An American Editor

February 26, 2014

On Books: Dictionary of Untranslatables

Over my career as an editor, I have observed that no matter how much I know about language and usage, I know very little. Consequently, I am always on the lookout for books to add to my collection that I can also use in my work as an editor.

Regular readers of An American Editor know that my primary rule when editing is that the message from the author must be unmistakably communicated to the reader. Should there be any possible doubt about the message, then the language used is questionable.

In that light, I have always assumed that certain words that are used in American prose have clear and precise meaning when used to convey an author’s thoughts. In most instances, I, like many editors and readers, failed to consider the broader concepts that certain words convey; I understood, or so I thought, the common, everyday meaning and assumed it was that meaning that the author was using.

Words, however, can be philosophical in the sense that a word can be both specific and can be used as a substitute for a broader, more conceptual perspective. In my early years, I learned, for example, that the Russian word pravda, which was used as the name of a Soviet Russia newspaper (Pravda), was translated as “truth” — read Pravda and learn the truth about what was happening in Russia and the world.

Unambiguous words — truth, vérité, Warheit — are used to translate the word pravda but, as the Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon (Barbara Cassin, editor, Princeton University Press, 2014 [English translation]; originally published in France as Vocabulaire européen des philosophies: Dictionaire des intraduisibles, 2004) notes, pravda also means justice. And the scope of its meaning as truth is limited: according to the Dictionary, “Pravda is never used to designate scientific truth.”

What the Dictionary does is trace the origins, usage, and conceptual meanings of a selection of words that are important in the worlds of literature, philosophy, and politics, yet which are not easy to translate (and sometimes are wholly untranslatable) from one language to another. The Dictionary illustrates that those words that seem translatable, such as pravda, actually have meanings and nuances that are important to understanding the concept of the word, which concept leads to a different definition than the standard translation implies as being the correct definition.

In its exploration of words, the article authors delve into the cross-linguistic and cross-cultural complexities of the words and their meanings. The terms chosen for exploration have had a great influence on thinking over the ages. The Dictionary cites a word’s contextual history and usage to give additional meaning to the discussion.

Consider the entry for “matter of fact, fact of the matter.” The discussion is of the expression “matter of fact,” which is “found in English philosophy, notably Hume.” The discussion dissects the expression in an attempt to establish its origins and meanings. Following a several-page discussion, the article ends with a bibliography. The bibliographies that follow each entry are interesting in their own right.

The idea of the Dictionary is to elucidate the differences the concepts of the included words and expressions have based on the language in which a word or expression is used, both originally and in translation. The languages are Arabic, Basque, Catalan, Danish, English, French, German, Greek (classical and modern), Hebrew, Hungarian, Latin, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, and Spanish.

The terms are often transferred from one language to another without change. For example, praxis and polis are used in a variety of languages without translation; they have become part of a second language’s lexicon as if they were original to that language. Other terms are often mistranslated, even if just in the sense that the translation doesn’t express the breadth of the word’s meaning in its original language (e.g., pravda).

The essays make for some interesting reading. Even if a particular word is not one that I would encounter in my daily editing, reading the essays makes me think about the words I do see daily. In other words, not only are the essays interesting in what they have to say about a particular word’s origins and meanings, but they help reshape my approach to words as an editor.

The Dictionary of Untranslatables is wonderful addition to my language library. I view the Dictionary in the same light I view Steven Pinker’s books on language: not as resource that I will daily open as I would my Webster’s Collegiate, but as a book to savor and think about and to learn in the broader sense of learning. For anyone interested in language, in words, and the scope of meaning that a word can encompass, I recommend the Dictionary of Untranslatables.

If you would like to see a sample entry, Princeton University Press offers a few samples. This link will take you to the page where you can view online, in PDF format, a few entries. You might find the kitsch entry particularly interesting.

February 24, 2014

The Practical Editor: Working the Real World

Today’s column by Erin Brenner marks the first essay in a new monthly series, “The Practical Editor.” In this series, Erin will address real-world editorial issues and the balance needed between real-world demands and what could (would) be if all the stars were aligned in the editor’s favor. Please welcome Erin as a new columnist for An American Editor.

________________

Working the Real World

by Erin Brenner

There’s nothing like honing a well-written manuscript until it would make the angels weep for its beauty, grace, and clarity. Helping create a work of art thrills and satisfies me. Having a hand in producing something like this from George Eliot’s Middlemarch would be an honor:

We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, “Oh, nothing!”

Too bad that I and most of my colleagues work in the real world.

Few manuscripts are the next Middlemarch, few authors a modern George Eliot. Certainly, we copyeditors could weave an author’s words until they became something glorious, but we run up against real limits: in raw materials to work with, in time to do the work, in money to be paid for the work.

Of course we want to do it all. Of course we want to turn that doggie daycare website into Literature! Why else would we have become copyeditors? Literary geniuses are rare, though. Much of the editing we do is the down-and-dirty variety on manuscripts that will be read tomorrow and wrapped around fish the day after.

True, there’s more text being published than ever before, even discounting all the casual emails, Facebook postings, and so on. That’s more opportunities for copyeditors. But because of that increase, readers are absorbing material more quickly, too. They don’t always notice the niceties. It’s get the message and move on.

Most of the time.

Then there are our dream projects: projects where the client wants the Cadillac service. They want you to bleed over every word, to make the manuscript sing—and they’re willing to pay for it and give you the time to do it.

Copyeditors need to know what the manuscript at hand calls for. What are the author’s and publisher’s goals? However beautiful Eliot’s prose is, it doesn’t sell soap.

What is the audience’s expectations of the manuscript? However much Eliot makes you feel, she doesn’t teach you how to perform open-heart surgery.

The practical copyeditor keeps the author, publisher, and audience in mind while editing, flexing well-trained editing muscles to find that unique balance between good writing and getting the job done for the manuscript at hand.

In this column, I’ll explore practical editing. It’s not enough to know the rules. You need to know how to apply them and why you would apply them differently in various situations. When would allowing vogue words be acceptable? When would you follow an author’s awkward dictate, such as “don’t split infinitives”?

Copyediting is a muscle. Having the power to do the heaviest lifting is useful, but being able to control how much power you use at any time is better. And knowing when to apply that power, and when not to, is invaluable. It’s the difference between failing and succeeding in our business.

Part of that control comes from understanding the difference between usage rules and style guidelines, so I’ll examine some common misunderstandings, such as the idea that all redundancies are bad and that certain phrases, like “don’t use reason why,” shouldn’t be used. I’ll also look at why it’s OK to use notional agreement, singular they, and hopefully as a sentence adverb.

I’ll provide lessons on structuring your editing for the real world — the one with doggie daycares and deadlines. The Copyeditor’s Typographic Oath will be a great map to guide us, as will the ideas of zombie rules and dog-whistle edits. I’ll offer triage lists, a method for judging the acceptability of neologisms, and online resources to inform your editing.

We’ll also talk about practical approaches to running an editing business and marketing yourself, such as structuring your business to meet your needs, balancing work and play, and learning to say no. We’ll discuss using social media as part of your marketing plan and why it’s important to do more than social media.

I’ll even debate some of Rich Adin’s ideas and expand on others. Can you really not teach copyediting? Is there really no such thing as light, medium, and heavy copyedits? Perhaps I’m biased on these points because I teach in a copyediting program. But I know how I struggled in my early days and how the training helped me. I believe you can teach copyediting, though not everyone can learn it.

I invite you to send me your topic requests as well. What would you like me to write about? Email me!

Erin Brenner is the editor of the Copyediting newsletter and the owner of Right Touch Editing. You can follow her on Twitter. Erin is also a guest presenter at various conferences on topics of interest to freelancers.

February 19, 2014

The Business of Editing: Why $10 Can’t Make It

In a previous essay, The Business of Editing: Worth in the Decision-Making Process, I wondered why editors and those who use our services attribute so little worth to the value of what professional editors do. As I noted, we are a large part of our problem because we accept — and even solicit — work at a price that cannot provide a sustainable lifestyle.

What brings this to my immediate attention, in addition to the experience I related in that essay, are the constant notes I see on various forums, including the “professional” LinkedIn forums, from “professional” editors who are willing to edit a manuscript for $10 or less an hour — and when questioned about the economics of such a fee, they vigorously defend it.

Let’s start with some data (all from “Opening Remarks,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek, February 17-23, 2014, pp. 10-13):

  • Minimum wage for tennis ball boy in Chennai, India: 37¢
  • Price of a Starbucks Frappucino in New York City: $5.93
  • One-tenth of 1% of hourly pay of JP-Morgan Chase CEO Jaime Dimon (based on 60 hours/week, 50 weeks/year): $6.66
  • Poverty wage for a single parent with 2 children: $9.06
  • Average price of 3 lbs ground chuck beef: $10.77
  • Prevailing hourly wage for NYC laundry-counter attendants: $11.62
  • Median hourly wage in Mississippi: $13.37
  • Hourly wage paid by Henry Ford to auto workers in 1913 adjusted for inflation: $14.71
  • What the hourly minimum wage would be if it had kept pace with productivity growth: $16.93
  • Hourly wage required to afford a 1-bedroom apartment in San Diego: $20.24
  • Living wage for single parent with 2 children in Pascagoula, Mississippi: $22.27/hour
  • Living wage for single parent with 2 children in San Francisco: $29.66/hour
  • Living wage for single parent with 3 children in Shakopee, Minnesota: $33.28/hour
  • Adjusted for inflation, Americans’ real incomes have fallen 8% since the start of 2000
  • U.S. Census Bureau’s poverty threshold: $18,123/year

I am a firm believer that each of us needs to set our own rate. However, to be able to intelligently set my rate, I need to know precisely how much my effective hourly rate must be for me to earn a sustainable livelihood.

(By sustainable livelihood, I mean an income that lets me live comfortably and not worry about meeting bills or whether I can afford to buy a book or go to restaurant or buy a toy for my grandchildren. For a discussion of how to determine what to charge, see my five-part series, “Business of Editing: What to Charge.” This link will take you to Part V where you can find the links to the other four articles. The articles should be read in order.)

So, when I say $10 an hour for editing is not sustainable, I base that on an analysis of fact. Let’s look at the $10 per hour rate. (The same analysis method applies regardless of your country.)

In the United States, $10 an hour equals a yearly income of $20,800 if you work 52 weeks in the year and every week you can bill and collect $10 an hour for 40 hours. If you can only work 30 hours a week for 20 weeks, 40 hours a week for 25 weeks, and 10 hours a week for the remaining 7 weeks, you will earn a maximum of $16,700. Similarly, even if you can earn $10 an hour for 40 hours and do so for 40 weeks of the year, your gross income will be $16,000.

Remember that these figures are gross income; let’s work from the best scenario, $20,800 per year. In the United States, you must pay the self-employment tax. This is the one tax that cannot be avoided. It amounts to 13.5% of earnings, which on $20,800 equals $2,808. Your yearly income has just been reduced from $20,800 to $17,992 — and nothing has been paid for except the unavoidable self-employment tax which is your contribution to Social Security and Medicare.

To do business these days, an Internet connection is required. I suspect it is possible, but I do not know anyone who pays less than $35 a month for the Internet ($420 per year). I also do not know any editor who does not have telephone service, usually at least cell phone service and often both cell and landline service, which runs about $50 a month ($600 per year).

I won’t add a charge for computer hardware and software; let’s assume that was bought and paid for last year. We now are at a “net” income level of $16,972. We haven’t yet paid for rent, food, gasoline, health care, television, clothing, heat and electric, and the like. In my area, the average rent for a studio apartment runs $972 per month. Assuming you can get one of the least-expensive studio apartments available and that it includes heat and electric, the cost would be $700 per month ($8,400 per year), which drops our available income for other necessities, like food and healthcare, to $8,572.

Food is always difficult, but I think $100 per week on average is probably reasonable, which means $5,200 per year, leaving us with $3,372. Do we really need to go on?

Can you scrape by on $10 an hour? Sure. People live on even less. But the biggest fallacy in this analysis is the base assumption: As an editor, you will have 40 hours of paying and collectible work every week for 52 weeks — that is, no downtime. It does happen, but the usual scenario is that an editor ends the year having worked fewer than an average of 40 hours per week and fewer than 52 weeks during the year.

Yet the expenses don’t fluctuate. The rent will remain the same whether you work 52 weeks or 32 weeks, 40 hours or 20 hours. Similarly, the telephone and Internet bills will likely remain the same. The bottom line is that $10 an hour is only doable under ideal conditions and even then is barely doable.

The $10/hour wage has multiple effects in addition to not being a “living” wage. The more often editors say they will work for that amount, the more difficult it is to rise from it. If a goodly number of editors are willing to work for that price, then the market price is being set.

I have discussed the hourly number with a number of clients. I have asked them about the basis for the hourly rate they pay and when it was last raised. Several have told me that they have not raised the hourly rate since the early 1990s. The reason is that there is a flood of editors willing to do the editing for a price that equals or is less than their hourly rate, so why raise the rate — the market is not demanding that the rate be raised and because of industry consolidation, editorial quality is not high on the list of corporate objectives.

Consequently, we are often our own worst enemy when it comes to rate setting. I know that when people ask on the lists about what to charge there is almost always a response that points to a published survey that quotes a higher-than-$10-per-hour rate, but then the flood of “I’ll edit for less” messages begins. There isn’t an easy solution to the free market problem except for this: Before setting your rate and agreeing to work for a rate, know what rate you need. I think those who low-ball rates would be less likely to do so if they really analyzed their needs.

The only other point I constantly raise with clients and potential clients is that the truly professional editor cannot and will not edit a manuscript for a nonsustainable rate.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

February 17, 2014

If There Were Only One

A while ago I was speaking with some local students and I was asked to name the one print periodical that I think every editor should subscribe to and read. This was a difficult question. I subscribe to a number of print and electronic periodicals and read books constantly because I like to broaden my general knowledge base. But I gave the question some serious thought.

In the end, I had to nominate two print periodicals — one just wouldn’t cover the bases for me. The two I named were The New York Times and The New York Review of Books.

Let me say that the newspaper doesn’t need to be the Times; it does need to be a newspaper of similar scope. Reading the Times lets me keep abreast of what is happening in numerous fields, especially with its specialized weekly sections, like “Science,” and with its broad coverage of world and local news. In comparison, my local newspaper barely provides coverage of local news outside of sports. I think the necessity of keeping abreast of what is happening in the world around us as part of our education is self-evident. A more detailed discussion in this regard can be found in Ruth Thaler-Carter’s “On the Basics: Editors and Education — A Lifelong, Ongoing Process,” which previously appeared on An American Editor.

The choice that requires more explanation is The New York Review of Books (NYRB).

I subscribe to a wide variety of periodicals and I also read some more specialized material in electronic form. But of all the periodicals I read, none provides as broad an insight into my editing world as the NYRB. The NYRB is not just about books. It discusses films, politics, science, economics, poetry, art, music, photography, among other culture-oriented items. It is true that other periodicals also discuss some of these things, but none seem to approach the topics like the NYRB.

When the NYRB reviews a book, for example, I learn about similar books, about the author of the book, and about the book. If the book is nonfiction, for example, about a battle that occurred in World War II, the review invariably discusses other books that address the battle and distinguishes among the books, their approaches, the qualifications of the authors, and all the things that make for a great learning experience.

When an art exhibit is under discussion, the reader is educated about the artist, the period in which the artist lived and painted, and how the artist’s works are perceived. It is almost like being in an art appreciation class in college.

Importantly, the reviews are written in the analytical manner that a good developmental editor would mimic. The review builds. The reviews are also instructive for the copyeditor. I have found that many of the things that I look for today as a copyeditor are things that I learned to look for by reading the high-quality reviews of the NYRB.

There is only so much time I can spend outside work reading for educational purposes. My life cannot be solely about work. Consequently, it is important to gain as much exposure as I can to as many topics as I can so that I can be a better editor and ask more incisive questions of authors. Because of its wide range of topics, I have found the NYRB to be, especially in combination with a daily reading of The New York Times, to be an excellent platform for giving me sufficient background to ask questions of authors. Just one example —

I recently edited a book that had a discussion of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). Between what I had learned from the Times and the NYRB, I felt confident enough in my knowledge of the Act to query the authors about a couple of points. The one thing I — and I would suspect many of my colleagues — do not want to do is make a query that makes me look as if I have no understanding of the topic I am editing. For example, if an author wrote “Affordable Care Act,” I would feel foolish (and look foolish) if I were to ask: “Do you mean Obamacare?” And considering that the term “Obamacare” is laden with political meaning, I would want to be careful about suggesting that “Obamacare” be substituted for “Affordable Care Act” under the guise that readers would more quickly identify what is meant.

(I suspect most of you are saying you would never make such a query. Let me assure you that I know of a few “professional” editors who have asked such a question of an author.)

A good editor is very aware of, and knowledgeable about, more than a specialty subject area. I understand that I could be a great medical editor and also be very knowledgeable about quilting patterns, but it is not evident to me how I could put my quilting knowledge to use in my editing work. A publication like the NYRB, which provides a wide spectrum of information as part of its primary function of review, can provide me with foundational knowledge that is usable in multiple fields.

As I noted earlier, the NYRB also acts as a constant tutor for me on editing. I read the reviews carefully, looking at how they are structured, what kinds of questions I would ask if I were editing the review, and are those questions subsequently answered. I also consider word choices: Did the editor and author choose the best word to convey the particular meaning? “Intellectual” periodicals like the NYRB should be held to a higher editorial standard than, for example, the daily newspaper. By applying that higher standard, the periodical can be used as a learning device to improve my own editing.

Although I have focused on the NYRB, I am certain there are similar publications in other countries. For example, I know that the London Review of Books has a similar approach. The key is to find the one or two publications that can provide you with both a broad and current knowledge base that is transferable to your daily work. For me, it is the Times and the NYRB. What one (or two) periodical(s) fulfill these functions for you? How would you have answered the original question?

(Disclaimer: I have no interest in either the Times or the NYRB except for being a long-time subscriber and reader of both.)

Richard Adin, An American Editor

February 12, 2014

To Serial or Not to Serial?

One thing I have noticed over the years is that what was once controversial in editing comes back to be controversial again. Like the cycle of life, editorial controversies are never put to permanent rest.

The current resurrected argument is whether or not to use serial commas.

My first thought was “what difference does it make whether serial or nonserial rules the manuscript?” My second thought was “what is the primary task of an editor and how does that task mix with the to-serial-or-not-to-serial question?”

We probably should begin with composition, because that is where this controversy has its origins. The more characters there are in a manuscript, the longer the manuscript. If “unnecessary” characters can be omitted, space will be saved and the cost of production will decline. It might not matter greatly if only one copy is being published, but multiply the savings over thousands of copies and over many manuscripts, and the savings become significant. Welcome to the age of bean counting.

(This attempt to save money is also at the foundation for the notion that there is no space on either side of a dash. But I digress….)

What is the primary reason to have a manuscript edited? I see the primary purpose as clear communication. What is the primary purpose of punctuation? To afford the reader clues as to the message the author intends to convey.

Consider this phrase: pregnant women and children. A professional editor would not let such a phrase stand. Why? Because it is not clear whether both the women and the children are pregnant or just the women. Of course, many arguments can be made as to how pregnant does not modify children, but there only needs to be one argument that it does to make the phrase questionable.

Similarly, as Lynne Truss famously pointed out, a professional editor would not let the phrase “eats shoots and leaves” stand without querying it. Whereas in the “pregnant women and children” instance rewording for clarification is the appropriate path, in the “eats shoots and leaves” conundrum, the correct path is punctuation.

Yet how much punctuation? If the intended meaning is that the actor “eats” some food, then “shoots” another actor and “leaves ” the premises, then serial commas are needed: eats, shoots, and leaves. With the serial commas, there is no mistaking the meaning. But those who oppose serialization would prefer a single comma: eats, shoots and leaves.

How clear is the single comma version? Not at all. There are two vibrant possibilities: the actor “eats” and what the actor is eating is “shoots and leaves”; the actor “eats,” then “shoots” another actor and “leaves” the premises. How is the reader to know which is meant?

Clearly there are a multitude of ways to avoid this situation (e.g., “eats bamboo shoots and leaves”) but the question under consideration is serialization. The premise of the antiserialists is that excessive punctuation interferes with the reading flow, thus minimizing the amount of punctuation enhances the reading experience. Proserialists, on the other hand, see punctuation as necessary to ensure understanding and thus as an enhancer of reading flow because the reader does not have constantly stop and attempt to discern what the author intended.

I admit that I fall in the proserialist camp. I see the role of punctuation as the same as highway signage — I need enough of it so that I do not need to stop in the middle of the highway to think about whether to turn right or left.

Editing is about comprehension, not about saving space. Editing is intended to laser focus on author meaning, not on fulfilling the latest lexical fashion. Serial commas rarely mislead a reader, unlike absence of a serial comma. So what harm comes about by serializing? A professional editor’s goal is to make the reading experience so smooth that the reader absorbs the author’s message without consciously realizing she is doing so.

Sufficient punctuation is one of the tools that brings this about. Insufficient punctuation requires a reader to either stop and attempt to decipher the author’s meaning or to gloss over the author’s point in hopes that either the point was not critical or that it will become clear subsequently. But having a reader battle with insufficient punctuation is not in either the author’s or the reader’s interest.

In the case of “eats, shoots and leaves,” the reader either inadvertently draws the correct conclusion or stops to ponder what is meant. What is the negative to the serial usage, assuming the intended meaning is “eats, shoots, and leaves?” There is none and there rarely is a problem using the serial comma (assuming its use conveys the correct meaning). So why have a rule that insists that the serial comma be avoided whenever possible? Why not make the rule always use the serial comma?

I am convinced that the rationale for the avoidance rule has nothing to do with communication, understanding, readability, or any of the other metrics that a professional editor should be concerned with when editing. I believe that it is an accountant’s rule: Omitting the “excess” punctuation lowers the financial outlay for a manuscript. The accountant’s rule does not address any of the metrics that might cause a manuscript to succeed or fail in the marketplace; instead, it laser focuses on cost.

Yet it strikes me that the cost of misunderstanding, of missing the author’s message is far greater than the financial cost of serializing. If readers have to struggle to understand an author, reviews and recommendations are likely to be negative and thus decrease sales. Ease of reading and understanding cannot be divorced from the decision to serialize or not serialize. The professional editor does not work with absolute rules. For the professional editor, all rules bow to the one rule regarding comprehension, and all rules (except that of comprehension) are flexible.

The difference between a professional editor and a nonprofessional editor lies in the rigidity with which the editor applies the “rules” laid out by style manuals and third parties. The more professional the editor, the more the editor determines for herself what the appropriate rules are that govern a particular project, even if it means explaining to a client why a client’s “rule” is being ignored.

Do you agree?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

February 10, 2014

On the Basics: Tips for Getting Started in Editing or Freelancing

Tips for Getting Started in Editing or Freelancing

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter 

There it was again: yet another LinkedIn discussion asking how to get started in editing, or how to start freelancing as an editor. Versions of this topic must pop up there at least once a week — probably more often, given the zillions of LinkedIn groups, of which I only see a dozen or so. The question comes up so often that I thought it might make the basis of a useful essay here.

The original question is often full of typos, which doesn’t bode well for the asker’s ability to either accept my response or succeed in our field. I do my best not to criticize such posts, but sometimes will say, “If you want to be a professional editor or proofreader, you need to make sure your posts are letter-perfect.”

My first reaction to “How do I start editing/proofreading/freelancing or promoting my editing business?” is usually “It depends. Do you have any experience, training, skills?” If the answer is “no,” I suggest taking some courses from local or online programs through universities, writers’ centers, and professional organizations before trying to get a job as an editor or pitch oneself as a freelance editor. You don’t necessarily need a degree or completed certificate, but you need something to ensure you know what you’re doing and can assure prospective clients or employers that you have at least basic skills in the profession.

I also suggest getting and studying one of the major style manuals — Associated Press, Chicago, American Psychological Association, Government Printing Office, etc., depending on the kind of editing someone might want to do — because knowing what they are and what they require will be a standard necessity for any professional editor. The best way to lose a prospective client is not to know what “AP,” “CMOS,” “APA,” or “GPO” means, or to do a first project using the standards for one when the client calls for another.

And, of course, there is a raft of important books to get, read, and absorb: The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications, with Exercises and Answer Keys by Amy Einsohn; Copyediting: A Practical Guide, by Karen Judd; and The Business of Editing: Effective and Efficient Ways to Think, Work, and Prosper, by Richard Adin, edited and with a foreword and introductions by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter and Jack M. Lyon and index by Sue Nedrow.

Be prepared to take tests to demonstrate your skills. Prospective employers and clients won’t take your word for your having the experience and skills they expect from you. Even if you have substantial experience, you’ll have to prove yourself, so don’t get in a huff when asked to take a test. Employers and clients know that it’s too easy to hang out a shingle and call oneself an editor, or a freelancer, without the least bit of experience or training. Think of tests as opportunities to show your stuff and prove your worth.

Assuming the person has some experience and skill in editing, or is willing to get some training before trying to enter the field, I have a few standard responses to the “how to get started” question. Here they are in greater detail than usual.

  • Contact everyone you’ve ever worked with or for to let them know you’re available for editing work, and ask them to keep you in mind if their colleagues need an editor. Past and current colleagues and employers know your work and skill level, and are often glad to help you get the word out about being available for jobs or freelance projects. Just contacting people from your work past to let them know you’re available is likely to result in at least one good lead.
  • Let friends and family know as well, especially if you’re looking for freelance projects. You might be surprised at who among them either needs an editor or knows of others who do, and you can usually count on them to be your biggest cheerleaders.
  • Ask those same previous colleagues for references or testimonials that you can post to a website or use in a promotional brochure. Their opinions will have credibility.
  • Join the American Copy Editors Society, Editorial Freelancers Association, and/or National Association of Independent Writers and Editors for access to their job services and directory listings for members, discussion lists, courses, interaction with colleagues, and other resources, all of which will enhance your professionalism, network, and resources. If you have special training or expertise, look for other organizations in that field.
  • Set up a website. You’ll need it to get found, function as an easily accessible portfolio by displaying testimonials to and examples of your skills, and establish a professional-looking, domain-based e-mail address.
  • Participate actively in LinkedIn and association environments, offering advice as well as asking for help — networking is a two-way process. Try to give as much as you take. Make sure all posts in those environments are grammatically and otherwise perfect, because that’s the best way to show that you know what you’re doing and are worth hiring.
  • Contact publishers to pitch your services. Direct contact can be surprisingly effective. Just be sure that your messages and query letters are perfect!
  • Subscribe to this blog (An American Editor) to learn more about the world of publishing and the nature of both editing and freelancing. Join the Copy Editing List to plug into the insights and wisdom of some of the most knowledgeable and experienced editors around. Subscribe to Copyediting newsletter and its related blogs to stay abreast of trends in language and the editing profession, and for access to its resources, such as courses on grammar and other aspects of editing, a job board, and more.
  • Get my “Freelancing 101: Launching Your Editorial Business” booklet from the EFA for tips on starting your business and making it a success.
  • Start saving now to attend the annual Communication Central conference for freelancers (this year, Sept. 26–27, 2014, in Rochester, NY) to meet colleagues, learn how to make the most of important editing tools, and enhance your business and marketing skills. It’s the only conference specifically for freelance writers, editors, proofreaders, indexers, and other professionals in the publishing field who want to freelance or do better at freelancing, and many of the sessions are of value to in-house editors as well.
  • Use your imagination. If you don’t have at least a spark of creativity and originality in how you approach your career, the road to success will be challenging. Don’t rely only on what other editors say about how they approach their work and their search for clients or jobs. Have an approach of your own. As long as it’s based on good practice, ethical behavior, and genuine skills and experience, it will serve you well.

Best of luck to all who seek to enter the rewarding field of editing.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

February 5, 2014

The Business of Editing: Worth in the Decision-Making Process

Within the past few weeks I had a single experience that was an initial up and a subsequent down. It is not that I haven’t had this type of experience before; rather, this time I had a little bit more information and so the experience registered with me at a different level of consciousness.

In the beginning…

I received a call from a publisher who was having a very unhappy experience with the editing of a series of books. The final straw had arrived, and the publisher called me to ask about my availability. The deal was somewhat typical of many of the convoluted deals I experience in today’s global editing world.

  • The publisher was not actually doing the hiring; its packager was responsible for the editing (and composition).
  • The author–series editor was unhappy and had been unhappy with the editing of the past several books in the series and wondered why I hadn’t been hired to do the editing. (I had edited the first book in the series and the author–series editor was pleased with my work on that first book.)
  • The publisher intended to strongly suggest to the packager that it hire me for this book, if I was available.

I advised the publisher that I would make myself available and would be interested in the project as it fit within my specialty of large projects. Consequently, the publisher made the suggestion to the packager and the packager contacted me.

The packager made an offer, which was not acceptable. I advised the packager of the terms under which I would accept the project, which terms included payment, schedule, page counting, and fee. The initial stumbling block was the fee. The packager’s offer was too low. The packager said it would contact the publisher because the amount I was asking was more than was authorized. We never got past the fee.

Eventually, the packager notified me that the publisher would not authorize the increased amount and so I would not get the project. As far as I was concerned, that was not a problem and it even worked out well as not an hour later, I was contacted by another publisher offering a larger project at a higher fee. But back to the original tale…

Because it was the publisher who originally contacted me, I kept the publisher in the loop by sending blind copies of my correspondence with the packager to the publisher. As it turned out, the publisher had authorized the increased fee. How do I know? Because the publisher called me, told me so, and asked if I would still be available if the miscommunication with the packager was straightened out. The publisher expressed surprise that the packager had made the decision on its own.

In the end, I did not get the project — to the publisher’s surprise, the packager told me no and immediately found someone else to do the project without consulting the publisher — but I did come to realize how differently various parties to the decision-making process view the worth of editors and editing. It is likely that the tale would have been simpler had the publisher originally set a price for editing that was commensurate with both the needs of the job and what the publisher wanted and needed both editorially and politically. In such event, the publisher would have had the packager contact me and the price would already have been “agreed to.”

But pricing is rarely set by those on the frontlines. The price decision is usually made by someone whose only contact with the project is a balance sheet. Although there may be flexibility in the price decision, it requires back-and-forth communication and justification, causing delay, which also affects other project aspects, such as schedule.

Yet it also raises another possibility. If the intermediary can obtain services for less than the approved price, who, if anybody, reaps the benefit of the difference between the accepted price and the available price?

More importantly, it raises the question of worth. What role does worth have in the decision-making process? For example, what is it worth to have a happy author? Or to know from experience with a particular editor that if you pay a little more you are unlikely to have to spend money fixing erroneous editing or consoling an irate author?

Worth is a two-way street.

Worth is not only involved in the question of how much should be offered to the editor, but how much should the editor require. I knew that the packager would have no problem finding an editor who would jump at the opportunity to do the project for the original price. I also know that at the original price and the level of editing required and the schedule to be met (remember that I had already done one book in the series), the editing could not be high quality — the combination of factors simply prohibits it; if it didn’t, I would have said yes immediately.

Which makes me wonder what is the worth of editing to editors?

If we value our services too cheaply are we not perpetuating the low-pay plague that has befallen editing as a result of globalization of editorial services and the rise of the transformative packaging industry? At what point does editing become a mere commodity, where an oversupply of editors forces the cost of editing downward because “editing is editing”? Unlike the maple syrup market, there is no market based on gradations; rather, “editing is editing” and all that matters is cost and speed as there is nothing to distinguish grades of quality.

Isn’t this what the indie author market has been telling editors since the explosion of the ebook and self-publishing market? That editing is editing and only price matters? Isn’t this what is both put forward and reinforced on forums like LinkedIn where editors are told they charge too much and too many are not good editors or don’t understand editing and the sacrosanctness of the author’s words as written and misspelled/misused; that authors can do better by self-editing or peer editing; that “I lost [dislike] my job and so am thinking of becoming an editor.” And let us not forget those editors who move us along that path by proclaiming to the world that they will provide not only a “perfect” edit, but do so for as little as 25¢ a page.

Increasingly, editing is viewed as having little financial value (worth). Increasingly, editors are shoring up that belief. It becomes particularly troublesome to me when I see that the ultimate client (in my tale, the publisher) is willing to extend itself but the intermediary is unwilling to take advantage of that willingness and is unwilling to provide the service that the ultimate client wants.

The problem of worth is hydra-headed; the solution requires cooperation of a type that will never be in the passionately independent world of editing, which world also suffers the plague of easy entry. I have my own solution: I provide high-quality editing in a form that allows me to specialize. As a consequence, although clients pay me more, they save other expenses that they would have to otherwise incur, and so find in my services that balance of cost and worth.

Where are you in this editing world?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

February 3, 2014

The Proofreader’s Corner: Editorial Freelancing — Are You Really Ready for It?

Today inaugurates a monthly series of essays by Louise Harnby, “The Proofreader’s Corner.” In her essays, Louise will explore the world of freelancing, drawing on her varied background as an accomplished proofreader, author of books on freelancing, and businessperson. Please welcome Louise as a new columnist for An American Editor.

____________

Editorial Freelancing:
Are You Really Ready for It?

by Louise Harnby

So you’ve decided you’d like to freelance. Congratulations! This means you’ll be self-employed. The survival of your new editorial business will depend on other individuals and organizations hiring your services.

A word of advice, however. If you currently work for someone else, make sure you’re actually ready for the world of self-employment before you clear your work station and wave goodbye to your boss, your annual-leave allowance, any pension provision (no matter how small), and your monthly salary.

There are lots of wonderful things about freelancing — things that most of us are ready for: control over who we work with, what we wear, the hours we choose to dedicate to our business, and the ability to work in the surroundings we choose.

There are lots of questions that we need to ask ourselves, too, before we embark on a freelance journey, not least of which is: Are we really ready?

“Ready for what? Ready to freelance? Definitely!” comes the response. “I’m sick of office politics. I’m sick of commuting. I’m sick of working with people who don’t appreciate me and who don’t behave professionally. I’m sick of not being paid what I deserve. I’m sick of having to barter with colleagues about who’ll come into the office over the Christmas holidays.” And so on.

Actually, I loved my last office job. Certainly there were times when things didn’t go as I wanted them to, but overall it was a lovely place to work and it was full of enthusiastic, inspiring people who were both friends and colleagues to me. I know many people who’ve not been so lucky in their careers; if you’re one of them, freelancing may seem like the solution.

An initial question…

If you’re still an employee and thinking of taking the plunge into editorial freelancing, ask yourself who deals with the following:

  1. Your tax deductions have changed in line with a salary increase/decrease.
  2. Your PC has broken.
  3. One of the organization’s customers hasn’t paid their invoice.
  4. You need to go on a course to learn how to use a specific piece of software.
  5. The company website is down.
  6. Your work station is filthy. The cleaner seems to have missed your work station!
  7. One of your external customers needs mail delivery of something TODAY.
  8. You feel ill and can’t attend a scheduled meeting; a colleague needs to stand in for you.
  9. You feel ill and can’t finish an urgent job; a colleague needs to stand in for you.
  10. The marketing materials need updating.
  11. The company’s suppliers need paying.
  12. The company needs to create/update/develop a mission statement.
  13. One of the department’s external suppliers has underperformed and a replacement needs to be found.
  14. You feel you’ve been treated unfairly by a colleague or client.

In my previous office-based job, where I was an employee rather than the employer, the answers to the above looked like this:

  1. A woman called Kim
  2. A man called Luke
  3. Kim again
  4. A woman called Jane
  5. Luke again.
  6. A woman called Marie
  7. A man called Paul
  8. A woman called Bernie
  9. Bernie again
  10. Me…or Bernie, Jane, Clive, Debbie, Lorna, and more!
  11. A man called Peter
  12. A man called Steve
  13. A woman called Claire
  14. A woman called Susan

In my current job as a freelance proofreader, the answer is “me”, and in numbers 8 and 9 I’d add: “Tough!  You’re on your own — deal with it.”

And all those things that you’re sick of…

Running your own business is empowering in many ways but it’s not a cure-all.

  • Politics — there may not be office politics, but there is still politics. Freelancers, editorial or otherwise, work with people. And where there are people there is politics. It’s unavoidable.
  • Lack of appreciation — many of your clients will be wonderful. But a quick browse on one of Facebook’s member-only editorial discussion groups will soon tell you that it’s not always an easy ride. Many editorial freelancers have had the odd run-in with a rude client, an unappreciative client, a “difficult” client, a client who doesn’t work within the same professional parameters. This is the world of work, and experiences like this are to be found everywhere – we’re not immune.
  • Appropriate remuneration — not all your clients will be prepared to pay what you feel is an acceptable rate. There are various suggested rates offered by editorial freelancing associations, but they are just that — suggestions. Furthermore, not all the work you do will be billable: while someone will pay you to edit, they won’t pay you to tune up your PC, update software, create an up-to-date CV, chase a client for payment, or take time out for training courses. Additionally, if you don’t have any work you don’t get paid — there’s no guaranteed monthly check.
  • Time off — don’t assume that you’ll never end up working holidays, evenings or weekends to hit a deadline. It’s unrealistic. Freelancing is hard, hard work. If you’re the primary income provider in your house there may be even more pressure on you to deliver, even once your business is established. In the early days you might be keen to accept anything you can, for the experience and the possible repeat work, even if that means putting in unsociable hours. Or one of your USPs (unique selling points) may be that you offer a quick-turnaround service. Reasons vary but irregular hours are anything but uncommon, even for established proofreaders and editors.

Getting ready…

Freelancing is hugely rewarding, though it will take most people time to build up a sustainable full-time business. Editorial work is also a wonderful way to earn a crust if you enjoy working with words and have the appropriate skills and mind-set for it. It’s worth being aware, though, that in order be ready to set up your own proofreading, editing, indexing or project management business, you’ll have to be prepared to sort out your own tax, insurance, IT, marketing, training, accounting, and administration. For many, that’s part of the fun of it; for others, those things are a chore. Whatever your view, once you become a business owner it’s your responsibility ­— take the necessary steps to prepare yourself.

Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of “The Proofreader’s Parlour“. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and the forthcoming Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.

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