An American Editor

April 7, 2014

On the Basics: Is There a “Best Industry” for Editors?

Is There a “Best Industry” for Editors?

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

The publishing business is supposed to be declining, if not actually dying. I’m not sure that’s the case, but there certainly are a lot of challenging changes going on. In case publishing really is heading for extinction, does any other industry offer editors good potential for job satisfaction, career opportunities, and pay?

I say that any and every industry has that potential.

Too many people think the only way to work as an editor (or writer, proofreader, etc.) is to be in publishing per se—to work for publishing houses, publications, presses, maybe authors. They don’t seem to realize that editing (and, of course, writing, proofreading, photography, graphics, layout, etc.) also happens in every profession, business, and hobby there is.

If you aren’t finding success in editing work in traditional publishing with traditional clients such as book publishers, it’s time to start thinking in new ways. A number of “industries” still, and should continue to, need editors and offer opportunities for many of us.

Some of my editing work is for magazines, which I would classify as part of traditional publishing, but some is for law firms, marketing or public relations companies, professional offices in various areas of medicine, associations in a wide range of topics (including my high school alumni group!), businesses, and not-for-profit organizations.

A recent project involved writing and editing award nominations for a local hospital. Another was editing the required annual description of services for a financial advisor. I’ve also edited and proofread websites for several clients, including one for a heating/plumbing company. I write blog posts for a website for veterinary businesses. I just heard from a company in the transportation industry about proofreading its annual report. I’ve done the writing, editing, proofreading, and/or layout of newsletters and special reports for a variety of not-for-profit organizations. Trade and membership associations are hotbeds of publishing activity, producing newspapers, newsletters, magazines, websites, blogs, and conference materials. I edit letters and blog posts for the owner of a company that packages businesses for loans and sales.

None of these might be what colleagues consider publishing, but all are firmly in the realm of editorial work, and most, if not all, will continue to be needed and thus to need us.

Many such projects require skilled editing more than any particular industry experience or knowledge. These clients are comfortable with the technical or industry side of their material, but aware of their shortcomings in grammar, usage, even spelling and punctuation, which so many of us consider basic to our very cores. If you come across industry-specific technical details that you aren’t sure of, you can flag them for the client to check or verify.

Government agencies and nongovernmental organizations often seek editing services. I’ve done work for the World Bank, which has hundreds of programs and projects that require various levels of writing, editing, and proofreading. And that’s just one entity. I know of someone who has a contract with a local college to edit professor and student papers and, of course, many colleagues work directly with graduate and postdoctoral students on editing their theses and dissertations.

Judging by what I see and hear from several of my colleagues, there also is a lot of work to be had with authors in other countries whose native language is not English, but who need or want to publish their academic work in English-language journals.

Someone is writing and, therefore (in most cases), someone is editing and proofreading all kinds of sales and marketing materials. Think about things like product packaging. Someone has to write, then edit and proofread, the information on every label, box, bag, bottle, carton, pouch, etc. That goes for food, drink, medications, equipment, tools, CDs and DVDs, etc.; even those annoying labels in clothing that stick up from your collar or scrape the back of your neck. Someone also has to write directions or instructions on how to use some of those same items; not all of that is done overseas.

And don’t forget advertising copy, which often desperately needs an editor!

Even though many of us bewail aspects of it, the constantly growing self-publishing industry also can be a fertile field of opportunity for editors. It may take some extra effort to find self-publishing authors who understand the value of having their work edited, but those authors do exist, and their numbers may increase if reviewers and readers react more volubly to sloppy writing that cries out for a skilled editorial hand. And some of the packaging or service companies now offer editing to the people who come to them with manuscripts to publish; the rates from those companies may not be the highest, but some opportunities do exist in those corners of the industry.

What this all comes down to is that there is no one “best industry” for editors—all industries are good hunting grounds for work as editors. Opportunities are out there. Widen your search, and you might be surprised at what you find.

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.

March 31, 2014

Lyonizing Word: Deleting Extraneous Carriage Returns in Footnotes and Endnotes

Deleting Extraneous Carriage Returns
in Footnotes and Endnotes

by Jack Lyon

During my editing career, I’ve often run into problems with footnotes and endnotes in Microsoft Word. Many authors have no clue about how notes are meant to work, and Microsoft certainly hasn’t made it obvious. In fact, they’ve made it easy to mess notes up beyond repair.

One mistake authors make is to insert extraneous carriage returns before or after a note. Why? Because they don’t like the positioning of the note on the page, which they’re trying to make “pretty,” not understanding the problems that will cause in editing and typesetting.

You can try to remove the extraneous returns like this:

1. Click View > Draft.
2. Click References > Show Notes.

Your cursor should now be in the Notes pane.

3. Click Home > Replace.
4. In the “Find What” box, enter two paragraph codes:

^p^p

5. In the “Replace With” box, enter one paragraph code:

^p

 6. Click the “Replace All” button.

Word will replace some of the double returns, but not all of them. And if you try to delete some of the remaining returns, you’ll get an error message:

“This is not a valid action for footnotes.”

What’s going on there is that not all carriage returns are created equal. Some of the returns are “special” note returns, and the only way to delete them is to delete the note itself back in the text.

The solution? A macro, of course. But a macro with a twist. As we’ve seen, the macro can’t just find double returns and replace them with a single return. And trying to delete extra returns results in an error. So let’s use that error!

Before running the macro, you must be in Draft view, with your cursor at the top of the Notes pane. (How to get there is explained above.)

In the macro, you’ll see a couple of “comments,” which are explanations or instructions intended for the person reading the code. Comments are preceded by a single quotation mark (‘), which tells the macro to ignore the rest of the text on that line. For example, the first comment in the macro reads:

‘To clean returns in endnotes rather than footnotes, change “.Footnotes” to “.Endnotes” in the following line:

And now, here’s the macro:

Sub CleanReturnsInNotes()
‘To clean returns in endnotes rather than footnotes, change “.Footnotes” to “.Endnotes” in the following line:
NoteCount = ActiveDocument.Footnotes.Count
Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.ClearFormatting
With Selection.Find

.Text = “^p^p”
.Replacement.Text = “”
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindContinue
.Format = False
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchWildcards = False

End With
Selection.Find.Execute
On Error GoTo TrapTheError
While Selection.Find.Found

Selection.MoveLeft
‘The following line may trigger an error!
Selection.Delete
Selection.Find.Execute

Wend
GoTo TheEnd
TrapTheError:

ErrorCount = ErrorCount + 1
Selection.MoveRight
Selection.Delete
If ErrorCount < NoteCount Then Resume Next

TheEnd:
End Sub

Let’s look at some of those lines.

NoteCount = ActiveDocument.Footnotes.Count

NoteCount is a variable; that is, it’s a container that can hold a numerical value—in this case, the number of footnotes in the document. We get that value with the VBA command ActiveDocument.Footnotes.Count.

Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.ClearFormatting

Just to be safe, these lines clear any formatting that might already be applied to the “Find What” and “Replace With” boxes in Word’s find and replace feature.

The following lines, from

With Selection.Find

down to

Selection.Find.Execute

simply find any instances of double paragraph returns. The replacement text is set to nothing, as we’re not trying to replace those returns with anything:

 .Replacement.Text = “”

Instead, we’re going to try to delete the second return, which (unless the notes are really messed up) is a regular return rather than a special note return:

 Selection.MoveRight
Selection.Delete

If it’s a special note return, then trying to delete it will cause an error, and the macro will execute this line—

On Error GoTo TrapTheError

—which sends the macro to this line:

TrapTheError:

Here’s what happens next:

ErrorCount = ErrorCount + 1

Using the variable ErrorCount, we count the number of errors, adding 1 each time we find one. (ErrorCount is initially empty, or zero.)

Selection.MoveRight
Selection.Delete

We move right and delete the next return.

 If ErrorCount < NoteCount Then Resume Next

If the number of errors is less than the number of notes, we’re not through yet, as one of the remaining notes may still have a bad return next to it. So, we tell the macro to Resume operation at the next command after the error occurred. That command is:

Selection.Find.Execute

In other words, Word looks for the next occurrence of a double return. And this construction—

While Selection.Find.Found

Selection.MoveLeft
‘The following line may trigger an error!
Selection.Delete
Selection.Find.Execute

Wend

—ensures that it will keep looking as long as (While) double returns are found. (“Wend” is short for “While End”—it marks the end of the While construction.)

GoTo TheEnd

When no more double returns are found, this line is executed. It exists simply to avoid executing the error trap (TrapTheError and the following lines) after the macro is finished, at which point

TheEnd:

marks the end of the whole operation.

I hope this explanation has helped you understand better how macros work, and in particular how you can actually use Word errors to force Word to do what you want it to do—something that gives me great pleasure.

Even if you don’t understand everything that’s going on in this macro, you can still use it to clean up extraneous returns in notes—something that should make your editorial life a little bit easier.

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

December 16, 2013

The Business of Editing: Knowing Your Editorial Fit

Recently, in The Business of Editing: Standing One’s Ground, I discussed turning down work. Today’s guest essay by Louise Harnby provides another perspective on accepting or referring work. As Louise points out, knowing when to say no is as important as knowing when to say yes.

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.

_________________

Knowing Your Editorial Fit

by Louise Harnby

The biggest reward I’ve received from my comprehensive marketing strategy is that I get a lot of offers of work…not just from publishers, but also from independent writers, students, business professionals, and individual academics. Being in a position whereby I have the opportunity to turn down work—either because I can’t fit it in or because I know of a particular colleague who can do a better job—is something I’ve striven for since I set up my professional proofreading business in 2005. Why? Because taking on work that I don’t have the required skill set for is a lose–lose for me and the client. I don’t want to do a mediocre job.

At the very best, “mediocre” doesn’t bring the client back asking for more, doesn’t generate solid testimonials, doesn’t lead to referrals from my client to his or her colleagues, and brings me a huge amount of stress. At the very worst, it could lead to complaints, a lack of confidence on the client’s part, damage to my professional reputation…and did I mention stress? And those were definitely not on my “strive for” list back in 2005!

Only a few days ago, I received an email from a Dutch academic based at a prestigious UK university. He’d found my website by googling “academic proofreader sociology.” Given that I appeared on the first page of Google’s search results he took a peek and liked what he saw—he told me he loved my profile, my extensive online academic proofreading portfolio, and the page of testimonials from academic publishers. He thought I was a great fit. Money wasn’t an issue so would I be interested in proofreading and editing his presubmission sociology and demography journal articles and his grant proposals on a regular basis? The text would include a lot of data analysis and stats, but nothing too technical.

On paper we do look like a great match—he’s an academic researcher looking for an experienced academic editorial freelancer. What’s the real story, though? The facts are as follows:

  • I’m a proofreader not a copyeditor. They’re different jobs.
  • Most of my academic proofreading work has already been through a round of professional copyediting (arranged by the publisher’s in-house project manager).
  • I work primarily on books, not journals. They are different products with different requirements.
  • The last time I looked at a grant proposal was back in the late 1980s, when I applied for tuition-fee support prior to embarking on my university degree.
  • The words “editing data analysis and statistics” make me feel, well, a tad unwell.

Certainly, I could have secured this job, and the healthy fee that would have come with it, by confirming the client’s initial response to my online profile. But having bagged the work, I know I would have done a mediocre job. Reading between the lines, the client needed someone with a richer skill set than mine. And I knew just the person. One of my colleagues is a former academic researcher and has worked as a scientist in a commercial environment. He’s written for journals, sat on journal editorial boards, and been active in the peer-review process. He’s evaluated research grant proposals and been involved in the writing and submission process. And he’s both an editor and a proofreader who specializes in working on journal articles written by authors for whom English is a second language. This colleague can bring something to the table that I can only dream of. The job he’ll do for my Dutch academic will be richer than anything I can offer. And not just because of his editorial training. Rather, his research background and career experience will enable him to add value in ways that can’t be taught to me.

Furthermore, referring my Dutch academic (with his refreshing focus on quality rather than the lowest price) elsewhere didn’t hurt me one bit. I don’t have the stress of knowing I’ve bitten off more than I can chew; I’ve been honest with the client about exactly what’s required and who can deliver the necessary outcomes; one of my colleagues has (I hope) secured a productive relationship with a new client; and I’m free to continue to use the hours in my working day to bill for work that I am qualified for—work that I can do a really, really good job on, not a mediocre one.

It can be tempting to take on work that one can’t do a really great job on, especially when opportunities aren’t coming thick and fast. That’s why an effective marketing strategy is so important; it helps to put us in the position where we’re able to get enough of the work that we’re excellent at instead of taking risks with jobs that we’re not trained for, or don’t have an aptitude for. It gives us choices so that we can put all that we’ve learned into the place it needs to be. And if we do want to expand into editorial work that requires another skill set (one that can be taught), it gives us the space to generate a regular work stream while we pursue the relevant training.

Few of us are good at everything. Certainly we can diversify, and we can (and should) continue to develop as professionals by educating ourselves. But there are some things that can’t be taught. With the best will in the world, I will never have the research background or journal experience that some of my colleagues have. That’s their bag. I have mine. For each of us, knowing where we fit, and how best to exploit and communicate that fit, is central to commonsense editorial business ownership.

Do you agree? If you were me, would you have taken on the job I turned down or would you have referred it to a colleague? Was this out of choice or necessity?

_________________

The issues that Louise raises also reflect on the informal code of responsibility that governs professional editing. Do you include this informal code in your decision-making process?

Louise cites the factors she considered, but we should not forget that there are other factors to be considered, such as whether we think we are capable of working under a tight deadline. What factors do you consider when deciding whether to accept or refer a job? How do you decide which colleague to refer the client to?

November 11, 2013

Four Questions & Jargon

Every editor has to deal with jargon, because every form of writing has jargon designed to speak to the author’s audience. The question that editors need to resolve is this: Should I delete jargon? Today’s guest essayist, Erin Brenner, tackles the question by asking four questions about the jargon and its use.

Erin Brenner is the editor of the Copyediting newsletter and the owner of Right Touch Editing. You can follow her on Twitter. Erin is a guest presenter at various conferences on topics of interest to freelancers.

_________________

Before Deleting Jargon, Ask These Four Questions

by Erin Brenner

Copyeditors are trained to spot jargon. We’re taught to see it as obscuring meaning, as something designed to keep readers out, so delete it we must. Yet jargon can be helpful as well. For those familiar with it, jargon can provide a concise way to say something.

Instead of automatically deleting jargon, we should be considering whether it’s helpful to the reader.

How do you do that? Let me show you.

Ask Four Simple Questions

While editing the newsletter recently, I came across three jargon terms in an article about email discussion lists by Katharine O’Moore-Klopf: listmate, onlist, and offlist. I’ve been participating in such discussion lists for a long time, so I didn’t even blink at the terms.

But one of my copyeditors, Andy Johnson, did. Given that the article is aimed at folks who don’t currently participate in discussion lists or boards, would those readers understand the terms?

Johnson knows that jargon must be helpful to readers or be removed—just like every other word in a manuscript. To determine whether the terms are helpful, I apply a list of questions I wrote for deciding whether to use a neologism in a manuscript:

  • Does the word in question mean what the author intends it to mean?
  • Does the word fit the style and tone of the text?
  • Will any connotations of the word inhibit the author’s intended message?
  • Will the audience understand what the author means by this word?

In this situation, O’Moore-Klopf was using the terms correctly. They fit well within the piece, and there were no connotations of the terms to inhibit meaning. The problem was whether the audience would understand the terms. The article was targeting readers who don’t currently participate in discussion lists, remember.

We could determine whether there would be readers who wouldn’t understand the jargon by determining how well known the jargon was outside of discussion lists. I started my search for these words:

  1. In several dictionaries. No results.
  2. In the Corpus of Contemporary American English. Zip.
  3. On Google. Now I had a few results:

a. listmate: There is some list management software called ListMate that grabs most of the first few results pages; about four pages in, I found one result that was in the subject line of a Yahoo Group message.

b. onlist: Results included social media handles and program commands. They also included some descriptions of activity on a list (as opposed to off it).

c. offlist: This term had the best results. It appears in Wiktionary, a Minecraft forum, and discussion comments. It’s also as a tag on Instagram and Pinterest.

By this point, I had a fair idea that these terms weren’t used much, if at all, outside of discussion lists. Still, I checked one more place, Google Books, and came up with a few accurate results. Most were books about discussion lists or marketing; one was on relationships in the digital world. Another was a book about language usage in a specific culture, while another was a fiction book set in the modern day.

Given that the terms were not often found in the mainstream, I hesitated to use them. Listmate seemed self-explanatory once the idea of discussion list had been introduced. Onlist and offlist were less clear; although our readers are intelligent and could parse out the meaning, we’d be making them work for it. Could we say the same thing without those terms?

We could. In most places where onlist was on its own, we could just drop it; the context was clear already:

If you have a funny work-related anecdote that you can share [deleted: onlist] without violating anyone’s privacy or embarrassing anyone, do so.

Offlist didn’t appear on its own, but when paired with onlist, we rewrote the phrasing:

Avoid complaining, either on the list or in private e-mail conversations [was: onlist or offlist], about colleagues, listmates, and clients.

In addition to the places I noted above, consider checking industry publications similar to yours and a news database, such as Google News. The first will tell you if the jargon is common in your industry, and the second will tell you if the jargon has become familiar to a wider audience. If the jargon appears in either place, you can feel comfortable keeping it in your manuscript.

Copyeditors don’t have to spend a great deal of time trying to determine how mainstream a piece of jargon is. It took me about 10 minutes or so to research all three terms in a light way and decide that the issue my copyeditor had raised was valid. I saw enough evidence for me to advise the author and seek her preferences.

_________________

Do you  have “rules” that you apply to determine whether jargon should be deleted? Are they the same as Erin’s four questions or something different? Some professional editors work in niche subject areas, for example, medical books written by doctors for doctors or computer programming books written by programmers for advanced-level programmers. Are the rules about jargon and the questions to be asked about jargon outlined by Erin applicable?

Perhaps most important: Does eliminating jargon really matter in today’s Internet and Twitter age?

What do you think?

October 30, 2013

The Commandments: Thou Shall Establish the Rules of Engagement Before Beginning a Project

In our continuing series on commandments for editors and authors, Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, contributes the following essay discussing what should be established at the beginning of an editor–client relationship and why it should be established.

(Ruth E. Thaler-Carter [www.writerruth.com] is a successful freelance writer/editor, the author of “Get Paid to Write! Getting Started as a Freelance Writer” and “Freelancing 101: Launching Your Editorial Business,” and the owner of Communication Central [www.communication-central.com], which hosts a conference for freelancers every fall.

_________________

Thou Shall Establish the Rules of Engagement
Before Beginning a Project

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

If anything should be a key guiding light for freelance editors, it is our third editorial commandment:

Thou shall establish the rules of engagement before beginning an editing project.

Those rules can cover a number of aspects of freelancing. Here are the ones I find most important to success as a freelance editor.

Define a “Page”

It doesn’t matter if you use 250 words, 1,800 characters or some other formula. What matters is to have a standard definition of a page, relay it to the client, and stick to it — or ask for the client’s definition — before accepting anything about a new project.

Why is this important? Because clients don’t always play fair when it comes to describing their projects. When you hear from a prospective new client about editing a manuscript of x number of pages, don’t assume you can rely on that page count. Whether through laziness, ignorance of the publishing process, or deliberate attempts to get more editing work for less money, many clients misrepresent the size of a manuscript and the scope of its problems.

You’ll be told a project is 25 pages, so you expect to receive 6,250 words and you promise to turn the manuscript around in five hours, knowing you can usually handle five or six pages per hour. You receive a manuscript that actually has 15,000 words because the client has formatted it single-spaced in 8- or 10-point type. You’ve just lost money and committed to a timeframe that is probably impossible to fulfill.

I have one client whose manuscripts include large photos. At first look, the page count seems higher than it really is, as an average photo takes up half a page. He thought his 70-page document would actually be something like 55 or 60 pages of editing. However, his documents are also single-spaced, so his 70 pages became 100, even after “discounting” the photos.

Let the client know that you define a page as 250 words (that’s what I use; Rich Adin, An American Editor, uses a character count), that you will check the word count when you receive the project, and that only then will you commit to a deadline and fee.

Define Your Fee

With many projects, it can be challenging to pin down a fair rate for our work. With new projects or clients, setting a flat or project fee can backfire — either the project is a lot bigger than expected, as explained above, or it’s a lot more demanding than expected.

With project rates, include language to protect yourself against “scope creep” — where the project ends up being much longer and more complex than expected, the client keeps adding to it, or the client doesn’t like what you did on a first go-round and expects you to redo the work again and again and again.

If being paid by the hour, protect yourself with a range, rather than a specific, limited amount of time. Usually it is better to use a page rate, so you benefit from working efficiently and don’t lose out if the project is longer or more complex than expected. Even with a page rate, however, be sure to include your definition of a page at the earliest moment in your negotiations.

It isn’t only the amount of the fee that is important. When you will be paid is also a factor. Be sure to state whether you require a deposit/advance, when your interim payments are to be made, and what will happen if a payment is late. Specify your late fee for those (ideally rare) occasions when a full or final payment doesn’t show up on time.

Define the Service

Many clients have no idea of what the difference is between editing and proofreading, or between substantive, developmental, and copy editing. You may have to explain the difference, and you may have to stand firm on doing a lesser level of work than the client would like to get for the agreed-upon fee.

Before you accept a project, be sure to establish what it needs, what you will do, and what effect that will have on the fee and deadline. Just as it’s risky to accept a page count before the manuscript is in hand, don’t commit to a “light edit” or “only proofreading” sight unseen.

You also may need to declare whether charts, figures, and other pieces of artwork are included in the fee. Notes can add significantly to the length of a work and the time needed to edit it (although there are tools to help you manage that process, as has been discussed by Rich many times).

Define Who Does What

As Rich has said, “Both the author and the editor should give careful thought to the division of responsibility before they begin the relationship and should recognize that such division is governed by the parameters set for the project. More importantly, authors should clearly state, in writing, their expectations and the services they want an editor to perform, and be prepared to pay for those services. … The responsibility for a manuscript is a shared responsibility.”

Let your clients or authors know whether you prefer, for instance, to receive a manuscript that is both complete and as final as possible. You don’t want to edit a first draft just to find out that the author is still rewriting and expects you to (re)edit the new version. Then again, some editors are comfortable with receiving only a few chapters at a time — the idea is that the author/client will learn from the early edits and incorporate that knowledge into subsequent chapters.

Establish the author’s responsibilities in terms of when you will receive the manuscript or segments of it, what format it should be in, whether the client wants you to use Track Changes (make sure the client understands how to use or respond to Word’s Track Changes), and timing of responses to your questions. Set ground rules early about things like phone and e-mail contact — when it’s OK for the client to call, how phone and e-mail discussions will be billed, etc.

Establish your responsibility for deadlines and for what you’re going to do with the project. Putting these details into writing, even by e-mail, makes the project go much more smoothly and the relationship between client and editor a much healthier one than otherwise.

It all comes down to this commandment: Thou shall establish the rules of engagement before beginning an editing project.

_________________

Do you agree with Ruth? Would your commandment be different? Would the components of your commandment be different?

September 2, 2013

What Is Linguistics? A Rebuttal

Last week I posted an article called What is Editing? in which I advocated for a philosophy/law education, claiming it to be the best educational preparation for an editing career. As you know, other educational paths were espoused and my view of linguistics was the subject of several comments stating that I was wrong.

I invited Ben Lukoff to write a rebuttal. After all, I am not so wedded to my views that I cannot be taught a new lesson. (Isn’t that much of the allure of editing? Being exposed to differing viewpoints?) What follows is Ben’s response to my article.

(Benjamin Lukoff is a Seattle writer and editor. His first book, Seattle Then and Now, was published in 2010. He has a BA in English, with minors in linguistics and Russian, from the University of Washington, and an MA in English linguistics from University College London.)

___________________

What Is Linguistics? A Rebuttal

by Benjamin Lukoff

A week or so ago, a woman posted this question to the Freelance Editing Network group on LinkedIn, to which both Rich Adin and I belong: “If I’d like to have a career in editing, copyediting, proofreading, etc., what would be the best master’s degree for me?” She will be getting her English BA soon, and knows that a master’s isn’t necessary, but would like to pursue one anyway.

Which discipline, though? She mentioned communications, writing, and publishing, and was leaning toward communications. My advice was that, of the three, she’d be most likely to further her craft knowledge in a publishing program. However, I thought linguistics would be far more interesting, and would give her a much more well-rounded perspective on language issues. (I also noted that the reason people have told her a master’s isn’t necessary is because having done the work is far more important than credentials. I’d rather hire someone with four years of experience than someone with two years of experience and a two-year masters.)

A few days later, Rich joined the thread. He agreed with me on the vocational issue, but suggested as a course of study philosophy or law, which “teach you to think,” as opposed to linguistics, which “focuses on structure…[which] is mechanical.” He expanded his thoughts in a recent post to An American Editor, What Is Editing?

I am a regular reader and a great fan of An American Editor, so I was pleasantly surprised to be mentioned in his post, if not by name. I did, however, feel it necessary to leave a comment countering his characterization of linguistics, just as I had done in the LinkedIn thread. Rich has kindly given me the opportunity to expand on those here.

The canonical definition of linguistics is “the scientific study of human language.” That can be a bit misleading, and so I am not entirely surprised that some people’s perception is that it is mostly about structural issues: primarily those of syntax, but also of phonology and morphology. Structuralism was indeed the dominant paradigm in the field from Ferdinand de Saussure in the first decade of the 20th century until the advent of generative grammar in the sixth.

Even the latter, most often associated with Noam Chomsky, remains fundamentally concerned with rule-based manipulation of linguistic objects. Chomsky has called anything else — including the study of actual usage — a form of butterfly collecting. But there is far more to linguistics than it seems Chomsky would prefer. William Labov, a sociolinguist speaking at the same conference at which Chomsky made that comment, is in that sense a pioneering lepidopterist, having made his mark with The Social Stratification of English in New York City in 1966 and producing important and insightful research on language in the wild for nearly half a century since.

Labov and his ilk are, of course, not alone. The second part of Rich’s characterization of linguistics involves the “lineage” of language, and linguistics does indeed cover that too, in the form of historical linguistics and etymology. But it also includes, in addition to sociolinguistics (as noted above, the effects of society on language and vice versa), psycholinguistics (the cognitive processes involved in language), semantics (meaning), pragmatics (meaning in context), and phonetics (the actual sounds of speech). Ideally it touches almost every other discipline, as hardly any human endeavor is possible without language. (Leonard Bernstein famously based the premise of his Norton Lectures on the parallels between music and language, discussing pieces in terms of their syntax, phonology, and semantics.) The collective authors of Wikipedia do not exaggerate when they write that “Linguistics…draws on and informs work from such diverse fields as acoustics, anthropology, biology, computer science, human anatomy, informatics, neuroscience, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and speech-language pathology”; if anything, this list is too short.

Of course, that is the ideal state, and that is something I realized when reading the note in which Rich asked me to write this post. He took his linguistics courses in the mid 1960s, when the modern discipline was still fairly new. In addition, his school was too small to have a separate department, and so linguistics was part of English. I have long felt that departments of modern languages are doing their students a disservice if they teach literature without teaching language, but I also think that linguistics can never be more than philology if it is treated as a mere appendage. Given that, I realized that our disagreement wasn’t so much about linguistics, but about our definitions of the term “linguistics.” (I was lucky enough to receive my schooling at large institutions in the 1990s, by which time it was a well-established field).

This particular misunderstanding is ultimately a minor one, but I mention it because one of the most important things I think editors need to realize (everyone does, really, but this blog is about editing) is that not everyone means the same things by the same words. More broadly, there is variation in language, both in usage and understanding, and regardless of how one feels about that, one must take it into account. I still think no course of study hammers that home quite the way linguistics does, especially when one wishes to work with language professionally. I am sure I am a better editor because of my linguistics background, just as I’d like to think I brought a broader perspective to my linguistics work because of my editorial background. I’m also a believer in the possibility of bridging the unbridgeable gap that seems to exist between descriptivists, prescriptivists, and laypeople, who often seem to be caught in the middle. This isn’t an editor’s primary function, of course, but I think it’s a worthy sideline that can only improve the lot of everyone who truly loves language.

Again, I’d recommend simply getting experience over any further course of study to a college graduate who wants to break into the editorial industry. But if she insists on further schooling, I cannot recommend linguistics highly enough.

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Do you agree with Ben? Does it really matter, in the end, what education courses one pursues? Or is experience what matters? If experience is what matters, how does one go about getting that experience?

July 15, 2013

A September Meetup: Make Your Plans Now

On September 27-28, 2013, I will be in Rochester, NY, attending (and presenting* at) this year’s Communication Central conference, “Be a Better Freelancer: Marketing Magic and More for Your Business.” Ruth Thaler-Carter, owner of Communication Central and today’s guest columnist, talks about the conference.

There are two important points for readers of An American Editor:

  1. A special discount has been arranged for An American Editor readers. By registering for the conference by July 31, 2013, using this special link, An American Editor Registration, you can save at least $50.
  2. Early registration will not only save you money, but it will give you an advance opportunity to reserve a seat for my two-part, 4- hour session on The Business of Freelancing. This will be an opportunity for you to ask your questions and get in-person responses from your colleagues and me.

Now, about the conference — here’s Ruth:

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Coming to Rochester:
An Opportunity to Learn from and Network
with Colleagues Up Close and In Person

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, owner, Communication Central

In this increasingly electronic world, opportunities to meet, learn from, and network with colleagues in person are still valuable — and may even be more useful than some of the online interactions we all depend on so much these days.

That’s one of the factors behind Communication Central, an annual conference I created a few years ago as an opportunity for colleagues to get together in person to make their freelance writing, editing, proofreading and other communications businesses more effective and successful by learning from each other. As I’ve been putting finishing touches on this year’s speakers and topics, I’ve been thinking about why it’s worthwhile for colleagues to come to this event.

First, the conference offers a variety of topics that most, if not all, of us find useful or challenging. This year’s event includes sessions on:

  • using Acrobat, because clients increasingly ask for Acrobat-related services;
  • several aspects of marketing, including creativity, which can be a lot of fun; learning the secrets of success; and branding, which not enough of us think about as a way of distinguishing our freelance businesses from the herd (especially the Internet herd);
  • juggling work and family, which is a constant challenge;
  • creating and using macros, which can save a lot of time and make our work more efficient;
  • self-publishing, which offers both writers and editors some exciting opportunities, if we could only figure out how to take advantage of them;
  • social media, which only gets more important as time goes on; and
  • the business of freelancing, from the unique “tough love” perspectives of An American Editor, Rich Adin, as only he can relay important points.

Conference speakers are among the gems of our profession as freelance editors, proofreaders, writers and more – people with solid credentials and impressive expertise: brand marketer Chuck Ingersoll; publisher and blogger extraordinaire Yvonne DiVita; macro magician Jack Lyon; self-publishing pro Ally Machate; Copyediting newsletter editor Erin Brenner; National Association of Independent Writers and Editors leader Janice Campbell; creativity guru Ellen Koronet; editing expert Geoff Hart; Editorial Bootcamp owner Laura Poole; and, of course, Rich Adin — the American Editor himself. Those who are new to the event will add fresh perspectives, while those who have presented at previous conferences have new insights, topics, and experiences to share. Their generosity in sharing their expertise is amazing — and all are great examples of how we must constantly look for new ways of doing business as freelancers.

Second, there’s that personal interaction. Sure, you could get some of the basic information about any of these topics online. You can get immediate answers to urgent questions through e-mail discussion lists, LinkedIn and Facebook groups, professional associations, etc. But you can only get the personal touch from an in-person event. And you can only go in-depth on some of these topics when the expert is right at-hand to ask about details or demonstrate important points.

Most of us freelancers have few opportunities to get out of our garrets and into situations where we can meet and mingle with each other. Beyond the content and the personal touch of attending a conference like this, there’s also a wonderful sense of camaraderie among participants, some of whom have become good friends over the years, and some of whom have established working relationships as a result of meeting in person at one event or another. (Even in this increasingly digital age, some people still prefer to hire or subcontract to people they’ve actually met.)

Finally, as an incentive to attend, there is a special deal for this year’s conference just for An American Editor readers. This is especially appropriate, as Rich is both our keynote speaker and also will present a special two-part, four-hour session on the business of freelancing. The special discount is available only until July 31, so don’t delay! To take advantage of this offer, go to this special link:

An American Editor Registration

The conference will be at a Staybridge Suites hotel, with rooms that are sharable. The hotel is on the Genesee River, across from the University of Rochester, with a bridge to the campus for exercise and a dock for one of the local riverboats. The Rochester area offers plenty of activities for spouses/partners and kids who might want to tag along.

More information about the conference itself is available at Communication Central’s conference website.

For your special registration rate as a subscriber to An American Editor, go to An American Editor Registration.

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As you can see, this year’s conference will be exciting; I know I am looking forward to it and am already planning on which sessions to attend. I encourage you to take advantage of the early registration special and join me, Ruth, and the other conference speakers in Rochester.

Remember that the An American Editor registration discount is only available via the links above and that it expires on July 31, after which the link will no longer work and the pricing will no longer be available.

*Disclaimer: I will be an attendee and presenter at the conference. I have no financial interest in Communication Central or the conference. In exchange for my presentation at the conference, I will receive reimbursement for my actual expenses, but no other compensation.

May 27, 2013

Business of Editing: Solopreneur or “Company” (I)

Today’s article is a guest post written by Ruth Thaler-Carter, a long-time friend and colleague. Ruth is a freelance editor and writer, as well as host of editing and writing conferences.

Ruth and I have discussed numerous times whether it is better to be a solopreneur or a “company.” Here she makes her case for solopreneurship.

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A Solopreneur’s Perspective on Business Models

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Rich Adin’s blog, An American Editor, has seen a number of convincing posts about the value of doing editing as a company with more than one editor on board, rather than working solo, and why that business model might be the wave of the future.

Becoming an editing company makes a lot of sense for anyone who wants to handle large publishing projects, which is the niche for Rich’s company, but I’d like to offer my reasons for planning to remain a solopreneur as a freelance editor.

Like many of my editor colleagues, I am comfortable working on smaller projects where the overall funds may not be as attractive as what a huge medical text, for example, might generate. The work can be as profitable when you take into account the different level of effort or scale of project and the fact that, as a solopreneur, I end up with the whole fee in pocket, rather than some of it going to colleagues, employees, or subcontractors.

My editing work involves articles for magazines, newsletters, professional firms, and blogs; book-length manuscripts for trade associations; website content; and other relatively short or small-scale assignments. Most of these projects probably would not be worth doing for a bigger business entity. I enjoy working on them, and I make enough on them to pay my bills and feel good about the income they generate. As an editing company, I might miss out on smaller projects that I really enjoy doing.

Based on what I see in discussion lists, many of my colleagues take a similar view of their editing work. Those who work with MA and PhD students, for instance, or academic authors trying to submit manuscripts to journals, often do quite well as solopreneurs on projects that might not be big enough for a company or whose authors might not be able to afford the fees of a company.

When he says that it’s difficult to find individual clients who will pay enough to be worthwhile for solopreneur editors, Rich also has a good point. It is true that finding individual clients can be a challenge, and that the expanding world of self-publishing may mean there will be more and more authors who don’t think they need editors, rather than more and more who understand the importance of editing to make their work its best. But some of us do well in working with such clients, once they find us or we find them; the challenge is more making that connection than whether those clients are comfortable working with us as individual editors rather than as companies or what appear to be businesses.

It is possible that some individual clients/authors might view a company name and identity as more trustworthy and “legit” than an individual freelance editor. That might explain why new authors go to web-based services for editing. However, I think those self-publishing clients who do want editing services also might be scared off by the prospect of working with a company, assuming – perhaps wrongly – that they wouldn’t be able to afford the fees that a company would charge. (I’m not necessarily comparing my fees and costs of doing business to those of a company, but companies usually have overhead and other expenses to cover that a solopreneur doesn’t have.)

There are when times when it would be easier if I had, or were part of, an editing company with employees or subcontractors already in place. When I’ve been offered a project much larger than what I normally work on, I turn to colleagues who might be comfortable working together.

If I had a business partner or employees/subcontractors, I could and would take on much bigger projects, but I also would have a whole new layer of administrative responsibility – even if some of it can be delegated – that I really don’t want. Having an editing company means finding, vetting/testing, hiring, training, overseeing, and paying the people who do some or all of the editing work. Only some of those tasks can be handled by someone other than the head of the company. I would rather spend my time doing the actual editing work; the billing and related aspects of my business are nominal compared with what I assume such administrative activity is for a larger-scale editing company (of course, we all know about the dangers of assuming!).

Some of this decision-making process, of course, is rooted in each individual’s personality and comfort zone. Not everyone wants to own and manage a company. Not everyone wants to handle huge editing projects. Not everyone even wants to make a six-figure income – someone might want to have such an income, but not want to do what it takes to earn it.

I’m open to reconsidering how I structure my business over time as the markets evolve. I’ve adapted to technology over the years in ways I never could have anticipated, so I probably could adapt to a new business model as well. At least for now, though, I don’t anticipate morphing into a company. My solopreneur model is working nicely for me, both personally and financially.

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What do you think? Do you agree with Ruth? Is the solopreneurship really the best model for the changing world of editing?

March 13, 2013

The Little Man Who Wasn’t There

Today’s guest article is by Jack Lyon, an editor, the owner of The Editorium, and creator of many macros that editors and publishers around the world use (his macros are available at The Editorium). In his article, Jack ponders on some of the “invisibles” in book publishing.

____________

The Little Man Who Wasn’t There

by Jack Lyon

Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today;
Oh, how I wish he’d go away!
—Hughes Mearns

In a recent post on An American Editor, Rich Adin posits that eBooks may be sounding the death knell for authorial greatness (see Are eBooks the Death Knell of Authorial Greatness?).

Why? Because unlike printed books sitting on a shelf, ebooks are not immediately visible to our view; we have to go find them on our ereader, or search for them online. “Out of sight, out of mind,” as the saying goes.

I won’t repeat Rich’s arguments here; you should read them for yourself. But I do believe that Rich is onto something important, and his post made me think about other things that are becoming invisible in this modern age.

Note References

A recent trend in book publishing is the use of “blind” notes; that is, notes that exist in the back of a book but have no indication in the text that they exist. The only way to see if a particular passage has an associated note is to turn to the back of the book and check. “Fascinating paragraph,” you think. “I wonder if there’s a note about this.” You turn back to the notes and look. “Nope.”

What if your cell phone worked that way? Suppose your phone gave no indication—no ringtone, no flashing light—that a call was coming in. The only way to know would be to pick up your phone periodically and listen. Does that seem like a good system?

Is an author’s text really so elegant that it should not be besmirched with superscript note references? Give readers a break; if there’s a note, give them some indication.

Well-Written Indexes

Professional indexers and seasoned readers know that a good index is an essential part of a good nonfiction book. Not only does it allow you to find particular passages, but it also gives you an overview of a book’s contents. Does the latest tome on Microsoft Word have anything new to say about macros? Check the index.

But some authors and publishers think that an index can be generated by a computer—just feed the computer a list of important terms, and it will mark those terms as index entries in the text. Generate the index, and off  you go! (Microsoft Word actually includes a feature that will do this; I don’t recommend it.)

Similarly, those who publish in electronic form often think that a program’s “search” feature is all that’s needed for readers to find what they’re looking for. But consider the old saying “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” It refers to motherhood, of course, but if you look for “motherhood” in a computer-generated index or with an electronic search, “The hand that rocks the cradle” won’t show up. A good index is a form of writing; it requires the application of a human mind, which can see meanings where a computer sees only words. (This, by the way, is why grammar checkers don’t work.)

Functional User Interfaces

Some web designers think that how a web page looks is much more important than how it works. They’re wrong about that. Imagine a web page so “artfully” done, so minimal in its design, that it offers no indication of how users should navigate the site. You would actually have to move your cursor around the screen to see what areas might be “clickable.” That’s the extreme, of course, but there are sites that offer little more than that. Google “minimalist web page” and you’ll find some.

Several years ago I attended the product launch for a specialized search engine. The interface had an elaborately designed logo with the word “Search.” Below that was a box where users could enter the text they wanted to find. Wanting to demonstrate the simplicity of the new search engine, the CEO invited his wife to step onto the platform and search for something, implying that if she could use the program, anyone could. (Unfortunately, this also demonstrated his own stupidity and callousness, but that’s another story.)  His wife entered some text but then couldn’t find where to click to activate the search. There was no button, no menu, nothing. Finally the CEO grabbed the mouse and clicked on the logo to activate the search. After all, it did say “Search.” The problem was, it didn’t look like something to click; it looked like a logo. Furthermore, it was above the text box; but things should always appear in the order of use: First enter your text, then click “Search”—which means that the Search button should have come below the text box, not above it.

Form should always follow function; how something looks should always be subordinate to how it works. A button should look like a button.

Not that there’s anything wrong with simplicity. As Albert Einstein once said, “Everything should be as simple as possible, but never simpler.” Those who are involved in any kind of communication—which means all of us—need to keep that in mind.

__________

What do you think? Is Jack onto something that has changed with the advent of technological changes to how books are produced? Has technology changed us from specialists to generalists who know just enough to get us into trouble?

June 29, 2012

Worth Noting: Author Guild’s Filing to the DOJ

The Author’s Guild has submitted a letter outlining its opposition to the DOJ’s proposed settlement with three major publishers. The letter is worth reading for an understanding of just how predatory Amazon is. The letter is reprinted in full below from the Author Guild’s blog.

________________

The Guild does not support the DOJ’s proposed e-book settlement. We believe it will allow Amazon to resume its predatory pricing practices, discouraging competition in the e-book marketplace.  Here is the signed document.

June 25, 2012

John R. Read, Esq. Chief, Litigation III Antitrust Division, United States Department of Justice Washington, D.C. 20530

Re: United States v. Apple, Inc., et al., 12-cv-2826 (DLC) (SDNY).

Dear Mr. Read,

I’m writing to express the Authors Guild’s firm belief that the proposed settlement of the Justice Department’s lawsuit alleging that five publishers and Apple colluded to introduce agency pricing to the e-book market is not in the public interest.  The settlement is flawed by an astonishing provision, specifically requiring three large publishers to allow e-book vendors to routinely sell e-books at below cost, so long as the vendors don’t lose money over the publisher’s entire list of e-books over the course of a year.

The proposal, by allowing targeted predatory pricing of e-books, would give governmental sanction to a practice long considered destructive to a free and fair market. It was precisely this practice – selling frontlist e-books at below cost to discourage and destroy competition – that helped Amazon capture a commanding 90% of the U.S. e-book market. Agency pricing, which the Justice Department believes was introduced through collusion, has allowed Amazon’s competitors to gain a foothold, driving Amazon’s market share down to 60% in two years.

The Justice Department has made clear that it intends to irreversibly reshape the literary market.  Allowing Amazon to resume its predatory ways with e-books will likely accomplish that, but not in the way the Justice Department intends.  The proposed settlement will almost certainly backfire and harm readers in the long run.

The Justice Department needs to rethink and revise its proposal: it can stop the alleged collusion without requiring publishers to allow Amazon to resume predatory pricing.

The Competitive Landscape: Amazon’s in Control

The Justice Department’s assessment of the literary market offers but a pinhole glimpse of the genuine competitive landscape.  Its competitive impact statement fails to discuss the relationship between the print book market and the e-book market, for example, or the critical distinctions between the online book market and the brick-and-mortar market. Most importantly, it fails to mention Amazon’s monopolistic reach and reflexive anticompetitive habits, the dominant features of the current competitive landscape.

Nowhere does the Justice Department’s competitive impact statement discuss the components of Amazon’s monopolistic reach:

  • that Amazon held 90% of the market for trade e-books prior to the introduction of the agency model in 2010, and that its e-book market share still stands at roughly 60%;
  • that Amazon has long controlled about 75% of the online market for trade books in print form;
  • that Amazon’s dominance of the online market for print books gives it control of the market for an estimated 90% of in-print titles, since only a sliver of in-print books (frontlist books and certain backlist titles) have substantial sales in brick-and-mortar stores;
  • that Amazon, through its purchase of Audible.com, has control of the fast-growing downloadable audio book market; and
  • that Amazon, through a series of acquisitions, has gained control of the online market for used books.

There simply is no growing segment of the book market that Amazon doesn’t dominate.

Even more troubling is the competitive impact statement’s failure to discuss how Amazon uses its command of the online book market and its deep pool of capital to undermine competition.  The statement doesn’t point out:

  • that Amazon achieved its $9.99 price for e-books from November 2007 through April 2010 (and through today, for many publishers) by selling frontlist titles at a loss, a classic anti-competitive tactic;
  • that Amazon managed to undermine its brick-and-mortar competitors while maintaining profitability by selling only a select set of e-books at its below-cost $9.99 price point, focusing its predation on digital editions of the frontlist hardcover books that attract customers to its brick-and-mortar competitors;
  • that Amazon removed buy buttons from thousands of “long-tail” books in 2008, in a successful effort to force author focused on-demand publishers to use Amazon’s costly printing service, a maneuver that continues to reduce royalties for thousands of authors, while preventing rivals from effectively competing with Amazon’s author-focused CreateSpace;
  • that during Amazon’s showdown with Macmillan over e-book terms in 2010, it retaliated by removing buy buttons not just from Macmillan’s e-books (which would have been fair play in such a business dispute), but from the publisher’s print books as well, tying access to Amazon’s vital print book market to acceptance of Amazon’s preferred e-book terms (the complaint does blandly mention this, without noting the market-tying strategy);
  • that Amazon has continuously used its market leverage, in the U.S. and abroad, to dictate terms to its suppliers by removing buy buttons, in at least one instance punishing a recalcitrant British publisher for more than a year;
  • that when Amazon entered the e-lending market for public libraries in 2011, it struck an unprecedented deal with OverDrive, the leading e-lending service provider, requiring it to redirect borrowers from their local public library websites to Amazon’s own commercial website and servers, turning thousands of public library websites into virtual storefronts for Amazon, while compromising library patrons’ reading privacy;
  • that Amazon, in November 2011, brought its predatory campaign to a new level with its Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, offering free e-books to gain a loss-leading competitive advantage for its new tablet, the Kindle Fire; and
  • that Amazon has aggressively moved in the past seven months to protect its horizontal control of the online book market through a series of vertical acquisitions, buying exclusive rights to thousands of titles, including Ian Fleming’s James Bond books, Avalon Publishing, and Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books, leading to an unprecedented and dangerous balkanization of the literary marketplace.

Each of these acts represents behavior that should set off alarm bells in the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.  Assessing the effects of the proposed settlement without taking these into account is impossible.

Several of these points merit further description, to illustrate the myriad, creative ways in which Amazon leverages its market power to destroy competition.

Amazon, On-Demand Publishing: Making Room for CreateSpace

For years, the Authors Guild staff had heard whispers of Amazon’s buy-button removal tactic as a means of getting publishers to agree to new terms.  In January 2008, during the Association of Writers and Writing Program’s annual conference, Amazon’s market-denying maneuver hit hundreds of Guild members, as it removed the buy buttons from more one thousand books in the Guild’s Backinprint.com program.

The Guild had launched Backinprint.com in the summer of 1999, allowing authors for the first time to republish their out-of-print books without incurring any set-up costs. (The Guild had negotiated an agreement with on-demand publisher iUniverse to prepare the books for on-demand printing.)  The service was an immediate hit with members; within two years, more than 1,000 titles were available to readers again, including books by Mary McCarthy, Thornton Wilder, William F. Buckley, Jr., and Victor Navasky.  The books, all of which had fallen out of print after being published by traditional U.S. publishers, are among the more than one million in-print books that make up bookselling’s “long-tail,” low sales-volume works that rarely appear on bookstore shelves. Long-tail books, more than any other, depend on virtual bookstores: Amazon largely defines their market.

Sales of all on-demand books grew steadily in the early 2000s. By 2005, sales of on-demand books had reached a new high.  Backinprint titles sold 41,000 units that year.  Amazon, the storefront for most on-demand sales, took notice.  It purchased BookSurge, an on-demand printer, to compete with Lightning Source, the industry-leading on-demand printing service run by Ingram.

Three years later, however, few on-demand publishers had moved their printing to BookSurge.  Small wonder, since it charged more for its printing services than Lightning Source and had a reputation of offering lower quality service.  So Amazon turned to aggressive tactics to win market share, reportedly removing the buy buttons from all iUniverse titles during the 2008 AWP conference.  Author Solutions, which had acquired iUniverse, saw its sales plummet.  It quickly agreed to use BookSurge for its Amazon sales, and Amazon restored access to its millions of customers.

While a traumatic event for iUniverse, the episode went unnoticed in the book world, which was focused on Amazon’s November 2007 introduction of the Kindle, with its predatory pricing scheme for select frontlist books. Even our members with books in the program took no notice, because when Amazon removes a buy button from a book’s sales page, the sales page looks almost identical to a page for an out-of-print or out-of-stock book.  Reports of Amazon’s strong-arming of on-demand publishers didn’t surface for more than a month, in March 2008, with reports in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere.

Amazon got away with this gambit, suffering barely a scrape.  On-demand publisher Booklocker did file a class action lawsuit in Maine against Amazon over the episode.  After Amazon’s motion to dismiss failed, Amazon quietly settled the suit for a reported $300,000 in attorneys’ fees.  Amazon has doubtless earned back those fees many times over.  Thousands of authors continue to see their on-demand royalties reduced by ten to fifteen percent as a result of Amazon’s squeeze.  (This wasn’t a maneuver justified by efficiencies that ultimately benefit consumers, incidentally.  Amazon appears to sell the books at precisely the same price as other online retailers.  Amazon just makes more money at it than they do.)

More importantly and profitably to Amazon, by forcing iUniverse and other author centered on-demand service providers to use BookSurge, Amazon severely constrained effective competition for its own author centered on-demand service provider, which became known as CreateSpace in 2009.  Amazon’s vertical integration of on-demand printing eliminated the ability of iUniverse, PublishAmerica, XLibris and others to offer authors better royalties when selling through Amazon.  CreateSpace appears to have thrived ever since.

Amazon’s Exercise of Its Buy Button “Nuclear Option”

In June 2008, Doreen Carvajal of the New York Times called buy-button removal “the literary equivalent of a nuclear option for rebellious publishers who balk at [Amazon’s] demands.”  Ms. Carvajal was discussing Amazon’s removal of buy buttons in the United Kingdom from hundreds of Bloomsbury titles while in negotiations with the publisher.

The Authors Guild began preparing for the next incident, which everyone in the industry knew would come.  Since stealth appeared to be a significant weapon for Amazon (authors may not notice, if the incident is over quickly enough, and publishers are fearful of blowing the whistle), the Guild hired developers to build a tool to e-mail authors when Amazon removed one of their buy buttons.  When Amazon removed the buy buttons from Macmillan’s print and digital books in January 2010, the Guild launched the tool through a dedicated website, WhoMovedMyBuyButton.com.

Amazon’s buy button removal campaign persists unabated.  Independent Publishers Group markets and distributes titles from independent publishing houses to the book trade at large.  When IPG’s Amazon contract came up for renewal in 2012, Amazon pressured IPG for more favorable terms.  When IPG resisted, Amazon took down all IPG e-books from its site.  After X months, IPG came to terms, etc.

Amazon and E-Lending by Public Libraries

In September 2011, Amazon entered an arrangement with OverDrive, the largest supplier of e-books and audio books to public libraries, making possible e-book library lending through the Kindle device.  OverDrive’s implementation of the Kindle lending program, pursuant to its agreement with Amazon, required it to redirect patrons to Amazon’s servers. A columnist for the Los Angeles Times compared it to “walking into your public library then finding yourself at the Target checkout counter.”  No other e-book vendor has such an arrangement.

Amazon Pursues Its Own “Monopoly Over Its Titles:” the Balkanization of the Literary Marketplace

Since its e-terms battle with Macmillan in January 2010, during which Amazon protested that it had to “capitulate” due to Macmillan’s “monopoly over its titles,” Amazon has turned toward pursuing its own monopoly.  With the launch of the Kindle Fire, Amazon’s drive to acquire exclusive rights to books, by acquiring publishers with substantial backlists and other arrangements, has taken on a new urgency.

In September 2011, Amazon’s acquired the exclusive digital rights to one hundred popular DC Comics graphic novels.  If a customer wanted to read any of these on an e-device, it had to be on a Kindle Fire. Barnes & Noble, trying to break into the e-device market with its Nook, retaliated by pulling all print copies of DC Comics titles from its shelves. Books-a-Million, the third largest bookseller, followed suit.  “As Amazon seeks over the next few years to expand its tablet line,” predicted the New York Times, “these collisions over content are likely to become routine.”

Amazon is moving quickly. In December, Amazon entered the children’s book market, acquiring more than 450 titles of Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books.  In April, Amazon announced it had acquired the exclusive North American rights to publish Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels — in both digital and print formats. Earlier this month, Amazon expanded its holdings of genre fiction, purchasing the publisher Avalon Books and the exclusive rights to its 3,000-title backlist of romance, mystery and Western fiction.

Balkanization of the literary market is something new and deeply troubling.  “Bookstores used to pride themselves on never removing any book from their shelves,” reported the Times, “but that tradition—born in battles over censorship—is fading as competitive struggles increase.”  Awful as it is for our literary culture, the balkanization of the book market is but a logical extension of Amazon’s no-prisoners approach to competition.

The Kindle Owners’ Lending Library

Amazon lagged Barnes & Noble by a full year in developing an e-reading tablet.  While Barnes & Noble prepared to roll out its second-generation tablet, Amazon prepared to introduce its first, the Kindle Fire.  To gain an advantage, Amazon proposed to do something Barnes & Noble couldn’t afford to do: give away e-books, including front list e-books, for free.

So in November 2011, shortly before Amazon began shipping its Kindle Fire, Amazon also introduced its Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, which allowed Amazon Prime members to download onto their Kindles any of more than 5,000 titles, at the time of it was announced.  Customers are limited to one book per month and one book at a time — when a new book is downloaded, the old one disappears from the Kindle.

Amazon approached the six largest U.S. trade book publishers to seek their participation in the program.  By all accounts, each refused.  Publishers weren’t eager to allow Amazon to undermine the economics of the e-book market, representing the lone bright spot for the industry.  So books from the six largest trade publishers were not in the Lending Library program.

Amazon’s attempts to enlist the next tier of U.S. trade book publishers, major publishers that are slightly smaller than the Big Six, fared no better.  Many, perhaps all, also refused.  No matter. Amazon simply disregarded these publishers’ wishes, and enrolled many of their titles in the program anyway.  Some of these publishers learned of Amazon’s unilateral decision as the first news stories about the program appeared.

The use of publishers’ books without permission was due to a tortured reading of its boilerplate contracts with publishers.  Amazon decided that it didn’t need the publishers’ permission, because, as Amazon saw it, its contracts with these publishers merely required it to pay publishers the wholesale price of the books that Amazon Prime customers download.  By reasoning this way, Amazon claimed it could sell e-books at any price, even giving them away, so long as publishers are paid.

From our understanding of Amazon’s standard contractual terms, this is nonsense — publishers did not surrender this level of control to the retailer.  Amazon’s boilerplate terms specifically contemplate the sale of e-books—not giveaways, subscriptions, or lending.  Amazon can make other uses of e-books only with the publishers consent.  In other words, Amazon was boldly breaching its contracts with these publishers.  This was an exercise of brute economic power: Amazon knew it could largely dictate terms to non-agency publishers, and it badly wanted to launch the Lending Library program with some notable titles.

So Amazon did just that, conscripting publishers into a predatory pricing business model that substituted cash for genuine innovation, further undermining the economics of brick-and-mortar bookstores along the way.

The Justice Department, through this settlement, would deliver the lists of three large publishers into Amazon’s predatory scheme.  Unless competitors are willing to forego nearly all profits from these publishers, the Kindle will likely have an unmatchable competitive advantage.

Conclusion

Of all the possible remedies to the collusion the Justice Department alleges, requiring three large publishers to allow Amazon to sell e-books at a loss is among the most destructive of competition that one could imagine.

Amazon’s tactic of selective predatory pricing of frontlist e-books was far more anti-competitive than the Justice Department has acknowledged.  It effectively cut brick-and-mortar retailers – logical participants in a bricks-and-clicks, showroom approach to marketing e-books – out of the game.  The retailers would need a partner willing to invest substantial amounts to develop and market an e-reader, e-commerce site, and accompanying software.  What partner would dare invest, with Amazon plainly willing to earn little or nothing from e-books?  (Google’s commitment to independent bookstores always seemed half-hearted, and now it’s backing out.) From Amazon’s perspective, the best competitor is one that never dares enter the field.

Amazon has engaged in baldly anticompetitive practices for years.  Its approach to destroying competition is sophisticated, data-driven, and endlessly creative.  What other company would have thought to arm smart-phone users with a price-checking app then reward them for turning on their phones’ geo-location function and report pricing data to Amazon in the height of the holiday season?  (Up to five dollars from Amazon, every time you deny your local retailer a sale.  One Saturday only; limit three per Amazon customer.)  It’s utterly brilliant, and a game only the richest of corporations can play.

Amazon really doesn’t need the Justice Department’s help.  For the sake of free and fair competition, for the sake of readers who would like many companies to invest in better e-reading devices, software, and even in bookstores that one can visit on a weekend, please find another way to address the collusion you believe you’ve uncovered.

Respectfully,

Paul Aiken Executive Director

cc:  Scott Turow

Attached: Selected References

Authors Guild Tunney Act Letter Selected References June 25, 2012

Buy Button Removal and Author On-Demand Service Providers

Wall Street Journal on Amazon’s strong-arming of on-demand publishers: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120667525724970997.html

O’Reilly Radar’s roundup: http://radar.oreilly.com/archives/2008/03/amazon-gets-demanding-with-print-on-demand-publishers.html

To see the differences between an Amazon page with and without buy buttons: http://whomovedmybuybutton.com/buttonology.php

MediaBistro’s GalleyCat on Booklocker antitrust lawsuit against Amazon: http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/judge-denies-amazons-motion-to-dismiss-booklocker-lawsuit_b10167

Buy Button Removal: IPG, Macmillan, Bloomsbury, Hachette U.K.

Chicago Tribune story on Amazon’s removal of 5,000 Independent Publishers Group titles from its Kindle Store: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-02-23/business/ct-biz-0223-amazon-2-20120223_1_amazon-s-kindle-amazon-officials-lorraine-shanley

New York Times’ report on the buy button showdown between Amazon and Macmillan: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/01/technology/companies/01amazonweb.html

PaidContent – Amazon: “we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan’s terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles” http://paidcontent.org/2010/02/01/419-amazon-to-customers-we-will-have-to-capitulate-to-macmillan/

New York Times’ report on Amazon’s U.K. buy button removal: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/16/business/media/16amazon.html

The Bookseller on the end of the Amazon Hachette UK dispute: http://www.thebookseller.com/news/agents-welcome-end-amazonhachette-dispute.html

Amazon, OverDrive and E-Lending

Los Angeles Times blog post on Amazon, OverDrive, and e-lending: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2012/02/why-cant-you-borrow-penguin-e-books-from-the-librariy.html

Balkanization of the Book Market

Amazon’s purchase of exclusive digital rights to DC Comics titles causes bookstores to pull DC titles from their shelves: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/19/technology/bookstores-drop-comics-after-amazon-deal-with-dc.html?pagewanted=all

New York Times on Amazon’s purchase of Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/07/business/amazon-publishing-push-grows-to-childrens-books.html

Wall Street Journal on Amazon’s acquisition of North American rights to James Bond books in electronic and print format: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304299304577350170241190522.html

Kindle Owners’ Lending Library

Los Angeles Times reports on Amazon offering titles in its Kindle Owners’ Lending Library without publishers’ consent: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2011/11/amazons-new-kindle-lending-program-causes-publishing-stir.html

Amazon’s Price Check App Holiday Offer

Bloomberg/Businessweek: Amazon price-check app is an attack on small stores, says Senator Olympia Snowe http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-12-13/amazon-price-check-app-is-attack-on-small-stores-snowe-says.html

Christian Science Monitor: Amazon app will pay you $15 bucks to walk out on retailers http://www.csmonitor.com/Innovation/Horizons/2011/1206/Amazon-app-will-pay-you-15-bucks-to-walk-out-on-retailers

eCommerceBytes.com: Amazon wants in-store shoppers to help update pricing data http://www.auctionbytes.com/cab/cab/abn/y11/m12/i07/s02

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