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


Other essays of that may be of interest:

March 16, 2015

The Order of Things

The Order of Things

by Jack Lyon

Rich Adin and I are having a fight. I sent him a lovely article about why the parts of a book are placed in a particular order, and he sent me back the following note: “The principle you explain doesn’t really matter and doesn’t really influence the order of content; rather, that order is based on reader expectation built over centuries by publishers and printers.” The nerve of that guy!

So what principle did I explain? That the order of a book’s content is based on the fact that we start reading at the beginning and keep reading until we get to the end. In English, we read from top to bottom and left to right; we start reading at the top left of a page and we stop reading at the bottom left. And this, I argue, is what has caused books to be put together in the order we typically see. It’s the principle underlying the convention.

Consider the front matter of a book, specifically the foreword and the preface. The foreword is usually written by someone other than the author; the preface is written by the author. So it makes sense that the foreword should come before the preface, as it provides commentary on the book as a whole, including the preface. And if we start reading the author’s words at the beginning of a book but then run into a section by someone else, we’re likely to wonder what’s going on. Would you put the contents page before the title page? No, you wouldn’t, and this is more than a matter of convention; it’s based on the principle that we start reading at the beginning.

Now consider the back matter of a book, which should be in the following order:


  • Would it make sense to put the appendix after the notes? No, because some of the notes might refer to the appendix.
  • Would it make sense to put the notes after the bibliography? No, because the notes don’t refer to the bibliography; the bibliography is not part of the main text.
  • Would it make sense to put the bibliography after the index? No, because readers are used to turning to the last part of a book in order to access the index. That makes sense for ease of use, but surely the fact that the index doesn’t immediately follow chapter 1 is more than a matter of convention.

Years ago, a publisher I worked for decided to put together an edition of the Bible. The editor in charge of the index took an informal survey around the office, asking, “Should a reference to chapter and verse precede or follow a descriptive quotation?” Here’s an example of each:

Reference preceding quotation:

Matthew: 6:30, clothe you, O ye of little faith; 8:10, thy faith hath made thee whole; 9:29, According to your faith be it unto you; 15:28, great is thy faith: be it unto thee; 17:20, faith as a grain of mustard seed; 21:21, if ye have faith, and doubt not; [and so on, for more than a page].

Reference following quotation:

Matthew: clothe you, O ye of little faith, 6:30; thy faith hath made thee whole, 8:10; According to your faith be it unto you, 9:2; great is thy faith: be it unto thee, 15:28; faith as a grain of mustard seed, 17:20; if ye have faith, and doubt not, 21:21; [and so on, for more than a page].

My vote? The reference should follow the quotation. Unfortunately, I was outvoted, and the index ended up with the reference preceding the quotation, ultimately making the index almost unusable. Here’s why: Let’s say you’re looking for the verse that talks about having faith as a grain of mustard seed. You scan down through the entries until you see it:

faith as a grain of mustard seed;

Now, where does your brain expect to find the reference? Immediately after the entry. Why? Because the English language reads from top to bottom, left to right. But the index puts the reference before the entry:

17:20, faith as a grain of mustard seed;

You are now forced to read backward to find the reference of 17:20. But you’re not through yet. What book is that in? You now have to scan backward (to the previous page, in this case) until you come to the bold heading of “Matthew.” Now what was that reference again? Scan forward to “grain of mustard seed” and then backward again to “17:20.” This isn’t a matter of convention; it’s a matter of reading order.

Now let’s say you’re editing or designing a table of contents. You’re suddenly struck with the thought that it would look really cool to put the page numbers on the left of the chapter titles, like this:

1   In the Beginning
23  The Tale Continues
38  More of the Same

Resist the temptation. Readers trying to find a particular chapter will look first for its title (“The Tale Continues”) and then for its page number (23).

Keeping things in their proper order also applies to line editing. Take the following sentence: “I enjoy reading both Entrepreneur and Wired, but I prefer the former over the latter.” Many readers are capable of doing the mental gymnastics to remember which example is the former and which is the latter, but many other readers are not and will have to backtrack to figure it out. Even those who can do the mental gymnastics will have to do them, which will slow reading down and may lead to confusion. So keep things simple! Keep things in order! “I enjoy reading both Entrepreneur and Wired, but I prefer Entrepreneur.

Keeping things in their proper order isn’t an editorial cure-all, and it’s certainly nothing to be compulsive about. For example, while reading the previous sentence, you had to remember that “it’s” refers back to “Keeping things in their proper order.” There’s nothing wrong with that; this kind of interplay between pronouns and their referents happens all the time. But sometimes, when you’re faced with a difficult editorial problem, putting things in their proper order can help solve that problem. For me, it’s something that has worked well over the years to keep readers from wandering all over the road. Maybe you’ll find it useful as well.

In the end, I leave the resolution of the argument to you, Gentle Reader: Is the way books are put together merely a matter of convention? Or is the convention a result of the underlying principle of reading order? What do you think?

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

February 25, 2015

Changing Formats: From Scroll to Codex to eBooks

Changing Formats: From Scroll to Codex to eBooks

by Jack Lyon

Electronic reading devices abound. There’s the Kindle, the Nook, the Kobo, and many, many more. Electronic formats abound. There’s EPUB, Plucker, Mobi, and many, many more. But for thousands of years, there was only one way to read a book: by unrolling a scroll.

Scrolls offered some big advantages over their predecessors, stone columns and clay tablets. They were easy to make, easy to write on, and didn’t weigh much. They were also compact, holding a lot of text in a relatively small space. But they had one big disadvantage: they could only be accessed sequentially. In other words, if you wanted to read the 77th column of text on a scroll, the only way to get there was to “scroll” through the first 76 columns. Remember the good old days of cassette tape players? If you wanted to hear “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” you had to fast-forward through “Come Together” and “Something.” Are we there yet? Oops, went too far. Press “Rewind” and try again. Scrolls were like that.

But around the end of the 1st century C.E., someone developed a new technology—the codex.

The codex was a collection of pages bound together in a book—like the printed books we read today. It offered one big advantage over the scroll: random access. In other words, if you wanted to read page 77, you could just turn to page 77. And you could do that while keeping your finger between pages 34 and 35. And you could put a scrap of papyrus between pages 34 and 35 to mark your place without having to leave your finger behind. Remember the good old days of vinyl records? If you wanted to hear “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” you could just pick up the tone arm and move it to the third track on the record, bypassing “Come Together” and “Something” altogether. The codex was like that, and it was a wonderful invention.

Not only that, but the codex eventually became a work of art. Over the years, the scribes of the Middle Ages worked out all the techniques needed to compose beautiful pages, and they went on to illuminate those pages with gorgeous decoration.

When Gutenberg printed his famous two-volume Bible in 1455, he modeled his pages after those of the scribes, and his text is a masterpiece of fine typography, including such features as hanging punctuation, optical alignment, and font expansion (type variation)—features that have become available on the computer only in the past few years.

Yet we typically see none of those features on an electronic reading device. There’s no (or very little) random access. There’s no beautiful typography or page design. There aren’t even any pages. Instead, the text “reflows” to accommodate various screen sizes and readers.

But a page is the basic unit of book design. It’s functional. It can be beautiful. And, not least in importance, it’s fixed in place, allowing us to remember that the passage we loved so much was about halfway through the book at the bottom of the page. This “positional memory” is important not just in reading but in editing as well.

All of that is lost on an electronic reader. One solution would be some kind of software that can replicate a printed page with all the beauties of traditional typography. Is there such a thing? Well, yes. It was invented by Adobe in the early 1990s and is known as Portable Document Format—that’s right: PDF.

Nearly all electronic readers support PDF, so the problem doesn’t lie with technology but with publishers looking for an easy way out—a single file that can be read on a screen of any size. That’s what EPUB is all about.

But is it really that difficult to turn a book into PDFs of various sizes? Most electronic readers have screens of 5, 6, 7.1, or 9.7 inches, which isn’t really that many sizes to deal with. Adjust the pages in InDesign, and off you go.

Doing that, of course, would mean extra work for publishers, who are always watching that bottom line, and for online retailers, who would have to offer the PDFs in those various sizes. And that means most publishers have turned to EPUB as their format of choice.

I read a lot of books in EPUB format, on my Android phone and tablet, and on my computer. And I’m sorry to say that many publishers seem to have abandoned any attempt at controlling the quality of electronic books. Block quotations are indistinguishable from body text; poetry is a mess; text is usually justified but with no attempt at hyphenation, resulting in widely spaced lines. And any attempt at beautiful typography? Forget it. In short, the experience of reading ebooks is far less satisfying than it could be. In most cases, I attribute this to sheer laziness on the part of publishers, who continue to crank out junk when the means to excellence lie readily at hand. For example, EPUB relies on CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), which can accomplish absolute miracles.

Fortunately, some people still care about readability and fine typography, and they are working to ensure that ebooks are as functional and beautiful as possible:

What about you? Do you publish books in electronic form? If so, what do you to make sure that your books are readable and beautiful?

Someday, in the distant future, someone who has read nothing but ebooks is going to stumble into an ancient library and open an honest-to-goodness book. Will that experience be an illumination, a revelation of what we have lost? Or will the reader say, “Wow, this is just as beautiful as my ebooks!”?

What do you think?

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

February 20, 2015

Worth Reading: Commas and Copyediting

The newest issue of The New Yorker has a wonderful article about commas and copyediting by the magazine’s own copyeditor, Mary Norris. “Holy Writ: Learning to Love the House Style” is a must read for editors and authors. You might also want to read an earlier article by Mary Norris, “Don’t Try to Hone In On a Copy Editor.” It is another well-written insight into editing. From The Economist comes this editorial by Schumpeter: “Authorpreneurship: To Succeed These Days, Authors Must Be More Businesslike Than Ever,” which is also true of editors.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

January 21, 2015

On Politics: Thinking About Charlie

On January 7 terrorists attacked the offices of the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo and killed 12 people. At the same time and in support of the Hebdo murders, people were murdered at a Jewish grocery in Paris.

The attacks and the killings were unjustified and unjustifiable. But then, I think, so were the deliberate taunts of Muslims by Hebdo unjustified and unjustifiable. We give credence to the slogan “freedom of speech,” yet seem incapable of understanding how anyone could possibly react as the terrorists did or justify that reaction to the publication of the cartoons by Charlie Hebdo.

What I found disturbing in the aftermath of the murders is the narrowness of the protests and the one-sided assigning of blame. I also find the hypocrisy of the protestors disheartening and not understandable. In addition, I find reprehensible Hebdo’s followup “response” (the cover of the aftermath issue of Charlie Hebdo) and Hebdo’s unwillingness to acknowledge or accept any responsibility for what occurred — both in its own offices and in the Jewish grocery — as well as the unwillingness of society to say that Hebdo shares responsibility.


On the forums on which Hebdo was discussed and of which I am a member, the near universal spoken belief was that Hebdo had no responsibility for what occurred. I think that is simply a reflection of prejudice against, in this instance, Islam. Hebdo knew or should have known that publishing cartoons that insult the Prophet Mohammed will incite some Muslims to violence. It does not matter whether such a reaction is justified, just that any reasonably intelligent person would have predicted/expected such a reaction. It is not as if this has not occurred before. And when Hebdo had done similar “satire” in the past, it was attacked, resulting in some staffers being given police protection (one of the Hebdo dead was a bodyguard).

Does someone who deliberately and knowingly provokes another person to violence have any responsibility for the violence? I think in a world that claims to value freedom the answer has to be yes. Otherwise, the only one for whom we value freedom is ourselves. (Wasn’t that the view of slave owners throughout history?)

Living in a society involves reciprocal obligations. That is the basis for our interrelationships. We have simply delegated responsibility for enforcing those reciprocal obligations to a judicial system, but that does not change the underlying obligations. Yet in the Hebdo instance, it appears as if most people and Hebdo itself believe that Hebdo had no obligation to Muslims (not to insult), only that Muslims had an obligation to Hebdo (not to react, especially violently, to any insult).

Without in any way approving of the terrorists’ reaction, I am of the belief that Hebdo acted knowingly recklessly. I think Hebdo expected a reaction like what occurred except that it expected the reaction to occur somewhere else and to someone else. It is not as if Hebdo had not previously made whatever point it was trying to make; it had mocked Islam before.

This lack of willingness to accept responsibility is shored up in my view by the cover cartoon of the first issue after the massacre and the publication run size — 100 times the normal print run. The response to the followup cover was to be expected — the threat of more attacks to come.

I am not Charlie because I cannot endorse reckless behavior for which the consequences are known yet the perpetrator is unwilling to acknowledge or accept any responsibility. With freedom of speech comes the obligation to accept responsibility for the consequences of its use.


The march in support of Hebdo was interesting. It was led by government leaders who claim to march in support of freedom of speech as they and their governments limit it. If the German government doesn’t agree with your politics, they close down your political party. If the French government thinks your speech isn’t following the official line as regards terrorism, they have you arrested — apparently more than 100 people were arrested in France for speaking freely within days of the march. Many of the marching governments have laws that permit the arrest and detention on unproven suspicion of possible terrorism activity or laws that permit arrest and detention of people for simply expressing verbal support for “terrorism.”

And isn’t it interesting that the march was for Hebdo’s right to publish insults, but there was no similar march protesting the anti-Semitism that has been on the rise in France or the Islamophobia that has gained currency, including the attacks on mosques, in France. Many French have painted all Muslims with the same broad strokes, even though the vast majority of Muslims do not condone the terrorist acts.

Perhaps even more interesting, at least to me, was how Charlie Hebdo came into being. It seems that it came into being partly as a response to its predecessor title having been shut down by a French government ban. Where were the marches in protest then?

News media have reported that Jews are thinking of emigrating from France because of the anti-Semitism (and let us not forget that the Jews who were killed in the kosher grocery were buried in Israel, not in their French homeland). Where was the solidarity with the Jews? Where was the outrage for those who were murdered in the kosher grocery as part of the Hebdo attack? Or the outrage for the attacks on synagogues?

Much of the hypocrisy lies in the idea that freedom of speech for those who are favored is different than the freedom of speech that is for those who are disfavored. Hebdo is lauded for insulting Islam and is under no obligation to accept any responsibility for its provocations. But the insulted Muslims are expected to accept the insults quietly, just brush them off as one commentator suggested.

The Failure of the Social Compact

To my thinking, what Hebdo really illustrates is a failure of the social compact. The social compact has always been that of reciprocity: I respect you and you respect me. But that is not the Hebdo compact. The Hebdo compact is: You respect me and I disrespect you. There is no reciprocal obligation.

Society survives only when there is reciprocity. When people are unwilling to accept responsibility for their actions, chaos ensues. A simple illustration is driving: When we all abide by the rules of the road, such as stopping for a red light, society thrives. But if just a small percent of people take the view that I have to follow those rules but they do not, chaos on the roads ensues.

Religion has always been a harbinger of social chaos because every religion is based on the core idea that it is the one true religion and all others are blasphemous. And where the fundamental rule of reciprocity fails, religious wars — covert or overt — persist. Those wars may not always be overtly violent, but they are suppressive. In the West, we have made, since World War II, the maintenance of society a core value. Consequently, following World War II, until recent years, reciprocal religious respect has been the rule. Hebdo is evidence of the breakdown of that rule because the “I am Charlie” movement supports the “freedom” to disrespect others without any responsibility for the results of that disrespect.

This is not to say that Hebdo should not have been permitted to publish what it wanted. Rather, it is to say that Hebdo should be obligated to accept responsibility for the consequences of its decision to do so. It is also to say that we should not accept “freedom of speech” that is freedom only for those with whom we agree; the real test of freedom of speech — or of any freedom — is whether we give it to those with whom we disagree.

To be free ourselves, we must give others the
freedom we desire. To be free ourselves, we must give
others the respect we want given us.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

December 22, 2014

Thinking Fiction: Tech Talk — The Joy (and Efficiency) of Multiple Monitors

Tech Talk — The Joy (and Efficiency)
of Multiple Monitors

by Amy J. Schneider

I’d like to digress from the topic of copyediting fiction and expand on something I mentioned briefly last month: multiple monitors and why you should consider adding them to your desktop. This discussion focuses on a PC running Windows 7, because, well, that’s what I have!

A few months ago, my 24-inch Flatron LCD monitor suddenly went dead. Black. Gone. I had a full docket of work, but no matter; I still had three other screens to work with. This is one of the joys of having multiple monitors.

I’ve always been like a gas: I expand to occupy all available space. When I started freelancing (working on hard copy), my husband built me a marvelous U-shaped desk system, including a rolling cart for my books and a slanted rack for reference documents, for maximum desktop real estate. But when my workload shifted toward onscreen editing, I began to feel cramped now that the monitor rather than the physical desk was my workspace. And I began to lust after multiple monitors.

Hardware Considerations

I lived with a single monitor for years. My last CRT was a monster 21-inch refurb that weighed a ton. My husband had to build a special stand so my desk would support it. Today’s thin, lightweight LCDs are a welcome change. And as the prices drop, it’s easy to afford more than one. My first LCD, a 19-inch ViewSonic, cost nearly $900! But the 27-inch Acer I bought to replace the dead monitor a few months ago was $199 on sale.

But I digress in my digression. When it was time for a new computer in 2006, I had my trusty local computer whiz build me a tower with two dual video cards, so I could add monitors as the budget and desk space allowed. (As I mentioned last month, I named the new computer HARV, after the Harvard Mark I and also as a nod to my computer guy, whose name is Mark.)

At first I had just one widescreen monitor while I acquainted myself with HARV. With one monitor, I typically had my manuscript and style sheet open side by side, with browser and e-mail hidden underneath. If I wanted to look something up online or send an e-mail, I’d have to switch to Firefox or Thunderbird and temporarily say good-bye to my Word windows. If I needed to copy something from one window to another, that was more window-flipping. Then came the second widescreen. Huzzah! Now I could view three or four docs at once, without having to switch constantly between them. But a full page was still too small to work with on a widescreen monitor. When onscreen proofreading work started to arrive, I added a third monitor and rotated it to portrait mode so I could view a full page, nice and big. Soon after that, I added the fourth and final monitor, also in portrait mode. Now I can view manuscript and proofs side by side. Luxury!

The Setup

Below is a photo of HARV as he appears today. The leftmost monitor, the 27-inch Acer, is my primary monitor. When you set up multiple monitors, Windows will ask you to designate a primary. This is where your Windows taskbar goes, and it’s also where your computer boots before activating the other monitors.

AJS all 4 monitors

In the middle are monitors 2 and 3, both 24-inch LGs rotated into portrait mode. You’ll need to buy a rotating monitor to use portrait mode, of course; Windows enables you to designate a monitor as portrait, which rotates the display 90 degrees.

Finally, at far right is the 24-inch Dell. I have dedicated this screen to the Internet: Firefox, Thunderbird, Hootsuite, et cetera. Having it at far right makes it easy to ignore while I’m working, yet I can easily hop over to answer client e-mail or research something.

There’s one bit of third-party software I couldn’t live without: DisplayFusion Pro by Binary Fortress. They offer a free version, but the functions I use most are in the Pro version, so I found it worthwhile to buy. I have a taskbar on each monitor, so the taskbar button for each open window can appear on its corresponding monitor instead of having them all piled up on the primary. For me, this alone is worth the price of admission. You can also set up hotkeys for moving windows from screen to screen, maximizing/minimizing, and other window actions, as well as for performing a host of other functions. (Usual disclaimer applies: I gain nothing from mentioning this software other than a warm feeling; I’m just a satisfied customer.)

Other Arrangements

Some people use a laptop with a second, external display, or a laptop as an auxiliary to a desktop, or a tablet as an auxiliary to a laptop or desktop. These are other useful ways to maximize your screen real estate. Last December when HARV’s motherboard died (eep!), I survived on my laptop and an external monitor while HARV was in the shop. But I felt cramped with “only” two screens, and one of them a laptop at that.

The thing I like about having four monitors for one computer is the ability to easily copy and paste text and to rearrange screens to my heart’s content. That’s a little harder to do when your screens are on different machines. And occasionally when I’ve had my laptop running off to the side, I’ve been frustrated by not being able to move my mouse pointer from HARV’s screens to the laptop…until the neurons finally kick in.

How Do I Use All That Space?

In “The Commandments: Thou Shall Be Efficient”, Rich Adin reports, “Using two monitors increases efficiency by 50%; add a third and gain another 25%; add a fourth and gain another 5%.” So the fourth monitor doesn’t gain me much percentage-wise, but it sure is nice to spread out! It’s very handy to be able to see several documents at once, at a readable size, especially when copying and pasting between them.

When I’m copyediting fiction, I keep three documents on the leftmost widescreen monitor (see photo below): the manuscript at left, and my characters and places style sheets atop one another at right. The new big Acer gives me plenty of room to have the Document Map and the styles pane open in the manuscript and still have the style sheets at a readable size. Most of the time when I’m working with the characters and places style sheets, I simply run a quick Find to get to the section I need to see. Having both manuscript and three of my four style sheets visible makes it easy to compare manuscript against the style sheet to check a style point, or to copy text from one to the other.

AJS monitor 1

On the leftmost portrait monitor (see photo below) I keep my general style sheet, because it’s nice to have as much of it visible as possible.

AJS monitor 2

The rightmost portrait monitor (see photo below) holds my timeline, which is a Word table that simulates a monthly calendar page. It can get long for novels that have a long time frame (especially historical novels that stretch over years or decades).

AJS monitor 3

Finally, as mentioned earlier, the rightmost widescreen monitor is reserved for the Internet, so I can easily pop over and check a URL or look something up while keeping my work documents visible.

Occasionally I have other documents such as a PDF of a previous book in the series. Usually those go on one of the portrait monitors. (Frankly, if I could have a single portrait monitor for each document, I would.) In my nonfiction work, the portrait monitors are also handy for viewing long tables or design samples and for quickly scrolling through a document a screen at a time, especially if you can zoom it down a little while you do so.


As you might imagine, it’s easy to get “lost” among so many monitors and windows. But there are a few tools that can help.

The mouse pointer can be hard to locate across several monitors no matter how much you wiggle it around. Fortunately, Windows has a solution. In Control Panel under the Mouse Properties dialog, go to the Pointer Options tab and check the box for “Show location of pointer when I press the CTRL key.” Now, when you press Ctrl, an animated “target” of concentric circles will zoom in on your pointer. Very handy!

To move among the manuscript and style sheets efficiently, I use a numbered naming scheme along with the Word shortcut for navigating windows: Alt+W, W, [number]. The general style sheet’s file name begins with the number 1; characters, 2; places, 3; and timeline, 4. This forces the files to always appear in the same order in the Switch Windows menu, and also forces the manuscript to appear as number 5. The keyboard shortcut quickly becomes second nature for switching focus without mousing.

I’ve read that it takes about two minutes after acquiring a second monitor to wonder why you didn’t get one sooner. I have certainly found that to be true! And If you decide to explore the world of multiple monitors, I hope you, too, find it to be true.

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

October 10, 2014

Worth Reading: On Work

Occasionally, I read an article that I think is particularly enlightening. Today’s recommendation is such an article. It is a review of two books on the role of equity finance (or what we used to call LBO [leveraged buyout]) in the debasing of labor. It provides the first cogent explanation for the change that has occurred in the workplace from using/hiring employees to outsourcing to freelancers. More importantly, from my perspective, it provides an explanation of why I have been uncomfortable with Republican Party economic and government theories (not that the Democrat Party theories are exponentially better albeit they are better) and generally tend to vote Democrat.

The books and review also provide at least one explanation why freelance editor rates have stagnated since the mid 1990s, why offshoring became (and continues to be) the first choice among publishers, and why, for publishing, these phenomena are easily traced back to the consolidation by merger and/or acquisition of publishing houses that occurred in the late 1980s to mid 1990s.

The article is “Why Work is More and More Debased” by Robert Kuttner (alas, the article is locked and only a small portion is available for free online; if The New York Review of Books is available at your local library or bookstore, this issue — October 23, 2014 — has many articles that are is well worth reading); the books are The Fissured Workplace: Why Work Became So Bad For So Many and What Can Be Done to Improve It by David Weil and Private Equity at Work: When Wall Street Manages Main Street by Eileen Appelbaum and Rosemary Batt.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 17, 2014

On Mourning the Passing of Barnes & Noble

After this week’s news that Barnes & Noble has lost money yet again, I decided that perhaps I should begin thinking about writing B&N’s obituary. After all, I am a B&N member and I buy a lot of books from B&N and I will miss it when the last store and website is finally shuttered.

But I was told not to don my mourning clothes yet. B&N has a plan. Great, I thought, until I realized that the same people who have brought B&N to its knees are the ones with the plan to save it. Not very likely.

The problem with B&N is simple: management that cannot see even a baby step’s worth of distance in the future. There are any number of relatively simple steps that could bring B&N back from the precipice, but each would have to begin with a recognition that today’s management team needs to be gone yesterday.

Start with customer service. How poor can customer service be? I don’t know but B&N is surely leading the way. Consider what happens when you call customer service. If you are lucky, you get someone who speaks English like a native and without a thick brogue that makes them incomprehensible. You know you are in trouble when the representative calls you “Mr. Richard.” The reason this is a problem is that the reps do not understand the problem you are trying to convey and so insist on a solution that is no solution.

For example, I recently ordered a book from Amazon Canada. I had to order it there because neither B&N nor Amazon US was showing the book except in their marketplace and the marketplace pricing for a clean copy was double or more the price Amazon Canada was asking. (The book cost over $100 to begin with, even at Amazon Canada.) When I received the book from Amazon, it was the right book but not the advertised book. The advertised book was for the correct print year and did not state that it was a print-on-demand reprint; in other words, I thought I was buying an original copy.

I realized that because of the book’s age, all that would be available would be like this, so I wrote Amazon Canada and told them I intended to keep the book but that they should note on their website that the edition they were selling was a POD reprint. Within a few hours I received a reply thanking me, telling me that the information had been passed on to the appropriate people, and because I planned to keep the book, Amazon was refunding 25% of the price.

The book from Amazon was the first volume in a nonfiction trilogy. Volumes 2 and 3 were available from B&N, and so I ordered them from B&N. Volume 3 was just released, so it was not a problem. Volume 2 was released several years ago but not so long ago that I should expect a POD reprint — but that is what I got. So I called B&N customer service (sending an email is, I have found, an utter waste of time). I got one of the “Mr. Richard” representatives. I tried to explain the problem and explicitly said I planned to keep the book and that my only purpose in calling was so that they could adjust their website to indicate that it is a POD reprint. After all, this was another very expensive book and the website implies you are getting an original.

I might as well have been talking in a hurricane for all that the representative either understood or cared. The rep “resolved” the problem by ordering another copy be sent to me because he agreed that website did indicate it was not a POD reprint that was being offered. I tried to prevent this, but after a few minutes, I gave up. I received the second copy of the POD reprint and sent it back with a detailed note indicating what was wrong and what I thought they should do. And so the tale ends.

There was no follow-up from B&N and the rep didn’t understand the problem or the solution I was suggesting. (He did say that there was nothing he could do about the website. Apparently that includes notifying anyone of an error at the site.) Bottom line is that B&N customer service continues to be an example of what not to do and Amazon continues to be an example of what to do. This same complaint about customer service was made several years ago on AAE and elsewhere and the same management team continues to do nothing.

The second place for B&N to go is to improve the interaction between buyers and B&N. B&N needs to be innovative, especially when it comes to its members. How difficult, for example, would it be to let members create a list of authors in which they are interested and for B&N to send a monthly email saying that a new book by one of my listed authors has been announced; click this link to preorder.

Along with that, B&N should guarantee that the preorder price is the highest price I would have to pay (which it B&N already does do without saying so) but that should at anytime before shipment the price be less, B&N guarantees that the lower price will be the price I will pay. As it is now, because I preorder books months in advance, I need to constantly recheck and if a price is lower, I need to cancel my existing preorder and re-preorder. Can B&N make it any more inconvenient for the customer?

In addition, B&N should be sending me monthly emails telling me of upcoming or newly released (since the last email) books that are similar to books I have previously bought. I know they have the information because both online customer service and the local store management are able to peruse books I have bought. To entice me to buy from this list (or even to preorder), B&N should offer me an additional 10% discount on the listed titles, which discount is good until the release of the next email and the next list of books.

Members of B&N are the prize for B&N. Members are likely to be those who buy exclusively or primarily from B&N and not Amazon and are the people who are more than casual readers. If you buy 1 or 2 books a year, you wouldn’t pay for a membership; it is people who buy a large number of books who pay for membership (e.g., just before writing this essay, I preordered 1 hardcover and ordered 2 others). So why not reward members based on their buying? For example, buy 15 books and beginning with the book 16, you will get overnight shipping or an additional 5% discount or something. Buy 20 books and get a gift certificate. Think up rewards that encourage more buying and offer those rewards to members. Make membership valuable. It isn’t rocket science.

Much (but not all) of B&N’s problems are from a mismanaged ebook division. Even though ebooks aren’t the bulk of sales, B&N should not be conceding the market. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out how to improve sales or get more Nook loyalty. A simple way is to make it so that when a person buys the hardcover they can get the ebook for $2 more if they would like both options. Buy the first ebook in a trilogy and if you buy books 2 and 3 at the same time, you get book 2 for 50% off and book 3 for free. Maybe these won’t work but they are worth exploring and cutting special deals with publishers to make them happen.

The publishers have an interest in B&N remaining afloat. Should B&N shutter its brick-and-mortar stores, publishers will lose showrooms as well as major sales outlets. Publishers should create special editions available only at B&N. They should make shopping at B&N and at brick-and-mortar stores worthwhile. Make these deals available only through physical stores.

There are a lot of things that B&N — and publishers — can and should do to rejuvenate B&N. Unfortunately, these things require imagination, something B&N has in very short supply. Consequently, because I do not expect any miracles at B&N, I will continue to prepare its obituary. Maybe I’ll be fooled and my masterpiece will never see the light of the Internet; if so, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. But until B&N calls me and asks me for my ideas and calls other members and asks for their ideas, I won’t get my hopes up.

What would you do if given the opportunity to turn B&N around?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

July 23, 2014

The Business of Editing: An Editorial Code of Professional Responsibility

Recent discussions about ethics made me realize that I have failed as an editor and writer. I meant one thing, Erin Brenner and the American Medical Writer’s Association meant something else. This became obvious in private correspondence with Erin wherein we used the same term, ethics, but meant different things. As Erin noted in our correspondence, there are two definitions of ethics: “the rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession” and “the study of the general nature of morals and of the specific moral choices to be made by a person; moral philosophy” (see The American Heritage Dictionary); I meant the first and she meant the second.

Why is this important? Because of the reference to the American Medical Writer’s Association’s Code of Ethics. What I see as necessary is less an abstract code of ethics than a concrete code of professional responsibility. The difference can be like that between night and day. AMWA’s is a code of ethics because it states unenforceable and undefinable ideals. To say, for example, as AMWA Principle 3 says, “Medical communicators should write, edit, or participate in the development of information that meets the highest professional standards…,” is a wonderful aspiration, but it is only an aspiration because “highest professional standards” is undefinable. Ask 25 people to spell out exactly what is meant by that aspiration and you will get many different “definitions.” In this regard, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ Code of Practice, is much closer to what I think is needed, although it is only closer, not quite there.

A major failing of the AMWA code, and perhaps even of the SfEP code, is the lack of interpretive, published decisions and public enforcement. In contrast to aspirational ideals, a code of professional responsibility lays out definable, graspable, and, most importantly, enforceable rules of conduct; it also usually has a body of interpretive opinions so that adherents know what is expected in defined circumstances. Enforcement means that there is a public penalty for ignoring the guidance. Think of it like a judicial opinion. A court opinion has no value if no one knows what the facts are that led to the opinion and what the parameters of the opinion are. The idea is for those bound by the code to understand their obligations and modify their behavior accordingly. It is the seeking of a behavioral consensus.

Codes of professional responsibility usually have mechanisms by which a person bound by the code can submit a scenario and receive guidance on how to behave. For example, an editor could ask: “I was told the client had a budget of $1500 and I agreed to work for $50 an hour. But the work is not complete after 30 hours. Can I just keep working and bill the client until the work is done?” and receive a guiding opinion that lays out what the correct action is under the group’s code of professional responsibility. The question and response would be published so all editors would receive the same guidance.

Assume that the response is “No, you cannot continue to bill. You knew what the budget was and by agreeing to undertake the job implied to the client that it would not take more than 30 hours to complete. It is your obligation to complete the work at your expense.” (I know there are lots of missing facts and lots of other appropriate answers. This is just for illustrative purposes) When published, other editors would see what is expected under similar circumstances and would be expected to conform their behavior in the described situation to the guidance.

More importantly, the answer would act as guidance for the client–editor interaction. If the editor ignored the decision and continued working and billed for the additional time, the client would be able to point to this decision as justification for not paying above the budget. Whether that would stand in a dispute resolution action is a different matter, but at least for widely accepted codes, such as in medicine and law, such a decision would have significant weight in the dispute resolution proceedings. The fact that there is a decision that is attuned to specific facts gives guidance to both editors and to clients. Both know what to expect and what needs to be done.

And, importantly, if properly constructed, there would be interim guidances and final guidances, with the final version not being settled until community comments were considered.

Ultimately, the question comes down to what is the advantage to having a code of professional responsibility and published guidance interpreting the code’s canons in various circumstances? The answer is that it raises the status of the profession in the minds and eyes of all interested parties. And for those who voluntarily agree to adhere to such a code and to the interpretive decisions, it gives them increased standing within the editorial and client communities. Perhaps, most importantly, it instills in clients a sense of confidence in the professionalism of the editor.

Is it difficult to create such a code? Not really. This is the type of endeavor that needs to be done by consensus. A small group of editors could easily begin by reviewing codes from various disciplines, including law and medicine. Once a basic code was created, it could be published for feedback from the editorial community. Ultimately, once adopted editors will agree to be governed by it when they see it is in their best interests. To bring such a code about is just a matter of will and interest within the editorial community. Additionally, once such a code and body of interpretations were created, it would be easy to create standardized certification courses that demonstrate ethical competency.

What do you think? Are you interested? Would you agree to be bound by such a code? (Are you ready to volunteer to start the process?) Or do you think that a code of professional responsibility is not needed for the editorial profession?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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