An American Editor

February 17, 2016

EditTools & My Editing Process: Part III

Part I introduced the preediting steps (Steps 1 to 3). Part II discussed the remaining two preediting steps (Steps 4 and 5) and then discussed the first editing step (Step 6) in my editing process, which is editing the references. Part III finishes the editing process with Step 7, which focuses on editing the main text.

Step 7: Editing the Text

I use a three-monitor desktop system for editing. When I edit the text, I have the primary document open on the first monitor, the online stylesheet open on the middle monitor, and other needed documents, such as the references, open on the right-hand monitor. I also have open several of the EditTools tools I use while editing (see below for an example), such as Bookmarks, Click List, Reference # Order Check (if the references are numbered rather than name–date style), and Toggle Specialty Manager. Once I start adding author queries using the Insert Query macro, I may add Comment Editor to the open tools mix.

Sample of EditTools Macros

Sample of EditTools Macros

I keep these tools open on the desktop because I use them often. Bookmarks are both navigational aids and tracking aids. The Reference # Order Check provides a way to track reference callouts and renumbering them if renumbering is required. Click List provides a quick-and-easy method for inserting text or symbols. Toggle Specialty Manager lets me add to the active Toggle list new project-specific terms that I encounter while editing.

As I edit, I know that decisions will need to be made. For example, should I let an acronym stand or should I replace it with its spelled-out version? If the client has a rule governing usage, I need to be able to apply it. So, for example, when I come across travel risk management (TRM), I run the ESCR (Enhanced Search, Count, & Replace) macro, shown below, to determine how many times in the document the phrase travel risk management appears and how many times TRM appears.

ESCR looks for these variations (I can add additional ones)

ESCR macro

ESCR macro

and provides this report

ESCR Report

ESCR Report

Using the report screen, I can make changes to the text. For example, in the above report, travel risk management appears 10 additional times in the document. I can also see that the acronym TRM is often used. Consequently, for consistency, assuming that TRM is acceptable to the client, I need to change travel risk management to TRM. Thus I type TRM in fields #1 and #2 and I check the highlight box (#3) next to TRM. I also leave TRM3 as it is, because that is different from TRM and needs to be defined and searched for separately. Clicking OK then lets the macro change all 11 instances of travel risk management to TRM with tracking on. The macro also yellow highlights the 37 instances of TRM. As I edit the document now, when I see the yellow-highlighted TRM, I know that it has already been defined earlier in the chapter and that the decision was made to use the acronym rather than the phrase. Had the report come back saying there were only two instances of TRM, then the decision might have been to use the spelled-out version instead of the acronym.

If travel risk management (TRM) is not in my Word Specialty dataset, I add it (I also add it to the online stylesheet if it is not already there), using the Acronym/Phrase entry system (shown below).

Toggle Word Acronym/Phrase entry system

Toggle Word Acronym/Phrase entry system

In the future, if I come across an instance of TRM that needs to be spelled out, I can click Toggle Word and choose from among several options, as shown here:

Toggle Word Choice Menu

Toggle Word Choice Menu

If I need to query the author or make a comment to the compositor, I use Insert Query (see below). With Insert Query, I can call upon a previously written query that I have saved, or create a brand-new query, which I can save, or not, to the dataset for future reuse.

Insert Query

Insert Query

If I want to alter a query for any reason, or even if I want to delete a query — whether it is located 20 pages ago or where I currently am — I use Comment Editor, shown here:

Comment Editor

Comment Editor

Comment Editor lists all of the queries I have inserted in the document (#1). There is no limit to the number of queries Comment Editor will list. One of the nice things about Comment Editor is that I do not need to go to the page where the query is located to edit it. I select the query that I want to edit and the complete text of the query appears in the Text box (#2), where I can edit or completely rewrite it. If I want to go to the query in the manuscript, I can click Go To Comment (#3). That will take me to the query’s location. To return to where I was in the document, I click Return to Before (the name is odd but it refers to the bookmark that was inserted). I can also delete a query by selecting it and clicking Delete (#4). With Comment Editor I do not need to spend time trying to locate the query I want to modify, going to it, and then returning to where I was in the document.

As I indicated earlier, I use the Bookmarks macro as a way to track figures, tables, and text boxes. I also use it to mark items I need to return to for some reason. Unlike Word’s Bookmark feature, EditTools’ Bookmarks lets you use descriptive language. That helps greatly when, for example, you want to bookmark a sentence to recheck. With EditTools’ Bookmarks you could insert “Recheck this sentence – has TRM been mentioned?”, as shown here:

Bookmarks

Bookmarks

I use the Bookmarks renaming function for tracking. If Figure 1 has been called out in the text and I have edited the figure and its caption, I rename the bookmark. I select the bookmark and click Rename (#1), which brings up the renaming dialog shown here:

Bookmarks Renaming Dialog

Bookmarks Renaming Dialog

The renaming dialog tells me which bookmark I am renaming (#1). Because I have selected certain items to be the defaults (#2 and #3), the new name automatically appears in the To field (#4). I could choose a different prefix or suffix, add new ones, change the defaults, and even choose None (meaning either no prefix or no suffix is to be used). If the default is what I want, I click OK and the change is made, as shown below, but the bookmark remains in the same location.

After Renaming

After Renaming

When I am done editing the document, I bring the reference file back into the main document using Word’s Insert File feature. I then run one last EditTools macro, Remove All Highlighting, which is found in the Other menu on the Highlight menu, as shown here:

Remove All Highlighting

Remove All Highlighting

Running that macro will remove all the highlighting I have added during editing. It has no effect on Track Changes, just on the highlighting. If I need to keep certain highlighting, I instead run the Choose Highlighting To Remove macro. When I run that macro, it searches through the document to determine what highlighting colors are used in the document and lists them, as shown here:

Choose Highlighting to Remove

Choose Highlighting to Remove

I select the colors I want removed and click OK.

That’s pretty much the process I follow and the way I use many of the EditTools macros. I haven’t mentioned several macros, because they are not part of my usual editing process. I do use them, just not with the frequency of those described above. Under the right circumstances, these other EditTools macros can be very useful.

If you are a user of EditTools, share your experience with EditTools and tell us which macros you use and when you use them.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

_______________

Looking for a Deal?

You can buy EditTools in a package with PerfectIt and Editor’s Toolkit Plus 2014 at a special savings of $78 off the price if bought individually. To purchase the package at the special deal price, click Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate.

February 15, 2016

EditTools & My Editing Process: Part II

Part I introduced the preediting steps (Steps 1 to 3). Part II discusses the remaining two preediting steps (Steps 4 and 5) and then discusses the first editing step (Step 6) in my editing process, which is editing the references.

Step 4: Moving the References

Most of the projects I work on have extensive reference lists. Sometimes a chapter will have a relatively short reference list of 50 or so, but most are at least 100 references, and sometimes are more than 1,000 references.

After the preliminary steps and before running Never Spell Word (Step 5), I move the reference list to its own file. I do this for several reasons. First, some of the macros that I use during editing can affect the references, creating undo work for me. Moving the references to their own file avoids this problem.

Second, I like to edit with Spell Check on. However, Spell Check sees many author names and foreign spellings in journal names and article titles as misspellings. That wouldn’t matter except that it often leads to the message that Spell Check can’t be used because there are too many spelling errors and so Word will turn off Spell Check — for the entire document. By moving the references to their own file, I almost always avoid that particular problem. (Yes, I am aware that I could turn off Spell Check just for the references — for example, by modifying the styles used in the references, which is what many editors do — but I like Spell Check to be on even for the references.)

Third, I want to be able to run my Journals macro unimpeded and as quickly as I can. The more material the Journals macro has to run through, the longer it takes to complete.

Fourth, I want to be able to run Wildcard Find & Replace on the references without having the macro also affect other parts of the document.

And fifth, moving the references to their own file makes it easier to check text reference callouts against the references because I can have both the primary document and the references open concurrently and on different monitors.

I do not edit the references in this step; I simply move them to their own file.

Step 5: Project-Specific Never Spell Word

The next preedit step is to create my project-specific Never Spell Word (NSW) dataset, which is shown below. Every project has its own NSW dataset (#13). The only time I use a previously created dataset is when I have edited a previous edition of the book. I assume that word usage decisions made in previous editions will continue in the current edition. This is generally reinforced when the client also sends me a copy of the stylesheet I prepared for the prior edition (or tells me to use it, knowing I have it available on my website). I do, however, go through the NSW dataset to make sure there are no changes that need to be made as a result of changes in the applicable style guide or in other pertinent guidelines (e.g., changing over-the-counter and OTC to nonprescription).

Never Spell Word dataset

Never Spell Word dataset

If I cannot use a previously created NSW dataset, I create a new one using the Never Spell Word Manager shown above. Note that when I speak of the NSW dataset, I am really speaking about the one tab in the Manager — the Never Spell Words tab (circled). Although the other tabs are part of the NSW macro, they are not project specific as I use them; however, they can be project specific, as each tab can have multiple datasets, and the tabs also can be renamed.

In the example NSW, the dataset has 70 items (#15). These items were specifically mentioned by the client or the author(s) (e.g., changing blood smear to blood film, or bone marrow to marrow) (#14), or things I noticed that will need changing (e.g., changing Acronyms and Abbreviations that appear in this chapter include: to Acronyms and Abbreviations:) (#14). As I edit and discover more items that should be added, I add them through this Manager.

The NSW macro has multiple tabs, some of which may not be relevant to the current project. Running the NSW macro brings up the NSW Selector, shown below. Here I choose which tabs to run. The default is Run All, but if I need to run only the NSW and Commonly Misspelled Words tabs for the particular project, I check those two and click OK and only those two parts of the macro will run.

Never Spell Word Selector

Never Spell Word Selector

After the NSW macro is run, it is time to begin editing.

Editing Steps

Step 6: The References

My first task is to edit the references that I moved to their own file in Step 4. I deal with the references before editing the text so I can determine whether there are “a,b,c” references (e.g., 57a, 57b) or if the references are listed alphabetically even though numbered. This is important to know for setting up the Reference # Order Check macro, found on the References menu and shown below, for tracking callout order and for renumbering if needed.

Reference # Order Check

Reference # Order Check

After I set up the Reference # Order Check macro, it is time to look at the references and see if the author followed the required style. Occasionally an author does; usually, however, the author-applied or -created style is all over the place. So the next macro I run is Wildcard Find & Replace (WFR) (shown below) and the appropriate scripts I created using WFR. The scripts focus on specific problems, such as author names and order-of-cite information (e.g., year first or last).

Wildcard Find & Replace Scripts

Wildcard Find & Replace & WFR Scripts

The scripts cure a lot of problems, but not all of them. Following the scripts, I run the Journals macro. Depending on which dataset I use, running the Journals macro may well fix nearly all of the journal names.

After running the Journals macro, I go through the references one by one, looking for remaining problems that need fixing, such as completing incomplete citations. If I come across a journal that was not in the Journals dataset, which I know because it is not color coded, I verify the journal’s name. I also go to the Journals Manager enhanced screen, shown below, so I can add the journal to multiple datasets concurrently.

Journals Manager Enhanced Screen

Journals Manager Enhanced Screen

Once I have finished editing the references, it is time to begin editing the main text (Step 7), which is the subject of Part III.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

_______________

Looking for a Deal?

You can buy EditTools in a package with PerfectIt and Editor’s Toolkit Plus 2014 at a special savings of $78 off the price if bought individually. To purchase the package at the special deal price, click Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate.

February 10, 2016

EditTools & My Editing Process: Part I

I have been asked to describe how EditTools fits in the editing process. I have avoided doing so because each editor works differently and the way I edit suits me but may not suit someone else. However, I have been asked that again as part of a question about EditTools, and I have decided that perhaps the time has come to explain how I use EditTools in my editing process.

Usually the manuscripts I edit — all nonfiction, with a majority being STEM (science, technology, engineering, and medicine) — come to me in groups of a few chapters. Occasionally I will receive the entire book, but even then it is usually divided into chapter files. When the book is given to me as a single file, I divide it into chapter files.

I know some editors prefer to work with a single file that represents the whole book. I do not, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the books I usually work on are much too long to effectively edit as a single file — sometimes a single chapter runs more than 400 manuscript pages. In addition, Word is not the most stable of programs, and the larger the file (and the more that goes on in the file), the more likely it is that Word will crash — and keep on crashing. More important, however, is that by working on chapter-size files, I can add to my EditTools datasets and have those additions applied in future chapters. Without reading every word, I cannot know in advance every decision that I need to make.

Before-Editing Steps

Step 1: Delete Unused Styles

I receive basically two types of files: ones that the authors designed and ones that the clients have manipulated before sending them to me (in my work, authors are not my clients). Sometimes I need to apply a template to the file. In the case of the author-designed file or a file to which I need to apply a template, the first thing I do is run the Delete Unused Styles macro (#1) shown here:

Delete Unused Styles

Delete Unused Styles

By running this macro, I eliminate many (not all) of the author-created styles that aren’t used in the document and narrow the number of styles that I need to deal with.

Step 2: Cleanup & Style Language

After that, I run the Cleanup macro (#2). The Cleanup macro has its own Manager (shown below), which lets me set what I want cleaned up (#3). It also lets me link to a Specialty file (#4) for additional cleanup that is specific to the project (or type of project) I am working on. The Manager lets me set the order of the cleanup by moving the items around, although I don’t bother — instead I run the macro twice. The main field shows me what will be done (#5). And, as is true of all EditTools datasets, I can save my cleanup profile (#6). What that means is that I can create custom cleanups based on client or type of project or any other criterion and recall them as needed.

Cleanup macro

Cleanup macro

As part of this step, I also run the Change Style Language macro, which is found under Other on the Other menu, as shown here.

process 2 A

Change Style Language

I run the macro to make sure that the language used is uniformly U.S. English and to make sure Spell Check is on. Authors tend to use multiple languages and sometimes turn off Spell Check. The macro gives me the option to choose any Word-supported language and to turn Spell Check on or off, as shown here:

process 2 B

Choosing the Spell Check Language

After I have made my choices, I click Update and the macro will update the document’s styles.

This is also the step where I run the Superscript Me macro, which is found on the References menu, as shown here:

Superscript Me

Superscript Me

Superscript Me lets me change how reference numbers appear in the text. For example, if the author has the numbers in square brackets (e.g., [122]) when they should be superscript without the brackets, I can quickly make the change throughout the document by running this macro. The macro also lets me choose how the numbers are to appear in relation to punctuation; the choices are between the AMA and the Chicago options, as shown here:

Setting Superscript Me's Options

Setting Superscript Me’s Options

(Tip: If the numbers are correctly superscripted but incorrectly placed in relation to punctuation, select None and the correct style type, then run the macro. The numbers will remain superscript, but the style will be corrected. This will also clear out any spaces in superscripted numbers following a comma [e.g., superscripted 132, 134 will become superscripted 132,134].)

Step 3A: Coding & Styling

After the Cleanup step, I code or style the document. In the “olden” days, I applied the codes or styles as I edited, but with EditTools, it is easier and quicker to apply them before editing begins. I may change some during editing (e.g., change a numbered list to a bulleted list), but nearly all remain as originally coded/styled.

Most of the projects I work on require me to either add coding or apply client template styles to the text. If it is codes, I use the Code Inserter Manager; if it is styles, I use the Style Inserter Manager. Consequently, creating the Inserter dataset for the project is next on my to-do list. Because clients tend to use the same styles and codes, I generally open an existing dataset and just make necessary changes, such as in the way a head is to appear (e.g., title case bold, all capitals, or sentence case italic). Here is a Code Inserter Manager dataset:

Code Inserter Manager dataset

Code Inserter Manager dataset

Note that the sample is the 9th edition of a book (#7). I took the project-specific Code Inserter dataset for the 8th edition of this book and copied it for the 9th edition, and then made whatever changes were required, such as in head casing (#8) or options (#9) or code to be used (#10). Within a few minutes, I was set to begin coding.

The same is true with the Style Inserter, shown below. Often a client uses standard designs rather than creating a new design for each book. The client tells me the standard design to use for the project and I open the style dataset (#7) for that design. Again, I may need to make some adjustments (#8, #9, #10), but once I have created the basic dataset, I can reuse it repeatedly (#7). The Style Inserter Manager is very similar to the Code Inserter Manager.

Style Inserter Manager dataset

Style Inserter Manager dataset

Step 3B: Bookmarks

At the same time that I open the Inserter (Step 3A), I open the Bookmarks macro, shown below. (In cases where I do not have to code/style, this is the only portion of Step 3 that I do.) I always add two bookmarks — refs, which is required by the NSW macro, and editing paused here, which is my generic bookmark for when I pause in editing for some reason (arrows & #11) — to every manuscript. In addition, as I code/style, I insert a bookmark at each table (e.g., Table 01, Table 02, etc.) and figure (e.g., Fig 01, Fig 02, etc.), and at any other item, such as boxed text, that I may need to find again. I use the bookmarks as a way to track what tables and figures have been called out in text and edited. They also provide an easy way to get from my current location to where the table or figure is located, and back again. After I edit a figure, for example, Fig 01, I change its bookmark name to x Fig 01 edited. The x causes the bookmark to move to the end of the list and edited tells me that it has been edited. This makes it easy to catch a missed text callout as well as to get to and from a figure, table, or other bookmarked text.

Bookmarks

Bookmarks

Part II continues the preediting steps (Steps 4 and 5) and introduces the first editing step (Step 6), which is editing the references. Part III discusses the final step (Step 7), editing the text.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

_______________

Looking for a Deal?

You can buy EditTools in a package with PerfectIt and Editor’s Toolkit Plus 2014 at a special savings of $78 off the price if bought individually. To purchase the package at the special deal price, click Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate.

January 13, 2016

The Business of Editing: Using Click Lists to Increase Efficiency

One of Word’s features with which I have a love–hate relationship is the Symbol dialog. I am sure there must be a rationale for where symbols are placed in the various categories, but it escapes me.

Dealing with the Symbol dialog was one of the impetuses for the creation of the original Click List macro in EditTools. Needless to say, although the original Click List was helpful, it was problematic to remember that [*8214*] meant a double vertical line. And as my list of symbols grew, it became apparent that some other system was needed — I was neither saving time nor making money by using Click List (in its original incarnation) for symbols.

Then I had a project where the author kept reusing the same basic references (134 of them) but didn’t style them the same way twice. So, I thought, this could be a great use for Click List. And I started adding the references in their correct form to Click List.

The result was unusable if efficiency was my goal — I was trying to add to a single Click List too many disparate items, which made it hard to find specific items. This approach was contrary to the approach I was using in other EditTools macros, which was to have multiple tabs so that data could be better organized and managed; consequently, it became evident that I needed to add tabs to Click List.

Consequently, significant changes have been made to Click List in the recent EditTools 7.0 release. Version 6.2 provided a single tab and essentially no options. Version 7.0 has added tabs and expanded the options. The new Click List Manager looks like this (clicking on the images will enlarge them):

Click List Manager v7.0

Click List Manager v7.0

and Click List like this:

Click List v7.0

Click List v7.0

Instead of one tab for everything, there are now four tabs (#1 in above images) — three of which can be renamed (the Click List tab cannot be renamed) — one of which, Symbols Definition, is specifically designed to deal with Word’s Symbols. Each tab has its own dataset (#C above and below), so each list is independently maintained.

Symbols Definitions Tab in Click List Manager v7.0

Symbols Definitions Tab in Click List Manager v7.0

Symbols and Click List

The Symbols Definitions tab in Click List Manager is shown above. The Symbols tab in Click List is shown in the Click List image above.

The Manager has two information columns (#A and #B), which correspond to the Symbol Name field (#6) and the Symbol field (#5), respectively. I click the Insert Symbol button (#E) to open Word’s Symbol dialog. I locate the symbol I want to add to Click List and double-click it. That both inserts the symbol in the Symbol field (#5) and closes the Symbol dialog. Then I enter a name for the symbol in the Symbol Name field (#6). The name can be the any name you choose. (Hint: If certain symbols are rarely used and you use the alphabetize option [#2], start the name with an x and a space — for example, “x euro” [no quote marks] for € — to put the symbol at the end of the list. Similarly, if there are a few symbols that are often used, start the name with a hyphen and a space — for example, “- section” [no quote marks] for § — to put the symbol at the beginning of the list, and reduce the time to access it.)

Note that there are 30 entries in the list (#D). Under Word’s system, it would be difficult to access some of these symbols quickly. In addition, Word requires multiple clicks each time I want to access a symbol: (1) to switch to the Insert menu, (2) to open the Symbol dialog, (3) to open the More Symbols dialog if the symbol I want is not on the short “quick access” list, (4) to scroll (or to select the group, if I know which group it is in, from the dropdown) to find the symbol I want, (5) to select the symbol, and (6) to insert the symbol into my document.

In contrast, with Click List, once I use the Manager to add the symbol to Click List (the Manager can be opened from the EditTools toolbar or by clicking the button in Click List [#11]), it takes three steps: (1) a click to go to the Symbols tab if it is not already showing (assuming Click List is already open; the way I work, I open it when I start Word and keep it open until I close Word or click Cancel [#F]), (2) scroll to locate the symbol by the name I have given it, and (3) click on the name to insert the symbol in my document. Half the steps plus significant time saving in locating.

References and Click List

As I noted earlier, I had a project in which the author repeatedly cited the same sources but never the same way twice. That project was the impetus for the Reference tab. The References Click List and Manager are shown here:

References Tab in Click List and Click List Manager v7.0

References Tab in Click List and Click List Manager v7.0

The Reference tab is the same as the Click List and Miscellaneous tabs, but if you compare it to the Symbols Definition tab above, you will see some significant differences. For example, the Format Options (#G), the Text Color option (#17), and the ability to add a Return to an entry by typing ^p (#18) are not available in the Symbols Definitions tab.

In the project, the author would cite a book or a chapter in a book, but do so inconsistently. So when I initially came to a reference, I corrected it and I then copied the “fixed” portion (i.e., the portion of the reference that would remain the same in any future use of the cite) of the corrected version into the Text field (#14) of the Manager and added it to the list (#15) by clicking Add. I did not apply any of the Format Options (#G) because they apply to the whole text string, not just to select words in the text string.

Because Alphabetize (#2) is the default, clicking either Save or Save & Close added the cite to Click List (#16) in alphabetical order. When I came to a reference entry in the document, I checked for it in the Click List using the ability to go to a particular letter in the alphabet by clicking on the letter in the Alphabet (#13). If it was present, I then selected the incorrect “fixed” portion of the cite in the document and clicked on the correct “fixed” form in Click List to replace the selected text.

This was a great time-saving method for fixing citations. It took much less time once the entry was in Click List than it took to manually correct the cites. With a click, this author-supplied cite

Dunn, P. J., The chemical development of the commercial route to sildenafil citrate, (Ed. Gadamasetti, K.; Braish, T.), Proc. Chem. Pharmaceut., Ind. (2008), 267-277.

became this (as per the client’s style)

Dunn, P. J., The chemical development of the commercial route to sildenafil citrate, Process Chemistry in the Pharmaceutical Industry, Volume 2: Challenges in an Ever Changing Climate, (Ed. Gadamasetti, K.; Braish, T.), (2008), (CRC Press), 267-277.

A lot of typing (and repeat typing) was saved by using the Reference tab of Click List. And because the reference list I created could be saved to a project-specific dataset, I can recall this list when I edit the next edition of the book. If the format had been a standard style, such as AMA or Chicago, I could have saved the list as a style-specific list, for example, as “Chicago Style Drug References,” and used it (and added to it) the next time I had a project calling for that style in the same subject area.

Alphabetizing and Click Lists

I always alphabetize my Click Lists, so I leave Alphabetize (#2) checked. If it is checked, it remains the default until you uncheck it, which then becomes the default until the box is rechecked. (In the case of Symbols, the alphabetization is by the name [#A] I assign the symbol, not the Unicode [#B] number.)

I found that as my Click List datasets grew, it became difficult to quickly find a specific entry. This was especially true with the Symbols and the References tabs. The result was the Alphabetize option (#2) on Manager and the Alphabet go-to function (#13) on Click List. Clicking on a letter of the alphabet takes you to the first entry that begins with the selected letter, eliminating a lot scrolling in long lists.

Click List and Toggle Word

The EditTools 7 Click List is an excellent way to save time and increase profits. I use it to insert specific text that a client requires (e.g., copyright lines or permission lines) and anything else that can be standardized.

Remember that Click List and Toggle Word are complementary. Click List inserts new text; Toggle Word changes existing text. Using both significantly increases efficiency and, thus, profitability.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

_________________
Looking for a Deal?

You can buy EditTools in a package with PerfectIt and Editor’s Toolkit Plus 2014 at a special savings of $78 off the price if bought individually. To purchase the package at the special deal price, click Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate.

 

January 11, 2016

Thinking Fiction: Making Copyediting Decisions

by Carolyn Haley

In a recent discussion with a colleague about editing fiction, I was asked the following questions:

  • How do you determine if the language level fits the readership?
  • If a phrase is properly worded but there is an alternative phrasing that might be better, how do you determine whether it is better for the target audience?
  • How do you decide how much explanation of events or characters is too much or too little?
  • How do you decide whether an allusion can be left without explanation?

In each case, my answer is, “It depends.”

It depends, primarily, on scope of work and who you’re working for. Secondarily, it depends on contextual variables, such as genre and vocabulary — and yourself.

Scope of work

The keywords in the above questions are how do you determine and how do you decide. In actuality, you might not have the luxury to do either. For instance, when copyediting a manuscript for a traditional publisher on a freelance basis, you might be barred from revising content. The manuscript already has been content-edited, and the project editor informs you of the parameters to work within for polishing the prose.

Such parameters could range from an admonishment to not touch anything unless it’s patently wrong, to a list of situations that are okay to change and not change. In these situations, if you exceed scope of work by broadly evaluating language level, phrasing, and explanation, and then make revisions pertaining to them, you could get tagged as a freelancer who doesn’t follow directions and not be hired again. Conversely, the project editor might be thrilled that you did so much and hire you again eagerly. But now you’ve established a performance standard disproportionate to your rate, and you may get stuck there for all future jobs.

Sometimes the publisher gives you a free hand as long as you query and justify any changes beyond mechanical details. While documenting so much extra can be annoying and time consuming, it gives opportunity to address issues on multiple levels. Again, though, you might end up with an imbalance between work and paycheck. But if you’re a copyeditor in a solid, long-standing relationship with an individual publisher, you may have more leeway.

Contextual variables

The how you determine/decide question mainly comes into play when you’re an independent copyeditor handling novels by independent authors, a situation in which you have more freedom to make choices.

So, back to the original questions:

(1) How do you determine if the language level fits the readership?

By understanding genre, and how it applies to an individual novel.

A young adult story, for instance, is structured with shorter sentences and leaner vocabulary than an adult book. Words that you think might be a stretch for the age group can still be acceptable; after all, none of us is too old (or young) to look things up and learn. As long as context gives a good sense of the word’s meaning, you can usually let it stand, though sometimes it’s a tough call. Authors are cautioned by writing gurus to not “write down” to younger audiences, but may not understand where the line is, which can make things fuzzy for the editor. Generally, in books for youth, too many occurrences of look-up words needs to be queried.

Adult novels allow wider vocabularies. Nevertheless, in some genres certain words are taboo. Take sweet romances and cozy mysteries. These rarely contain profanity or sexual terms, so if you encounter such elements in those genres, you need to query and suggest options. Similarly, science fiction commonly includes technical terms, which are fine for that audience but may confuse readers in, say, a dark mystery focusing on relationships. Fantasy novels often create words for magical systems and alien worlds, which, too, are fine for that audience. However, those words might be hard to read because of strange spellings, or character names might be confusing because so many start with the same letter to indicate variants of tribal names. That convention might make story sense but adds labor for the reader, making it something you should query.

Action-based stories normally use short or fragmented sentences; short paragraphs, chapters, and words; and are heavy on verbs, but light on adverbs and adjectives. Verbosity and passive construction defeat the story’s purpose and must be edited and/or queried and/or discussed with the author. Likewise with any contemporary novel that overuses brand names or fad language because the author is trying to be hip, or to slavishly follow someone’s advice to be detail-specific. These can date the story needlessly or overload it with minutiae, each of which can interfere with reader attention or interest.

In any context, language that doesn’t work usually draws attention to itself by making the reader stumble. I take my cue from stumbles to focus on the cause and consider alternative phrasing. Whether to edit, query, or talk with the author depends on the scope of work. Sometimes there’s more going on than either you or the author anticipated, and you have to renegotiate timeline and fee.

(2) If a phrase is properly worded but there is an alternative phrasing that might be better, how do you determine whether it is better for the target audience?

“Better” is a highly subjective term, so ensure that your judgment of “better” is a matter of clarity and comprehension, not just your personal taste. When editors start questioning or recasting too much of an author’s writing because they think it’s not good enough, they’re entering the realm of changing author voice. That’s a big no-no in fiction, which is why I use stumbling as my first decision-making criterion. I may not be the ideal representative of the target audience, but I’m well read enough to trip on something that doesn’t work. So when stumbles provoke me to consider alternative language, I review the choices in the context of the author’s audience and genre, and edit or query as suits the scope of work.

(3) How do you decide how much explanation of events or characters is too much or too little?

By stumbling while reading, or being pushed out of the story.

Most of us have encountered novels wherein the author presents so much detail or backstory that the narrative bogs down. Such “info dumps” are a frequent cause of readers skipping ahead or bailing out, and should be addressed. Part of storytelling finesse is to provide just enough information to let readers understand what’s going on and create a clear picture in their minds, while leaving out enough to lure them along. When authors fail to do this, you should draw their attention to it and suggest whether to condense, delete, or relocate the material.

Conversely, too little information leads to confusion. Unclear action, unreacted-to moments, unsubstantiated logic leaps, incomplete scenarios — all force readers to back up and figure out what’s going on. Most of these situations require queries, although sometimes simple edits like adding a pronoun or reversing a sentence can take care of the problem.

(4) How do you decide whether an allusion can be left without explanation?

This is a tricky call. Each editor brings a different knowledge base to a story, and some will understand certain allusions automatically and glide by them, whereas others won’t make the connection and will need it explained, and still others will be uncertain enough to ask. It’s safe to assume that readers will run the same gamut. Best practice is to flag any allusion that appears in a story and ask the author to confirm that it means what you think it means, and whether the author believes all readers will understand it. Perhaps suggest that the point will be better made by spelling it out.

“It depends” as a standing condition

Because so much of fiction editing is contextual and subjective, it’s hard to know where to draw lines between right and wrong. Yet many narrative moments have no concrete right or wrong presentation (which is why style guides are considered guides, not rule books). Copyeditors of fiction must have some tolerance for rule ambiguity so they can help authors keep ambiguity out of their voice and vision. That means editing with a light touch unless directed otherwise by the hiring party, and flagging anything that might raise a question in readers’ minds or generate confusion. “When in doubt, query” serves well in most instances. Every potential issue the editor points out is one that author can revisit and prevent becoming an issue for the reader. While “it depends” is often the answer to a question, copyeditors who know what “it” depends on can best convey to authors their choices and the advantages one has over another.

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 dcma@vermontel.com 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.

January 6, 2016

Should Editors Give Trigger Warnings?

I was catching up with some reading of magazines I haven’t had time to get to (for months), when I came across an article on trigger warnings at the university level (“The Coddling of the American Mind” by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Atlantic, September 2015, pp. 42-52). I am surprised at how different the expectations are today on a college campus than when I attended college 50 years ago.

One example given in the article was a demand by some law school students that “professors at Harvard not […] teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in ‘that violates the law’) lest it cause students distress” (p. 44). Having gone to law school myself, I wondered how that would work. How could a professor ignore the subject of rape or abuse (spousal or child) in a class on, for example, criminal law, criminal procedure, or constitutional law? How will these future attorneys make it in the real-world practice of law where “violates” is a commonly used word? And what about their clients? How well would a rape victim (or a rapist) be served by a lawyer who doesn’t acknowledge the word rape?

But that got me thinking about editing. Not once in my 32 years of editing have I given a warning at the beginning of a manuscript. Have I been remiss? Have I neglected to take into account the sensibilities or sensitivities of my client or my client’s author?

Of course, I also have never received a warning that the manuscript contains explicit descriptions of things that would not make for everyday conversation in “polite” society. Have my clients or my clients’ authors been remiss by not warning me of the horrors to come should I proceed with editing their manuscript?

I am currently editing a book that requires a heavy editing hand, just the opposite of what I was told when I was hired (“It only needs a very light edit.”). Should I put a warning at the beginning of each chapter, one that says:

WARNING! Read the edited version of this chapter with caution. You may be offended by the number and type of queries added and corrections made to your manuscript. They might cause you undue stress, especially if you perceive it as an attack on your language skills rather than an attempt to help you improve your manuscript.

Okay, perhaps the warning needs a little work but the idea is conveyed. What if a person needs to be warned about literature?

WARNING: William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice contains blatant anti-Semitic text that may offend you. As this text is foundational to this course on works by Shakespeare, perhaps you should consider taking a different, potentially less-offending course.

Or a about a book that focuses on a genre of literature?

WARNING: In this book on 19th-century American literature of the South, words that are politically incorrect today and that might remind you of slavery and/or second-class status are common. If such words deeply offend you, perhaps you should consider reading a different, potentially less-offending book.

Or about the contents of a book discussing history?

WARNING: Since the beginning of recorded history, slavery has been a prominent part of history. Consequently, slavery is discussed in this book. If a discussion of slavery deeply offends you, perhaps you should consider reading a different, potentially less-offending book.

Perhaps, then, editors need to warn clients that the perfect manuscript the client submitted was found to be imperfect, so the client should be prepared to deal with the stress that the discovered imperfections may cause.

Then, again, perhaps clients owe editors a warning that editing a manuscript may be stressful.

I understand that the traumas some people have experienced are such that reliving those traumas can be exceedingly painful and that some subjects trigger that reexperiencing. The goal of trigger warnings is commendable; I just wonder how well those who require trigger warnings to deal with life on the college campus will be able to deal with work life after college, when the shelter college affords is no longer available.

I also wonder where the line is drawn. Are we not to talk about the Holocaust because it may trigger anxiety in someone who lost much of their family in the concentration camps? Do we not mention the Vietnam War because it may trigger posttraumatic stress disorder in a Vietnam veteran? Do we not discuss the march on Selma because it may trigger severe stress in someone by reminding them of the Ferguson events? Are we not to mention President Obama because it may cause severe stress in an ultraconservative Republican?

I know there are defenders of trigger warnings (see the comments to Trigger Warning: This Essay May Cause Mental Disturbance), but no one has yet defined the boundary beyond which trigger warnings need not be given. In addition, the argument always seems to be one-sided and focused on offering protection to the person that might be offended and ignoring everyone else. Yet the movement grows.

An article by Rani Neutill, “My trigger-warning disaster: ‘9 1/2 Weeks,’ ‘The Wire’ and how coddled young radicals got discomfort all wrong,” (Salon, October 28, 2015), and the video of a HuffPost Live discussion at the end of the article are worth reading and watching.

In the end, however, the question remains: Should I offer the trigger warning about the editing or not? For now my answer is no, but if the trigger-warning movement keeps its momentum, the trigger warning will become a necessary tool in the editor’s toolkit because the future generation of authors will have grown up in an academic environment where such warnings were routinely given and so they will expect them everywhere, including on edited versions of their manuscript.

The question will be this: Will these new authors give warnings to editors that their manuscript might be poorly written and stressful to edit, or that it contains such potentially distasteful and stress-causing things as putting milk and sugar in tea or an allusion to sex between bees?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

 

December 2, 2015

Market Magic: The In-Tandem Duo — Declining Price & Declining Quality

There is a disconnect in the editorial marketplace. The disconnect occurs at several levels but is most prominent when a publisher outsources production and editorial work to a single provider (a packager), often an offshore provider, that promises to deliver high-quality editing at a price lower than the publisher itself can get directly in the editorial market it wants tapped (e.g., a U.S. publisher wanting a U.S. editor).

The disconnect occurs because the packager has not first determined that, when tapping the publisher’s desired editor market, it can obtain and deliver the promised quality for a price even lower than the price it promised the publisher. The disconnect also occurs because the publisher has misbudgeted for a manuscript’s editorial work on the basis of the packager’s representations.

There is a line below which quality and price decrease as one, and packagers have been embracing that downward trajectory for short-term gains, at the expense of long-term survival and growth. If the reports are correct, many packagers are facing revenue and growth problems — the long-term penalty is now starting to be paid for their having focused on the short term. They have entered that cycle in which they must continue to promise low editorial costs (sometimes even lower than previously promised) in exchange for more short-term business. However, the packagers increasingly find that they cannot hire the better editors and so return to the publisher lower-quality editing (often, much lower quality) than was promised. The editorial members of the publisher’s staff are unhappy, but the accounting staff remains unmoved.

As a result, the publisher continues to budget low prices for high-quality editing because the packager continues to represent that it can provide that level of editing using the publisher’s preferred editors at the lower price, a price that the publishers themselves cannot get in the editorial marketplace for high-quality editing. (One publisher, for example, budgets $1.25 per manuscript page for high-level editing and lesser amounts for “normal” editing; a second publisher budgets less than $1 per page based on promises from its packagers. In both instances, the publishers have expressed their dissatisfaction with the quality of editing their books have received, making the relationship with the packager less secure than the packager requires, and sometimes the publishers will insist that the editing be redone at the packager’s expense using specifically named editors.)

What the publisher ignores is that if it pays the packager $2 per page for editing, the packager pays the editor significantly less as the packager retains some of the price for its own coffers. The publisher also ignores that it has required the packager to hire skilled editors from a certain editorial marketplace. For example, it is not unusual for a U.S. publisher to insist that “a U.S. editor” be hired, without considering whether a U.S. editor who delivers the level of editing quality the publisher wants can be hired for the amount that the packager will offer to pay. (A companion problem is that publishers will tell a packager that a particular manuscript requires a “high” or “medium” edit “by a U.S. editor,” but neither the publisher nor the packager adjusts the editing price so that it matches the editing expectations.)

The result is that between the packager’s actions and the publisher’s acquiescence in and promotion of the packager’s actions, neither the packager’s promise nor the publisher’s expectation of high-quality editing comes about. As the price paid to the editor declines, so does the quality of the edit. (We are addressing just the effect of pricing on quality and ignoring the effect of scheduling.)

Recently, I was discussing future projects with a publisher. The publisher needs — not just wants — the particular manuscripts to receive a high-quality edit. The problem is that we are a universe apart on fee. The budgeters at the publisher have become accustomed to the prices paid to packagers and have decided to reduce those already low prices by 15% as part of a cost-saving measure. Apparently, many of the packagers they work with have agreed to that price lowering. The result is that while the publisher is willing to pay me more directly, its “more” is what it was paying the packagers before the new lower fee. The budgeters consider those rates the “standard.” They are immune to complaints about the poor editorial quality from in-house editorial staff and from authors and purchasers of the publisher’s books.

The packagers have set marketplace expectations without having determined beforehand whether they can deliver. Those expectations have leaked so as to infect relationships with nonpackagers, and when publishers deal directly with editors so that they can ensure the quality they want and need, they are unprepared to face the cost.

Unfortunately for packagers, the expectations they have created are beginning to harm their businesses. In discussions with colleagues, I find that many of the better-skilled editors are resisting, preferring to pass on work that is too low priced. This is, I think, a result of editors becoming more businesslike and actually understanding what they require to run a profitable business. Over the years, packagers have been both a bane and a boon to editors: a bane because of the high demands for low pay, but a boon because they have forced editors to increasingly recognize that they are a business and must act like a business.

I am finding that packagers are increasingly, albeit slowly, becoming flexible about editing fees — although the range of flexibility is not wide — as long as the majority of projects are still undertaken at the “standard” price. But that there is any flexibility speaks volumes about the long-term problems of the packager industry’s business plan; not so long ago, a packager faced with a demand for higher pay would simply say “no” and move the project to another editor. What they have found is that, as with all things in life, some editors have better skills than other editors and are more appropriate for a particular project; that is, editors are not wholly interchangeable — an experienced medical editor is likely to do a better editing job on a medical tome than an editor whose experience has been primarily in historical romance fiction. Both may be excellent editors in their genres, but poor choices outside their genres. And within genres, there are levels of editors, levels based on experience, learned skills, editing methodology, education, and so on.

I have suggested many times to packagers that it is smarter, thinking long term, to take less profit and deliver higher-quality editing than to focus on the short term and seek higher profit at the expense of editing quality — a short-term focus may lead to having nothing on which to make a profit long term. The message may finally be getting through. It will be interesting to see which packagers survive. My bet is that the packagers who revert to more realistic pricing for high-quality editing, thereby changing unreasonable and unrealistic expectations, will be the survivors. They may struggle in the beginning, but survive in the end.

Do you turn down work because of price? Are you finding that packagers are making changes for the better in your relationships with them?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

November 11, 2015

The Business of Editing: A Fifth Fundamental Business Mistake That Editors Make

Profit & Business Model

A business has to either be profitable so that its owners can earn a living or it has to have investors who are willing to fund the business for years and let the business lose money during those years because of greater future profit expectations or the business has to go out of business.

The first option is usually the option of the freelance editor. We rarely can convince people to invest in our business and let us generate losses for years (the Amazon model), because of the type of business editing is — personal and hands on. Amazon sells goods; the goods are not unique and buyers of the goods do not care whether Jeff Bezos has ever touched the goods. Amazon sells to us based on customer service and price.

Editing, as we know, is different. We are usually hired because of our skills (there are semi-exceptions as in my business model in which clients hire me because of my skills and because of the skills of the editors who work for me) and those skills are hands-on skills. We are hired to read each and every word and pass judgment on the words, the sentence structure, the grammar, and so on. Editors are hired to exercise judgment and improve a product; we do not expect Amazon to edit the book we buy from it.

As a result of this difference, Amazon can go years without making a profit, but freelance editors cannot. And Amazon can get people to invest money in it based on a not-written-in-stone promise of future rewards; outside editors themselves and immediate family, it is the rare person who will invest in an editor’s business with the expectation of a future profit.

Yet there is something in our business model and in Amazon’s business model that is identical (aside from the need for stellar customer service): We both need data to determine how we are doing and what we should be doing. The types of data we need are different, but we both need data.

Why Collect Data?

And this is where editors make a fundamental business mistake. Many editors simply do not collect data or if they do collect data, they make no business use of it. Yet data can tell us lots of things about our business. For example, data can tell us whether

  • a client should be kept or fired
  • certain types of projects should be avoided or sought
  • we are charging too little or too much
  • our focus is wrong or right
  • we need to start a marketing campaign now or can wait
  • our marketing campaign is a success or failure
  • making an investment is likely to increase or decrease our profitability
  • subcontracting would be a smart or dumb direction to go
  • and myriad other things

— all we need to do is gather and explore the data.

We’ve discussed several times how to calculate what to charge (see the five-part series, Business of Editing: What to Charge), but knowing what you need to earn and charge does not necessarily equate to profitability. It is not difficult to have calculated the rate you need to charge, charge that rate, yet be unprofitable. That’s because knowing what to charge is only part of the necessary information.

Consider the type of editing you do. I focus on long manuscripts, the longer the better, preferably 1,000 manuscript pages or longer. Offer me a manuscript that runs 15,000 pages and you will make me happy. Over the years I have been professionally editing, I have collected data on hundreds of projects — in fact, on every project that has passed through my office. Among the information I collected was project subject matter; whether single author or multiauthor; number of manuscript pages (which was calculated using my own formula); the time it took to complete the project; the number of projects I was offered, indicating the number I accepted and the number I turned down; the reason for acceptance or rejection; and the fee I was paid. (I gathered other data, too, but for our discussion, this list is sufficient.)

Analyzing Data

From this data, I learned what manuscripts were likely to be profitable for me. It is important to remember that we are not all alike; that is, what is profitable for me may be highly unprofitable for you. What is important, however, is to know whether what you are doing is, in fact, profitable for you.

Editors focus on editing — it is what they know best and what they feel most comfortable doing. But freelancers wear multiple hats. Not only do they wear an editing hat, but they wear the business owner’s hat. When wearing the business owner’s hat, editors need to assess their business objectively. It does not matter whether they love or hate editing; what matters is whether they are running a profitable business. To make that determination, editors must objectively collect and analyze data about their business.

One of the most important bits of data is time. How long a project takes to edit — not approximately, but exactly — is key information. It is information that is used to determine your effective hourly rate as well as the number of pages you can edit in an hour. It also is information that is needed when giving a client a quote. An editor needs to know whether, as a general rule, a heavy edit means 2 pages an hour or 6 pages an hour, because that helps you determine the likelihood of profitability at different price points.

The Excuses

I have heard editors say that data collection isn’t all that important for them because they bill by the hour, not by the page or project. Contrary to such sentiment, it is equally important to collect data regardless of how you charge, unless your clients have unlimited budgets (and I have yet to meet a client who does). It is also important because in the absence of data, it is not possible to determine whether you are making a sufficient profit.

Editors have told me that they know they are making a sufficient profit because they are able to pay their bills, put a little bit away in savings, and have money for entertainment, and that they are doing this without collecting and analyzing data about their business. Accepting that as true, data collection is still necessary because you may well discover, for example, that you can earn the same but in less time and with less effort. Or you might discover after analyzing the data that although you are making a profit, you are spending more time and effort to do so than is warranted and that making some changes in your business would increase your profit but require less effort.

The Reason

Data collection is key to business growth and profitability. Data inform decisions; data provide a foundation for action. It is a fundamental business error to not collect as much data as you can about your business.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays include:

November 9, 2015

The Business of Editing: A Fourth Fundamental Business Mistake That Editors Make

Flexibility and Accessibility

When someone is asked why they chose to be a freelance editor, quite often the response centers on flexibility — the idea that freelance editors can set their own schedule. Need time to watch a child’s soccer game? No problem. Need to schedule a doctor’s appointment? Again, not a problem.

Flexible scheduling is nice in concept but the schedules of freelancers aren’t really all that flexible. Sure we can do our work in the wee hours so we can attend that soccer game, but we still have deadlines to meet and it is those deadlines that dictate how flexible our schedule truly is.

When we focus on the flexibility of scheduling, we tend to forget that we are a business and that there are certain expectations that those who would make use of our services have about our schedule. The mistake is not the flexible schedule but the failure to make ourselves accessible as expected by clients. Flexibility and accessibility are not synonymous. Ideally, we can combine flexibility with accessibility.

One hallmark of a business is hours of operation. We know, for example, that the brick-and-mortar repair shop where we take our automobile opens at 7 am and closes at 5 pm. There are posted hours of operation and we know from experience that an 11 pm call to the business finds it closed — and often gives us the message that the business opens at 7 am. We get these same types of messages from online stores — you can make purchases 24/7 but customer service is open only during posted hours.

Granted that our business is not like an auto repair shop or an online retailer, but client expectations are similar: Clients expect to be able to reach us during “normal” business hours. Our flexibility is in what constitutes our business hours, not in our accessibility during those hours.

Accessibility Is…

This does not mean that we need to be accessible 24/7; it does mean that we need to be accessible during set, established times with occasional exceptions. It also means that, depending on who our clientele are and who our target audience is — that is, what our target market expects — when a client contacts us when we are not accessible, the client should receive a message saying when we will be accessible. For example, in response to an email inquiry we might autoreply, “I am sorry to have missed your email. My office is currently closed but will reopen at 9 am local time tomorrow, at which time I will respond. However, if you believe it is vital to contact me before that time, please.…”

Clients have problems that they want us to solve. They do not want to wait to know that they can entrust the problem to us or that they need to look elsewhere — our client’s goal is simple: assign the problem to a problem-solver as quickly as possible so that it is off the client’s list and on someone else’s list. Consequently, clients want to be able to reach us during known times; that is, they want to feel assured that if they wait to contact you during what they expect your business hours to be, that they will, in fact, reach you at that time — without that feeling of assurance, clients simply move to someone else, to someone who is accessible as expected.

Accessible today — at least in my business — usually means by email; I rarely receive a telephone call anymore. In olden days, clients wanted to be polite and chat for 60 seconds before getting to the point of the call; today, they want to avoid “wasting” those 60 seconds, just as we do. (I admit that I have a certain nostalgia for those olden days when chatting with my clients let me learn how their children are doing or learn about the wonderful time they had in Paris. It “humanized” what was otherwise an isolated experience by providing a watercooler moment.) The advantage of email is that it is a 24/7 nondisturbing way to contact a client or an editor.

Expectations

But there is also an expectation that when the client sends an email to me during my business hours, I will respond quickly — not in hours, not tomorrow, not when the client is not available, but nearly immediately. If I am accessible, I do make it a policy to quickly respond, even if it is to say something like, “I received your email and will give you a detailed response within the next 2 hours. If you need my detailed response more quickly, please let me know and I will address your email immediately.”

The issue of accessibility does go hand-in-hand with contact information, which we previously discussed (see The Business of Editing: A Second Fundamental Mistake that Editors Make). A reason to provide contact information is to make yourself accessible to clients. But it does no good to provide that information if the client cannot actually reach you. The counterargument is that clients who email do not expect a prompt response; clients know that the editor may not be accessible. Of course, we don’t know that as fact; we assume it is true because it fits within our needs and what we would expect.

I think that counterargument had more merit in past years. Increasingly, I receive client emails for “routine” jobs that have been sent to several editors and include the statement that the first to respond positively to the job offer (by which the client means the first who says he can meet the schedule at the offered price) will be awarded the job. If I wish to compete for those jobs, then a quick response, which means I am accessible, is required. (Fortunately, most of my work is “nonroutine” and clients seek me specifically for my editorial services.)

Clients with questions related to a job I am in the midst of editing also want their questions answered today and quickly, not tomorrow. (The Internet has altered greatly the concept of patience. Just as people wonder why they have to enter multiple clicks to buy an item instead of a single click, so they wonder why I can’t answer their email within a few minutes. Patience — meaning patience of hours rather than seconds — has become a lost virtue.)

Successful businesses are accessible to their clients and meet their clients’ expectations of accessibility. Freelance editors are as subject to those accessibility expectations as any other business. We have so much competition that clients do not need to be patient; clients can make multiple simultaneous requests and deal with the first responder, or they can internally decide to wait an hour for your response and if one is not forthcoming, seek another editor.

The Key

Consequently, we need to act like a business and set hours of operation that we mostly adhere to — and we need to let clients know what those hours are. Notice can be by posting on a website or by mentioning in correspondence; it doesn’t really matter, but it does depend on who you want to be your client — that is, who is your target audience. If I were seeking indie authors as clients, I would post that information along with my contact information at my website. With corporate clients, I try to have my accessible hours overlap my clients’ office hours and I let my clients know via email.

The key is being accessible when and how clients expect. Remember that we need our clients more than our clients need us. It is harder for us to find new clients than it is for our clients to find new editors. We need to approach this like Amazon does — by meeting our clients’ needs and expectations.

We need to avoid sending the message that we do not care or are not interested in our clients. We need to provide client-centric, not editor-centric, service. Failure to be accessible and to make known our accessibility as part of client-centric service is a fundamental mistake that editors often make.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays include:

October 28, 2015

The Business of Editing: A Second Fundamental Mistake That Editors Make

If you read your mortgage agreement, or the agreement you “accept” when you get a credit card, or the terms and conditions of any other contract you sign or agree to, you will note that all of the important terms are carefully, even if not intelligibly, defined. The bank, for example, wants no dispute over what default means.

Defining terms is a fundamental business practice. If you and the client do not define what is meant by copyediting, you may mean what editors generally define as a “light edit” and the client may mean an in-depth, detailed, developmental edit. You’ll quote your fee based on your definition and the client will expect its definition for the quoted price.

Let “error” rain (reign?): What constitutes “error”?

As part of our standard business practices, we need to include a definition of “error” in our discussion about whether we will accept a particular job. Just as failing to treat editing as a business is a fundamental error that editors make (see The Business of Editing: Fundamental Business Mistakes That Editors Make), so is failing to define “error” a fundamental mistake that editors make.

It is true that using “there” in place of “their” is an error, a “typo” if you will, that needs to be caught and corrected. And it is equally true that it is part of an editor’s (and proofreader’s) job to find and correct such errors. But if homophones formed the beginning and end of the definition of error, there would be little need for professional editors; computers can be “taught” to flag homophones (and homonyms) and, presumably, just about any educated person could correct the erroneous ones.

A fundamental mistake

There are at least four reasons why failing to define “error” is a fundamental mistake. First, in the absence of the definition, the editor sets no boundaries on her work. Second, clients are quick to note that an editor failed to catch an “error,” which does not boost an editor’s reputation, without either client or editor having first agreed on what makes something an error. Third, in the absence of a definition, it is difficult to set an appropriate fee — and get the client to agree to that fee — because the editor thinks oranges while the client thinks apples. Fourth, is the question of responsibility — who is responsible? —  and its companion, compensation — who pays?

An example

Not so long ago I copyedited a poorly written book. The client did not want to pay for the level of editing that the book truly needed, plus saddled the project with a very tight deadline. As a practical matter, I do not do fact checking unless specifically hired and paid to do so; consequently, it is the responsibility of the author to, for example, correctly spell names, with my job limited to checking for consistency in spelling and querying any inconsistencies.

In this project, the author twice, in a 200+-page manuscript, referred to a well-known person in the book’s subject area. Both times the name was spelled the same. From my perspective, there was no error. Alas, the book was published to scathing reviews. One of the errors the reviewers noted was the misspelling of the well-known person’s name. The author blamed the publisher, which blamed my client, which blamed me. I was asked to defend myself for this and a few other specific “errors” that the reviewers noted.

My first step was to point my client to our original correspondence in which I defined what the level of editing the client asked for meant — that is, its parameters — and, addressing the name situation more directly, the definition of “error” that was incorporated into that correspondence. I pointed out that there is a difference between what is commonly known (i.e., broadly known to general populations) and what is specially know within a specific discipline (i.e., known to subject-matter experts). There is also a difference between being hired for subject-matter knowledge and expertise and being hired for language–grammar expertise. I had been hired for language–grammar expertise, not subject-matter expertise. My definition of “error” was limited to well-recognized errors of language and grammar, not to subject-matter errors; in my definition, the author is responsible for the accuracy of all subject-matter “facts,” including the correct spelling of names of recognized-within-the-discipline experts.

I also pointed out to my client that “language–grammar errors” does not mean arguable choices. As an example I usually point to the debate regarding using “since” to mean “because” (for a short discussion of the temporal–causal distinction, see Garner’s Modern American Usage, 2009, p. 748 “since,” but be sure to also read the discussion of “because” on p. 91, and compare it to Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 2015, p. 98 “because”). My definition of error does not say that because a dictionary or a usage guide permits substitution of one word for another, the use of an alternate constitutes error. In other words, my replacing “since” (viewing it to be restricted to time-related uses/senses) with “because” (or other appropriate word) in non–time-related uses/senses (e.g., “Since 1975 it has been customary to classify…” but “Because it has been customary to classify…”) is not an error just because a dictionary or usage guide views the words as interchangeable. My change has to either make meaning less clear or be inarguably wrong; in all circumstances, it is not error for me to not have corrected a fact that would not be known as incorrect in the absence of subject-matter–specific knowledge.

(In this particular case, I also noted that the author had several opportunities to correct the misspelled name but had, instead, continued to approve the misspelled version. As a technical book, the author presents herself as the expert and thus has to accept responsibility for technical errors.)

The publisher was demanding that the packager pay the costs for correcting the errors, buying back and destroying the initial print run, and reprinting a corrected version. The packager was looking for me to shoulder those costs. (I also pointed out to my client that it had chosen the proofreader for the project — as well as deciding whether there would be proofreading — and that these “errors” were not deemed errors by its chosen proofreader.)

Without having defined “error” and the parameters of the level of editing the client requested before accepting the job, my client would have been able to assign the responsibility to me. In addition, the fee I had quoted the client would not have considered the value of my accepting such responsibility.

Value and fee

I know that many of you are asking, “What value?” In the usual case, there is little to no value under discussion because it is rare for a client to expect an editor to accept financial responsibility for editorial decisions; this was that rare case in which my client expected me to accept financial and nonfinancial responsibility for its client’s dissatisfaction. In the more usual case, the client asks the editor to reedit at the editor’s expense, to “fix these errors.” Without having defined what constitutes an error and what the requested level of editing includes and excludes beforehand, the editor is at the client’s mercy — and what may have been a profitable project can suddenly become highly unprofitable.

The questions

The questions are really these: In the absence of defining “error” and the parameters of the work to be done, am I implicitly promising the client an error-free job as defined after-the-fact by the client? Do I owe the client any compensation for not providing an error-free — as defined after-the-fact by the client — document? If I do owe the client any compensation, how is that compensation calculated?

The answers to these questions are for another day.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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