An American Editor

August 30, 2019

On the Basics — About getting older

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 9:21 am

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner, An American Editor

Inspired by a colleague’s request to write about birthdays, I came up with a few thoughts that I posted to my NAIWE blog, and thought colleagues here might enjoy this version as well. While not specifically about editing, the topic is relevant to all of us.

Here I am in my 60s, and not quite sure what it means — but not worried about it.

Supposedly I’m old — but I don’t feel old. Of course, it helps that I seem to still be mentally intact and involved, can still look after myself, continue to be able to do the work I love — work that keeps me involved with a wide range of topics and people, constantly learning new skills and information. I think it also helps that I have a marvelous network of long-time friends who keep me feeling young, perhaps because we keep our wacky childhood and high school memories so fresh by staying close and seeing, or at least communicating with, each other fairly often.

Even if I did feel old, why would that be a bad thing? I’ve survived more than just the passing of the years, but a wide range of crises over those years, and that’s something to be proud of. It’s why I don’t let myself be pressured into coloring my hair when I go to the salon for haircuts (well, other than a splash of purple nowadays!): I earned every gray or white hair, and see no need to cover them up.

I know how I got here: born, raised, lived; still living. That’s a good thing. As my mom used to say whenever someone complained about the infelicities and challenges of increasing age, “Consider the alternative.”

Some aspects of all these birthdays are a nuisance — my knees and hips have started to creak a bit and make it difficult to get up from a chair or the bed, and to negotiate stairs, but … consider the alternative.

Getting older does mean dealing with loss. Both of my parents have died, and I miss them constantly, but … I had my dad in my life for more than 40 years and my mom for 60; that’s a lot longer than many friends can claim, and those were all wonderful, loving, supportive, fun years — also more and better than many people experience. And it’s natural for parents to go before their children. When life takes the opposite direction, it’s unimaginable.

My beloved husband, who was 12 years older than me, died last year and I miss him every moment of every day, but … we had 30 delightful years together, which is — again — more than many people get from their relationships and marriages. He was a tough guy (a retired steelworker; my man of steel!) who accepted the limits of aging with surprising grace; rather than complain (“Consider the alternative!”) or give up, he focused on what he still could do. His attitude toward birthdays, aging and increasing fragility was admirable: “I can’t do what I used to, but I’ll find a way to do as much as possible. If I can’t walk on my own, I’ll use a walker so I can still get around and go places. If I can’t carry all my cameras, lenses and gear, I’ll switch to digital. If I have dietary issues, I’ll reconfigure my favorite recipes so I can still enjoy some of the things I love to eat …”

Keeping in mind that increasing age probably will mean decreasing physical ability, I made a huge life change last year. What started out as thinking about moving locally to a neighborhood that would be more walkable and accessible turned into moving halfway across the country and becoming a first-time homeowner at this ripe age! While my new place — a condo — doesn’t have the front desk and onsite staff of the building I left, it is right across the street from a beautiful park and within two to five blocks of everything from shops to restaurants to a library branch, small concert venue, bookstore, medical center and more. I’m prepared for pretty much anything; I even have a dedicated guest room in case I ever need live-in care, instead of having to use a second bedroom as my workspace. That’s because the front room of my new space faces the beautiful Forest Park, and I’ve set up half of that area as my home office so I can enjoy and benefit from the green view as I work.

Being “old” has its advantages. I qualify for Medicare, so I save a bundle on medical insurance, and can start getting my Social Security benefits whenever I’m ready to stop working (if that ever happens; I do find retirement hard to envision, but that’s because I enjoy what I do, and not — mainly thanks to my financial genius of a mom — because I have to keep working). And I get a kick out of senior discounts, even though I don’t see myself as “senior.” (My recollection, although my brothers disagree, is that my dad loved using his 60-plus discounts; he said he earned and deserved them, and I concur.)

I see every birthday as a type of new year, so I have more than January 1 as a moment to reflect, refresh and sometimes revamp. A birthday is an opportunity to celebrate still being here and to think about what new things I might do to stay as sharp, engaged and active as possible, both physically and mentally; socially and professionally; intellectually and maybe even emotionally. This year, I decided that my birthday present to myself would to be more creative and expand my interests beyond activities related to my work life. I’ve started playing around with painting and glasswork — neither of which I do very well (yet), but who knows where these might go! — and am looking into going back to a long-ago hobby of ceramics.

These projects are birthday gifts to myself that I think will take me into increasing age with increasing creativity and continuing mental and physical agility, a sense of joy and achievement, and appreciation for survival on many levels. They are my ways of fulfilling the concept of “I’m not (just) getting older; I’m getting better.” As actress Renée Zellweger told the AARP magazine (yup, I’m an AARP member) recently, “… I don’t call it aging; I call it winning.” I like that perspective. I try to embrace getting older and having more birthdays. After all, “consider the alternative.”

Here’s to happy birthdays for all of us, and graceful, grateful perspectives on getting older!

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter ( is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and — as of 2019 — owner of An American Editor. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (, this year co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors ( She can be reached at or


August 23, 2019

Measuring and Managing for Greater Productivity and Profit

By Jack Lyon

The famous management consultant W. Edwards Deming is often quoted as saying “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Here’s what he actually said: “It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it — a costly myth.” (The New Economics, 35.)

An example of something that can’t always be measured (but can be managed) is the quality of copyediting on a particular manuscript. Two different editors might not always see the same problems or fix them in the same way. So how do you manage your effectiveness as an editor? Is it based on your consistency in styling citations? Does it depend on your knowledge of a manuscript’s subject matter? Could it have to do with the comprehensiveness of your reference library? Copyediting depends on a number of factors that can only be described as subjective.

But unless you’re editing only as a hobby, there is one thing you should definitely be measuring and managing: your income — to be specific, your effective hourly rate. American Editor Rich Adin has written about this at some length (see, for example, “Thinking About Money: What Freelancers Need to Understand” and “Business of Editing: What to Charge”), and you should definitely read and heed his advice about this. You’re probably someone who works mostly with words, so don’t be put off by the math in these articles! It’s really important to understand what Rich is saying.

I know editors who make just enough money to stay above the poverty line; I also know editors who consistently make an income of six figures (yes, really). Would you like to know what makes the difference?

Those in the first group charge by the hour.

Those in the second group charge by the project (or the page, or the word, or even the character).

If you charge $50 an hour for your editing services, the most you can ever make is $50 an hour. But if you charge $5 a page, your hourly income depends on how many pages you can edit during that hour. If you can edit 10 pages, you’ll still make $50 an hour. But if you can edit 20 pages, you’ll make $100 an hour. To do that, you’ll have to be more productive (while still maintaining your usual quality), which means you’ll need the Microsoft Word add-ins I provide at the Editorium, particularly Editor’s ToolKit Plus.

Daniel Heuman’s PerfectIt will add even more to your productivity by automatically ensuring the consistency of your work.

Rich Adin’s EditTools provides a wealth of features created especially for the working editor. I particularly like Never Spell Word and Toggle Word.

To manage your effective hourly rate, though, there’s one thing you really need to measure: how many hours you spend on every project you edit. Now, if only someone would invent some software specifically for editors to track those hours. Well, that’s exactly what Rich Adin has done in his latest version of EditTools.

Rich calls this new feature Time Tracker, and you’ll find it on the left side of the EditTools ribbon:

Time Tracker on EditTools Ribbon

Time Tracker on EditTools Ribbon

Time Tracker alone is well worth the price of admission, even if you never use any of the other features in EditTools (although you will). I won’t go into all the specifics about how to use Time Tracker, because Rich has already done so in an impressive series of articles at An American Editor called “It’s All About the Benjamins” (the complete 55-page Time Tracker Help file in PDF format is also available for download). And by “Benjamins,” Rich means money — which you should have more of, if you follow his advice and use this new tool.

By keeping careful track of the amount of time you spend and the amount of money you make on each project, you’ll soon be able take advantage of the PDSA (Plan-Do-Study-Act) cycle, made popular by our old friend W. Edwards Deming. The Deming Institute defines this cycle as “a systematic process for gaining valuable learning and knowledge for the continual improvement of a product, process, or service.” Making money, for example.

If you keep track of your effective hourly rate (EHR), you’ll be able to answer questions like these:

  • What kinds of jobs bring in the most money?
  • Which clients actually pay the best overall?
  • When during the day am I at my most productive?

Then, using the PDSA (Plan-Do-Study-Act) cycle, you can do things like this:

  • Focus on the kinds of jobs that bring in the most money, and turn down those that don’t.
  • Solicit more work from clients that pay the best, and drop those that don’t.
  • Work when you’re at your most productive, and do something else when you’re not.

As you continue to use this cycle of improvement, you should see dramatic improvements over time in your overall income. Others have done it, and you can, too. It’s simply a matter of measuring and managing, using the right tools to improve your productivity and efficiency, and collecting and analyzing the data.

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

August 12, 2019

Get Your Finger Off that Search Button: How Not to Index

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 6:06 pm

By Ælfwine Mischler

A client whose book I indexed some months ago — some call him … Tim — wrote to say that his book had finally been published, and he wanted to show me some additions he had made to the index. His email revealed two common misconceptions about indexing.

  • The first was that the index should list every page on which a name of a person or place is mentioned.

Tim had added strings of page numbers after many of the names — up to 15! He had evidently used the Search feature in the PDF and added a page number for every instance of the names. (I had created an embedded index in a Word file and did not have the PDFs to check, but it was obvious what he had done.)

Those strings! He ruined my index, I moaned in an indexing forum. Colleagues commiserated, some adding their own stories of clients going crazy with the Search function. I replied to Tim that if he ever recommended me to another author, he should explain that his index included additions by him that did not follow established indexing practice. I don’t want anyone to think that I would write an index entry like this one:

I do not note every page on which a name occurs when I index, nor do I index every name in the book. If a name is mentioned in passing (that is, there is not substantial information about the person), I do not include that page. Sometimes deciding whether a particular mention of a name should be indexed is a bit subjective. If there is only a brief sentence about the person and it’s not a name that I know will recur in the book, I use the Search function to see if the person comes up again in the book with enough about them to justify indexing them. If so, I am more likely to include such borderline cases in the index. If they don’t appear again, I am more likely to exclude them, especially if space for the index is limited.

If my search reveals that the person does come up a lot in the book, I know that I have to make subentries to avoid a string of page numbers such as Tim produced.

In “How to Index Your Book (And Why I’ll Never Do It Again),” Kathleen Fitzpatrick described her indexing method, which was similar to the one Tim had used for his additions: Find a name, then use the Search to find every instance of the same and list every page number. Go back to the first page, find the next name and do the same. Repeat over and over.

No, this is not the way professional indexers work. We actually read the book cover-to-cover and index as we go, choosing the terms and creating subentries as needed. (Note also that the prices Fitzpatrick gives, writing in 2010, are much too low for professionally made indexes today.)

There are exceptions about indexing passing mentions. In local histories, the norm is to index every mention of every person, street, building, etc., because these bits might provide the only clues for later researchers. A handbook of literature might index every single author, even those simply named in a list with others. This was the editor’s request for the handbook I indexed, but book titles were to be indexed only if they had won an award or there were at least two or three sentences about them. Exceptions for including passing mentions are dictated by the nature of the book and how it will be used.

  • My client Tim’s second misconception was that names of sources should be indexed.

Tim’s book, in the field of Islamic studies, contained a number of hadiths (narrative records of the sayings or actions of Muhammad and his companions that form the second source of Islamic law after the Qur’an) that had been collected and recorded by al-Bukhari and Muslim. Tim wanted to add these names to the index, but the project editor would not let him add new entries, only page numbers to existing entries.

I explained to Tim that I hadn’t included al-Bukhari and Muslim because they are the collectors of hadith and are therefore a source in his book. Those who have read his book and want to look for one of the quoted hadith are unlikely to look for the source; rather, they’ll remember the person who is quoted or the event that is talked about in the hadith, and they’ll look for (and find) that in the index.

On the other hand, of course, if the author talks about someone and one or more of their ideas or theories, I will index that person’s name, since they are not just a source in the book.

The practice of indexing sources does vary from one field to another. In psychology and some other sciences, the norm is to index every single source name in parentheses in a separate name index, without making subentries (and to charge a higher fee for such as index).

Heading off the headache

If you are an indexer, tell your author clients at the beginning of project negotiations how you handle passing mentions and sources. Ask if they have any questions or special requests for the index, such as including their dissertation adviser’s name. Communicating from the start can prevent problems later, although it is no guarantee that a client won’t insist that you go back and add all the names that they had previously agreed to omit.

If you are hiring an indexer, make sure from the start that the indexer understands the best practices in your field, and that you and the indexer agree on what names should be indexed.

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 about Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

August 7, 2019

The Value of Calculating Your Business Baseline

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 12:35 pm

By Richard Adin, AAE Founder

Even though you can use EditTools’ Time Tracker to accumulate important data regarding your business, you need to calculate your required Effective Hourly Rate (rEHR) before you begin analyzing that data. If you don’t, your analysis won’t be as meaningful and useful as it could be because the rEHR is the baseline value for determining what you need to charge and what you need to earn each working hour.

Suppose, for example, your data show that your EHR over your five most-recent projects is $25.10. What does that mean? On the surface, the $25.10 EHR looks good, especially compared to what others earn; after all, you won’t earn $25.10 an hour delivering pizza. What is missing, however, is a baseline number — a comparator — that makes that EHR relevant to you. That baseline number is your rEHR, which makes calculating your rEHR your most-important preparatory task.

The rEHR has been discussed in previous AAE essays, beginning with my 2010 essay, “Thinking About Money: What Freelancers Need to Understand” and in many subsequent essays, including my 2017 essay, “Do You Know Your Business’ Health?” Basically, the rEHR is the net (i.e., after tax) amount you need to earn each hour of work to pay all of your bills (including food, shelter, and clothing) at a breakeven point; that is, no loss and no profit — or 100% of after-tax (net) revenue coming in equals 100% net revenue going out.

It is important to note that the rEHR it is calculated based on only the actual number of billable work hours, not the number of work hours. In other words, if you work seven hours a day for five days a week (a 35-hour workweek) but only do work for which you can send a client a bill for 25 of those 35 hours, your rEHR is based on 25 hours, not 35 hours. In addition, if you plan on working only the equivalent of 46 weeks during the calendar year, and not 52 weeks, then the rEHR is calculated on the 46 workweeks, not the 52 calendar-year weeks.

Here is an example of the effect of calculating your rEHR incorrectly. Assume these parameters:

  1. Living costs (all bills of any kind) equal $725 per week (divide monthly expenses, such as rent or mortgage, by 4.3 to get the weekly amount; be sure to include annual [divide by 52], semiannual [divide by 26], and quarterly [divide by 13] expenses such as insurance or property taxes that are paid once or twice a year in the weekly number);
  2. Billable hours are 25 hours per week;
  3. The work year is 48 weeks; and
  4. Over the last five projects, your EHR has averaged $25.10.

For one year, the expense number equals $37,700 ($725 [weekly living costs] × 52 [weeks in the calendar year; remember that expenses continue even when you are not working, thus 52 instead of 48]). Because $37,700 is net, you need to earn more than $37,700 to be able to pay income and Social Security taxes.

The QuickBooks Resource Center offers a free Self-Employed Tax Calculator. Enter your net self-employment income and it will calculate your self-employment tax (Medicare and Social Security). For $37,700, the self-employment tax is $5,768.10, bringing us to a gross income of $43,468.10. However, that does not include any money to pay income tax or other required federal or state taxes. The additional amount needed is difficult to calculate because of the variations. (The best way for estimation purposes is to use the amount you paid last year.) To work with round numbers, let’s assume that altogether, you need a gross income of $50,000 to meet your net income requirement of $37,700.

To calculate the rEHR, follow these steps:

  1. Divide $50,000 by 48 (the number of workweeks in your fiscal year) to determine the gross income you are required to earn in each of the 48 workweeks you expect to work: $50,000 ÷ 48 = $1,041.67 (the required gross income per workweek).
  2. Divide $1,041.67 by 25 (the number of billable hours per workweek) to determine your rEHR: $1,041.67 ÷ 25 = $41.67 (your rEHR).

This illustrates why knowing your rEHR is so important. We said earlier that your EHR over your five most-recent projects was $25.10.

It is important to note that the EHR is an average number. Your EHR on one project may have been $47.80, but $10.08 on another project. The EHR almost always differs project-by-project; what we seek is an average EHR over all projects — the Year-to-Date (YTD) and Lifetime EHRs that EditTools’ Time Tracker calculates and tracks, and that at a minimum equals the rEHR and at best exceeds the rEHR. (For a detailed discussion of Time Tracker, see the recent AAE five-part series “It’s All About the Benjamins! EditTools’ Time Tracker” and the Time Tracker Help file, which is available as a downloadable PDF.) The only time the EHR remains constant is if you use an hourly fee method and never have to work nonbillable hours on a project.

Based on the given parameters, your calculated rEHR is $41.67, but your EHR is $25.10, which means that you are losing $16.57 every hour you work.

Without knowing your rEHR, the $25.10 EHR looks pretty good. After all, if you check the rate surveys published by various editorial organizations (for a discussion of rate surveys, see “The Quest for Rate Charts”), somewhere between $20 and $30 an hour appears to be the “going rate” (for a discussion of “going rate,” see “A Continuing Frustration — The “Going Rate”) for the services you provide and a $25.10 EHR is in the middle. But the reality is different. An EHR of $25.10 is not good for you unless you make some significant lifestyle changes that will reduce your living costs. Perhaps giving up health insurance, even though you are 55 years old and have a preexisting condition, will be enough. Maybe if you stop saving for retirement and hope to work until you are 80.

As you can see, knowing your baseline (rEHR) is fundamental. Of course, knowing the rEHR is insufficient in the overall scheme of things. You also have to know your YTD and Lifetime EHRs (data that EditTools’ Time Tracker can provide) because it may well be that those five most-recent projects do not really reflect the overall health of your business — the EHR for those five projects may be lower or higher than the YTD and Lifetime EHRs. In other words, it is possible that overall you are doing worse or better than the selected data for the last five projects show.

Knowing your rEHR and YTD and Lifetime EHRs can help you devise a plan to improve your efficiency and productivity. One of the features of EditTools’ Time Tracker is that it tracks the EHR and APH (Average Pages per Hour) data for individual projects as well as YTD and Lifetime. When I found that my EHR was not where I wanted it to be, I was able to manipulate the data to determine what I needed to do to get the EHR where I wanted it.

A good example of how to manipulate the data and the effect of doing so is covered in the essay “It’s All About the Benjamins! EditTools’ Time Tracker” at the end of the discussion about updating information. By way of demonstration, I changed the page count by one page and showed how that small a change affected the EHR numbers. Perhaps all I need to do is slightly increase my APH.

  • Caution: Before modifying any data for the purpose of finding a way to improve your EHR, make a note of the correct data so you can, when done, reset the manipulated data to the original numbers. Keeping correct data is critical.

Another option is to change how you charge for a project. For example, if you charge an hourly rate of $25, there is nothing you can do to increase your EHR from $25. Something to note, however, is this: Just because you charge $25 an hour does not mean your EHR is $25 an hour; what it does mean is that the EHR cannot be more than $25. It can, however, be less than $25 an hour. Charging by the hour is the worst method for multiple reasons, all of which boil down to this: If you charge $25 an hour, the most you can ever earn is $25 an hour — but it is not the least you can earn per hour.

A third option is to redefine what constitutes a page. For all methods of charging, the page is the common item, unless you do not need to provide a client with an estimate of hours when charging by the hour. But even then, you would want to know for your own scheduling approximately how long a project will take, making the page count important even when the fee method is hourly.

Many people will tell you that a page equals 250 words, but that is a holdover from the typewriter days when a manuscript page had to have one-inch margins and the text had to be typed in 12-point Courier, double-spaced, with two spaces following sentence-ending punctuation, and when it was expected that the average word would have five characters. In other words, that was the standard in prehistoric (editorially speaking) times.

Today, because of computers and word-processing and desktop publishing software, the standard is nonexistent. I don’t use 250 words and many of my clients do not use 250 words as the equivalent of a page. Some of my clients use 275 words, some 300 words, some 350 words, and one tried to use 500 words. Others use characters counts such as 1,500 characters excluding spaces; 1,600 characters with spaces; or 1,750 characters. The point is that a page is not always a page — a page is whatever it is defined as (for additional discussion, see “A Page Is a Page — Or Is It?”).

Once you have calculated your rEHR and have collected data using EditTools’ Time Tracker (see the recent AAE five-part series “It’s All About the Benjamins! EditTools’ Time Tracker” and the Time Tracker Help file, which is available as a downloadable PDF), you can explore the best way to make your business profitable for you. Data are the key to all successful businesses, and your rEHR is founded on the data. Without knowing your rEHR, you cannot know what to charge, what to bid/quote, or whether you are making or losing money.

Richard (Rich) Adin is the founder of the An American Editor blog, author of The Business of Editing, owner of wordsnSync, and creator/owner of EditTools.

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