An American Editor

April 30, 2014

Editing for the Message or the Language?

I was reading a review of a book about Stefan Zweig, an author who is obscure today but was quite famous in Central Europe and Russia in the 1920s and 1930s when this question occurred to me: Do professional editors edit for the message or for the structure and language of a manuscript?

I realize that in the abstract the answer can be “both,” but the reason this question came to mind was because of Zweig’s history. Zweig was one of the founders of the formalist school of writing and subsequently came to be viewed as its leader.

The question I ask does have some parameters. For example, message means the politics, philosophy, or “religion” of the manuscript, whereas structure and language refer to the specifics of the manuscript. For most of us who are asked to edit on tight deadlines, I think the answer is clearly that we edit for the structure and language, not for the message. For us, the message is incidental except for how clearly and coherently it is expressed. It is because of this that we see the discussions about the ethics of turning down work on a manuscript whose message we personally abhor.

But the article on Zweig got me thinking about editing and its role. Perhaps this question best sums up my wondering: Is editing literary criticism just in another guise? If editing is literary criticism, then we need to be concerned with the message. If editing is not a form of literary criticism, then we need only be concerned with the formalism aspects of the manuscript.

Zweig’s world divided editing into formalism and symbolism. Under formalism, the concern was with repeatedly seeing and “enforcing” across manuscripts the same literary style and approach. Formalism determined that there is one way in which to present a genre and all manuscripts had to conform to that one way.

Although I am sure there will be a rush to dismiss the strictures of formalism in today’s editing, I am not convinced we can so easily dismiss formalism as a product of a bygone era that no longer has life. After all, isn’t the approach of the style manuals a formalism approach? When we ask what “Chicago” says about compound adjectives or when we are told by a client to adhere to the APA style manual, are we not practicing formalism? Maybe we are not so rigid that every plot is identical, but are we not rigid enough to require that every manuscript we edit adhere to certain predetermined rules and if it does not, we make it conform?

The formalism school goes much deeper than (perhaps) copyediting today goes. For example, formalism allows the same basic story to appear in multiple cultures at varying times using different words but the same fundamental story. In other words, the details and the evolution are the same just with different words. And formalism requires the stories to start at similar places and end in similar places, having crossed similar places and themes getting from beginning to end.

Editing as often practiced today is a search for patterning. We know that certain formulaic presentations work and others do not for today’s audiences. There are rules — express or implied — of which editors are cognizant, consciously or subconsciously, and which we apply in the guise of “improving” a manuscript, either at the request of our client or because, in the absence of client direction, we choose to “apply” a particular style.

Which leads me back to what I consider the most intriguing question: Is editing a form of literary criticism? If we get past the formalism approach and, instead, work on the message of the manuscript, there is a chance that our work as editors could rise to the level of literary criticism. I would consider that a worthy goal, especially today when literary criticism, as practiced in the early and mid twentieth century, seems to be a lost art.

A knowledgeable editor could easily be a literary critic. With the ability to call upon multiple sources as well as to discuss the more formalistic aspects of a manuscript, the editor can provide invaluable insight. Alas, that would amount to volunteer work because it is clear that few publishers and authors are willing to pay an editor for the time necessary to think about a manuscript’s message.

Today’s professional editor is much different than the professional editor of 30 years ago, when I first entered editing, and certainly much different than the editor of the 1950s. When I began editing, one of the things I was asked to do was to give a critique of the manuscript. The critique was to be emphasize any structural issues and, more importantly, any message issues. Was the message coherent? Was it understandable? Was it sustainable? How did it fit, if it fit at all, with similar topic manuscripts?

The in-house staff asked me what books I was reading (in those days, my to-be-read pile was never more than two or three books) and I often was given a manuscript that fell into the broad field of what I was reading. The publisher wanted to know whether the manuscript was carving out its own place in the field or simply mimicking what was already there. If it was mimicking, did it do a better job of communicating?

What was wanted was literary criticism, which made editing exciting and intellectually stimulating (and provided a great excuse to buy books for my library). Unfortunately, it was not financially rewarding.

Today, most clients, if not all clients, want and expect the formalism approach to their manuscripts. For the most part, editing lacks the literary criticism component. I do not expect to see a revival of the literary criticism approach to editing.

Today, I think, most professional editors edit for the structure and language of a manuscript, not the message. This is what clients want and also reflects the skills and mindset of many editors. Fewer and fewer editors have been exposed to or educated in literary criticism; the description of editing has changed over the decades.

What is most fascinating to me is that 100 years after the rise of the formalism approach of Stefan Zweig’s era we are participating in its rebirth. Whether this is good or bad remains to be seen; that it is what the market wants seems obvious.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

April 28, 2014

The Practical Editor: Define Your Terms, Then Negotiate

The Practical Editor:
Define Your Terms, Then Negotiate

by Erin Brenner

Recently, I saw a job ad that advertised for a copyeditor for a 5,500-word academic article. The article had already been accepted for publication, according to the ad, and the author was looking for a light copyedit, most likely to make a good impression on the assigning editor.

Even if the article will be edited in-house, this is a good call. The cleaner the copy, the more likely the assigning editor will hire this writer again.

I have an occasional client for whom I do such work, and she is thrilled with the results. The copyediting not only produces cleaner copy, it helps her to be more confident. The editing has led to her receiving more assignments. And why not? Assigning editors are busy folks, too, and the easier you make it to publish your article, the more likely they’ll call you again for another.

What’s a Page?

Back to the ad. The author is willing to pay $9 a page for the project. Does this sound good to you? Before you say yes, ask yourself this very important question:

What does the author mean by page?

Many folks in the publishing industry define a manuscript page as 250 words, and the Editorial Freelancers Association encourages that definition.

However, you can define a page in whatever way makes the most sense to you. As Ruth Thaler-Carter notes in a previous blog post (see The Commandments: Thou Shall Establish the Rules of Engagement Before Beginning a Project), Rich Adin uses a character count.

The key is to ensure you and your client are using the same definition of a page.

Let’s say the author from the ad is using the 250-word definition. That’s a 22-page document, resulting in a $198 payday:

5,500 words/250 words per page = 22 pages
22 pages × $9 per page = $198

If you can edit seven pages an hour, you’ll complete the project in 3.14 hours. Even if you round up your total to 4 hours to account for administration work on the project, you’ll earn $49.50 an hour. That’s a good rate in my book.

Even if the editing take longer, say four pages an hour, you’ll spend 5.5 hours on it. Round it up to 6.25 hours, and you’ll earn $31.68 an hour. Depending on your circumstances, this could still be a good rate. (However, it’s always a good idea to calculate your required effective hourly rate [see Thinking About Money: What Freelancers Need to Understand] ahead of time.)

But let’s say the author means one page is equal to a page in the Word file, not an uncommon occurrence. How many pages is this according to our 250-word definition? The total will vary greatly depending on several variables, including font, font size, leading, length of paragraphs, and margins. If you haven’t seen the document or been given a page count, you’re taking a risk on being able to make a decent hourly rate on the project.

How much of a risk?

In Ariel 12-point type, with a couple of boldfaced headers per page and a 1-inch margin all around, 5,500 equals about 10 pages. At $9 a page, I’d earn $90 on this job. If I edit at seven pages an hour, I’m earning just $22.50 an hour. If I edit at four pages an hour, $14.40 an hour. Ouch!

And let’s not forget that this is an academic article; it’s very likely the article includes citations. Are these footnotes or endnotes, which aren’t automatically included in Word’s word count? If you’ll be responsible for editing those citations, your editing pace and subsequent hourly rate dropped again.

Define and Negotiate

It’s crucial, then, that you’re using the same definitions as your client. This could be a good, quick job or a miserable money loser. Ask your author the following:

  • How do you define a page? Offer your own definition and see if they’ll accept it.
  • What do you mean by “light copyedit”? Try to discover what the author specifically wants done to the article.
  • What are my responsibilities regarding citations? Are they included in the word count?
  • Can I see the entire manuscript first? Determine for yourself whether you can edit it to the client’s satisfaction in a timeframe that earns you a decent paycheck.

At this point, you should have enough information to determine whether that $9 per page is acceptable. If the answer is no, it’s time to negotiate:

  • Tell the author how much you would charge to do what’s needed or wanted. Emphasize what the eventual outcome of such an edit would be. Sure the manuscript will be cleaner, but so what? Your job is to explain the “so what”: higher quality leads to better reception by the assigning editor, a greater chance for more work, a more positive reception by readers, and a rise in the author’s reputation.
  • Tell the author what you would do for the offered rate. If the author is truly cash-strapped but wants your services—and you want to work with this author—you could do less editing for less money.

Define your terms with the client. Negotiate for what you want. And if you and the author can’t agree, gracefully let them go on their way.

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.

April 23, 2014

On Today’s Bookshelf (XV)

Here is a list of some of the books that I am reading (or acquired and added to my to-be-read pile since the last On Today’s Bookshelf post) either in hardcover or in ebook form:

Nonfiction –

  • Harry Truman and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Robert Shogan
  • The Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish History, 70-1492 by Maristella Posttiani & Zvi Eckstein
  • Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
  • The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election by Zachary Karabell
  • The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision by Henry Kamen
  • Ghettostad: Lodz and the Making of a Nazi City by Gordon J. Horwitz
  • Eichmann’s Jews: The Jewish Administration of Holocaust Vienna, 1938-1945 by Doron Rabinovici
  • The Decline and Fall of the British Empire 1781-1997 by Piers Brendan
  • The History of the Renaissance World by Susan Wise Bauer
  • The Heavens are Empty: Discovering the Lost Town of Trochenbrod by Avrom Bendavid-Val
  • Understanding the Book of Mormon by Grant Hardy
  • Would You Kill the Fat Man? The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us About Right and Wrong by David Edmonds
  • A World Without Jews: The Nazi Imagination From Persecution to Genocide by Alon Confino
  • Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition by David Nirenberg
  • The Internal Enemy: Slavery and the War in Virginia 1772-1832 by Alan Taylor
  • Glorious Misadventures: Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America by Owen Matthews
  • An Idea Whose time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by Todd S. Purdum
  • The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words 1000 BC-1492 AD by Simon Schama
  • The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America by Gerald Horne
  • Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson
  • Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
  • Sisters: The Lives of America’s Suffragists by Jean H. Baker
  • The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today by Kevin Bales
  • Red Mutiny: Eleven Fateful Days on the Battleship Potemkin by Neal Bascomb
  • Wilson by Scott A. Berg
  • Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte by Carol Berkin
  • Lucrezia Borgia by Sarah Bradford
  • The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
  • To Kill Rasputin : The Life and Death of Gregori Rasputin by Andrew Cook
  • The Wars of Reconstruction: The Brief, Violent History of America’s Most Progressive Era by Douglas R. Egerton
  • The Borgias and Their Enemies: 1431-1519 by Christopher Hibbert
  • Voting for Hitler and Stalin: Elections under 20th Century Dictatorships edited by Ralph Jessen & Hedwig Richter
  • Social Democratic America by Lane Kenworthy
  • Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris by David King
  • The Tigress of Forli: Renaissance Italy’s Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de’ Medici by Elizabeth Lev
  • Russian Roulette: How British Spies Thwarted Lenin’s Plot for Global Revolution by Giles Milton
  • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Fiction –

  • Blood Land by R.S. Guthrie
  • Cauldron of Ghosts by David Weber & Eric Flint
  • Rex Regis by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
  • Like a Mighty Army by David Weber
  • The One-Eyed Man by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
  • Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb
  • Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
  • One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus
  • The Complete Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson (a 10-book omnibus)
  • The Bat by Jo Nesbo
  • The Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemisin
  • Death Is Not the End by Ian Rankin
  • The Ludwig Conspiracy by Oliver Potzsch
  • The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch
  • The Dark Monk by Oliver Potzsch
  • Freeman by Leonard Pitts
  • The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett
  • The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen L. Carter
  • Witch Wraith by Terry Brooks
  • Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini

I acquired most of the nonfiction books in hardcover and most of the fiction books in ebook.

Alas, I wish I could say that the above list represents all of the books I have added to my library since the last listing, but it doesn’t. I calculated that if I retired today and read four books every week, I would need more than 30 years to read all of the books I have acquired. Fortunately, most of the books are in ebook form (I have acquired more fiction than nonfiction) and I am trying to restrain my purchases.

I have found this to be the primary negative to my being an editor — I never seem to have enough books on hand, always want more, and spend much more than I should on books. On the other hand, editing provides me with a sufficient income to support my book addiction.

I admit that feeding my book addiction was less costly before ebooks. The ease of storage of ebooks encourages me to acquire books for future reading that I wouldn’t acquire if I had to acquire them in print form; in the latter case, I would wait until I had reduced my to-be-read pile significantly.

I also note that once I started acquiring ebooks, I also increased my hardcover acquisitions. My son claims (tongue in cheek) he will be able to have a comfortable retirement just from the sale of my library.

What books have you acquired in recent months that you would recommend being added to the TBR pile?

April 21, 2014

The Proofreader’s Corner: A Call to Action — Nudging the Customer to Work Out Whether the Fit is Right

The Proofreader’s Corner: A Call to Action — Nudging the Customer to Work Out Whether the Fit is Right

by Louise Harnby

Unless we’re a member of that small cohort of editorial freelancers who do it all, we’ll have good-fit customers and bad-fit customers. Take me, for example — I’m a proofreader who specializes in working for social science and trade publishers. I also proofread for independent authors whose manuscripts have been professionally edited.

Experienced writers (e.g., academics) and mainstream publishers know what a proofreader does, so they don’t ask me to index, copyedit, structurally edit, or write. They know the differences between these levels of editorial service. We all know we’re a good fit for each other.

Often, this isn’t the case with the customer who is unfamiliar with the publishing process. I’m regularly contacted by self-publishing authors whose first manuscript has been beta read by their mother and their best mate. The likelihood of this file being ready for proofreading is miniscule. Give me a badly written and poorly organized manuscript and I’ll do my best to eradicate spelling mistakes, ensure there’s subject–verb agreement, tackle any misplaced apostrophes and wonky homophones, and attend to overall consistency of the client’s preferred style. But the manuscript will still be badly written and poorly organized when I’m done with it. I won’t apologize for this any more than my dentist will apologize for not being a good plumber.

Then there are the infrequent (one or two a year) requests from students who want me to write sections of their doctoral theses. The likelihood of this being possible (I only have a Bachelor’s degree) and acceptable (surely that would make it our doctorate) is zero on both counts.

In the above two examples, there’s a knowledge gap — I know we’re not a good fit for each other but these customers don’t. Why would they? For them, proofreading is a catchall term that means “help me sort out the mess.” Alas, that’s not my job. So what to do?

What’s the Problem?

The problem is that every minute I spend responding either to a student asking me to collude in her cheating, or to an honest independent author who needs a deeper level of editorial support, is a minute spent communicating with a bad-fit customer, and that’s a waste of my time and a waste of theirs. I’d rather spend my nonbillable hours engaging with good-fit customers than explaining why I won’t, or can’t, take on a particular project.

Furthermore, like many of my colleagues, I’m keen to educate the customer so that they understand more about the different levels of editorial intervention, and what’s appropriate and when. Take self-publishing as an example: The massive growth of this market has meant a substantial increase in the number of independent authors facing a steep learning curve as they move from being writers to publishers. And while there’s a ton of advice for them out there, we are still a long way from a world in which we can be sure the indie author understands exactly what service is needed and who can provide it.

As I said, the solutions are out there. I’ve produced a free ebooklet, Guidelines for New Authors, and created an FAQs page at my website that summarizes key issues aimed at helping customers identify whether we’re a good fit. I’m not unique by any means. Many of my colleagues, too many to list here, offer excellent examples of this best practice that aim to guide their customers in the search for appropriate editorial services — in the form of blogs, terms and conditions, FAQs, guidance sheets, ebooklets, and other knowledge bases and resource centers.

Is the Information Discoverable?

I hit a problem early on. All the necessary information was available to help the customer determine whether we were a good or bad fit, but I was still receiving a huge number of inappropriate requests to quote, indicating the message wasn’t getting through. I stopped taking student proofreading work two years ago, but still the inquiries kept coming. My Guidelines for New Authors were popular, but not popular enough — I was still being asked to copy- and structurally edit, and receiving sample manuscripts that weren’t even close to being ready for proofreading. I concluded that I wasn’t enabling the customer to navigate their way to the information effectively, so they couldn’t ascertain whether we were a good match.

From a marketing perspective I’ve always been a keen believer in focusing my blurb on what I can do rather than on what I can’t. I still believe that this is an appropriate strategy for my website’s home page. However, there comes a point for many of us when too many bad-fit customers choose (understandably — they’re busy, too) to move straight from the home page to the contact form. No matter how many other pages there are on our websites detailing our areas of expertise, there’s still a good chance that our customers miss these (or don’t spend much time reading them). Jakob Nielsen sums it up nicely:

How long will users stay on a Web page before leaving? It’s a perennial question, yet the answer has always been the same: Not very long. The average page visit lasts a little less than a minute. As users rush through Web pages, they have time to read only a quarter of the text on the pages they actually visit (let alone all those they don’t).

(“How Long Do Users Stay on Web Pages?”, 2011)

This was my problem—the information was there but it wasn’t discoverable enough. I needed to nudge my customer with a stronger call to action.

Nudging the Customer With a Call to Action

Given that I was receiving inappropriate requests to quote via my Contact page, I decided to nudge my customer about the good-fit issue by placing a strong call to action right above my email address — a statement saying:

“Help me to help you…Whether you’re a colleague or a potential client, if you have a question for me, you may find that I’ve already provided the answer on the FAQs page. If you wish me to provide you with a quotation, please click on the button below. This will open a one-page PDF that summarizes what I need to know about your project. Then call or email me to discuss your proofreading requirements in more detail.”

Underneath, I placed a large gray button—”What I need to know when you contact me…” Clicking on this button links through to the guidance sheet.

It’s early days so I don’t have anything statistically significant to report at this point. But already I’m receiving much more detailed information from potential clients that proves they’ve read the guidance sheet and have considered the different levels of editorial intervention. This means I’m able to assess whether we are potentially a good fit much earlier in the process. The results? Fewer email exchanges, much less time wasted quoting for projects that ultimately I’d have had to turn away, and happy customers who’ve learned a little at no cost to them.

What I’ve Learned

The primary lesson for me throughout this process is this: What I place on my website and what my customer chooses to read might well be two entirely different things. If I really want them to read something, I need to nudge them at the point where I have their attention. And that nudge — the call to action — needs to be obvious. Says Ginny Soskey, “In the land of calls-to-action, the motto is go big or go home. You can’t make a tiny little button that appears at the bottom of the page and hope that people will click on it — chances are, people are going to miss it.…” (“The Complete Checklist for Creating Compelling Calls-to-Action”, 2013).

If you feel you’re spending too much time fielding inappropriate enquires, or it’s taking too long to establish whether you’re a good match for your potential client, consider introducing specific guidelines to help your customers do their own assessment first. If you already have these guidelines, but you feel they’re not being read, then consider how best to nudge your customer in the right direction. Perhaps it’s your Contact page, or perhaps it’s somewhere else. That’s for you to test. There are no wrong or right answers when it comes to testing — just a gradual, practice-based understanding of what works best for you.

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.

April 16, 2014

Are Boom Times Coming?

As all self-employed in the United States know, April 15 is not only the date our personal income tax returns for the prior fiscal year are due, but also the time when we need to pay our first quarter estimated taxes for the current fiscal year. For me, it is also a time to spend a few hours looking at data I have accumulated during the first quarter and making an attempt to predict future trends.

In recent articles, I have noted the importance of data collection (see, e.g., The Business of Editing: Recordkeeping I and The Business of Editing: Recordkeeping II). I have also noted the upswing I have experienced in offers of editing work (see, e.g., The Business of Editing: An Embarrassment of Riches). In those articles, I hinted (at best) at the extent of the data I keep and analyze.

Important data that I keep are the number of projects I have been offered, the number that I accepted and the number I declined, and as much detail as I can about the projects I declined, but with particular focus on size, offered fee, subject matter, and schedule. I usually review and analyze this data quarterly, about the same time that I prepare my income information for transmittal to my accountant for the quarterly returns. (I know that many, if not most, of my colleagues do their own quarterly payments; after all, it is a simple form. But I have made it a practice over my years as a freelancer to always use an accountant even though the accountant’s services are not free. For my business it is worth the fee. The accountant also looks at the data I have collected and sometimes offers a very valuable insight into my business that I have overlooked.)

This year has been significantly different than previous years. When publishers started offshoring, I could see a trending decline in the number of projects I was being offered. Interestingly, at the height of the offshoring and of the consolidation of the publishing industry, a key indicator was the low number of projects that I declined. (I should note that I do track the reason why I declined a project. This is important data. It makes a big difference in my analyses if the reason was fee, schedule, project size, or subject matter, or a combination of these four. For example, if I declined a project because it was outside the scope of the areas in which I work [e.g., a historical romance novel], then that particular project plays a very minimal role in my analyses; in fact, other than being counted as a declined project, it has no role in my analyses.) At that time, few projects were declined.

I could then trace a leveling. Every year following the plateauing of the accepted-declined numbers, I could reliably estimate the amount of work I would have each quarter of the following year, from whom the work would come, and the type of work it would be. That information helped guide my marketing: how much marketing I needed to do, to whom it should be directed, and when it should be done.

Beginning in the last half of 2012 I noticed that what had been plateauing was changing. The number of projects and the size of the projects being offered were beginning to increase. Where previously the number of projects being declined had remained low and steady, the trend was starting to show an increase.

The data for 2013 reinforced this trend, with the numbers steadily, but slowly growing. Also the data showed an increase in the effective hourly rate, which indicates an improvement in efficiency as well as an improvement in the types of projects accepted.

For the first quarter of 2014, the data demonstrates a continuation of the trend. But the data shows a significant spike. For example, in the first quarter of 2014 I was offered and declined as many projects as I had declined for the whole year in 2011 and 2012. The data shows that the number of manuscript pages in the declined projects equals 46% of the number of pages that was accepted.

Perhaps more importantly, the data shows that clients increasingly tried to alter schedules in hopes that by doing so I could fit the projects in my schedule. This is an important bit of knowledge because I can look at, for example, 2007 and see that in 2007 clients were willing to alter production schedules for very few projects, but in 2014 it changed to the majority of projects.

The data indicates to me that, at least within my niche, boom times may be coming. The first quarter 2014 data is an eye-opener for me. I note that revenues are up 61%, the size of the projects under contract is up 143%, and the number of projects being offered is up 218%, but I declined 58% of gross number (or 46% in terms of manuscript pages), which is also an increase. Unfortunately, because editing is hands-on work that has limits on what can be automated, the number of projects that I can accept is governed by the same key determinants — number of manuscript pages, project difficulty, and schedule — that existed in 2000, which limited the number of projects I could accept in 2000, still control the number of projects I can accept today.

But data analysis also discloses how efficiently I can edit. The more efficient I am, the higher the number of pages per hour that can be edited. The higher that number is, the more projects I can accept; conversely, the lower that number, the fewer projects that can be accepted.

Although the percentages noted above look great, it needs to be remembered that they represent just the first quarter of 2014. Second quarter data could plummet those numbers when applied year to date. My point is that although analysis of the first quarter is important in the decision-making process for upcoming months, it cannot be the sole determinant. At most it is a guide. Had the numbers been down, however, the importance of the analysis would be much greater; the analysis would be a warning of a negative trend that requires immediate corrective steps.

As I said earlier, my first quarter results indicate a change in the publishing industry for my niche and implies that boom times are coming. But even if boom times are coming, who knows how long they will stay. It could be fleeting or it could be years. The answer lies in the data I continue to collect.

What does your data tell you about upcoming trends for your business? Are you doing better than previously? Do you limit your analyses to comparing gross revenue? If so, what does that comparison tell you about your business and what you need to do?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

April 14, 2014

Getting More from PerfectIt: Style Sheets

Successful editors make use of tools that are designed to make editing faster, easier, more accurate, and more profitable. Three such tools are PerfectIt, EditTools, and Editor’s Toolkit Plus. These tools were discussed previously in the three-part series The 3 Stages of Copyediting: I — The Processing Stage,  II — The Copyediting Stage, and III — The Proofing Stage. That series was published in August 2010. Since then new versions of PerfectIt and EditTools have been released.

In this guest article, Daniel Heuman, creator of PerfectIt, explains how to create and use custom stylesheets in PerfectIt. For those of you who do not have PerfectIt, you can download a 30-day free trial so you can try PerfectIt and the stylesheet feature discussed here.

__________

Getting More from PerfectIt: Style Sheets

by Daniel Heuman

PerfectIt saves time when you’re copyediting. It finds difficult-to-locate errors like inconsistent hyphenation and words that appear with initial capitals in one location, but in lowercase elsewhere. If you work with large documents, it’s a small investment that increases the quality of your work and gives you assurance that your documents are the best they can be. However, most PerfectIt users don’t take advantage of all of its features. This article is about how you can get more from the product without spending a penny extra.

PerfectIt is designed to be easy to use. You won’t need to read any manuals or make frantic calls to your tech support wizard wondering why it won’t install. The interface is so simple that you’ll be locating potential consistency mistakes in seconds. But because it’s easy, most users don’t realize that PerfectIt is not just a consistency checker. With a little bit of customization, PerfectIt can be used to check any organization’s house style. Even better, PerfectIt can be customized to store multiple house styles, so you can use it to check a different style sheet for each client that you work with.

The best way to start building a style sheet is to make use of one of our existing PerfectIt style sheets. These are free from our website. Available styles are US, UK, and Canadian spelling, as well as European Union, United Nations, and World Health Organization style sheets. A style sheet for Australian preferences is coming soon. The styles are available at this link at Intelligent Editing.

To start using one of the style sheets, save them to your hard disk. Then import the files into PerfectIt (click PerfectIt’s “Customize” menu, choose “Advanced” and then ”Import”). Then select the file that you just downloaded. When PerfectIt starts, you’ll see a dropdown list and you can choose the style sheet that you want from there. Now your version of PerfectIt checks those preferences as well as checking for consistency. For example, if you chose the US spelling sheet, it will automatically locate all instances of the word “colour” and suggest “color.” The US spelling sheet has more than 800 words programmed into it already (as well as all the variations of “IZE” such as “organize” instead of “organise”).

And you don’t have to stop there. Now that you’ve downloaded a style sheet, you can also customize it. For example, if you’re working for a client that prefers US spelling, but also wants the word “Secretary General” to appear in capitals, you can add that preference to the style sheet. There are two ways to do that:

  • You can wait for the inconsistency to come up as you work with PerfectIt. Then click the “Customize” menu and choose “Always prefer Secretary General”
  • You can add it to the current style manually by clicking “Customize,” then choosing “Advanced” then click the “Edit” button next to “Phrases that PerfectIt always finds” and add the item there.

It’s important to remember that a PerfectIt style sheet can’t include everything within an organization’s house style. PerfectIt is not a replacement for human editing, and a style sheet is not a replacement for reading the style guide. In fact, a PerfectIt style sheet includes just a small section of any style guide. The settings you can customize it for are:

  • Preferred spelling: for example, is the preference “adviser” or “advisor”, “aesthetic” or “esthetic”?
  • Preferred hyphenation: for example, “co-operation” or “cooperation”?
  • Phrases to consider: a test that can be adapted for any words/phrases that should not be misused, for example, “native”.
  • Abbreviations in two forms: for example, “Nasa” or “NASA”?
  • Phrases in capitals: for example, “euros” or “Euros”.
  • List capitalization (lowercase or uppercase).
  • List punctuation (full stops, semi-colons, or no punctuation).
  • Hyphenation of fractions and numbers: for example, “one-third” or “one third”.
  • Hyphenation of compass directions: for example, “north-east” or “northeast”.
  • Choice of letters or digits for numbers in sentences (split by number range).
  • Use of full stops in titles: for example, “Mr.” or “Mr”.
  • Preference between “ISE” and “IZE”, and “YSE” and “YZE” endings

There’s also an option to accompany each preference with a style note/reminder so that you won’t forget any important exceptions to the rules that you add. For example, if you add a preference for “baby boom” instead of “baby-boom”, you might add the style note, “Unless the use is adjectival.” If you’re working in editorial consultancy and want to prepare a PerfectIt style sheet for a customer, that option is especially important. PerfectIt relies on human judgment, so you should use the style note option to make sure that end-users are aware of all possible exceptions.

All of these options are built into PerfectIt and are free to use. And the learning time involved will quickly pay for itself. If you’re not the kind of person who likes to experiment with advanced settings, you can get detailed help with the entire process, and step by step instructions from our user guides. Alternatively, you can get help and advice from users sharing tips in PerfectIt’s new LinkedIn group.

Daniel Heuman is the Managing Director of Intelligent Editing and the designer of PerfectIt. PerfectIt launched in 2009 and is now used by more than a thousand professional editors around the world, including more than 250 members of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. It’s available separately or as part of the Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate.

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Note: PerfectIt and EditTools are Windows-only programs. Editor’s Toolkit Plus will work on both Windows and Mac OS systems.

Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate is a package of the latest versions of PerfectIt, EditTools, and Editor’s Toolkit Plus at a significant savings.

Do you use PerfectIt and/or EditTools and/or Editor’s Toolkit Plus? If so, please share your experience and suggestions in comments to this article.

April 9, 2014

The Business of Editing: Finding Editors

Last week I wrote about subcontracting and said it isn’t a difficult thing to do from an administrative perspective (see The Business of Editing: Subcontracting). I did mention the one stumbling block: finding competent editors.

Finding a competent editor to subcontract to is difficult. There are lots of reasons for this difficulty, such as the lack of universal certification with reliable standards. In some subject areas and some countries this is less of a problem than in the United States, but even in those countries and subject areas that have certifying organizations, the problem exists, if for no other reason than most editors lack the certifications that are available.

Don’t misunderstand: neither certification nor lack of certification is proof of an editor’s competence or incompetence. They may be indicators in some cases, but they do not rise to the level of proof.

The problem is that there is nothing that I know of that rises to the level of proof certitude. Editing is still an artisan’s career, which means that the same manuscript will be handled differently by equally competent and professional editors. Too much in editing is other than cast-iron rule for it to be otherwise (e.g., Is since synonymous in all instances with because? Should a serial comma be used even though the style is no serial commas?).

Another unsolvable problem regarding competency is subject matter competency. An editor may be an outstanding editor for historical romance novels yet abysmal as an editor of medical texts.

What it boils down to is that finding the right editor for a particular job is a difficult task that is not made any easier by the ease of entry into the profession.

In my early years, I assumed that an editor who was experienced in the areas in which I worked had to be competent. So if someone’s resume indicated that she had 3 years of medical editing experience, I assumed she must be competent. It took a while for me to grasp that in some cases, there was little correlation between competence and years of experience except, perhaps in the case of many years of experience, which tended to correlate very well.

Alas, even with a strong correlation between subject matter competence and years of experience, there was no assurance that the person would be a competent editor for the particular job(s). Editing is much more than knowing subject matter; editing is also much more than having edited a certain number of manuscripts.

I suppose we can say there are at least three levels of editing competency: no competency, mechanical editing competency, and inspired editing competency. The first, no competency, needs no discussion. It is represented by the person who hangs out a shingle, calls himself a professional editor, gets hired, and not only enrages the client with the poor work but gets the client to rant about editor incompetency to anyone who will listen.

Mechanical editing competency is probably where most editors fall on the editing continuum. They know grammar and the rules, know how to make sure that lists are parallel, tenses aren’t shifting every which way, and can quote the style manual rule that supports whatever editing decision they have made. They are good editors but uninspired.

Inspired editing competency is a label that, I think, can be given to a much smaller number of editors. These editors not only know the rules but know when to ignore them. (Imagine the difference between the editor who insisted on “to go boldly” versus the editor who understood “to boldly go.”) The inspired editor does not rewrite and reframe an author’s manuscript simply because he can; rather, he knows when it is necessary to rewrite for clear communication and when it is necessary to ignore the rules that have governed language for decades, if not for centuries, and leave the manuscript alone. The inspired editor understands the importance of language choices and understands when since is synonymous with because and when it should not be considered synonymous.

This is the problem of subcontracting. Which editor do you seek: the mechanically competent editor or the inspired editor? And how do you find them?

In part, the answer lies in what service you are providing and to whom you are providing it. Someone who works directly with authors on their novels and offers developmental-type services may want the inspired editor; in contrast, the editor who works with packagers whose budgets are small and tight, whose schedules are tight, and whose instructions from their clients are focused on the rules may want the mechanically competent editor.

In part the answer lies in what type of business you are trying to grow. You may already have a sufficient number of one type of editor and want the other type so as to be able to expand your business. In addition, you may be constrained by the type of clients you serve and the pay you can offer, which may dictate the type of editor you seek.

Knowing the type you seek allows you to configure your search methods to meet those needs. The one thing I have determined to be an absolute necessity (unless I know the editor and the editor’s work exceedingly well) is an editing test.

For many years I hired based solely on resume and an “interview.” What I found was that doing so was a crapshoot. Sometimes I struck gold, but most times I struck out. A test should be used to weed out, but not as the sole decision maker. I have found that since I instituted a test, 95% of applicants fade away. They do not return the test at all and so they make the decision for me. Of the 5% who take the test, fewer than 1 in 50 pass it. “Failing” my test does not mean the editor is not a good editor; it means that they will not fit my needs.

Even the editor who “passes” my test, should they be hired, needs some guidance from me, but the goal is to for them to be assigned a project and to run with it without supervision and with my having the confidence to know that I can take their editing and submit it to the client and not worry about a negative reaction.

There is no sure-bet method for finding an editor who fits when looking for subcontractors. There are steps one can take, but nothing is guaranteed — which is why when a good fit is found, it is worth working hard to maintain the relationship. Finding the editor is the hardest part of subcontracting, but it is not an impossible part. It just requires a bit more upfront work, but it can be well worthwhile.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

April 7, 2014

On the Basics: Is There a “Best Industry” for Editors?

Is There a “Best Industry” for Editors?

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

The publishing business is supposed to be declining, if not actually dying. I’m not sure that’s the case, but there certainly are a lot of challenging changes going on. In case publishing really is heading for extinction, does any other industry offer editors good potential for job satisfaction, career opportunities, and pay?

I say that any and every industry has that potential.

Too many people think the only way to work as an editor (or writer, proofreader, etc.) is to be in publishing per se—to work for publishing houses, publications, presses, maybe authors. They don’t seem to realize that editing (and, of course, writing, proofreading, photography, graphics, layout, etc.) also happens in every profession, business, and hobby there is.

If you aren’t finding success in editing work in traditional publishing with traditional clients such as book publishers, it’s time to start thinking in new ways. A number of “industries” still, and should continue to, need editors and offer opportunities for many of us.

Some of my editing work is for magazines, which I would classify as part of traditional publishing, but some is for law firms, marketing or public relations companies, professional offices in various areas of medicine, associations in a wide range of topics (including my high school alumni group!), businesses, and not-for-profit organizations.

A recent project involved writing and editing award nominations for a local hospital. Another was editing the required annual description of services for a financial advisor. I’ve also edited and proofread websites for several clients, including one for a heating/plumbing company. I write blog posts for a website for veterinary businesses. I just heard from a company in the transportation industry about proofreading its annual report. I’ve done the writing, editing, proofreading, and/or layout of newsletters and special reports for a variety of not-for-profit organizations. Trade and membership associations are hotbeds of publishing activity, producing newspapers, newsletters, magazines, websites, blogs, and conference materials. I edit letters and blog posts for the owner of a company that packages businesses for loans and sales.

None of these might be what colleagues consider publishing, but all are firmly in the realm of editorial work, and most, if not all, will continue to be needed and thus to need us.

Many such projects require skilled editing more than any particular industry experience or knowledge. These clients are comfortable with the technical or industry side of their material, but aware of their shortcomings in grammar, usage, even spelling and punctuation, which so many of us consider basic to our very cores. If you come across industry-specific technical details that you aren’t sure of, you can flag them for the client to check or verify.

Government agencies and nongovernmental organizations often seek editing services. I’ve done work for the World Bank, which has hundreds of programs and projects that require various levels of writing, editing, and proofreading. And that’s just one entity. I know of someone who has a contract with a local college to edit professor and student papers and, of course, many colleagues work directly with graduate and postdoctoral students on editing their theses and dissertations.

Judging by what I see and hear from several of my colleagues, there also is a lot of work to be had with authors in other countries whose native language is not English, but who need or want to publish their academic work in English-language journals.

Someone is writing and, therefore (in most cases), someone is editing and proofreading all kinds of sales and marketing materials. Think about things like product packaging. Someone has to write, then edit and proofread, the information on every label, box, bag, bottle, carton, pouch, etc. That goes for food, drink, medications, equipment, tools, CDs and DVDs, etc.; even those annoying labels in clothing that stick up from your collar or scrape the back of your neck. Someone also has to write directions or instructions on how to use some of those same items; not all of that is done overseas.

And don’t forget advertising copy, which often desperately needs an editor!

Even though many of us bewail aspects of it, the constantly growing self-publishing industry also can be a fertile field of opportunity for editors. It may take some extra effort to find self-publishing authors who understand the value of having their work edited, but those authors do exist, and their numbers may increase if reviewers and readers react more volubly to sloppy writing that cries out for a skilled editorial hand. And some of the packaging or service companies now offer editing to the people who come to them with manuscripts to publish; the rates from those companies may not be the highest, but some opportunities do exist in those corners of the industry.

What this all comes down to is that there is no one “best industry” for editors—all industries are good hunting grounds for work as editors. Opportunities are out there. Widen your search, and you might be surprised at what you find.

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.

April 2, 2014

The Business of Editing: Subcontracting

On another list recently, there was a “discussion” regarding subcontracting. It really wasn’t much of a discussion — some participants said they have never done it and never will, some said they tried it once and decided it wasn’t for them, and a few said they do it regularly. No one really discussed the merits and demerits of subcontracting.

What surprised me most about the discussion was how little people understood about subcontracting yet how firm they were in their view of it, even if they understood little about the mechanics of it.

One of the solutions suggested last week in response to The Business of Editing: An Embarrassment of Riches was subcontracting. I have subcontracted with other editors for many years and I have had employees. Neither is particularly difficult, but as between the two, subcontracting is the easier.

An advantage to subcontracting is that it enables you to take on more work than you otherwise could handle. There are limits to how much work a solopreneur can handle, both effectively and efficiently. There are just so many hours one can edit.

The primary argument made against subcontracting is “my clients hire me to do the editing and would be very unhappy to learn that I subcontracted the work.” This is the guild/artisan argument and it does have some merit. The key to overcoming this client expectation is to promote your company rather than yourself. For example, from the very beginning of my business, I always told clients they were hiring my company, not me. My invoices were in my company name and all my communications emphasized the company connection.

Having been in other businesses before editing, I knew that marketing myself, rather than my company, would ultimately limit my opportunities for growth, especially financial growth. If there is only me, there is only so much work I can do and thus only so much money I can earn.

I also recognized that focusing on me would not play to one of my business strengths — rainmaking (i.e., the ability to bring in work). Honest editors recognize their business strengths and weaknesses, and for many editors one prime weakness is marketing; a second is scheduling.

The result was that I focused on growing my business brand, not my personal brand. Even if clients are unfamiliar with the business name, they do recognize me as a company and they expect me to have “employees” and they expect one or more of my “employees” may be assigned their project. Clients do not lower their expectation as regards schedule adherence and quality of work; that remains the same regardless of whether I or someone else is doing the editing. And clients hold me responsible.

That responsibility — of quality editing — is the biggest drawback to subcontracting. Government paperwork is easily handled. The subcontractor sends me an invoice, I pay the invoice, and at the end of the year I send the subcontractor a 1099 Form and file copies with the IRS. (Note the process I am speaking of is the one I am familiar with, that of the United States. What is necessary or required in other countries is beyond my knowledge.) Generating these forms takes less than 5 minutes. I buy the ready-to-use/-print forms at an office supply store, put them in my printer, and generate the information using QuickBooks Pro. (Using an accounting program like QuickBooks makes bookkeeping easy. I use the software to print the checks and to generate many of the reports I use to track my business, such as a comparison Profit & Loss Statement.)

In the beginning, I reviewed the editor’s work. That took time, but significantly less time than if I had done the editing myself. After a while, reviewing of the editor’s work is no longer necessary. The editors with whom I currently subcontract have worked with me for many years; one editor has been working with me for close to 20 years.

The subcontracting relationship is a symbiotic one. At least in my case, the deal is that in exchange for my keeping a portion of the fee, I get all of the administrative duties, I pay the subcontractor regardless of whether the client pays me, and, perhaps most importantly from the subcontractor’s perspective, I do the marketing and am responsible for finding enough work to keep them busy much of the year.

It is this last responsibility that is the hardest. But because I have marketed my services as that of a company of editors, I am able to generate demand. Because the editors are highly skilled and have demonstrated that skill over the years, clients are not reluctant to contact me and ask “Can one of your editors handle this project for me?”

I grant that subcontracting is not for everyone. There is a reluctance to be a subcontractor because “Why should I pay someone else when I’m doing the work?” And there is a reluctance to do subcontracting because it takes the editor away from editing and into business administration, where many editors do not wish to be.

Yet subcontracting allows a busy editor to take on more work and allows editors who are reluctant promoters of themselves to focus on what they want to focus on — the editing rather than the marketing. If done correctly, subcontracting is a win-win-win: a win for the client, a win for the subcontractor, and a win for the administering editor.

Some editors say they would prefer to refer work they can’t handle themselves. Although referral is certainly an option, why refer when you can enlarge your business by subcontracting? I refer work that is outside my focus areas, for example, romance fiction. But I use employees and subcontractors for work that is within my focus areas. I want to retain as much of that work as I can, and subcontracting is simply one method by which I can do so.

If you haven’t considered subcontracting, you should; if you have considered it but dismissed it as being too troublesome, you should rethink it. Subcontracting can be a path to fiscal growth. The hard part is finding competent editors who are willing to work as subcontractors.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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