An American Editor

May 20, 2015

Editing for Clarity

The primary role of an editor is to help an author clearly communicate. The test is whether a reader has to stop and puzzle out meaning. Consider this example from “The Birth of a Nation” by Dick Lehr (2014, p. 29):

The majority of Kentucky families — perhaps only one in six, according to one account — did not own slaves, and the plantation model was not widely established.

(The book is an excellent look at D.W. Griffith’s movie “Birth of a Nation” and its effect on race relations at the beginning of the 20th century.)

Are you confused by the quote? I know I was when I read it. I eventually figured out what the author intended, but this quote is ripe for editorial intervention.

What causes the problem is the em-dash bracketed phrase “perhaps only one in six, according to one account.” When I first read the sentence, I thought “one in six is not a majority. Does the author mean one in six families did not own slaves or that one in six families did own slaves? The context made it clear that the author meant that only one in six families owned slaves, but the sentence permits other interpretations.

If I were the book’s editor, I would have flagged this sentence for review. I would have queried the author and suggested several alternatives. For example:

Only a small minority of Kentucky families — perhaps only one in six, according to one account — owned slaves, and the plantation model was not widely established.

or

The majority of Kentucky families — perhaps five in six, according to one account — did not own slaves, and the plantation model was not widely established.

or

The majority of Kentucky families — perhaps only one in six owned slaves, according to one account — did not own slaves, and the plantation model was not widely established.

Each alternative is, I think, clearer (with the first two alternatives better than the third) and better puts across the author’s meaning without interrupting the reading flow. And this is what an editor does — help the author hone her prose.

The question is this: Is this the job of a copyeditor?

The answer is difficult. I think clients do not distinguish between types of editors very well and see editorial roles as blurred, ill-defined. Editors, themselves, similarly blur those lines of separation, making client expectations as to what an editor will do different from what the editor expects to do.

Fundamentally, the role of every editor is to help an author reach the author’s readers. Clarity of expression is the understood key to a successful author–reader relationship; copyeditors address questions of grammar and spelling, which are essential to clarity, so addressing sentence construction does not seem outside the bounds of the copyeditor’s responsibilities. I know that I include sentence construction in my editing.

What I do not include as part of copyediting is reorganization; that is a developmental editor’s job. Organization is a time-consuming job and requires multiple readings of a manuscript. Copyediting is very time-sensitive, with the schedule being too short to permit developmental editing. Sentence construction is, however, another matter.

Copyeditors are responsible for ensuring clarity. It is not that we need to rewrite every sentence to make every sentence the best it can be; rather, it is that we need to rewrite or suggest rewriting of sentences that are not clear, that interrupt the flow of reading and require a reader to momentarily halt and devote time to determining what the author intends.

The appropriate role for a copyeditor is to query a poorly constructed sentence and suggest a fix. There are times when all we can do is query because the fix is elusive; over my years of editing I have encountered many sentences that I could not guess what the author meant and thus could not suggest a fix. Much more often, I could suggest a simple fix.

Sometimes the fix is a change in punctuation or the substitution of a word or two; sometimes the fix is much more complex. Whatever the fix, we demonstrate our value to our clients by identifying problems and suggesting cures (when possible). That is the role of the professional editor — to help the author communicate clearly by identifying unclear passages and by suggesting alternatives.

Do you agree?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

May 18, 2015

Compromise and Expectations — A Clash in the Making

Filed under: Editorial Matters,Professional Editors — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
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I was reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Engineer’s Lament” (The New Yorker, May 4, 2015), an article I highly recommend, when I came across this quote (p. 48 of the print version):

No one tells you to build a perfect car. People tell you to build a car in eighteen months that will sell for twenty-five thousand dollars.…[I]mperfections and compromise are inevitable.

If I were to write that quote for my editing business (and I suspect your editing business, too), it would read something like this:

Clients tell you to build a perfect manuscript. Clients tell you to edit a manuscript of one thousand pages in seven days that will be error-free and cost less than one thousand dollars.…[I]mperfections and compromise are unacceptable.

I wish I could say I was exaggerating, but I am not. I am finding that client demands are increasingly impossible. I try to be politic when responding to clients, but sometimes I just want to scream in frustration.

Recently, I worked on a book that had I known was going to be as much trouble as it became, I would have refused the project at any price. Not only was the schedule difficult, which I knew upfront, but the client became increasingly difficult as the project progressed.

I would turn in a chapter and two weeks later I would receive the chapter back with the in-house “editor’s” comments. I put editor in quotes because if the person is a qualified editor, he hides those qualifications very well.

Did the editor catch some errors? Yes, he did. In one 120+-page chapter he found a serial comma I missed. And he also found a few other minor errors. But when berating me for missing those errors, he ignored (or refused to recognize) that to meet the schedule, I had to edit 400 to 450 pages per week, that the authors of the chapter were not native English speakers/writers, and that the editing of the chapter was very extensive with significant rewriting. For the client, the key was that the editing wasn’t perfect.

Compounding my exasperation was all the time I had to spend explaining why, for example, a phrase was sometimes hyphenated and sometimes not hyphenated. I ultimately learned that it was decided by the client’s in-house editorial team that either a phrase was always hyphenated or never hyphenated and thus they changed the editing and assigned this as to editor’s error.

Which made me think of “The Engineer’s Lament” — editors are expected to be perfect but engineers are not.

I’ve decided not to accept work from this client again because the client is a very-high maintenance client. I wouldn’t mind so much if I thought the client’s in-house editorial staff had a good grasp of editing, language, and grammar — but my discussions with them indicated they do not.

The problems begin, I think, with the expectation of perfection. For there to be perfection in editing, there must be inflexibility. There must be a rule that is always applicable, in all circumstances, that is never deviated from, such as the client’s rule that a phrase is either always hyphenated or never hyphenated, not sometimes hyphenated depending on how it is used. There may be languages in which such a rule exists, but that language is certainly not U.S. English.

Once a client starts thinking in terms of perfection, the editor is bound to fail. Too much of editing is opinion for perfection to be achievable. What we can achieve can come close, but how close depends on many factors that are independent of but greatly influence editing. One example is schedule.

Schedule is interesting because clients set an editing schedule based on another schedule of which editing is but a part. It is best described as a schedule within a schedule within a schedule. Editing must be done by a certain date in order to meet a typesetting schedule that has to be completed by a certain date so as to meet a printing schedule, which has to be completed by a certain date to meet a marketing schedule. The concern is not for the difficulty of the editing but for how the editing schedule helps meet the other schedules. How quickly and accurately a manuscript can be edited depends on the quality of the writing, the subject matter, what the editor is expected to do in addition to spelling and grammar, whether the authors are native writers of the language involved, and myriad other things. But clients rarely consider any (or, at best, no more than one or two) of these dependencies when setting a schedule.

When an engineer is given a schedule, it is recognized that to meet the schedule means compromises have to be made. When editors are given a schedule, compromise on quality is not a consideration. That there has to be compromises means there will be a clash between editor and client. Usually the compromise is satisfactory to both parties. It is when the parties clash that there needs to be a reevaluation of the relationship — and when the editor should decide whether to continue with the client.

I try to get clients understand that perfection in editing is a goal that is nearly impossible to meet because so much in editing is opinion based and controlled by schedule. Usually clients understand and accept this; when a client does not, trouble is brewing. Much of the trouble can be averted with an appropriate schedule.

What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

May 13, 2015

It’s Fundamental & Professional, Too

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Attempt: Telephone

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Second Attempt: Email

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

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

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

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

The Professional Editor…

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

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

Do you agree?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays —

May 11, 2015

On the Basics: Don’t Burn Those Bridges!

Don’t Burn Those Bridges!

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 6, 2015

Business of Editing: Cite Work Can Be Profitable

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

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

The Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Solution

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

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

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

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

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

when they needed to be like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it Profitable?

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

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

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

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

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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April 29, 2015

So, How Much Am I Worth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays:

April 22, 2015

The Proofreader’s Corner: The Power of the Portfolio

The Power of the Portfolio

by Louise Harnby

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

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

Can do versus have done

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

But, oh, the clutter…

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

Some benefits of busyness…

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

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

Use navigation tools

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

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

Test it!

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

Nailing the job before you’ve even quoted

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

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

What if I haven’t completed much work?

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

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

Summing up

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

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

April 13, 2015

Thinking Fiction: The Style Sheets — Part IV: Timeline

The Style Sheets — Part IV: Timeline

by Amy J. Schneider

In this final installment on the style sheets I keep while copyediting fiction, I discuss the timeline. Just as with character and location descriptions, the timeline must be kept consistent with the fictional world of the story, and sometimes also with actual events in the real world. I’ve found that authors often have difficulty maintaining a consistent timeline. Good thing I’ve got their back! Let’s look at one way to keep the timeline on track.

The Layout

I don’t often see timelines created by others, whether created by the copyeditor of a previous book in a series or provided by the author. When I do, it is often in a straight text format: paragraphs beginning with “Day One” or “Monday, September 3.” Occasionally it’s more of a plot outline, by chapter.

I’m more of a visual thinker when it comes to time and calendars, so I lay out my timeline as a Word table that’s set up like a monthly calendar. It has a header row with the days of the week, and the weeks extend for as long as the story lasts. This makes it much easier for me to spot when, for example, a school day falls on a weekend or we have only two weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Details to Track

So what kinds of details go on the timeline? Any references to time, whether specific or relative. Occasionally the author helps me out by including time indicators as heads in the text: “Friday night” or “March 26.” Great! On the timeline they go. Each item is preceded by the number of the chapter in which it falls (because in electronic editing, pagination may change depending on the user’s settings).

Occasionally the story may hinge on real historical events. Check those dates! Query if there are mentions of the day of the week that do not align with the actual dates. An online perpetual calendar such as the one at timeanddate.com can be helpful. Some calendars also include holidays. Some authors may not care whether their historical events, especially very old ones, align with the actual calendar for that date. But query any discrepancies anyway and let the author decide what to do.

Time references are often vague, and specific times or days of the week are not mentioned. In such cases, I simply note the reference and take my best guess as to where to place it in the table. “A few days later” might be two or three days. You can use other clues, such as whether it’s a weekday (judging by school days or business hours) or references to “later this week” and the like. Occasionally you may need to shift days around to better fit the calendar, and this can often help show you whether the timeline is accurate. If you have days that are not specific (for example, a day that is listed under Tuesday may not be specifically identified as Tuesday in the text), include a note to that effect at the top of the table. The phrasing I usually use is “Days of the week are indeterminate, except as noted.”

I haven’t yet run into a fictional setting where names of days or months are made up, or are divided differently than in the real world (for example, nine-day weeks and twenty-five-day months), but I did recently edit a novel that divided the day into an unusual number of hours in which each hour of the day had a name. Those divisions went on the general style sheet as well as on the timeline, where mentioned.

The following are some examples of specific things to track:

  • As mentioned earlier, any reference to time, whether fixed or relative: midmorning; three weeks later; Wednesday
  • References to weather, moon phases, sun position, seasons: the setting sun, a crescent moon, it rained all morning, a cool spring evening
  • School days, workdays, church services: Make sure the kids aren’t going to school on Sunday. This is where tracking relative mentions of time comes in. If a scene specifically takes place on a Thursday, and then three days later Joanie gets in trouble at school, that should raise a red flag. Similarly, I once queried whether New York City has a morning rush hour on Sundays. And if a person who works a nine-to-five job is in the office along with all of her coworkers on a Saturday afternoon, business as usual, that’s a good time to query as well.
  • Critical plot events: Tracking the day on which an important event happens will give you something to refer to later on: “Three weeks after the accident…”
  • Character ages, birthdays, and other life events: If Linda was 26 at the beginning of the story, in May, then she can’t be 29 the following spring.
  • Watch for “missing” holidays and big events (such as milestone birthdays), if their absence is remarkable. In a military thriller, a character may not be concerned about celebrating his 50th birthday, but in a homey country-themed romance novel, it would be unusual for the Christmas season to pass without comment.

Pay attention to logical inconsistencies relating to the passage of time. In a Civil War novel, I queried the author when a group of soldiers took more than a month to march 100 miles. That’s less than 3 miles a day, which seems unusually slow. In another story, a person left his room at eight p.m.; “the hours passed”; and then it was nine p.m. Either it’s later now, or less time than “hours” has passed. An event that was in the timeline three months ago would likely not be referred to as “the other day.”

I use a short horizontal line within days to indicate scene breaks. This helps if for some reason a scene needs to be moved or if there is a question about when exactly an event happened, if the description is vague.

Sometimes you may be able to fix timeline discrepancies by adjusting vague references (the author might have written “three weeks later” when it’s really two weeks, and making that change does not disrupt other elements) and writing a query to explain the reason for the change and ask the author if the edit is OK. Similarly, sometimes you can simply change “Thursday” to “Friday” and query. But you must be absolutely certain that you are not introducing another error. In other cases, the problem may be just too convoluted for a simple fix. In that case, write a query outlining the problem, make any suggestions that you can, and leave it to the author to fix (or not, if that is the author’s choice).

Nonlinear Time

Occasionally a story has characters moving in parallel timelines. Perhaps they have separated and are journeying in different directions (or are moving toward each other). Recently I edited a novel with parallel timelines (in alternating chapters): the odd-numbered chapters were about a person who was lost, and the even-numbered chapters were about the people who were looking for him. These can get tricky, but I simply do my best to align the days to keep events straight. In one novel, on the day when two timelines were supposed to join together again, they were actually several weeks apart. Query! Here, again, a note at the top of the timeline is needed to indicate that things may be fuzzy.

Similarly, some stories have flashbacks or otherwise jump around. Usually I separate these with a horizontal dividing line across the entire table and perhaps a line or two of explanatory text.

Conclusion

It may take some practice and experience to tune your ear to the sometimes vague and subtle references to time while copyediting a work of fiction. But your authors will thank you for it!

I hope you’ve gleaned some useful information from these articles over the past several months. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have. Beginning in May, Thinking Fiction is being taken over by Carolyn Haley; I’ve worked with Carolyn and I know the topic will be in good hands. Meanwhile, I plan to continue my own discussion of fiction copyediting in my own blog later this year. If you’d like to read more, follow me on social media and watch for upcoming announcements. Finally, I thank Rich Adin for getting me to dip my toe into the blogosphere.

Amy J. Schneider (amy@featherschneider.com), owner of Featherschneider Editorial Services, has been a freelance copyeditor and proofreader of fiction and nonfiction books since 1995. She has shared her insights on copyediting fiction as a speaker at the Communication Central conferences, in writing for the Copyediting newsletter, and in an audioconference for Copyediting.com. Amy can be reached at LinkedIn, via Twitter, and on Facebook.

Related An American Editor essays:

April 8, 2015

The Business of Editing: Coding for Profit

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

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

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

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

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

Code Inserter Macro & Manager

Code Inserter Macro & Manager

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

Design showing codes & capitalization

Design showing codes & capitalization

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

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

Code Inserter Manager

Code Inserter Manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manuscript without coding

Manuscript without coding

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

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

The Code Inserter Macro

The Code Inserter Macro

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

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

Manuscript with coding applied

Manuscript with coding applied

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

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

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays are:

____________

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April 6, 2015

Business of Editing: The Quest for Rate Charts

It never fails. There is nothing more sure than that today someone will ask “What should I charge [or pay]?” and someone will reply “Take a look at the EFA rate chart.” I think the publication of this chart is a great disservice to editorial freelancers.

Even if the chart was statistically valid, which it is a very, very long way from being, the publication of a rate chart by what purports to be the national voice for editorial freelancers is a disservice. If it has to exist, then it should be accessible by members only.

What is wrong with making the chart publicly available? What is wrong with using it to set your rates? What is wrong with clients relying on it to set limits?

False Expectations

There are several reasons why making the chart publicly available is bad for freelancing. First, it sets false expectations. The expectation is that someone new to freelancing can earn the listed rates. It also sets the expectations of clients. Why should/would a client pay you $50 an hour when the top rate for “basic copyediting” is $40 according to the chart? The one thing I definitely want when speaking with a client is for the client to be wholly ignorant of this chart because it sets false expectations — it bears no relationship to the value of my services or the services that I perform under the rubric “basic copyediting.”

I fall back on what I repeatedly say both here on An American Editor and on forums when I respond to these questions: How can you, the editor, set your rate if you do not know your required effective hourly rate (rEHR)? (For discussion on how to calculate your rEHR, see the “What to Charge” series of essays.) Of what value is it to “know” that the rate chart says you should charge $25 an hour if your rEHR is $50. It is not possible to sustain a business when you earn half of what you need to earn to pay your bills. And how can you, the client, know what to pay if you do not know what services are included and excluded, the experience of the editor, the editor’s skill level, and myriad other things that can only be learned via discussion with the editor?

Who Responded to the Underlying Survey?

Charts like the EFA’s chart become the gospel for rates. Rate charts never tell you to figure out what you need to charge; instead, they tell you what some group of unknown responders charge. Which is the second problem with the chart: Who are the people who provided the underlying data — the survey responders — and how many of them did so? In the case of the EFA rate chart, the responders to the rate survey are EFA members only, many of whom are “young” (in the sense of years of experience) freelancers. And if past EFA rate surveys are any kind of guide as to the number of responders, you are talking about a very small, statistically unrepresentative number; in the past, the number has been less than 10% of the group membership, which is not a lot of responders considering the overall number of editorial freelancers in the United States.

And the Definition is …

A third problem is definition. What precisely do “basic copyediting” and “heavy copyediting” include/exclude? How do they differ from “developmental” and “substantive/line” editing? How many of the responders to the survey from which these results were drawn listed themselves as providers of only “basic copyediting”? How many claimed to be “developmental” editors? More importantly, how did the responders define these terms in relation to their own practices? For example, if they provide “basic copyediting,” did their real-world practice include more, fewer, or exactly the same services as the EFA definition? Knowing the definitions is important because if you define “basic” as including services A, B, C, D, and E, but some responders only include A, C, and D, and others include only A, B, C, and E, and yet others include A to E plus F, the rate chart will not be pertinent to your business yet might well serve to limit what you can charge.

Does Experience Matter?

Which raises a fourth problem: How many, for example, developmental editing projects over how many years have those responders who claim to be developmental editors done? A person who has done one 25-page developmental project in 5 years is not someone on whom I would rely for what-to-charge advice. Of course, the same question can be asked of those who claim to do basic copyediting because the same problem exists with them. I would also want to know what the average yearly gross income has been for these responders. To me, it makes a world of difference if I am getting the advice from someone with 3 years of editing experience who has done 10 projects in those 3 years and has earned on average $25,000 a year as opposed to getting the advice from an editor who has 10 years of experience, edited a few hundred projects over that time, and has averaged $100,000 a year in earnings.

Are Our Clients Similar?
What About Subject Matter?

Bringing me to a fifth problem, which has two aspects: First, who are the responders’ clients and second, in which subject areas do the responders work? Who one’s clients are matters a great deal. I remember one EFA rate survey from many years ago where there was one responder who at that time earned $75 an hour when most of us struggled to earn $15 an hour. The reason for the disparity became clear when it was learned that the responder only worked for pharmaceutical companies and on documents that had to be filed with the Food and Drug Administration — a true specialty. At that time, university presses paid highly experienced editors $10-$12 an hour and large medical publishers paid those same editors $12-$16; fiction editors were paid $8-$10. The point is that clients matter and subject area matters. Are the responders’ clients publishers or authors? Are we talking fiction or nonfiction? Specialty or general? None of this is disclosed so how reliable or usable is the information provided?

Experience Again

A sixth problem, which is related to earlier noted problems, addresses experience. For example, last year I edited a manuscript that ran close to 20,000 manuscript pages; I also edited several other projects that year. How much volume did the responders edit? Does it matter that a responder may have edited 50 documents ranging in size from 10 to 50 pages as opposed to the volume I edited? When discussing what to charge, should not the whole experience of the person giving the advice be considered? Yet the EFA rate chart makes no mention of the experience of the responders in each category.

Did You Make a Profit or Suffer a Loss?

The final problem I will mention is this: I have no idea whether the responders made a profit or suffered a loss by charging what they did. More importantly, I have no idea how they decided to charge whatever they charged. As I noted at the beginning, it does me no good to charge less than my rEHR because I will never have enough money to stay even with my bills. So, did a responder decide she could charge $20 an hour because her significant other was paying the household bills or because her retirement pension made up the difference or because she never calculated her rEHR but thought that $20 an hour was all the market would pay for her services? Or was there some other reason? Isn’t it important to know the basis for what the responders charge when deciding to adopt this rate chart for your own business?

What a colleague charges never enters into my consideration as to what I should charge for the same service except if it is significantly more than I charge or plan to charge. Then I add the information to the data mix. But I never consider any rate information provided by colleagues unless that rate information is greater than my rEHR. When I set my rates, I do so based on my skill level, the schedule, my market, and other data that are specific to me and my business. My experience and skills, honed over 31 years of specialty work, have a significance in my market that it may not have in other markets or in the markets of colleagues. That you and I both do “copyediting” is meaningless for determining the rate I should charge if your editing is solely for indie authors and in fiction and mine is solely with publishers in electrical engineering.

There are additional problems (e.g., how many responses were received for each category? What is the geographical distribution of the responders [e.g., do New York City-based editors receive higher pay than Sioux City, Iowa editors]?) with the EFA rate chart, but aren’t these enough?

It’s a Solution, But Not a Good One

The information the EFA rate chart provides is valuable if properly used. The problem is that it is not properly used and it is not properly displayed. Sure there are disclaimers, such as the chart should be used only as a “rough guide,” but those disclaimers cannot overcome the perception that this is what an editor should charge and a client should pay. Every time someone responds to a rate question with “Take a look at the EFA rate chart for guidance,” they do themselves and their colleagues a great disservice. The rate chart is the easy solution to a difficult problem, but the fact that it is an easy solution does not make it a good solution.

In my view, if the EFA feels it needs to have a rate chart, it should restrict access to members only and prohibit its being shared with nonmembers. By doing that it will minimize the damage the rate chart causes by setting client expectations. I think the EFA would do much better by its members and the public if it educated members on how to calculate what to charge based on a member’s individual circumstances and if it educated clients on what editors do, why what editors do is valuable, and why editors charge what they do.

What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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