An American Editor

May 28, 2021

On the Basics — What is editing? What is it supposed to do?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

A lot of sites and groups purport to offer expert advice about writing and editing. Some of it is good, some of it is bad and some of it inspires additional conversation. A recent online conversation discussed whether editing is supposed to make a piece of writing shorter vs. longer after a colleague saw a statement in a writing group that editing means making things shorter; when he responded that editing can also make things longer, he was told that’s revising, not editing. Other participants responded with the classics: Shakespeare’s “Brevity is the soul of wit” and Mark Twain’s “I’d have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have time.”

Yes, making a work more concise is often part of editing, and usually a good thing, but that isn’t all there is to editing. I’m with the colleague who sees editing as sometimes making something longer. Authors can be so familiar with their topics that they don’t realize their readers might need more detail, untrained in writing and apt to over-write or write without organization and structure, or in such a hurry to meet a deadline that they leave out important aspects of a topic. A skilled editor can help make the document meet its goal of completing incomplete material, and that usually requires adding to it.

There are also writers who just open the mental floodgates and write without planning, expecting their editors to make sense of the material or battle it down to meet a required length for them. Sometimes I do that to myself: I’ll write out everything I have for an article, then go back and cut it down if I have to meet a specific word count. (I save the longer version in case I find a use for the material I’ve cut to fulfill the assignment.)

When I’m wearing my editor hat, I cut a bit or add a bit, whichever is appropriate (with the caveat that I provide copyediting; I’m not interested in the much-harder work of developmental or substantive editing these days). Every document is different, and likely to require a different approach. To me, editing simply makes a written work better, which can mean cutting it down if needed; making it longer if needed; or simply making it clear, consistent, accurate and readable without changing the word count — perhaps by changing some words for ones that are a better fit but keep the manuscript at the same overall count — all while respecting the author’s voice. And even “better” can be a subjective matter, just to add to the complexity of the process.

What colleagues say

A recent issue of the ACES: The Society for Copyediting newsletter offered these perspectives about the meaning of editing, all of which ring true, at least for me:

Charita Ray-Blakely in “Editors should understand the possible pitfalls of anthropomorphism”: “One fundamental task of editing is to promote clarity in content”

Christine Steele, quoting or paraphrasing John Russial’s Strategic Copy Editing (Guildford Press, 2004) in “Critical-thinking copyediting”:

“Editing is not about nitpicking and finding mistakes — it is about making choices”

“Editing is about critical thinking”

“Editing is about working together and respecting others”

“Editing is about balancing perfection and pragmatism”

“Editing is about ethics”

The owners of the Editorial Arts Academy, judging from a recent Facebook post, lean toward the brevity perspective: “‘Less is More’ is the guiding principle when it comes to line editing. Authors don’t pay editors to rewrite their words but rather to improve on what is already there.”

And finally, Ally Machate of the Writer’s Ally posted that “Debut books often have shorter word counts than those from successful authors” and provided some comparisons between genres, career stages and more at: http://wordcounters.com/?fbclid=IwAR0rxdeLOjhI93UHdT4dcYaavtWNtxe4-OyJAMxODebu4q5dX6i3uUD4TMs.

Managing challenges

One of the challenges for many of us is not just defining substantive, developmental, line and copyediting to make it easier to establish what we’ll do with (or to) a manuscript, but to educate clients about the difference between editing and proofreading. How many of us have been asked to “just proofread” a document, only to see that it desperately needs editing? I’m sure that’s happened to many, if not all, of us, because a client either honestly doesn’t understand the difference or is less honestly trying to get editing work done for the price (perceived as lower) of proofreading. Establishing and hewing to these boundaries is not just a matter of defining levels of editing or what editing means, but a huge factor in figuring out how much time, effort and money will go into any given editing project, whether you’re working freelance or in-house.

Cutting extraneous, redundant or unclear material is part of editing. Fleshing out incomplete ideas can be part of editing, although it’s often more appropriate to suggest to the author that they should expand or complete something, especially if you’re copyediting. There’s more room to do that kind of revision with substantive or developmental editing, although too much actual added wording by the editor can become co-authorship or ghostwriting. 

One area where cutting vs. adding words can make the editing life more complicated is (for freelancers) on the financial side: If you charge by the word, you have to decide which word count to use for your fee. Most of the people I’ve seen discuss this pricing model use the original word count, but if you’ve done a lot adding to the manuscript, you might feel cheated of your rightful fee if you can’t charge for doing so. You might need language in your contract to cover that eventuality.

There’s also one occasional headache in the area of word count: how to account for the actual number of words. As I found out this past week, Word can’t always be relied upon to provide the correct count. My version suddenly showed what I knew was a 700-word document I was writing as having only 187 words; apparently the program got stuck at some point in the manuscript and didn’t “see” the rest of it. Copy-and-pasting into a new document cured the problem (and it helped that I save frequently as I work, whether writing, editing or proofreading), but it was a heart-stopping moment to think that I had somehow deleted most of my hard-written words! To an editor addicted to cutting out words, that might have been a good thing to see, but it certainly wasn’t a good moment here. When I asked colleagues what might have caused that glitch, nobody knew but everybody said something similar had happened to them at least once, if not often.

Experiences among us

How do you define editing, and your role as an editor, in terms of when/whether to cut and when/whether to add? What challenges have you had in establishing a definition and communicating it to clients or colleagues? How often has cutting vs. adding words been a factor?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) 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 owner of An American Editor. She created the annual Communication Central Be a Better Freelancer® conference for colleagues (www.communication-central.com), now co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (www.naiwe.com) and sponsored by An American Editor. She also owns A Flair for Writing (www.aflairforwriting.com), which helps independent authors produce and publish their books. She can be reached at Ruth@writerruth.com or Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

May 24, 2021

On the Basics: What do experienced, successful freelancers “owe” to the newcomers?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

Someone recently posted an opinion in a journalism group that successful freelancers should give up their businesses for the sake of new freelancers. It made me think about what, if anything, successful and experienced people owe to those who are new to a profession in general or type of business in particular.

As most of you know, I’m a huge believer in being helpful to colleagues — at all levels of their careers or businesses, whether established or just starting out, working in-house or freelance, and any other aspect of their business lives. Not just out of gratitude to colleagues who have been helpful to me, but that “rising tide lifts all boats” theory, you know.

I’ve felt a responsibility to give something back in return for the advice, camaraderie and support that I’ve received from colleagues, especially fellow freelancers. I started freelancing on my own, almost serendipitously, and finding a supportive community of colleagues (primarily through the late, lamented Washington Independent Writers; sob) was a real gift. The people who were helpful to me then didn’t need my help, but I realized I could pass on what I had learned from them and from my own experiences to those who came into freelancing — or writing/editing/proofreading, etc. — after I did.

I do believe in helping “newbies” get a firm start on their writing, editing, proofreading, etc., careers. What makes no sense is expecting any of us to shut down for some undefined benefit to newcomers, or to colleagues who have been in business for a while but are not doing well yet. I don’t even know how that would work. I might hand off a project or client to a colleague who has more of the necessary skill and experience for that work than I do, and I’ve certainly referred colleagues for projects that aren’t what I prefer to do, whether because something pays less than I expect, involves a topic I’m not interested in or requires more effort (developmental vs. copyediting, for instance) than I feel like doing these days.

It does appear that the person making this claim hasn’t had a professional-level job in communications or published any freelance work, which could explain why they want successful freelancers to save them from doing the hard work of finding an in-house job or enough freelance work to be successful. The real world, of course, doesn’t work like that.

Newcomers might appreciate mentors to help them learn the ropes of the editorial niche they want to work in, and the ins-and-outs of successful freelancing — and many of us do provide that kind of support. Some of us have been mentors, either formally or informally. Most of us share advice and  insights through our blogs, books, classes or webinars, memberships in professional associations, or visibility in various online groups (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.). Some of us train new hires, or students and early-career colleagues, at our full-time jobs. 

Freelancing has never been easy to do, as most of us here can attest. It takes more than being able to write well; edit/proofread accurately (and respectfully); create effective, readable publications; design beautiful images and documents, etc. It takes a business approach and a lot of persistence to find clients or assignments, manage finances and taxes, balance varying deadlines, and handle everything else that leads to success.

Whether someone wants a traditional publishing career or a successful freelance business, it takes time. It takes training. It takes a little humility when starting out. Those of us who are successful have put a lot of time, effort and expense into building up our careers or businesses. Most of us love what we do and thrive on doing it well. We plan to keep going as long as our physical and mental capacities make it possible. Few, if any, of us are interested in new careers or premature retirement.

Being supportive doesn’t require closing our doors to support some vague “help the newbies” vision.

How to help

Once successful, it does make sense to give back, pay it forward or however we want to think about encouraging newcomers who might need a little backup as they get started. Some of us may no longer need advice about the basics of being in business, but we can — and I think we should — pass on the benefit of our experience to others.

We were all new to our work and — for those who aren’t working in-house — to freelancing, and we all learned from others. Passing on our knowledge is a mitzvah (a good deed) or investment in good karma. But that’s very different from closing down a business for some vague idea of helping less-established or less-successful colleagues.

Which brings me to how we who are established and successful can help newcomers to editorial work, especially people who are new to freelancing. We can:

Teach — through classes, webinars, conference presentations. Advise — through blogs, publishing, discussion lists, social media outlets, presentations. Share — by suggesting books, degree or certificate training programs, webinars, organizations, tools, other resources, answers to questions. Mentor — if you have the time and energy.

Helping a colleague is rewarding in many ways. Not only is giving back an investment in the future of our profession and our own successful businesses, it is good for the soul — and it feels great. It might seem selfish, but doing good feels good, whether through advising colleagues or supporting a charitable cause.

Colleagues’ perspectives

When the time comes for me to hang up my shingle and retire from my writing/editing/proofreading/publishing business, it won’t be newcomers who will hear from me about taking on some of my clients or projects, and I won’t do it by simply closing down in the hope that someone unknown and less-established will magically benefit from my disappearance from the scene. I’ll let my clients know my plans so they can start looking for a replacement, and I’ll contact colleagues I know to see if they would like to be referred to those clients. The colleagues I contact will be experienced in the appropriate editorial niches. From the freelancing perspective, my preference will be to offer such opportunities to established, professional freelancers with successful businesses. That’s what my clients are used to and whom they would prefer to work with.

If you’re experienced and successful, how do you see your role with newcomers? If you’re new to the editorial field or to freelancing, what do you expect to receive from established, successful colleagues?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) 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 owner of An American Editor. She created the annual Communication Central Be a Better Freelancer® conference for colleagues (www.communication-central.com), now co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (www.naiwe.com) and sponsored by An American Editor. She also owns A Flair for Writing (www.aflairforwriting.com), which helps independent authors produce and publish their books. She can be reached at Ruth@writerruth.com or Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

May 21, 2021

Indexing Arabic Names: Some Family Terms

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 6:43 pm
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Ælfwine Mischler

This blog post is based on the submitted version of “Indexing Arabic Names: The Basics,” which was published in The Indexer: The International Journal of Indexing, Vol. 39, No. 1, March 2021, and is available at https://doi.org/10.3828/indexer.2021.7.

Arabic names can be tricky to index and to alphabetize correctly in references. In my previous post about indexing (and alphabetizing) Arabic names, I presented some tips for dealing with the definite article al-.

This post is about how to index a word that is sometimes mistaken for the definite article, and some family terms that turn up in Arabic names.

Al and Ba

The word Āl or Al means “clan” or “dynasty.” It is usually capitalized when transliterated, although authors (and copyeditors) sometimes mistake it for the definite article and lowercase it. Āl is never suppressed in sorting or moved to the end of the name.

It looks like this in modern Arabic: a squiggle similar to a tilde (~) over the alif on the right, and the lam on the left not connected to the following word as the definite article is.

Table 1: Modern script

You are most likely to find Āl in royal names or in history books (the Āl Faḍl Bedouin appeared in a book I recently indexed). An indexing colleague once asked how to sort Jalal Al-e Ahmad, an Iranian novelist. Wikipedia provided the Farsi script of the name (Farsi uses the Arabic alphabet), and from that, I knew that the Al here was “clan” and the name should be indexed as Al-e Ahmad, Jalal.  

Table 2: Jalal

In modern royal names, Al often comes near the end, followed by the name of the dynasty. The Emir of Qatar, for example, is Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Royal names are not inverted, so his should appear in an index just as I have written it. If your author treats Al there as the definite article and writes al-Thani, you should correct the author.

I have encountered the word or Ba in Yemeni names, sometimes hyphenated with the following name. It has a similar meaning of “family” and should not be split from the following name.

Ibn, bin, ben, b., bint, bt. between names

Ibn, bin, ben, b. mean “son of,” while bint, bt. mean “daughter of.” In modern Arabic names, these are not used except in names of royalty, and they are usually lowercased. You might find them, however, in Muslim names in non-Arab countries such as Malaysia.

In pre-modern names, you might get a string of names like Iman bint Yusuf ibn Ahmad (Iman daughter of Yusuf son of Ahmad) or Mustafa ibn Hisham ibn Yahya (Mustafa son of Hisham son of Yahya). Simple pre-modern names such as these — that is, without honorifics or epithets — should be indexed as you see them, without inverting. (More-complex pre-modern names will be discussed in later posts.) In modern names, such strings are usually only seen in names of royalty, which are never inverted.

The variations in the spelling of the term for “son of” may be based on Arabic grammar or on style choices. One publisher that I often work for uses bin for Gulf royalty, ben for names from North Africa (where it is the usual spelling), and ibn for other cases. Other publishers might consistently use b. Authors might be inconsistent, writing the names as they found them in their sources.

Ignore ibn, bin, ben, b., bint, bt. in sorting when they come between names. If they come at the beginning, that is another case to be discussed in another blog post. In the following examples of pre-modern names, the angle brackets surround text that is ignored in sorting.

‘Abdallah <ibn >Abi Bakr

‘Abdallah <b. >Salim <b. >Yusuf

Ahmad <ibn >Hanbal

Ahmad <b. >Ibrahim <b. >Samir

Ahmad <ibn >Idris <ibn >Yahya

In modern names, Bin and Ben might be part of a family name and should be capitalized. Do not ignore these in sorting, and do not split them.

Ben Ali, Zine El Abidine

Bin Laden Group

Bin Laden, Osama

Modern Arabic Names

European-style names — with a given name and a family name that passes from one generation to the next — only appeared in the Arab world in the 19th and early-20th centuries, and at different times in different places. Even today, many people use their father’s given name as a second name, rather than a family name. In Egypt (the country I am most familiar with), people use their given name, their father’s name, their paternal grandfather’s name, followed by either their great-grandfather’s name or a family name, on legal documents requiring four names. They do not use bint (daughter of) or ibn/bin (son of). In other contexts, people might use only their own name and their father’s name; or their own name and their grandfather’s name; or their own name and the family name; or their own name, their father’s name, and the family name. Many Egyptians are inconsistent in this and use different forms of their name in different contexts. In a modern book, however, I would expect to see modern people called consistently by the same names.

To alphabetize modern names, you need to recognize compound names that must not be split, which will the topic of another post.

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. She has presented a webinar on indexing Arabic names for the American Society for Indexing (https://www.asindexing.org/webinars/mischler-arabicnames/).


May 19, 2021

Thinking Fiction: Three Types of Indie Editing Clients

Carolyn Haley

If you edit enough novels by independent authors, you’ll notice patterns in author types and ambitions. By this I mean broad patterns — which always contain exceptions — that can help guide editors in determining how to guide individual authors on their publishing journeys.

The three broad types of indie authors are those who (1) write to market (in my shorthand, the pragmatists); (2) write to express themselves then figure out how to find their audience (the dreamers); and (3) write for either/both reasons and believe that everyone is their audience (the in-betweeners).

In this context, writing styles and genres are irrelevant. It’s all about expectations and approach. Every indie editing job has its unique parameters and focal points, driven by author desire, budget, and publishing goal. How these weave together is where the distinctions come into play.

(1) The pragmatists

Authors who write to market tend to do their homework before presenting their books for editing. They have clear story ideas (usually lots of), intend to make money, and have invested time in researching the rules of the game. The economically efficient ones go for cheaper services than I can offer, unless they have well-lined pockets, although it happens occasionally that they regret their first choice(s) of editor and come to me for re-editing, either before publication or in reaction to embarrassing feedback from readers after they’ve released their books independently.

In the main, this group wants copyediting or proofreading. They are confident about their writing technique and storytelling, and often have worked with beta readers to iron out the wrinkles in their content. Then they just want somebody editorially competent to do the nitpicky housekeeping.

Almost always, these authors self-publish. Many of them are DIYers who have already formatted and illustrated their manuscripts when they submit them for editing. They know exactly which publishing service they will use to release the book, and how to promote their work.

Rarely do these authors care about the minutiae of punctuation and style. That’s the editor’s job, in their minds, and all they want is to have their text made clean and consistent. From the editor’s viewpoint, these are easy jobs, and what matters is to have straightforward conversations with the author to understand their particulars, then gallop on through the project.

(2) The dreamers

This group of authors is inclined in the opposite direction. They’ve had a story burbling inside them for years, and finally their life situation has given them a chance to pour it out. Many have retired from an unrelated career and are indulging at last in their dreams.

Unlike the pragmatists who write to market, the dreamers are usually under-informed about the realities of publishing, either traditional or independent. And they’ve done little or no study about composition, grammar, narrative structure, etc., since their school days.

They seek an editor who will be their partner and guide them through the wilderness. They lean hard on the editor’s knowledge and expertise. Viewed cynically, they can be considered artistes or hobbyists, and it’s sometimes painful to work with them, knowing their passionate effort has little chance of acceptance or sales in the real world. At the same time, they can be the most satisfying to work with, because of their enthusiasm, openness, unfettered creativity, and sometimes astonishing growth.

For these authors, editors need to provide a lot of information, starting with careful definition of services and costs for each level of service. Scope of work may include education in storycraft and the publishing process, including advice about composing query letters, synopses, and jacket blurbs and taglines. Often, these authors’ dream is for traditional publishing success, which may or may not be appropriate for their work. It helps a lot if the editor has publishing experience in addition to language and writing skills.

Emotionally, this group of authors is “needy” in comparison to the pragmatists, so editors should be conscious of their own willingness to be drawn into ego support and where to draw the line. In contrast to the pragmatists “driving the bus,” the dreamers need to be chauffeured, or at least given an explicit road map.

(3) The in-betweeners

The third group, not surprisingly, is an assortment falling between the two extremes. They throw in the most variables for the editor to manage. The main challenge with such authors is defining what they’ve written and toward whom to target it, because they frequently believe that publishing is a single-step process that leads to anyone and everyone having access to their novel and wanting to read it.

For these folks, editors need to take extra time up front to figure out what the author specifically wants and/or needs. Pitching services to them might run the gamut from manuscript evaluation to a deep developmental edit, with copyediting or line editing as options. Like the dreamers, the in-betweeners usually require dialogue and sample edits to pave the way for a successful arrangement. They understand some of the logistics and value-added aspects of editing, but might have to be educated or convinced.

(4) Others

There’s a fourth group of authors that indie editors are wise to steer clear of, although editors don’t have to work hard to avoid this group because its members don’t really want to be edited — although they often have strong opinions about it.

Such authors fall into two camps. One disdains editors completely, while the other thinks editors overcharge. It’s rare to receive inquiries from either faction, but occasionally an author who recognizes that editing helps goes searching for someone to provide that help — at the cheapest possible price. An editor’s best practice when that happens is to steer them to one of the low-dollar bidding sites and wish them well.

Patterns and particulars

In simplistic terms, indie authors cluster into black, white, and gray areas, each seeking different levels of editorial involvement. Understanding these clusters helps editors form a strategy for approaching and accommodating their differences.

In all cases, frank and polite communication before committing to the job is imperative. So is a contract that spells out scope of work, and payment and delivery terms. The goal — always — is to avoid either or both parties receiving something different from what they expect and desire. Considering authors in broad types can also help editors evaluate their personal limits and design their service offerings for maximum mutual benefit.

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 three 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.net or through her websites, DocuMania and Borealis Books. Carolyn also reviews for the New York Journal of Books, and has presented on editing fiction at Communication Central‘s Be a Better Freelancer® conferences

May 15, 2021

On the Basics — Contract tips for freelancers

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 3:51 pm
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Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

Please do not share or reprint without prior permission from and credit to the author

 and owner of An American Editor.

One of my local professional groups recently held a session about contracts for editorial work that I couldn’t attend, so I put together a few suggestions that colleagues could use despite my absence. I ended up expanding those tips into this column.

Many freelancers work for years without contracts and have no problems. Others need a contract from their first client and day in business, while still others only need a contract once in awhile. Because we never know what could arise, it’s a good business practice to have your own version of a project contract, just in case. If a client offers a contract, read it carefully (especially if it’s full of legalese) before signing it, and make sure you understand everything you’re committing to. If a client doesn’t have a contract, ask them to sign your own. If they hesitate, assure the client that it doesn’t imply distrust but protects both you and them. You can also use the language “letter of agreement,” which can sound less scary or off-putting than “contract.”

You don’t have to hire a lawyer to produce a contract. Professional associations and online services provide templates that you can tailor to your business or assignments/projects (see below).

What you don’t need

Check every contract offered to make sure you don’t accept anything that works against you, such as an unnecessary liability clause.

If a contract includes a liability clause, be aware that most freelancers do not need liability or accident coverage. That’s usually boilerplate language that relates to large contractors or subcontractors working onsite at a client’s facility or operating heavy/dangerous equipment on behalf of the client. In some states or municipalities, freelancers can’t even get liability insurance. You can usually ask to delete such a clause from a contract, but if the client insists and you want the job, add the cost to your fee. Most of us also don’t have clients coming to our home offices, or employees, subcontractors or vendors at our locations, so we don’t need that kind of liability coverage. You should have homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, and added coverage for your work-related equipment, furnishings and supplies, but that would be about it.

A liability clause that says you’re responsible for anything that goes wrong with an editorial project is bad news. We rarely have control over what happens to a document once we finish writing, editing or proofreading it; other people in the publishing process can introduce errors, change quotes, leave out important details, add new but inaccurate information, etc. Don’t be bullied into saying you accept responsibility for the published version of something if you aren’t in total control of the material. You don’t want to be sued for something done by someone else.

Items to include

Start a checklist as a template for the contract elements you want to remember to include in any given project. Try to think of everything that could possibly be part of any project — hope for the best, but assume the worst. You can save it as Contract-Project X every time something new comes in and then tailor that version by deleting items that don’t apply to the specific project or assignment, but the template will ensure that you don’t leave out a crucial item that could cost you money or create other issues.

These are the minimum items to include in your contract template:

√ Nature/Type of assignment (writing, editing, proofreading, indexing, layout, etc.)

√ Scope (number of words, pages, hours, etc.; number of passes; whether fact-checking or plagiarism-checking are expected)

√ Pay rate or amount (by the word, hour, page, project, etc.); if by the page, define page

√ Deadline

√ Expenses covered/receipts required

√ Revisions

√ Protection against scope creep (spell out extra payments to be made if work goes over agreed scope)

√ Copyright/Rights/Ownership

√ Credit (work-for-hire projects generally don’t give you a byline or publication credit; editors and proofreaders often do not get credit, although you can always ask to be named)

√ Payment timing (on acceptance, on publication, X number of days after invoice)

√ Payment method (check, direct deposit, PayPal/credit card, etc.)

√ Late fee (charge to client if payment doesn’t arrive by X days after invoice date)

√ Kill fee (percentage of fee you receive if assignment is canceled for reasons beyond your control)

√ Format or program (Word, Google Docs, Pages, PDF, PowerPoint, Excel, InDesign, InCopy, etc.)

√ Confidentiality

√ Subcontracting (some clients will not accept having subcontractors work with you)

√ Complimentary copies

√ Permission to list or link projects/clients on your website

√ Emergency contact/process (in case something happens to you or the client, or the client’s client, that could affect being able to finish the project)

√Dispute jurisdiction/Mediation option

Adjustments over time

• Contracts can be evolving documents; you can add new items to your template that arise with any new contract of project. There’s often something you never thought of. On my first freelance newsletter contract, for instance, I included managing printing and mailing in what I would provide, but didn’t realize the client would read that item as included in what I would provide. Guess who had to pay for printing and mailing.  

Some editing and proofreading clients might expect or request guarantees of perfection or a specific percentage of perfection. Try not to be tied to such demands, which are usually impossible to meet, or to be bullied into a refund for any errors you might miss.

Resources to consult

The Paper It’s Written On: Defining your relationship with an editing client by Dick Margulis and Karin Cather; despite the subtitle, it can be used for all kinds of editorial projects (and is an excellent example of how a presentation can turn into a profit center; the book grew out a presentation by the authors at a Communication Center “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference)

√ Professional associations for samples or templates, as well as advice about creating or responding to contracts (Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) sample agreement for services: https://www.the-efa.org/resources/; Editors Canada contract template: https://www.editors.ca/hire/agreement-template-editing-services)

√ Websites for legal services, including contract samples or templates, such as LegalZoom.com and Nolo.com

√ An attorney (local bar associations can provide names)

√ Lawyers for the Arts (local chapters)

What other contract terms or items would you add to a template? What kinds of contract headaches have you experienced, and how did you resolve them?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) 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 owner of An American Editor. She created the annual Communication Central Be a Better Freelancer® conference for colleagues (www.communication-central.com), now co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (www.naiwe.com) and sponsored by An American Editor. She also owns A Flair for Writing (www.aflairforwriting.com), which helps independent authors produce and publish their books. She can be reached at Ruth@writerruth.com or Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

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May 10, 2021

On the Basics — Knowing why and when to let go

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

There comes a time in every person’s life, no matter what their career, to at least think about letting go of the work life, or some portion of it. For those of us in the editorial field, that can mean anything from finding a new full-time job to not renewing an association membership; dropping a certain client, project or topic; changing freelance service offerings; taking a vacation from social media; or retiring. It can be a challenge to know when to take such actions, especially because what we do — or want to do — in the heat of a moment can be very different from what we wish we had done after some reflection.

Boredom and burnout

It happens to all of us at least once: A previously interesting topic or type of project becomes dull and deadly borrrrring. Maybe you’ve written about, edited or proofread the same topic or the same organization for the 100th time — that feels like the 1,000th — or one year too long. Maybe the material was always dry and unexciting, but you kept going because the money was good (or desperately needed). You could just be tired of dealing with a routine, a commute (well, in pre-pandemic days) or certain co-workers. Burnout takes many forms.

Either way, you kept going because it was your job, it was a freelance gig that paid well, you thought it might somehow become livelier … Whatever kept you plugged in, it’s no longer working and you need a change; maybe even the drastic change of changing fields or retiring entirely. Before going that far, though, look at where you are and see if there are ways to make it more interesting. You might be able to switch departments or handle different aspects of what you do now. Ask, and you might receive.

If making a major change is nerve-racking or somehow not possible, you might be able to use volunteer or hobby activity as a counterbalance to the draggy work situation. Create time to do things that are fun and fulfilling, and the dreary routine might become more bearable.

Working isn’t working

One sure sign that it’s time to think, or rethink, a career is when you find yourself missing deadlines even though there’s no real reason for that to happen. You aren’t sick (thank goodness), there aren’t family crises to handle (also thank goodness), you’ve done the research and interviews, you’ve reviewed the latest style guide, you have the information and tools you need … but you just.can’t.get.it.done. You know that even long-time clients will only put up with so much delay on their projects, but you’re sabotaging yourself, and you don’t know why.

That could be one aspect of burnout, but whatever we call it, it’s a bad sign. And it means you need a change. You could try convincing yourself that there are rewards for getting these things done as needed, or setting false (early) deadlines to trick yourself into doing the work, but this kind of situation is hard to fix. Sometime just switching to another project or a non-work activity that is more fun can reset your interest in finishing whatever is stuck.

Age is kicking in

We also will all reach a point when we’re ready to — or must — retire due to age, among other considerations. Younger colleagues might want to keep this in mind as a reason to put money aside regularly to support yourself at that seemingly far-distant point (also worth doing just in case you get injured or ill). I hope that those of us who are approaching that point, or already there, have a healthy financial cushion in place so you can apply the brakes to your work life without worrying about how you’ll pay the rent or mortgage, and eat something other than cat food.

The good thing for many (I hope all) of us is that a certain age means Social Security income, and that might just be enough to call it a day and do something new. Or nothing!

Networking not doing the job

We join professional associations to meet colleagues and leaders in our fields, and many of us — both freelance and in-house — join one solely for its work-finding value: access to postings of job openings, often before or instead of such opportunities reaching the help wanted ads or recruiters. 

As most of you know, I’m a big fan of belonging to and being visible/active in professional associations. I belong to almost a dozen and hold leadership roles in six at the moment. I’m at the stage of my career where I don’t need them for training; in the two-way, give-and-take nature of networking, I’m usually giving more often than taking. I remain active, though, in part because I do continually learn new things from colleagues through association forums and discussion lists; some of my groups provide opportunities for members to make a few bucks through presentations and publications; having that network of colleagues to turn to when I do need help or advice is invaluable; and — as the poster child for extroverts — I love interacting with colleagues.

However, if belonging to an association isn’t working for you, it might be time to look for a new one to join. Don’t base the decision on whether you’ve gotten work by being a member. Some organizations are so large that you can go a full year or longer without nailing a listing from a standard job service post or message. The value is often more in the colleagiality, advice, resources, support and events. But again, if none of that is resonating, look into other places to get those benefits. There are a lot of associations. There should be at least one that works for you.

Just keep in mind that the people who get the most out of association memberships are the ones who participate actively. If you’ve never contributed in any way, even just by asking questions, you might want to give it a little more time, and effort, before leaving. 

More aggravating than energizing

Not quite the same thing as retiring or changing careers, but it’s probably time to leave an online group or discussion list when:

• You’re really, really tempted to say things like, “How does someone who calls themself a writer/editor/proofreader/whatever not know that?” or “Have you never heard of a dictionary?” in response to a question.

• You are beyond tired of seeing the same questions again and again. And again. Even though you know that many times, the askers are new to either the group or the profession.

• You don’t bother to respond to questions or comments because you’re so tired of repeating the same advice, no matter how useful it is and how helpful you want to be.

Whatever your work niche might be, there are lots of other places to meet, learn from and interact with colleagues. If a given group or list is more aggravating than enjoyable, look for a new community to join where you might feel more comfortable and energized.

Preparing to leave

The most-important aspect of leaving a job, project, client or organization is the how: how you leave, and what you leave behind.

The ideal is to be the one who controls that moment or process, although we can’t always do that. Like most people in any field, not just publishing or editorial work, I’ve been in one of those “I quit/You’re fired” situations with no time to prepare myself or my co-workers for my departure (luckily, though, with everything I was responsible for in good shape, and a colleague eager to step into my shoes; too eager, in fact).

I try to organize my projects so someone else could step in fairly easily if I were to leave. My computer files are pretty easy to understand. I also have a strong base of colleagues whom I could recommend for most of my current projects. I can afford to stop working whenever I’m ready. I’m not sure what I’d do with myself if I weren’t working, but I do have hobbies I could spend a lot more time on and a few other ways to fill my time when that moment arrives.

On the personal side, whether you plan to job-hunt, change careers or retire, be sure you have that financial cushion in place so you can make the decision that makes you happy.

What aspects of your editorial career are pushing you toward making a change? What do you think your next life will be like?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is the owner and editor-in-chief of An American Editor and an award-winning creator of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide. She also created the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues, now cosponsored by the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (www.naiwe.com) and An American Editor. She can be contacted at Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com or Ruth@writerruth.com.

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