An American Editor

October 5, 2015

A Question of Ethics: If the Editing Is Running Behind Schedule…

The Background

A project I recently completed was originally scheduled to be done by August 31 — a 4-week schedule; it ended, instead, 3 weeks later. The price I quoted was based on the short schedule that the August 31 must-meet date represented. (For this particular project, a 4-week schedule was quite tight.)

The delay in completing the project was caused by delays in the client delivering the manuscript to me. The delays were such that it seemed as if nothing was going right with the project. For example, references were called out in the text using the author-date system, with all of the references appearing in a bibliography at the end of the manuscript, not in each chapter. Although I requested the references early in the process, I didn’t receive them until a few days before the absolute final extended due date. Consequently, the editor had no opportunity to check whether the bibliography actually contained all of the cites called out in the text or if there were references cited in the bibliography that were not called out in the text.

A fundamental part of editing is to check the references to make sure that all that are called out are cited in the bibliography/reference list and to identify any that are cited in the bibliography/reference list but not called out in the text. When the client insisted that I return the edited references on a particular date, I pointed out that to do so meant the editor could not check callouts against cites; all the editor could do was look for missing information in the cites, try to locate that missing information, and style the cites.

Because callout–cite checking is fundamental to editing, I required the client to explicitly direct us to not do the checking, which the client did. As the client noted, it was not our fault that there was no time left to do the job. I replied to the client, “It is not a problem from our end. We do the job you want as best we can within the limits you impose.”

The Questions

At least three questions arise out of these circumstances, each raising ethical issues:

  1. In the case where the client instructs you to not perform a service that is normally included because the client is late delivering the files, should the fee be reduced by the value of the service not provided?
  2. In the case where the client instructs you to not perform a service that is normally included because the you misjudged the time needed to edit the manuscript and so are now late in delivering the manuscript to the client, should the fee be reduced by the value of the service not provided at the client’s instruction?
  3. Does the answer to either of the previous questions depend on whether the editor is charging by the page, by the project, or by the hour?

The client delivers late

In the first scenario (client is late deliverer), I think the editor has no ethical duty to reduce the fee. The editor is willing to perform the service if given the necessary time to do so. That the client has schedule constraints that do not permit the editor to perform the service is outside the control of the editor. The decision for the editor to not cross-check the cites was made by the same party that was late in providing the material, which is outside the editor’s control.

However, the basis for the billing does affect the amount to be charged. If the editor is billing by the page or the project, the invoiced amount should be the same regardless of whether or not the cite cross-checking was performed. But if the editor is charging by the hour, the invoice should not include a sum for time that would have been spent doing the cross-checking but for the client stopping the cross-checking. It would be unethical for the editor to bill for time that was not actually spent because the basis of the hourly charge is that the editor gets paid for hours worked.

Some commentators would argue that the billing method is irrelevant because all billing methods are based on time; that when an editor sets a per-page rate or a project-fee rate, part of the editor’s calculation is based on an estimate of the time it is expected the work will require. This is one of the elements of creating a quote (see The Business of Editing: Keys to a Project Quote).

I agree that every price calculation method contains a time-expected-to-spend-editing component, but there is a significant difference between hourly-based and per-page– and project-fee–based projects. With per-page– and project-fee–based projects, the expectation of the amount the editor is to be paid is set based on a factor other than time; that is, it does not matter whether the editor completes the project in 20 hours but took 50 hours nor does it matter what the editor’s or client’s time expectation was — the fee is not time dependent, it changes only if there is a change in some other factor other than time (e.g., if the page count changes). In contrast, with an hourly-based fee the amount to be paid rises and falls based solely on the number of hours the editor spends editing; that is, unlike with per-page and project-based fees, the final hourly-based fee is not calculable until the project is complete.

The editor miscalculated the time needed

In the case of the second scenario (the editor is taking longer than expected to edit), I think the client is entitled to a reduction in the fee, even though it is the client who instructs the editor to not perform the service. In this instance, the editor knows the schedule that binds the client and that must be met. It is the editor who is late as a result of matters that are within the editor’s control. It is the editor who miscalculated and now jeopardizes the client’s schedule.

The reason for the fee reduction is that the agreed-upon price included the service that is now not to be performed and the reason it is not to be performed is because of the editor’s miscalculation, not because of anything the client has done. It is, in my view, unethical for an editor to be paid for work not performed at the fault of the editor. If there were no reduction in fee, the editor would be rewarded for not adhering to the bargain the editor’s made.

Here, also, the manner of calculating the fee affects the reduction. If the editor is charging by the hour, then no specific fee reduction is required because the client will not be billed for work not performed (i.e., hours spent editing). Only when the billing is per-page or project-fee based does there need to be a reduction in the set fee. How much of a reduction depends on the value of the service and whether the client will need to secure the service elsewhere. This is a matter of negotiation. But it is the to the editor’s advantage to initiate the reduction rather than wait for the client to raise the question or, perhaps more troublesome for the editor, for the client to not say anything but decide not to use the editor in the future.

A Question of Ethics

It is not unusual for an editor to ask on a forum whether a fee should be reduced or partially refunded. I do not consider the sense of ethics that governs my business to be a question of group ethics or group decision making; rather, I see it as a sense of my personal moral code, a sense of what I view as right and wrong. What does it matter whether 99 out of 100 editors would not issue a refund if I think one is warranted? That I would even ask the question is, to me, an indication that I think the client is entitled to some refund.

Ethics is a matter of taking the moral high road, of trying to seek a fairness balance, a balance of right and wrong.

What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 30, 2015

Lyonizing Word: But Wait—There’s More!

by Jack Lyon

Replacing Basic Text

Searching with wildcards in Microsoft Word can accomplish miracles in editing, but some people find wildcards a little too arcane to deal with. If you’re one of those people, you might benefit from some of Word’s lesser-known but easier-to-use search options. But first, let’s do a basic find and replace. Open Word’s “Find and Replace” dialog by pressing CTRL + H (or click Home > Editing > Replace on Word’s ribbon interface). Then:

  1. In the “Find what” box, enter a word you want to search for. (We’ll use the misspelled “millenium” as an example.)
  2. In the “Replace with” box, enter a word you want to replace the incorrectly spelled “millenium” with. (We’ll use the correctly spelled “millennium” as an example.)
  3. Click the “Replace All” button.
Find & Replace

Find & Replace

That’s it. Every occurrence of “millenium” will be replaced with “millennium.” Simple and quick.

Refining Your Search

But wait—there’s more! Microsoft Word provides many ways to refine your search. See the “More” button at the bottom of the “Replace” dialog?

More Button

More Button

Click it. Here’s what you’ll see:

The "More" Options

The “More” Options

Under “Search Options,” you can specify whether to search up, down, or through all your text:

Search Options

Search Options

You can also match case and find whole words only:

Additional Options

Additional Options

There are actually lots of options, all worth exploring:

Match case

Obviously, this option finds only text that matches the case (capitalized or lowercased) of the text in the “Find what” box. If you enter “Hello” in the “Find what” box with “Match case” checked, Word finds “Hello” but not “hello.” If you enter “hello,” Word finds “hello” but not “Hello.”

Find whole words only

This option finds whole words only. For example, if you search for “sing,” Word finds “sing” but not “singing.” If this option is not checked, Word finds both “sing” and “singing,” as well as “using” and “kissing.”

Use wildcards

This option tells Word that you want to search using wildcards:

Use Wildcards

Use Wildcards

Wildcards are important, but in this article we’re trying to avoid these. For explanations and examples, see my past articles (e.g., Lyonizing Word: From Easy to Impossible — Three Variations on a Theme, Lyonizing Word: The Easy Way, Not So Easy, Lyonizing Word: The Easy Way, Not So Easy, and Lyonizing Word: We Can Do This the Easy Way, or . . . ; if you use EditTools, see The Business of Editing: Wildcarding for Dollars). Please note, however, that if this option is checked, you can no longer select “Match case” or “Find whole words only.” Even so, during a wildcard search, “Match case” is automatically enabled, even though it’s not shown as enabled (an oversight on Microsoft’s part). “Find whole words only,” on the other hand, is inactive.

Sounds like (English)

This option finds words that sound like the word in the “Find what” box. For example, if you search for “cot,” Word also finds “caught.” If you search for “horse,” Word also finds “hoarse.” This could be useful if you’re working on a document in which certain words have been confused or mistyped. Basically, this feature works on words that are homophones; it doesn’t seem to work on words that sound almost alike, such as “horse” and “whores.” On the other hand, while searching for “horse,” it also finds “horsey” but not “horses,” so who knows?

Find all word forms (English)

This option finds what Microsoft calls “all” forms of the word in the “Find what” box. For example, if you search for “sit,” Word also finds “sat” and “sitting.” The word “all” is a little misleading, however. The feature relies on an underlying database of word forms that is pretty good but has some omissions. For example, if you search for “eat,” Word finds “eat, “ate,” “eaten,” and “eating” but not “eater.” Similarly, if you search for “horse,” Word finds “horse,” “horses,” and “horsing” but not “horseless.” It’s a useful feature, mostly for finding verb forms; just don’t expect it to actually find all forms of a word.

Match prefix

This option matches words beginning with the search string. For example, if you put “pre” in the “Find what” box, Word finds “prepare,” “present,” and so on. This isn’t a “smart” feature; it searches for characters only, not word roots. For example, searching for “pre” also finds “prestidigitation” and “pressure,” even though “pre” isn’t really a prefix in those words.

Match suffix

This option matches words ending with the search string. For example, if you put “ing” in the “Find what” box, Word finds “singing,” “typing,” and so on. This isn’t a “smart” feature; it searches for characters only, not word roots. For example, searching for “ing” also finds “boing,” “spring,” and “thing,” even though “ing” isn’t really a suffix in those words.

Ignore punctuation characters

Ignores punctuation characters between words. For example, “trees plants and flowers” finds “trees, plants, and flowers” as well as “trees plants and flowers.” This might be useful for fixing problems with serial commas.

Ignore white-space characters

Ignores all white space (spaces, tabs, and so on) between words. For example, “webpage” finds “web page” as well as “webpage.” This is the inverse of “Find whole words only” and could be useful for fixing words that are sometimes spelled open and sometimes closed.

Other options

If you’re working in a language other than English, other options may be available, including Match Kashida, Match Diacritics, Match Alef Hamza, and Match Control. I know almost nothing about these options, so I can’t comment on them with any degree of expertise.


One of the most important tools in Microsoft Word’s find and replace toolbox is the ability to search for formatting — all kinds of formatting. To do so, click the “Format” button:

Format Button

Format Button

Here’s what you’ll get:

The "Format" Options

The “Format” Options

Each option (such as “Font”) opens the usual dialog for that feature:

Font Format Options

Font Format Options

I won’t go into all of the options in these dialogs as they’re basically the same ones you’d get while formatting any text in Word. “Font” displays font options, “Styles” displays styles, and so on. You can select any of those options and use them as something to find or replace. For example, if your cursor is in the “Find what” box and you select “Italic” in the “Find Font” dialog, here’s what you’ll get:

Displaying the Font Option Choice

Displaying the Font Option Choice

Now Word will find text in italics but not in roman. If you also enter a word, you’ll find that word in italic but not in roman. If you don’t enter a word, you’ll find anything formatted as italic.

But what about the “Replace with” box? What happens if you use formatting there?

If the “Replace with” box includes some text, whatever is found will be replaced by that text in the format you specified. If the “Replace with” box doesn’t include text, whatever is found will be replaced with itself in the format you specified. For example, if you search for the word “apples” to be replaced by “pears” in bold, that’s exactly what you’ll get — “pears” in bold. If you search for the word “apples” to be replaced by bold alone (with no text), you’ll get “apples” in bold.

If, on the other hand, you search for “apples” but don’t specify text or formatting in the “Replace with” box, “apples” will be replaced with nothing; in other words, it will be deleted.

Many variations are possible. Here’s a basic summary:

Find Replace Result
apples pears pears
apples pears [bold] pears [bold]
apples [bold] apples [bold]
apples [nothing] [apples deleted]
[bold] [nothing] [bold text deleted]
[bold] pears [bold text becomes “pears” in bold]
[bold] pears [italic] [bold text becomes “pears” in bold italic]
[bold] [italic] [bold text becomes bold italic]

Note that you can also specify not a certain kind of formatting, such as “not bold” or “not italic” in either find or replace. You can also use combinations of formatting (and “not” formatting). For example, you can search for bold but replace with italic and not bold, which will turn any bold text into italic (but not bold italic) text.

Built-In Codes

In addition to all of those options, Microsoft Word includes lots of built-in find-and-replace codes that are not wildcards (although lots of people call them that). You can use these built-in codes to search for things like paragraph breaks, tabs, section breaks, column breaks, dashes, footnotes, endnotes, graphics, and many other things that aren’t actual text, and codes are a whole lot easier to use than wildcards. In fact, codes should be your default tool; you should use wildcards only when built-in codes won’t do what you need (which is actually fairly often, unfortunately).

Some of Word’s built-in codes can be used only in the “Find what” box; others can be used only in the “Replace with” box. Some of the codes can be used in both boxes.

“Find What” Codes

To see the codes that can be used in the “Find what” box, put your cursor in the box. Now click the “Special” button at the bottom of the “Find and Replace” dialog.

The "Special" Button

The “Special” Button

You’ll get a list like this:

The "Special" Options

The “Special” Options

Identify the item you want to find and click it, for example, “Paragraph Mark.” You’ll get the following code in the “Find what” box (since that’s where your cursor was located):


That tells Word to find a paragraph break — that is, the end of a paragraph.

Each item on the list will insert a different code. For example, here’s the code for an em dash:


And here’s the code for an en dash:


“Replace With” Codes

Now put your cursor in the “Replace with” box and click the “Special” button again. This time, you’ll get a different list:

The Codes

The “Replace with” List

Again, clicking one of the list items will insert a code into the “Replace with” box. For example, if you click “Clipboard Contents” you’ll get this:


That’s an extremely useful code, because ordinarily the “Replace with” box can hold no more than 255 characters. But using the ^c code, you can replace with anything that is currently copied to the Clipboard, which can hold many pages of text, graphics, or anything else.

After you’ve worked with built-in codes for a while, you’ll find it easy to just type them in by hand. In the meantime, you can use the “Special” lists to insert them.

You can also use combinations of codes. For example, you could search for tabs followed by paragraph breaks (^t^p) and replace them with paragraph breaks alone (^p).

Here’s a summary of Word’s built-in codes and where they can be used:

Character or object Find what Replace with
Annotation Mark (comment) ^a
Any character ^?
Any digit ^#
Any letter ^$
Caret character ^^ ^^
Clipboard contents ^c
Column break ^n ^n
“Find what text” (whatever was found during your search) ^&
Em dash ^+ ^+
En dash ^= ^=
Endnote mark ^e
Field ^d
Footnote mark ^f
Graphic ^g
Line break ^l ^l
Manual page break ^m ^m
Nonbreaking hyphen ^~ ^~
Nonbreaking space ^s ^s
Optional hyphen ^- ^-
Paragraph mark ^p ^p
Section break ^b
Tab character ^t ^t
White space ^w

Even without wildcards, Microsoft Word’s find and replace features can do an awful lot — much more than you might think. You probably already knew how to use “Match case” and “Find whole words only,” but did you know about those other options? “Ignore punctuation characters” and “Ignore white-space characters,” for example, can be very useful in editing. Being able to find and replace formatting is essential, especially when using styles. And using Word’s built-in codes lets you search for all kinds of things (graphics, page breaks, dashes, and so on) that would otherwise require more advanced techniques (like wildcards and numeric codes). In other words, Microsoft Word’s basic find and replace features aren’t so basic — at least not in what they can do!

Wildcard Cookbook

This article is a slightly modified excerpt from my new book, Wildcard Cookbook for Microsoft Word, now available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other fine bookstores:

"Wildcard Cookbook" by Jack Lyon

“Wildcard Cookbook” by Jack Lyon

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


September 23, 2015

Two Books Every Author (& Editor & Publisher) Should Read!

I won’t keep you in suspense. The two books are Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman.

I was reading Diane Johnson’s review of Go Set a Watchman (“Daddy’s Girl,” The New York Review of Books, September 24, 2015, pp. 22–26) when I realized that Harper Lee’s two novels should be read by everyone who touches — no matter how peripherally — on the editing process. The two books provide a stark contrast of the value of editing. Johnson wrote:

According to its editors and Harper Lee herself, To Kill a Mockingbird had profited from extensive editing at R.B. Lippincott by the late Tay Hohoff, who said she and Lee worked for two years on the project. (p. 22)

The result was the production of a classic that continues, 50-plus years later, to sell 1 million copies each year.

Contrast that with Go Set a Watchman, which was published as written — without editorial input. Although Watchman has sold a phenomenal number of copies, those will be one-time sales and they came about because of the high expectations readers of Mockingbird had. The consensus seems to be that Watchman is a disaster and a blight on the reputation of Mockingbird; its primary value is to demonstrate what should not be done if one values one’s writing and reputation as an author.

Authors & Wannabe Authors

Watchman was the parent from which Mockingbird was spawned. Yet it is as different from Mockingbird as night is from day. What it demonstrates, however, is how a good editor can help an author.

Too many authors on too many lists promote self-editing or no editing or friend editing. The complaint is that a good editor costs too much and there is no reason to hire one when the author can do it herself. Too many authors also say that they would like to hire an editor but editors are too expensive; they cannot afford an editor.

If you believe you really have a good story to tell and that people will buy it, then shouldn’t you figure out a way to get that editorial help? Your book will not sell like Watchman has sold because you do not have the reputation that Harper Lee has been trading on for 50 years. And it is expected that sales of Watchman will fall precipitously now that the book has been seen. What Watchman does demonstrate, however, is that the editorial investment made in Mockingbird has paid off doubly: first, by creating a phenomenal bestseller that keeps on selling, and second, by creating a reputation that allowed the author to sell drivel, which is what Watchman amounts to. Watchman would not have sold except for Lee’s reputation built on Mockingbird.

It is hard to convince authors (and readers) of the value of good editing because editing is an invisible hand — but these two books, a before and after, should clearly demonstrate what a good editor brings to the table and why authors need editors.

The two books also offer one other insight that I think authors need: They graphically demonstrate the difference between — and value of — developmental editing and copyediting, as well as the value of each. Watchman was neither developmentally edited nor copyedited; Mockingbird was both. Could you self-edit both developmental editing and copyediting?

Skilled and professional authors know that it is almost impossible to edit one’s own work because we see only what we meant to say; we cannot be objective enough to see where our work might be unclear, clunky, disorganized, or simply grammatically lacking (suffering from misspellings, wrong or missing punctuation, close-but-not-quite-right word choices, missing or doubled words, poor transitions, and more).

It is true that a very few authors have the skills to self-edit, but those are the rare authors. Most, if not all, of the most successful authors did not self-edit. Either they or their publisher hired a professional editor. As an author, you may have spent years writing your book. You know every word, every nuance, but you do not know where you are going wrong, because your book is “perfect” — you have said so.

As did Harper Lee when she originally submitted Watchman. What a difference a skilled, professional editor made for Harper Lee — and could make for authors and wannabe authors today.


Editors should read these two books to see what a skilled editor can do. This is not to suggest that you are not a skilled editor, but to suggest that rarely are we given the opportunity to see a before and after of such radical dimension as in the case of Watchman and Mockingbird.

Even more importantly, however, these books give us the opportunity to create an explanation of the value of our services. They also give us the opportunity to graphically demonstrate the differences between developmental editing and copyediting, and what each does for a manuscript. How many of us would reread Watchman or call it a classic or even want it taught in our schools? I know I struggle to envision a movie based on Watchman or caring about the characters or the storyline.

But Mockingbird remains a highly praised novel, 50 years after its publication. It is still discussed in schools and in conversations about race relations. The movie is considered a classic that is still shown. The novel still sells a million copies each year with no advertising to speak of. And all of this is because the original version, Watchman, was developmentally edited and then copyedited by professional editors to become Mockingbird.

Editors should use these books as teaching experiences for clients. They illustrate the benefit of not creating an artificial schedule and of taking the time needed to properly develop the story and to do the editing the story requires.

Editors have looked for years for a way to clearly illustrate why they are worth what they are asking and why editing is a valuable service that is ignored or avoided at an author’s and a publisher’s peril. Watchman and Mockingbird graphically demonstrate the value of editing and editors.

Publishers (& Packagers)

Today, publishing is run largely from the accounting perspective, not the art perspective. Schedules are artificially imposed without regard for the true needs of a manuscript. Editors are asked to do more of the mechanical work and less of the judgmental work; in my earliest years as an editor, for example, the emphasis was on language editing, not on applying styling codes. We did macro-level styling at most, and left micro-level styling to designers and typesetters. But in today’s editing world, the emphasis has switched 180 degrees to emphasize micro-level styling and a deemphasize language editing.

Yet Watchman and Mockingbird can provide a useful lesson for publishers, too. Sure, HarperCollins reaped a quick influx of cash with the publication of Watchman, but if I were the publisher, I would rather have the year-after-year sales of Mockingbird than the one-time sales of Watchman. Watchman will have no lasting value in the marketplace except as an illustration of what publishers used to provide authors versus what they no longer provide authors.

Today, the mantra is “how low can I go”; that is, how little can I, the publisher, spend to take a book from manuscript to bookstore? And the first services publishers squeeze are those that are deemed “invisible” — editorial services. Instead of two years of developmental editing, as was done for Mockingbird, two weeks of copyediting may be provided today (even if the book requires two months of copyediting, let alone additional months of developmental editing).

Watchman and Mockingbird, however, demonstrate the value of the editorial process. Good editing changed a book with no potential into a classic that sells 1 million copies each year and has done so for more than 50 years, with no end in sight. Whatever the editing cost for Mockingbird, it was recouped decades ago, yet keeps on giving. Quality editing is the Timex of publishing — it is the service that keeps on giving.

Publishers and packagers should read these books and use them as guides and reasons why changes to the current editorial and production methods need to be revamped and more attention and money needs to be given to editing. Editing has to be seen today as it was in the early days of publishing. Isn’t it a shame that the books that we treat as classics and must-reads, decade after decade, were nearly all published several decades or longer ago — before accounting supplanted editorial as the decision makers?

Perhaps it is time to rethink the current model. Certainly, Watchman and Mockingbird make that point.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Selected related An American Editor essays:

September 21, 2015

The Business of Editing: Keys to a Project Quote (II)

Part I (The Business of Editing: Keys to a Project Quote (I)) discussed the required Effective Hourly Rate (rEHR), the churn rate, and calculating a page. Part II discusses additional elements and how to put the quote together and present it.

The style manual

Few editors consider the style manual to be applied to the project when calculating a quote. The reason is that we tend to fall into niches and to use, and thus become facile with, a particular style manual. Many editors rarely, if ever, use any style manual but one. Consequently, few editors think about the impact of the style manual on the project.

Then there are editors like me who work with and use multiple style manuals. The projects may be similar but the clients have different style manual preferences. Even so, there may not be much difference between the style manuals or not enough difference such as which style manual is required has an impact on the project price.

But after my recent experience with The ACS Style Guide (see Style Guide Terrorism: A Formula for Failure), I realize that I do need to factor into the calculation the impact of the choice of style manual. This is especially true when the client-selected manual is so radically different from other style manuals and/or when it is accompanied by a house exceptions manual (even if not by a difficult style manual).

The choice of style manual impacts the churn and the schedule. I suspect that no other allowance for it needs to be made in the calculation.

The schedule

Another element, and a very important one, is the client’s schedule.

What usually happens is that a client contacts an editor and says something like this:

I have a 320-page manuscript on eating your vegetables that I need edited in 2 weeks. It requires a medium-level copyedit and the files will be ready to send you tomorrow. The fee is xyz. Can you take it on?

The editor responds almost instantly with “sure,” thinking that 160 pages a week is easily done. And it may be easily done — or not. (I know that many editors insist on seeing a “sample,” or even the whole manuscript, but unless you are going to read it all — word by word, beginning to end, which is an editing task being done at your expense — you can never really know for certain what problems you will face during actual editing.)

Whether it is easily done — or not — depends on many of the factors discussed earlier. Is the page count accurate? What does a “medium-level copyedit” entail? And so on. Once you have all of that information, you can then evaluate the schedule.

Over my 31 years, I have learned that my best editing is done within a 5-hour window. What I mean is that of a typical 8-hour workday, only 5 hours can be spent editing if I want to provide a high-quality edit. After 5 hours of concentrated editing, the mind tires and error creep begins.

This does not mean that I do not ever edit for longer than 5 hours in a day. Some projects are easier than others and editing can go on for longer; some are so difficult that editing for 5 hours is very difficult if not impossible.

What it means is that I have determined that an editing day is 5 editing hours and an editing week is Monday to Friday. Note that it is Monday to Friday and not 25 editing hours. This is important when calculating a project fee. It means that I work Monday to Friday and weekend or holiday work is not part of the workweek; weekend and/or holiday work, or more than 5 editing hours in a day, are premium services.

So, when I calculate the viability of a schedule, I calculate it based on an editing workweek or 5-editing-hour days, not on a 7-day workweek of unlimited hours.

The First “Rough” Calculation

Assuming that the proposed 320-page manuscript is really 320 pages, then to meet a 2-week schedule means a maximum of 9 editing days (not 10, because I cannot start a project within seconds of receipt from a client; I always figure next day), which means 45 editing hours, which translates into a required churn of approximately 8 pages an hour (actually 7.11, but I always round up to the next whole number; I don’t know how to edit 0.11 pages). I check that against my churn rate for a “medium-level copyedit” and, depending on the subject matter, may conclude that the schedule is doable.

But the calculation is based on a lot of assumptions, not least of which is that the page count is accurate.

Getting more information

At this point, I have not yet responded to the client. Now is when I make my first response, which is that I am interested but need to have the manuscript sent to me so I can do a page count. Even if the client doesn’t have the whole manuscript, I want what they do have. I also tell them it is not necessary to send me any figures except tables and all-text figures; I do not need the 30 photo images to do my count or evaluate the project.

The Second Calculation

Once I receive the manuscript, I do a page count using my preferred method. It is rare that my count and the client’s count match. It is not unusual to find that the client’s count is anywhere from 25% to 50% (and sometimes more) lower than my count.

With the page count in hand, the next thing I do is open a couple of chapters and look at the references. If the references are close to the preferred style, that is a good sign. I have found that where the references are pretty much in what is to be the end format, the author has paid attention to detail and the text generally is in decent shape. But if the references are a mess, are missing a lot of information, are not close to the desired end style, I know that I need to spot check the text of several chapters to get a flavor of the author’s writing style.

Next, after the page count and checking a few chapters, I determine how many pages a day and an hour will need to be churned to meet the client’s schedule. For example, if the page count in our hypothetical is really 500 instead of 320, instead of 8 pages an hour, I will need to edit 12. I now need to determine whether it is possible to churn that many pages during my editing workweek. If I can, then the schedule is fine; if I can’t, I need to be able to explain why I can’t and what is a more realistic schedule.

With the information in hand, it is time to put together the project quote.

The Quote

In my quote, I outline exactly what I have found: the level of edit required (and what that means), the number of pages I found, what is included and excluded from the service requested, and the difficulties, if any, presented by the requested style manual in light of the condition of the manuscript. I use all of this information to justify the price I am asking and any schedule changes. I also include a description of the services I will provide, as well as what I will not do, and I include an explanation of the editing workweek to forestall any expectations that I will work 7 days a week, 24 hours a day to meet the client’s requirements.

One caveat

My price is never less than my rEHR. In fact, it is usually more than my rEHR because the rEHR really is my breakeven number, not a profit-making number. The rEHR is simply the line below which I will not go. I do not consider it my job to subsidize my clients; they do a fine job of protecting their interests without my help.

Why this quote-building process?

An editor needs to go through this quote-building process to be sure she can justify her requested fee when challenged by the client. I used to wait for the challenge before justifying my fee, but for many years I have included the justification in my quote as a means of educating the client about the project. Most clients have a fee in mind and any deviation from that fee is unacceptable to the client — unless you can explain its necessity. In addition, most clients assume that because we are freelance editors, we have no other life interests and that we can devote all our waking hours to their project.

The more professional your quote is made to appear, the fewer problems you will have with a client, the more likely you are to receive your wanted fee, the more likely you will receive the project on your terms, and the more likely you will be treated as an equal.

What do you do? Do you do things in addition to those listed here?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Selected related An American Editor essays:

September 9, 2015

Thinking Fiction: Mastering Subjectivity

by Carolyn Haley

An earlier essay on this blog, “The Ethics of Distaste,” focused on the professional aspects of editing distasteful material. The following essay supplements the ethics discussion by focusing on a manuscript editor’s emotional challenge that may occur behind the scenes. Although this essay’s context is fiction, some of its ideas and techniques apply, as well, to nonfiction editing.

The Personal Dilemma of Distaste

What makes a novel distasteful to you personally could be anything: incoherent writing, a repellent subject, plots or characters so ludicrous or undeveloped that the book is painful to read — all or none of the above. Even if you handle the business side of a distasteful novel with impeccable professionalism, there remains the head–heart strife that comes from getting stuck with something you should turn down but can’t afford to, or ethically back out of once committed. That stress, unmanaged, can undermine the quality of your editing, which, in turn, could lead to client payment problems for independent editors, employment repercussions for staff editors, or reputation damage for both. The stress might possibly damage your health, too, from fighting against yourself internally.

What to Do?

When burdened with a distasteful novel, you as editor must make mental and emotional adjustments to deal with it successfully. The first step is to rationalize what the book really is, and the second is to take time for some do-it-yourself training and therapy.


Novel writing is an art form: a literary art, like poetry, scripts, or short stories; a sister art to painting, sculpture, music, dance, and theater. People compelled to create art have different mindsets than those who evaluate their work. Creative compulsion is often inarticulate, driven by emotion. A novel’s purpose is to create an emotional experience for readers through story (as compared to nonfiction, whose purpose is to inform).

A fiction editor’s role is to help authors express their vision as coherently as possible to the audience most inclined to value it. Developmental editors have the best opportunity to untangle gnarly books and make them shine, but line editors and copy editors enter the process after content decisions have been made. They can only address mechanical elements and make a lot of queries. All editing tasks are much easier to embrace when you fathom the subjectivity of art, and remember that a fiction editor’s job is to help actualize art in the form of a novel.

Distasteful novels will keep many of us employed for years to come. Today we are seeing a growing number of authors who don’t write well and never will. Although almost everyone in the industrialized nations can read and write, they’re not all being trained in basic composition or required to study classic literature. Fewer and fewer take courses in creative writing or have workplace mentors disciplining their prose. Yet more and more have the tools and freedom to easily express themselves, adding to the distasteful-novel parade through editors’ hands.


If your tolerance for distasteful novels has worn thin, or your art appreciation has gone stale, then it’s time to reprogram your emotional response. That starts with physically altering your perspective.

For example, step outside literature and walk through an art museum, a gallery, or an arts-and-crafts fair. Look at every piece and assess how you feel about it, what you’re willing to spend money on. Surely you will pass by most of the offerings then stop when something catches your eye or heart. You’ll note that most pieces are produced with mediocre to extraordinary skill, and reveal an astonishing range of imagination.

You’ll see people cheerfully buying paintings you wouldn’t dream of hanging on your walls, while those you consider masterpieces are left behind. At the same time, you may be tempted by something to blow your budget on and enjoy in your own home for the rest of your life.

Try the same exercise in the other arts. Attend, in any combination, a play, a ballet, a Broadway show, a child’s musical recital, a rock concert, a symphony, a folk festival, an open mic session at a coffee house poetry night. Alternatively, close your eyes and select a DVD off the shelf from three or more categories and periods, then play them back to back. What’s your reaction to each?

Perhaps watch a TV show such as NBC’s The Voice, which is a singing competition that parallels a novelist’s apprenticeship from raw talent to star performer. The show displays what an artist goes through to become competent and accepted, and how helpless they are against other people’s tastes and opinions— or boosted along by them.

Then visit a bookstore. Allow yourself to be amazed by the total number of volumes on the shelves. Wander through each fiction section and peruse a few titles, observing how different each is from the next in subject and style, and how widely they range in quality. Watch what people bring to the cash register, and count how often their choices differ from yours.

Then go back to the distasteful novel on your desk.

New Eyes

The book hasn’t changed; it may still be off-putting gobbledygook. But you’ve been colorfully reminded that it wasn’t written for you, and your job is to help it along its path to reaching others. Now you can see it as a project begging for a stronger application of craft; a story struggling to get free; an object needing refinement. Now you can roll up your sleeves and tackle its language with all your skill. When the process is over, the result will be a better novel. Maybe it will even be great.

Maybe not, but what happens after you deliver the manuscript is outside your control. Although your soul may agonize over the book’s imperfections, your professional duty is to deliver what you were hired to do. As part of that, you’re obliged to establish mutual understanding of expectations with your client or employer so all parties, especially the author, are pleased with your contribution. Bottom line: Your job is to improve the book within employment parameters, not to guarantee its publication or success.

The onus for that falls on other parties. A book’s fate depends on how far an author is willing or able to go in upgrading their work, combined with where and how they choose to expose it. Success or failure depends on the following, singly or in combination:

  • an acquiring editor’s taste in novels or directive to find what the house seeks for publication;
  • an agent’s sense of what is likely to sell within the categories they serve, and who they try to place the work with;
  • a contest judge’s pile of manuscripts, time available to review them, and mood of the day;
  • the self-publishing venue a book is released through;
  • any marketing and promotion done for the book, and reviews it receives;
  • ultimately, readers’ moods, tastes, and where they shop.

These all fall beyond the scope of work for editors who handle manuscripts prior to submission. Ironically, a book’s success may come down to how well an editor managed the project: how enthusiastically she greeted the story, how seriously she took it, how supportive she was to the author, how lightly or heavily she touched the text, how conscious she was of reader viewpoint.


If you can’t unplug your subjectivity, and your desire to influence what enters the marketplace still burns, then reorient your career. Acquisitions and managing editors have the power to accept or reject, as do literary agents. Developmental editors have much more hands-on opportunity to direct a manuscript’s course than do line and copy editors. Alternatively, you can volunteer to judge writing contests in your free time, or become a book reviewer so you can publicly proclaim your opinion.

Regardless, increase your exposure to all the arts so you can better appreciate their variety and impact on other people’s lives. Then support what you think deserves success by spending your own dollars on it. Earn your next dollars by welcoming each manuscript as a challenge to your own creativity; a puzzle, perhaps, to solve within tight rules. Approaching editing distasteful novels this way eases frustration and revives the joy and marvel of being paid to read stories.

Accepting and Moving On

By accepting the editorial bottom line — improving the work within employment parameters — we can free ourselves from the downside of distasteful novels. The upside comes from regarding our job as helping literary artists achieve their dreams and touch other lives through their creative work. Even novels we consider distasteful may go on to great sales and acclaim, win awards, snag lucrative movie deals. They may build the foundation for long and prolific writing careers. We can help that happen by cultivating a pro-author, art-loving attitude.

The key is to remember that all novelists have to start somewhere, and each is at a different point on a journey. Understanding that our personal taste must sometimes be put aside releases us to edit darn near any fiction manuscript and help authors advance toward their goals.

Carolyn Haley lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1977, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at or through her websites, DocuMania and New Ways to See the World. Carolyn also blogs at Adventures in Zone 3 and reviews at New York Journal of Books.

September 2, 2015

The Business of Editing: The Profitability Difficulty

In making any decision about my editing business, my number one consideration is profitability. I do not mean to denigrate other important matters, especially not ethical matters, but once past ethical considerations, profitability is the ultimate determiner as to whether I take on a project or retain a client.

Ensuring Profitability Is Difficult

What I have noticed is that increasingly, profitability is more difficult to ensure, not only on a project basis but over the course of multiple projects. I have always adhered to the Rule of Three (see The Business of Editing: The Rule of Three for more information about the rule). The rule has served me well for decades, but even that rule is coming under attack from the types of projects I am consistently being asked to take on in recent months.

As we have discussed many times on An American Editor, the underlying key to profitability is efficiency. It is that striving for ever-increasing efficiency that lies behind my EditTools macros. Yet even though they increase efficiency, the projects I have been seeing in recent months strain attempts to be efficient. It is nearly impossible, for example, to efficiently deal with references when they need to conform to a convoluted style like that of the American Chemical Society and the author has made little attempt to conform to that style.

The problem of efficiency and working style is what led me to abandon proofreading. When I first began my freelance career, I offered both editing and proofreading services. But because of how I work, I found it increasingly difficult to make a profit from proofreading. With the advent of PDF proofreading, my workstyle was such that I went from low profitability to loss.

(For those wondering how to determine profit and loss, the place to begin is my five-part series, Business of Editing: What to Charge. If you don’t know what you need to earn, you can’t possibly know whether you are making or losing money as a freelancer.)

Schedule and Profitability

Even more deadly to profitability than efficiency is schedule. Long-time editors probably remember the guideline that editors and publishers used to follow, but publishers and packagers seem to have abandoned, that set the editing pace. For example, an editor asked to copyedit a medical or science textbook that required a “heavy” or “high-level” edit was expected to edit two to four pages an hour; a “medium” edit’s pace was five to eight pages an hour; and a “light” edit’s pace was eight to ten pages an hour. An editing “week” ran 30 to 35 editing hours.

(An editing hour is the time actually spent editing, not the time you are open for business. I calculate an editing week as 25 editing hours because I have learned that after 5 editing hours, the quality of editing begins to deteriorate — slowly but steadily. Consequently, I try to limit my daily editing time to between 5 and 6 hours. In addition, an editing week is Monday to Friday exclusive of holidays.)

Thus, clients expected that with a medium-level edit, an editor could competently edit 150 to 280 manuscript pages a week, depending on the subject matter. The range for a high-level edit was 60 to 140 manuscript pages per week. But all of that has changed with the outsourcing of editing to companies (“packagers”) that are skilled at book layout and production but which themselves outsource the editing work to freelancers like me.

The Triad

What has occurred is that these packagers have a lot of competition and they need to separate themselves from the pack. So, when they seek work, they promise quick turnaround, excellent editing, and low price — the triad that editors often tell clients that they can pick one of, but not two of, and definitely not three of. When the packagers come to the editor, they refuse to accept that they cannot have all three. Unfortunately, too many editors simply acquiesce without a “fight” although whether the editing is excellent is definitely questionable.

All of this impacts on profitability. Although a key to profitability is turnover — the idea being that the faster a project can be completed, the more projects that can be undertaken, and the higher the gross revenue — the hoped for increase in number of projects doesn’t come to fruition in the absence of the quality editing.

What made me realize this was that I have not stopped telling my clients that they cannot have more than one leg of the triad. About two months ago, I was asked to edit a book that required “heavy” editing. The subject matter was quite technical and the extensive number of references were all in the wrong format. The problems were that the fee was low and the schedule unreasonable — the client expected 400+ manuscript pages to be edited per week when a reasonable and likely schedule was 125 to 150 pages.

The reason this would not be profitable work is that by rushing the project to meet the schedule, I could not provide the editing that the project needs. When the clients see the editing, they will complain and will insist on corrections being made — I know this from past experience — which will eat up ever more time. Consequently, additional hours will be spent on the project but without additional compensation.

Meeting the Triad

The danger is, of course, that not only will I lose money on the project, but the client will be wary of sending me additional work because by not providing a quality edit according to their schedule I caused delays, which cost them points with their client. It is a vicious cycle with the ultimate loser being me, the freelance editor.

Consequently, I have not given in to the demands that I accept these types of projects and the requirements of the triad. I prefer to turn down work, which I regularly do, than try to meet unreasonable requirements. When asked to undertake a project, I always do the page count myself and I always determine, myself, what the schedule should be. I advise the client of the page count, my proposed schedule, and what options they have.

The first option is my schedule at my “usual” fee; the second option is a shorter schedule with a higher fee; the third option is the shortest schedule I am willing to accept at a yet higher fee; the final option is for the client to find another editor. Note the relationship between schedule and fee: the longer the schedule, the lower the fee; the shorter the schedule, the higher the fee.

This fee–schedule relationship revolves around two very important bits of information that I possess: the first, is the page count. The method I use allows for figures without having to actually go through each figure and trying to determine how much of a page should be allotted to the figure. The major weakness in my method, and one that I have yet to ascertain how to overcome, is how much work the references will require. On that, I have just “bitten the bullet” and let the law of averages take over. (Now that I have had the experience of dealing with the ACS style, something I hadn’t done for many years, I will, in the future, apply a multiplier to ACS style projects.) Most importantly, I do the page count and tell the client what the count is; I do not ever accept or rely on the client’s page count.

The second bit of information I possess is this: I know how many pages an hour I can edit under various scenarios. Like the page count, I determine this number, not the client.

With this information in hand, I prepare my “report” to the client. Recall that I have not yet agreed to accept the project. What I am doing is justifying to the client my decision if it is “no, I cannot accept the project” or building the foundation for the terms on which I will accept the project. This tells the client I have carefully considered the offer and that I have business reasons for turning down the project or setting acceptance conditions.

My experience has been that very often the client either ups the price or extends the schedule. If I say “no” to a project, it is not unusual for the client to try to work something out with me. I think that these situations resolve in my favor more often than not because the client knows the quality of the editing I provide and wants to avoid discussions with their clients over quality.

The Lesson

The lesson is that an editor needs to know their price point and their editing rate and resist the idea that it is better to lose money (i.e., earn less than their Required Effective Hourly Rate as discussed in Business of Editing: What to Charge) and have the work than to say “no” to such work offers. Saying “no” to unprofitable work helps you establish ground rules with your client. After all, why be in business if you are not going to make a profit?

What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 31, 2015

Lyonizing Word: Assigning Macro Shortcut Keys

by Jack Lyon

I recently had the pleasure of doing an interview for the Chicago Manual of Style “Shop Talk” column. In the interview, I explained how to record a simple macro for transposing characters while editing.

After reading the interview, editor Kristi Hein commented:

Terrific. Next, please discuss the process of choosing a keystroke combination for your macro: not using one of the many you’ve already assigned, making it a combo that’s not too convoluted for the hands (defeating the purpose somewhat), and that you will remember among all the other keystroke combinations you’ve assigned. Therein lies the true art of automating Word effectively and efficiently.

Kristi is right, but wow, that’s a tall order. Let’s look at each requirement separately.

Not using one of the many we’ve already assigned

To not use one of the many keyboard combinations already assigned, we need to know the keystroke combinations we’ve already assigned. Here’s how to do that:

  1. Click CTRL + P to open Word’s “Print” dialog.
  2. Under “Settings,” click the dropdown list that begins with “Print All Pages.”
  3. Under “Document Properties,” click “Key Assignments.” (Also, notice the other things you might want to print, such as styles and AutoText entries.)
  4. Click the “Print” button.

You’ll get a nicely formatted document that shows all of your existing key combinations. The entries will look something like this, with the key combinations on the left and the macro names on the right:

Alt+Ctrl+Shift+S — Normal.NewMacros.ChangeStyleBasedOn
Alt+Ctrl+Shift+I — Normal.NewMacros.CheckIndexCodes
Alt+Ctrl+Shift+C — Normal.NewMacros.FixCodes
Alt+Ctrl+Shift+M — Normal.NewMacros.ParseMetadata

“And how do I assign key combinations to begin with?” you’re wondering. There are (at least) a couple of ways:

When you go to record a new macro (under View > Macro), one of your options is to assign a key combination by pressing the “Keyboard” button:

Using the keyboard option

Using the keyboard option

When you do that, you’ll see the following dialog:

The dialog for entering the key combination

The dialog for entering the key combination

If you were working with an existing macro (editing rather than recording), you’d see any existing key combinations under “Current keys.” To assign a new combination, put your cursor in the box labeled “Press new shortcut key” and, well, press a new shortcut key.

If the new key is already assigned to a macro, you’ll get a “Currently assigned to” message like this:

Currently assigned message

Currently assigned message

That’s handy because it helps you avoid accidentally overwriting a combination that you’ve already assigned (although you can overwrite one on purpose). If you don’t get that message, you’re good to go, and you can click the “Assign” button (on the lower left) and then the “Close” button (on the lower right) and then record the keystrokes that will make up your macro. (When you’re finished recording, click View > Macro > Stop Recording.)

If you want to assign a key combination to an existing macro, things get a little more complicated:

  1. Click “File > Options.”
  2. Click the “Customize Ribbon” button (on the left).
  3. Under “Choose commands from,” select “Macros” (unless you want to use one of Word’s built-in commands, which you can also do).
  4. At the bottom of the dialog, you’ll see “Keyboard shortcuts: Customize.” Click the “Customize” button and proceed as explained above.


But to continue…

Making it a combo that’s not too convoluted for the hands

This, of course, depends on how many fingers you have (I have ten so far) and how large or small they are, along with your native dexterity. As you can see in the picture above, I’m partial to ALT + CTRL + SHIFT, which I actually find easy to press with my left hand while pressing a letter key with my right. If that’s too convoluted for you, you might try CTRL + SHIFT or CTRL + ALT, both of which are easy to do. ALT + SHIFT is a little more difficult. You can even use plain old CTRL or ALT with another character, but that starts to encroach on Word’s built-in key combinations (like CTRL + S to save a document).

There’s another system, however, that you may not know about:

  1. Press your desired key combination.
  2. Press another key.

The result will be something like this:

Two-step key

Two-step key

See that ,”1” after the “Alt+Ctrl+Shift+M”? That means I’ve just created a two-step key combination. To run the macro, I press ALT+CTRL+SHIFT+M. Then I press 1 (the one key, all by itself). At that point (and not before), the macro will run. Pretty slick!

What that means is that you can assign all kinds of two-step combinations (letters will work as well as numbers), which gives you two characters for the mnemonic you use to remember what a combination does. That’s twice as good as one! (Unfortunately, Word won’t let you use more than two.) It also means you can create shortcuts like these:

ALT+CTRL+SHIFT+H,1 (to apply the Heading 1 style)ALT+CTRL+SHIFT+H,2 (to apply the Heading 2 style)

Or these:

CTRL + SHIFT + T,C (to transpose characters)
CTRL + SHIFT + T,W (to transpose words)
CTRL + SHIFT + T,S (to transpose sentences)
CTRL + SHIFT + T,P (to transpose paragraphs)

And so on. The mind reels at the possibilities!

Making it a combo that you will remember among all the other keystroke combinations you’ve assigned

Using two-step combinations should help with that requirement as well, but for serious keyboard junkies there’s another solution — XKeys. The company manufactures various models, from 24 keys on up to 128 keys! You can assign the keys to your macros, label the keys, color code them, and so on. The 60-key model looks like this:

The 60-key XKeys

The 60-key XKeys

Rich Adin swears by this gadget, and he’s one of the most productive copyeditors I know. Maybe you’d find it useful too.

We’ve met the requirements

In summary, we’ve figured out some ways to meet all of Kristi Hein’s requirements for key combinations:

  • Not using one of the many you’ve already assigned.
  • Making it a combo that’s not too convoluted for the hands.
  • Making it a combo that you will remember among all the other keystroke combinations you’ve assigned.

These may seem like small things, but small things add up to greater editing efficiency, and that means more money in your pocket and less time at work, both of which are big things. I hope this essay will help you achieve them.

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

August 26, 2015

House Guide Plus Style Guide: Why?

Last week’s essay, Style Guide Terrorism: A Formula for Failure (the “ACS essay”), was devoted to what I consider one of the worst style guides editors and authors may have to deal with, The ACS Style Guide: Effective Communication of Scientific Information, 3rd ed., by the American Chemical Society. But there is a corollary problem with style guides that is not the fault of the style guides themselves: the (often, usually) contradictory companion house exceptions (style) guide.

I work with publishers and packagers (packagers being the full-service third-party service providers that contract with publishers to provide all of the production needs for a particular project). Publishers use packagers as a way to reduce costs; the same work is needed and required, but because the packager is often based in a developing country, the packager prices the services at a price that reflects the packager’s lower costs and then finds freelance editors to provide editing services at a price even lower than the already low packager quote to the publisher. It is a way for a publisher to still get a book edited by an editor from a higher-priced country, which is desired, but without paying that higher price.

When I receive a project, I also often receive a lengthy house style guide that contains the exceptions to the style guide I am supposed to apply. For example, not too long ago, I received instructions to follow the AMA Manual of Style, 10th ed., which is, roughly 1,000 pages, and my client’s client’s 105-page house style. Where the guides conflict, the house style controls. Of course, there is another style guide lurking in the background, because both the AMA Manual and the house style say to check The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed., for items not covered (or sometimes even for items covered) in the AMA Manual or the house guide.

It is not enough to be a great editor; one needs to also have a near photographic memory so as to keep the rules, the exceptions, the exceptions to the exceptions, and a third style guide’s strictures in mind.

And what do you do when a usage guide like Garner’s Modern American Usage contradicts the older house style or one of the powerhouse style guides?

What greatly bothers me are those house style guides that tell you to follow a specific style manual except where the house guide contradicts. Why bother telling me to follow the specific manual? Why not just give me a comprehensive house guide? Or, better yet, why not just scrap the house style guide altogether and let me follow the standard style guide?

The answer lies in the belief that each publisher needs to have its own distinctive and recognizable style. When a book published by Oxford is picked up, it believed that it should be immediately recognized as being an Oxford book. The reality is that very few, if any at all, readers recognize the publisher of a book by the style applied to the text. Not only do readers not care, but, much more importantly, it is the very rare book that actually faithfully follows any firmly recognizable style.

That’s because of the ultimate style and usage instruction given editors: “Follow the author’s style!”

I mentioned in the ACS essay the problem with references. Here is what a journal reference conformed to the ACS style would look like:

Hesk, D.; Delduca, P.; Koharski, D.; McNamara, P.; Magatti, C.; Saluja, S.; Thomas, L.; Shapiro, E. L.; Gentles, M. J.; Tiberi, R. L.; Popper, T. L.; Berkenkopf, J.; Lutsky, B.; Watnick, A. S. Synthesis of Tritium Labeled Mometasone Furoate. Med. Chem.: Immunol., Endocr. Metab. Agents 1993, 33, 439–442.

Here is that same reference but in my project author’s style:

Hesk, D.; Delduca, P.; Koharski, D.; McNamara, P.; Magatti, C.; Saluja, S.; Thomas, L.; Shapiro, E. L.; Gentles, M. J.; Tiberi, R. L.; Popper, T. L.; Berkenkopf, J.; Lutsky, B.; Watnick, A. S., Synthesis of tritium labeled mometasone furoate, Med. Chem. Immunol. Endocr. Metab. Agents, (1993), 33(5), 439-442.

The difference is even greater with a chapter-in-book reference. A conformed chapter-in-book reference would like:

Barnes, P. J. Glucocorticoids: Pharmacology and Mechanisms. In Advances in Combination Therapy for Asthma and COPD; Lotvall, J., Ed.; Wiley-Blackwell: London, 2012; Vol. 2, pp 16–37.

whereas in the author’s style it looks like this:

Barnes, P. J., Glucocorticoids: pharmacology and mechanisms, in Advances in Combination Therapy for Asthma and COPD, (Ed. Lotvall, J.), (2012), (Wiley-Blackwell), vol 2, 16-37.

Because of the number of references in the project and the schedule that had to be met, it was decided to follow the author’s style and make the references consistent. So what was the value in telling me to follow the ACS style?

What we end up with is a mishmash of styles. It also means that the editor spends more time styling than editing, because form has become more important than substance. Don’t believe me? Time how long it takes to conform the two author-styled references above to ACS style, including looking up the journal abbreviation. Multiply the time it took by 5,000 (the number of references in the project) and add 50% to that number. That is approximately how long it will take to conform all of the references. (The 50% addition represents the time that you will need to spend looking up each reference for the missing information and the correct ACS journal abbreviation as found in the American Chemical Society’s CAS Source Index [CASSI] Search Tool.) How much time is left for editing of the text in a 30-day schedule?

Also think about how much time is added for deciding whether something is a house-style exception to the style guide’s rule governing the item.

The point is that we have lost sight of the purpose of styling, of style guides, and of editing: to enhance the author’s communication with the reader. Instead, editors are increasingly being sidetracked to deal with mechanical issues (is styling references really what an editor should spend his time doing?) that often do not make communication between the author and the reader more effective.

For the most part, there is little reason for a house style guide as opposed to simply endorsing the use of a standard independent style guide. Sure there is a need to list certain preferences, such as capitalization of heads and whether, for example, “since” and “because” or “about,” “around,” and “approximate” are synonymous. But those preferences should be few; there should be no need for a lengthy exceptions document, especially when those exceptions are rarely strictly enforced, are often set aside because the author wants something different, and because trying to keep straight all of the nuances of the conflicts between standard and house style guide requirements often leads to mistakes.

Perhaps it is time to return to the original purpose of editing. What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 21, 2015

Worth Reading: Is Wikipedia Reliable?

Need to know whether a “fact” is really a “fact”? A lot of editors turn to Wikipedia. Is that what an editor should do?

A recent study, written by Adam Wilson and Gene Likens, regarding Wikipedia’s reliability was published August 14, 2015 in the journal PLoS ONE and is well worth reading:

Content Volatility of Scientific Topics in Wikipedia: A Cautionary Tale

I admit I rarely look at Wikipedia and have never been comfortable with crowd-sourced “research”, but I attribute that to a generational hangup. Yet perhaps there is some reason to be cautious.

What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 19, 2015

Style Guide Terrorism: A Formula for Failure

Maybe the headline exaggerates a little — but not a lot! I am nearly, finally, happily, finished with a project that has been the most difficult project I have worked on in years if not all of my 31 years as an editor.

The problems begin with English not being the native language of the authors. If that was the extent of the problems with the project, then there really wouldn’t be a problem; the project would just be difficult, but not extraordinarily so.

What makes this particular project so difficult is the style guide that is to be followed: The ACS Style Guide: Effective Communication of Scientific Information, 3rd ed. by the American Chemical Society (ACS) (Anne E. Coghill and Lorrin R. Garson, editors) — especially when you combine its strictures with the American Chemical Society’s CAS Source Index (CASSI) Search Tool for bibliographic information.

The purpose of a style guide should be to simplify communication between an author and a reader by making it easy to comply with a group’s style preferences and easy for a reader to have all the necessary information that the author wishes to communicate. Although I have my quibbles with The Chicago Manual of Style 16th ed., Council of Science Editors’ Scientific Style and Format 7th ed. (the 8th edition has been available for a year but I haven’t had need for it yet), AMA Manual of Style 10th ed., and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association 6th ed., none of these publications seem to go out of their way to make an author’s and editor’s work destined to fail as the ACS does.

I take pride in the quality of the editing I provide my clients. I believe one of the reasons I have been as successful over the years as I have been is that I am a topnotch editor who delivers well-edited manuscript in a timely fashion. I do know that I am offered many more editing jobs than I can handle, which I take as an indication from my clients that they perceive great value in my editing skills.

Yet even providing a client with a well-edited manuscript, I am able to maintain a decent rate of pages edited per hour. Those of you who have been long-time readers of An American Editor know that I charge on a per-page basis, which means that I have to be able to edit at a decent rate in order to be profitable.

But I have met my waterloo with the ACS style.

The reference styling requirements are illustrative. Most styles tell you, for example, to list only the first few authors of a journal article followed by et al. Not ACS. ACS style is to “Include all author names in a reference citation” (p. 291) unless a specific publication says otherwise in its in-house style manual. That wouldn’t be too terrible (until you hit the articles with a large number of named authors) except that author names are punctuated like this:

Cotton, F. A.; Rose, T. J. P. A.; Blinker, J. P., II; Muskrat, E. P. S., Jr.; …

Note the punctuation. And the spacing. And think how easy it is in a reference list of 200 entries to miss a space or a punctuation mark, especially when many of the references list more than five authors. This is a design for failure.

Complicating the problem is that the journal names, which are abbreviated, often do not adhere to the common abbreviations found in databases like PubMed. In addition, punctuation is required. For example, the journal Acta Crystallographica. Section C, Crystal Structure Communications‘s PubMed abbreviation is Acta Crystallogr C and its CASSI abbreviation is Acta Crystallogr., Sect. C: Cryst. Struct. Commun. Combine the CASSI abbreviation with the instruction in the Style Guide that essentially says you can ignore the approved abbreviation, and chaos reigns.

Consider the publication Science. According to CASSI, the approved name is Science (Washington, DC, U.S.) (note how U.S. is punctuated but DC is not). However, because CASSI doesn’t list another journal by the single name Science, it is OK to omit the place of publication. (My immediate question was: “Suppose I know of another publication by that name but CASSI’s database doesn’t yet list it. Do I keep the place of publication?” The Style Guide doesn’t say.)

What all this means is that the chance of error increases and the editor needs to check every entry in CASSI (you can also check Appendix 14-1 of the Style Guide for “CASSI Abbreviations for the 1000+ Most Commonly Cited Journals”). Fortunately, as I did each chapter I built my Journals dataset so that I could run EditTools’ Journals macro, which reduced the number of journal names I needed to lookup and/or correct. (See The Business of Editing: Journals, References, & Dollars for more information about the Journals macro.)

ACS reference styling has many more quirks that make the system so different from other styles. But the real question that is not answered (and I don’t really expect to see it answered directly in any style guide) is this: Do all of these requirements actually help the reader or are they make work that, because of complexity, are likely to lead to author and editor errors?

That is the real crux of a style guide. Every rule, every pronouncement, every decision made by the editors of a style guide needs to be weighed against this standard:

Does it actually help the author and reader or does it add a layer of complexity that is likely to lead to error?

Complex, difficult-to-master requirements not only greatly slow the authoring and editing processes, but also make it easy to “err” by violating the requirement. I view this as style guide “terrorism” largely because the style is difficult for no clear betterment of readability and because too often a style guide’s “rules” are too rigidly applied, with adherence to the “rule,” rather than readability, being the measure of editorial competence.

Unfortunately, The ACS Style Guide‘s complexities, of which the reference requirements are just one example, serve no purpose that I can discern other than to be different from other style guides. To my way of thinking, such a purpose — to be different so one can claim to have one’s own style guide — is unworthy. As I said above, it would be better to make readability the test. The current edition of The ACS Style Guide was published in 2006; perhaps a fourth edition will rethink the guide’s approach.

Have you found other style guides similarly overly complex for no clear betterment of readability?

Richard Adin, An American Editor



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