An American Editor

June 10, 2015

The Ethics of Distaste

It must be the season for distaste. On a couple of forums someone has asked about backing out of an editing job because they discovered that they dislike (choose one or more) the author’s religious views, the subject matter of the project (e.g., erotica, anti-something the editor likes, abortion, devil worship), the political views expressed in the manuscript, and so on. Surprisingly, for the first time in my lengthy career someone applied for an editing position and outlined a list of projects they would not work on as part of their application.

I do not think editors must take on anything that crosses their threshold. If a project offends your sense of morality, saying no is a kindness to both you and the client. Yet there is a but to that blanket statement. I do not think the rules are the same when you have agreed to undertake the project, have started editing, and only as you get into the project discover that the project makes you squeamish.

Let’s begin with endorsements. That you have edited a project does not mean you endorse the author or the author’s point of view. Editing a medical text that includes a chapter on euthanasia does not mean you believe or endorse the view that those who are dying should be helped to speed the process. Similarly, just because you edit a book on investing in Zimbabwe does not mean you support Robert Mugabe or because you edit a book on Catholicism that you endorse the Catholic Church over all other religious institutions.

I am an editor. I am hired because of my skill with language. My clients do not ask — and if they did ask, I would not answer — what my religious or political beliefs are. On the other hand, there is nothing illegitimate in a client saying upfront that he would like an active member of the Catholic Church to edit his book about Catholic ritual because such an editor is likely to better understand the content. In such a case, my answer would simply be that I am not the right editor for that book.

Because I am hired for language skills, I should be able to edit anything. Content is not the king, coherence is the king and that does not mean I need to endorse the views of the author; it does mean that I must have the skill to determine whether since and because can by used synonymously in the particular book.

It seems as if I am ignoring the repugnant and saying that an editor must accept repugnant projects. To the contrary, I am saying that before you agree to edit a project, you should freely turn away any project that impinges your sense of right and wrong, insists that you help someone who you would classify as a societal cockroach, demands that you set aside any sense of civilization and embrace barbarity, requires that you deal with language that you used to get your mouth washed with soap for repeating. The key is before you begin editing, you can reject a project for any reason, including because you are a hater of ______ (fill-in the blank with your own discrimination beliefs).

The difficulty arises after you have accepted the project and started editing, especially if you have spent a significant amount of time editing the project. At this juncture, I think your obligations and options have changed. You can no longer make that unilateral decision to not edit; now you need to discuss the project with the client.

At minimum you owe your client an explanation as to why you want to give up on the project. I do not think it is enough to say that “I find the material morally reprehensible.” I think you owe the client a more detailed and nuanced explanation. You need to detail how your distaste affects your editing and how this does the client a disservice. Whether you are entitled to compensation for the work you have already done is also on the table. (Suppose the project is a $5,000 project and the client has already paid you $3,000. Is the client entitled to a refund? Should you offer one?)

Because you want to terminate a client’s business expectation, you probably should have another, equally capable editor already lined up and willing to takeover. I think it is wrong for editor at this stage to simply bow out and not have found or offered to help find a replacement editor. (Let me add a caveat to this: I am speaking of instances where the subject matter is the problem, not the client. If the problem is the client himself and not the subject matter, I do not think you are obligated to find another editor; if the problem is both the client and the subject matter, you need to try to determine whether your distaste for the client is because of a distaste for the subject matter of whether the distaste for the client stands on its own merits. If it is because of the subject matter, then you should find another editor; if it is the client on the client’s own merits, then you should not help find another editor. By the way, all of this presupposes that the client is amenable to releasing your from your agreement to edit his project.

Assuming the client is willing to free you, then it is my belief that you should refund any monies paid you by the client. As we all know, each editor is like her own island; switching editors midstream often means that the new editor starts from the beginning. Consequently, it strikes me that the ethical thing to do is refund payments you have received.

What if the client is unwilling to release you? Now the pot boils over because we are back to the question of whether the problem is the client or the subject matter or both. If the client is otherwise fine and the problem really lies with the subject matter, then I think the editor is obligated to continue editing as agreed. However, in this instance, I would ask the client to acknowledge that he has been asked to release you because you are repulsed by the subject matter, that as a result of his insistence that you continue you will do so as best you can but that you have advised the client that an editor who is not repulsed by the subject matter is likely to do a better editing job. Editing subject matter that is distasteful is difficult but not impossible. I have done it and I am sure many of you have too.

What is impossible, however, is to continue working with a client who you find offensive, ogreish. In this instance it may be unethical to continue editing the project if there is a chance that your dislike of the client will encourage you to make editorial choices that harm the project. In this instance, I would stand my ground and insist on terminating the agreement (and refund any payments I had received).

The difficult situation is where the client and the subject matter may be distasteful. As noted earlier, it is necessary to decide why the client is distasteful. Is it because the client himself is distasteful or because the subject matter encourages you to view the client as distasteful. If because the client is distasteful, then stand your ground; if it is the subject matter that is influencing your opinion, then continue to edit.

If you have strong views about what you are willing to edit and not willing to edit, state what you will do and won’t do on your website or in your initial contact with a potential client. Make clear, for example, that you will not edit books that approve of _________ or disapprove of ________ (fill in the blanks). Be upfront. But remember that once you have agreed to edit a project, it is unethical to unilaterally decide to stop just because you now find the subject matter or the client’s approach to the subject matter distasteful. With ethics, there is no such thing as no fault divorce.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 8, 2015

Summertime & Wondering Why

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 7, 2015

Worth Noting: Signing Emails & Politics

I came across two things worth noting. The first is No Way to Say Goodbye: You’re Ending Your E-mails Wrong by Rebecca Greenfield. The Bloomberg BusinessWeek columnist has an interesting take on the matter. Here is the video version:

No Way to Say Goodbye

The second item deals with politics and the relationship between your profession and whether you are likely to be a Democrat (liberal) or Republican (conservative). Scroll down to the bottom to find editors.

The Link Between Political Affiliation and Profession

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 3, 2015

Going, Going, Gone…

Recently, what many consider a very mediocre Picasso painting sold at art auction for $179 million, setting a new record for a single painting. In the art market, bidding raises the price and reflects perceived marketplace value, at least to a degree. Contrast this to the editorial market in which bidding lowers the price, reflecting perceived marketplace value.

In both markets there is a glut of “artists”/“editors” but a dearth of “collectible”/“quality” “artists”/“editors.” Yet each market responds differently. Therein lies the tale of perception: a Picasso is considered valuable regardless of its quality simply because it is a Picasso; the quality adds to the value, but the “painted by Picasso” establishes that the price it will command will be higher, not lower. In contrast, editing is viewed as the “anyone can do it” skill and thus not worth much.

What perplexes me about the editorial market is that there is one at all. In the case of collectible art, there are two markets: the auction market and the retail market. In the retail market, if a painting is deemed worth collecting, then the artist’s price (or something close to it) is paid; if the painting is not considered collectible, it is ignored — it is not purchased because someone says “Well, people need to have this painting.”

In the editorial market, the service is thought necessary to have but only at the lowest possible price. Better to have someone wholly unskilled in editing edit a manuscript than to have the manuscript professionally edited at a higher price. The logic eludes me.

I was always taught that if it is worth doing, then it is worth doing well; if it is not worth doing well, then it is not worth doing. That concept contravenes the philosophy of the editorial market, which can be summed up as: editing is worth doing only if it is done very inexpensively. Editors have failed to justify their value in the marketplace.

Books are the primary means of communicating complex ideas from person to person, generation to generation. Even politicians who rely on visual communication to spread their message among voters write books to explain their thoughts and background in detail. A “sound bite” is important but the foundation of civilization is the written word. More information is communicated in one day in writing than is communicated in one year in movie form. Yet editors are less valued than actors.

With our reliance on written communication, I would think that editors could command prices that better reflect their skills, but that is not how the market works. It is clear that the primary factor in deciding whether to hire an editor is price, not skill and not need.

Discussions with colleagues about pricing usually ends with the lament that the price we can charge a client today is the same price we were able to charge that client in 1995. Factor in inflation and you soon discover that editors are being paid less today than they were paid in 1995 but that the work we are expected to do for that pay has increased. At minimum, if our services were valued, we would have kept up with inflation.

Interestingly, this flatlining of fees seems to apply across the board; that is, it doesn’t appear to make a difference whether the client is an individual or corporation. I suspect that a good part of the reason for this is the ease of entry into the profession, which has led to a significant increase in the number of minimally qualified editors who are willing to work for ever lower amounts.

I began this essay by comparing editorial bidding to art bidding. There is a significant difference between the two that needs mentioning: When you bid on an artwork, you see the finished artwork in all its glory or lack of glory — the point is that the bidder gets precisely what she sees. In contrast, the user of editorial services contracts for those services in the hope (expectation) that what he will receive after completion of editing equals what he hoped (expected) in terms of skill level.

The rejoinder that editors make is “I can/will provide a sample edit.” Unfortunately, sample edits are not all that editors say they are and they do not consider the likelihood that the recipient of the sample may not really be capable of judging the quality of the editing. The problem is that editing is fluid. The art world often can agree on a painting’s quality, even if its value is the subject of a war of words. Even those of us whose knowledge of art is minimal can agree, for example, that Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is an outstanding painting or that Michaelangelo’s David is a magnificent sculpture.

Editing is different. How do we judge whether it is good editing or bad editing or indifferent editing to use since when because is meant or use about when approximate is meant or when the serial comma is omitted? How do we determine in advance that editor A will catch all misspellings but not all cliches whereas editor B may catch fewer misspellings but has the ability to turn uninspired prose into memorable prose consistently?

The sample edit makes certain assumptions, five of which are: First, that the material chosen for the sample is the best material to demonstrate the editor’s editing skills. Second, that the person reviewing the editor’s work is knowledgeable enough to know whether the editor has improved or not improved the sample. Third, the editor is actually demonstrating the skill set that the reviewer seeks to test or that the reviewer is seeking to test a skill set that is actually appropriate for the type of editing being performed. Fourth, that both the reviewer and the editor define the editor’s role similarly. (How many times have you been hired to do a copyedit but what is really wanted is a developmental edit?) Fifth, that the sample is, in fact, representative of the problems the editor can expect to encounter and address should she get the editing job. Sample editing makes additional assumptions about the editor, about the reviewer, and about the project, but the foregoing five assumptions illustrate the problem and why sample editing is not always an indicator of the quality of the services an editor will provide.

This is the conundrum editors have faced for decades: How do we get clients to recognize in advance the true value of the services we will have rendered when editing is complete? What is your solution?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 1, 2015

Thinking Fiction: Verisimilitude


by Carolyn Haley

In fiction, story trumps all — which explains why so many weakly written novels get published and even win awards.

This creates a dilemma for editors. Who needs us if readers don’t demand excellence in writing? If story is all that truly matters, why should authors bother paying us professional wages, or hiring us at all?

Because even good stories need to come across coherently and plausibly. While many readers will ignore typos and clunky prose if their attention is riveted on plot, characters, and message, a single technical blooper can disrupt the suspension of disbelief they need to embrace a fictional world.

Once an author has blundered, readers may not regain their trust in the author’s competence. Some will sigh or swear and toss a book over their shoulder. Others will go further, entertaining their friends with the errors they come across — creating the kind of word-of-mouth promotion authors and publishers fear. Trolls help it along by ridiculing books and authors in public reviews. Few, if any, editors can resist sharing author mistakes with their colleagues. Surely no author wants this sort of reaction to his work!

Ditto for editors, who might get blamed for letting a blooper get through. Therefore, it serves everyone’s interests (except the trolls’) to be alert for verisimilitude issues while editing a novel. According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., verisimilitude means “the quality of seeming real”; the keyword being “seeming.” What may seem fine to me might scream at another reader. How’s an editor to know what they don’t know, to prevent an otherwise well-written and well-vetted book from going out the door containing bloopers?

It may not be possible. Nobody can know everything. Perhaps if twenty subject-matter experts and editors worked over every novel to catch every possible credibility blip, one might come out perfect. But it’s a rare book these days that gets such scrutiny. So we must be satisfied with what we can reasonably expect to catch, and forgive an occasional escapee.

In my work channel, bloopers tend to cluster in certain subjects. I repeatedly see laugh-out-loud impossibilities involving vehicles, aircraft, firearms, horses, nature, and cigarettes. They usually occur in dramatic scenes inspired by an author’s exposure to media rather than direct experience. Writers who are experienced in these realms get the details right.

A lot of historical fiction authors get their facts straight, too, because of their keen interest in their subject (as compared to writers who use a historical era like a painted backdrop on a stage). They might also think they remember everything they’ve researched and not double check. Likewise, young authors sometimes forget that computers and smartphones have not always existed. Science fiction and fantasy authors may think they can escape verisimilitude problems by inventing a parallel world or setting a story on another planet, or in another time.

But all stories must be credible unto themselves. A fictional world’s magic has its own rules, just as science does on our planet, and other universes have environments and cultures with unique conditions. Any character or event that doesn’t work within those strictures will trigger skepticism the same way an anomaly does on Earth.

It helps to be widely read in the genre one is editing. However, category-specific expertise is not required, because no one knows who will read a book. Despite authors’ and publishers’ best efforts to get a novel to their desired audience, someone — or many someones — outside that group will likely read it. The best editorial qualification, therefore, is an understanding of storytelling technique, along with a broad enough education to sense irregularities.

Having specialized knowledge does incline one toward spotting subtle errors, though. For example, I spent years involved in club-level autosports. So I happen to know that to be allowed on a race course at even the most casual event, drivers are either encouraged or required to wear natural instead of synthetic fibers because of flammability. (Beyond a certain point, specialized garments and gear are mandatory.) I never expected to encounter this fact in any book that wasn’t about racing. But a related blooper showed up in an urban mystery. During a hand-to-hand fight between a cop and a bad guy, the baddie pulled a cigarette lighter from his pocket (while still grappling — tricky enough), flicked it once, and set the cop’s coat on fire. Full flare-up in seconds that ended the fight and let the bad guy escape.

Trouble was, the author had previously established that the cop’s jacket was pure wool. Yes, wool will ignite, but it would not turn the guy wearing it into an instant candle. Assuming the fiber caught at all during the circumstances, it would have first smoldered and stunk, giving the cop plenty of time to react in ways more believable than what was presented.

This scene was accepted by at least one content editor at a major publishing house. Since it was easy to fix, I queried the detail and moved on. The book was otherwise technically flawless as far as I could tell. But I always wonder what I don’t see that other people will notice, simply because I don’t know better.

Today, thanks to the Internet, there’s no excuse for not fact-checking something that catches one’s attention. Nine times out of ten (except in the sloppiest manuscripts), the author will have it right. That tenth time, however, might be the one that sinks a book. “When in doubt, check” is always the right plan.

Sharp-eyed readers of this essay will note that I’ve used absolute terms like no one and nobody. I felt them safe because I couldn’t think of obvious exceptions. But absolutes can signal a blooper coming. During the zeal of creativity, authors commonly draw from their own frame of reference and will assume that others share it. An editor’s job is to challenge this where appropriate, because of the above: no one knows who will read a book. The audience might include one or more exceptions, who will snort and roll their eyes and walk away. Editors need to think like those exceptions in order to spot potential or actual bloopers that might bump readers out of a story.

Sometimes it works in reverse. In one of my own novels, I researched carefully yet got caught out on numerous points by beta readers. I dutifully revised except where they stated, “Nobody would do that!” and “That would never happen!” Perhaps not in their experience, but here the author could support an exception. I had personally lived through the scenes in question and fictionalized them for the story. In fact, the experiences had been so profound I was inspired to write a book around them!

The true problem was I had failed to convey the scenes realistically enough for readers to buy in. The lesson here for editors is that an impossibility or absurdity may not be one, and scenarios that either strike you as wrong or include absolute language justify a query explaining why the detail feels off, and perhaps suggesting ways to clarify. What appears to be a blooper may only be unclear writing.

There’s probably no way to quantify the effects of technical bloopers on a novel’s fate in the marketplace. Still, editors can gain value in authors’ and readers’ eyes by removing embarrassment and frustration from the equation. A novel’s purpose is to share someone’s vision with others in a meaningful way, be it for enlightenment or entertainment. Championing verisimilitude helps that happen, and editors are well placed to help make a story seem real and true — and worth the dollars that readers shell out to be transported.

Carolyn Haley lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1977, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at or through her websites, DocuMania and New Ways to See the World. Carolyn also blogs at Adventures in Zone 3 and reviews at New York Journal of Books.

May 27, 2015

Lyonizing Word: We Can Do This the Easy Way, or . . .

We Can Do This the Easy Way,
or We Can Do This the Hard Way

by Jack Lyon

American Editor Rich Adin called me recently with a puzzle. He was editing a list of citations that looked like this:

Lyon J, Adin R, Poole L, Brenner E, et al: blah blah blah.

But his client wanted the citations to look like this:

Lyon J, Adin R, Poole L, et al: blah blah blah.

In other words, many of the citations included one author name too many; the client wanted a limit of three rather than four. And there were hundreds of citations. Rich really didn’t want to remove the superfluous names by hand; it would have taken hours to do, and hours are money. And so, Rich queried, “Is there a way to remove the fourth name automatically?”

There’s nearly always a way. Rich had already tried using a wildcard search, but without success. Microsoft Word kept telling him, “The Find What pattern contains a Pattern Match expression which is too complex.”

The Too-Complex Find What

I’m not sure what wildcard search Rich tried to use, but it might have looked like this:

Find what:

([A-Z][a-z]@ [A-Z], )([A-Z][a-z]@ [A-Z], )([A-Z][a-z]@ [A-Z], )([A-Z][a-z]@ [A-Z], )(et al:)

Replace with:


That’s definitely too complex for Word to handle. Here’s what it means:

Find a capital letter ([A-Z])
followed by a lowercase letter ([a-z])
repeated any number of times (@)
followed by a space
followed by a capital letter ([A-Z])
followed by a comma
followed by a space
with all of that in parentheses to form a “group.”

All of that is repeated three more times, then followed by “et al:” in parentheses to form a group.

The “Replace with” string tells Word to replace what it finds with the contents of groups 1, 2, 3, and 5 — in other words, with the first three names followed by “et al:”.

What’s the Handle?

If Word could handle it, that should work. But Word can’t handle it, so we’ll need to simplify. So we ask ourselves, “What, besides letters, do all of the names have in common?” In other words, “What’s the handle? What can we grab onto?” Well, that’s easy — each name is followed by a comma and a space. That’s our handle!

(For more on this, please see my article “What’s Your Handle?” (2003) at the Editorium Update.)

The Find That Works

The handle means we can simplify our wildcard search string to something like this:

Find what:

([!^013]@, [!^013]@, [!^013]@, )[!^013]@, (et al:)

Replace with:


Here’s what that means:

Find any characters except a carriage return ([!^013])
repeated any number of times (@)
followed by a comma
followed by a space
with all of that repeated three times
and enclosed in parentheses to form a “group.”
Then it’s repeated one more time, ungrouped
and followed by “et al:” in parentheses to form a group.

The “Replace with” string tells Word to replace what it finds with the contents of groups 1 and 2 — in other words, with the first three names (group 1) followed by “et al:” (group 2). The fourth name is simply ignored.

To Group or Not to Group Using Parens

Rich ran the new find and replace, then replied, “Thanks, Jack, that works like a charm. Why isn’t the second ‘group’ grouped, that is, in parentheses? I thought that was necessary.”

I replied, “No, it’s not necessary. You group only the items that you want to reference (by \1, \2, etc.) in the ‘Replace with’ box. You could group the other item, in which case you would use ‘\1\3’ in the ‘Replace with’ box. But there’s no need to do so.”

Note that this method of finding the names offers another advantage. Not only will it find names that look like this:

Lyon J,

it will also find names that look like this:

Lyon JM,

or even this:

Lyon JMQ

It will even find names like this:

Thaler-Carter Ruth,

or this:

Harrison G.B.H.,

In fact, it will find anything (except a carriage return) followed by a comma and a space.

Why the Carriage Return?

“Why,” you may be wondering, “specify anything but a carriage return? Why not specify letters instead?” Well, we could have done that, using something like this:

Find what:

([A-z ]@, [A-z ]@, [A-z ]@, )[A-z ]@, (et al:)

Replace with:


That means:

any capital or lowercase letter or space ([A-z ])
repeated any number of times (@)
followed by a comma
followed by a space
And so on.

Such a wildcard string would find names like this:

Lyon J,

but not this:

Thaler-Carter R,

Yes, we could add a hyphen to our string, but then we start to wonder about other characters we might need to include, and then things get complicated again. And besides, it’s true that we don’t want to include carriage returns in our search, so it makes sense to exclude them. If we tried to simplify too far, we might use this:

Find what:

(*, *, *, )*, (et al:)

Replace with:


The problem with using the asterisk wildcard (*) is that it finds any character any number of times, including tabs, spaces, carriage returns, and everything else you can think of. Sometimes that’s useful, but more often it just leads to confusion. We want to keep things simple but not too simple.

Why Wildcard

To return to our original problem: Rich could have removed all those extra names one at a time, by hand, which is doing it the hard way and eats into the profit line — remember that time is money. Microsoft Word includes powerful tools for doing things the easy way, so why not learn them and use them? If you’ve read this far, you’re doing that, so congratulations.

If you’d like to learn more about how to use wildcard searches, you can download my free paper “Advanced Find and Replace in Microsoft Word.” Working through the paper requires some thought and effort, but the payoff is huge.

Coming Soon

I hope you’ll watch for my forthcoming Wildcard Cookbook for Microsoft Word. I’m still trying to find more real-life examples for the book, so if you have some particularly sticky problems that might be solved using a wildcard search, I hope you’ll send them my way. Maybe I can save you some work and at the same time figure out solutions that will help others in the future. Thanks for your help!

For EditTools Users

If you are a user of EditTools, you can manually create the find and replace strings in the Wildcard Find & Replace macro and then save the macro for future use. However, to do so you need to enter the Find string slightly differently:

Find Field #1: [!^013]@, [!^013]@, [!^013]@,
Find Field #2: [!^013]@,
Find Field #3: et al:

Note that you omit the parens for grouping because EditTools automatically inserts them, which means that you break the string into its group components. (IMPORTANT: Be sure to include in Find Fields 1 and 2 the ending space, i.e., the space following the final comma, which is not visible above.)

Because EditTools treats each of the three fields as a group, your Replace string is:

Replace Field #1: \1
Replace Field #2: \3

After manually entering the information in each of the fields, click Add to WFR Dataset and save this macro for future use. Next time you need it, just click Retrieve from WFR Dataset, retrieve this string, and run it. That is one of the advantages to using EditTools’ Wildcard Find & Replace — you can write a wildcard macro once and reuse it as many times as you need without having to recreate the macro each time.

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

Looking for a Deal?

You can buy EditTools in a package with PerfectIt and Editor’s Toolkit at a special savings of $78 off the price if bought individually. To purchase the package at the special deal price, click Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate.


May 25, 2015

Worth Noting: Be a Better Freelancer – The 2015 Must-Do Conference

Be a Better Freelancer™ — Take It to the 10th!

AAE Subscribers Get the Best Deal
on Conference Registration!

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

“Be a Better Freelancer™–Take It to the 10th!” arrives September 25–26, 2015 in Rochester, NY, and celebrates Communication Central’s 10th annual Build Your Communications Business conference, with both new presenters and familiar faces, all offering new takes and topics aimed at helping participants be more productive, efficient, effective, and successful. And because Rich Adin, An American Editor, has been such a huge help over the years in various aspects of the Communication Central conference for freelancers, An American Editor subscribers are being offered the best rate for this year’s event.

(To take advantage of this offer, go to the registration website and use this password: 4AAEonly. The countdown begins; in 37 days this offer expires.)

The “AAE Special”

The “AAE Special” is twofold: Not only do An American Editor subscribers get a break on the conference cost, but you also get an opportunity to pick Rich’s brain in person in first-ever one-on-one business coaching sessions for free! If there is enough interest, Rich will make himself available in 45-minute segments for up-close and personal insights into making your freelance business better — an ideal accompaniment to the overall conference offerings, all aimed at helping you Be a Better Freelancer. You decide the topics you want to discuss with Rich; there are no set topics — the session is intended to help you with your specific business-related problems.

Special Rate Ends in 37 Days

The “AAE Special” ends in 37 days, on June 30, so be sure to move fast — especially if you want to be schedule a one-on-one private coaching session with Rich Adin! To register for the conference and the coaching session, go to the registration website and use this password: 4AAEonly.

Why Attend?

Why attend this event? Because you won’t find a better environment for getting to know and learn from colleagues in a variety of freelancing areas. Unlike other events, the Communication Central conference affords you an opportunity to enjoy a level of quality time with presenters and attendees that you won’t experience elsewhere.

Today’s e-mail and online interaction is invaluable, but meeting colleagues in person can’t be beat. You won’t just learn about ways to improve your freelancing skills and overall business; you will make connections that are likely to lead to new projects with the people you meet at the event — just ask past attendees (many of whom come year after year to this conference because of the valuable information they gain and connections they make).


This year’s conference will be held at the downtown Hyatt Hotel in Rochester, NY. Reservation information is included in the conference registration form.

Once you decide to attend, I suggest making your hotel reservation quickly. The conference weekend coincides with the end of a local film festival and rooms are likely to be at a premium as we get closer to September. (Should the conference hotel rooms get snapped up, there are three other properties within a block away: a new Hilton Gardens Inn, a Radisson, and the former Rochester Plaza, now a Crowne Plaza. It also might be possible to bunk with local colleagues or share hotel rooms with other conference-goers. Let me know if you’d like to try one of those options.)

For Information About the Conference

For more information about conference session topics and presenters, go to the Communication Central website.

To take advantage of the AAE Special, go to the special registration page for An American Editor subscribers now and lock in your AAE rate! (Remember to use the password: 4AAEonly.)

Have a question? Either ask it here at An American Editor or contact me directly.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

Note and Disclaimer from An American Editor

I have no financial interest in the conference. In exchange for my offering the one-on-one sessions, my room, board, and travel costs will be reimbursed. Otherwise, I receive absolutely no compensation from this conference. I promote the conference and allow its promotion because I consider it a very valuable resource for colleagues, based on my own attendance over the years. I receive no compensation for permitting this conference promotion on AAE or for any promotion I do of the conference.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

May 20, 2015

Editing for Clarity

The primary role of an editor is to help an author clearly communicate. The test is whether a reader has to stop and puzzle out meaning. Consider this example from “The Birth of a Nation” by Dick Lehr (2014, p. 29):

The majority of Kentucky families — perhaps only one in six, according to one account — did not own slaves, and the plantation model was not widely established.

(The book is an excellent look at D.W. Griffith’s movie “Birth of a Nation” and its effect on race relations at the beginning of the 20th century.)

Are you confused by the quote? I know I was when I read it. I eventually figured out what the author intended, but this quote is ripe for editorial intervention.

What causes the problem is the em-dash bracketed phrase “perhaps only one in six, according to one account.” When I first read the sentence, I thought “one in six is not a majority. Does the author mean one in six families did not own slaves or that one in six families did own slaves? The context made it clear that the author meant that only one in six families owned slaves, but the sentence permits other interpretations.

If I were the book’s editor, I would have flagged this sentence for review. I would have queried the author and suggested several alternatives. For example:

Only a small minority of Kentucky families — perhaps only one in six, according to one account — owned slaves, and the plantation model was not widely established.


The majority of Kentucky families — perhaps five in six, according to one account — did not own slaves, and the plantation model was not widely established.


The majority of Kentucky families — perhaps only one in six owned slaves, according to one account — did not own slaves, and the plantation model was not widely established.

Each alternative is, I think, clearer (with the first two alternatives better than the third) and better puts across the author’s meaning without interrupting the reading flow. And this is what an editor does — help the author hone her prose.

The question is this: Is this the job of a copyeditor?

The answer is difficult. I think clients do not distinguish between types of editors very well and see editorial roles as blurred, ill-defined. Editors, themselves, similarly blur those lines of separation, making client expectations as to what an editor will do different from what the editor expects to do.

Fundamentally, the role of every editor is to help an author reach the author’s readers. Clarity of expression is the understood key to a successful author–reader relationship; copyeditors address questions of grammar and spelling, which are essential to clarity, so addressing sentence construction does not seem outside the bounds of the copyeditor’s responsibilities. I know that I include sentence construction in my editing.

What I do not include as part of copyediting is reorganization; that is a developmental editor’s job. Organization is a time-consuming job and requires multiple readings of a manuscript. Copyediting is very time-sensitive, with the schedule being too short to permit developmental editing. Sentence construction is, however, another matter.

Copyeditors are responsible for ensuring clarity. It is not that we need to rewrite every sentence to make every sentence the best it can be; rather, it is that we need to rewrite or suggest rewriting of sentences that are not clear, that interrupt the flow of reading and require a reader to momentarily halt and devote time to determining what the author intends.

The appropriate role for a copyeditor is to query a poorly constructed sentence and suggest a fix. There are times when all we can do is query because the fix is elusive; over my years of editing I have encountered many sentences that I could not guess what the author meant and thus could not suggest a fix. Much more often, I could suggest a simple fix.

Sometimes the fix is a change in punctuation or the substitution of a word or two; sometimes the fix is much more complex. Whatever the fix, we demonstrate our value to our clients by identifying problems and suggesting cures (when possible). That is the role of the professional editor — to help the author communicate clearly by identifying unclear passages and by suggesting alternatives.

Do you agree?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

May 18, 2015

Compromise and Expectations — A Clash in the Making

Filed under: Editorial Matters,Professional Editors — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , ,

I was reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Engineer’s Lament” (The New Yorker, May 4, 2015), an article I highly recommend, when I came across this quote (p. 48 of the print version):

No one tells you to build a perfect car. People tell you to build a car in eighteen months that will sell for twenty-five thousand dollars.…[I]mperfections and compromise are inevitable.

If I were to write that quote for my editing business (and I suspect your editing business, too), it would read something like this:

Clients tell you to build a perfect manuscript. Clients tell you to edit a manuscript of one thousand pages in seven days that will be error-free and cost less than one thousand dollars.…[I]mperfections and compromise are unacceptable.

I wish I could say I was exaggerating, but I am not. I am finding that client demands are increasingly impossible. I try to be politic when responding to clients, but sometimes I just want to scream in frustration.

Recently, I worked on a book that had I known was going to be as much trouble as it became, I would have refused the project at any price. Not only was the schedule difficult, which I knew upfront, but the client became increasingly difficult as the project progressed.

I would turn in a chapter and two weeks later I would receive the chapter back with the in-house “editor’s” comments. I put editor in quotes because if the person is a qualified editor, he hides those qualifications very well.

Did the editor catch some errors? Yes, he did. In one 120+-page chapter he found a serial comma I missed. And he also found a few other minor errors. But when berating me for missing those errors, he ignored (or refused to recognize) that to meet the schedule, I had to edit 400 to 450 pages per week, that the authors of the chapter were not native English speakers/writers, and that the editing of the chapter was very extensive with significant rewriting. For the client, the key was that the editing wasn’t perfect.

Compounding my exasperation was all the time I had to spend explaining why, for example, a phrase was sometimes hyphenated and sometimes not hyphenated. I ultimately learned that it was decided by the client’s in-house editorial team that either a phrase was always hyphenated or never hyphenated and thus they changed the editing and assigned this as to editor’s error.

Which made me think of “The Engineer’s Lament” — editors are expected to be perfect but engineers are not.

I’ve decided not to accept work from this client again because the client is a very-high maintenance client. I wouldn’t mind so much if I thought the client’s in-house editorial staff had a good grasp of editing, language, and grammar — but my discussions with them indicated they do not.

The problems begin, I think, with the expectation of perfection. For there to be perfection in editing, there must be inflexibility. There must be a rule that is always applicable, in all circumstances, that is never deviated from, such as the client’s rule that a phrase is either always hyphenated or never hyphenated, not sometimes hyphenated depending on how it is used. There may be languages in which such a rule exists, but that language is certainly not U.S. English.

Once a client starts thinking in terms of perfection, the editor is bound to fail. Too much of editing is opinion for perfection to be achievable. What we can achieve can come close, but how close depends on many factors that are independent of but greatly influence editing. One example is schedule.

Schedule is interesting because clients set an editing schedule based on another schedule of which editing is but a part. It is best described as a schedule within a schedule within a schedule. Editing must be done by a certain date in order to meet a typesetting schedule that has to be completed by a certain date so as to meet a printing schedule, which has to be completed by a certain date to meet a marketing schedule. The concern is not for the difficulty of the editing but for how the editing schedule helps meet the other schedules. How quickly and accurately a manuscript can be edited depends on the quality of the writing, the subject matter, what the editor is expected to do in addition to spelling and grammar, whether the authors are native writers of the language involved, and myriad other things. But clients rarely consider any (or, at best, no more than one or two) of these dependencies when setting a schedule.

When an engineer is given a schedule, it is recognized that to meet the schedule means compromises have to be made. When editors are given a schedule, compromise on quality is not a consideration. That there has to be compromises means there will be a clash between editor and client. Usually the compromise is satisfactory to both parties. It is when the parties clash that there needs to be a reevaluation of the relationship — and when the editor should decide whether to continue with the client.

I try to get clients understand that perfection in editing is a goal that is nearly impossible to meet because so much in editing is opinion based and controlled by schedule. Usually clients understand and accept this; when a client does not, trouble is brewing. Much of the trouble can be averted with an appropriate schedule.

What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

May 15, 2015

Video Interlude: Shoelace + Hole

Filed under: A Humor Interlude,A Video Interlude — americaneditor @ 6:29 am
Tags: , , ,

The impression a grandparent likes to give grandchildren is that of a Renaissance genius — that grandpa is the Michelangelo of the 21st century. When the grandchildren ask a question (especially when the grandchildren are very young), we want to be their encyclopedia. After all, how difficult is it to explain a light-year to a three-year-old? Haven’t yet tried? Well, are you in for a surprise!

But even explaining what are surely simple things, can turn a grandparent’s world upside-down. For example, what do you say when asked: “Poppy, what are the extra [shoelace] holes for in my sneakers?” Well, that’s a stumper? I have to admit that in all my years, I never once thought about those holes — I just ran my laces through them and walked on. It wasn’t a mystery that consumed hours of my time to solve, but it turns out I should have been more curious.

Here is the answer in case you get asked:

You’ll never be stymied by that question again and have expanded your knowledge base — exactly what a professional editor should do.

We now return to our regular editorial programming…

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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