An American Editor

February 20, 2019

Sticking to Your “Rate Principles” … Essential, but Not Always Easy

By Elaine R. Firestone, ELS

“Rate principles” is a term I coined for that point when you say, “This is my limit for how low I’ll go in my rates for a given type of work,” and mean it and follow it.

I’ve been a freelancer for over six years now (and a professional editor for much longer), so I’ve heard my share of horror stories from colleagues who received e-mails that just didn’t “smell” right, and I’m always vigilant when I receive e-mails from previously unknown sources inquiring about my services. I recently got an inquiry from someone who was most obviously legit, even without researching the potential client’s name and affiliation. She sent a long and incredibly detailed description of the journals she oversees, including their respective subjects, the audience of each one, and even the voice each strives to maintain. She also stated what she wants a copy-/substantive editor to do, as well as from where she got my name (my Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) profile). That’s always good to know.

The next step was to respond if I was interested in the work, the areas in which I thought I could work most efficiently, and my rates for doing this type of work.

I didn’t respond right away. I wanted to think carefully about both whether I wanted to take on a new client at this time and — especially — the rate question. Because I have different clients who pay different rates (for various reasons not germane to this article), I was a bit torn about how to respond:

— Do I go with my lowest rate in hopes of getting the work?

— Do I go with my highest rate because I want to make as much as possible?

— Do I go with the middle-of-the-road rate to hedge my bets?

What should I do?

My thoughts went back and forth along a number of lines:
— If I go with the lowest rate, I’m definitely going to resent the work, both now and in the future.
— If I go with the highest rate, I doubt I will get the work at all.
— If I go with the middle-of-the-road rate … well … I still may resent the work over time, especially because learning their way of doing things won’t be easy, nor would learning the nuances of the new science area.

What did I do?

I started my response by thanking the client for the detail in her e-mail. I went on to reiterate, in a very short narrative, a few of my qualifications that made me an excellent fit for the work, citing things that she ideally already read in my EFA profile and website. (Doing this is an excellent strategy, by the way, because the client is reminded how great you and how impressive your qualifications are before reading the rate you’ll charge.) Finally, I said that yes, I was interested and thought the subject matter was fascinating (it never hurts to use a little flattery), and then gave my rate. Which rate, you ask? A rate that wasn’t quite my highest, but much higher than my middle-of-the-road one.

But why? Why did I do that? Why didn’t I quote a lower rate? Well, here are my reasons for not quoting a lower rate to help ensure — at some level — that I’d get the job:

  1. My time and expertise are worth money.
  2. There is no guarantee that — even at a low rate — I’d be chosen. Someone with an even lower rate could always undercut me.
  3. If I got the job, it would be fairly regular work, and I didn’t want to resent either the time I had to spend doing it or the work itself.
  4. My time and expertise are worth money.
  5. Once working for a low rate, I have found it’s often difficult to raise it any appreciable amount without losing the client. It sometimes takes years to do, and sometimes, it’s impossible. The rate I accepted from my lowest-paying client was to just get the work when I started out freelancing. That rate has never caught up to my higher rates, leading to, at times, resentment of the work. (See #1, above).
  6. I had more than enough other work at the moment, so the rate had to make it worth my while to juggle this with the work of another client.
  7. My time and expertise are worth money.

Notice that “My time and expertise are worth money” is repeated three times. It’s worth all of us repeating that phrase over and over again.

Some of you may be new editors, or maybe you’re seasoned professionals. Maybe you’re new to freelancing or maybe you’ve been freelancing for decades. Whatever stage of your career you are in, whether you’re just determining your rates, or if you’ve been “at it” awhile and you’re contemplating a rate hike, I highly recommend that you read Rich Adin’s column “A Continuing Frustration — The ‘Going Rate,’” where he talks about figuring out what your “effective hourly rate” is.

Whether I get this work or not, however, I feel like I’ve “won.” If I get the work at my stated rate, I gain a new client, at a good rate, in a potentially fascinating new-to-me science discipline, which in turn becomes résumé candy. If I don’t get the work, I still have my existing clients with more than enough work to keep me busy (but with my sanity intact), plus I can keep my self-respect because I didn’t compromise my rate principles.

Many of you don’t have the financial advantage of being able to turn down work just because it doesn’t pay well … you rationalize that any work is good work — which I understand, because I’ve been in that situation. Many of you don’t have rate principles to begin with (which we should all have, no matter what they might be), so you take anything offered even if you have some type of financial cushion as a fallback.

A number of colleagues have said over the years that if you lose a low-paying client, then you have time to market to higher-paying clients, but if you gain a low-paying client, you are probably doing the same amount of work as for a higher paying one, but without the benefits of a higher bank balance, along with less time to devote to seeking out the higher payers.

I urge everyone here to first determine your individual “effective rate,” then formulate your “rate principles,” and try to stick to them. Your self-respect, your happiness, and your bank balance will thank you for it.

Elaine R. Firestone, ELS, is an award-winning — and board-certified — scientific and technical editor and compositor specializing in the physical and agricultural sciences. After a 25+-year career editing for NASA, Elaine started ERF Editorial Consulting, where her motto is “‘ERF’ aren’t just my initials — it’s what you get: Edits. Results. Final product.”©

Editor’s note: Let us know how you approach setting and sticking to your rates.

February 15, 2019

Thinking Fiction: Lazy Writing, Part 1 — Something to Combat, but Sometimes Appreciate

By Carolyn Haley

Many of us write lazily when composing our letters, reports, and books. It’s easier to turn ideas into words when we’re relaxed and nothing inhibits the flow. Creative writing, especially, benefits from the author “letting ’er rip.” That liquid, unstriving state of mind best releases the emotions and imagery needed for a story, but to bring that story to fulfillment through publishing requires being balanced by a disciplined state of mind to finish the job.

Laziness in writing, therefore, has both a positive and negative aspect.

The positive aspect of laziness is a glowing, happy state, such as what accompanies a Sunday afternoon with no obligations, when one can kick back and enjoy a rare opportunity to read, walk, talk, travel, party, eat — whatever brings satisfaction, allowing one to be at ease. In positive laziness, thoughts can flow in an absence of tension. As it pertains to writing, a certain amount of psychic laziness brings inspiration, productivity, and joy.

The negative aspect of laziness is unwillingness to do what has to be done. There might be good reasons for it in someone’s personal situation, but laziness and the oft-resultant procrastination rarely combine into a happy outcome when writing a book that the author desires to publish.

Negative laziness in writing translates into “not enough thought or revision,” resulting in a work that’s put out into the world unpolished. In most cases, a lazily written book will not be acquired by an agent or editor (in traditional publishing). If a lazy novel is self-published, readers won’t buy it or finish it or recommend it to their friends. Worse, they will give it bad reviews.

It’s normal for an author to be unable to self-revise and eliminate the symptoms of negative lazy writing. Revising and polishing one’s work can be like looking in a mirror: You know what you’re going to see, and that image of yourself is imprinted in your mind, making it hard to see anything else. A similar self-blindness occurs in reading one’s own writing. It’s tremendously hard to view it through someone else’s eyes — which is why authors use beta readers and hire editors.

This essay, then, is aimed more at editors than writers, although both can benefit from knowing what symptoms to watch for.

Distinctions in laziness

In the novels I edit, positive laziness shows itself in zesty, imaginative plots and colorful characters, while negative laziness shows itself in flat characters and dull, redundant, and/or unclear prose.

This negative quality I dub “lazy prose” because it gives the impression of incompleteness, as if the sentences were written without planning or examination. That usually occurs in the first or second draft, when the author is still mapping out the story and perhaps struggling to flesh it out. At that point, there’s no negative laziness involved. But if no effort follows to refine the text, then I mentally flag the book as lazy.

There’s also a version of lazy prose that reflects egotism. Sometimes authors believe that all they have to do is type out their thoughts, and every reader will share their vision and understand all their characters’ motivations, actions, and emotions. Unfortunately, more often than not, the information a reader needs to enjoy this sharing and understanding isn’t in the manuscript.

Here are some examples of how lazy prose leaves a book unpolished.

Vague adjectives

The most common lazy word I see is large. I’m tempted to call that word the universal adjective because it crops up so often!

For instance: A large man enters a large building through a large door into a large room with a large fireplace. Or, a large army is led by a large man on a large horse wielding a large sword.

Okay, I exaggerate: I’ve never seen large used more than twice in one sentence, but I have seen it used 10 times in one chapter and several dozen times in one novel. It’s a perfectly good adjective, but when it becomes the author’s pet descriptor throughout a story, and I’m trying to form mental images as I follow the characters through their adventures, then the word’s inadequacy becomes apparent.

In the author’s mind, a large man might be a tall one, a fat one, or a big hairy one. In the reader’s mind, without any other information, it’s hard to visualize the person if all we’re given is large. Let’s say the author introduces a character as a menace to the protagonist, such as when a sleuth is confronted by an enforcer for the criminal he’s tracking down. Just saying the enforcer is large draws no picture, and the threat intended by this person’s appearance fails to impress.

Expanding the description to draw a more-precise picture requires adding words (e.g., built like a bull with no neck), which might be problematic in action stories or scenes where spareness keeps the pace moving. In such cases, a single adjective must serve. Just upticking large to beefy improves the image. A thesaurus adds options: stout, heavy, thickset, stocky, chunky, brawny, husky, burly, strapping, hulking, elephantine, herculean, humongous — at least 10 others.

Usually a brief elaboration, such as an enforcer built like a bull, or a door twice as tall as a man, will do the job. It can be argued that twice as tall as a man is just as vague as large, because man isn’t defined; however, most people have an idea of the general size of adult male humans, so describing something as twice that size has more meaning than just large.

One of my clients, in response to my requests to be more specific when he repeatedly used large, said he wanted to leave the reader free to visualize the person/place/thing in their own way. That’s a fair position, and in many genres an appropriate style. I share this author’s (and many others’) dislike of too much description and will always encourage lean prose over verbose prose. At the same time, I believe it’s possible to omit too much information and leave readers struggling to follow the story or understand the characters.

Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”

I’ll second that, and add that one precise adjective can draw a sharper, more-evocative picture than a vague one like large.

Editor’s note: Part 2 will be posted on March 15.

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, and has presented on editing fiction at the Communication Central conference.

February 11, 2019

A new year brings new ventures

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Here we are in early February and I’m just now wishing all of you a successful new year in 2019. I’d blame my new cat, but it really isn’t her fault, adorably distracting though she has been. I could blame the gratifying flow of new work I’ve been handling, but that isn’t a very good excuse. I’ll just say mea culpa, happy new year and I’ll be better at posting for you from this point onward.

Our big news is that An American Editor founder Rich Adin has done me the honor of handing off ownership of the blog to me. (This new level of responsibility should give me the necessary push to post more often and more regularly!) It has taken a few weeks to get all the business aspects and new contact details organized, but it looks like everything is all set. Rich will continue to contribute articles on occasion, so we won’t lose access to his experience and insights, which continue to be valuable to colleagues at all levels of editorial work.

This is also a good moment to let all of you know that Communication Central’s 2019 “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference, “Gateway to Success,” will be co-sponsored by the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE), and will be held from October 11–13 in the “Gateway City,” St. Louis, MO. This will be the 14th annual conference for Communication Central, now based in St. Louis, and the first such event for NAIWE, now under the skilled leadership of April Michelle Davis. The central location and NAIWE partnership should mean that more colleagues can attend to benefit from networking together and learning from each other. I’ve been wanting to try a Midwest USA location for a while, and am looking forward to welcoming colleagues to my new hometown.

AAE subscribers will again have access to a special discount on conference registration (details to come shortly). We are putting the program and speakers together and may open registration even before the program is fully in place.

Again, may this new year be one of success, prosperity and personal fulfillment to all of our subscribers. Let us know if you have any specific questions or concerns about your editing life, and we’ll do our best to help you deal with them.

Book Indexes: Part 8 — More Lessons Learned in Using DEXembed for the First Time

Filed under: Contributor Article,Editorial Matters,On Indexing — An American Editor @ 5:28 pm

By Ælfwine Mischler

In Part 7 of this series on book indexes, I wrote about some of the things I learned about embedded indexing when I used DEXembed, an add-in for Word available from Editorium.com, for the first time. In this post, I continue with lessons learned.

You Did What?

I was using paragraph numbers for locators. (DEXembed can also use word number or top of the page, but these are generally less satisfactory.) Before I started indexing, I told the author repeatedly that the paragraphing had to remain stable and he could not add new text, so I was none too pleased when he sent a new paragraph to be added in the middle after I was already three-quarters through the book. I asked DEXembed developer Jack Lyon whether I could just remove the paragraph numbers, add the new text, renumber the paragraph numbers, and move on, and what would happen to the bookmarks I had made.

He did not know the answers but suggested I do a test run on a copy of the file. I removed the paragraph numbers, added the new text, and told DEXembed to number the paragraphs again. It ground away for a minute or two and then told me they were numbered, but I saw no red numbers to the left of the paragraphs — until I scrolled down and saw that the numbering started with 1 a few paragraphs after the new text.

I removed the numbers, saved the file as another name, and tried again to number the paragraphs. This time it worked. Then I had to go into my Sky indexing file to correct the locator numbers after the inserted text.

We Do Not All Count Alike

DEXembed allows you to go to a particular paragraph using Ctrl + Alt + P. However, whenever I entered a paragraph number, DEXembed would select a paragraph before the one I wanted: If I entered Ctrl + Alt + 100, it would take me to 99.

To create a range, I put the cursor in the first paragraph of the topic, clicked Ctrl + Alt + M (to mark the beginning of the topic), put the cursor in the last paragraph, and clicked Ctrl + Alt + L (to get the locator). DEXembed created a bookmark and, because I had opted so, put a comment with the beginning and end paragraph numbers — but they were always off. If I selected paragraphs 225–245, the comment would say 226–246. I was not certain which range I should put in the indexing software — the one I had selected or the one in the comment. I used the actual selected range, which later proved to be the correct decision. What was causing this discrepancy, and would it cause a problem later on?

Yes, it did cause a problem when I embedded the entries. The XE field codes went into the chapter section headings instead of into the paragraphs where they belonged. Back to the developer. He thought a paragraph had been deleted and told me how to find the problem. If Ctrl + Alt + P takes you to the paragraph numbered 10 when you specify 10, but it takes you to the paragraph numbered 499 when you specify 500, you know the problem is between paragraphs 10 and 500. Keep selecting paragraphs every 100 or so (Ctrl + Alt + 100, Ctrl + Alt + 200, etc.) until you find the source of the problem.

In fact, I learned that an extra Enter, not a deleted one, was causing the faulty numbering, which began at the start of the indexable material, after the preface. Following the preface was an Enter and a Page Break. When I deleted the extra Enter, the DEXembed took me to the correct paragraphs.

To be safe, I checked every 50 paragraphs throughout the text and found another place where I had accidentally added an Enter in the middle of a word. Once that was deleted, the numbering problem was solved and the XE field codes went into the correct places.

Work, Work, Work

Embedded indexes are a lot more work for the indexer, who will typically charge more for this version than for a back-of-the-book index. The most trying time is when the actual embedding takes place. At this point, everything is up to Word and there is nothing the indexer can do but hope the embedding works. I kept getting error messages half-way through the embedding, until the developer told me to reboot. I found it also useful to close every other application and the browser while embedding.

If I found an error in the generated index, I had to correct it in Sky, generate the index from Sky as a text file, embed it in another copy of the book (perhaps rebooting first, and praying all the while), generate the index in Word, copy that to another Word file, and make any manual corrections required by Word. (See my December 2017 post.)

Because I was new to using DEXembed, I had to repeat this process several times. Fortunately, I do learn from my mistakes, so the next such project should be easier.

Generally, DEXembed was easy to use, and the developer was helpful in answering my questions. I liked using paragraph numbers for locators and limiting the use of ranges. However, because of Word’s limitations, DEXembed requires an extra step to index footnotes or endnotes, which I did not need to do for this project and did not test. Editorium’s NoteStripper will strip the notes out as regular text. You then number the paragraphs and write the index. After embedding the entries, you use NoteStripper to turn the notes back into regular Word notes. (Note that this is not the same version of NoteStripper that came with Editor’s ToolKit Plus.) One more thing for me to test drive!

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.

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: