An American Editor

August 5, 2020

On the Basics: The power of saying no as a reputation-builder

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Owner, An American Editor

As editorial professionals, whether in-house or freelance, how do we build our reputations for not only what we do, but how we do it and who we are?

It may seem self-evident that doing good work is the first and most-important element of establishing a reputation of someone worth hiring, recommending, referring or subcontracting with. There’s more to it, though.

How we do business contributes mightily to an editorial professional’s reputation as well. And a huge factor in that process is knowing when, and how, to say no.

Saying no

It might seem odd to think of saying no as a way of establishing or solidifying your professional reputation, but it can work. Saying no to projects or clients means you know what’s right — or wrong — for your editorial business.

It’s hard to say no to a client or project, especially when you’re just starting out or funds are low and you’re worried about how you’ll pay the mortgage or rent, but doing so can be essential to the health of both your editorial business and your reputation. Saying no means you’re standing up for what you need from your business and what you expect from the people you work with or for. It means you have standards for, and limits on, how you do your work, and are willing to enforce them. Having the chutzpah to say no when appropriate gives you power.

Those standards or limits, and how saying no relates to them, can include:

Hours when you’re available — and saying no to requests (or demands) that you work outside those hours.

Type of projects you will accept and work on — and saying no to projects that aren’t right for you.

Rates you will work for — and saying no to rates that are too low.

Deadlines you will accept — and saying no to ridiculous ones that would make you crazy.

Treatment you expect from clients — and saying no to rudeness, unreasonableness, demandingness (is that a word?) and any other behavior that disrespects you as a professional.

Getting the message across

You can use your website to present your policies on these kinds of topics, as well as creating a template for responding to messages so you’re prepared to deal with challenges when they occur instead of feeling as if you’re a deer in the headlights of an unreasonable, confusing or inappropriate request. Here are a few suggestions for relaying your “just say no” message without actually saying no (at least, not upfront).

Posting work hours

The best way to head off client calls or messages at hours when you prefer not to be available is to put your “office hours” at your website (you do have your own website, of course). Many colleagues use their websites to let potential and current clients know that they aren’t available on weekends or outside specific hours.

Some people will still push that envelope, but posting your office hours means you have a way to push back. It’s also possible to set up a form of autoresponse that says something like “Thank you for your inquiry. I will respond at 9 a.m. of the next business day to discuss your project.”

You also can still do work outside those posted hours if and when you want — or need — to do so. That can mean saying no to the client but yes to whatever you have to do for a project or deadline to work in your favor.

Choosing your projects

Many colleagues prefer not to work on projects with content that is erotic, violent, racist, sexist, anti-Semitic or involves some other aspect that might be difficult to read. That’s our right. Some of us also have specific preferences for the genres we want to work on: fiction vs. nonfiction, young adult vs. adult or middle grade, fantasy, sci-fi, memoir, etc. You can make those go/no-go decisions as your business policy, post them at your website and incorporate them into your e-mail template for responding to potential clients. Like posting your office hours, that can say no for you.

Again, some people just don’t read such material and might contact you anyhow with the offer of work you don’t want, for whatever reason. You don’t even have to quote a reason, but it’s immensely helpful to be able to couch your no in terms of “Thank you for your inquiry, but as you can see from my website, I don’t work on projects such as this.”

Standing up for your rates

Most of us start out charging at the lower end of rates or accepting salaries at the low end of the bar for a variety of reasons, from lack of experience to lack of confidence. If you haven’t had any formal training or experience in your corner of the editorial world, are just launching a freelance business, want to try working in a new genre or topic area, or have no way of confirming that you’re good at what you do (or want to do), it makes sense to charge less rather than more. That goes for salary levels when you’re job-hunting in the traditional work world, as well as for freelancing.

Keep in mind that if you under-charge, you run the risk of spending so much time on low-paying projects to generate enough income to pay your bills that you won’t have the time or energy to find better-paying work.

Just be sure to, first of all, research rates through professional organizations and resources (such as Writer’s Market information, the Editorial Freelancers Association chart of common rates, conversations with colleagues, etc.) for a sense of what you might be able to charge based on your training, experience and skills.

Second, look for ways to defend what you want or need to charge. Your rates or salary should reflect that combination of training, experience and skill level with the added factor of what you need to cover your expenses and have something left for fun. An American Editor founder Rich Adin calls this your effective hourly rate: the income you have to generate to live your life on a level that is not just sufficient but rewarding; a rate based on you, not on someone else, whether a colleague or a client.

If you’re low on training, get some. Look to professional associations, college certificate programs and business resources to do two things: improve your knowledge and skills, and bolster your credibility. If you’re low on experience, look for ways to do more editorial work, even if it’s on a volunteer basis or at a starting-out rate. If your skills seem below par, look for volunteer opportunities, whether with a professional association or a charity you believe in, to do the kind of work you’re interested in and build up those skills. You might even look for a mentor who could help you strengthen your overall knowledge and specific areas of weakness.

The more you can show that you’re skilled and qualified, the easier it will be to say no to prospective clients that only pay peanuts.

Practice makes perfect

Because the necessity to say no is going to crop up for all of us, be prepared. Write out a script for how to turn down work that isn’t right for you, rates that don’t respect you, deadlines that are impossible for you to meet, etc. It can be brief. It doesn’t have to go into any detail or offer any excuses for your no. You might also want to create a backup script for the insistent client who doesn’t want to hear your no.

If you think about and plan for these moments beforehand, it will be much easier to stand up for what you want your business and your reputation to represent.

The bottom line

So how do all these aspects of saying no contribute to establishing your reputation?

Steeling yourself to say no when appropriate creates the impression of someone who is confident enough to have standards and stand up for them. Someone who is strong enough to resist pressure to behave in ways that would undermine their success and their ability to continually improve the quality of their editorial business. Someone who is more than reliable and skilled.

If you develop your ability to say no, you will establish your reputation as someone who is not only an editorial professional worth hiring, but one who can’t be scammed, scolded, underpaid or pushed around. That’s a reputation worth having.

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 — as of 2019 — owner of An American Editor. She also created and co-hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (www.communication-central.com), with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (www.naiwe.com), sponsored by An American Editor. She can be reached at Ruth@writerruth.com or Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

July 29, 2020

On the Basics: Webinar on “generalist vs. specialist” coming up on August 12

Time to toot my own horn a bit, which I’ve been remiss about in recent weeks.

As you can see, I’m presenting a webinar for the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) about whether to position your freelance business — or even your in-house identity, now that I think about it — as a generalist vs. a specialist. The session will be held from 7–8 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, August 12. To register, go to:

Generalist vs. Specialist—Which Works for You? (webinar) SU20

If you missed my pearls of wisdom about “Basics of Proofreading” and “Freelancing 101” in recent webinars, recordings can be purchased from the EFA. Nothing like a “Ruth-full” library!

Being able to do online/virtual presentations in the current challenging times is both rewarding and humbling. My heartfelt thanks to all who have signed up for or purchased recordings of these events. I love sharing information and appreciate opportunities to help colleagues do better at their editorial work.

January 22, 2018

The Business of Editing: Explaining the Price of Editing

Richard Adin, An American Editor

The hardest thing to do is to explain to a client why she should be willing to pay the price you are asking for the work she wants done. It is even harder to explain to a publisher/packager client why their offer is too low and why they should pay you more.

Ultimately, the reason for the difficulty is that we have no concrete way to demonstrate the value of quality editing. Based on conversations I’ve had with colleagues, I’m not convinced that most colleagues truly understand the value of their work.

Sure we all know that editing can improve a manuscript, and some clients not only know that but believe it. Too many colleagues and far too many clients (which includes potential clients), however, are of the mindset that only price matters because anybody who can spot the typo is a “great” editor.

There is at least a partial solution to the explanation problem, and it is something that every author and editor, regardless of where in the world they are from, is likely familiar with — Star Wars: A New Hope, the original Star Wars movie. The video that follows tells how this iconic story was headed for disaster but was saved by great editing, which resulted in a multibillion dollar empire:

(A special thanks to Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader for bringing this video to my attention.)

The video should be watched from beginning to end by editors and authors alike because it shows the value of high-quality editing. More importantly, it illustrates why making price more important than editing quality is putting the cart before the horse.

Carefully consider what the editor did to bring logical flow and interest to a story that was understood by the author but was garbled in the transformation from author’s imagination to movie. Exactly what occurred in the editing of Star Wars: A New Hope is what occurs when a well-qualified editor applies his skills to a manuscript.

Imagine if George Lucas had limited his editor search criteria to least-expensive editor, rather than setting his criteria to find the editor best-suited for the task and price demoted to a secondary consideration. The Star Wars franchise likely would never have been and Star Wars would have remained a fantasy in his imagination rather than a fantasy shared by millions across the globe.

Complicating the problem for editors is that every person who has identified a typo on a printed page thinks she is a skilled editor, thereby creating an endless supply of “editors” from which a client can choose. Compounding the oversupply problem is that few editors have any understanding of how to value their work and set a price. Too many editors charge too low a price for high-quality editing, largely because they either have no clue as to what they truly need to charge or what they should charge so that clients view editing as a desirable, needed, skilled service. The consequence is that the editing profession as a whole suffers from oversupply and underpayment.

Editors need to rethink how they approach their profession. They need to show clients that there is a measurable difference between an editor of low skills and and an editor of high skills and that high-skilled editors both deserve and require fees commensurate with their skill level. In addition, highly skilled editors need to refuse work from clients who refuse to recognize that they are highly skilled and thus worthy of higher pay. It strikes me as wholly unacceptable for a client to insist on paying an editor with decades of experience editing hundreds of manuscripts in the subject area the client seeks the same amount as the editor with a year or two of experience with little to no subject matter expertise or experience. It also strikes me as wrong for the experienced editor to grumble about the low pay yet accept the job.

I recognize that few editors are willing to turn away low-paying work, preferring some work to no work. In that case, however, the editor needs to adjust the level of editing quality to match the level of pay. An editor being paid a Yugo fee should not give Rolls Royce quality editing in return.

I encourage colleagues to prepare a “pitch” for the value of high-quality editing, including an explanation as to why smart clients will pay for that level of editing. The “pitch” could (perhaps should) include a video, similar to the Star Wars one above, that illustrates how high-quality editing can be the difference between disaster and hit, and include an explanation of not only how you can provide that high-quality editing but why you are worth the higher price you are asking. Creating a marketing pitch can be a key step on the path to better pay, better job offers, and better clients.

Do you have a pitch to share? Or a video that you use to explain the value of editing?

January 10, 2018

On the Basics: So You Want to be a Blogger

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

There are thousands of blogs already “out there,” but that hasn’t stopped blogging from continuing to expand. Given the increasing scope and popularity of this communication channel, it might be time for you to take the plunge and join the blogosphere. Here are a few things to consider before or when doing so.

First Steps

Before committing to blogging, take some time to plan what you’ll do and say. First and foremost, have a point, purpose, and original angle. Before you start blogging, survey the landscape — see who else is posting about the topic or profession you have in mind. A lot of colleagues are already blogging about all aspects of the publishing profession, so make sure you have something unique and original to contribute to the blogosphere before you jump in with a blog of your own. It might make more sense to become a contributor to an existing blog that relates to your interests than to start your own, similarly to the columnists here at An American Editor. (That could help with the next point as well.)

Set a schedule. Decide how often you’ll post new material to your blog. Try not to be overly ambitious: It might seem like a good idea to make new entries every day, and it can seem easy in the first blush of launching a new blog, but posting daily is a lot of work, and can be hard to maintain. Few things can erode your credibility more than having to cut back on the frequency of your posts because you can’t keep your blog going at that level. You’re better off starting by posting once or twice a week and expanding to more often if you find you have enough to say for increased frequency (the same goes for those who launch marketing or promotional newsletters). Being a contributor to an existing blog can help with reducing the pressure to produce more than you really have time for.

Keep it tight. People today are swamped by so much information coming at them from so many angles that it’s hard to stand out, much less establish a regular following. People are more likely to read shorter blog posts than longer ones. If you have a topic that deserves more detail and depth, consider breaking it into a series of two or three parts.

Plan for the future. Before formally launching your blog, pull together a few posts in advance that aren’t time-sensitive. That will make it easier to establish momentum and keep it going. If something news- or opinion-worthy crops up before you use your prepared posts, so much the better — craft something to respond to the timely topic and save one of the existing ones for the next opening in your publishing cycle.

To enhance your planning process and reduce the pressure to produce, keep an eye on a year’s calendar to find events and celebrations that could tie into your blog posts. One that comes immediately to mind is National Punctuation Day in September, but other holidays could relate to your particular topic. So could events such as conferences of organizations in your area of the field. And a new year is almost always fodder for at least one blog post about personal or professional resolutions, goals, and new directions.

Building Your Audience

Once you’re out there in the blogosphere, you’ll need a following. There’s little pointing having something worth saying if no one is reading what you post.

Start by notifying everyone appropriate in your contacts of your new offering. That may not mean everyone you know — who might be interested in your blog will depend on the topic.

Post information about your blog to your Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media accounts. In doing so, let colleagues (and clients, if appropriate) know that you’ll be open to their responses. Every time you publish a new post to the blog, announce it in those social media venues.

If you belong to any professional organizations, send a news item to be published in their newsletters and other communications outlets to members. You might even get coverage if you don’t belong to a given organization but your blog covers information that is relevant to its members.

Put a link to the blog at your website, and add its URL to your e-mail sigline (signature). If you’re low on business cards, add the URL to it with your next order.

Look for opportunities to mention the blog in responding to social media and blog posts of colleagues and organizations you belong to.

Making it Better

If you already have a blog, you might want to make it better, especially if you aren’t getting very much readership or response to it. Improving a blog usually involves targeting a readership more effectively, writing more clearly and coherently, looking for new ideas and angles, getting professional editing or proofreading help, etc.

One way to make your blog more interesting to more readers would be read not only the blogs of colleagues but new and different newspapers, magazines, newsletters, etc., and perhaps watching new television programs, that expand your view of the world. This would help you stay up to date on news and trends in the world at large and the profession, giving you more to write about with greater depth and scope.

Making your blog better also could mean asking colleagues to contribute posts, which would expand your blog’s reach to new readers, provide new and different insights, and take some of the pressure off you to constantly produce new material.

Whether you blog about our profession or something more personal, here’s to a successful effort.

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, which hosts an annual conference for colleagues, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

December 6, 2017

On the Basics: The Holiday Season Is Upon Us — How Do We Manage Client Greetings?

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Freelancers face this issue every year: How do I greet and thank my clients/customers during the December holidays? Is it appropriate to send gifts to my clients/customers?

I’m a big believer in end-of-the-year gestures for my clients. Sending a holiday or end-of-the-year greeting, with or without a gift, is a good business and marketing move. Expressing appreciation for a client’s business shows you don’t take them for granted. With clients you only hear from once in awhile, that holiday greeting is also a great reminder of your services and contributions to the success of their business or projects. The arrival of my holiday greeting always triggers at least one response along the lines of, “What great timing – your package made me realize that we need your writing/editing/proofreading services for this new project. Are you available for…?”

Colleagues have noted that they get similar responses when they announce that they’re going on vacation (whether for the December holidays or at other times of the year). There’s something about saying you won’t be available that makes clients want you for a project at that time.

I also try to remember to send holiday or new year’s cards to clients I haven’t worked with in the past year. That’s almost a guarantee of new business in the new year!

Because I don’t know what everyone celebrates, I use a thank-you message rather than “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Chanukah,” or even “Happy Holidays.” I respect everyone’s choice of holiday to celebrate, and I don’t assume that everyone celebrates the same things that I do.

I collect items throughout the year to use as part of a small gift box for each client. Since I’m known for being somewhat obsessed with all things purple, these tend to be purple candies and knick-knacks. Each box includes a mug and pen with my business contact information, business card, and greeting card. I usually include packets of local coffee or hot cocoa, and exotic teas. Some years, I’ve sent candles (purple, of course – lilac-scented, in honor of our Rochester lilacs!) or seed packets with appropriate language in the card. The overall value is well within the limits that government employees are allowed to accept, and the nature of the gift stands out from the common gift basket, generic chocolate, bottle of wine, etc.

Customizing your holiday gift is the ideal. Even if some of the elements in mine are not labeled or marked with my business info in some way, key pieces are branded with my logo, e-mail address and/or website URL, and phone number: a mug or wine glass; a pen with the same information; my business card, of course; the greeting card itself. I haven’t used a professional printing service for the greeting card yet, but am seriously thinking about it for this year. I’ve accumulated a major stash of thank-you cards for this purpose and I’ve been creating my own greeting to print, sign and insert, something more polished might be a better idea.

Timing may be everything, but we can be flexible. If the month of December gets really crazy, I sometimes send out my holiday greeting and gift in early January as more of a “thank you for your business last year, here’s to a great new year together” message than one that references the holidays. (The advantage of waiting until January is that my greeting doesn’t get lost in the flood of everyone else’s holiday messages, not to mention all those catalogs and other advertising junk.)

Assembling the boxes (free from the post office) and filling them is time-consuming, and time can get away from us, so some colleagues may prefer to reach clients with just a card for the holidays. That’s fine — there’s no requirement to send a gift, and not everyone will feel comfortable doing so. One way I plan to reduce the time and hassle factor on my own behalf is to pay a friend’s teenager to help me with putting the boxes together and filling them up. I envision a day or two of the living room being carpeted with boxes lined up to receive their fillings, and a mini assembly line for the two of us to use in putting everything in each box.

As for practical considerations, inexpensive gifts and the cost of sending them are tax-deductible business expenses as marketing or promotions (at least under current guidelines), making them not only a gracious gesture but a practical investment in your business.

I enjoy the opportunity to tell my clients that I recognize that my business would not exist without them, and to let them know that they mean more to me than just a payment with each completed project. My clients seem to enjoy receiving this annual gesture, and the goodwill it creates is as valuable as when it triggers a new assignment.

Here’s to a happy holiday season and profitable new year to all my An American Editor colleagues!

How do you handle client greetings at the end of the year?

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, which hosts an annual conference for colleagues, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

July 24, 2017

From the Archives: The Business of Editing: The Art of the Query

(The following essay was originally published on
 An American Editor on December 8, 2014.)

Over the years (31 years in another month), I have had the privilege of working with a lot of colleagues and being on the receiving end of a lot of job applications. That has given me an insight into how editors view aspects of their job and how they go about applying for work.

In a previous essay, Business of Editing: Losing the Chance, in “Error 6” I discussed the copyediting test and how it is possible to tell whether an applicant passed or failed the test within one minute. One way to tell is to look at any queries. (Of course, the lack of any queries can also be very revealing.)

Most editors do not understand the variety of roles that queries fulfill. If you want to kill future prospects, a quick way to do so is with poor, no, or little (when more than a little is expected) querying. Queries should be viewed as playing these roles, at minimum:

  • to ask the author a question
  • to demonstrate to the author and to the client (assuming your client is not the author) that you are knowledgeable
  • to explain
  • to market your skills
  • to make the author and client comfortable with you
  • to demonstrate why you are the editor that the author and client should always seek out

Each of these roles is linked to your success as a professional editor.

To Ask a Question

Editors get tired of writing the same query repeatedly, chapter after chapter, even project after project. Repetition is deadly but let’s face it, many of the queries we need to ask remain the same author to author, client to client, and project to project. After a while, there is a tendency to scale back on the query because it is tedious to retype. This is where a tool like EditTool’s Insert Query macro is a solution to a problem.

What I have seen is repeat queries being truncated. The first time, maybe the second time, the editor will write:

AQ: There is no section by this title in this chapter. Is this the correct section title? Please either provide the correct section title or modify the incorrect section title.

But it isn’t long before that query becomes “AQ: Please provide the correct section title,” which shortly thereafter becomes “AQ: Need correct section title,” which soon becomes “AQ: Section title?” — or, which also often happens, the query starts and finishes as “AQ: Section title?”

The first query identifies the problem, asks the question, and offers alternative solutions — it shows that you are a professional editor. But the pared down versions show laziness and a lack of understanding of how to communicate with an author. More importantly, the message you are sending your client — whether the client is the author or the publisher — is that you are not a professional.

The pared down versions also suffer from being incomplete. How do you expect the author to understand what the problem is and the solutions are from a cryptic message? (The worst queries I have ever seen were “AQ: ?” How can one form a response? My initial reaction was to reply “ED: !!!”)

To Demonstrate Knowledge and Explain

We all have lots of competition. One way we convince clients to hire us again or to recommend us to colleagues is by demonstrating our knowledge, whether it be of the subject matter or of something else appropriate.

For example, it is common in books that I edit for authors to confuse “recur” and “reoccur.” Consequently, where I think they may have confused the terms, I ask:

AQ: Recur/recurrence mean to happen again repeatedly; reoccur/reoccurrence mean to happen again but only once. Which do you mean here?

This query demonstrates my knowledge of language and raises an important point, because it does matter greatly whether something happens repeatedly or just once again. (And I make my life easy by having this as a standard query in my EditTools Insert Query dataset so I only need to select it and insert it, not type each time I want to use it.)

Two additional examples of queries that I routinely use in my editing work are:

AQ: Should “/day” be changed to “/dose” or should “divided” be added before “bid”? As written it appears that the daily dose is to be given multiple times a day. Please make clear the frequency.

and

AQ: Do you mean “e.g.” rather than “i.e.”? When the items are only examples and the list is not all inclusive, “e.g.” is used. If the listed items are all the possibilities, then “i.e.” is used. If “i.e.” is correct, consider moving the material from the parens and making it a proper part of the sentence.

Notice the messages I am communicating. First, I identify the problem; the author does not have to guess. Second, I explain why it is a problem. Third, I provide solutions. Both the author and the client can see that I am carefully reading the manuscript, I am thinking about the manuscript (i.e., I am focused), I care about the manuscript and the author, and, above all, that I am knowledgeable about editing — that is, that the editor’s primary role is to help the author communicate clearly and that one tool in the editor’s toolbox for doing that is for the editor to communicate clearly with the author.

The point is that queries can serve multiple purposes and I want all of those purposes to reflect positively on me.

To Market and to Comfort

Every author is anxious about the editor. After all, the author has invested time and effort into the manuscript and wants it treated with respect. For those of us who work indirectly with authors, the author’s anxiety about us is even greater. And because we work for publishers or packagers, the publishers and packagers also experience anxiety albeit at a much lesser level than authors. Their concern often revolves around how the author will perceive and receive the editor.

You put everyone at ease when you demonstrate your skills and communicate effectively. Perhaps more importantly, if you view queries as your opportunity to establish your credentials with the author and client, you will be more cautious in how you write them, which means that you are less likely to antagonize either the client or the author.

I recall a book I was asked to review after it had been edited because the author was angry over the editing and had spent a considerable amount of time both berating the inhouse production staff for having hired the editor and in correcting what the author perceived as editor errors.

As I went through the editing it became pretty clear that the editing was well done; the problem was the queries. They were written in such a manner as to convey the editor’s contempt for the author. I admit the author was somewhat lazy and that had I been the editor, I, too, would have been cursing the author — but the difference is that I would not have let those feelings permeate the queries: neither the author nor the client should ever think that I have anything but admiration for the author’s work.

The editor hadn’t comforted the author or the client nor had the editor marketed herself well. The author’s anger might be ratcheted down a bit, but both the author and the client will hesitate to use the editor again, and the author will let fellow authors know as well.

To Demonstrate Why I am The Editor

Presumably we are all well-skilled, well-qualified professional editors. Put us in a bag, shake us up, and pull one of us out at random and you should get a good quality editing job. But that doesn’t bring me any business, and bringing in business is the name of the game. (If you haven’t read it, let me recommend my book, The Business of Editing. It is not enough to have editing skills, you must always be thinking and acting like a business.)

I always have the need to bring in future business in mind, so when I edit I look at the editing as a way to impress my client, and I look at queries as the way to both impress and communicate what makes me The Editor — the editor to hire for future projects and the editor to recommend to colleagues. Well-crafted, informative queries (just like emails and online posts) are like a billboard advertising my skills. Cryptic, curt queries undermine the image of professionalism that I want to project.

This does not mean that every query needs to be five sentences long or a dissertation on grammar. It does mean that every query must satisfy these criteria:

  • be on point, not meandering
  • identifies the problem and offers an appropriate solution
  • reinforces my skills and expertise as an editor
  • reinforces the correctness of the decision to hire me
  • declares clearly my status as a professional editor

Every query that I write that fulfills those criteria sets me apart from my competition and says I am The Editor.

EditTools’ Insert Query Macro

Because writing queries can be time-consuming, it is a good idea to build query templates that require minor modification based on the circumstance and project. That is the premise behind EditTools’ Insert Query macro. I have numerous “standard” queries that are saved to a dataset and that I can call up and modify for a particular project. In addition, each project has its own custom queries. By using the Insert Query macro, I can minimize the time I need to spend inputting a query and the opportunity for inputting error. It also means that I can use more detailed queries because I do not have to retype the same query innumerable times.

Consider this query:

AQ: Using this type of time reference allows the time to shift. The shift occurs because the reference was made when you were writing the text but doesn’t allow for either editing and production time until publication or for the book’s expected several-year shelf-life or for the passage of time between the writing of the text and when it is read by a reader. It would be better to write, for example, “since 2000” (substitute the appropriate year), so that the time reference always remains static.

How long would it take you to type this query? How many times would you care to do so? With EditTools’ Insert Query macro, I typed it once into the dataset and now can either use it as is or modify it as needed, taking seconds rather than minutes and avoiding typing errors.

To get the most out of queries, think of queries as marketing tools.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

July 19, 2017

From the Archives: Business of Editing: Losing the Chance

(The following essay was originally published on
 An American Editor on May 20, 2013.)

Editors need work and, because we are self-employed, we cannot wait for work to come to us; we need to aggressively seek it out. That has always been the reality, but, with all the competition that editors face globally today, the editor who doesn’t seek out work is likely to have no work — unless something separates him from other editors that enhances his particular value to clients and brings them to him without his making an effort.

It is unfortunate that most editors do not understand how to find work. For many, as soon as they apply (inquire) about work availability, they have already lost the chance to gain a new client. There are lots of reasons why the chance is lost, but what follows are seven fundamental errors.

Error 1: Not knowing anything at all about the prospective client. For example, most of my work is medical and I primarily work with publishers and packagers, yet I receive applications from editors who want to edit fiction, or history, or anything but what I do. And when they receive the test they need to take, they send me e-mails asking if there is a different test that they can take that is more in tune with their interests. Why would you apply for editing work from a company that doesn’t work in your area(s)? Why would you think that a company that publishes cookbooks would consider hiring someone who makes it clear that she is interested in editing young adult fiction? This first error is a major error, generally fatal, but not on a pedestal by itself.

Error 2: Not understanding the pay parameters. One reason clients and employers ask about pay expectations is to weed the serious applicants from the nonserious applicants. To request a rate of pay that greatly exceeds what a prospective client pays or — more importantly — is itself paid, dooms any chance you may have of obtaining work.

When I receive applications, the first thing I do is look at the expected pay. Nearly 95% of applicants have wholly unrealistic expectations. Part of that lack of realism comes about because they are already working in an editorial-related field and in their field, the amount they state on their application is reasonable. But when you want to move beyond your field, you need to know what “standard” is in the new field. Unrealistic compensation expectations doom an applicant, if for no other reason than it loudly proclaims that the applicant has no experience. Why would someone hire an applicant whom they know they can’t pay? Or who they know will be unwilling to work at the pay scale that comes with the work?

Error 3: Not providing the information requested in the application in the form requested. I ask, for example, for the résumé to be in a particular form. Out of 25 applicants, one will comply. The other 24 simply demonstrate that they either cannot read and follow instructions, in which case they would not be good for my business, or that they don’t care enough about the work to make the effort to comply, in which case, why would I hire them and invite trouble? If they don’t care enough to follow my simple request, how can I be certain they will follow client requests? Or that they won’t cause clients to take their business elsewhere?

Error 4: Providing the wrong kind of information. If you are seeking work from someone who does mainly medical work, you need to highlight your medical experience or explain why your nonmedical experience is relevant. What you should not do is emphasize your nonmedical work in a vacuum: that is, leave your prospective client wondering if you have the necessary skills. This is especially evidence of poor judgment when it is combined with error 2, asking for wholly unrealistic compensation.

Error 5: Not taking any required exam in a timely fashion. Even if a prospective client is discarding your application because you made the first four errors, you have an opportunity, by completing the exam, to make the client rethink. I know that, when I have seen an exceptional exam from someone who committed any of the first four errors, I have made the effort to contact the applicant and explain the realities; I have discussed the possibilities further with the applicant. A well-done exam is a chance at resurrection and salvation — yet most applicants simply do not take the exam.

I find this particularly odd because I make it clear that an applicant will automatically receive a copyediting test and that the test is required to be considered. Yet, the applicant who doesn’t intend to take the exam submits an application anyway. Why do applicants think that prospective clients give any consideration to their applications in the absence of the completed exam?

Error 6: Not knowing how to take a copyediting test. There are certain fundamental things an editor is expected to do when editing a manuscript; those same fundamentals should be done on an editing test. The editing test is where you get the opportunity to show a prospective client that you really are a top-notch editor; that you are worth the compensation you requested; that you can do the job without a great deal of supervision; that you understand editing; that you are a professional.

Have you ever wondered how long it takes a client to determine whether an applicant has passed or failed an editing test? I can’t speak for everyone, but for myself and for several in-house editors who have the responsibility of reviewing submitted exams, the answer is that we can tell if you failed in less than one minute and whether you passed in less than three minutes. I’ll go you one better: I can tell you whether you failed my test in 10 seconds. (There are levels of failure. Some things result in an automatic fail, others simply get weighed in the balance, which is why there is the range of time.)

Copyediting tests are designed to assess core skills that the prospective client is most interested in, be it subject-verb agreement, following instructions, knowledge of subject matter lingo; whether certain resources are used; computer skills; or something else. Examiners also have a hierarchy and they have one or two things that, if you miss those, you automatically fail, whereas other errors are just added to the negative side of the balance.

The bottom line is that you need to know how to take a copyediting test, because a skilled editor will get past the automatic fail and will convey to the examiner that you are a talented, skilled editor.

Error 7: Calling the prospective client out of the blue and saying you want to apply for editorial work. Few clients are appreciative of this or have the time to deal with you. That is why many post information about how to apply for work at their websites. But even if they do not, writing rather than calling is the smarter method of seeking work from new clients. If nothing else, sending an email message gives you a chance to show that you edit your own material to produce accurate copy, while a phone call tells me nothing about your skills.

These are key errors, but not all of the errors, that editors make when seeking work. Correcting these errors is the first step on the path toward new clients and more work for an editor.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

July 12, 2017

From the Archives: The Business of Editing: Thinking About Invoices

(The following essay was originally published on
 An American Editor on January 23, 2013.)

Have you given much thought to your invoice form and what it says about you?

It seems like an odd question, but it really is a basic business question. The ramifications of how your invoice presents you are several, not the least of which is how you are viewed by clients when it comes to payment terms.

Some companies require freelancers to fill out and sign an “invoice” form. They do this for several reasons. First, it ensures that the information the company needs to pay the freelancer is all there and easily accessible. Second, it acts as reinforcement for the idea that the invoicer really is a freelancer and not an employee in disguise in contravention of IRS rules. Third, and perhaps most importantly to a freelancer, it acts as a way to classify a freelancer and thus apply payment terms.

Have you ever noticed that companies often ignore your payment terms: Your invoice says payable on receipt but you are paid in 30 or 45 days. Your invoice says payable in 30 days yet payment may take 60 days. Good luck trying to impose a penalty for late payment. In the battle of wills between publisher and freelancer, it is the publisher who holds all the cards, except if the publisher doesn’t pay at all.

(I have always found it interesting that a publisher feels free to ignore the payment terms and to ignore any late charges on invoices that a freelancer submits, but should the freelancer buy a book from the publisher and not pay on time, the publisher will hound the freelancer to death for both payment and any publisher-imposed late fees.)

What brings this to mind were recent discussions I had with colleagues who were complaining about how a publisher unilaterally extended the time to pay their invoices, yet that same publisher continues to pay me within the 15-day payment term my invoices set.

The primary reason for this difference in treatment is how the publisher views my business. I am viewed as business vendor, not as a freelancer.

This difference in view extends not just to how I am paid, but also to how clients treat me. For example, one client who insists that freelancers complete a publisher-provided invoice form and sign it, accepts my invoices as I print them and without my signature.

Another publisher sends files in which the figure and table callouts are highlighted and instructs freelancers to not delete the highlighting — but that does not apply to me. (In this instance, it doesn’t apply for at least two reasons. First, the publisher doesn’t view me the same as it views other freelancers. Second, I spent some time explaining to the publisher how I rely on EditTools while editing to increase consistency and accuracy and sent a sample file showing the highlighting EditTools inserts in action. I then explained that I could either leave all the highlighting or remove all the highlighting, their choice. The publisher chose removal. What is important is that the publisher did not immediately dismiss me by telling me to do it the publisher’s way or find work elsewhere. Instead, the publisher held a business-to-business discussion with me and saw and understood the value in the way I work.)

My point is that I have spent many years cultivating the view that I am a business, not a freelancer. Too many “clients” (both actual and prospective) view freelance editors as something other than a “real” business. I used to hear clients refer to freelance editors as part-timers and as people for whom this is a “vacation income.” I don’t hear that anymore but the attitude hasn’t changed.

Colleagues have told me that they get calls from clients who see no reason why the freelancer can’t do a job on a rush basis over the weekend at the same price as they would do it leisurely during the business week. Even when they try to explain that they are a business and that they can’t just drop everything, especially without additional compensation, the message doesn’t get through.

The solution to the problem is complex, not simple, but it begins with how we present ourselves and how we insist on being perceived. To my mind, it begins — but does not end — with the invoice. When your invoice asks that checks be made payable to Jane Doe and includes your Social Security number, you are feeding the image that this is a casual secondary source of income for you. Yes, I know and you know, and maybe even the inhouse editor knows this isn’t true, but accounts payable and the company as a company doesn’t see it that way.

If the invoice instead gives a business name, a name that makes it clear that the check will require depositing into a business checking account, and an employer identification number rather than a Social Security number, that anonymous accounts payable clerk is likely to begin to view you differently.

I think it also matters how the invoice is presented. I know that when I receive an invoice from someone that is just a Word or Excel document I think “not very professional,” especially if everything is in a bland Times New Roman font. Your invoice should be a “designed” form into which you enter data, and printed in PDF if sent electronically (color is not needed and even best avoided; it is layout that matters). I understand that the information will be the same, but information is not what we are talking about — presentation is important in establishing credentials as a business.

We’ve had these types of discussion before. For years I noted that to be treated as a business you must act like a business. Years ago, that began with the way you answered your telephone, which either lent credence to your being a business or to your editing being “vacation income.” Today, when so little is done by telephone, it is important that the material that a client sees conveys the image of a business. The image begins, I think, with the most important item we send a client — the invoice for our work (perhaps equally important are your e-mail address and e-mail signature: not having your own business name domain sends the wrong message, which is a discussion for another day).

Remember that the people who make the decision on how fast you will be paid are not the people who evaluate your editing skill. They are far removed from the editing process and make decisions about you based on things they see that are unrelated to your editing skills. Consequently, you need to create a professional image on paper, beginning — but not ending — with your invoice.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

July 10, 2017

From the Archives: The Business of Editing: Best Price “Bids”

(The following essay was originally published on
 An American Editor on October 10, 2012.)

I was recently asked to give my best price on a possibly large project. My client was soliciting my bid for my editorial services on a project coming from one of its clients. In other words, I would not be directly working for the ultimate client.

It was an STM (Science, Technology, Math) project and supposedly would run 3,000 to 4,000 manuscript pages a month. My client wanted a price for both the original editing and for a review of the editing. A lot of detail was missing, so before I would give a price, I asked some questions.

Over my 29 years of editing, I have been asked many times to bid against myself with the client promising a large amount of work. What I learned was that there is a difference between what is promised/proposed in terms of quantity and what actually is delivered, which means that in the past, I lowered my price expecting lots of work only to do much less work than “promised” for that lower price. Consequently, I no longer simply bid against myself; I attach conditions.

Make no mistake. When you are asked to give a price in such a situation, you are being asked to bid against yourself (as well as against others). You should not bid against yourself without assurances that the work will really materialize in the quantities and on the schedule given in the solicitation.

The first question I ask is how many pages are expected for the entire project. To me, it makes a difference if I am pricing for 3,000 pages or 18,000 pages of manuscript. The closer the count is to 3,000, the less inclined I am to lower my price because 3,000 to 5,000 manuscript pages is a normal-size project for me. Conversely, the closer it is to 18,000 or more manuscript pages, the more inclined I am to discount my price.

But then I ask what often turns out to be the stickler question: What is the minimum guaranteed manuscript page count? That is, what is the minimum amount of pages for which I will be paid regardless of whether the client sends me that amount of pages. The answer to this question tells me a lot of things about a project.

First, it tells me whether the original request’s numbers are puffery or real. If the original request spoke of 3,000 pages a month for 6 months but the minimum guarantee is just 3,000 pages, it is likely that the project is no more than 6,000 pages. The more the client is willing to guarantee, the more likely it is that the project is as claimed.

Second, it tells me whether the client simply is trying to get me to commit to a lower price. This is a major problem. Even if the project turns out as advertised, I run the risk of establishing a price that the client will expect for all future projects, regardless of size. This is no different from consumer expectations in a host of areas, but that doesn’t mean it is a desirable result when it comes to my pricing.

Third, it tells me I need to be wary and make sure that I know a lot more about the project than I currently do before pricing it. The very worst thing I can do when being asked to bid is to not know as much as I can about the project and the likelihood of it really being as described before I make a bid. Once I make my bid, I am stuck, and I see value to having been the culprit who sticks me with what turns out to be an untenable bid.

Of major concern is how difficult the editing will be. The more difficult the editing, the less inclined I am to lower my price. Consequently, I need to to see several samples, something I do not ordinarily ask for.

In the instant case, one of the things that was supplied to me were a couple of samples showing the type of editing expected and a copy of the ultimate client’s guidelines for editors. When I saw the guidelines, I knew there would be trouble. The guidelines was a list of more than 60 items that the editor was expected to do — many of which are not normally done by a copyeditor, and certainly not done without an extra fee.

Editing is a labor-intensive business, which complicates the matter of bidding. How little are my services really worth? If I ask my clients, they don’t respond with a value of my services; rather, they respond that they can hire an editor for $x less than they pay me. There is never a discussion about quality or speed or knowledge; the only discussion is about market availability of editors who will work for less than I charge, and it is this single dynamic that has brought about the request for bidding for editorial services.

Sometimes there is little that one can do except participate in the auction. When I am in such a position, as with this recent request, I condition my bid on three things: (a) there has to be a minimum guaranteed number of manuscript pages within a certain period of time for which I will be paid regardless; (b) the quoted price is the price only for this project and not transferable to any other project; and (c) after x number of manuscript pages have been edited, the bid price will be revisited to be certain that there were no “hidden” complications that should have been included in the solicitation or that there are no problems that arise that are out of my control that warrant a higher price than the bid price.

A major problem of bidding against oneself is that it is difficult to protect oneself and still get the job. But experience has taught me to be suspicious of jobs that have no flexibility and I would prefer to not get the work than to get work on which I cannot make any money.

Which raises another matter about bidding. When I bid on a project, I have a firm grasp of exactly what services I am willing to perform for what price. Consequently, when I am asked to bid on a project that wants more services, I start my evaluation from the price point that I would normally charge for providing the requested services. It is a bad idea to have a single price for copyediting because that doesn’t consider the various services that can be provided, even if 99% of the time that single price is the price you charge or bid.

In this case, I bid much higher than my normal copyediting rate, but lower than the rate I would normally charge for editing performed with all of the required services. As I know who the ultimate client is, I do not expect to “win” this bid based on the price and conditions I submitted. I assure you, I will not shed a single tear should my bid be rejected.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

February 22, 2017

Worth Noting: Value Marketing & the Editorial Business

A common mistake that editors make is that they do not give enough weight to the business side of their editorial business, thinking that if they edit manuscripts well, business will come with little to no marketing effort. Perhaps that was true 30 years ago (in my experience it was more true 30 years ago than it is now, but even 30 years ago it wasn’t all that true), but today — with all of the competition and the ease of entry into the profession — it is not. Today, marketing is a key part of a successful editorial business.

How to market, to whom to market, and what to market are the pillar questions that editors must face. Not so long ago, marketing amounted to preparing a resume and sending it out. Then when email became ubiquitous, email solicitation became the method of choice. No thought was given to how well these — or any other — methods worked; if the editor did some marketing and received a new project, the marketing effort was considered a success and was repeated during the next dry spell.

Alas, there is much more to marketing, and the more knowledgeable the editor is about the science and art of marketing, the more successful the editor will be in having a steady stream of business. In years past, I conducted regular marketing campaigns. They were planned and measured. The result was I not only did I have more work than I could handle myself, but I rarely had a day without a backlog of work nor a week without an inquiry as to my availability.

But I came to editing from a business route and so had some experience with marketing a service. What I didn’t have — and wish I had had — was Louise Harnby’s newest guide, Content Marketing Primer for Editors & Proofreaders: How to Add Value to Your Editorial Business (2017; £3.99).

Louise Harnby is a well-respected proofreader who also has a handle on the business aspects of proofreading business. Louise does not rely solely on passive marketing to promote her business; she engages in active marketing, too. Although she recognizes the importance of websites and other forms of passive promotion that require the person looking for her type of services to find her, she also recognizes the importance of active marketing. In her Content Marketing Primer for Editors & Proofreaders, Louise shares her insight into active marketing.

As Louise illustrates, marketing is much more than listing one’s services (passive marketing). Good marketing has a very active component that tells the potential client why the client needs services like those you offer and, more importantly, why those services are best obtained from you rather than from someone else. It is this that is the substance of content marketing.

Louise’s earlier books (Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business and Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers) provide more detail and a step-by-step guide to creating a business plan, but Content Marketing Primer for Editors & Proofreaders gives you the information you need to identify, create, and execute an active marketing plan for your editorial business.

Content Marketing Primer for Editors & Proofreaders discusses various types of content marketing (with some examples) and includes a framework that you can use to create your own content marketing plan, along with some case studies. Importantly, Louise discusses branding and timing — two very important parts of any marketing strategy that are often overlooked.

Recognizing that it is not enough to have a good marketing plan, Louise also offers advice on how to be seen among the crowd. Editors need to recognize that the editing profession grows daily as an increasing number of “editors” hang out their shingle and seek clients. The successful marketer is the one who is quickly spotted from among the sea of editors. Standing out is key and Louise offers advice on how to do so.

Louise Harnby’s Content Marketing Primer for Editors & Proofreaders: How to Add Value to Your Editorial Business is a guide that every professional editor who wants a successful editorial business should own and read, and implement its advice.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

(Note: I have no interest, financial or otherwise, in the Content Marketing Primer nor have I received any consideration in exchange for this review/mention.)

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