in this profession, an American book publisher didn’t consider offshoring editorial work. Consequently, the pool of competitors was limited. It was further limited because there was a close working relationship between the in-house editor and the freelance editor; poor work didn’t slip by. The Internet and the internationalization of publishing has changed that relationship. The pool of editors is now global, not local, and in-house editors handle so many more projects than they did 30 years ago that they do not have the time to work closely with the freelance editor.

The close relationship between the in-house editor and the freelance editor allowed for an evaluation of the freelance editor’s work that no longer occurs. It even allowed for informal mentoring. Although the ease of entry to the editing profession hasn’t really changed (it was easy then and it is easy now), the rigorous evaluation of an editor that occurred then has, for the most part, gone by the wayside today.

The result is that the profession of editing now faces more challenges than it is capable of handling. First is the challenge of ensuring basic competency. Although the topic of another essay, it is worth noting that education in America is in great decline, with Kansas being at the forefront of that decline and the other states watching Kansas and itching to mimic it. The trouble in Kansas is that the Republican-led government is defunding education, having slashed public education funding to 16.5% below the 2008 funding level, and working to slash even more. The consequence will be that future editors will be drawn from a pool of inadequately educated people. If the slashing were limited to Kansas, it would only be Kansas-educated editors who would be disadvantaged. But with other states looking to mimic the Kansas approach, the inadequacy will be much wider spread. Licensing and education requirements to be an editor would not solve the problem but would help to minimize it by assuring a minimum competency.

The second challenge is ensuring the ability of competent editors to earn a living, or at least having the opportunity to do so. If our profession remains as libertarian as it currently is, and if the ease of entry — just hang out a shingle and call one’s self an editor — remains, the consequences will be that better qualified and more competent editors will leave the profession because it will be too difficult to compete economically, which will lead to a further degradation in quality of the editorial product.

The third challenge is changing the decision-to-hire-an-editor driver from price to quality. As long as the decision driver remains or is dominated by price, the highly skilled editor will be unable to compete. We see this now with authors who talk about not having the money to hire an editor or who are willing to pay no more than $200 to edit a 500-page manuscript — and then expect, if not outright demand, the “perfect” edit. Editing is like most crafts in that it is a hands-on skill. Although some aspects can be automated, the reading of a manuscript word by word cannot be. Paying $200 for editing a 500-page manuscript amounts to $8 an hour, assuming the manuscript can be read and edited at a pace of 20 pages an hour; at a pace of 10 pages an hour, the pay is $4 an hour. How long do you think it would be before price drove highly skilled editors into other professions?

The fourth challenge is objectively evaluating editors in a fashion that is universally understood by the consumers of editing. Of all the challenges — those identified above and those left unidentified — this is the most difficult to overcome. Why? Reasons include resistance on the part of editors who are semi-successful today; a lack of editors willing to step forward and accept the mantle of leadership in this task; the number of part-time editors for whom editing is a way to earn vacation money; and editors (freelance and in-house) who have yet to enter the profession who are not being taught the basic skills they need to identify good from poor editing.

If editors could be more objectively evaluated, editing might well return to the state of being a respected, skilled profession that attracts highly skilled and educated people and allows them to earn a middle class living. I think raising the profession in this manner could turn the decision driver from price to quality, which would benefit both editors and the consumers of editing. I also think one way to accomplish these goals is to have standards, education requirements, and licensing. What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

January 8, 2014

What? The Fundamental Question

The what questions are the formational questions that each freelancer needs to self-ask but rarely does. What questions are the fundamental questions. They are questions that have no universally definitive answer; each of our answers will fit our particular circumstances. Yet the what questions are the questions that freelancers need to ask and answer repeatedly throughout their career. They are the questions whose answers act as our business guide; they define our business persona.

The what questions are these: What do I expect out of my freelance career? What do I want out of my freelance career?

Expectations and wants are not the same thing. They can be formulated so that they are the same, but it is best if they are not the same, even if they have the same root concern. They should parallel each other; they are like identical twins — identical in every way except in the way they are individuals and different from each other.

The what questions go hand-in-hand with goals, which we discussed in “The Business of Editing: Goals.” What we expect and what we want help form our goals because our goals should be steps in achieving our expectations and wants.

When I began my career as a freelancer, I wanted to create a successful business, one that I could enjoy for decades and that would earn me enough money to do the usual middle-class things such as own a home, take vacations, send my children to college, fund my retirement. But I didn’t really have expectations, largely because I had little familiarity with editing as a career. In my case, my wants defined my expectations. After a few years, I expected my business to meet my wants.

Because I didn’t have truly distinct expectations, my early years in business were not all they could have been. However, because of the convergence of my wants and my expectations, I was able to define a success measure that suited my needs. That measure helped formulate my yearly goals. Interestingly, my expectations and wants have not changed much over the decades.

Wants and expectations are intertwined and they both come about from answering the two what questions. Yet when I speak with colleagues about what they expect from their career and what they want from it, many of them have given little thought to the questions. The answer is often as vague as “I want to be successful” but without a real measure of what will constitute their success.

Some measures are more difficult than others. Financial measures are easy to calculate and apply; measures related to quality, competency, and similar intangibles are much harder to apply. Even so, there is nothing wrong with saying “I want to be the editor who is recommended first” or “I want to be the best of the best editors.” The problem is in defining how to achieve that goal.

Our wants and expectations are often used as fallbacks, as defenses to explain why we are not as successful as we really want to be. I know editors who never say they want success measured financially because they are not financially successful and to use that measure would be to question their skill. These editors should be thinking, instead, about how using that measure could help them achieve the financial success goals; that is, they should view the measure as an aid, not as a hindrance.

We need to ask these questions of ourselves and we need to answer ourselves honestly, because our honest answers need to be our guides in running our businesses. Honest answers lead to honest reflection on what we need to do that we are not doing to meet our expectations and wants. Honest answers lead to honest decision making when we face business choices.

For example, if we know that we want greater financial success and we know that we want to edit only mystery novels, we then also know that we need to find a way to alter what we are currently doing to engender that increased financial success. But if we think that our want is simply to be recognized among mystery novelists as one of the top ten mystery editors in the country, the way we achieve that goal will be significantly different than were we directing our efforts toward financial success. It is not that they cannot go hand-in-hand, it is how we focus our efforts to accomplish our wants.

Why (another very important question and a topic for another day), you are asking, the focus on what questions today and on goals previously? Because every business owner should determine if her current business model is sustainable and whether she should remain in the current business (or even enter it) or should move in a different direction. Every business owner should have confidence in the business choices she has made, which means there must be something to measure those choices against.

Many of us “fell” into freelancing. Perhaps we worked for a publisher and got laid off. Or we didn’t know what to do with ourselves after college. Or we thought editing was a “romantic” profession at which we would be good. Or…

Many of us entered the profession without really knowing what we wanted from the profession or knowing what to expect. (One former editor told me that he became a freelance editor because he thought it would be easy to get business and make money. He said he quickly discovered otherwise.) Now we are struggling and have no clear path to ending our struggles.

Answering the what questions will help to focus our efforts; establishing goals will give us benchmarks that can help us decide whether this is really the career for us — or, more importantly, whether the career is fine but our direction is wrong and needs changing. Answering the what questions and establishing appropriate goals may help bring us to the decision that we need to broaden our opportunities and not be so adamantly certain that we are not interested in pursuing particular opportunities.

The key is to use the what questions, combined with setting goals, to map our future course so that it better aligns with our wants, expectations, and needs. We need to be the drivers of our future, not passengers. It is hard to know if we are successful if we do not know what we want and what we expect from our career choices.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

January 6, 2014

The Business of Editing: Goals

It’s a new year and if tradition has been followed, many of us have created New Year resolutions. Typically, they are health-oriented, such as “I will lose 20 lb and start exercising at the gym daily.” But few of us have created resolutions for our business.

“Resolutions” in this sense is synonymous with “goals.” I resolve to lose 20 lb; my goal is to lose 20 lb. With the beginning of a new year, it is time to not only start the business books over for the new tax year, but also time to set goals.

Goals are important in business because they act as focusers. Goals let us decide what will be important to us in the coming year. A well-written goal is narrowly defined and accomplishable. It may require great struggle to accomplish, but it can be done. Most importantly, well-written goals provide our business with direction for the foreseeable future.

A goal can be anything business related. The most common goals are of these types: “I will increase my billings by 25% over last year’s billings” and “I will replace client X with a new, better client.” For most of us, goals like these are not only appropriate, but what we need.

A goal can be very defining because a goal requires planning and execution of the plan. Using the 25% increase in billings as an example, it is insufficient to say “I will increase my billings by 25% over last year’s billings.” First, you need to know what last year’s billings were, which means that you need to have kept appropriate business records. If you haven’t kept detailed records, it is time to revise your record-keeping system for this new year. (Remember that detailed data is the lifeblood of a business.)

(An important note: There is a difference between what was billed and what was collected. For some freelancers, the numbers are identical; for other freelancers, billings will exceed collection, sometimes by a significant sum. The reason may be that some clients simply didn’t pay or it may be that you had a spectacular December and based on the terms of your agreement with your client, you will not collect until January. Therein lies the making of two goals: one to increase billings and one to increase collections.)

In a way, what we are talking about is updating (or creating) a business plan, except that we are focusing only on portions of what would be included in a complete business plan. We need to identify where we are today, at the beginning of the new year, and where we want to be at year’s end. We then need to spell out the steps we will take to get from point now to point then.

Goals are important because freelancers too often go with the flow of events rather than try to shape events to their needs. We need to mold our future to fit our wants and needs, rather than molding ourselves to fit whatever the future throws at us. In the absence of a goal such as increasing billing by 25%, we are likely to sit back and take what comes our way. If we are lucky, what comes our way will amount to an increase in billings, even if just by a slim amount; if we are unlucky, it will be a decrease in billings. As passive participants, whichever it is will be accepted even if it is unsatisfying.

By setting a goal and by planning for its achievement, we are creating our own luck. I know there are freelancers who will say they have tried this but no matter what they did, they were unable to meet their goal. What that tells me is that an insufficient amount of time was spent planning and executing a plan to accomplish the goals. It is like the freelancer who says he hasn’t time (or money) to do effective marketing, but then can be found spending hours every week (if not every day) “socializing” (rather than marketing) on the Internet. It is a question of priorities and with establishing priorities, we establish our own luck.

When I began my career as a freelancer, one thing I was certain of: If I didn’t have clients, I wouldn’t have income and the way to get clients was to market my services. I spent a significant amount of time and money marketing my services to the audience I wanted to reach, and I did so continually for years. Every year I created a new marketing plan, which I implemented over the course of the ensuing year. I didn’t call this a goal, but that was what it was. The result was that I had more business than I could handle myself; the legacy of that effort is that I continue to have more business than I can handle myself.

Your goals and my goals do not have to match or even be similar. Your goals have to fit your wants and needs. The key is setting those goals at the beginning of the year, planning how to reach them over the course of the ensuing year, and implementing that plan. If you haven’t set business goals for this new year, now is the time to set them, establish a plan to accomplish them, and determine what yardsticks will indicate that you are moving toward your goal.

Intermediate yardsticks are as important as the final goal because they are the measure of whether your efforts are bearing fruit. If you repeatedly fail to meet the yardstick goals, then you need to revise your plan and/or intermediate goals — not your final goals.

Remember that you are a business and need to create the atmosphere in which you can and will be successful, no matter how you define success. Keep a list of your goals taped where you can see them when in your office. We all need to be regularly reminded of what we are striving to accomplish if we wish to accomplish those goals.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

January 1, 2014

A Video Interlude: A Must-Watch Video

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

Rarely do I see a video that moves me or that I think is a must-watch video. I have seen a lot of very good videos, and have even been touched by some, but the video that follows is truly a must-watch video, even though it was originally created as a commercial. In addition, its message fits well with the holiday season.

The video’s message is one I agree with. I think it is a universal message that many of us too often forget and need to be reminded of. I was so touched by the video, that I made another donation to a local charity that I support that feeds the hungry and provides shelter to those in need. Perhaps you will be moved to do the same as a good way to start the new year.


Richard Adin, An American Editor

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