An American Editor

November 27, 2017

A Continuing Frustration — The “Going Rate”

Sadly for me, I still read editing-related blogs and posts on forums like LinkedIn. I say sadly because there is little more frustrating to me than to read the repetitive, advice-seeking posts and the repetitive, well-meaning, but usually incorrect and nearly always factually incomplete responses.

How many times does it have to be said that what I charge a client and what Betsy charges a client is wholly irrelevant to what you should charge a client? Apparently, it is something that cannot be said either frequently or emphatically enough because rarely does a day pass without someone (or multiple someones) asking something similar to “What is the going rate?”

If I say I charge $50 an hour and Betsy says she charges $20 an hour and Phil says he also charges $20 an hour, what is the answer to the going rate question? Add Susan ($10), Robert ($15), and Jeremy ($25) to the mix. Does the answer change? Have you really gotten an answer? Even if the universe of editors is small (say, 1,000 editors in total), which we know is not the case (there are more than 100,000 editors in the United States alone), how representative of the whole universe of editors are the responses from me, Betsy, Phil, Susan, Robert, and Jeremy?

After getting a bunch of responses, the asker usually decides she now has an answer, say $20/hour. But she has such incomplete information that the number she has decided is the “going rate” is useless — too much necessary information is missing, information that qualifies (explains) each response.

For example, I didn’t tell you that I have been in the editing business for more than 30 years, bill at least 1,800 hours each year and have done so for at least the past 25 years, only work with tier 1 publishers, and only do copyediting of manuscripts that exceed 1,500 manuscript pages. Betsy didn’t mention that she does editing part-time (after her day job as a senior executive at a Fortune 100 company) for relaxation, has been editing for 3 years, and bills no more than 200 hours in a good year. Phil didn’t mention that he is struggling to find enough work to edit full-time and is slowly building his business, which is focused on working with university students to improve their research papers and resumes. Fortunately for Phil, his spouse is the primary household income provider and they live in a low-cost area where a household income of $35,000 lets one live decently. Phil also didn’t mention that he started his business only 3 weeks ago and has edited only two 5-page papers.

Susan, the low-baller, didn’t mention that she is a retired software engineer (retired 8 years ago) who took up editing to stave off boredom. She was a database specialist and now edits only technical articles intended for publication in specific database journals. She doesn’t need the income but feels she has to charge something for her work. And because she is retired, she limits the number of hours she is willing to work as an editor each month to 15 or fewer.

And so it goes.

Is this information important? Surely it is if you want someone else to tell you what to charge your clients. Why? Because you are a new fiction editor working with your first indie author on the author’s first novel and when you ask what the going rate is, shouldn’t you compare apples with apples, not apples with oranges? Doesn’t (shouldn’t) the response of the fiction editor who has edited 200 novels over the past 5 years carry more weight than someone like me or Betsy or Phil or Susan?

The usual response is that having an idea of what others charge is important so that the asker doesn’t price herself out of the market. Really!?

Suppose every responder to your question said exactly the same number — $15/hour. Now you feel confident that you, too, can (should) charge $15/hour. But you are still ignoring significant missing information and its impact on what you should (need to) charge. If you can only get enough work to enable you to bill for 20 hours a week, your gross earnings will be $300 per week. What if you can’t get enough work to bill for 52 weeks? Your gross yearly income will be less than $15,600 (the 52-week amount). Will that be enough to pay rent, utilities, and food, let alone anything else? Is the 52-week total ($15,600) enough?

My point is that not only do you need more information from responders to be able to make any use of their responses, but you need to have already analyzed your own economic needs. If you have analyzed your economic needs, then why do you need to ask the question? You already know what you have to charge in order to survive, so what difference does it make what the rest of the world charges? Either you can earn what you need to earn or you need to find a job (or a combination of jobs) that enables you to meet your financial needs.

The answer usually given is that if the going rate is $20 an hour, then that is all I can expect to charge, so it doesn’t matter that I need $50 an hour. And this is where the businessperson in you needs to come front and center.

Few editors can charge more than the “going rate” and actually get work. The confusion is in the terminology: for the businessperson, “I need to charge $50/hour” = “my effective hourly rate (EHR) needs to equal $50.”

The businessperson calculates what she needs to charge to make a profit and then figures out how to charge so that she makes that profit. It may mean using a different charging method; for example, charging by the page rather than by the hour, or defining a page by character count rather than by words, or something else. It may mean changing niches; for example, going from working with packagers to working directly with authors or changing from fiction to academic treatises.

The businessperson also plans what steps she needs to take to meet that EHR. As I have stated many times on An American Editor and elsewhere, I realized that to meet my financial goals I needed to streamline editing processes without sacrificing quality. My answer was macroizing as many tasks as I could and figuring out how to make Microsoft Word work for me. That process was what led to my creating and expanding EditTools. The process also led to my buying other software, like Editor’s Toolkit Plus, rather than reinventing the wheel.

Editors need to rethink their approach to the business side of editing. I know a lot of editors who are excellent editors but not-so-good businesspersons and who prefer to downplay, if not outright ignore, the business side of being an independent editor, that is, all the things that were done by someone else when you were an employee instead of a business owner. The balance needs to be changed so that editing skills and business skills are more in balance. It is one thing to have the scales tip in favor of editing, and quite another to have the scales heavily weighted toward editing. Perfect balance is not needed, just closer to balance.

One step in that direction is to get sufficient information about a responder’s business when a responder tells you what the “going rate” is. In addition, you might inquire how the responder decided to charge what she charges. Is she charging $20/hour because her client offered that amount, or because she calculated what she needs to earn an hour, or because someone else told her that was the “going rate”? I would give the least amount of credence to an answer that was based on someone else having told the responder that was the going rate, and the most credence to the number she actually calculated.

Regardless, it is time for editors to wise up to the fact that there is no such thing as a “going rate” — there is only what rate someone else is earning/charging and usually that rate is an arbitrary one, essentially grabbed from air and not supported by a solid informational foundation. With a new year arriving soon, it is time to become more of a businessperson and focus more on the business aspects of being independent editors.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

November 20, 2017

Romanized Arabic in English Texts — Part 1: Sources of Variations

by Ælfwine Mischler

As a native English speaker and editor in Cairo, I am often asked how to spell a name or Arabic word “in English,” meaning with the Latin alphabet and for an English-speaking audience. A child’s name on a birth certificate, a name and address on a visa application, Islamic terms in a web article or book. English-speaking copyeditors frequently joke or complain about the multiple spellings of Arabic names (“twelve ways to spell Muhammad”), and other difficulties might appear in a manuscript.

In this and subsequent essays, I explain why these differences occur, what you as an author or editor need to know, and how to use special characters if you (or your publisher) choose to include them.

Romanize, Spell, Transcribe, and Transliterate

Transcribe and transliterate are often used interchangeably, but if Wikipedia rather than Merriam-Webster is to be believed, transliterate is to represent a word letter by letter from one alphabet to another, whereas transcribe is to represent the sounds of a language. Arabic does not write short vowels, so (according to Wikipedia) the Arabic كتب (“to write”) should be transliterated as ktb, which does not give enough information to pronounce it. A transcription would show the vowels: kataba. Some transcriptions, especially for linguistic studies, use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to show the precise pronunciation. I do not have expertise in such transcriptions and do not discuss them.

For these essays I avoid using transliterate. I usually use transcribe for romanizing Arabic in more-precise ways using diacritics, such as in an academic text, and spell for romanizing without diacritics, such as in documents, newspapers, and trade books.

My focus is on Arabic represented by Latin letters in an English text, as that is my area of expertise. Speakers of other languages that use the Latin alphabet, such as German and French, will have their own ways of romanizing Arabic.

Why So Many Spellings?

As noted earlier, there are often multiple Latinized spellings of the same Arabic word. The four primary reasons for this are as follows:

  1. Several Arabic phonemes don’t exist in English. Among these are pairs that when spoken sound very similar to non-Arabic speakers. In less-precise English spelling, these pairs are usually represented by the same letter, but in more-precise transcription the emphatic consonant is shown with a dot or other diacritic underneath (e.g., ḥ or ḩ versus h). Some other phonemes may be romanized with a digraph or diacritics (e.g. kh or ḫ).
  2. The short vowels are not written in Arabic. Their pronunciation and romanization can vary across dialects.
  3. Arabic names and terms are used by Muslims in many countries, and the spelling of phonemes varies across languages. For example, the Arabic letter shīn (ش) is written by English speakers as sh. French speakers render the same letter as ch, and Malaysians as sy. The letter jīm (ج) is written as j in English if it is pronounced as “soft g” (see below), but it will be spelled as dj where French influences the spelling. The Arabic ḍāḍ (ض), an emphatic letter, is often spelled dh by South and Southeast Asians, so they spell the month of fasting as Ramadhan.
    A doubled consonant in Arabic changes the meaning of a word, but sometimes names are romanized with doubled consonants to prevent a mispronunciation in English. The name Yāsir (ياسر) does not have a double consonant in Arabic, but a common spelling in English is Yasser because with a single s the name would likely be pronounced “Yazer.”
  4. Another source of variation is that a few Arabic letters are pronounced differently in different dialects. The letter jīm (ج) is pronounced as English “hard g” in Cairo and northern Egypt. (Gamal Abdul Nasser’s first name begins with jīm.) Meanwhile, the letter qāf (ق) — an emphatic consonant pronounced in classical Arabic something like a k but with the tongue touching the palate farther back than for k — is pronounced as English “hard g” in some dialects. In the more popular academic transcription systems it is written as q, but many people use k in spelling their names (therefore not distinguishing qāf [ق] and kāf [ك]). In Cairo, qāf is usually pronounced as a glottal stop, but in romanized place names it is written as k, leading uninitiated tourists and expats to pronounce the neighborhood Dokki in a way that might confuse taxi drivers. The letter qāf is also one reason the world had such trouble spelling al-Gaddafi (al-Qaddafi, al-Qadhdhafi) (القذافي), the ousted Libyan leader. The Libyan dialect pronounces qāf as “hard g.”

So How Do You Spell…?

When I am asked how to spell an Arabic name or term in English, I usually ask what is being written (e.g., an academic paper, a trade book, a letter, a journal article) and who is the audience. If you’re deciding the spelling of your child’s name or writing something for a general reader, my answer will be different than if you are writing an academic paper.

If you are writing an academic paper, several different systems for romanizing Arabic exist. If you are writing or editing a scholarly text, you will have to follow the publisher’s preferred method. The Chicago Manual of Style recommends ALA-LC Romanization Tables: Transliteration Schemes for Non-Roman Scripts and the IJMES system of the International Journal of Middle East Studies. There are others.

If you are completing a form or writing for a general reader, I usually recommend a simplified spelling without using diacritics. If you are writing Islamic materials for a general audience, you might prefer to use diacritics for Islamic terms. Editors have asked me about spellings when their non-Arabic-speaking authors apparently took materials from various sources that used different systems of romanizing. Whether you choose to use diacritics or not, be consistent in spelling or transcribing terms.

Place names and personal names are more difficult. Names of recent and living people will unlikely be transcribed following an academic system, but there are exceptions. I indexed a book on Arabic literature in which the names of authors who had only published in Arabic were transcribed with diacritics, even if their works were well known in translation. Thus Nobel Prize–winning Naguib Mahfouz was written as Najīb Maḥfūẓ.

If recent and living people have a preferred spelling for their name, use that. If a personal name or place name appears in the news or is otherwise well known, use that spelling. If there is variation between news sources, choose one and stick to it.

In Part 2: Other Challenges for Editors, I discuss some other features of Arabic that may cause problems for editors and writers who are unfamiliar with the language.

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

November 13, 2017

The Business of Editing: Tax “Reform” & Editors

Dominating the news is the Republican “plan” for tax “reform.” If you are not closely following the proposals, you should be. You need to keep in mind that you are both a business and an employee, so whatever changes are made to tax laws will affect you.

With nothing finalized, it is hard to determine exactly what the proposed changes will do to my tax bill, but based on what has been leaked so far, I will be paying more, not less, federal tax. More worrisome, however, is what effect “reform” will have on my state and local taxes.

In speaking with one colleague, he told me he didn’t care if they eliminated or capped the mortgage interest deduction because he rents. On the surface, that sounds right, but it isn’t — he forgets that his landlord likely makes use of the mortgage interest deduction and if losing it causes the landlord’s taxes to rise, the loser will be him, not the landlord, because his rent will rise to cover the additional tax burden. He also was dismissive of the limits proposed for deduction of real estate taxes, yet the same scenario plays out for real estate taxes as for mortgage interest deduction.

Do you work for nonprofits? Nonprofits are concerned that charitable contributions will decrease under the proposed “reform.” If that occurs, might that affect your business? Early reviews indicate that most middle class taxpayers will see little to no lowering of taxes actually paid and that many will see an increase.

If you are a corporation that generates more than $5 to $10 million in annual revenue (as a professional editor, wouldn’t you like to see such a balance in your bank account?), the proposed reforms will be beneficial (the U.S. Chamber of Commerce can’t praise the “reforms” enough). In contrast, smaller businesses are expected to either remain the same or do worse (which is why the National Association of Small Businesses is opposed to the proposed “reforms”).

Similarly, if your personal income (after business expenses) places you in the top 1% (possibly even the top 5%), you tax bill will be lowered by an average of $133,000. Alas, those whose after-business-deduction income brings them down to a more earth-like number of around $60,000 (or less), will either see a very little relief (averaging less than $300) if they have the right additional personal expenses or no relief (because they do not have the right additional expenses) or even a small increase in taxes.

Are you deducting medical expenses or student loan expenses? Those will be passé under the “reform.” And so it goes. Of course, nothing is yet settled but things could be settled without your input if you aren’t paying attention. (It is worth noting that taxpayers residing in high tax states like California, New Jersey, and New York, are likely to see increases in their tax bill, but residents of no-income-tax states like Nevada and New Hampshire have no reason to gloat. Apparently many in those states will see a rise — it will be indirect, e.g., increased rent or local tax, rather than direct.)

We also need to think about the “drip” effect of the proposed “reforms.” Republicans are betting that by lowering corporate taxes, corporations will move more of their money onshore and take their tax savings and hire more American workers and/or give their current non–senior-level American workers pay raises averaging more than $4,000 a year, rather than hold on to the money or pass it out to senior-level management and shareholders. Unfortunately, there is no precedent to support this expectation of pay raises for lower-level employees. (It also ignores a fundamental of business: it is cheaper to give a bonus than a pay raise. A bonus is a one-shot deal that may never happen again and leaves the worker’s pay amount the same, whereas a pay raise is forever.)

What I find most interesting is that no one is talking about Sam Brownback’s Kansas, the first true real-life experiment in trickle-down economics. Brownback and the Republican legislature were firm believers in trickle-down economics: companies will flock to Kansas and create jobs, wealthy folk will move to Kansas and spend their money in Kansas, state coffers will overflow. Unfortunately for Kansans, reality is not the same as fantasy. All of trickle-down’s promises — more jobs and revenues, higher incomes for everyone, more money for education, and so on — failed to materialize, so much so that Kansas was on the cusp of bankruptcy and the Republican legislature had to raise taxes.

The point is that when discussing taxes, there is much more that needs examination than the surface promises. Additionally, that examination needs to be made from both the business side and the personal side. We cannot take a politician’s word that benefits will accrue to us. We need to dissect each proposal and determine what effect it will have on us. We also need to think about what effect each proposal might have on our clients. For example, if you edit for the real estate industry, what is the likelihood that a change in the mortgage interest deduction will impact your clients and cause them to consider not using your services as a way to save money? Or that it will cause clients to lower what they are willing to pay for your services?

Once you have examined the tax proposals, you need to participate in the process. As independent contractors, we need to be proactive, not reactive. We need to let our legislators know how we will be affected — whether positively or negatively — and what we want our legislators to do. But we need to do this from a position of knowledge, not from sound bites.

I know what I will be telling my legislators. Do you know what you will be telling your legislators?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

November 6, 2017

On the Basics: Overcoming a Freelancer’s Isolation

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

One of the concerns that many people have when they contemplate going freelance and working from home is feeling isolated from colleagues (and even the nonwork world). Depending on where you live and your personality, isolation could be an issue. If you’re in a rural area or suburbia, you could feel cut off. If you’re an extrovert who needs to interact with people in real life, freelancing alone from home could feel almost like punishment. (If you’re an introvert, you might actually feel better freelancing at home because you would have control over when and how much you interact with other people.)

The good news is that today’s electronically connected world makes it easier than ever to combat isolation by providing constant connections with colleagues, friends, and family. In fact, that always-on environment could be overwhelming; many people remove themselves from online communities at least occasionally because it can be too much interaction and activity.

The easiest way to overcome isolation is to join a few online communities or discussion lists — and not just ones focused on the type of editorial work that you do. Participating in such activities expands your horizons in many ways. You meet new people, stay connected with valued friends and colleagues, learn new information, solve problems, provide solutions, and more. You do have to discipline yourself not to get so immersed in that social media world that you neglect your freelance work or real-life relationships, but online engagement is a great way to conquer isolation. How can we feel isolated when we’re in contact with the whole world?

If isolation does worry you, here are a few ways to head it off by engaging with the real world that beckons outside your home office.

  • Don’t subscribe to home delivery or online versions of your newspaper, so you have to get out of the house every day to keep up with the news. This works best in neighborhoods where there’s a newsstand in walking distance, and serves as both an antidote to isolation and an exercise routine. Depending on your current deadlines, you can choose a cybercafé or coffee shop for picking up and reading the paper rather than taking it right back home. That gives you the opportunity to connect with neighbors, or at least the café staff and customers, which also helps reduce feelings of being cut off from the world.
  • Get a pet. Dogs are particularly good because you have to get out of the house every day for “walkies,” giving you opportunities to meet and make friends with neighbors and other dog people. If you have a cat, dog, or other animal companion, veterinary appointments will get you back into the real world, and could provide opportunities to expand your personal and professional networks — people you talk to while waiting for your animal’s appointment could become friends and even new clients (always carry business cards with you!), or the clinic itself could become a client. If you notice errors in the clinic’s website or office flyers and brochures, find a tactful way to present your writing, editing, proofreading, or other relevant skills. If they don’t want to pay, you might be able to barter or swap services.
  • At the beginning of every new year, budget to attend at least one work-related conference and, if possible, one hobby-related conference. Conferences are a wonderful way to enhance your skills and build your network, as well as combat isolation. You get exposure to new places and new people, along with new skills and information. If you put targeted funds aside starting in January, it will be easy to commit to these events and the related expenses as soon as you see an announcement of a conference that might interest you.

If the thought of going to a big conference full of strangers frightens you, keep in mind that there are smaller events you can attend. Most organizations also have special sessions for first-timers or hospitality committees dedicated to making new attendees feel welcome.

  • Develop a hobby that involves going somewhere. Instead of staying home to knit, crochet, quilt, collect stamps, etc., join a group for whatever hobby interests you and work on your art or obsession in company with other people who share that interest. You can take lessons in new hobbies or crafts, and join various clubs based on your nonwork interests. There’s an organization, association, or business for any hobby or craft you can imagine, and they all hold meetings in real life. Sometimes meetings are based on creating charity projects, which means you not only get out of the house, you do something nice for other people.

Keep in mind that those same associations, clubs, organizations, and businesses all have — or should have — activities that probably could use your professional skills. As an example, one of my all-time favorite projects was editing and producing the newsletter of the American Kiteflyers Association — which paid its editor!

  • Get out and walk or run. This may seem obvious, but it’s an invaluable habit to develop, and one that’s good for your health as well as for overcoming a sense of isolation. Even if you don’t plan to interact with other people, you’re out and about with the potential of meeting or joining others.
  • Volunteer with a not-for-profit organization or cause you believe in. Volunteering gets you out of the house for a good cause, so you can make new friends, meet potential new clients among organizational staff and other volunteers, learn new skills or enhance existing ones, and contribute something to society in the process. Most nonprofits also host events, which adds to your ability to network while conquering isolation.
  • Be the one to organize something. Instead of waiting for family, friends, and colleagues to contact you about outings, make an effort to be the one who hosts a get-together, whether an informal brunch at a new restaurant, a museum or leaf-peeping outing, a movie or bowling night … whatever you’ve been wanting to do but haven’t gotten around to because no one has invited you.
  • Join — or start — the local chapter of a professional association. Most organizations have local or regional units, and many others would if only someone would step up to be the host or coordinator. If one already exists, get to a few meetings. If one doesn’t, be the guiding force. The national level is usually more than glad to provide tips and resources for local chapters. You don’t have to hold monthly meetings, but even bimonthly or quarterly ones have value, and will get you out of the house and enhance your networking efforts.

Do keep in mind that coping with or defeating isolation is an important aspect of freelancing, but that we must be disciplined about finding and maintaining a proper balance between work and play. If your efforts to combat isolation start taking time away from meeting your deadlines, it’s time to restructure your schedule.

How do you combat feeling isolated when working from home? Which works better for you, in-person activities or online engagement?

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, which hosts an annual conference for colleagues, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

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