An American Editor

August 30, 2014

Worth Reading: Steven Pinker on 10 “Grammar Rules”

Steven Pinker is one of my favorite authors. I have many of his books in my library and have his forthcoming book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, on preorder (publication date is September 30, 2014).

A couple of weeks ago, Pinker wrote an article for The Guardian. The article, “10 ‘grammar rules’ it’s OK to break (sometimes),” is well worth reading. In the article, Pinker outlines the questions you should ask to “distinguish the legitimate concerns of a careful writer from the folklore and superstitions” and the questions to be asked — and if answered “yes” — to reject a grammar “rule.”

The 10 “grammar rules” Pinker addresses are:

  • and, because, but, or, so, also
  • dangling modifiers
  • like, as, such as
  • preposition at the end of a sentence
  • predicative nominative
  • split infinitives
  • that and which
  • who and whom
  • very unique
  • count nouns, mass nouns and “ten items or less”

I’ve saved the article for future reference. What do you think of it?

August 27, 2014

The Ethics of Editing: The Sour Job

Teresa Barensfeld asked this question:

If a job is going sour, do you (a) cut corners, (b) tell the client and try to renegotiate time and/or money, (c) just grind through it even though you’re making no money and the rent/mortgage/bills are due, (d) something else?

I suspect that all of us have faced this problem in our editing career. I also suspect that each of us has a different approach to the problem. But let us start at the start of the problem: with ourselves.

When we took on this souring job, did we ask to see the manuscript or a sample before agreeing to do the editing? If we did, then why didn’t we see the problems that are now causing the job to sour? If we didn’t, why didn’t we?

In discussions, many editors state that they always ask to see a sample and that they instruct the client as to what they want to see. Other editors, like myself, never ask to see a sample unless it is a one-off project for a one-off client, which would be the usual case when dealing directly with the author. In the one-off instance, I ask to see the whole manuscript and I skim it. But when I am doing work for a packager or a publisher, I never ask to see a sample (sometimes they send me sample chapters).

Now that I have stated my blanket rule, let me state the “exception.” If the schedule is short in comparison to the client’s estimate of the manuscript size, and if the client also states that a medium or heavy edit is required, I do ask to see the entire manuscript. I want to do my own page count so I can determine whether the schedule is doable.

Aside from doing my own page count to evaluate the schedule, I pretty much rely on my rule of three, which we discussed in The Business of Editing: The Rule of Three. But I’m drifting from the posed questions, so let’s drift back.

Once I agree to undertake a project, I feel bound to perform the agreed upon job for the agreed upon fee and in the agreed upon time (assuming that is at all possible). So, given the choices Teresa outlined, I would adhere to choice c.

If I am not making money on a project, that is my fault, not the client’s fault. If I didn’t ask to see sample chapters, that is my fault. If I didn’t do my own page count, that is my fault. If I failed to determine how difficult the editing would be, that is my fault. Basically, the client has no fault in this transaction, so why should the client suffer any penalty?

If the client told me that the manuscript ran 500 pages and the client didn’t have all of the manuscript available for me to do a page count at the time I had to make a decision, and I have hit page 425 and know that I still have 10 chapters to go, and when I finally receive the remaining chapters I discover that instead of there being 75 pages to go, there are 500 pages to go, then the fault lies with the client (assuming I asked for the complete manuscript; if I didn’t ask, then none of this matters — it remains my fault) and I would advise the client that the schedule is not doable and needs to be renegotiated.

(Not asked and not addressed is the situation in which I have calendared for the 500-page manuscript based on the client’s representation and schedule, but subsequently discover the manuscript is much longer and needs more time, but I am already committed to another project for that time.)

What I would not do — ever — is cut corners or try to renegotiate the fee, unless the fee was a project fee based on the original representation of size. If the fee is per-page fee or an hourly fee, I would simply apply that same rate to the additional pages and time. If the fee arrangement was a project fee based on the manuscript being a certain size, and if the final size significantly differs, and if the client will not renegotiate the fee, then I think it is correct to return the balance of the project to the client, once I have edited the amount I agreed to edit.

Ultimately, the issue boils down to how much preparation we editors do when determining whether or not to take on a project. The more preparation we do, the less likely a project will go sour. Having said that, I realize that in evaluating a project I may not have looked at the most problematic chapters, the chapters that cause a project to sour. But if those chapters were available to me for the asking, then it is my fault and I live with my poor decision making; if the chapters were not available, then it is the client who is at fault and who needs to bear the consequences.

As the experienced editor, I should know whether I can do a medium edit of a manuscript written by nonnative English speakers and that is 500 pages within 10 editing days. If I say I can, then I need to do it; if I don’t believe I can, then I need to negotiate with the client before accepting the project. If I accept the project knowing that it will be very difficult for me to meet the schedule, then it is my fault and I need to figure out how to accomplish the task.

Which raises another side, but important, issue: editing days. When a client sends a project with a two-week schedule, the client counts every day in that two-week period as an editing day. In addition, the client thinks in terms of full days. I, on the other hand, do not count weekends and holidays as editing days and I recognize that quality begins to decline rapidly after about 5 hours of editing. That is, I calculate the maximum editing day length as 5 hours of editing.

The 500-manuscript page project is viewed by the client as requiring editing of 36 pages a day (2 weeks = 14 editing days) at a rate of 4.5 pages an hour. I view that same project as requiring 56 pages per day (2 weeks = 9 editing days) at a rate of a little more than 11 pages an hour. Consequently, the issue becomes do I think I can do a quality medium edit at the rate of 11+ pages per hour? If yes, the project can be accepted; if no, then schedule needs to be negotiated. If the client insists on the two-week schedule, then the fee has to rise because I will need to work weekends to meet it.

But once I have accepted the job, as long as any fault in the decision-making process was mine, I do not return to the client because the job is turning sour. I “just grind through it even though [I’m] making no money and the rent/mortgage/bills are due.” If any fault lies with the client, then I try to renegotiate the schedule, but not the fee (unless it was a project fee and the size of the manuscript has changed significantly). Unfortunately, that leaves me in the same position of grinding through.

I remain a firm believer that a deal is a deal and maintaining that deal is the ethical way to do business. What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 25, 2014

The Practical Editor: What You Need to Know to Edit Fiction

What You Need to Know to Edit Fiction

by Erin Brenner

A copyediting student asked me recently how she could learn to edit fiction. The copyediting and copyediting certificate program I teach in covers basic and intermediate skills of copyediting. While it’s a good program, it doesn’t cover everything (no program could). Hence, my student’s question on what to do next.

To specialize in editing any subject, you should have a good grasp of that subject. I participated in a Twitter discussion lately on how much you have to know to copyedit a subject intelligently. We didn’t conclude anything, but we generally agreed that you have to know something about the subject to edit it.

What I know about fiction, I learned in obtaining my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in literature. At this point, a lot of it comes naturally to me, so I had to do some research on what resources were out there and what other editors did with fiction manuscripts.

Disappointingly, there aren’t many training tools (an opportunity for someone, surely!) and of those out there, few seem to distinguish genre fiction (science fiction, romance, mystery, etc.) from literary fiction (everything else). Naturally, if you want to edit genre fiction, you want to be familiar with the specifics of the genre, as well.

Here’s what I gathered.

Developmental Fiction Editing Tasks and Resources

Generally speaking, a developmental editor works with the manuscript’s structure, either before the author has written the book (common in nonfiction) or after (common in fiction). It’s the big-picture view.

As a developmental editor, you’re looking for structural and organizational problems. You’re judging whether the author’s concept or theme works throughout the manuscript. Is the structure logical and appropriate? You’re looking at the author’s voice closely: Is it consistent? Appropriate for the story and audience? You’re also looking for sections that don’t work, whether they ramble on or are starved for detail.

Beyond that, you need to look at the various elements of the fiction work:

  • Plot. Does the plot make sense? Does it hold together? Are there any holes?
  • Timeline and events. Is the timeline logical and believable? Do events advance the plot? Build character? Are there any events that don’t add to the story in some way?
  • Setting. Is the setting appropriate for the story? Does it enrich the story or seem at odds with it?
  • Pacing. Different stories have different speeds. Does the pacing here seem to drag? Move too quickly?
  • Characters. Are the characters well-formed and believable? Do they grow, as real people do? How well do characters interact with each other?
  • Dialogue. Does the dialogue match the character? Does it seem believable? Move the plot along? Is there any dialogue that seems mismatched in some way?

Though it doesn’t deal with fiction in particular, Developmental Editing by Scott Norton is the go-to resource for editors wanting to do this type of editing. The Author-Editor Clinic offers online courses in developmental editing for fiction and creative nonfiction.

For fiction in particular, try resources for about literature itself: themes, models, symbols, archetypes, and so on. One promising book (which I haven’t read) is How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster. It appears to have a good overview that would give editors a working understanding of general fiction. (If you read it, let me know what you think of it.)

If you’re up for a challenge and really want to dig into literature, check out the works of Joseph Campbell and The Nature of Narrative by Robert Scholes, James Phelan, and Robert Kellogg.

Midlevel Fiction Editing Tasks and Resources

Any time you define editing stages, someone else will have different definitions. One editor’s developmental editing is another’s structural editing. A third editor might see structural and line editing as the same stage, with developmental being its own stage.

Whatever you call this stage that comes between developmental and copyediting, you’ll be doing a line-by-line edit of many of the tasks in the developmental edit. You’ll also look at flow, usage, and sometimes language mechanics.

I couldn’t find any resources for this specific stage of fiction editing. (If you know of any, please share them in the comments.) A trained editor could pick up the skills necessary from a developmental fiction editing resource, I’d wager.

Copyediting Fiction Editing Tasks and Resources

Copyeditors look at the word and sentence level of a manuscript. Grammar, usage, spelling, and style are all concerns here. So are logic, consistencies, and basic facts.

To copyedit fiction, you should be familiar with some of the basics of story structure, story elements, and character building so that you can edit without harming the story. You need to be alert for continuity issues (e.g., changes in character descriptions) and plausibility. If the story is set in present day, the details should be right. If it’s set in the future or on another planet, the world should follow the rules the author set up. Keep an eye out for possible trademark and copyright issues, too.

Editcetera has a correspondence course on copyediting fiction, and at Copyediting we’ve covered fiction editing in a couple of ways:

  • A fiction-editing audio conference with Amy Schneider. For those who don’t know, Amy works as a freelance copyeditor for the big publisher, and authors regularly request her (translation: she really knows her stuff).
  • The April-May 2013 issue of the Copyediting newsletter. This issue contains several articles on fiction editing, including one by Amy on the style sheet she developed for editing fiction. I’ve used the style sheet; it’s fantastic.

As I said at the beginning, a lot of what I know about fiction I internalized a long time ago. What other tasks do you think are particular to fiction editing? What resources do you use to obtain the skills necessary? Share your thoughts below!

(Starting in September, you can read more about fiction editing in Amy Schneider’s monthly column.—AAE.)

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.

August 20, 2014

The Commandments: Thou Shall Know the Basics or Don’t Edit

The title may tell you that I am a bit frustrated. But let’s begin this story at the beginning.

My daughter wrote a nonfiction book that was accepted by a major crossover publisher for fall publication. (A crossover publisher is, in this instance, one that publishes academic titles for popular consumption — think Doris Kearns Goodwin-type books, which are well-researched nonfiction and could be written and published for a strictly academic market but instead are written and published to appeal to both academics and consumers.) Everything has been going smoothly with the process and my daughter has been very happy with the publisher.

Except that like far too many publishers these days, this publisher outsources to a packager the editing and production services. When told that the copyediting would be outsourced, my daughter asked about the assigned copyeditor. She was told that the editor had worked with the packager for more than 6 years, and was considered an outstanding editor — in fact, she was considered to be the best of the editors who worked for this packager.

Hearing that made my daughter feel better and gave her high hopes that the editing would be high quality.

Then I started receiving phone calls with questions about Chicago style, capitalization, whether it was OK to change “was” to “had been” in every instance, and on and on. Finally, my daughter asked me point blank: “Should I panic about the quality of the editing?”

I had not seen the edited manuscript but assured my daughter that some of the changes, such as removal of serial commas, were a matter of preference and house style and not (generally) something to panic over unless meaning was changed. I also suggested that she read more of the edited manuscript before coming to any conclusions about the editing.

Then she dropped the bombshell: The editor altered/rewrote direct quotations, making ungrammatical quotes grammatical. “Is this what a copyeditor does?” she asked.

Now I began to panic and asked her to send me a sample chapter to look at.

Within 15 minutes I saw that the editing was unacceptable in multiple ways and that my daughter not only needed to panic but needed to contact the publisher immediately. The editing was a disaster. (I also subsequently learned that no one told my daughter that as the author she could accept or reject any of the editor’s changes; she assumed that she had to accept the editor’s changes on the basis that this was the editor’s area of expertise. I quickly disabused her of that notion.) Once she explained to the publisher the problems she was finding and some of my comments, the publisher agreed that the book needed to be reedited by a different editor.

Which brings me to the commandment: Thou shall know the basics of editing or don’t edit!

If you do not know that direct quotes in nonfiction (and that the quotes are sourced should give you a clue) should not be changed, you should not claim to be an editor. I was taught that basic principle in sixth grade, if not even earlier. If you do not know that editing changes are to be limited to those that do not change the meaning of the sentence or paragraph, then do not claim to be an editor.

More importantly than not claiming to be an editor, you should not edit — period.

An editor is supposed to understand the value and meaning of words and how they fit, or do not fit, within the structure of a sentence and paragraph. When a sentence reads “…when he suddenly awoke…”, an editor needs to think twice about deleting “suddenly”: “…when he awoke…” is not the same as “…when he suddenly awoke…”. And if you think “suddenly” is unneeded and should be deleted, you should explain why you are deleting the word (or suggesting deletion). As an editor, you should know the importance and value of communicating with the author your reasoning for nonobvious changes.

In the case of my daughter’s book, this was a major failing of the editor. Not a single change that the editor made in the entire book was accompanied by an explanatory note, not even something as simple as “changed per Chicago.” Providing an explanation is fundamental to maintaining good author–editor relations. We have discussed this in detail before (see What Do Editors Forget Most Often?).

The question that arises is: How does someone know that they do not know the basics? If you don’t know something, you don’t know that you don’t know it. And in the case of my daughter’s editor, supposedly she had been a professional editor for 6 years and was receiving superior grades.

This is a tough question and it is a question that vexes authors who hire an editor. The only solution I know of is to ask for a sample edit. The problem is that there is an underlying assumption when a sample edit is asked for: That the person who will review the sample edit actually knows enough about editing that the reviewer can separate the wheat from the chaff. As my daughter noted, she has no experience and wouldn’t know whether the editor was correcting her mistakes or creating new mistakes. My daughter can fall back on me to review the sample but most authors and in-house production staff do not have someone to fall back on.

In the end, all an author can really do is rely on “gut” feeling unless, as occurred in my daughter’s case, a blatant, basic error repeatedly occurs (in this instance, it was the altering of direct quotes).

Editors can instill confidence by adding explanations and by knowing the basics of editing, such as direct quotes in nonfiction are left as they are but may be queried; that one doesn’t make a change unless it improves the sentence and doesn’t change the sentence’s meaning; that you don’t change tenses willy-nilly; that an editor’s role mimics that of the doctor — do no harm; that it is better to break a sentence into multiple sentences than to make an incoherent sentence even more incoherent.

Alas, my daughter’s experience convinces me even more of the need for a national editor’s accreditation. Her experience also convinces me that a significant part of the problem is the willingness of publishers to leave the task of finding qualified editors to third-party vendors whose interests are not synchronous with the publisher or author’s interest.

I’m not too worried about my daughter’s book, but I do worry about authors who do not have someone knowledgeable they can call on for help in evaluating the quality of editing. No matter what, ultimately the responsibility lies with the person offering the editing service, and that person should remember the commandment:

Thou shall know the basics of editing or don’t edit!

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 18, 2014

Lyonizing Word: Let’s Go Spelunking

 Let’s Go Spelunking

by Jack Lyon

Spelunking is the recreational pastime of exploring caves. It’s a dark and dangerous hobby, an extreme sport for those who are confident in their ability to climb, navigate, and even swim (there’s usually water down there).

I try to avoid such hazards, but I’m not afraid to explore some of the deeper reaches of a computer program — Microsoft Word, for example. That’s one reason I know quite a bit about that particular program. Some of my friends, however, seem terrified of making a “mistake” on the computer. They want a concrete series of steps to follow in everything they do. “How can I make a word bold?” they ask. I reply:

  1. Double-click the word to select it.
  2. Click the “Bold” icon on the Ribbon.

Then they say, “Oh, that’s wonderful! Let me write that down for next time.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with learning to use a computer in that way, and those who are comfortable with that should keep a big Microsoft Word reference book close at hand. These are probably the same people who would enjoy taking a guided tour of Timpanogos Cave, which is about an hour away from where I live.

But that’s a far cry from spelunking, and I doubt that any of the people on the tour discover something new.

So what kind of a person are you? Do you like someone to hold your hand along the well-marked trail? Or would you rather descend into the dark depths of the cavern with only a flashlight as your guide? Either way is fine, but sometimes it’s nice to get off the beaten path; you never know what you might find. As Henry David Thoreau once said, “Nature abhors a vacuum, and if I can only walk with sufficient carelessness I am sure to be filled.”

Want to learn something new about Word? Try exploring Word’s features that aren’t on any menu, the caverns that aren’t on the map. Here’s how:

  1. Press ALT+F8 to open the Macros dialog.
  2. Click the dropdown list next to “Macros in.”
  3. Select “Word Commands.”

Now, in the window under “Macro name,” you’ll see all of the commands available in Microsoft Word, whether they’re on the Ribbon or not. If you click one, you’ll see a description of its function under “Description,” at the bottom of the dialog. These descriptions are minimal at best, but along with the name of the command, they’ll give you some idea of what the command does. You can also click the “Run” button to run the command, which may give you even more insight. (Be sure to do this only with a junk document; you don’t want mess up an actual project.)

Let’s take a look. Don’t be afraid; I’ll be right behind you all the way.

So we’re scrolling through the list of Word commands in Word 2013, and what do we see? “CharacterRemoveStyle,” which, according to its description, “Clears character style from selection.” What?!? Does this mean it’s possible to remove a character style without affecting text-level formatting (such as italic)? If so, I sure didn’t know about it. Let’s find out. We type a junk sentence into a junk document:

This is a test to see what will happen.

We apply italic formatting to “test” and the character style “Emphasis” character style to “see”:

This is a test to see what will happen.

The formatting of those two words looks the same, but the formatting is not the same. Now let’s see if the “CharacterRemoveStyle” command works. We select the sentence, press ALT+F8, scroll down to “CharacterRemoveStyle,” and run it. Look at that! Our test sentence becomes:

This is a test to see what will happen.

The character style is gone, but the text-level formatting is still there. Neat!

Okay, one more, and then we’ll go back up to the surface. Down, down, down, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. What’s this? “RestoreCharacterStyle.” I’ve never noticed that command before. The description says “Restores character style and removes direct formatting.” Could this be the inverse of the command we just finished exploring? Again we type our junk sentence and apply the same formatting as before:

This is a test to see what will happen.

Then we select the sentence and run the “RestoreCharacterStyle” command. Yes! The sentence now looks like this:

This is a test to see what will happen.

The text-level formatting is gone, but the character style remains!

But why does Microsoft say that this command restores a character style? If we remove the character style from our sentence and then run the command, does the character style come back? A quick experiment shows us that no, it doesn’t. Then why the odd name? I suspect that under the hood, Word is removing all character-level formatting but then restoring any formatting applied with a character style. It’s the equivalent of (1) identifying the character style, (2) pressing CTRL+SPACEBAR (to remove character-level formatting), and then (3) reapplying the character style — which means that the command was named from the programmer’s perspective rather than the user’s perspective. There’s a lot of stuff like that down here in the dark, and it’s part of what makes exploring so interesting.

Back up in the daylight, we assess our adventure, which I’d have to say has been a success. We’ve discovered two commands we didn’t know about before. Could they be useful in our actual editing work? Yes, indeed!

Personally, I enjoy crawling around down there in the bowels of Microsoft Word. Yes, it’s dark and it’s dirty, and sometimes I find something nasty under a rock. But I also make lots of interesting discoveries, and I nearly always learn something new.

How about you? Ready to go spelunking on your own? Have fun, and don’t forget your flashlight!

Jack Lyon ( owns and operates the Editorium, which provides macros and information to help editors and publishers do mundane tasks quickly and efficiently. He is the author of Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals and of Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word. Both books will help you learn more about macros and how to use them.

August 13, 2014

On Today’s Bookshelf (XVII)

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

Nonfiction –

  • A Scream Goes Through the House: What Literature Teaches Us About Life by Arnold Weinstein
  • The Borgias and Their Enemies by Christopher Hibbert
  • The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale
  • American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee by Karen Abbott
  • Our One Common Country: Abraham Lincoln and the Hampton Roads Peace Conference of 1865 by James B. Conroy
  • A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918 by G.J. Meyer
  • Stalin’s Genocides by Norman M. Naimark
  • Plotting Hitler’s Death by Joachim Fest
  • An Artist in Treason by Ando Linklater
  • Imperial Spain 1469-1716 by J.H. Elliott
  • The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century by Jurgen Osterhammel
  • The Road to Black Ned’s Forge by Turk McCleskey
  • Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language by Steven Pinker
  • The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker
  • Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad by William Craig
  • Tears in the Darkness by Elizabeth Norman and Michael Norman
  • The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham
  • Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time by Ira Katznelson
  • The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World by Lincoln Paine
  • Blood Libel and Its Derivatives: The Scourge of Anti-Semitism by Raphael Israeli
  • Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre by Jonathan Israel
  • The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan
  • Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights 1750-1790 by Jonathan Israel
  • Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752 by Jonathan Israel
  • Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 by Jonathan Israel

Fiction –

  • The Purity of Vengeance by Jussi Adler-Olsen
  • A Foreign Country by Charles Cumming
  • Darkfire by C.J. Sansom
  • The Innocent by Ian McEwan
  • The Oracle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley
  • Final Witness by Simon Tolkien
  • Red Cell by Mark Henshaw
  • Signora Da Vinci by Robin Maxwell
  • The Devil’s Elixir by Raymond Khoury
  • HHhH by Laurent Binet
  • Limits of Power by Elizabeth Moon
  • The Street Philosopher by Matthew Plampin
  • Beautiful Assassin by Michael White
  • The Director: A Novel by David Ignatius
  • Eye for an Eye by Ben Coes
  • A Journeyman to Grief by Maureen Jennings

As you can see, much of my summer has been spent acquiring (or preordering) and reading nonfiction books.

I am particularly looking forward to reading the last three in the nonfiction list (the trilogy by Jonathan Israel). The books have been favorably commented on several times in the past few months by reviewers in reviews of Israel’s newest book, Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre, which I also purchased. Unfortunately, that book wasn’t so well reviewed and had I read the reviews before purchasing the book, I might have thought twice about buying it. But now that I own it, I will eventually read it and decide for myself.

One of the books on the list that I am currently reading is The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham. Although I have not quite finished reading the book, I can whole-heartedly recommend it. It is a fascinating look at censorship in the United States during and following World War I and how federal and state governments turned over the role of censor to private antivice groups.

Of even greater interest to me is the revelation of how Joyce was perceived by his contemporaries. Ulysses, a book I have never thought much of, was considered by many, including Sylvia Beach, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway, to name just a few, to be the greatest written work of all time. And Joyce received patronage to enable him to write. One admirer gave him what would be £1,000,000 today to sustain him as he wrote.

In many ways, Joyce was a tragic figure. Were he writing today, I doubt that he would have had the support he was given then. But it is worth reading how Ulysses was suppressed, was smuggled into the United States, and, ultimately, with the backing of Bennett Cerf, founder of Random House, was found not to be obscene. If you read just one book about books this year, this should be the book.

What are you reading? Do you have any recommendations to share?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 11, 2014

The Proofreader’s Corner: Proofreading for Publishers Outside Your Country of Origin—Is There a Market?

Proofreading for Publishers Outside Your
Country of Origin — Is There a Market?

by Louise Harnby

Folk in the editorial community often talk about the increasing internationalism of work opportunities; now that we can edit and proofread onscreen (e.g., in Word or on PDF), and deliver our work electronically (e.g., via email or using ftp sites), where we live in relation to our client no longer matters. Our market is global. Or is it?

Certainly, when it comes to working for students, businesses, and self-publishing authors, geographical location is no longer as limiting a factor as it had been. And if one is a structural editor or copy-editor, the same could be said of working within the mainstream publishing industry. However, if we are talking about proofreading for publishers, we need to be extra cautious before we claim that our market is global.

Why Might Location be an Issue?

Location can be a restricting factor for the proofreader focusing on publisher clients because of the way in which the production process works (page proofs vs. word-processed files), the medium in which those page proofs are presented (paper vs. digital), and the delivery method (post vs. online).

Page Proofs vs. Word-processed Files

Proofreading for publishers and proofreading for other types of client involve, more often than not, different things (see “Not All Proofreading Is the Same: Part I — Working with Page Proofs” and “Not All Proofreading Is the Same: Part II — Working Directly in Word”). Most of the time, proofreaders who work for publishers are dealing with page proofs, not Word files. There is overlap in terms of problems to identify—locating the spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, and grammatical blunders, for example. But with page proofs we are also looking more broadly at how the book works in terms of layout, and we have to be aware of the domino effect that our changes can have on the book’s content (for more information about this, take a look at “The Proofreader’s Corner: Page Proofs and the Domino Effect”).

Paper Page Proofs vs. Digital Page Proofs

Some publishers still require their proofreaders to mark up on paper, even when they provide a PDF for reference. Others have moved to a digital workflow, so the proofs, usually in the form of a PDF, are identical to their paper sister but are annotated onscreen using comment-and-markup tools and/or digital stamps based on proof-correction symbols (see, e.g., “Roundup: PDF Proofreading Stamps” for a link to my proofreading stamps, which are based on the British Standards 5261-2 (2005) proof correction symbols, and some other useful PDF markup resources).

Postal Delivery vs. Online Delivery

This is the crux of the matter. Given that most publishers require proofreaders to work on page proofs, and that some page proofs will still be paper based, delivery to the proofreader (and return of the proofs to the publisher) will sometimes entail snail-mail delivery costs. Because publishers’ margins are tight, and because they want to keep production costs as low as possible, it’s unlikely that, for example, a London-based publisher will be prepared to bear the cost of delivering paper page proofs to a freelancer in Reykjavik. That means that a proofreader who focuses on working for publishers does not have a global market.

The Proofreader’s Real Market

As a proofreader I think of my overall market as being global. I live in the UK. I’ve worked for clients here at home, and in America, Canada, China, The Netherlands, Spain, Denmark, and Sweden. However, my publisher clients are all in the UK. If I wanted to expand my publisher client base to include presses outside the UK, I could do so, but I’d first need to do some careful market research that would identify those who require/accept onscreen proofreading and digital delivery.

That’s where the caution comes in. I can’t just assume that I’m a good match for every publisher in the world whose lists match those of my UK publisher clients. Some publishers still want their proofreading markup done on paper, even though they supply PDFs for reference. And, as all of us know, a key part of developing a sustainable editorial business is the readiness to be able to work in the way our clients want us to work. So if a publisher wants paper markup, and I want to work for that publisher, I have to include paper markup in my service package.

When I was planning my proofreading business, especially my marketing strategy, I needed to consider not only where my clients lived, but also how they worked and what they wanted. I wanted to specialize in proofreading for publishers, but the whole world was not my oyster, not by a long way, because not all publishers want digital markup and electronic delivery, even if all of their copy-editing work is done onscreen.

A United Kingdom Case Study

So, just how prevalent is paper proof markup in the publishing industry? I don’t have a definitive answer to that. The best I can offer is a snapshot of my own experience. Before I present my overview I should tell you that I specialize in working for publishers whose lists are in the social sciences, fiction, and commercial nonfiction. I have no experience of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and medicine) proofreading, and limited experience of the training/education and children’s book market.

I also want to reiterate that I am talking about proofreading, not editing, for publishers, which entails working with typeset page proofs.

Looking at 17 UK-based publishers for whom I regularly work, the requirements are as follows:

  • Paper proof mark up and postal delivery: 8
  • PDF proof markup and digital delivery: 7
  • Word markup and digital delivery: 1
  • Paper or PDF: 1 (it depends on the book)

So, for my client list, paper is not dead. And if my Reykjavik-based doppelganger considered those 17 publishers to be her target clients, the proof-delivery restrictions would render her market 50% smaller than mine, given that I’m based in the UK and she’s based in Iceland.

Plan Ahead — Identify Your Market

Do the planning and market research first. Different clients in different markets will be differently accessible because they have different requirements. Don’t assume that if you live outside China, but are regularly proofreading for students, self-publishing authors, or businesses in China, you can persuade a Chinese publisher to hire your proofreading services. It’s not a given. Even if you are native Chinese, your Mandarin or Cantonese is flawless, and your proofreading skill set is second to none, success will still depend on the publisher’s delivery requirements.

If you want to proofread for publishers, find out what they want and how they work before you invest money in training, expensive style guides, and other resources. For example, if you live Reykjavik and decide that the key to the sustainability of your proofreading business requires tapping the UK publishing industry, but most of your potential clients insist on sending paper proofs, you need to know this before you invest hundreds of pounds in a training course that’s geared towards UK publishing conventions and markup language. If your research tells you that you’re more likely to be successful by tapping US publishers, you’d be better off finding appropriate training and resources that focus on the US publishing market’s requirements.

I’m not advising proofreaders-to-be to ignore international opportunities — far from it. What I am advising is that by planning ahead and doing the market analysis first, you will be able to target your investment and your time more efficiently, and that’s good for your proofreading business. There are opportunities to work for international publishers if you take the time to find them. SAGE Publications’ California office is a good example of a publisher who requires its proofreaders to work onscreen; in contrast, its sister company in London has yet to move fully to onscreen proofreading — it depends on the book title and the preferences of the in-house project manager. If you live in Australia but want to proofread for SAGE, it should be obvious which company to market yourself to first.

Publisher Requirements are Dynamic

Nothing in the publishing industry is static. And while the move to digital workflows for copyediting is well established, proofreaders still have to be prepared to work in several media. In years to come, paper page proofs may be a thing of the past and that will lower geographical boundaries. In 2014, however, the business-savvy proofreader would do well to be aware of both the opportunities and the restrictions that still exist in our so-called global marketplace.

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 Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.

August 6, 2014

How Much Is That Editor in the Window?

I remember as a very young child watching Patti Page sing this song, which sets the tone for this essay:

Lately, I feel like a doggie in the window.

As those of you who are long-time readers of An American Editor, my complaints about work are that I have too much, not too little, and that clients are continually trying to nibble away at my fee. My biggest complaint is that the fee I am being paid today, in raw terms, is the same as it was in 1995. Granted, I have learned how to be significantly more productive and efficient so that my effective hourly rate is higher today than in 1995, but still, it rankles that the going rate for professional editors hasn’t changed much in 20 years. (For those unfamiliar with the effective hourly rate concept or wanting a refresher, see the five-part series Business of Editing: What to Charge beginning with Part I, which includes links to Parts II through V, and for an overview, Thinking About Money: What Freelancers Need to Understand.)

There are lots of reasons for this stagnation — and in some cases, regression — of rates in the United States, including the lack of a truly professional national organization dedicated to improving the editor’s lot, the rise of the Internet which has made pricing more competitive, and the decline in caring about invisible qualities in the rush to increase shareholder returns. All of these have been discussed in other essays on An American Editor (see, e.g., The Editorial World — Will it Pass Editors By? and Editors in the Offshore World).

Unfortunately, the issue of “I can get it cheaper” (see The Business of Editing: Killing Me Softly and Business of Editing: “I Can Get It Cheaper!”) keeps raising its ugly head. In the past two weeks I have had offers for nine projects of which six were lost because I wouldn’t/couldn’t meet or beat a lower price. (The other three didn’t even raise the issue of price except after awarding me the project. These clients were looking for quality first.)

The six lost projects were being shopped — How much is that editor in the window? Like the puppy in the song, the question wasn’t “How good are your editorial skills?” (“How friendly/healthy/cuddly/etc. is that puppy?”) but “How cheaply can I get you to edit this manuscript for me?”

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t disfavor competition and I have no problem with shopping around for oranges or any other thing that can be commoditized. But how do you commoditize editorial skills? How do you compare what an editor does who charges $100 an hour with what an editor does who charges $10 an hour? For that matter, how do you compare what one editor does who charges $25 an hour with other editors who charge $25 an hour?

Surely we can discover whether an editor has intimate knowledge of the subject matter to be edited, but how important is it that the editor have that knowledge if you are unwilling to pay for it or want an edit that doesn’t really exercise that knowledge? Besides, even if the editor has great knowledge of the subject matter, isn’t knowledge of, say, grammar more important if you want only copyediting and not developmental editing? How does the rate the editor charges correlate with mastery of grammar? If there is a high correlation, then the shopper could expect that the higher the fee charged, the greater the mastery; conversely, the lower the fee charged, the lesser the mastery.

Yet professional editors know there is no direct correlation between fee charged and mastery of grammar.

So I feel like a doggie in the window when price shoppers come calling for a quote.

Making me feel more so is that it is often impossible to get the shopper to explain why my price is too high. One of the shopped manuscripts required a heavy edit. The book was a contributed book with nearly all chapters written by authors whose English was probably a third language. Yet the shopper wanted to pay less than what would normally be charged for a light edit of a manuscript written by a single author whose primary language was English. Asking the shopper to explain why my price was too high resulted in “Others will do it for less”; “The manuscript is not as difficult as you think”; “Two weeks is more than enough time to edit the 500 pages”; and similar reasons.

I suppose, in looking at these statements many days later, that the shopper did give me an “explanation.” It is just that the given explanation is not really helpful.

For example, to say that others will do the editing for less is a conclusion, not an explanation. What I needed to know is what kind of editing they will do for less and for how much less. As to the former, the best I could get was that the other editors will do copyediting just like I would (but the shopper didn’t know what I would do/not do for the quoted price because we hadn’t been able to progress that far). As for how much less, the shopper wouldn’t say, which made me suspect that my price became the benchmark price against which other prices would be measured.

We’ve discussed expectations before (see, e.g., The Business of Editing: Expectations, Business of Editing: Schedules and Client Expectations, and Great Expectations: A Recipe for Disappointment) and that is what shopping is based on: the shopper’s expectations. Unfortunately, I was either unable to address the shoppers’ expectations or my attempt to address them fell on deaf ears. Editing has become perceptually commoditized; that editing is more art than anything else has become lost in the Internet age where the single dominant expectation is that price is the determining decision factor — nothing else matters.

Fortunately for me, I have enough business that is quality focused that losing these shoppers made no difference. But I really dislike being viewed like the puppy in the window and approached as if my editorial skills were tertiary considerations. How about you? Have you had similar experiences? Do you feel as I do? How do you handle shoppers?

Richard Adin, An American Editor


August 4, 2014

The Business of Editing: You Want a Deposit!

One of the first pieces of advice new freelancers receive from more experienced freelancers is “get a deposit”! Interestingly, that advice is generally given to editors who work directly with authors; the assumption is that publishers will honor invoices just to avoid hassles but that is not always true of authors.

Rarely, if ever, discussed is the editor’s responsibilities when it comes to taking a deposit.

Commonly, the editor’s contract lays out a payment schedule, such as 25% of the estimated fee as a deposit before work begins, 25% when half of the manuscript is edited, the balance when editing is done. The variations on this theme are endless but they all begin with that prework deposit or retainer.

Retainer is really the wrong word to use. A retainer is a payment in exchange for setting aside a certain amount of time to deal with a client’s needs. It can be argued that you are entitled to keep the retainer no matter what happens because you are willing to give the client the amount of time the client is paying for. A deposit, on the other hand, is clearly refundable until it is earned.

The general practice, based on conversations I have had with colleagues who ask for deposits, is to take the client’s funds and comingle them in the editor’s regular accounts. Although this is commonly done, it is not necessarily the best idea, especially if a taxing authority comes round to do an audit.

From my perspective, the biggest problem with commingling is the ethical problem: the editor has yet to earn the deposit or any portion of it.

The idea of the deposit is to ensure that the editor receives payment for work that is done. If the editor and client have agreed on a fee of $50 per hour, then at the end of 1 hour of work, the editor is entitle to withdraw $50 from that deposit. Should the client then decide that the editor is not a good fit for her manuscript and cancel the contract, the client is entitled to a refund of the balance of the deposit — the unearned portion.

In other words, deposits, although under the immediate control of the editor, remain the property of the client until such time as some portion of it has been earned by the editor, at which point only that earned portion belongs to the editor.

What colleagues have said to me is that they do not disagree with who owns what, but see no reason why they need to segregate in a special account any deposits pending earning. All they need to do is keep good records.

Unfortunately, that is not quite true. The first problem is a tax problem. Tax codes usually take the position that any money in the editor’s account is taxable as belonging to the editor. Because most editors are on a cash basis and not an accrual basis for accounting and tax purposes (if you are on an accrual basis you should revisit this with an accountant), as soon as the editor deposits any money to a personal account, it is the editor’s for tax purposes. Consequently, if the editor’s tax year ends December 31 and the editor has unearned deposits commingled in the editor’s personal accounts, that unearned money counts as income for the preceding tax year.

The second problem occurs should some disaster befalls an editor, whether it be health-related or bankruptcy or some other financial disaster. Because the finds are not segregated, they are treated as the editor’s funds. The client’s money becomes the editor’s money — even though not yet earned by the editor — and subject to use for payment of the editor’s debts.

Included in this second problem is the not so rare instance where an editor runs short in a month because some clients have delayed payment or contested an invoice, and now some bill is due and the editor does not have enough in the bank unless the editor taps the unearned deposit. The temptation becomes great to “borrow” against the deposit because the editor expects to earn that money soon.

The third problem, and to me the biggest problem, is that by commingling the money the editor says the client should trust the editor with the client’s money even though the editor doesn’t trust the client with the editor’s money. I view trust as of necessity being mutual. Placing the money in a designated escrow or trust account alleviates much of the distrust. The client sees that the editor recognizes that the deposit belongs to the client until it is earned; the editor is affirmatively acknowledging that she must earn the deposit.

The relationship between editor and client is a business one. Everything needs to be kept at arm’s length. Editors need to treat clients as equals and with dignity. One way to do so is to recognize that until the editor earns a portion of the deposit, that deposit is held in trust for the client. The editor demonstrates acceptance of that relationship by segregating client funds from the editor’s funds and by providing a regular accounting to the client.

In the past, when I would receive deposits, the deposits not only were placed in an escrow account, but the client received a monthly report advising the client of the balance and of any transactions. (I also would send the client immediate notification saying that I had withdrawn $x as payment against a particular invoice.)

Segregating client funds from our personal funds tells clients we are professionals, that we want our relationship with the client to be a professional one, and that we are trustworthy. It helps establish a positive working relationship. And from the editor’s perspective, if the client feels assured about how the deposit is handled, there will be less reluctance to replenish the fund as the editor withdraws earnings from it.

Because the request for the deposit is generally part of the contract, what the editor does with the deposit should also be part of the contract. The contract should outline how the editor will handle the deposit and what kind and frequency of reports the client can expect to receive as regards the disposition of the funds. The contract should also state that the deposit remains the property of the client except as sums are withdrawn to pay the editor for work completed per the contract.

Do you agree that the funds should be segregated? Is that what you do?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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