An American Editor

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

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.

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.

Hypocrisy

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.

Navigation

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

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

July 16, 2014

The Business of Editing: I Got Rhythm!

To put us in the proper frame of mind, here are The Happenings, a 1960s rock group, singing George Gershwin’s Depression-era song “I Got Rhythm”:

Life is a river of rhythm. Everything is to some kind of beat. I’ve heard musicians say they are inspired by nature’s rhythms; I know painters certainly are. And so are editors, albeit in perhaps a different manner.

Years ago I edited journal articles as well as books. What I found was that, for me, individual journal articles were a money-losing proposition. The reason was that I no sooner found the “rhythm” of the article than it was finished and I had to go to a new article and master a new rhythm. Books, I found, were different.

I know that you will point out that many books are written by multiple authors or are collections of articles. True. I work on large books, often running thousands of manuscript pages (e.g., I am currently working on a book that has 720 chapters, each written by a different author or group of authors, that when finished will have run more than 20,000 manuscript pages). But that book has an overall rhythm.

I have found that a key to improving my effective hourly rate is the ability to find and work with a book’s rhythm. In the case of the collaborative book, that rhythm may be that of the book editor(s), such as the editor’s preference for certain types of phrasing. It is also found in the style, such as the publisher’s preferences.

Most importantly, every author has a rhythm and most of the books I work on have long chapters (one chapter in a current project, for example, runs nearly 350 manuscript pages; more typically, chapters run 50 to 75 manuscript pages), which gives me an opportunity to join with the author’s rhythm as I edit. The rhythm of a project lets me discover the language choices that the author makes. For example, some authors always use “due to,” almost as if they are afraid to commit to a more specific alternative such as “caused by”; some authors consistently misspell a word (e.g., “casual” when they mean “causal”); some authors consistently fail to define necessary comparative measures (e.g., always write “1 in 100″ but never define 100 what); some authors clearly have a gender bias in their writing; some authors regularly mix singular and plural, present and past in the same sentence; and the list goes on.

Every author, like every editor, has identifiable language foibles or traits that we generically call style. In editing, quickly identifying the author’s style or the style of a book, regardless of the number of contributors, is a key to getting into the manuscript’s rhythm. And when an editor can merge into the manuscript’s rhythm, the editing rises to a higher level.

Editing is an art and is no different from any other art. Successful editors have mastered not only the foundation techniques of editing, but have learned to merge into the rhythm. We all know that some editors are better editors than ourselves. As in all art endeavors, there is always someone the artist admires as being better than they. It is because we recognize a higher skill level. From my observations, I think that higher skill level comes about from being faster at finding, understanding, and mastering the rhythm.

Rhythm is important at several levels, not least of which is that finding it enables us to preserve the author’s voice while editing. When I read author complaints about how an editor destroyed the author’s voice, my first thought is that the editor didn’t find the rhythm. We speak in rhythm, we play music in rhythm, we dance in rhythm, we walk in rhythm — we do virtually everything in rhythm. Consequently, we need to be aware of competing rhythms.

When we think of editing in terms of rhythm, we recognize that our rhythm competes with the author’s rhythm. If we let the rhythms compete, we distort the author’s tone and message because our rhythm will dominate. But if we make an effort to discover the author’s rhythm, we can adopt it as our own for the editing process.

Rhythm doesn’t only refer to beat, which is often how we think of rhythm in music. Rhythm refers also to flow. We think of certain books as masterpieces, literary classics. That is because we can identify and flow with the rhythm of the book. The language choices and arrangements make up the rhythm and when an editor can identify that rhythm, the editor can maintain and even improve it; when the editor cannot identify the rhythm, the editor is more likely to destroy it.

All of this is important to an editor because it is a reason why an editor’s education concerning words and language should be ongoing. I know editors who last bought and read a book on language decades ago. Consequently, when they edit today, they apply the thoughts and concepts they learned decades ago; they are unable to compare yesterday with today to determine which better serves their client because there is only yesterday.

I am currently reading The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham. What is relevant to our discussion is that Joyce’s brilliance (although I admit I do not particularly like or think highly of Ulysses) was recognized by only a handful of his contemporaries, primarily Ezra Pound and Margaret Anderson. Those who saw Joyce’s brilliance as a writer were themselves trying to move literary thinking from the early 19th century to the 20th century. They were obstructed by those who believed that the golden age of literature was the late 18th–early 19th century and were determined to make Joyce’s writing conform to that “golden age.”

Editors and publishers who saw Joyce’s writing insisted on rewriting and cutting because what he wrote they couldn’t understand (or accept).

Whether one likes where language is going or not does not matter. What does matter is that we editors need to grasp and understand the rhythm of the manuscripts we work on and we need to continually educate ourselves as to where our language is going so that we help the author rather than hinder the author. We need to be able to say, “I got rhythm!”

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 11, 2014

Trigger Warning: This Essay May Cause Mental Disturbance

I have always thought that a good education was one that caused the recipient of the education to think. As part of that process, reading saccharine, as opposed to bitter-herbed, books was not a way to stimulate thinking. After all, if a book simply reinforces what you already believe, what have you gained from it? What will it cause you to think about?

In some online forums, some discussions are segregated in the sense that there is a warning and you have to take affirmative action to access those discussions; they are not part of the discussions that you normally see after logging in to the forum. Usually they are discussions centering on politics, religion, sex, and violence. I agree that if you are joining a forum to learn how to edit a book or run a business, you do not expect to have to deal with discussions regarding why American politicians make Satan look like the leading contestant for the person of the year award.

But what about in the classroom? I do not mean in the primary and secondary classroom; I mean in the college classroom. Or what about in a forum on books — not on book production but on the books themselves and their literary value? Should books and reading assignments carry “trigger warnings”?

For those unfamiliar with the trigger warning controversy, let us step back a moment. A trigger warning warns a prospective reader that the book the reader is thinking about reading (or has been assigned to read) contains material that someone (such as the reader), somewhere, might somehow, someday, in some state of mind, find offensive or, worse, traumatic to read or discuss or think about or be challenged by. For example, Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice would carry the trigger warning that it is anti-Semitic; Darwin’s Origin of Species would carry a warning that it contravenes the Bible’s creationism; Twain’s Huckleberry Finn would carry a warning that the book could be considered racist; Bahn’s The Cambridge Illustrated History of Prehistoric Art would carry a warning that it contains depictions of zoophilia; and on it goes.

The idea of the trigger warnings is to alert the reader that a book contains something that might trigger a harrowing memory, for example, of a sexual molestation, of a difficult event from the reader’s life, or cause the reader anguish (perhaps trauma) over something that affected either the reader or someone the reader knows. Basically, trigger warnings are intended to prevent traumatizing the reader by the book’s content.

I can remember reading William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” at a very young age and how that book affected me. To this day, the book is on my “books that I hope to never read again” list. I also remember the first time I read a nonfiction book about the Auschwitz concentration camp and saw photos of it and its victims — those dead and those who survived; I was deeply affected by the cruelty we can so callously inflict on each other. So it is not that I am unaware of the impact that a book can have on a person.

But what is the purpose of a college education if not to expose us to those things that make us intellectually uncomfortable? What is life without some trauma? What label could we devise that would cover all the possibilities? Why is it that we need a label, rather than to recognize that in any book there is likely to be something that will offend or cause discomfort. Consider the mainstay book of western civilization, the Bible. It includes the gamut of things that disturb most of us — rape, murder, starvation, cruelty, tyranny, savagery, and the list goes on and on. If we were to label the Bible, all we would have is a book of labels; there would be no space for the words themselves.

Coming round again to the college classroom, would we want to make education so saccharine that no book could be read unless it was a Dr. Seuss book because there is no book that isn’t offensive or traumatic to someone? How would you design a course that avoided all controversy and yet fulfilled what many believe is the function of college: teaching one to think and understand?

It seems to me that a book that causes no reaction from a reader is a book not worth reading (except when you have had a bad day dealing with cantankerous authors and seek something to read that goes in one eye and out the other without making any impression whatsoever). Such a book does not make one think about the surrounding world. Nor does it cause one to reconsider beliefs and positions fervently thought immutable. A book is a mini-university, or should be. It should include new ideas for the reader to contemplate; it should cause the reader to reevaluate long-held beliefs.

A book that carries trigger warnings would fail to fulfill the promise of education because a warned person is not only wary but takes steps to avoid what makes the person uncomfortable. We all do this, even if unconsciously, because none of us like to relive painful times in our lives. Trigger warnings carry, however, the mark of the censor. A trigger warning says that we are not mature enough or sophisticated enough to deal with life in the absence of a “parent” (“authority” figure) to guide us.

Of course, I am addressing the matter from the adult reader perspective (I do consider college students as adults, even if adults of limited experience). Once the issue is raised in the context of children and adolescents, the issue becomes less clear-cut. Yet, again, I would worry that trigger warnings would be used to censor and to prevent children and adolescents from reading books that they should read and discuss. Consider Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” or Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451″ or John Howard Griffin’s “Black Like Me.” Think of the warning trigger labels these books would carry. Shouldn’t these books be read by adolescents? Don’t these books raise issues that should be discussed by adolescents (and adults)?

Ultimately, the issue of having or not having a trigger warning is one that questions the abilities of individuals to determine for themselves what is to be read. How much parenting do we really need? Unanswered and unaddressed in the debate are issues such as: Will trigger warnings be required of all books? Who will determine what warnings a book requires? More importantly, how will that be determined? And the list goes on.

The how question is most intriguing. Many books are subject to library banning based on rumor — some parent, somewhere said something negative and the wildfire started. Rarely has the book to be banned been read by each of the people demanding the banning. Somewhere along the line someone will have to read the book to determine what warnings need to be applied. What about that reader’s trauma quotient?

Perhaps it will be another job for editors. What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 4, 2014

Trolleyology and the Ethics of Editing

I am currently reading David Edmonds’ Would You Kill the Fat Man?: The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us about Right and Wrong (2013). The book focuses on what has become known as the trolley problem, which goes like this (the following is a summary of Phillippa Foot’s original thought experiment from the 1960s, which subsequently morphed into the “Fat Man” variation, as well as other variations):

The trolley is coming down the track and you are standing by a switch. If the trolley remains on the current track, it will kill five people who are tied to the track and cannot escape. If you throw the switch, the trolley will veer onto a spur on which one person is tied and will kill that one person, but the five people will be saved. Do you/should you throw the switch?

This is the conundrum of right and wrong, which underlies most religious and moral beliefs.

Reading this book made me think of editing ethics. I grant that the decisions we have to make are not of life and death, but still, they can be weighty and certainly raise the specter of morally and ethically right and wrong behavior.

Is the absence of the conundrum equivalent to saying that there is no ethical or unethical behavior, there is just behavior? Is this a conundrum for philosophers to quarrel over but that has no particular value outside the philosophical debates? As with most philosophical questions, there are only philosophical answers, any of which can be correct at a given moment in time.

I think few of us would say that editing (of all stripes, including proofreading) raises such philosophical conundrums that we grind to a halt as we consider them and discuss them with colleagues. Over the past 30 years, I have had editing-related “philosophical” discussions with colleagues only on a handful of occasions, and those discussions were rarely earth moving.

I suppose our initial foray into the conundrum is whether we are competent to handle the project being offered. This is not about our competency in general as an editor, but our competency specifically for the project in question. For example, we work alone, there are 3,000 manuscript pages to be edited; they require a “heavy” edit; the subject matter is a sub-sub-subspecialty area of nuclear physics, an area with which we have no familiarity; the manuscript is heavy in math, which we know is a weakness; the schedule is six weeks and cannot be extended, which means we would have to edit 500 manuscript pages a week, yet the best we have ever done is 300. The project is for a long-time client who pays very well (more than any other client we have) and will pay double our usual rate. Finally, if we do not accept this project, we currently have nothing else to fill the time, although it is always possible for something to come along. Also, the project still will have to be done by someone — and that someone might be even less qualified.

What do we do? Some of us will immediately decline, outlining our reasons for the client. Some of us will accept and hope that we can convince the client to extend the deadline. Some of us will simply accept and hope that we do a satisfactory job. Some of us will accept and try to find colleagues to work on the manuscript with us. Regardless of which path we take, I suspect that most of us would think more about the practical problems than the philosophical problems associated with the project offer.

But should we be so focused on the practical problems, or should we have already had a philosophical discussion about such a situation and have our moral and ethical compass already set to give an answer to the offer? My thinking tends toward the latter.

The job offer raises many of ethical questions. Should an editor accept work in unfamiliar subject areas? What makes up an unfamiliar subject area? How much depth of knowledge in a subject area does an editor need to accept an offer? (For example, do we need to have studied Jewish writings regarding the Talmud for years to be able to edit a book on Jewish philosophy that arises from the Talmud? Do we need to be able to cite the German order of battle before we agree to edit a book on the German offensive in World War I? Should we have at least a nursing degree before we edit a medical text intended for nursing students?)

Should our decision be based on schedule and our past history with regard to schedule? That is, if the schedule requires 500 edited pages per week but the most we have ever done is 300, are we morally obligated to turn down the project because we have never accomplished that speed before? Or is this one of those ethical considerations that need to be given some weight, but not much weight because we can find techniques that will speed up our editing? Which raises the question of whether we would be substituting technique for skill.

Let us not forget the money part. The offer comes with more money than usual — a doubling of our normal fee. Why? Is it not the client’s recognition of the difficulty of the project and the client’s method of incentivizing us to undertake what appears to be a difficult project? How much should the fee offered govern our decision-making process? If we were to prioritize elements of the offer, where would we place fee?

I know that some of us would say that before approaching these or any other question about the offer, they would insist on seeing a few chapters to make their own decision about the project’s difficulty. Even if chapters are chosen at random, how much can we learn from them? The two or three chapters randomly chosen could be the most difficult to edit, the longest, the shortest, the easiest to edit, or something else that would unduly influence a positive or negative reaction. Such a review could (and likely would) divert us from addressing the more important underlying ethical and moral questions.

In a sense, that is exactly the problem: We editors do not have a universal code of morality or ethics that serves as a guide to any of the editorial decisions we make, which range from whether to accept an offer to whether to bill the client for hours we didn’t actually spend on the project because we were more efficient than the client calculated we would be (in other words, the project took us 50 hours but the client expected it to take and budgeted for 75 hours. Do we bill for 50 hours or 75 hours?).

In the absence of such ethical codes, editors tend to approach the job-offer problem from the practical side rather than the philosophical side. Granted, in our instance, unlike in the trolley problem, there is no balancing of life versus death(s). And I also grant that in the trolley problem the dilemma has a cultural/religious element (substitute for the trolley problem the abortion problem and its variations) that editing will rarely face (an exception being, perhaps, the offer to edit a virulently anti-Semitic book that calls for a new genocide). Yet I think we — and our clients and profession — would gain greatly were we to have this discussion and come to a consensus on what constitutes ethical and moral behavior for an editor and what doesn’t.

What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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