An American Editor

December 31, 2018

On the Basics — Managing “Creepy” Challenging Clients and Projects

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Into each editor’s life a little rain, in the form of difficult or challenging clients or projects, must fall. Here are a few examples, with some tips for how to respond to them that could make the new year a little easier for all of us!

Classic headaches

A recent social media post included these comments:

“… when someone books a 4k word edit then sends you 100k.”

“Client sent over and paid for 136-page edit, but kept writing and writing and sent over a total of 600 pages! Expected me to edit for price she already paid because I ‘owed’ her …”

Ah, yes — the infamous scope creep. These situations arise on a regular basis among colleagues, and not just editors. I’ve had writing assignments where the editor asks for additional interviews after we’ve agreed on a story length, sometimes even after I’ve finished the piece and turned it in. I’ve had proofreading work that turned into editing — sometimes even close to substantive work, although I prefer not to work that hard and only rarely accept such projects.

The impossible request

“Impossible” requests are another instance of projects that can become headaches if we accept them. Clients who are clueless about what it takes to get their projects done can ask us to meet deadlines that are downright ridiculous, but — again — sometimes it seems as if it’s more important to have work in hand than to maintain sanity about our work lives.

In a related social media conversation, a colleague posted about a client asking to have a 230-page thesis edited in not even two days. And that was before the poster had seen the document to verify whether her definition of “a page” was anywhere close to the client’s version. My guess is that checking the word count would reveal that the client’s 230 pages equaled 400 to 500 of the editor’s.

My response was: “In circumstances like this, I don’t give explanations. Just ‘I’m not available.’ I learned that lesson years ago from having people say things like, ‘Surely you can fit this into your vacation time’ or ‘When do you get back?’ Some will still say ‘When would you be available?’ and I use something like, ‘I don’t do this kind of work and never would commit to such a schedule/deadline.’”

Even if you work in-house rather than freelance, unreasonable deadlines can be an issue, but it’s harder to set boundaries with colleagues and bosses/supervisors than with prospective (or even ongoing) clients.

Offensive content

How to turn down a project that contains content we find offensive is another challenge for freelancers, especially those who really need income right that moment. “Offensive” can mean anything from political to sexual (erotica or porn) to violent to racist to any other type of content that goes against your personal comfort zone.

Rude and unpleasant people

Luckily, I haven’t had to deal with this often, but some clients turn out to be rude and difficult to deal with. Managing such personalities is a challenge at any time, but especially when the behavior doesn’t show up until you’re well into the project and have invested some, much less substantial, time and effort in it.

The big “why”

Some of that rude, unpleasant behavior shows up early in a client/freelancer relationship when a prospect brusquely questions your rates, no matter how you charge (by the word, hour, project, etc.). Challenging our rate structure indicates a probable PITA (pain in the … posterior) client; someone who starts the relationship by essentially insulting the editor’s stated value is likely to be difficult throughout the project.

Protective techniques

How can we defend ourselves against such situations? It’s always hard to say no to new work, especially for those who are desperate for every penny (trust me, I’ve been there). It’s even harder once there’s a serious prospect in place, and yet again when you’ve invested time and effort into at least the beginnings of a project that starts to morph into far more than you expected.

Protecting ourselves against such challenges often can make the difference between an editorial business that makes a profit and feels fulfilling versus one that makes its owner crazy as well as broke. We all may need to develop tough outer skins when it comes to situations like these, and learn when to “just say no.”

  • The first thing that colleagues in the scope creep conversation offered was “CONTRACT!” It can feel awkward to expect new clients to sign a contract, but whether you call it that or a letter of agreement, it’s something that can make a huge difference in how a project turns out. And not just from the financial perspective. Agreeing to do more than you originally expected a project to involve creates all kinds of problems. You’re likely to resent the client for creating extra (even excess) work for no additional payment, which can affect the quality of what you produce. The additional length means spending more time than you may have budgeted, which can interfere with meeting other deadlines or accepting new (and better) projects that come in while you’re wading through all those extra words.

I include language in responses to prospective clients along the lines of “I’ll provide an estimate of the deadline and fee once I see the manuscript and confirm the word count.” The estimate message and contract language include “Deadline and fee based on word count of X. Any changes or additions will result in a revised deadline and fee. If the work appears to require more time than expected, I will alert you before going beyond the agreed-upon time or amount.”

I should have mentioned in that online conversation that I also tell prospective clients that I define a page as 250 words (I went back to add that detail!). That can save a lot of hassle in explaining why the client’s 25 pages are actually my 50 pages or more, and why my fee and deadline are higher than the client might have expected.

  • When someone is rude or otherwise unpleasant in a phone or e-mail conversation, I respond with, “This isn’t an appropriate way to communicate with me. If you can’t be civil, we won’t be able to work together.” Sometimes that kind of response has to be repeated; if that’s the case, I go with the classic “Three strikes and you’re out” approach. I’d rather lose the job and the client than deal with someone who doesn’t respect my time and skills.
  • My response to questions about my rates is that they are based on X years of training and experience, and that the prospective client is welcome to look into working with other writers, editors or proofreaders if cost is their main concern. (I’m often tempted to say something like, “By the way, when you come back to me because the cheaper person you hire doesn’t work out, my rate will double,” but haven’t done so … yet.)
  • When I receive a manuscript that I find offensive or upsetting, I find a polite way to turn it down rather than subject myself to unpleasantness in my work life. I’ve used language like “I don’t handle this kind of material.“ Short, sweet, to the point. If I know someone who is comfortable with working on erotica, I might contact that colleague to ask if I can give their name to the potential client. For other areas, I simply send that “I don’t …“ message and hope never to hear from that author again.

As I was writing this column, I got a notice from the Freelancers Union about a blog post entitled “Five self-care fundamentals for freelancers.” The teaser text was: “By showing yourself how to treat yourself, you are by default providing a blueprint for how others should treat you.” That made me realize that setting out our guidelines for the kinds of work we accept as editors (or any other editorial freelancers), especially in terms of deadlines and fees, is a form of self-care. It isn’t healthy to let clients run our lives and impose crazy-making deadlines, rude behavior, insufficient payment levels, unpleasant material or other problems on us.

For any and all of these situations, the best technique might be to anticipate them and  prepare responses before such clients or projects show up. Having a script in place makes it much easier to respond to or head off problem clients, whether the “creep” is a matter of project scope, icky content or nasty behavior. The Girl Scouts have a point when they say “Be prepared.“

Let us know how you’ve handled situations like these.

Here’s to a healthy, productive new year, free of scope creep and other “creepy” aspects of our professional lives!

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is the editor-in-chief of An American Editor and an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, and companies worldwide. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues. She can be contacted at Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

December 26, 2018

On the Basics: Rudolph and Business Savvy

Filed under: Business of Editing,Editorial Matters,Financial Matters,On the Basics — americaneditor @ 3:13 pm

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

The incessant, inescapable strains of “Rudoph the Red-nosed Reindeer” this past few weeks made me think of contemporary concerns such as bullying and related concerns, but also … business.

Bullying, exclusion and diversity because of the actual language and context, of course: The other reindeer “never let poor Rudolph play in any reindeer games” because he’s different. And our editorial businesses because of how Rudolph is suddenly the star — in demand — when his different-ness is needed.

The Rudolph of song and story is a good sport and happily, even eagerly, saddles up to guide Santa’s sleigh without a murmur. We don’t know how his fellow reindeer treat him after his big night — whether he remains part of the crowd or finds himself back in the corner when he’s no longer needed. Or even whether he gets some extra reindeer chow from Santa for coming through in a pinch. We can hope there’s a happily-ever-after, although my observation of much of human nature and behavior tends to make me skeptical.

What about that business aspect? I see Santa’s request for, and the other reindeers’ acceptance of, Rudolph’s special characteristic when they face a crisis as a version of the clients who only want us when they’re desperate — and even then, don’t actually value us. Many of us accept the equivalent of “Santa came to say, ‘Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight’” — last-minute requests, rush requests, requests over a weekend or holiday, requests for added content; crazy deadlines, offers of low rates, projects that “creep” beyond their original scope — for a variety of reasons: ingrained instinct to be accommodating, pride in our work, need for getting-started projects/clips, desperation for income …

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with being Rudolph in any of these situations, and agreeing to whatever insanity they impose, but we also have to remember that we’re in business. Even though it can feel good to save the day and rescue the project or client, situations like these create stress, often unnecessarily, and can hold us back from financial success by wasting our time and energy on projects that don’t generate enough income for the hassle they involve. They also keep us from going after or doing projects that might pay better, or at least involve less aggravation.

We have skills that deserve respect. We have experience that deserves respect. We have training that deserves respect. To quote the immortal Aretha, R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

I’m not advocating alienating clients by Grinch-ishly or Scrooge-ishly turning down such requests for editorial work. (Wow, this holiday season offers more metaphors than I realized!) I’m just saying we might want to be more discerning, more discriminating, about how we respond to them.

For one thing, when the client needs you more than you need the client, that’s the time to charge more for your editorial services. Politely, pleasantly — but firmly.

For another, these are also the times to reexamine these client relationships (I hope you don’t have more than one client who treats you like Rudolph, if any). Have you been working for the same rate for more than a year? Have you ever charged a rush fee? Have you charged a late fee when you went beyond expectations but the client didn’t bother to meet yours for timely payment? Have you said no to an unreasonable deadline or a low-paying project? Now is the time to craft some policies along these lines.

The new year is also the ideal moment to think about these situations ahead of time and prepare responses that can become your default answers to such demands (and demands they usually are, as opposed to polite requests), so you aren’t blindsided if they crop up (and they will). For those who don’t appreciate and respect you, and only ask for your help on the editorial equivalent of “one foggy Christmas Eve,” it’s time to set a firm policy of rush fees, sticking to original deadlines or even (gasp) saying no. They might merit a holiday greeting card if they pay well enough to make the hassle they inflict worthwhile, but otherwise, I’d drop them from the list.

For the clients who value your contributions, services and skills year-round, this is the time to send a thank-you gift of some sort to show your appreciation for their business, if you haven’t already done so; it needn’t be big, extravagant or expensive, but it should happen. Even an e-card can have an impact, especially on clients who might be on the fence about continuing to work with you for some reason or whom you haven’t heard from in awhile. Many colleagues have said in various forums that sending a holiday greeting (or a vacation announcement) has led to at least one new assignment each time from a client who hadn’t thought of them until the greeting/announcement arrived.

Let us know how you handle unreasonable requests from clients, old and new, and keep from being treated like Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. And here’s to being treated with respect in the new year — we are professionals; hear us roar!

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is the editor-in-chief of An American Editor and an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, and companies worldwide. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues. Ruth can be contacted at Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

December 24, 2018

Indexes: Part 7 — Lessons Learned in Using DEXembed for the First Time

Ælfwine Mischler

I recently created an embedded index in Word for a book that will be published as an ebook and in print. I chose to use DEXembed because colleagues advised that its syntax — a space between the curly brackets and the enclosed text — will work better when the text is converted to an ebook.

A quick explanation of an embedded index: For a print book, the index is written after the book has been designed, using a PDF file of the final pages and page numbers as locators. This is changing, and many publishers are now asking for embedded indexes. For an embedded index, the indexer uses something else as locators. Depending on the program used, this could be paragraph numbers, word numbers, or temporary bookmarks. After indexing, the program embeds the entries by inserting field codes that look like this: { XE “main entry:subentry” }. The index is then generated from the field codes so the pages numbers are displayed. In an ebook, they may also be linked to the location in the text. If the book is designed as hardcover and paperback with different pagination, the embedded index entries will give the correct page numbers for each edition.

Embedded indexes are more work for the indexers, so most of us will charge more for an embedded index.

Options in DEXembed

DEXembed (available from http://www.editorium.com/index.htm) is a Word add-on that allows the indexer to use dedicated indexing software rather than Word’s clunky built-in indexing function. DEXembed can use paragraphs, words, or numbers as locators — but only one type in a given document. Paragraph number was the best choice for this project, but the author had sometimes used auto-spacing and other times had used Enter twice between paragraphs. I told him repeatedly that he had to remove the extra Enters and make the spacing between paragraphs consistent (which he did) and that he could not change the paragraphing after I had started indexing. More on that in Part 8 in January 2019.

Experienced colleagues in the Digital Publications Indexing Special Interest Group (DPI SIG) say that Word does not handle ranges of locators well. It is therefore better to mark only the beginnings of entries that are less than two pages long. DEXembed offers three options for ranges: Mark them with bookmarks, mark them with beginning and end codes, or do not mark them. The documentation for DEXembed says that publishers usually prefer begin and end codes.

Before starting my index, I sent two small sample indexes to my author’s publisher — one using bookmarks and one using begin and end codes — and asked which worked better for them. They got better results with the bookmarks, which also meant one less step for me in the end. Hurray!

I Won’t Talk to You

DPI SIG members also advised me that Word and InDesign use different syntax for some things, and I had to take this into consideration while indexing. I also found that my Sky indexing software and Word do not always communicate well.

This index required a separate scripture index of Qur’an verses. In Word, you can use an f-switch that is coded with \f followed by a name to make two indexes at once { “heading1” \f “subject” } and { “heading1” \f “quran” } (See Seth A. Maislin’s blog for more.) However, my colleagues advised that InDesign will reject XE fields with a backslash.

A suggested solution that I followed was to use two levels of subentries, with the main entries for the two indexes. That is, I had only two main entries, for which I used bold text, and my first level of subentry was the real main entry I wanted. The sub-subentry was the real subentry I wanted. The designers can adjust the indentation and spacing to make these appear as two separate indexes:

The chapter and verse numbers presented two other problems of their own. How to write something like 2:10? First, Word signals heading levels with a colon, so I had to use a backslash before the colon to tell Word that this was a literal colon, not a subheading signal. I admit that at that point, I had forgotten the warnings of my colleagues that InDesign would reject these entries.

As of this writing, I am waiting for the author’s comments and corrections, and the results of a small test index for the publisher: three entries using a backslash and colon, and three using a plus sign to be replaced by a colon in the generated index. If I do indeed have to remove \: from the index, I want to be sure that + is not a signal for something else in InDesign.

A second problem in writing chapter and verse numbers was the sorting. I knew that in Sky, I had to enter one- and two-digit chapter numbers with preceding zeros so they would sort properly. Thus, Chapter 2 was entered as 002 and Chapter 16 as 016. The verse numbers following the colons, however, sorted properly in Sky without additional zeros.

Word was not happy with that, but I could only learn that at the end. I finished my index, embedded the entries, generated the index, and then found that Word had mis-sorted the verses so that, for example, 18:70 came before 18:7. I had to open Sky, add the zeros to the verses, re-embed the entries, generate the new index, and remove the extra zeros from the generated index.

Maybe I’ll Talk a Little Bit

Another difference between Sky and Word is how they handle text to be ignored in sorting. Sky’s sorting automatically ignores prepositions at the beginning of subentries, but  Word’s does not. Sky also allows the indexer to code other things to be ignored in sorting. I commonly do this with the al- that begins many Arabic names.

For the embedded index, I had to enclose items to be ignored in angle brackets, but then in Sky, they all sorted to the top because they started with symbols. I was not sure that Word would put <al->Bukhari, <al->Ghazali, <al->Tabari, etc., in the proper places in the generated index. On this, I did have success, but I had to go back to the few subentries that begin with prepositions and enclose the prepositions in angle brackets.

DEXembed uses a text file to embed the entries, and all the bold and italics are lost in the process, although their coding remains. Once the entries were embedded, I had to edit the XE fields to get the bold and italic formatting back. (See Sue Klefstad’s blog post for details.) This was not difficult with a Find and Replace using wildcards (but be sure to turn off Tracked Changes!), but it was an extra step to perform.

Advice for Embedded Indexing

It is important to communicate with the author and publisher before beginning an embedded index. Learn how the Word manuscript will be handled after indexing and how it will be published. (There is more information on the resources page of the DPI SIG website.)

Once you have written your index in your dedicated indexing software, always embed in a copy of the document. Always keep the original “clean” and do not embed in it — sometimes the embedding does not work properly and you might need to try again. DEXembed does have a function to remove embedded entries, but if you run into run-time errors as I did (see Part 8 in January 2019), you will want to try again in a clean copy so there is no chance of stray coding in the file.

My thanks to colleagues Sue Klefstad and Seth A. Maislin for their invaluable blog posts, and to other colleagues in the DPI SIG for their advice in e-mail messages.

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.

December 5, 2018

On the Basics — Giving back?

Filed under: Editorial Matters,On the Basics — americaneditor @ 12:30 pm

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

With Thanksgiving behind us and the commercial end-of-the-year holiday season well under way, it’s a good time to think about how, or if, we as editors might give something back in return for … something.

What might we have received that deserves a response of some sort? And what might be an appropriate response?

What we receive

When you stop to think about it, many of us receive a lot from various sources. As editors, and some of us as freelancers, we often receive answers to questions about our work, whether we have a confusing sentence to untangle, an unfamiliar phrase or usage to assess, a software or hardware headache to cure, or a business matter — sometimes even a crisis — to resolve. We might post those questions in online communities such as the Copyediting List, the e-mail discussion list or forums of the professional organizations we belong to, Facebook or LinkedIn groups, even Twitter conversations. We learn from blogs like this one and newsletters from various sources. Those of us who work in-house might ask for input from someone at the next desk or in another department. Many of us have vendors such as computer gurus to call on for help with technical or mechanical issues. We go to conferences, where we learn from colleagues in person. Some of us have gotten jobs or clients through recommendations and referrals from colleagues.

We can’t always give direct, concrete thanks to everyone who helps us do our work better. That’s one good reason to find ways to give back to the universe, if you’ll forgive a little psycho-babble, as is another: We don’t always even know who provides the answer to a knotty question or information we’ve absorbed without realizing it, and then used to solve problems — or perhaps just to feel better about life in general and our work, and selves, in particular. Finally, not everyone we interact with needs our information or insights, so we can’t always respond to someone who has been helpful with something of equal value.

How and why I give

There are so many ways to give, or give back.

In the professional realm, like many of us, I find myself giving back to colleagues through some of the outlets noted above: contributing to and answering questions through organizational memberships and their discussion venues, participating in online communities, speaking at conferences, editing the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) newsletter and presenting webinars for the organization, teaching classes at the Rochester, NY, Writers and Books literary center, hosting the annual Communication Central conference, etc. These activities have become as natural as breathing, and a regular part of every day. (And we might even benefit financially — the EFA, for instance, shares income with members who write booklets and teach classes or present webinars, and some organizations pay honoraria or expenses for conference speakers, or at least provide speakers with free access to the events.)

I might not be in a position to help someone who answered one of my questions, but I can provide perspectives to someone else that might be as valuable as what one of you gave me. And yes, I profit financially from some of these, but that isn’t my primary motive for doing them. It just feels good — and somehow right — to be of help to others when others have been helpful to me, whether they know it or not.

There are practical ways to give back — a commission, gift certificate, or box of chocolates to colleagues who provide referrals to new clients, for instance.

Another way I give back is by supporting organizations that have helped me in the past and/or promise to make life better for the larger world, especially women and young people. That means financial support, but also personal involvement whenever possible.

Two that stand out are the Encampment for Citizenship and the Minority Journalism Workshop of the Greater St. Louis Association of Black Journalists (GSLABJ).

  • The Encampment has nothing to do with editing or freelancing, but was a major influence on my life. (Now that I think of it, though, that experience did have a connection to what became my profession, since I put together a yearbook for my program — my first effort at self-publishing!) I was 17 when I spent a summer at an Encampment outside New York City, and I’m still friends with fellow Encampers now. The program gave me exposure to kids from a variety of backgrounds, which was a valuable learning experience in and of itself, and opportunities to do community service in several areas; my group was involved in a youth conference at the United Nations, but we all participated in the whole Encampment’s projects. It also gave me confidence about my voice and my principles; confidence that I’ve carried with me ever since.

I helped revive, and now give back to, the Encampment because I believe it’s a program that we all need in today’s confusing, divisive, difficult world. The connection to my professional life is that I use my professional skills to edit material for the organization, which contributes to making the organization look better in its presentations to potential Encampers, parents, donors and others.

  • The GSLABJ workshop was an eye-opener. It wasn’t something I benefited from as a participant; it was a program I helped with (primarily as a provider of food!) in its first year, back in 1976. The high school students in the program wanted to be journalists and were considered the best and brightest of their schools. When we asked them to take notes and write up a presentation by a community leader in the first session (the program meets for seven Saturdays at a local college), the results were incoherent and incomprehensible. I was appalled.

(For those who are wondering, I got involved in the GSLABJ because I was a reporter for the St. Louis Argus, a black weekly.)

After those seven Saturdays, thanks to the dedication of the professional journalists who gave up their weekends (and a lot of time between sessions as well), those kids were writing stories and producing TV and radio programs that were on a par with the work of people working in the profession. It was amazing. There’s something indescribably exciting about seeing a kid go from almost illiterate to highly functional and productive.

The workshop has continued in St. Louis ever since, and colleagues and former student participants have launched similar programs in DC, Memphis, Pittsburgh and elsewhere. I’ve given financial support to the GSLABJ workshop over the years, but now that I’m back in St. Louis (see …), I can — and will — provide hands-on involvement in the workshop again as well.

The tie-in to our profession as editors is, of course, that a program like this is giving young people communication skills they will need to work with or for us in the future.

Why give back?

One business-related aspect of holiday-season giving involves whether we with businesses of our own should give gifts to our clients. I do that every year; something small but personal (and purple!) to show appreciation for the fact that they sent/send me work and pay well and promptly. Client gifts don’t have to be extravagant — a promotional mug, pen, jump drive, etc., works just fine. The point is to let clients know that we appreciate their choosing us over other freelancers. Some of my clients even send me something at the holiday season!

Whether you call it giving back, paying forward or just plain giving, the rewards of helping colleagues and others are common knowledge. For those here who haven’t experienced the fulfillment of helping others on some level, whether in person or through your checkbook; whether in professional circles or personal ones; whether visibly or anonymously … I recommend ramping up your participation in the human race and finding ways to thank your colleagues and communities for what they do. You’ll feel better, and the world will be a better place.

Do you have a way to “give back”? Let us know how and to whom you give back, and why.

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