An American Editor

August 1, 2016

On Politics: Freelancing in a Trumpian World

I’m worried. Neither U.S. presidential hopeful is my ideal choice, and no, I was not a Cruzian; nor did I feel the Bern — in my 50-plus years of voting and following politics, I can’t remember a worse lot of primary candidates to choose from. But if I set aside general policy disagreements with the nominees and instead focus on my future as a freelancer, I can’t get past the Trumpian worldview.

Freelance editing has been globalized for decades. The globalization began in the 1980s with the consolidation of publishing companies into a few international conglomerates, the laying off of in-house staff, and the increased use of freelancers to fulfill previously in-house functions. I worked with several publishers over the years who had no in-house editing staff, just production staff, and even the number of production staff was limited because much of the production work was outsourced.

Globalization, of course, rapidly grew with the rise of the Internet and ever-faster computers with more capable software. When I began my career, the dominant software program for copyediting was XyWrite. Lippincott, which was at the time an independent, major book publisher, required freelancers to travel to its New York City office to be tested on their XyWrite skills and to be “taught” how to use the Lippincott version of the program. XyWrite’s primary competitor was WordPerfect. When Windows began to take over the desktop, XyWrite struggled to create a Windows version; the ultimate product was poor. WordPerfect did much better and became the leading word processing program until it was sold to Novell, a company that had no clue about consumer-focused software. Ultimately, Microsoft Word was crowned king.

Once Word took the throne, once Windows came to dominate the desktop computer, and once the Internet became truly usable from anywhere on Earth, the freelance editing industry became a global industry. Freelancers now obtained work from all over the planet, and the packaging industry began taking over the production of books. Today, American freelance editors may receive work from India, England, Australia — any place you can name. Similarly, freelance editors in those countries can and do receive work originating in the United States.

So, what happens when globalization becomes threatened? Donald Trump speaks of retreating from globalization, making the retreat a goal of his presidency. He talks of canceling trade treaties, of demanding that foreign-sourced work now be brought back to the United States. We know he is focused on manufacturing, but to think that there will be no ripple effect is to be naïve.

According to some pundits in publishing, the book industry is in trouble. We all know reading is in decline (see, e.g., “Sharp Decline in Children Reading for Pleasure, Survey Finds” by Alison Flood [The Guardian (US Edition), January 9, 2015], “Reading Study Shows Remarkable Decline in U.S.” by Lynn Neary [All Things Considered, NPR, WNYC Radio, November 19, 2007 (Transcript of program)], “The Decline of the American Book Lover” by Jordan Weissman [The Atlantic, January 21, 2014], and “Decline in Reading in the U.S.” [EBSCO Host Connection]), and it appears that overall book sales are either stagnant or declining. To make more money, publishers are cutting costs. One way is by increasing the tasks that are outsourced and paying less to the freelancers to whom the work is outsourced. (I find it interesting that executive pay in publishing has increased since 1995 but that most publishers and packagers are offering freelance editors the same pay as was handed out in 1995. No adjustment for inflation.) Bringing those tasks back to the United States will not result in higher-paying in-house jobs for editors.

In fact, it is unlikely that the jobs will be brought back at all. More likely, books will be edited by non-American editors. I have seen the start of this trend; in recent years, I have watched projects that I wouldn’t do for the offered fee be assigned to foreign editors.

Not long ago, I was contacted by a packager from Ireland. We had no problem coming to agreement, except when it came to price. With the maximum they were willing to pay, I would have received 96 cents per page for editing technical material on a short deadline. The packager is clearly able to find editors willing to work for that price, but how many American editors can accept so little money to edit technical material?

I see a practical problem for freelance editors in the event of a Trump presidency: if the United States becomes protectionist in trade policy, should we not expect retaliation and/or reciprocation? With much of the publishing industry consolidated into non-American firms, how effective can a retreat from globalization be for us? Economists are already saying that if we want to see how well the Trump program will work, we only need to look at Walmart’s re-Americanization efforts (see “If Wal-Mart Can’t Bring Manufacturing Back to America, How Can Trump?” by Shannon Pettypiece, Bloomberg Businessweek, July 14, 2016).

So, because I’m a freelance editor who relies on business from around the world, the prospect of having Donald Trump as president alarms me. Some Trump supporters say that this is just bluster on Trump’s part, that he will not really upset the American economy, and that he will modify his stance once elected. That is a gamble I am unwilling to take.

Trump reminds me of Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, the populist U.S. senator who is elected president after promising America First economic policies in Sinclair Lewis’s novel It Can’t Happen Here. If you haven’t read the novel, you should. Although written in 1935, it could be about the 2016 election. Also worth reading is “Trump’s Bigotry Revives Fears of ‘It Can’t Happen Here’” by Michael Winship (Moyers & Company, December 8, 2015).

There are, in my view, many economic reasons not to vote for Trump for president (e.g., “After 9/11, Trump Took Money Marked for Small Businesses” by Michael Warren [The Weekly Standard, February 15, 2016], “Donald Trump Sued Everyone but His Hairdresser” by Olivia Nuzzi [The Daily Beast, July 6, 2015], “How Donald Trump Bankrupted His Atlantic City Casinos, but Still Earned Millions” by Russ Buettner and Charles V. Bagli [The New York Times, June 11, 2016], and “Donald Trump’s Deals Rely on Being Creative With the Truth” by David Barstow [The New York Times, July 16, 2016]) as well as the social and cultural downsides to him as a candidate (e.g., his view of women [see, e.g., “Crossing the Line: How Donald Trump Behaved With Women in Private” by Michael Barbaro and Megan Twoheymay (The New York Times, May 14, 2016), “Donald Trump Hates Women: It’s the One Position He’s Never Changed” by Franklin Foer (Slate, March 24, 2016), and “Sorry, Ivanka. I’m Not Buying that Donald Trump Will Be a Champion for Women” by Vivien Labaton (CNBC, July 22, 2016)]); his denial of human involvement in climate change [see, e.g., “Trump and Pence Are a Match Made in Climate Change Denial Heaven” by Natalie Schreyer (Newsweek, July 15, 2016) and “Water World: Rising Tides Close in on Trump, the Climate Change Denier” by Suzanne Goldenberg (The Guardian [US Edition], July 6, 2016)]; his clear dislike of non–Northern European immigrants; his willingness to tear apart families; his lack of trustworthiness; his short temper; and his threat to America’s existence even four years from now. But the danger he poses to the way the freelance editing business works in the real world is sufficient reason for me to vote for Hillary Clinton. That is what I encourage all freelancers to do — vote for Hillary Clinton because Donald Trump’s world economic view is a danger to our livelihood.

(Addendum: Recently, Donald Trump asked a foreign government to intervene in the upcoming election. A petition to the White House asking for an investigation of Trump’s actions has been created at We the People, which is the government’s website for petitioning the White House. If you would like to review the petition and perhaps sign it, go to the petition at We the People. Sadly, as each day passes there are additional revelations, such as this one in The Guardian: “Donald Trump and Russia: A Web That Grows More Tangled All the Time.”)

Richard Adin, An American Editor

May 30, 2016

Sita Sings the Blues on Copyright

 

About 7 years ago, I stumbled on a great music video, Sita Sings the Blues. If you haven’t seen/heard the video, I urge you to do so. It is available free online or for download from Nina Paley’s website. She is its creator.

Regardless of whether you view the movie, you should listen to Nina Paley’s TED talk “Copyright is Brain Damage.” It is a different perspective on copyright by an artist whose work is copyrightable.

Do you agree with Ms. Paley? If yes, why; if no, why not.

Thanks to The Digital Reader for bringing Ms. Paley’s TED talk to my attention.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

March 9, 2016

Barnes & Noble: Years Later & Still No Clue

As long-time readers of An American Editor know, I prefer to purchase my books at Barnes & Noble (B&N), largely so as to keep a competitor to Amazon alive. But I have to admit, even after years of struggling against Amazon, B&N still doesn’t have a clue and seems to not care that it is following a path of self-destruction.

Consider these past essays on AAE about B&N: On Mourning the Passing of Barnes & Noble (2014), B&N in a Fantasy World (2014), Can Barnes & Noble Be Saved? (2013), and And Then There Was One: Barnes & Noble’s Lack of Customer Service (2012). You would think that by now, especially with all the troubles that B&N has had, a light bulb would come on and B&N management would have an epiphany: “We need to greatly improve our customer service, because our poor customer service is what keeps us down!” Alas, dimwittedness continues to prevail.

I preorder a lot of hardcovers. At the beginning of last week I had 17 hardcovers on preorder and another dozen I have been thinking about. Last week I received four of those 17 hardcovers, in addition to two hardcovers in addition to two hardcovers that I read about or saw an ad for that I ordered. Six hardcovers purchased and received last week alone. In addition, I added 11 more hardcovers to my list of books that I want to preorder but have not.

And therein begins my tale, with one of the preorders I received last week: “Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion” by Susan Jacoby.

I preordered the book many months ago. At the time of the preorder, the price was an undiscounted $30.00. Because it was an early preorder, I didn’t worry about the price, because I (wrongly) assumed that if the book was discounted, B&N would bill me the discounted price. I wanted the book and if it wasn’t discounted, well, I’d pay the $30.00.

When the book arrived, I looked at the invoice and saw it was for $30.00. So I decided to check B&N’s website to see if that was the correct price. It wasn’t. B&N was selling the book for $20.63 — a $9.37 discount. Had the difference in price been a few cents, I would have let it go, but the difference was too much to not call B&N customer service.

I called B&N and the representative told me that “as a one-time courtesy” they would refund the difference but that it is B&N’s policy “not to match prices.” Match prices? I was not asking B&N to match a competitor’s price; I was asking it to sell me the book for the price B&N itself was selling the book, not the inflated preorder price. I thought perhaps I was not getting through because the representative was clearly not a native American English speaker, so I asked to speak to a supervisor.

Even the customer service supervisor seemed to have no clue. She began repeating the excuses the original representative gave — none of which were pertinent, such as “the preorder price depends on inventory, depends on number of preorders, and depends on the publisher” — and then repeated the words, “as a one-time courtesy.”

Unbelievable. I stopped the supervisor and asked, “If this is B&N’s policy, why would I ever preorder a book from you? You do know, do you not, that your biggest competitor, Amazon, offers a preorder price guarantee; that is, if I preorder a book I will be charged the lowest price that Amazon advertised the book for between the time of preorder and the time of delivery?” A waste of breath because she started to repeat the excuses, beginning with “Barnes & Noble doesn’t match prices.”

I decided to give it one more try. I said: “Does it make sense that I can return this book to you at your cost and get a full refund and then reorder the book at the discounted price, which you will ship to me at no charge? If I do that, you will have paid the cost of shipping three times rather than once, and thus lose even more money.” The supervisor’s response was that it is B&N’s policy not to match prices.

I gave up.

I know that contrary to what our Supreme Court has declared, corporations are not human; they are inanimate objects that cannot think. Consequently, they rely on human beings to do their thinking. And that appears to be the difference between corporations: some have smart humans doing their thinking and others not-so-smart, bordering on ill-informed, humans doing their thinking. Sadly, B&N continues to flail in the not-so-smart category.

It doesn’t take much of a light bulb to recognize that if you have a successful competitor who does X, you should be looking at X and figuring out how to make X yours. It doesn’t take much of a light bulb to see that good, credible, noteworthy customer-centric service is the one thing Amazon has going for it, the one thing that Amazon is really well-known in the marketplace for, the most important thing Amazon has that B&N does not have — customer-centric service.

It is not that Amazon never fails at customer service. I stopped buying from its subsidiary Woot a couple of years ago because of exceedingly poor customer service. But the Amazon that B&N competes with has a stellar reputation for customer service. Amazon has consistently said that it may not have the lowest price but it has the best customer service, and I know people who will vouch for that and have said they’d rather pay a bit more to Amazon and know they’ll get great customer service than save a few cents and risk poor customer service.

Is this a difficult concept? Not really. I would think any businessperson would know this, but then B&N management is the exception that proves the rule.

B&N is a struggling company that with a little bit of effort wouldn’t need to struggle so much. All it needs to do is change its culture by putting customers first. This was pointed out to B&N years ago, but even with changes in management it refuses to learn the lesson.

I am the customer that B&N needs and wants. I buy a book because I want it, not because of the price, and I buy hardcovers. I also preorder books, which tells B&N that it has a sure sale. B&N knows this (or should); all it has to do is look at my purchases in its databases. It’s computers must recognize me as a desirable customer because my membership has been renewed at no charge to me. The problem is getting B&N’s human staff to recognize what the computers recognize.

But B&N is driving me away. The customer service supervisor didn’t seem to care when I suggested that perhaps I should cancel all my B&N preorders and instead preorder the books at Amazon. I suspect she would have given me Amazon’s URL, thinking she was passing a problem customer to Amazon.

Years ago I said that B&N’s problem was very poor management. Even though there has been some management change, its poor quality seems to continue. If I were a shareholder, I’d be complaining loudly about how poor management is killing my investment by failing to invest in great customer relations. But I’m not a shareholder; I am just a customer who is thinking of jumping ship because I have had enough poor customer service and I am sure I can find some other bookseller who would like a customer who buys dozens of hardcovers every year.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

November 11, 2015

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

Profit & Business Model

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

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

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

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

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

Why Collect Data?

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

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

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

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

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

Analyzing Data

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

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

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

The Excuses

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

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

The Reason

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

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays include:

November 6, 2015

Worth Celebrating: Ruth Thaler-Carter

The good news about An American Editor essayists continues.

Congratulations to our On the Basics essayist, Ruth Thaler-Carter, who will receive a Big Pencil Award on November 14, 2015, from Writers & Books in her hometown of Rochester, NY, for being “A teacher of adults who has inspired the creation and appreciation of literature” and having “contributed significantly in the advancement, creation, and understanding of literature in the Rochester community.”

Richard Adin, An American Editor

November 4, 2015

Worth Celebrating: Carolyn Haley

Congratulations to our Thinking Fiction essayist, Carolyn Haley, for winning second place in the Contemporary Novel category in the International Digital Awards (IDA) contest sponsored by Oklahoma Romance Writers of America for her novel Into the Sunrise. For those interested, the book is available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 21, 2015

Worth Reading: Is Wikipedia Reliable?

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

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

Content Volatility of Scientific Topics in Wikipedia: A Cautionary Tale

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

What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

July 6, 2015

Thinking About Charleston

Filed under: Miscellaneous Opinion,Politics — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
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It’s July 4, Independence Day, and I am still thinking about Charleston. It isn’t as if Charleston hasn’t happened before; it has. I guess I am wondering why it still happens.

Part of what keeps Charleston in my mind is that I recently watched the Kevin Costner movie, “Black or White.” The movie was well acted, but could have been better written. The movie’s topic is important, but it fails to resonate because the neither the black nor the white families that are the focus are representative.

But the courtroom scene does contain something very important. Costner’s character is asked about his racial prejudice, and he replies that yes, when he sees a black person the very first thing he sees is that they are black, just as the very first thing a black person sees when looking at a white person is that the person is white. What matters, Costner’s character says, is not that first thought but the second and third thoughts and how fleeting the first thought is. I think Costner’s character has it right.

No matter what we look at, our first thought is to characterize/classify it; when it comes to people, as opposed to objects,what matters is the fleetingness of that characterization/classification and what our second and third thoughts are.

Perhaps I am an oddity in today’s America. I do not understand why so many of us get stuck on that first thought, that characterization/classification. I live in what is perhaps the best neighborhood in all of America. The street is U-shaped, which means no through traffic, which also means that the neighborhood is readily identifiable, and residents have a sense of community.

In my neighborhood live all sorts of people. We have single, cohabiting, and married;  blacks, whites, Hispanics, and Indians; young, old, and elderly; blue collar and white collar; furniture movers, physicians, lawyers, college professors, school teachers, stay-at-home mothers, real estate agents, plumbers, stone masons, laborers, government employees, truck drivers, and more. We also have military, nurses, police, and LGTB. We have Sikhs, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, atheists, and probably some other religions in the mix. The list goes on.

The point is that I live in what I consider to be the ideal neighborhood — a mix of all that makes America great. We speak to each other; we visit each others’ homes and share meals; when we walk our dogs, the pack gets larger as additional neighbors join the walk and the camaraderie. My wife, who walks the neighborhood more than I, knows all but the newest members, and it is difficult to walk the 1-mile circuit in less than 90 minutes because people always want to stop and chat. We even exchange house keys so that access is readily achieved in case of emergency.

I look at my neighborhood and think this is the type of neighborhood that every child should grow up in because it is the kind of neighborhood that teaches we are all the same.

Perhaps that is what is missing in America’s Charlestons — that opportunity to learn that we are all the same. To learn that the first thought should be a fleeting thought; to learn that it is the second and third thoughts that really matter. I guess that is what bothers me — the need to constantly fight the Civil War and the war against racism and the war against segregation and the war against poverty. We seem to not be gaining ground; we seem to be refighting the same battles that we were fighting decades and generations ago.

Why do we need, in the 21st century, to refight the battles of the 20th century? It is because we have yet to digest the idea that the first thought should be fleeting.

I mourn for the victims of Charleston and I mourn for the America that cannot move forward when it comes to civil rights. On my block, in my neighborhood, in my world, we are one, we are Americans.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 8, 2015

Summertime & Wondering Why

It’s just clockwork — once a year, every year, summer comes (and the summer solstice brings another wedding anniversary). As I write this, my son is on a week-long vacation, one of several paid vacations he gets each year, along with all those other benefits of working for a corporation/government agency. And as he merrily enjoys his paid vacation, I think about why I chose the freelancer path 31 years ago.

Before freelancing I held a variety of positions and jobs, some in my own organizations and some in the corporate sphere. In all of those jobs, I had paid vacations, paid sick days, paid personal days, medical insurance, annual raises, excellent compensation (my last job with a publisher paid $70,000 a year plus bonuses), retirement, relative job security — all of those wonderful things that can make life easy (relatively speaking) for the employed that as a freelancer I have to provide for myself. And when I think about what I had, the most important was a structured work week. I worked a 35-hour workweek (officially; unofficially it was closer to 50), rarely holidays or weekends.

When I made the move to freelancing, I had no set workweek; jobs came and went and I worked as I needed to meet schedules. I was luckier than many colleagues in that I had enough steady work by my second year of freelancing that I was already subcontracting and still working 40+ hours 52 weeks a year myself.

But every time summer comes around I ask myself what foolishness enticed me to the world of freelancing. The answer is both simple and complex.

Starting from the money angle, I realized that if I created a business and acted like a business, I could earn much more than I was earning from corporate America. Back then, most freelance editors viewed themselves as craftspersons, members of a guild, not businesspersons. If you called editing a business, the heavens would storm daggers down on you; editing was not a business — period. No ifs, ands, or buts on that score. Colleagues thought I was foolish to think otherwise, but I did and I do.

Accepting that editing was a business with great financial potential meant that I tackled creating that business as if it were (could be) a highly successful, organized and structured business. That meant setting a workweek, buying medical insurance, establishing (and funding) a retirement account, establishing (and funding) a vacation account, and so on. I needed to make my business resemble what other businesses did, including, at that time, multiple telephone lines (including several toll-free numbers) (this was years before email took over and before the Internet; even years before the dialup modem was ubiquitous) and a bookkeeping system that was indistinguishable (except for scale) from that of corporate America.

Bottom line was that I recreated in my starting editing business the standards of the then business world. I established business protocols for answering the telephone and for signing a letter. My invoices were in the business name, not in my name. My wife would answer the telephone as if she were the company receptionist. I created the illusion of the corporate world and so I never left the corporate world.

As it happened, this was all to my benefit. Because I created a business and the attributes of a business, I still was able to take paid vacations, have medical insurance, and have paid sick days. For many years I took three or four 1-week vacations every year. Sure, I was paying myself, but I had the revenue to do so. And that was and is the key — having the revenue to give myself all the things that I gave up receiving as benefits from someone else’s hand.

Why did I make the switch from corporate employment to self-employment? Because I knew that I had the type of personality that could make a financial go of it — eventually. It turned out that my “eventually” was sooner than I had planned or expected, but I knew I had the self-discipline to recreate my corporate experience but on my own terms.

I also made the switch because the one thing I couldn’t avoid in the corporate world, which increased in number as I rose in position and salary — the meeting — became increasingly problematic for me. I found that the maxim that in corporate life one rises to one’s level of incompetence was absolutely true. Meetings became increasingly difficult for me because the bosses running them became increasingly conservative and unknowing and, more importantly, unwilling to be educated. Frustration became such a companion that I no longer looked forward to commuting to work (which was another good reason to strike out on my own). Working for myself, I could keep meetings to a minimum (how often do you meet and debate policy with yourself?) and when I did have a meeting with a client or an employee/subcontractor, the agenda was short and to the point — no one had time or energy to waste.

As the years passed, I watched colleagues struggle. They struggle with a lot of issues, not all of them easily solvable, but the fundamental reason for many of their problems was how they approached editing. The unwillingness or the inability to apply business fundamentals to editing, the desire to keep editing as a craft or to think of themselves as artisans rather than tradesmen, hampered their success. Even the greatest of editors needs to apply business fundamentals to what they do because it is those fundamentals that determine financial success and enable payment of the mortgage, the kids’ education, the medical insurance, the retirement fund.

Do not mistake my elevation of finances for a lowering of artisanship. That not only need not occur, it should not occur. Rather it is financial success that gives an editor the opportunity to say yes or no and do the artisanal things the editor wants to do. It is so much easier to volunteer to write the monthly newsletter for the local shelter pro bono when you do not have to choose between doing that and putting food on the table.

Financial success also does one other thing: It makes the looking back and asking “why” an amusement rather than a serious endeavor. When I look back, I know that I never really left that “secure and safe” corporate world; I took it with me and made it my own. Sure I had to make some compromises that if I were truly free of the corporate environment I would not ever address, such as standard business hours so that clients always know when they can speak directly with me; if I were truly free, I would come and go from my office as each day enticed me — it’s beautiful outside today, so I’ll garden — but compromise is the state of life.

So when I look back and ask “why,” I answer because I could and I knew I could succeed. There really wasn’t and isn’t a “why” in my case. How about for you?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

March 18, 2015

So, You Want to Be an Editor — Why?

A few times a year I am asked, “How can I become an editor?” or something along those lines. It is usually a college student who thinks being an editor has a certain amount of mystery and prestige or a person who has lost her job and is looking to make a career shift for whom the idea of working as a freelancer has some mystical appeal who is doing the asking.

I struggle to give an answer that isn’t flippant. I have learned — 31 years later — that being an editor is neither glamorous nor mysterious nor prestigious nor just about anything, except that I love what I do and can’t imagine going into another career. But the key here is “31 years later.” The answer that I need to give has to relate to now, not then.

It is true that I am successful, that I have developed a certain level of reputation for highly skilled, high quality work. But I began my career in the dark ages of editing, when the market was country-centric not global, when consolidation among publishers was still a gleam in corporate accounting’s eye, when pay was actually enough to give you a middle class life, when clients cared about quality and were not hesitant to return a manuscript riddled with questions for the editor.

Today everything is different. Why would you want to become an editor today?

Nothing about freelance editing is easy today. When I started, I was able to get work from a half dozen publishers within an hour and turn down work from another half dozen. Not today. When I started, packagers (i.e., providers of complete services) didn’t really exist. They were starting their birth but they didn’t dominate book publishing like today. In those days, the king of the hill was the typesetter, and the typesetter rarely hired freelance editors. A typesetter might recommend an editor to a publisher, but that would be the extent of it. Today, publishers contract with packagers and basically wash their hands of the production process except to praise or complain.

When I started as a freelance editor, I was contacted by a wonderful woman who was production supervisor for a long-ago-bought-out publisher about doing some medical copyediting. I told her I had zero experience; I was a lawyer by training and experience and my experience in editing was primarily in legal books. She told me not to worry; she would teach me what I needed to know about editing medical books. So I started and never looked back.

That is highly unlikely to happen today. Today, you need to be experienced in the area; no one has time to teach you because in-house staff is overwhelmed as it is. And pray you do not make too many errors today, regardless of the reason. Too many errors (quantity unknown) means you are never called again. In my early days, it was understood that in medical publishing, for example, an experienced editor could give a high-quality edit to three to five pages an hour; today, that is not only not understood, but the demand is for closer to 20 pages an hour and the editing had better be darn close to perfect — and you are to do it for a price that is less than what editors were being paid in 1995.

In those olden days, the in-house editors I worked with understood the concept of “fast, good, cheap”: They understood they could have two of the three but not all three and they chose the two they wanted. What was important was that they didn’t blame the editor for any failings that occurred as a result of the choice they made. Not so today. Today, when errors occur as a result of the demands being made and when those errors are compounded by the bypassing of proofreading, it is the editor who is blamed. Too much is at stake for the client to accept any responsibility.

Also in those olden days, I knew my work was going to be evaluated by someone who actually had command of both the subject matter and the language. If I made a change and was questioned about it, there was no trying to obfuscate my reasoning: I had to be able to defend my decisions because the person asking the question had herself done this type of work for years before becoming a hirer of freelancers. If I am lucky, I will have that same experience today, but the more usual experience is that the person hiring me has had no experience as an editor; they understand the production process thoroughly, but not editing or the subject matter or language (and often their command of the language is poor as it is not their primary language). Consequently, it is difficult to defend a decision because they understand that in some other book some other editor did something else and therefore I must be wrong.

Perhaps even more frustrating is when the client, today, has decided that something must be done a particular way and wants me to confirm that what they want is correct, even though I have told them it is not. The shifting game (i.e., the shifting of responsibility for an editorial decision) is common today. It commonly happens after the fact; that is, I have submitted the edited manuscript and unbeknownst to me, the in-house person makes changes that result in errors, and when the author or ultimate client complains, blames my editing. I’ve had that happen several times in the past couple of years; fortunately, the ultimate client contacted me and I was able to provide a copy of my submitted edited manuscript. But should I have to do this? No.

Of course pay is another stumbling block, especially for new editors. I try to tell editors that you cannot be profitable or earn a decent living by working for a wage that is less than your required effective hourly rate. But it is like talking to a brick wall because they see postings all over the Internet of editors charging very low sums or of editors saying it is better to have poverty work than no work or of “suggested” rate guidelines from pseudo organizations. The rate guidelines are the most difficult obstacle to overcome because some “editorial” organization has published them; consequently, new and wannabe editors think they are the gospel without inquiring as to the data behind them.

But the problem with pay ultimately comes down to the “I can get it cheaper” syndrome, making it a race to the bottom. New editors run that race and lead the pack when they do (although there are any number of “experienced” editors who run that marathon, too).

Finally, there is the matter of prestige (little to none, today) and respect (sometimes even less than none these days). The glamor days of editing are gone. Today, client demands leave little time for an editor to help a promising author achieve stardom. Our job is much more mundane; there is little to no time to nurture an author.

So, you want to be an editor. My question is: Why? If you understand the problems and can articulate the why, then this may be the profession for you. Editing can be a wonderful profession if you enter it with eyes wide open and for the right reasons. Today’s global marketplace has changed the world of freelance editing.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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Other essays of that may be of interest:

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