An American Editor

November 30, 2016

On Politics: The Future of American Education

Most editors recognize that the foundation of our business lies in the education we received. It is hard to tackle grammar issues in a manuscript without having been taught grammar. And deciding whether the correct word is there or their requires having been taught the difference.

Of course, there is the issue of subject matter knowledge as well. Granted that editors are rarely expected to be subject-matter experts — especially not at the common rates paid to editors — but editors are expected to have some familiarity with the subject matter and to be able to understand what they are editing.

I have lamented in past essays about the decline of editing and of education. Now I worry even more with the nomination of Elizabeth “Betsy” DeVos to be Secretary of Education in the forthcoming Trump presidency. Her selection is tantamount to declaring war on public education and on education standards — public and private. If her views on education permeate the educational system, what I see as a decline in quality of editors may well become a tsunami.

The foundation of America’s education system is that it is a public education system, meaning that every child has access to a “free” public education (and, yes, there is really no such thing as “free” in this context; public education is an expensive taxpayer burden, but a burden that since the early days of the republic taxpayers have been willing to bear in hopes that their children will do better economically and socially than they did). In DeVos’ world there would be no “public” education — all education would be by private schools, largely charter schools.

I admit that there was a time when I thought charter schools would be a panacea to our declining school systems, but that fantasy didn’t last long. The truth is that to fix our schools, we need to fix the way our teachers are taught and compensated. Rather than mid-level students choosing teaching as a career path, we need to find a way to make the highest-level students seek that career. And we need to require teachers to be subject-matter experts not generalists whose expertise is in classroom administration with a minor in subject matter.

Whereas I have progressed from thinking charter schools are the panacea to education’s ills, DeVos has not. In fact, DeVos not only abhors public schools, but she opposes setting standards for charter and private schools to meet. DeVos has been supporting proponents of her education views for years in Michigan. The result is that Michigan not only has more charter and private schools than any other state, but its educational ranking (in comparison to other states) has been steadily slipping, with no end in sight. (For an excellent review of DeVos’ history, see “Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Education Pick, Has Steered Money From Public Schools” by Kate Zernike [news item], The New York Times, November 23, 2016, and for why she would be a disaster for American education, see “Betsy DeVos and the Wrong Way to Fix Schools” by Douglas N. Harris [opinion piece], The New York Times, November 25, 2016.)

What does this mean for the future of editing? Even though education has been on the decline for years and this decline has been evident in the quality of new-generation editors and editing — as witnessed by the number of people hanging out shingles, proclaiming themselves editors, and then failing to do a quality job — there were rays of hope as colleges began to realize that they are a major part of the problem of education failure and steps have slowly been taken to revamp education curriculum and requirements for a teaching degree and license.

But what little progress has been made is now jeopardized because all of the controls that are exercised over education in public schools are nonexistent in the DeVos education world. DeVos believes that the free market, unfettered by chains of requirements to obtain a teaching license and unfettered by educational goals that part of standards such as the Common Core or national tests, will supply the needed fixes — even though this has been untrue in the 30 years she has pushed such an agenda.

If education further, significantly declines, then editing may be a doomed profession. After all, why would an author want a manuscript edited by someone without the skills necessary to edit her manuscript better than she can edit it herself? Why would publishers pay someone to simply run spellcheck?

This is not to say that our current system is the answer; it definitely has proven itself to not being able to solve the education crisis. The problem is that with DeVos we will swing from one extreme to another extreme, which is problematic when both extremes have conclusively shown that they are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Do I have a solution? No, I don’t. I do know that for years I have complained about the low standards that have to be met to graduate from a college education program with a teaching degree (I attended such a college in my college days). I know that I have clashed with teachers who should never have been given a teaching license but who were teaching my children in public schools. And I know that the way to fix the problem is not to replace it with another “solution” that is just an exacerbation of the existing problem.

Betsy DeVos should not be confirmed as Secretary of Education because her “solutions” have proven, in Michigan, to be worse than the existing problem. To institute those policies nationally would be to jeopardize America’s future. I encourage you to petition your U.S. Senator to not confirm Elizabeth “Betsy” DeVos as Secretary of Education. Her confirmation would be disastrous for America and for the future of editing.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

November 9, 2016

A Personal Odyssey: Preparing for the Worst

Filed under: Miscellaneous Opinion — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
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I have been spending my weekends visiting my hospitalized, dying, 80-year-old aunt. There would be little worse than not to be present to say goodbye.

I realize all of us ultimately meet this same fate, but not necessarily in the same way. In my aunt’s case, she has stage IV ovarian cancer that has spread widely. The cancer is complicated by other lifelong ailments. The scenario is not good, the end already written; it is not if, but when.

But in visiting with her I learned just how unprepared she and my 88-year-old uncle are to deal with these times, which made me wonder how prepared my colleagues are. I know that as unprepared as my aunt and uncle are, my wife, Carolyn, and I are prepared. By prepared, I do not mean ready to face the ultimate call. Rather, I mean prepared in case of a medical emergency. I am referring to living wills, healthcare proxies, and membership in an organization like MedicAlert.

The documents (living will and healthcare proxy) may be called something else where you live, but the function — and importance — remain similar.

A healthcare proxy is your designation as to who is to make medical decisions on your behalf should you not be able to make those decisions yourself. The usual order is a spouse/significant other, followed by an adult relative, but it doesn’t have to be. The people you name can be anyone you trust to carry out your wishes. The only caveat is that in most places the responsibility is singular, it cannot be joint. What I mean is, you can name your spouse and if your spouse can’t or won’t serve at the time, then your adult child can become your proxy; what you cannot do is give your spouse and adult child joint responsibility, requiring them to agree on the care to be given. The reason is that there may be disagreement and thus no decision.

The key is knowing what care you want or are willing to accept (e.g., feeding intubation vs. no feeding intubation) and communicating that information to the people you designate as your proxies. In my case, I have sat with my proxies and my doctors and repeatedly stated what care and treatment I want and do not want — I have “hammered it home” so that there is no misunderstanding.

I do understand that expressing my wishes does not ensure that my proxies will follow my wishes. But when it comes time to make decisions, they will be able to weigh my desires as part of the decision-making process — more importantly, I will have relieved them of the burden of trying to guess what I desire and wondering if they have made a wrong decision.

My aunt and uncle have declined over the years to create and execute these documents. Their reasons have been many, but the biggest factor was a fear of losing control. There is no loss of control; the proxy becomes the decision maker only when you are incapable of making a decision. In the absence of the healthcare proxy, it is the doctors and care facility management that will make the decisions. They may ask for family input, but they will do as they please. This I know from personal experience.

Along with a healthcare proxy, which names your proxy decision makers (i.e., the named proxies become you for this purpose) in your preferred order, the prepared person also has a living will. The living will is an instrument that outlines the care you want or don’t want, as well as my end-of-life care choices. In my case, for example, my living will spells out the boundaries of my Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) request and indicates which intubation procedures I approve and which I decline.

The living will is your taking possession of your medical treatment. Do you want anything and everything done for you that might, no matter how unlikely or how great the pain and expense, extend your life, even for only a few weeks, or are there limits you want enforced to such treatment? Having a living will — and making a point to review it every couple of years — forces you to evaluate your current medical condition and your current views on treatment. Neither the Healthcare Proxy nor the Living Will are written-in-stone documents. You can revoke or change them at any time.

Most states offer fill-in-the-blank forms online, along with instructions for these forms, but the best method is to visit with a lawyer.

The third part of being prepared is membership in an organization like MedicAlert. I know that medical alert bracelets and necklaces can be bought in any drugstore, but they are inadequate. I have been a member of MedicAlert for decades. I consider it one of the best investments in personal safety that I have made.

In addition to being able to choose the kind of identification I want to wear (I now wear the silicone bracelet and carry the medical ID keychain; Carolyn wears a different bracelet but also carries the keychain) and the information I want engraved on the ID, MedicAlert lets me keep my medical information online.

More important, however, is that I have a unique member identification number, which is required to be engraved on the ID along with the organization’s telephone number. In my case, my engraving reads, in addition to my member number and MedicAlert’s telephone number, “New York DNR Order on file. Call for medical & drug information.” This tells emergency responders that with a telephone call they can get my medical history, a list of the medications I am taking along with dosage and frequency, the names of my physicians and contacts (e.g., next of kin) along with contact information, and any other documents I have stored with MedicAlert (in my case, copies of my Living Will, Healthcare Proxy, Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment [the New York MOLST form], and Do Not Resuscitate order). I do not need to be conscious or able to recall my medical history or know what drugs I am taking. I do not need to carry documents with me wherever I go. MedicAlert is accessible by emergency responders, doctors, and hospitals every minute of every day.

Responsibility for maintaining and updating my medical records lies with me, which means that I do not need to worry whether someone else has submitted information on my behalf. It is done online or via telephone.

I have made it a practice to give every doctor I see and every urgent care or hospital I visit for tests or routine care my MedicAlert member number and MedicAlert’s telephone number.

I started with my aunt and uncle and now we come full circle. They are of the generation that does not believe in sharing personal information (they do have neither a computer nor a smartphone), so they have been reluctant to make use of the various forms or to join MedicAlert. The consequence is that now, when these would be of most value, they are scrambling. They wonder, for example, whether there is something they have forgotten to tell the doctors; unfortunately, in the absence of the healthcare proxy form and because of the U.S. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), their children cannot check the information given to the doctors and the hospital, and even if they could, may not know if the information is complete. How much simpler it would have been had the doctors and hospital been able to call an organization like MedicAlert and have all necessary information immediately sent to them.

My family will not have these problems; they will have access to my information and will know, when required to make a decision about my medical care, what my desires are — I will have already made the difficult and important decisions. Will your family be similarly situated?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

November 8, 2016

On Politics: Vote! Be Part of the Solution

Filed under: Miscellaneous Opinion,Politics — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
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Today is the day to make your voice heard ’round the world again and to preserve the freedom for which our ancestors fought, beginning with the “shot heard ’round the world” — the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, the first birthing pang of an independent America:

or for sports fans:

 

and for those who prefer a musical version:

If you do not vote, you are part of the problem.
If you vote Republican, you are part of the problem.

Be part of the solutionVote Democrat!

Richard Adin, An American Editor and Voter!

Here is a final pre–election-results word on the 2016 election (the Game of Thrones parody is particularly well done):

November 7, 2016

On Politics: November 8, 2016 — Will It Be the Modern-Day Day of Infamy?

Filed under: Miscellaneous Opinion,Politics — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
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Election day, November 8, 2016, is a day that could live in infamy — if Donald Trump is elected president. It could be the modern-day Pearl Harbor — if Donald Trump is elected president.

November 8, 2016 is the day when we should each think of what is best for our country — and our world — and we should vote for Hillary Clinton for president. We should look at the total package being offered by each candidate, not just a single issue, and what effect that total package could have on our lives, the lives of our family and the families living in our community, and on our world — and we should cast our vote for Hillary Clinton for president.

But most important of all, we must vote. The right to vote was a right hard fought for — women could not vote until 1920; Black Americans could not freely vote until 1964 and some states still try to limit minority voting. Even white Americans were not free to vote in many states for decades after the founding of the United States — restrictions included poll taxes, an ability to read and write, land ownership, and myriad other ploys to restrict who could cast a ballot. It was not until after our Civil War that laws restricting voting began to crumble, and today there is an effort to resurrect some of those obstacles through voter identification laws.

Our right to vote as a free people is our most precious right
because it is the right that ensures we remain free.

When we do not vote, we leave it to others to decide our fate. If we do not vote, we leave it to chance that voters will not elect someone as ill-equipped, as ignorant, and as regressive as Donald Trump. Our freedom, America’s freedom, the freedom that draws the world to America’s shores, should not be left to chance — be responsible and vote for your future, your family’s future, and friends’ futures, your neighbors’ futures, your country’s future, your world’s future:

vote Democrat on November 8, 2016.

Make Your Voice Heard
Vote against racism, sexism, and hatred
Vote for America and America’s future.
Vote Democrat!

Richard Adin, An American Editor and Voter!

 

September 27, 2016

On Politics: Mirror, Mirror

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all” is the daily question asked of the magic mirror by the queen in the fairy tale Snow White. Thankfully, the magic mirror wasn’t a protégé of Donald Trump or the answer might never have become “My Queen, you are the fairest here so true. But Snow White is a thousand times more beautiful than you.”

Asking a magic mirror is not possible for most of us. Consequently, we look to messages from others. Some messages are very powerful, as was “Daisy” from the 1964 Johnson vs Goldwater presidential campaign:

In this year’s presidential campaign, we are seeing what may well turn out to be the next “Daisy” — Hillary Clinton’s “Mirrors,” which gives us a chance to see how a Trumpian magic mirror would respond to “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all”:

Every parent voting for Donald Trump should be asked how they will explain their vote to their children. How will they justify voting for a bully? I know I couldn’t give a credible justification were I to vote for Trump. Can you?

If you aren’t voting for Hillary Clinton, you should be!

Richard Adin, An American Editor

 

September 25, 2016

On Politics: Do Facts Matter?

When editors discuss editing — whether among themselves or with clients — it is pretty clear that facts are important. If an author were to write that Columbus sailed the ocean for the Americas in 1692, I’m willing to bet that the manuscript’s editor would note that factual error. Getting facts right is one of the pillars supporting the concept of consistency in editing.

Alas, as we all know an editor’s penchant for fact accuracy does not seem to be a cornerstone of politics and this year’s presidential campaign may be the worst example of factual honesty thanks to Donald Trump. I doubt Pinocchio’s nose could grow long enough to envelope all his falsities.

With the first debate quickly approaching (Monday, September 26, 2016 at 9:00 PM EST), the question of facts in politics takes a front seat. An excellent opinion essay  on the issue of whether facts matter, see

Facts Matter

by Barbra Streisand at The Huffington Post. And when it comes to corruption, Trump is no slouch, as noted in this opinion piece by Paul Waldman in The Washington Post:

Trump’s history of corruption is mind-boggling. So why is Clinton supposedly the corrupt one?

I find it odd that facts matter to editors and authors in their daily work but that some are willing to set aside the requirement for facts when choosing the president of the United States. Perhaps the presidential debates will demonstrate why we should be supporting and voting for Hillary Clinton and against Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

For me there is one overriding fact that supports my decision to support and vote for Hillary Clinton: I am confident that with Hillary Clinton as president there will still be an America for grandchildren 4 (or 8) years from now. I have no confidence that will be true should Trump be elected.

And if I were younger, a second fact that supports my decision is the economic harm that Trumpism promises to bring to America with his isolationism, and which I discussed  in On Politics: Freelancing in a Trumpian World.

Just as facts matter in editing, they matter in politics — especially when electing a president of the United States.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 1, 2016

On Politics: Freelancing in a Trumpian World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Adin, An American Editor

May 30, 2016

Sita Sings the Blues on Copyright

 

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

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

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

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

Richard Adin, An American Editor

March 9, 2016

Barnes & Noble: Years Later & Still No Clue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I gave up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Adin, An American Editor

November 11, 2015

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

Profit & Business Model

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

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

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

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

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

Why Collect Data?

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

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

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

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

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

Analyzing Data

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

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

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

The Excuses

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

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

The Reason

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

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays include:

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