An American Editor

June 24, 2015

The Proofreader’s Corner: Using StyleWriter4 Professional as a Proofreading Tool

by Louise Harnby

This month I’d like to share my experiences with StyleWriter4 Professional, a piece of software I purchased some months ago. I use this as a proofreading tool, though that’s not solely what the developers designed it for.

It complements the work I do with my eyes, increasing (1) the efficiency with which I work and (2) the quality of my output. Efficiency increases keep me happy because I can do certain tasks more quickly, thus improving my hourly rate; improvements in output quality keep my clients happy because they want as high a “hit” rate as possible.

What is StyleWriter4?

Essentially, StyleWriter4 is software that aims to help users with proofreading, editing, and plain-English writing. It comes in three versions:

  • Starter: the “cut-down” edition for those on a budget. It concentrates on plain-English proofreading and editing, searching the text, line by line, for long sentences, passive voice, and potential spelling errors. Style categories can be selected that enable the writer or editor to amend complex words, overwriting, abstract phrases or foreign words.
  • Standard: All the features of the Starter edition with additional functions to aid written communication, including identification of “high glue” and “high bog” sentences. (“High glue” sentences contain words that hold a sentence together, for example, prepositions, conjunctions, and pronouns. “High bog” sentences contain words that detract from a comfortable reading experience.) There are options for customization such as the ability to create categories for words or phrases that you want to ban or suggest.
  • Professional: All the features from Starter and Standard, plus the Editor’s List. This includes lists of all full words (alphabetically sorted), word frequency, spelling (unknown, questionable, or unusual words), bog (specialist words or words that may detract from readability), wordy (including passive verbs and word phrases), jargon (including abbreviations and jargon words), and pep (unusual or interesting words, and names).

A caveat on this proofreader’s usage

I bought StyleWriter4 because I wanted quick and easy access to the information in the Editor’s List – that, and nothing more. It’s important that I emphasize this straight away.

I’m not an editor, so I’m not in the business of worrying about passive voice, sentence length, overwriting, or overall style. Even though the Professional Edition enables me to use the tools to make amendments in relation to these issues, I’m not interested in them (because that’s not what my clients are paying me for) and I haven’t used the functions. I therefore can’t comment on the degree to which the software is effective in its claims to address these issues effectively.

So, what’s so great about the Editor’s List?

Why I use the Editor’s List

Sometimes we see what we want to see rather than what’s actually on the page. Being an experienced and professionally trained proofreader doesn’t make me immune to this problem. Rather, my experience and my professional training have made me alert to it.  That’s why I always generate a word list to flag up potential inconsistencies that my weary eyes might have passed over. Such a list allows me to make sure I check spelling errors (e.g., poofreader), consistency issues (e.g., Francois and François), context-dependent errors (e.g., behaviour and behavior). Not every issue will need to be attended to, but it will need to be checked. This is where the Editor’s List comes to the fore.

Running StyleWriter4 Professional on a Word document quickly and cleanly generates lists of words that I can use to spot potential problems I want to check, prior to reading the text line by line with my eyes. Generating word lists is all about spotting possible serious snags (e.g., inconsistent spelling of character or cited-author names) before the in-context proofreading starts. Looking through such lists gives me piece of mind and allows me, later, to focus my attention on context and layout.

Step-by-step summary

The following is a step-by-step summary of how I generate the information I need from the Editor’s List:

  1. Create a Word document. If I’ve been contracted to work directly in Word by my client, I’m good to go. If I have a PDF, I copy the text from the PDF proof and paste it into a Word file. (I choose not to use Acrobat’s built-in conversion tool because I’ve found it leads to problems with text flow, and I have to devote even more time to fixing these before I run any Word-based tools, such as macros. However, this is a personal choice.) I remove unnecessary word breaks from the document by using Word’s Find and Replace tool (find “-^p” then “- ^p” then “ -^p”); always leave the replace box blank. You may have a macro that does this for you more efficiently.
  2. Go to the Add-Ins tab and click on the StyleWriter icon. (Click on images to enlarge them.)
Word Menu with StyleWriter

Word Menu with StyleWriter

  1. Click on the arrow next to the Editor’s List icon: that’s the little picture of the chap wearing Men-in-Black shades!
StyleWriter Menu

StyleWriter Menu

  1. Select the list you want to look at. The lists I usually focus on are “All” (which includes the following separate lists of interest to me: “All words” and “Odds and ends”); and “Spelling” (which includes the following separate lists of interest to me: “Unknown words,” “Questionable words,” and “Unusual words”).

In the image below, I’ve highlighted the tabs of interest as they appear in the Editor’s List window, and the option at the bottom of the window to order the chosen word lists alphabetically or by frequency.

Editor's List Sample

Editor’s List Sample

I then scroll through the lists at my leisure, checking any problems I detect. In the image above, I’ve highlighted an inconsistent spelling issue that I’d need to check (behaviour/behaviour) in order to identify whether there is an error in the text. If I was working for a client directly in Word, I could use the “Trace in Text View” button highlighted at the bottom of the window. If I was working on hardcopy or PDF, I’d search for the problem in the PDF and then mark up on paper or on screen, as per the client’s wishes.

Why not use TextSTAT?

I used to use TextSTAT for creation of word lists for my proofreading work. I loved this software. I still love it! See “Revisiting an old favorite: TextSTAT, word lists, and the proofreader,” for more information about how I’ve used this tool in an almost identical way.

And TextSTAT is free, whereas StyleWriter4 Professional costs US$190 (or £123).

So, before buying, I decided to do a cost­-to-benefit analysis. If I was going to spend over a hundred quid on software, I needed to know how quickly I would get a return on my investment. I compared how long it took me to work through all the little bits and necessary to generate full-word and spelling lists using TextSTAT and StyleWriter4 Professional.

With StyleWriter, the process is a one-stop shop. I open and run the software in the Word file. I then click on Editor’s List and choose what I want to look at.

With TextSTAT, things are more fiddly. I have to upload the Word document, create full-word list, export the list into Excel, copy the Excel version into Word, alphabetize and check. Then I run a separate macro to generate possible list of potential spelling errors.

Using StyleWriter4 Professional saved me only five minutes for a 150,000-word file. However, when it comes to productivity in editorial work, marginal gains always count.

  • Cost: £123 (US$190)
  • Value of five minutes of my time based on my average hourly rate 2014/15 financial year = £3.34 (US$5.19) per job
  • On average, I do five large proofreading jobs a month = 5 × £3.34 (US$5.19) = £16.70 (US$25.95)
  • £123 (US$190)/£16.70 (US$25.95) = just over 7 months to pay for itself
  • I decided to buy StyleWriter4 Professional purely for the Editor’s List and haven’t regretted it. The choice for me was about the speed of the functionality, and its fit with my particular business model.

Considerations before you buy

Use the trial version before you buy. The website currently doesn’t indicate which version is available for download. It’s therefore worth emailing the developers to check which edition you’ll be experimenting with. If you’re a proofreader like me, and are considering the software primarily to access the Editor’s List, you’ll need to trial the Professional version.

View the video demos on the StyleWriter4 website, so you can see how the various features work.

Cost – it’s not free. If you are using alternative free software (such as TextSTAT) to generate checkable full-word and spelling lists, do your own cost-to-benefit analysis so that you can work out whether and when you will earn a return on your investment. You’ll need to know the value you place on X minutes of your time in order to do this. You may recoup your investment in a shorter or longer period of time than me because there are differences in our hourly rates, our fee structures, the services we offer, the speed at which we use alternative software, how many separate jobs we do per month, the word count in the files, and so on.

Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.

June 15, 2015

On the Basics: Newsletters as a Writing or Editing Service

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

At some point in the recent past, predictions were that newsletters would become defunct as people and organizations turned to the World Wide Web to promote their services, products, and activities. But newsletters continue to not only exist but thrive. Some may now be produced in electronic formats only, but print editions are still alive and well in many instances. With both businesses and entrepreneurs looking for ways to engage regularly with past, current, and prospective clients, and companies and not-for-profit organizations aiming to stay connected with employees, retirees, donors, and other important audiences, newsletters aren’t going away any time soon.

With that in mind, it’s worthwhile for publishing colleagues to think about writing for or editing newsletters as a business niche, as well as publishing our own newsletters to promote our freelance services.

Voice and scope

Writing for a newsletter is a skill like any other — it has its own conventions beyond good grammar, usage, spelling, and punctuation, and even beyond good writing in general.

What many people forget when they prepare to put a newsletter together is that a newsletter should focus on news. Not fluff; news. Not weddings, babies, bowling scores, etc.; news (although some newsletters do find a rationale for including some levels of such fluff — small chapters of larger organizations, for instance, might include personal news about members as a way to build connections and closeness, but a lot of professionals will find such information a little off-putting).

There are times when longer articles are appropriate for a newsletter, but the other key characteristic is that most newsletter stories are short. If a topic deserves more depth, it might make sense to keep the newsletter version short and tight and use the publishing entity’s website to provide additional details, insights, quotes, charts, and other material to flesh out the topic.

The writing voice of a newsletter is usually informal, although some organizations in the sciences and some businesses use a denser and more formal approach to newsletter content. The active voice is the best choice, and it’s fine to use the second person (you, we, us) to build connection with the readership.

Newsy and short: That’s the winning combination for newsletter writing.

Planning and process

If you are thinking about launching a newsletter, whether for your own business or someone else’s, plan to start small and to expand over time. If you aren’t sure there will be enough information to produce an eight-page monthly newsletter, start out with four pages every month, or four or eight pages every other month. It hurts reputation and credibility to have to scale back from an overambitious publishing plan, and it builds reputation and credibility to expand to more pages or a more-frequent publication schedule if the newsletter takes off.

If you have the opportunity to edit or produce a newsletter, fall back on one of our commandments for editors: Be prepared (see “On the Basics: A Fifth Commandment: Thou Shall Be Prepared”). If it’s for a client, ask for and read through everything about the organization you can find — old newsletter issues, if any; annual reports; the website; news clippings; grant proposals, etc. — both to see what’s been done before and to absorb something of the culture of the organization. Research the field or niche of the organization in general, and any national level if you’re working with a local or regional chapter. Talk to everyone — staff at all levels, clients, donors, volunteers.

Develop a story list for the first few issues — ideally, a year’s worth — and be sure to include a few “evergreen” or timeless topics that can be used if a planned article falls through for some reason. Popular evergreen topics include profiles of leadership, staff, volunteers, and clients/customers; trends in the appropriate industry or profession; new resources, from books to websites to events; unusual holidays; etc. Distribute the list to staff and other potential contributors — and invite them to add their ideas for articles.

In many organizations, a letter from the leadership is expected to appear in every issue of the newsletter — but the individual responsible for the column often doesn’t give the deadline much heed. Be prepared to draft a “from the president/executive director” column for approval; it will save you time and hassle, and should strengthen your value to the organization.

To put your stamp on the publication, look for people and topics that have not been covered recently. There is bound to be a pocket of people who feel left out and will be thrilled to be included in some way, whether you write about them and their programs or use their ideas for articles.

If employees or volunteers are expected to write for a company or organization publication, make sure they feel welcome. Provide brief style and writing guidelines. Give contributors bylines and consider including their photos, if they’re amenable. For those who are nervous about writing, assure them that you’ll make them look good in print by catching any errors. Suggest to management that contributing articles to the newsletter will be a factor in merit increases.

For a promotional newsletter of your own, keep the “me, me, me!” elements to a low roar, as the saying goes. Do let readers know of your recent achievements or news, but couch the information in ways that make it useful to others. Include how-to tips and resources of interest. And be sure to include an opt-out function so you don’t annoy people by sending something they may not want to receive.

The look of the book

Design is key to a newsletter being read and remembered, so don’t skimp on that element. There are plenty of template-based newsletter resources available these days, but the best course is to invest in having a graphic designer create a unique look for yours, whether it’s for a client or yourself. If you want to do the whole process, from planning to writing to editing to layout to proofreading, have the designer create a format you can replicate from issue to issue after the launch, so you only need the designer for that first issue. If you only want to do the writing and editing, and perhaps proofread the layout before posting or printing the newsletter, budget for someone to handle design and layout. A professional designer can provide a format that relates to the publishing entity, is easy and fun to read, yet still looks professional.

Newsletter design should be clean, uncluttered, and lively. That doesn’t mean a dozen typefaces, box styles, column formats, and other variables per page or per issue. It does mean an active writing voice and an interesting design that is easy to read and follow, with photos and graphics to brighten up pages.

The two computer programs best suited for designing, laying out, and producing newsletters are InDesign and QuarkXPress. Other programs may suffice, but aren’t considered professional-level publishing tools.

Version decisions

Producing and distributing an electronic newsletter is essentially free, while printing and mailing costs money, but don’t let that factor rule in dismissing the idea of a print edition. Keep in mind that many audiences have varying preferences for how they receive a newsletter. In any one company, association, or organization, some readers will still prefer a print edition while others will want an electronic one. Most organizations create one look and produce it in both formats. That’s easy to do; for my newsletter clients with dual format preferences, I work on the print version first, finalize that for the printer, save it as an interactive PDF, and provide the PDF for sending as an e-mail attachment or posting to a website.

Producing newsletters for clients can be a lucrative addition to a freelancer’s services; creating one to promote your business can lead to lucrative new clients while enhancing your reputation as an expert. Either way, the newsletter niche is well worth considering as you look for ways to expand and invigorate your freelance business.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

June 10, 2015

The Ethics of Distaste

It must be the season for distaste. On a couple of forums someone has asked about backing out of an editing job because they discovered that they dislike (choose one or more) the author’s religious views, the subject matter of the project (e.g., erotica, anti-something the editor likes, abortion, devil worship), the political views expressed in the manuscript, and so on. Surprisingly, for the first time in my lengthy career someone applied for an editing position and outlined a list of projects they would not work on as part of their application.

I do not think editors must take on anything that crosses their threshold. If a project offends your sense of morality, saying no is a kindness to both you and the client. Yet there is a but to that blanket statement. I do not think the rules are the same when you have agreed to undertake the project, have started editing, and only as you get into the project discover that the project makes you squeamish.

Let’s begin with endorsements. That you have edited a project does not mean you endorse the author or the author’s point of view. Editing a medical text that includes a chapter on euthanasia does not mean you believe or endorse the view that those who are dying should be helped to speed the process. Similarly, just because you edit a book on investing in Zimbabwe does not mean you support Robert Mugabe or because you edit a book on Catholicism that you endorse the Catholic Church over all other religious institutions.

I am an editor. I am hired because of my skill with language. My clients do not ask — and if they did ask, I would not answer — what my religious or political beliefs are. On the other hand, there is nothing illegitimate in a client saying upfront that he would like an active member of the Catholic Church to edit his book about Catholic ritual because such an editor is likely to better understand the content. In such a case, my answer would simply be that I am not the right editor for that book.

Because I am hired for language skills, I should be able to edit anything. Content is not the king, coherence is the king and that does not mean I need to endorse the views of the author; it does mean that I must have the skill to determine whether since and because can by used synonymously in the particular book.

It seems as if I am ignoring the repugnant and saying that an editor must accept repugnant projects. To the contrary, I am saying that before you agree to edit a project, you should freely turn away any project that impinges your sense of right and wrong, insists that you help someone who you would classify as a societal cockroach, demands that you set aside any sense of civilization and embrace barbarity, requires that you deal with language that you used to get your mouth washed with soap for repeating. The key is before you begin editing, you can reject a project for any reason, including because you are a hater of ______ (fill-in the blank with your own discrimination beliefs).

The difficulty arises after you have accepted the project and started editing, especially if you have spent a significant amount of time editing the project. At this juncture, I think your obligations and options have changed. You can no longer make that unilateral decision to not edit; now you need to discuss the project with the client.

At minimum you owe your client an explanation as to why you want to give up on the project. I do not think it is enough to say that “I find the material morally reprehensible.” I think you owe the client a more detailed and nuanced explanation. You need to detail how your distaste affects your editing and how this does the client a disservice. Whether you are entitled to compensation for the work you have already done is also on the table. (Suppose the project is a $5,000 project and the client has already paid you $3,000. Is the client entitled to a refund? Should you offer one?)

Because you want to terminate a client’s business expectation, you probably should have another, equally capable editor already lined up and willing to takeover. I think it is wrong for editor at this stage to simply bow out and not have found or offered to help find a replacement editor. (Let me add a caveat to this: I am speaking of instances where the subject matter is the problem, not the client. If the problem is the client himself and not the subject matter, I do not think you are obligated to find another editor; if the problem is both the client and the subject matter, you need to try to determine whether your distaste for the client is because of a distaste for the subject matter of whether the distaste for the client stands on its own merits. If it is because of the subject matter, then you should find another editor; if it is the client on the client’s own merits, then you should not help find another editor. By the way, all of this presupposes that the client is amenable to releasing your from your agreement to edit his project.

Assuming the client is willing to free you, then it is my belief that you should refund any monies paid you by the client. As we all know, each editor is like her own island; switching editors midstream often means that the new editor starts from the beginning. Consequently, it strikes me that the ethical thing to do is refund payments you have received.

What if the client is unwilling to release you? Now the pot boils over because we are back to the question of whether the problem is the client or the subject matter or both. If the client is otherwise fine and the problem really lies with the subject matter, then I think the editor is obligated to continue editing as agreed. However, in this instance, I would ask the client to acknowledge that he has been asked to release you because you are repulsed by the subject matter, that as a result of his insistence that you continue you will do so as best you can but that you have advised the client that an editor who is not repulsed by the subject matter is likely to do a better editing job. Editing subject matter that is distasteful is difficult but not impossible. I have done it and I am sure many of you have too.

What is impossible, however, is to continue working with a client who you find offensive, ogreish. In this instance it may be unethical to continue editing the project if there is a chance that your dislike of the client will encourage you to make editorial choices that harm the project. In this instance, I would stand my ground and insist on terminating the agreement (and refund any payments I had received).

The difficult situation is where the client and the subject matter may be distasteful. As noted earlier, it is necessary to decide why the client is distasteful. Is it because the client himself is distasteful or because the subject matter encourages you to view the client as distasteful. If because the client is distasteful, then stand your ground; if it is the subject matter that is influencing your opinion, then continue to edit.

If you have strong views about what you are willing to edit and not willing to edit, state what you will do and won’t do on your website or in your initial contact with a potential client. Make clear, for example, that you will not edit books that approve of _________ or disapprove of ________ (fill in the blanks). Be upfront. But remember that once you have agreed to edit a project, it is unethical to unilaterally decide to stop just because you now find the subject matter or the client’s approach to the subject matter distasteful. With ethics, there is no such thing as no fault divorce.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

May 13, 2015

It’s Fundamental & Professional, Too

One of the more widely disseminated and read essays on An American Editor in recent times was “The Makings of an Unprofessional Editor” in which I stated that one sign of an unprofessional editor is inflexibility. As we all are aware, there are other makings, too. Some are more unprofessional than others, but all contribute to making an editor unprofessional.

Today’s makings are not only small signs of unprofessionalism, but they are contrary to fundamental principles of good business. Editing is a business, at least for me. I know that for some editors, editing is a part-time, second income job intended to bring in enough money to pay for next year’s vacation or a new car, but not intended to be the primary source for money to keep the family fed, clothed, and sheltered. But that’s not me.

I run my editing service as if it were Apple or Microsoft or General Motors — to bring in new clients and new projects, to be profitable, to earn for me a generous income. Consequently, I approach decisions that affect my business with all the care and caution that I can.

Fundamental to my “business plan” is to be seen as a professional editor. Clients may not like an editing decision I make, but there is never a doubt that I am professional. I can support my decisions if asked, and if I encounter a problem that will affect schedule, I address it head on and quickly — I do not wait for a manageable problem to become unmanageable before tackling it.

Which brings me to today’s makings of an unprofessional editor: replying to emails and answering the telephone.

Simmering in my thoughts these past few weeks have been my dealings with a couple of colleagues — or perhaps I should say “lack of dealings.” The quickest way to chase away a client is to ignore the client; similarly, the quickest way to lose an opportunity is to not grasp it when offered.

I had inquiries from a couple of potential clients for some good specialty work. By “good” I mean above the usual pay and for reliable clients. But the work was outside what I do; I have been at this long enough (31 years) and I’m old enough (“old” covers it) that I limit what I am willing to do and the types of clients for whom I am willing to work. So when these offers came in, I decided to send the clients elsewhere.

But when I send a client elsewhere, I usually contact the person to whom I want to send the client to make sure she is interested in the job and has the time to do it to meet the client’s schedule. My first contact attempt is by telephone, my second is by email — there is no third attempt.

The First Attempt: Telephone

When I telephone, I call during “normal” business hours; that is, during those hours that most of us consider business hours. I realize that my business hours do not match your business hours, and that is fine, but how about a return telephone call sometime this century? And that’s a sign that maybe I am not contacting a professional.

Every business owner understands, or should understand, that returning a telephone call is important if you want to keep current clients and gain new clients. There are several aspects to this “problem,” but two to focus on are these: (1) the call should be returned within a reasonable time, which in today’s world means no more than a few hours, and the quicker the better, and (2) you don’t return a telephone call by sending a text message or an email.

As for the reasonable time for returning a call, it strikes me that there is something amiss in one’s priorities when, instead of either answering the call or returning it within a short time, you respond to queries that aren’t directed specifically to you or that aren’t directly about either a job you are doing or want to do on lists like LinkedIn or make new posts on Twitter or Facebook. I know that when I call a colleague and leave a message that says I need to talk to her about a job but before I get a response I see her post messages in a forum, I lose interest in sending work to her. I wonder about her priorities.

If I have taken the time to telephone, does it not indicate that I wish to speak with you, not exchange emails or text messages? Explaining about a job or a client goes much faster by telephone than by texting, yet colleagues respond to telephone calls by texting.

I think not answering the telephone, not promptly returning a telephone call, and responding by texting/email rather than calling are all indications of a lack of professionalism. If there is a reason why you could not respond either quickly or by telephone, then an apology-explanation is appropriate.

Remember this: Editing is a person-to-person business that requires people skills. Being a good editor is not sufficient to be successful; interpersonal skills are important. Consequently, courtesy and good business sense as regards people are keys and indicators of professionalism. Do you like it when your doctor or your plumber doesn’t return your telephone call? How does it make you feel? Does it make you think they value you as a client?

The Second Attempt: Email

If time passes and I do not get a return call, I attempt contact by email. Sometimes I send an email immediately after leaving a voice message in which I ask the colleague to call me as soon as possible as I have a job to discuss with her. The email specifically asks for a telephone call.

I usually get a response — eventually and by email. By this time, I have decided not to pass the job on to this colleague because she didn’t respond as asked and offered no explanation for failing to do so. (There is also the question of how prompt her response was.)

This, too, is a business fundamental. When a client indicates a response method preference, a good businessperson adheres to that preference. It does not matter whether the client’s reason is silly or for national security — it is fundamental that it is the client who is in charge at this stage and the last thing that should be done is irritate the client.

I think not responding in the manner requested is an indication that the editor believes she is more important than the client, which bodes ill for the future business relationship. As I said earlier, courtesy and good business sense as regards people are keys and indicators of professionalism. Ignoring client requests and not responding promptly, in the absence of apology and explanation, is worrisome. How will my manuscript be treated if I’m treated as if my preferences matter naught?

The Professional Editor…

The professional editor cares about the impression she is making. She knows that everything she does communicates to her client (or potential client) her professionalism (or lack thereof). Most of us want to be viewed as professional. Consequently, we need to think about how we handle the mundane aspects of our business — are we communicating professionalism or giving signs of unprofessionalism?

We spend a lot of time and effort creating our presentation to the outside world — making sure our email signature is just right, that our website looks professional, that our forum messages demonstrate professionalism — so it seems foolish to let those efforts be undermined the little things.

Do you agree?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays —

May 11, 2015

On the Basics: Don’t Burn Those Bridges!

Don’t Burn Those Bridges!

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

I’m a firm believer in “What goes around comes around,” in both personal and professional circumstances. The other day, I got a message from a colleague who had just heard from a former client with an urgent request to proofread something that had to go to the printer in two days. She had done freelance work for this organization for a couple of years, until a new communications director came in and, as is common with newcomers to a workplace who want to create an impression of being effective and activist, made a lot of changes, including canceling my colleague’s contract and bringing her work in-house.

My colleague’s reaction to the proofreading request? Not the understandable “Go to blazes, you jerks; you shouldn’t have dumped me in the first place,” but a chuckle, and the professional and smart “Glad to help, despite the tight turnaround time.” She charged for, and was paid for, her time. And it looks like the client will keep using her now, even though not as much as during their previous relationship.

She did the right thing: She didn’t burn that bridge in the first place, when the new director pushed her out of work she loved doing. She was understandably annoyed and disappointed at the time, but handled the situation professionally by accepting it and telling the new person, as well as the people she had been working with, to keep her in mind if things changed. Nor did she burn it when this new opportunity popped up to do so. (Of course, she might have had to say no if she was booked up at the time, or if the fee was too low because the new person changed the organization’s pay rates. There are good reasons to turn down work, but that can be done politely and professionally, without burning the bridge in the process.)

We never know when bad situations might turn around and change for the better. When you leave a job or “fire” a client, do it with care, because you may need that employer or client again in the future — sometimes just for a good reference, but sometimes for new work as well, as my colleague discovered. Even if you’re treated badly, be the one to take the high road.

One way to cope with being mistreated by a current, past, or prospective client is to write a response in the heat of the moment — but not send it. Let it sit and simmer for a day or two, then go back to it and either rewrite it in a more tempered voice, or delete it unsent completely. Some people will react well to a carefully written response and reconsider their decision or behavior, while others simply aren’t worth responding to because nothing you say will change the situation. By writing out your initial response, you get to vent your feelings; by not sending that initial response, you maintain your professionalism and stay on that higher road.

This can also relate to unfairly hurtful or insulting messages. Another colleague recently received an utterly horrible response to applying for an editing project. The prospective client apparently didn’t understand that the colleague was doing what had been requested — providing a sense of what the colleague would fix for the client’s material — and responded by insulting her professionalism in terms that were almost unbelievably crude.

Of course, that took care of any interest the colleague had in working with that prospective client, but she wasn’t sure whether she should respond to the insulting message. It didn’t feel right to let such unpleasantness go unanswered, but it also seemed unwise to continue to engage with the person. Advice from the discussion list where she posted about the situation was unanimous: Don’t respond, because this person is clearly unhinged on some level and responding would probably only escalate the behavior even further. Sometimes it’s better to let ugly behavior go unpunished than put oneself at risk of further ugliness, especially because most people who behave the way that prospective client did are unlikely to change their natures.

There are times when it might be worth responding to unpleasant messages from prospective or current clients. One option would be, as another colleague suggested, to say something like “Thank you for taking the time to respond to me. I tried to give you what you asked for. Because I consider it important to understand how I failed so I can improve myself, I would appreciate your taking a few moments to give me guidance. Your help in my education is greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance for your time and effort.” This kind of approach is a slight dig at the bad behavior but couched so that the recipient shouldn’t be able to take umbrage, no matter how they might like to do so.

It probably also is worth remembering that apparently wacko, out-of-control messages could have been triggered by trauma in the sender’s life with no relation to the matter at hand — not that that’s ever a good reason for behaving badly, of course. Refraining from responding, especially with anything snarky, could be a bridge-builder if the sender comes to their senses later and gets in touch to apologize (although some situations are clearly unlikely to fall into that category).

A “don’t burn bridges” policy can also apply to being turned down for a project in a pleasant and professional way, rather than an insanely inappropriate way, even when you were sure you were the perfect candidate, invested a lot of time and effort into your application, or received an encouraging response to the application. You can ignore the “Thanks, but no thanks” or “We chose someone else” message; you can go ballistic over having been strung along; or you can respond with something like, “Thank you for letting me know of your decision. Please keep me in mind for future assignments or if the chosen candidate doesn’t work out.” It might even be worthwhile to send the occasional message to such prospects to remind them of your existence and availability, although that should be done carefully, and not very often.

Another related aspect of protecting bridges is saving files from finished projects and past clients. Since it’s constantly getting easier to save material electronically without cluttering up your home office with paper copies of completed projects, most of us can easily and inexpensively retain versions of almost everything we’ve ever written, edited, proofread, translated, indexed, or otherwise worked on. Doing so can mean rebuilding the bridge to past clients, because people do get back in touch after years of not hearing from them, wanting to receive old files or get help in updating or republishing such projects. That has happened to me on occasion over the years, and just happened to a colleague who was able to profit from restoring an old document for a long-lost client, thanks to having that project file stashed in her online storage system.

We can’t predict how people will respond to our queries, applications, and projects. We can’t control the behavior of people who seem worth working with until they turn into clientzillas. We can, however, control our own responses and behavior. Taking the high road rather than burning bridges can only strengthen our editorial businesses.

Have you ever received horrible messages from prospective or current clients? How have you responded to difficult prospects or clients, or kept from burning a bridge in a way that paid off for you later?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

May 6, 2015

Business of Editing: Cite Work Can Be Profitable

A recent “Tip of the Week” at Copyediting Newsletter, “Citing Work: What Do Editors Really Need to Do?” by Erin Brenner, discussed the problem of editing citations. As the article pointed out, “what you do to citations and how long that takes can greatly affect your bottom line.” Unfortunately, the article repeated and reinforced the shibboleth that editing citations is not (and perhaps cannot be) profitable.

As I am sure you have already guessed, I disagree.

The Problem

The problem with references is that too many authors put them together in a slapdash manner, ignoring any instructions that the publisher may have given about formatting. And Ms. Brenner is right that straightening out the author’s mess can be both a nightmare and unprofitable.

Let me step back for a moment. I want to remind you of what I consider a fundamental rule about profitability in editing: the Rule of Three, which I discussed 3 years ago in “The Business of Editing: The Rule of Three.” Basically, the rule is that profitability cannot be judged by a single project; profitability needs to be judged after you have done three projects for a client. Yes, I know that most freelancers look at a single project and declare profitability or unprofitability, but that doesn’t make it the correct measure. Anyway, the reason I raise this here is that it is true that for a particular project, having to edit and format citations can make a project unprofitable. But then so can editing the main text.

I have edited many projects over my 31 years where I wished there were more references and less text because the text was badly written but the references were pristine. References are not the automatic key to unprofitability.

Also part of the problem is not being clear what is your role as editor when it comes to the references. Copyeditors, for example, do not (should not) “fact check” references. When I have been asked to do so, I have clarified what the client really means, because I have no way of knowing if a cite actually supports the proposition to which it is attached. If the client really does mean “fact check,” which has yet to be the case, then I decline the project; I am simply not able to devote the time needed to read the cite and determine if it supports the author’s proposition and the client is not prepared to pay me to do so.

The copyeditor’s role is to conform the format of the cites to the designated style and to ensure the cite is complete. Whether the editor is supposed to complete the cite is a matter of negotiation. In my case, I limit that responsibility to a quick look at PubMed. If the cite isn’t readily found there, a quick author query is inserted and it becomes the author’s responsibility. I use EditTools’ Insert Query macro (see “The Business of Editing: The Art of the Query“) and selecting a prewritten query to insert so that a comprehensive query can be inserted within a couple of seconds. One example query is this:

AQ: (1) Please confirm that cite is correct. Unable to locate these authors with this article title on PubMed. In addition, PubMed/NLM Catalog doesn’t list a journal by this name. (2) Also, please provide the following missing information: coauthor name(s), year of publication.

It is much quicker to select a prewritten query than to write it anew each time.

One Solution

Cite work can be very profitable. As with most of editing, whether it is profitable or not often comes down to using the right tool for the job at hand.

I just finished working on a chapter (yes, a single chapter in a 130-chapter book) that is 450+ manuscript pages of which about 230 pages are citations. In fact, there are 1,827 cites for the chapter, and all the journal cites (roughly 1,800 of the references) were similar to this:

6. Jackson, S.P., W.S. Nesbitt, and E. Westein, Dynamics of platelet thrombus formation. J Thromb Haemost, 2009. 7 Suppl 1: p. 17-20.

7. Roth, G.J., Developing relationships: arterial platelet adhesion, glycoprotein Ib, and leucine-rich glycoproteins. Blood, 1991. 77(1): p. 5-19.

8. Ruggeri, Z.M., Structure and function of von Willebrand factor. Thromb Haemost, 1999. 82(2): p. 576-84.

when they needed to be like this:

6. Jackson SP, Nesbitt WS, Westein E: Dynamics of platelet thrombus formation. J Thromb Haemost 7 Suppl 1:17–20, 2009.

7. Roth GJ: Developing relationships: Arterial platelet adhesion, glycoprotein Ib, and leucine-rich glycoproteins. Blood 77(1):5–19, 1991.

8. Ruggeri ZM: Structure and function of von Willebrand factor. Thromb Haemost 82(2):576–584, 1999.

As you can see by comparing what the authors provided and what the book style was, a lot of work needed to be done to go from the before to the after. Conforming 1,800 references the standard/usual way editors do this type of work — that is, manually, period by period — could take many hours and thus be a losing proposition — or by using the right tools for the job, it could take a few hours and be a money-making proposition. I was able to conform the references in less than 4 hours and for 3.5 of those 4 hours, I was able to do other editing work while the references were being conformed.

How? By using the right tools for the job, which, in this case, was EditTools’ Wildcard Find & Replace and Journals macros, which were topics of recent essays (see “The Business of Editing: Wildcarding for Dollars” and “The Business of Editing: Journals, References, & Dollars,” respectively).

[There is an important caveat to the above: I was able to conform the references in less than 4 hours because I already had my datasets built. Over the course of time, I have encountered these problems and I have added, for example, scripts to my Wildcard dataset and journal names to my Journals dataset (which now has 78,000 entries). If I didn’t already have the scripts, or if I had fewer scripts that would address fewer problems, it would have taken me longer. But a professional editor tries to plan for the future and the key to successful use of a tool is the tool’s ability to handle current-type problems in the future.]

To clean up the author names and the cite portion (i.e., 1991. 77(1): p. 5-19) I used EditTools’ Wildcard Find & Replace Macro. Because it lets me write and save a find-and-replace string and put multiple strings together in a single “script,” with the click of a button I was able to run several dozen macros that cleaned up those items. In addition, EditTools’ Page Number Format macro let me change partial page ranges (e.g., 110-19) to full page ranges (e.g., 110-119) automatically. It took less than 15 minutes for the full reference list to be conformed and should I face a similar task next week, I already have the necessary scripts; I just need to load and run them.

What took the most time was fixing the journals. My journals dataset is currently 78,000+ entries and the Journals macro has to run through 1,827 references 78,000+ times. But what it does is fix those incorrect entries it finds in the dataset and highlights them; it also highlights (in a different color) those journal names that are correct. What that means is that I can see at a glance which cites I need to check (in this case, just a handful). And while the EditTools Journals macro is running in the background, I can continue editing other files – which means I am getting paid twice (because I charge by the page, not the hour).

Is it Profitable?

Do I earn money on this? Yes, I do. Consider this example (the numbers have no relevance to what I actually charge; they are an example only): If I charge $3 per manuscript page and the references constitute 230 pages, it means the cost to the client is $690 regardless of whether the references take me 1 hour or 50 hours. In this case, to conform the references took about 4 hours. For those 4 hours, I earned $172.50 an hour as an effective hourly rate. The reality, of course, is that I still had to look over the references and lookup a few, and I actually spent  7 hours on the references altogether, which means my effective hourly rate would be $98.57 at $3 per page. (Had I charged $25 an hour, I would have earned just $25 an hour, approximately one-quarter of the per-page rate earnings, which is why I prefer a per-page rate.) As you can calculate, at a different per-page rate, the earnings would have been higher or lower.

And that doesn’t count what I earned while continuing to edit as the Journals macro ran in the background.

My point is that using the right tools and the right resources can make a difference. I do agree that if I had to fact check each reference, I would not have made any money at a per-page rate (nor at an hourly rate because no client would pay for the time it would take to fact check 1,827 references — especially when this is only one of 130 chapters), but then I wouldn’t have done the work at such a rate (or at all). Whether a task is profitable depends on many factors.

The notion that editing references cannot be profitable is no more true than is the notion that editing text is always profitable. Editing references may not be stimulating work, but with the right tools it can be profitable. The key to profitable editing, is to use the right tool for the job.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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April 29, 2015

So, How Much Am I Worth?

I recently wrote about rate charts and how I think it is a disservice to professional editors for an organization like the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) to publish such charts publicly (see “Business of Editing: The Quest for Rate Charts“). That got me wondering: How much am I worth as an editor?

In my essay, “The Makings of an Unprofessional Editor,” I discussed inflexibility as a key sign of an unprofessional editor. That essay, combined with the rate charts essay, got me wondering: If I am inflexible about my fees, am I on the road to unprofessionalism?

Why the sudden philosophical thinking? This morning (i.e., Saturday morning my designated/scheduled time to write my AAE essay) I had planned to write on a different topic, one I was struggling with, when my e-mail box started chiming — ding! ding! ding! ding! ding! — alerting me to five incoming emails. I glanced over to my inbox and there they were: five offers for (relatively) small editing jobs (range: 700 to 1500 manuscript pages).

(Those are small jobs for me. This past week, for example, I began working on a chapter that runs nearly 500 manuscript pages and has 1,827 references — not a single one of which was in the correct format/style for this book. [The book has more than 130 chapters.] That’s 219 pages of incorrect references. EditTools came to the rescue. The Wildcard macro let me reformat the author names and the cite information [year, volume, pages] in less than 15 minutes [see “The Business of Editing: Wildcarding for Dollars“]; the Journals macro took a bit longer, a little more than 3 hours, to correct all but a handful of references [see “The Business of Editing: Journals, References, & Dollars“]. The Journals macro took so long because the dataset contains more than 78,000 entries. I guesstimate that the two macros saved me about 25 hours of drudgery of removing periods from author names, reversing author names, etc.)

Each of the five jobs had problems. One, for example, was authored by a group of scientists who are not native English speakers/writers and it required a 14-day turnaround. Another required reformatting of hundreds of references in a 10-day schedule. A third required a “light” edit but had a 23-day schedule. And so it went.

The question I needed to answer for each project was: How much am I worth as an editor? (I can make the calculation because I know what my required effective hourly rate is. Not knowing that would make any calculation nothing more than a wild guess. To calculate your required effective hourly rate, see the “What to Charge” series.) Once I answered that question, I had to decide whether there was any flexibility in my worth. In other words, if I quote the client $5 per manuscript page and the client counters with $2 per page, do I stand firm or do I negotiate down? That’s really the rub, the “down.”

If I have decided I am worth $5 per page, but am willing to negotiate down to $3, am I really worth $5? Was I ever worth $5 if I am willing to accept $3. Of course, this is project specific because for one project I may only be worth $3 whereas for another project I may well be worth $5, but that doesn’t really distract from the idea that if I ask for $5 on a particular project and negotiate down to $3, perhaps I was never worth the $5 I originally asked for.

Some would respond that you are worth whatever the market will bear and you will accept, an amount that can change daily or even hourly. But that makes me a commodity, which is the effect of bidding. Besides, how smart is it to bid against one’s self, which is the problem with websites that ask you to bid on editing work. Do I really want to be seen as a commodity?

If I remain firm on my price — telling the client this is my nonnegotiable price for editing project X — does that move me down the road toward unprofessionalism? Or is unprofessionalism limited to editing, excluding pricing? Does price firmness send a message? If it does, is it a meaningful message in the sense that it will be recognized by the recipient and affect the recipient’s behavior?

In the end, I think firm pricing is the sign of professionalism rather than unprofessionalism. Editors fool themselves when they believe that negotiating downward has any positive side for them; it certainly does have a positive side for the client, but not for the editor.

If I was worth $5 a page initially, I will never be worth less than $5. My price reflects the demands of the client, my required effective hourly rate, my experience, my expertise, my skills. None of those things change downward between the time I give my price and the time of the client’s counteroffer.

So, how much am I worth as an editor? The answer depends on who is giving the answer. To the client whose book I helped transform into a gazillion-copy bestseller, I may be worth $200 an hour. To the packager who is used to hiring local editors for 50 cents an hour, I may be worth no more than $10 an hour. But none of these valuations matter if I haven’t a sense of what I am worth as an editor and if I don’t stand firm on that worth. I am always willing to charge more; I am  never willing to charge less.

Professional editors are able to provide professional-level service because they are adequately compensated. They earn enough that they can afford to occasionally not earn enough on a project. Adequate compensation ensures that the editor has the time to think and review; there is no need to speed up the editing process so that the editor can make room for the next project in hopes that the next project will mean better compensation.

Inadequate compensation is part of the problem of unprofessionalism. No matter how you slice the earnings pie, you still need to earn the whole pie to pay your living costs. The thinner the slices, the more of them you need to create a whole pie — the lower you see your worth, the lower you are willing to negotiate, the more projects you need to squeeze into the set amount of editing time to create the “whole pie.”

Lower worth also means less ability to say no, to turn work and clients away, which means less control over your own business. People give the advice that you should have so many months of savings so that you can manage through a dry spell or have the ability to say no to a project/client you don’t want. That is good advice, but only half of the advice needed. The other half is that you need to know your worth and not bid against yourself.

If a client’s only concern is cost, then the client is not really looking for skilled editing; the client is looking for the ability to say the project was edited, regardless of editing quality. There is often a penalty to pay for approaching a skilled craft like editing with that view. Of course, the benefit to me is that my worth goes up when I have to reedit poorly edited material.

Ultimately, the keys to the answer to the question “So, how much am I worth as an editor?” are these: knowing your required effective hourly rate; ignoring rate charts that provide no link to reality (because they fail to disclose the underlying data and/or fail to define terms) and that act as a brake on your earning ability; and refusing to bid against yourself by standing firm on your price (which assumes that you have an articulable basis for your price). This is a sign of a professional and successful editor.

What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays:

April 22, 2015

The Proofreader’s Corner: The Power of the Portfolio

The Power of the Portfolio

by Louise Harnby

Including a portfolio of clients and completed projects on your editorial website is one of the most powerful marketing tools you can use. Why? Because it’s shows you can practice what you preach.

The introductory paragraph on the homepage of my website tells potential clients how many years’ experience I have, the editorial services I offer, the types of client for whom I work, the national editorial society of which I am an Advanced Professional Member, my primary training qualification, and the number of books that I’ve proofread to date. Other pages on my website tell the client what I can do for them – for example, proofreading onscreen or on paper; the subject specialisms I’m comfortable tackling; the different types of mark-up I can offer. So far, all well and good — but how do I prove it?

Can do versus have done

The above information is, I believe, important and should be communicated to the client. But I don’t want just to focus my clients’ minds on what I can do; I also want them to know what I have done. That’s because what’s been done makes what could be done more believable. Inculcating a sense of trust and belief in a client is essential because each of us is competing with hundreds, if not thousands, of colleagues offering similar services. This is where the power of the portfolio comes in — it shows our customers that we are doers rather than just talkers. Anyone can set up an editorial business and write (or hire someone else to write) great copy that tells the customer what they want to hear. The portfolio takes things a step further, anchoring the message in a have-done practice-based, rather than could-do promise-based, framework.

But, oh, the clutter…

I’ll admit it, my portfolio web page is a dense beast. I made the decision to break it up across three pages in order to make information more accessible to potential clients: academic, fiction, and commercial non-fiction. But I’ve been in business since 2006 so, even with this remedial work, there’s still a lot of text. I’ve thought long and hard about this over the years, and on several occasions I’ve dabbled with the idea of decluttering, perhaps by offering a selected portfolio of completed projects. But then I’ll receive another request to proofread from a publisher, project manager, independent author or student, they’ll mention how impressive they found my portfolio, and I’ll put aside my urge to spring clean.

Some benefits of busyness…

  1. If you’re wondering how much information to provide in your online portfolio, and you are worried that including almost everything will make the web page look too busy, put yourself in your customers’ shoes and ask yourself whether you think they will be put off by your long list of completed projects, or whether it will generate a stronger belief that you can provide the solution to their problems precisely because you have shown you have done it before. I know this much: the people who’ve told me (gently) that my portfolio “might be a little on the heavy side” are not clients — they’re colleagues, friends, and my husband! All of their opinions are gratefully appreciated, but, alas, they’re not the ones hiring me, and they’re not the ones hiring you!
  2. An extensive portfolio, though busy, provides you with rich key words that may help make you discoverable and interesting to potential clients. I don’t believe it hurts me to have a long list of completed proofreading projects on my website that include author names like David Silverman, Jürgen Habermas, Mary Kaldor, China Miéville, and James Herbert, but that’s because I want to work for people who want proofreaders comfortable working in the fields of qualitative research, critical theory, international relations, speculative fiction and horror, respectively. Neither do I think it hurts me to have a long list of completed proofreading projects on my website that include titles such as Criminology and Social Policy; Ethics and War; Globalization Theory; The Transgender Phenomenon; A Visit from the Goon Squad; Beyond Duty: Life on the Frontline in Iraq; and The Mammoth Book of New Erotic Photography. These are more than titles; they include key words that may be used in long-tail searches (lengthier, more specific search terms) by my potential clients.

When considering your online portfolio, think about what these titles and author names tell your customer about what you have already done for other clients. Then consider how this affects their perception of what you can do for them.

Use navigation tools

You can include an extensive portfolio on your website without making your client want to gnaw off their own arm in a bid to navigate the information.

  • Consider separating the information into sections by genre, subject area, or the particular type of editorial service you provided.
  • Use multiple pages if you think this will add clarity.
  • Jump-to code is an excellent way of reducing the amount of scrolling the reader needs to do in order to move up and down a long web page (see how I managed this in “Website Tips for Editorial Pros: Using Jump-to Instructions” on my blog, Proofreader’s Parlour — I was surprised by how easy it was to incorporate into my website even though I’m not a techie!).

Test it!

Nothing is set in stone when it comes to any aspect of marketing your editorial business. If you’re nervous about what and how much information to include in your online portfolio, test different options: full portfolio of all works completed; selected works only; short summary including only a few key works. Keep an eye on your visitor stats (using tools such as Google Analytics or StatCounter), and do comparisons in six-month blocks to see who’s looking at which pages on your site. You may be surprised. Analysis of my own website stats (excluding my blog) in 2014 showed that my online portfolio represented 20% of all page views — second only to my home page.

Nailing the job before you’ve even quoted

If your client hasn’t seen your portfolio, the quotation stage can be trickier because you have to do all your selling at the same time as you’re discussing money. However, a strong portfolio that engenders trust and belief in a potential client before they’ve started talking to you means you’ve done a chunk of the hard selling work ahead of time. They can already see that you’re fit for purpose because of what you’ve already done. This instills in them a sense of professionalism that will be front of mind when it comes to direct contact.

In other words, a strong portfolio puts the value you are offering on the table ahead of the money that will have to leave the client’s pocket; the focus is, first and foremost, on benefit rather than cost.

What if I haven’t completed much work?

If you’re at the beginning of your professional editorial career, you probably won’t have an extensive portfolio. Be creative:

  • Consider using a narrative format that discusses the projects you have worked on in more detail, and how you delivered solutions to your client’s problems.
  • Expand your portfolio page to include testimonials from your smaller list of satisfied clients.
  • Include (with permission) a list of clients for whom you’ve worked.
  • Update your portfolio every time you complete a new project so that the list is always expanding.
  • Provide online samples (they can be made up) that demonstrate what you do when you are proofreading, copy-editing, or indexing. This shows you in a practice-based, rather than a promise-based, framework — these samples are things you’ve already done, not things you could do in the future.

Summing up

  • If you don’t yet have an online portfolio, get cracking and build one!
  • Tell the client what you have done as well as what you can do.
  • Focus on practice, not just promise.
  • Think of your portfolio in terms of what it tells people you want to hire you – your target customers — rather than your friends and colleagues.
  • Don’t over-fret about clutter — it’s about the quality of the information, and what it tells the client about your proven ability to solve their problems.
  • Consider the information you incorporate into your portfolio in terms of key word searches — that is, how it might help clients to find you.
  • Use navigation tools (including embedded code) to help your customer move around a busy portfolio web page.
  • Track page views to your site and test different portfolio styles to see what format you’re most comfortable with in terms of making yourself interesting to a customer.
  • Use your portfolio to put the value you offer ahead of the fee you charge.
  • Be creative if your portfolio is still in the early-growth stage.

Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.

April 20, 2015

On the Basics: Dealing with the Perennial Question of Setting Rates for Our Work

Dealing with the Perennial Question
of Setting Rates for Our Work

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Whether you’re a writer, an editor, or any other publishing professional, coming up with rates for your work is a constant challenge. We’ve talked about this before and we’ll be talking about it throughout this millennium and into the next one, but it’s always worth discussing, simply because it is a constant concern. Even established writers and editors have to struggle with this challenge, thanks to the continually evolving world of online communications, bidding websites or services, efforts by professional associations, self-publishing, newcomers to the trade, and more.

How to Charge

Publications usually pay for writing by the word and, equally usually, those rates are determined by the editor or publication. There rarely is much room to negotiate, but you might be able to push up a rate by demonstrating expertise on a given topic, general experience and a publishing history, and good old chutzpah. Some publications will increase the pay rate as you become more known and valuable to them, starting you out at the low end until they know you’ll produce the quality they need and meet the deadlines they set, and raising your rate as the relationship continues.

Some writers will accept a lower per-word rate than usual in return for a guarantee of ongoing assignments from a publication. Certainty can be a big factor in negotiating rates.

It also can be possible to justify a low per-word rate by how quickly you can wrap up an assignment. You might usually get $1 a word for magazine assignments, but really want to write up a certain topic or get into the pages of a certain magazine that doesn’t pay that rate. If you can dash off a 1,500-word article at 15 cents a word, research included, in an hour, you just made $225 for that hour. If it takes two hours, that’s still more than $100 an hour. That per-word amount is ridiculously low, but the assignment or project rate is quite respectable.

It gets more complicated for editing work. As you may recall from other discussions here about rates, editors (and proofreaders) might be paid by the word, page, hour, or project. Even by the character.

Keep in mind, by the way, that charging by the hour could work against you as you become faster and more proficient or efficient — the faster you do the work, the fewer hours you work, the less money you earn. By charging by the character, word, or page, you can increase income as you increase proficiency and speed because you get more done every hour. If you charge by the hour, you actually lose money by working faster and more efficiently, because you have fewer hours to charge for. More hours to spend on other projects, of course, but not more profit from any individual project.

As Rich Adin has discussed in a previous post (see Business of Editing: The Quest for Rate Charts), membership organizations like the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) provide some publicly available guidance on rates based on what some of their members report, but those resources can be as problematic as they are helpful. There’s nothing wrong with sharing them with clients who haven’t worked with writers or editors before, but they shouldn’t be treated as the only option or as mandatory. Quote them with clients who offer rates that are lower than you accept if they support your preferences, and feel free to point out that they’re only guidelines when you want to charge more than such a chart shows, even at its higher ends of ranges. See below for some suggestions on “defending” the rates you want to charge.

Some organizations — the Editors Association of Canada is one — provide member-only rates information. That’s helpful in setting fees while reducing the number of prospective clients who might say things like, “But the EFA/EAC/whatever chart says this kind of work should only pay $X/hour, so why do you want me to pay you $X-times-2?” but it doesn’t help educate clients who try to pay ridiculously low rates.

Defending What You Charge

Once you figure out what you think you should charge, be prepared to defend that decision with some clients.

There will always be clients who try to bargain us down to lower rates for our work. You may have to explain the value that you bring to the client’s project — your years of training and experience, your skill level, your subject knowledge if appropriate; in short, why you’re worth what you charge. Not defensively, but from a position of confidence in that worth.

I tell prospective clients that my rates are based on my skills, experience, speed, and wide-ranging knowledge base. I don’t mention my need to pay my bills and cover my expenses; it’s too easy to let such “defenses” look whiny and unbusiness-like. I focus on why I’m a great match for that project or client. If that doesn’t work, I let it go. Life is too short to spend time on haggling over pay rates.

Sometimes you have to brace yourself to stand tough and tall about your rates. You probably will encounter prospective clients who say they can find someone less expensive. Fine. Don’t let them bully you into cutting your rate. Clients who try to bargain you down to less than you think you should be paid are likely to be headaches on other aspects of working together, including getting paid at all. Wish them luck, tell them you may still be available if the less-expensive options don’t work out — and consider increasing your quoted rate if they do come back to you because the cheaper editor turned out to be less than stellar at doing the actual work. (For another perspective, see Business of Editing: “I Can Get It Cheaper!”)

Of course, it’s always easier to hold the line on rates if you aren’t desperate for work. That’s why it helps to maintain a savings cushion, if at all possible, because when we’re desperate, we cave.

To Post or Not to Post

A tangent to the vexing question of what, how much, and how to charge is whether to publicize your rates once you decide what they should be.

The advantage of posting your rates at your website or creating a rate card that you can send to prospective clients is that the information is up and visible, and “tire-kickers” won’t bother you if your rates are too high for them. The disadvantage is that some clients who might be worth working for won’t contact you for the same reason, and some who would pay more than you expect will only offer what you post. By posting your rates, you lose your flexibility and ability to negotiate.

Many of us prefer not to post our rates because we like the option of negotiating payment client by client, even if doing so might involve more work each time. That’s certainly my preference. By not posting my rates, I can charge what I think a project is worth — or my time and skills for that project. I can charge some clients more and some clients less, depending on the nature of project or the client. I can benefit from a client with deep pockets and negotiate with one on a more limited budget.

Pressure to reduce our fees won’t go away. Neither will competition from newcomers, or clients with lowball rates, or websites where you bid for projects and are hired based on how little money you’ll accept. Beyond figuring out what we need to comfortably cover our expenses and administrative costs, as Rich Adin has often proposed (see, e.g., Business of Editing: What to Charge), we have to decide on our value and stand up for it.

Here’s to success in getting paid what you need and think you’re worth!

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

Related An American Editor  essays:

April 8, 2015

The Business of Editing: Coding for Profit

When I edit a manuscript, I always edit in Microsoft Word. I do so because I have all sorts of tools available to me that make the editing process go more quickly and accurately, and thus more profitably. I edit in Word even if my client will have the manuscript typeset in Adobe InDesign because Word is better designed for editing than is InDesign.

Consequently, my work requires that I either insert codes in the manuscript that tell the typesetter/compositor how material should be designed (typeset) or I apply styles for the same purpose. Inserting codes can be a time-consuming process. Each element of a manuscript has to be coded and each code has to be typed precisely. For example, the code for a B-level head that immediately follows an A-level head might be <H2_after_H1> and each time it is required, it needs to be typed correctly. In addition, I am often required to properly capitalize the head. All of this information is contained in the design I am provided.

Some editors get lucky and do not have to both code (style) and edit a manuscript, but most editors I speak with do have to do both. The question is how can I make this a quick-and-easy process so that it doesn’t dramatically affect my effective hourly rate (EHR) and my profit.

The answer is EditTools’ Code Inserter and Style Inserter macros. They work similarly, except that Style Inserter applies styles from a template and Code Inserter types the codes into the manuscript. (A description of how Style Inserter works can be found at the EditTools website.)

Code Inserter is found on the EditTools Toolbar. It consists of two parts: the Code Inserter macro (#1) and the Code Inserter Manager (#2). (Click on an image to enlarge it for easier viewing.)

Code Inserter Macro & Manager

Code Inserter Macro & Manager

When I receive a project, I receive a design that tells me how to various elements of the manuscript are to be coded. For example:

Design showing codes & capitalization

Design showing codes & capitalization

Each of the numbered items in the above image show an element and the code to be applied to the element as well as the capitalization for the element.

The first thing I do is make use of the Manager for Code Inserter. It is through the Manager that I can create the Code Inserter macro.

Code Inserter Manager

Code Inserter Manager

The above image shows a sample code inserter file. I can either create a new file or open an existing file (#1). Because many books use either the same or a very similar design, I can create a “template” file that I can open and then just make minor modifications to the codes. Also, because I can save these files, when it comes time to do the next edition, I am ready to go if the design is the same or similar. If I choose to create a new file, the Manager opens but is empty.

In the design above, note that the A-level head is all capitals and is coded H1. I set the code inside angle brackets as <H1> to set the code apart from what might appear in the text. I type a name for the code in the Name (#2) field, which name appears in the main field (#3). I could name code anything I want. A good example is – Text No Indent, which appears at the very top of the main field (#3). How I name a code is important when we run the Code Inserter macro. In the Code field (#4), I enter the code exactly as I want it to appear in the manuscript. In this case, I typed <H1>, which appears in the main field (#5).

I also can tell the macro where I want the code to appear when typed in the manuscript (#6): at the beginning of the line (At Start), at the cursor’s location (At Cursor), or at the end of the line (At End). This instruction is reflected in the main field (#7). But also noteworthy are the other options listed below #6, particularly Include End Code. If I were to check this box, after inserting the beginning code, the macro would ask me to move to the location for the end code, where it would automatically insert the proper end code.

At the same time that the macro inserts the code in the manuscript, it can also do some formatting. The formatting options are listed at #8 and appear in the main field at #9. Note that at the bottom of the main field, the H3 and the H3 after H2 codes are formatted italic (per client’s instructions). The other option is to set the head casing (#10 and 11). This part of the macro applies the information contained in Casing Manager found under the Casing menu on the Ribbon.

The final steps are to Add or Update the entry (#12) and to Save or Save & Close (#14) the Manager file. With the Setup Hotkey (#13), I can assign a hotkey to the Code Inserter macro (not to the Manager). That is handy if you prefer to have the macro open and close as needed rather than remain open while you work.

Once I have finished setting up the Code Inserter macro’s codes, it is time to turn to the manuscript. Once I have setup the coding in the manager, unless I need to make changes, I no longer will access the Manager, just the macro. The manuscript is code free, waiting for me to change it.

Manuscript without coding

Manuscript without coding

Some editors like to precode a manuscript, that is, code it before doing any editing; some like to code as they edit. I am in the code-as-they-edit group. I find it easier to determine what an element is based on what I have edited. For example, in the manuscript above, is the head an A-level head or a B-level head? I know from having edited the preceding material that it is an A-level head.

The Code Inserter macro presents a dialog that reflects all of the names you have assigned the various codes in alphabetical order. Note the location of – Text No Indent (#2) in the dialog below.

The Code Inserter Macro

The Code Inserter Macro

Code Inserter gives you the option of keeping the dialog open while you edit (#1). It is the default; however, if you uncheck the option, that will become the default for the next time you open the macro. Unchecking the keep open option means each time you need to enter a code, you need to open the dialog, either by clicking on Code Inserter in the EditTools Ribbon (see #1 in the Ribbon image at the beginning of this essay) or by having assigned the macro a hotkey (see #13 in the Code Inserter Manager above). Because I use multiple monitors, I keep the dialog open but on the monitor that does not have the manuscript displayed.

With the Code Inserter macro, inserting code and applying the formatting options is easy: just click on the checkbox next to the name of the code (#2 and 3). As the below image shows (arrows), the correct codes are inserted and the head has been capitalized, each done with a single click of the mouse.

Manuscript with coding applied

Manuscript with coding applied

If you work on long documents and need to apply codes and format according to a design, using Code Inserter both speeds the process significantly and increases accuracy — no more mistyping, retyping, or forgetting to apply a format. Style Inserter is just as easy as Code Inserter to use. Its basic operation is the same as Code Inserter and its Manager nearly a duplicate.

Regardless of whether you code or style, every second you save in the process adds more profitability. As I have emphasized in previous essays, editing is a business. Just as our clients are interested in reducing their editorial costs, we need to be interested in increasing our profitability by being more efficient and accurate. The macros in EditTools are designed to do just that — increase profitability and accuracy.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays are:

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