An American Editor

June 10, 2016

The Countdown Continues: Just 20 Days to Go

Filed under: A Good Deal,Worth Noting — Rich Adin @ 4:00 am
Tags:

Just 20 days remain to take advantage of the AAE discount for the upcoming Be a Better Freelancer™ — Profiting in Publishing conference. For more information see “Worth Noting: A Super Deal for AAE Subscribers.”

If you have already decided to attend but still need to register, go to the special registration page for An American Editor subscribers now and lock in your AAE rate! (Remember to use the password: AAE-CC16.)

The AAE special discount ends June 30, so register now to save big.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 8, 2016

The Business of Editing: Ballpark Quoting for Copyediting

In a recent essay found on “The Proofreader’s Parlour” (see Quoting for the Customer — Ballpark Prices and the Editorial Freelancer: Part 1 and Part 2), Louise Harnby discussed giving prospective clients ballpark quotes via her website (Get a Proofreading Quote). Although the essay was intended to be broadly applicable, I think it is most applicable to proofreading.

The underlying premise is that with her years of experience, Louise can give a fairly accurate, albeit ballpark, quote without any information other than the type of project (“suspense thriller, self-help psychotherapy book, or children’s book,” etc.), the deadline, and the word count. I admit I haven’t done proofreading in many years, so I will concede that Louise, who is a very experienced proofreader, can give an accurate ballpark quote for proofreading with just that basic information. In my view, this system does not work as well for copyediting. (However, see my essay The Business of Editing: To Post or Not to Post Your Fee Schedule?)

Copyediting is less mechanistic than proofreading. (I am not implying that proofreading is wholly mechanistic; I’m just saying that it is more mechanistic than copyediting.) The copyeditor has to decide whether OK or okay is the correct form; the proofreader has to make sure that, whatever the decision, it is consistently applied. The copyeditor has to decide whether Canal Street runs north–south or east–west; the proofreader needs to make sure that whichever direction it runs, it does so consistently.

I do not wish to be seen as trivializing the role of the proofreader, because the proofreader does play a very important role in the editorial process. But I want to emphasize that the decisions that the copyeditor makes are not remade by the proofreader; the proofreader is the enforcer of those decisions and catches the copyeditor’s mistakes when applying those decisions. (The proofreader does much more, but this essay is not intended to exhaustively describe the differences between copyediting and proofreading.)

Consequently, in determining a price for a project, a copyeditor needs to consider how well written the manuscript is; the proofreader expects to receive a decently written manuscript because it has already been copyedited. But how can the copyeditor determine the manuscript’s quality of writing from the minimal information outlined above and then give a reasonable ballpark quote?

Complicating the quote process are the subject area, the length, and the schedule for the project. Granted, these complications would be relatively easy to take into account if it were not for the question of how well written the manuscript is. A professional editor might be aware that, very broadly speaking, she can copyedit six pages an hour of biographical text that is reasonably well written, and she therefore knows that if a manuscript is 240 pages, it will take roughly 40 hours to copyedit. Thus, if the deadline is 2 weeks, the editor can surely say (1) I can meet the deadline and (2) because I charge $35 an hour, the price will be $1,400. Except that the editor does not know whether there are any footnotes, any references that need verification, any facts that need correction or questioning, or any of myriad other things that will affect the time required. Consider this: What is the effect on pricing of having to look up hundreds of acronyms because the author hasn’t defined them? Or ask yourself what the effect on pricing is of having 300 references that need to be in APA style but aren’t. For example, they should be in text this way: (Anderson, 2007); in the reference list alphabetically; and in the following form:

Anderson, A. (2007). Finding werewolves in prehistoric literature. Journal of Integrity & Nonintegrity, 35, 201–207.

Unfortunately, these references have been submitted to you in AMA style — in text as a superscripted number in number order and in the reference list as

Anderson A: Finding werewolves in prehistoric literature. J Integ Noninteg. 2007;35:201–207.

And what if the references have to be renumbered or alphabetized? (For additional discussion, see The Business of Editing: Journals, References, & Dollars, Business of Editing: Dealing with Reference Renumbering, and The Business of Editing: Uniqueness & Being Valuable to Clients.)

Ballpark quoting, as we can see, hits the copyeditor with a serious problem: it doesn’t permit or provide for sufficient information before the editor offers up the quote. The resulting number is likely to be far from even ballpark status — way past the left field bleachers.

The editor needs to get more information, but the more information you gather about the project, the less ballparkish the quote will be. And where do you draw the line? Is it sufficient to know that there are references? Or do you need to know how many? Does it matter whether there are both references and footnotes?

Of course, much depends on the subject areas of the books you copyedit. If you work on only romance fiction, it may be possible to define a small number of parameters to produce a fairly accurate ballpark quote, whereas it might be nearly impossible to do so if you only copyedit biographies.

There is, moreover, another problem with ballpark quoting: the way clients often focus on the number — the ballpark quote.

The way ballpark quoting works is that a client asks for a quote to copyedit an 80,000-word spy novel that needs to be completed in 2 weeks, and the editor nearly instantaneously replies with a price (recall that the price is quoted with manuscript unseen). This number becomes a fixation point. It is the number against which quotes from other editors will be compared; more importantly, it becomes the price that you are expected to not exceed.

Ballpark quoting is often the first step in the client–editor relationship and the first contact of the editor by the client. Editors think that once a client has retained them, they can discuss what the client wants and what they as editors will do in step 2, and then they’ll be able to adjust the price accordingly. Sometimes this happens, but often it does not. The editor often finds the client unwilling to budge, unwilling to go higher than the ballpark quote. The problem arises because the editor and the client aren’t speaking the same language. That is, neither defines copyediting in the same way.

Once the editor encounters resistance, she has lost the opportunity to educate the client about why she should be hired and at what price. Ballpark pricing puts quoting to the forefront. Yet what editors need is for our clients to understand what we will and will not do within a certain time frame for a particular price. (For further discussion, see, e.g., The Business of Editing: Saying Yes, Then No, Business of Editing: Schedules and Client Expectations, and The Business of Editing: Keys to a Project Quote (II).)

The question then becomes, Is it ethical for copyeditors to ever do ballpark pricing as a way to induce clients to hire them? The follow-up questions that need to be asked and answered are these: (1) Does the editor have an ethical obligation to not give ballpark quotes because they can mislead a client about the real cost; and (2) if the editor gives a ballpark quote, is there an ethical limit to how much the real cost can deviate upward from the ballpark price? The discussion of these ethical questions must be reserved for another essay.

There is an important difference between ballpark quoting and having a set fee that is applicable no matter what the complexities of the manuscript are. For example, I have a contract with a major publisher to provide copyediting for a set per-page price. That price does not change; nor does how it is calculated change. I do, however, reserve the right to decline particular projects. If I accept the project, the client knows the fee that will be charged. This is different from ballpark quoting — there are no contingent factors that can affect the final price.

Do you give ballpark quotes for copyediting? How do you deal with the unknowns? Do you limit the amount that the quote can rise?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 6, 2016

The Business of Editing: Keeping Records

Information is the most powerful tool any businessperson — including the freelancer — has in her armory. Inadequate information can lead to poor decisions. Information makes smarter decision-making possible.

Businesses keep track of all kinds of information. For some businesses, tracking the political climate is important because they may see sales increases and decreases that depend on what is happening in the local city council or in another country’s energy market.

To be successful as a business, an editor needs to keep records of all kinds. To determine what our baseline price for our services should be, we must keep records that are sufficiently detailed that we can calculate our required effective hourly rate (rEHR). To determine if we are earning at least our rEHR, we need to keep careful records for each project and for all our projects in aggregate; that is, we need both a micro and a macro view.

The information we need is more than just our costs of doing business or of running our homes. We also need to be politically aware. For example, how would Donald Trump’s isolationist positions, should he be elected president, affect the business of editors who have clients outside the United States? If Trump were, for example, to anger China with his protectionist policies, what is the likelihood that China would retaliate in a way that could limit American editors’ work with Chinese authors?

That type of political information, although important, is difficult (if not impossible) both to obtain and to evaluate, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. As the election season proceeds, the gathering of such information might lead us to change our marketing strategy — for example, to do less targeting of foreign clients and more targeting of domestic clients.

The thoughtful gathering of information can be the difference between a struggling business and a successful business. I found it very worthwhile in my early years as a freelance editor to track the types of editing I was being hired to do (e.g., copyediting, developmental editing), the types of manuscript (e.g., book, journal, business document, white paper, thesis), the subject matter of the manuscript (e.g., fiction, nonfiction, medical, legal, thriller), the type of service I was providing (e.g., editing, proofreading, desktop publishing), and who was doing the hiring (e.g., large publisher, boutique publisher, author, agent). I also kept track of earnings for each.

As a result of the information I gathered, I discovered early in my career that I needed to focus on book-length nonfiction manuscripts from medium to large publishers. I also narrowed the subject-matter fields.

I reconstructed my business to appeal to the potential clients who fit the profile I had determined was best for my business. (A lot of factors went into the decision of what was to be my business profile, and many of those factors were personal to me. You should not view my business profile as being the one you should emulate; what you should do is recognize the need for extensive data gathering about yourself and your business so that you can determine the correct business profile for you.) I stopped taking on small projects; I stopped accepting developmental-editing work outside certain subject areas; I stopped accepting occasional work from local clients; I stopped accepting manuscripts directly from authors; and so on.

I also redesigned my marketing approach so that I focused on those potential clients who I thought could best use my services. I redesigned my business procedures so that I could efficiently handle large volumes of work. And I also established a network of other editors who were willing to subcontract with me but under set conditions.

The information I gathered about my business over the first few years of my freelancing also led me to establish certain business policies. These policies concerned such things as my editing day and week, which we have discussed before (see, e.g., The Business of Editing: The Standard Editing Workday & Workweek), payment terms, and even, back in the 1980s and early 1990s, before the switch to online editing by the vast majority of publishers, that I did online editing only — no hardcopy editing, which was still the primary method.

The information I gathered also let me evaluate whether I was earning enough money to consider remaining a freelance editor. It was from this information that I realized it was wrong to evaluate a client based on a single project, and I created my Rule of Three (see, e.g., The Business of Editing: The Rule of Three). I recognize that my Rule of Three is not readily usable when you do not have repeat clients, which is another reason why I changed my potential client focus. To reach the goals I had set for myself, I needed repeat clients, not one-time clients. With one-time clients, each project needs to stand on its own, which can be difficult. No matter how carefully we evaluate a manuscript before agreeing to edit it, we do not know its difficulty until we actually edit it. With repeat clients and limited subject areas, the risk of financial loss on a client (not a particular project) is greatly reduced, so much so that I have rarely had to “fire” a client for lack of profitability during my 32 years of editing.

It is clear that we need information to guide us. The ultimate question comes down to how much detail do we need to track and keep. The answer is that the more detailed the information, the more useful the information. Consider this: When a client approaches you to undertake a project, do you track the time you spend evaluating whether to take on the project? Very few editors track that time; most begin tracking time from the moment they begin editing. Yet the amount of time spent evaluating a project and negotiating on it affects your editing day and week and your profitability. Even if you reject the project, the time spent coming to that conclusion is time you spent and cannot recover.

We tend to think of ourselves as editors first and businesspeople second. That is the opposite of how we should think about what we do. You can be the greatest editor in the world and still starve, be homeless, have no health insurance because you avoid the business aspects. Conversely, you can be one of the worst editors but still eat well, own a home, have health insurance because you paid attention to business.

The key is to balance the requirements of business and editing so that you are both the best businessperson and the best editor you can be. To meet this balance, you need to view yourself as a businessperson first and editor second. Doing so will force you to pay attention to the nitty-gritty details without which you won’t attain the financial success necessary if you want to devote yourself to perfecting your editing, which is what drives us as editors. With business as the first focus, the need for data becomes clear. The next natural steps are to gather the data, interpret the data, and apply the data to your circumstances, but to do so honestly and objectively.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 4, 2016

Worth Reading: The Big Uneasy

I just finished reading “The Big Uneasy” by Nathan Heller in The New Yorker and thought this is an article that An American Editor readers should read. I found the article disturbing for what it portends for future college graduates. We previously discussed trigger warnings in “Should Editors Give Trigger Warnings?” and Heller’s article raises the question again and to a more worrisome (at least to me) level.

“The Big Uneasy” by Nathan Heller

What do you think about the student demands and reactions?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 1, 2016

Thinking Fiction: The Subjectivity of Editing III

by Carolyn Haley

The editing experiment I reported on in Thinking Fiction: The Subjectivity of Editing I and II offered a unique chance to see the same material not only from both sides — author and editor — but also from multiple editorial viewpoints. As the author of the test material, I was surprised by how many thoughts and emotions the editors’ responses evoked in me, even though the material was decades old and had been replaced by what became successful published novels. I suspect that any author on the receiving end of seven different edits might feel similarly disconcerted.

At the same time, editorial subjectivity is what authors experience whenever they shop for an editor and request or automatically receive sample edits. (The same happens when they solicit feedback from beta readers.) Multiple samples are a good way for authors to select the editor best suited to their work.

During the experiment, I reviewed each volunteer editor’s response from both an editor’s and author’s perspective. I’ve already covered the editor’s angle in the above-referenced essays, so here’s a taste of what the experiment results looked like through an author’s eyes.

A quick review for context

My experiment imitated a common scenario in the industry — publishers or authors who hire copyeditors without giving them instructions, assuming they share the same vocabulary and process. All I told the seven professional volunteers was, “Copyedit according to your own understanding of what copyediting means.” I deliberately didn’t say what copyediting meant to me, or ask them for clarification of their individual approaches. I wanted to see what would happen without guidance.

As part of the test, I inserted errors into both samples. Neither sample resulted in seven takes to compare against each other; instead, six editors chose to edit the first test sample and four chose the second. A handful edited both.

Now that the experiment is complete, I can reveal what I withheld from the volunteers. As an author, I would expect a copyeditor to accept that the story was finished and my narrative style was intentional; and to polish the prose with a light touch, correcting all the technical errors and pointing out anything in question with neutrally phrased comments and queries.

The following examples show how close the editors came to meeting that expectation while working in the dark.

Example 1

Original:

“Her car had a close encounter with a tree” Jona retorted. Linny kept her mouth shut to hide the broken teeth from her close encounter with the steering wheel. The remaining car interior had bashed her head, elbows, and knees.

All six editors caught the technical error — the missing comma before the close-quote in the first line. Then the variations began.

Editor #1 remarked: ‘close encounter’ twice in consecutive sentences is a little distracting. I suggest Jona says “her car met a tree”, or similar, or that she hides the “teeth, broken on the steering wheel”?

Editor #2, after changing all the paragraph breaks in the full dialogue, offered this: Consider recasting to avoid a close repetition of “close encounter” — unless the repetition is intentional.

Editor #3, meanwhile, replaced the second close encounter with collision, then commented: This way avoids repeating “close encounter,” to give the expression more impact the first time; does that work for you?

Editor #4 was fine with the close encounter duplication and body-damage description, but felt a clarification was appropriate elsewhere in the paragraph, changing “to hide the broken teeth from” to “to hide the teeth broken during.”

Editor #5 cared about dialogue tags, changing retorted to said with the query: Change OK? Jona isn’t really retorting, and said is generally your best bet for dialogue attribution.

Editor #6 had nothing to say about any element of the paragraph, though questioned the character’s injury in an earlier paragraph — querying the plausibility of the effects of the injury still showing after the timeframe specified in the story.

Example 2

Original:

Blanche rushed into my silence. “I know, I’m sorry, but — well, the final’s the last chance, and Dru asked . . .”

The trap in this paragraph is final; it’s supposed to be finale, a performance identified as such at the start of the characters’ conversation.

Editor #1 caught the typo and changed the ellipses style.

Editor #2 changed final’s to final performance is then commented on a different sentence (“Blanche rushed into my silence”) with I like this phrase, followed by an explanation of a different edit: New para for new speaker.

Editor #3 also caught the typo then felt obliged to clarify the character’s trail-off speech with added content: Blanche rushed into my silence. “I know, I’m sorry, but — well, the finale’s the last chance, and Dru asked . . . ” Her nerve seemed to break.

Editor #4 corrected the typo and moved on.

Example 3

Original:

I sat holding the phone without seeing for a moment, then smacked it into the cradle. Two points for Blanch for finding a way to get me to New Atlantis! Give her another ten for making it as awkward as possible.

The trap was the misspelled character name: Blanch should be Blanche.

Editor #1 caught the typo and left the rest of the paragraph alone.

Editor #2 suggested deleting “without seeing” then asked: When does this story occur? Rare for people to have home phones these days.

Editor #3 also caught the typo and left the rest of the paragraph alone.

Editor # 4 corrected the error, changed a preposition (“Two points to Blanche”), and added a writing lesson: Exclamation points can lose their effectiveness if you overuse them. I’ve changed to less dramatic punctuation here and elsewhere, retaining only if the speaker really is shouting.

Example 4

Original:

“I guess so. No, not really. Look, I’ve got no time and six people in earshot, but, please, can you do me a huge favor?”

I sighed and placed my brush into a water jar. “What.”

There were no traps in this section.

Editors #1 and #3 changed the period after “What” to a question mark, without comment.

Editor #2 let the period stand, but opined: Technically, this should have a ?, but I like it fine as is because she isn’t asking so much as demanding. J

Editor #4 expressed the same sentiment by leaving the sentence alone.

Example 5

Original:

The front entrance was barricaded not only by gates but also by a hoard of groupies. I had discovered this three years ago when I first visited Blanche and Dru after they moved up from the City for good.

The trap is hoard, which should be horde.

Editor #1 caught the trap and also chose to lower-case “City” (which was capped as a shorthand for New York City and used consistently through the book, but the editor couldn’t know this from the sample).

Editor #2 made the same change to “City” plus corrected the tense in the sentence (“. . . after they’d moved up from the city for good”).

Editor #3 not only lower-cased “City” but also recast the paragraph, resequenced the paragraphs around it, and rewrote half the text to connect the changes together, thereby condensing five paragraphs down to two. It was partly explained by the query: Deleted because (in passage I’ve shifted up from below) she’s adamant about never using the front gate again, so question of choosing. OK?

Editor #4 left everything in the paragraph alone, including the incorrect word.

Making choices

As an author, I found it simple to choose which editor I could work with comfortably, just from the two samples of approximately 1,600 words each. And I’m sure a different author would make a different choice.

This luxury of choice, however, can only be made by authors who self-publish, or those who directly hire editors to help prepare their novels for submission to traditional publishers. Once authors are under contract with a publishing house, they rarely have control over who edits their manuscript, or any option to change editors if they are dissatisfied with their work. More than one editor might work on the book — a content editor and copyeditor, plus maybe the agent who placed the manuscript with the house — but a contracted author won’t get seven different takes on their book at the same stage at the same time and be free to select their preferred partner. The same holds true for authors who buy editing from an author-services company, which distributes manuscripts internally without author involvement.

The unanswered question

My experiment left an important question dangling: How would the revisions, comments, and queries have differed if I’d told the editors exactly what I wanted for copyediting (i.e., acceptance that the story was finished and my narrative style was intentional; and to polish the prose with a light touch, correcting all the technical errors and pointing out anything in question with neutrally phrased comments and queries)? Or if any of them had asked?

Considering another experiment to test that, I asked a fresh group of ten editors, “How do you define copyediting?” Sure enough, I got ten different answers, which will be discussed in a future essay. For now, the lesson I learned from the subjectivity experiment is: Author, tell the editor what you’re looking for! Editor, tell the author what you intend to do! If your vocabularies and ideas differ, then dig a little deeper before working together. That conversation will go a long way toward preventing misunderstandings during the editing process, and building a mutually positive relationship.

Related essays on An American Editor:

Carolyn Haley, an award-winning novelist, lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1977, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at dcma@vermontel.com or through her websites, DocuMania and New Ways to See the World. Carolyn also blogs at Adventures in Zone 3 and reviews at New York Journal of Books.

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