An American Editor

January 26, 2015

On the Basics: A Love of Editing

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On the Basics: A Love of Editing

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

I love editing! That always surprises me a bit, because I think of myself as a writer first and foremost, and I certainly started my professional life as a writer. If I had to choose between being a writer and being an editor, I’d probably choose writing — after all, my slogan is “I can write about anything!”® and my website is writerruth.com — but I’m glad that I don’t have to choose.

Writing is creating. When I write something, I’m making something new — a new product, a new piece of information. What I write is unique, because no one else has exactly the same experiences, perspectives, research input, and voice as I do. I can put myself into what I write, as well as the essence of whoever or whatever I’m writing about, either invisibly through my writing voice or more obviously through — when and where appropriate — by including my opinions or experiences.

Editing is fixing, revising, changing, (ideally) improving, correcting, (sometimes) enhancing. It isn’t creating something new, although it is adding new elements to someone else’s written creation. It’s a partnership. There is something fulfilling, on a different level, in helping a colleague or client hone a piece of writing work until it communicates clearly and concisely what that person had in mind. Even if all I do is catch one egregious typo or dangling modifier, I contribute as an editor to the quality of other people’s work and to their ability to get messages across effectively. That feels great.

Editing and proofreading the works of other people has had a positive effect on my writing, by making me more careful and thorough in what I create and how it reaches a client. Being a writer has made me a better editor and proofreader, by making me more sensitive to how a client might respond to my changes or comments, and sometimes by understanding how someone might have come up with something I suggest changing.

I absorbed the essentials of grammar, usage, punctuation, and spelling through being an avid reader from a very young age; growing up in a bilingual (German and English) household; having an excellent early education that emphasized the basics; and learning three other languages — French, Spanish and the formal aspects of German as opposed to what I had picked up at home. A sixth-grade teacher inculcated more of the formal guidelines, using diagramming sentences and frequent drills to an extent that pushed the information into my subconscious. Thanks to her training, I know how to fix clunky writing, although without always being able to quote a specific grammar rule to defend the fix. (I do know how to use the appropriate style manuals, but there’s a built-in grounding that is part of my core being.)

I learned to be fairly objective about my writing work and to appreciate being edited from a tough, demanding, but very fair high school English teacher, first in her “Critical Reading and Writing” class and then in her Advanced Placement English class. Through her teaching and critiquing approaches, I developed stronger skills in recognizing and fixing structural problems, inconsistency, disorganization, and basic errors. Even though I didn’t think of becoming an editor at that stage of life, I started realizing that writing, even writing well, isn’t enough; editing is essential to crafting work that readers will understand, appreciate, even act upon.

I started editing informally, noticing and fixing errors as I typed papers for classmates in college. When I joined the newspaper staff at my second college, I became part of a small group of colleagues who were passionate about writing and cared about quality in what we published, but had little training in editing. We were at a school that didn’t have a journalism program, so we were pretty much on our own for all aspects of putting the newspaper together. I learned about hands-on editing by being named editor of the arts page, even though I still thought of myself  primarily as a writer.

I managed to incorporate writing and editing into early jobs in community relations until I fell into a wonderful reporting job with a weekly newspaper — wonderful because of the variety and scope of what I could write about, and because of the additional responsibilities I could take on. No one had any real professional training, so I got involved with editing and proofreading as well as writing because I was the one who cared the most about quality as well as content and who had the best editing or proofreading skills.

I found that I enjoyed all three activities. Being able to do all of them meant I had more future opportunities, even if at primarily smaller organizations. Bigger companies and publications tend to “compartmentalize” activities more than smaller ones — a writer is a writer, an editor is an editor, a proofreader is a proofreader, and ne’er the three shall combine.

Time has brought me to a point where my freelance work is a satisfying combination of writing, editing, and proofreading, along with the occasional presentation. If I weren’t doing the editing and proofreading, I’d have to work harder at finding more writing work, so developing my editing and proofreading skills may have reduced the amount of writing I do, but I can live with that tradeoff.

Going from in-house to freelance has meant even greater opportunities to apply writing, editing, and proofreading skills to an increasingly wide range of projects, topics, and clients. And to continually develop and improve those skills as well — over the years, I’ve found ways to enhance my editing instincts and skills more formally.

As I embark on the new year, I’ll be looking for new projects in both writing and editing. Oh, and proofreading, too. The prospect of continuing to combine these communications skills is an exciting one. I’m very lucky to still feel such excitement about my work after all these years — which may well be a topic for another column here.

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.

January 21, 2015

On Politics: Thinking About Charlie

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

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

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

Responsibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hypocrisy

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

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

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

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

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

The Failure of the Social Compact

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Adin, An American Editor

January 19, 2015

Thinking Fiction: The Style Sheets — Part I: General Style

The Style Sheets — Part I: General Style

by Amy J. Schneider

So you’ve completed the first-pass read-through of the manuscript. Now you’re ready to get into the thick of things and do your main-pass edit. Let’s get to it!

Of course, as for a nonfiction copyedit, you will compile a style sheet. If a style sheet is available from a previous book by that author or a previous book in the series, use that as your starting point. (See my essay, “The First Pass — Just Read It!,” for more on reviewing previous style sheets.) I actually maintain four style sheets (general style, characters, places, and timeline) for each fiction edit for ease of navigation, although if you would like to combine the four sections I use into one document, go right ahead. Or you can keep them separate and combine them into one document when the edit is finished. Over the next four essays I will discuss the style sheets I keep in a little more detail.

General Style Sheet

In fiction as in nonfiction, we need to track the basics, such as treatment of numbers, abbreviations, punctuation, typography (use of italics and other font attributes), usage, and, of course a general word list. The Chicago Manual of Style is one of several standard style guides in book publishing, but the rules in fiction are looser than in nonfiction and thus Chicago — and any other style guide — should be considered more a guide than a collection of hard-and-fast rules. And, as I’ve mentioned earlier, there is much more leeway for style in fiction because the author is creating a mood and telling a story. (Imagine how flavorless The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would be if it had been edited to be one hundred percent grammatically correct!)

Numbers

Most of the time in fiction, numbers will be spelled out, especially in dialogue, but as always there are exceptions. Phone numbers (particularly 911, the emergency number), years, decimals, vehicle designations (such as aircraft call signs), and weapon names (AK-47) and calibers are usually presented in digits. In general, use digits for numbers that would become unwieldy if spelled out. Common entries on my style sheet include heights (five-foot-one, six four), time (eight thirty, 6:27 a.m.), highway numbers (Route 28, the 101), decades (the seventies), clothing sizes (size eight) and room numbers (room 307). (The examples I’ve given here are just that — examples — rather than rules about how to style these. Again, each book might use a different style, with house style and author preference as factors.) I’ll delve into numbers in more detail in a future article.

Abbreviations

Abbreviations used in a novel might be those used in the real world (GPS, FYI) as well as invented ones from the fictional world in the novel (names of organizations, slang terms). I generally include them whether they have been spelled out or not, simply to clarify what they stand for. (Unlike nonfiction, there is no need to spell out every acronym for the edification of the reader. Context is key.)

Punctuation

Most authors will use the serial comma, but some prefer to omit it. Make a note! (And indicate that it’s the author’s preference. I use “(au pref)” after any such item. In my work, the publisher informs me of author preferences for certain terms or style choices, either in the cover note or on a previous style sheet.) The same is true for ellipses (some authors use the 3-dot ellipse only). I’ve had a few authors who said, “No semicolons.” This section is also where I note general forms of punctuation, so I can find them easily, instead of putting a specific term in the alphabetical word list. For example, I put “fifth-grader (n)” here instead of under F in the general word list because I want to show how I’m treating this word form instead this specific word. Other examples of things I track here include color terms (whether and when to hyphenate forms such as black-and-white, silver-gray, reddish orange, and sky blue), whether to set off words such as too, either, and anyway with commas (many authors have a preference), and possessives of names ending in -s. (I recently had an author who specified apostrophe-only for possessives of names ending in -s or -z. So I maintained that style for words such as Chris’ and Buzz’. It went against my grain, but it was the author’s stated preference, approved by the publisher. So on the style sheet it went, with the “(au pref)” tag.)

This is also a good place to note unusual punctuation used in dialogue: ’cause, ag’in, I’mma.

Typography

Direct thought, indirect thought, imagined dialogue, mouthed dialogue, remembered speech, telepathic dialogue, words as words or sounds, letters as letters or shapes or academic grades, signs, handwriting, text messages, e-mails, typed text, computer commands, foreign terms: these can be treated in many different ways. Italic? Small caps? Caps and small caps? A special character style in the client’s template? Roman, in quotation marks? All caps? Initial caps? Title case? Note it here.

A common consideration in fiction is how to treat terms of address and epithets. Generally, generic terms used to address someone that are not an established nickname for that person are lowercased: sweetheart, pumpkin, my dear, ma’am, jerkface. Occupational titles used in place of a name are often capped (but not always!): Doctor, Officer, Lieutenant. The same is true for temporary epithets: Mr. Wonderful, Crazy Homeless Guy.

Usage

Note any firm usage preferences here: whether to distinguish between that/which, further/farther, each other/one another, and the like. (These would usually apply mainly to omniscient narrative, as first-person narrative and dialogue are frequently left as is rather than conformed to “correct” usage, unless the character would be expected to use it.) An excellent usage reference is Garner’s Modern American Usage.

Miscellaneous

Ah, “Miscellaneous,” the junk drawer of the style sheet. In fiction I use this primarily for terms that don’t fit in other places: fictional and real items such as organization names, publications, historical events, special terms such as magical commands, and so on.

General Word List

The word list is pretty much the same as for nonfiction, with some additions. Here I note any British spellings and foreign terms, treatment of slang terms (dammit or damn it?) trademarks (real or fictional), sounds and interjections (uh-huh, uh-oh, for gosh sakes), and so on, as well as the usual sorts of terms one might include on a nonfiction word list. I also note any variants from dictionary spellings that the author may prefer (again, with the “(au pref)” label). In invented worlds, such as in fantasy novels, unconventional capping is much more prevalent: the Sight, She (referring to an exalted character), Before (referring to an earlier era). The word list is a good place to note terms such as these.

In Coming Essays…

In coming essays, I’ll delve into each of these areas in more detail. Hopefully, this article has given you a good overview. Next month: tracking character attributes.

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

January 16, 2015

A Good Deal (Maybe): Jet

I know many of you do not read BusinessWeek, so I thought I would bring this to your attention. This has nothing to do with editing or any editorial service; instead, it has to do with potentially good deals for us as consumers.

(Disclosure: I have nothing to do with Jet.com except that I am interested in giving it a try and have signed up to be notified when it goes live.)

Everyone thinks of Amazon when it comes to low prices and great customer service. For customer service, Amazon has become the benchmark. As many of you know, I am not a fan of Amazon because of the way it conducts business with vendors and competitors, particularly in the book world, which is my business world. So I avoid buying from Amazon whenever possible; I am even willing to pay a bit more to support an Amazon competitor.

But it looks like Amazon will soon have some serious competition: Jet.com. I found BusinessWeek‘s cover story fascinating, and decided to put my name on Jet.com‘s notification list. You should take the time to read “Amazon Bought This Man’s Company. Now He’s Coming for Them“; if you want to get quickly to “how it will work,” scroll down the article to the explanatory graphic, “How Jet.com works.”

Whether it will ultimately prevail or succeed, I have no idea, but I will check out Jet.com when it opens for business in March. It will especially be nice if I can get office supplies more cheaply.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

January 14, 2015

Dealing with Editor’s Bias

The one thing, aside from my being a professional editor and not just an editor, that I like to think I am is bias-free. Of course, that is more wishful thinking than reality.

Reality runs more like this: Every editor is biased. The important question is: Do I recognize my biases? If I do not recognize my biases, I fail to provide the quality and level of service my client pays me for.

Which raises another question: Is there a relationship between bias control and fee being earned? That is, is a high-paying client entitled to greater effort on my part to control my biases than is a low-paying client?

From the beginning — every editor is biased. We have subject-matter biases, client biases, and editorial biases, among a world of other biases. Client and subject-matter biases are easily dealt with: we simply do not (hopefully) undertake projects in areas we abhor or from clients we cannot stand. For most of us, the problematic area is editorial biases.

One of my editorial biases is “due to.” How I hate that phrase. Yes, it does have a proper place and use, and then it should be crowned king. But authors use “due to” to mean so many different things that it has come to represent the sign of a lazy author. The author may be brilliant — a genius in the field — but the author who uses due to as a substitute is lazy. And to my way of thinking, the editor who (speaking nonfiction, not fiction) doesn’t try to replace the vagueness of “due to” with the more precise and accurate term it is substituting for is even lazier than the author.

There are at least 20 alternatives for “due to” and each alternative carries important connotations and levels of precision. The point is that I know I have a bias against the use of “due to” and instead want more precise language used so that the reader does not have to guess at which alternative is meant.

I also prefer precision in time; I have a time bias. For example, I dislike when an author writes “in recent years” or “in the past 20 years.” Using this type of time reference allows the time to shift. The shift occurs because the reference was made when the author was writing the sentence, which could have been 5 years ago or 2 days ago, but doesn’t allow for the passage of time since the writing of those words, or for the editing and production time until publication, or for the book’s expected several-year shelf-life.

There are other words I have a bias against, such as “since” as a substitute for “because” and “about” as a substitute for “approximately.” Many of us also have biases when it comes to hyphenation (is it “co-author” or “coauthor”? “copy-edit” or “copyedit”?). I am aware of my biases and try to be judicious in my application of the biases. Where it doesn’t affect understanding or meaning, I weigh whether or not to act on my bias. Quite often that decision is made based on the subject matter and complexity of the book I am editing.

Yet, there is one more constraint on the exercise of my biases: Can I justify my decision to act/not act? Justification does not include “I like it better” or “It looks better to me.” Clearly, “due to” is liked better and looks better to the author. My justification for changing “due to” is grounded in clarity/precision versus vagueness/imprecision.

Yet, in discussions with colleagues, I find that the answer depends on whether what I view as editorial biases are viewed as a bias or as basic grammar/editing matters. That is, if the colleague believes that word choice is not a matter of bias but purely a matter of usage or grammar, the colleague sees no reason to either think about the issue or to exercise control. Thus, in the case of “due to,” the colleague would rarely, if ever, change or query its use. For such colleague, “since” is always properly used to convey the passing of time and as meaning “because.”

I asked earlier if there is a relationship between my control of my biases and the fee paid by the client. The answer is “no.” Regardless of how much I am being paid, I should always control my biases because my role is to help the author, not substitute for the author. From an ethical perspective, “no” is the only correct answer.

For colleagues who do not view these things as editorial biases, the question does not arise. It only arises for those of us who take the time to consider whether “since” is being used to convey a sense of time or as a substitute for “because.” It becomes an issue for us because the longer we take in deciding what “due to” is substituting for, the less money we will earn if we are on a per-page or project fee rather than an hourly basis.

A final thought: To do a proper editing job, we need to create and maintain a project stylesheet. It is appropriate to include in the stylesheet the “rules” we are following when it comes to our biases. Alternatively, we could insert a note, in the form of a query, at the first instance in which we explain the rule we are following. For example, the following could be used either as a note to the author or as a stylesheet explanation:

Although in today’s English “since” and “because” are considered synonymous, I adhere to the rule that “since” is used to express the passage of time, as in “since 2000,” and the terms are not synonymous. I adhere to this rule because I believe it makes your meaning both clearer and more precise, and considering the subject matter, clarity and precision are important tools for ensuring there is no miscommunication between you and your reader.

Do you recognize your editorial biases? How do you deal with them?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

January 12, 2015

The Proofreader’s Corner: Editorial Business Promotion — Four Mistakes to Avoid

Editorial Business Promotion —
Four Mistakes to Avoid

by Louise Harnby

Wrong and right aren’t words I’m particularly comfortable with when it comes to marketing, given how many different approaches we can take. Nevertheless, there are four basic mistakes that should be avoided when launching an editorial business.

Mistake 1: Not Actually Doing Any Marketing

Here are three ideas that I think it’s important to embrace when launching an editorial business:

  • All businesses should have a marketing strategy
  • All successful businesses do have a marketing strategy
  • If you don’t make yourself interesting and discoverable to potential clients, they won’t know that you can solve their problems

Let’s say that I’ve completed the relevant training, acquired the kit I need, worked out who my target clients are, notified the tax authorities of my business plans, acquired some experience via my mentor, designed my stationery templates, created my accounting spreadsheet, and hired a professional designer to produce a fabulous logo.

Now I need the clients. That means they need to be able to find me and I need to be able to find them. If ne’er the twain meet, I’m unemployed. Being discoverable is the first step to the success of any business, editorial or otherwise, because it bridges the gap between the services we offer and the people who need them. The second step is being interesting enough to retain the potential customer’s attention. Having found us, our potential clients need to feel they want to go further and actually hire us to solve their problems.

If you’re an inexperienced marketer, and feel nervous about the process, take a look at the marketing archive on my blog, The Proofreader’s Parlour; look at Rich Adin’s marketing archive here on An American Editor; explore KOKEdit’s Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base, especially the article Marketing Tips for Freelancers; and read my book Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business (there’s a sample marketing plan in the final section to guide you).

No matter how much the thought of actively promoting your editorial business sends shivers up your spine, to not do so is a mistake. Marketing your business gives you opportunity and choice. It puts you in a position where, over time, you can develop the client base, pricing strategy, service portfolio and income stream that you require and desire.

Mistake 2: Marketing Via a Single Platform

Relying on only one particular channel to make yourself discoverable to your customers is better than not doing any marketing at all. But it’s hugely risky—if that platform fails, so do you.

One of my most valuable marketing assets is my website. It’s my shop front and it’s the only space in which I have complete control over the content and design. I’ve put a lot of effort into SEO so I rank highly in the search engines. I use Weebly as my host. But what if the folks at Weebly ran into some horrendous problem and the site was inaccessible for a few days, or even a few weeks? It’s unlikely to happen, but even if it did it wouldn’t be catastrophic because I don’t rely solely on my website for work leads. It’s simply one tool among several.

Another scenario is more likely. Imagine I used to work for a major academic publisher. Now that I’ve launched my new editorial business, I ask a former colleague who works in the journal production department if I can proofread for them. They agree. The publisher has a huge journal list and my colleague keeps me busy with as much proofreading as I need. I don’t solely work for this press (here in the UK, HM Revenue & Customs wouldn’t like that) but it the provider of my primary income stream. Then double disaster strikes — the press merges with a competitor, and my colleague is made redundant. He gets a job for another press, though his new role no longer requires him to hire editorial freelancers. I don’t know anyone in the newly merged organization (though rumor has it they’re taking journal proofreading in-house in order to cut costs) and my colleague can’t take me with him to his new press. I’m scuppered.

Even if you’ve been able to establish a couple of apparently stable and lucrative work streams, and you’ve found that one particular marketing platform or tool works well for you, take the time to investigate other channels. At the very least they’ll provide you with a backup. Moreover, by experimenting with new avenues, you may find that customers whom you’d been invisible to beforehand are now placing you on their radar. That means more opportunities and more choices.

Mistake 3: Focusing Attention in the Wrong Place

Some new entrants to the field can make the mistake of giving information that focuses potential clients’ attention in the wrong place.

Focus on stand-out statements: Imagine a well-educated material scientist who’s decided, for health reasons, to move out of the professional lab and work from home, copy-editing written materials relevant to his scientific educational and career background.

  • He’s a new entrant to the field of professional editing
  • He doesn’t have an extensive client list or portfolio
  • He has yet to acquire any paid work, though he has edited (on a gratis basis) two engineering theses for students he met through is workplace. He’s also edited and contributed a significant number of reports and papers, and been involved with the boards of several industry-recognized journals
  • He’s in the middle of a comprehensive copy-editing training course run by a recognized national provider
  • He considers advertising the fact that he can offer lower rates because he’s in the early stages of developing his editorial business

His clients don’t need to know most of the above because most of those facts don’t represent him in the best light. Instead, he should focus on his stand-out qualities:

  • He specializes in editing for students, academics and professional institutions
  • He has a BSc in Chemistry, an MChem in Chemistry with Nanotechnology, and a twenty-year career background in material science
  • His extensive scientific knowledge and experience enable him to copy-edit papers, books, journal articles and reports to an industry-required standard
  • He has contributed to and edited numerous reports for colleagues in his twenty-year career
  • He has published articles in Nano Today, Chemistry of Materials, Journal of Materials Chemistry A, and Materials Research Bulletin, and sat on the boards of The Journal of Materials Science (2003–2009) and Materials Today (2009–2012)
  • His rates are in line with those suggested by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders [or other professional editorial society] and the National Union of Journalists [or other recognized body]

If what you say doesn’t sell your business in a way that makes you interesting, recast your message. If you lack experience and an extensive portfolio, focus instead on positive selling points that make the customer feel confident about hiring you to solve their problems.

Our message needs to focus on the skills we have to offer, not those we’ve yet to acquire.

Sell your positives, not others’ negatives: It’s also imperative that your message does indeed focus on what you have to offer. Just case you are one of the few people on the planet who thinks that focusing on a competitor’s or colleague’s mishaps rather than your own skills is a good marketing strategy (I’m sure you’re not!), then this is a quick reminder that it’s disastrous in terms of PR. Why?

  1. Pointing out a competitor’s foibles focuses the client’s attention on the competitor’s business rather than your own.
  2. Such an approach destroys integrity, which leads to a lack of trust. And if they don’t trust you, they won’t hire you. We need to make ourselves interesting and visible rather than trying to make our competitors look incompetent and unworthy of discovery.

You might enjoy this article by Lauren Bacon, who considers the benefits for business owners who move away from critical thought processes (as well as actions), and turn instead towards a what-can-I-learn approach: “How Trashing Others Holds You Back.”

Mistake 4: Ignoring Traditional Marketing Methods

Before Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989, editorial professionals had to promote their businesses using telephone and postal services, face-to-face meetings, and onsite networking groups. These methods worked then, and they still work now—don’t make the mistake of ignoring them in the belief that they’re out-dated.

Social media profiles, websites, and emails are all excellent and immediate ways to make yourself discoverable. However, from the client’s point of view they are as easy to discard as they are to access, precisely because they are digital methods of contact.

A cleverly designed postcard can be tacked onto a wall; a targeted CV and covering letter can be read anywhere, even if there’s no internet connection, and held on file; a well-thought-out gift pack will be appreciated, talked about and used; and a business card can all be retained in a wallet, purse or card deck.

I’ve addressed in more detail the benefits of letter writing on the SfEP blog (“Don’t forget the “old” ways: marketing via letter writing“), and I’ve discussed custom card-giving here on AAE (“The Proofreader’s Corner: Giving Your Business Promotion the Personal Touch“). See also Rich Adin’s “The Business of Editing: Thinking Holidays“, an excellent guide to gifting.

Balancing immediacy and permanence is key to a well-rounded marketing strategy. By using a mixture of the two, you will enhance your visibility and spike your customer’s interest.

Summing up

  • Even if you’re nervous about the idea of actively promoting your business, don’t avoid it—make yourself discoverable to your clients so that, over time, you provide yourself with opportunities and choice.
  • Use a variety of channels to cover your back. That way you’ll minimize the chances of unexpectedly, and through no fault of your own, being without a work stream.
  • Make yourself interesting to your clients by drawing their attention to your business—the key skills and knowledge that you possess to help them solve their problems; the things about you that differentiate you, that make you stand out.
  • Use a combination of traditional and digital marketing tools so that your promotional campaigns have both immediacy and permanence.

Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.

January 10, 2015

Articles Worth Reading: Inside CryptoWall 2

A bit more than a year ago, I wrote about my experience with ransomware in “Business of Editing: URLs, Authors, & Viruses.” A week later, I followed it up with “Articles Worth Reading: More on Ransomware.” And just a few weeks ago, I wrote “The Business of Editing: Playing It Safe” in which I discussed Sandboxie.

Well, here we go again.

If you have been dithering about Sandboxie or similar protection, I encourage you to read “Inside CryptoWall 2.0: Ransomware, Professional Edition” from Ars Technica. As the article notes:

The installation components of CryptoWall 2.0 are cloaked by multiple levels of encryption, with three distinct stages of installation each using a different encryption method to disguise the components installed. And like many modern pieces of malware, CryptoWall 2.0 has a virtual machine check in its code that disables the attack when the malware is installed within a virtual instance—in part to prevent security researchers from isolating and analyzing its behavior.

The VM checker code, in the first stage of CryptoWall’s dropper sequence, checks the system for running processes, searching for VMware and VirtualBox services or the Sandboxie application partitioning library. If the coast is clear, the code does some best practices-based memory handling to release memory used in the initial drop mode, then launches another dropper disguised as a Windows Explorer process.

Note that before it tries to install itself, CryptoWall searches for a running process like Sandboxie. If it finds Sandboxie (or similar software) running, it doesn’t go any further; if it doesn’t find Sandboxie running, it proceeds to the next installation step.

Since I originally bought Sandboxie, the licensing has changed. Now you can buy a lifetime license for up to 3 home computers for $49.95 or for 5 computers for $74.95. For just 1 computer, the lifetime license is $34.95. For pricing information click here. (Again, I have no connection or interest in Sandboxie other than having bought a license for my computers.)

I think the price is cheap for the protection it affords. And contrary to popular belief, your antivirus and malware programs do not protect against ransomware. Although ransomware exploits holes in the operating system, it does not attack the operating system, which is what antivirus and malware programs protect against; ransomware attacks your data files — your Word documents, your text files, your picture files, and the like — by encrypting them, not destroying them.

If you haven’t yet checked out a program like Sandboxie, I encourage you to do so.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

January 7, 2015

The Business of Editing: Discounting Rates

It has been asked: Is discounting your rate ever justified? The answer is “yes, but not usually.” We have all been faced with the dilemma: Should we offer a discount in order to get the job? Or because the potential client is a student? Or [fill in the blank]? The answer is not easy. I begin where I always begin when it comes to rates — with the effective hourly rate (EHR). Discounting a rate is like setting a rate in that you must first know how much you have to earn to keep yourself afloat. It is neither very smart nor does you any good to earn less than your required EHR.

Many years ago I would have said that it is better to have some income than no income. That was in my days of not applying business practices to my business and not realizing the potential of my business. The truth is that it is not better to have some income than no income. It is only better if that income meets your required EHR. Note that I am speaking of required, not desired, EHR. I learned quickly that rather than take on work that was below my required EHR I was better served spending my time marketing myself, trying to find work that would meet my required EHR. This is also true when it comes to discounting my rate.

I never discount to a rate that is below my required EHR; I want to be able to pay my bills, which is something I will not be able to do if I do not meet my required EHR. There are several factors at play. First, before discounting my rate, I need to be earning overall more than my required EHR, and preferably close to my desired EHR. It is that difference — the difference between my earned EHR and my required EHR — that is the negotiable area.

Second, the client needs to be a repeating client. It does me no good financially to provide a discount to a one-off client, even if I think that client will tell friends and neighbors how great I am. The reason is that the one-off client will also tell friends and neighbors what he paid and the friends and neighbors will be expecting a similar discount. For repeat clients, especially institutional clients, I am willing to consider a discount because I know I can make up for the loss on the particular project on future projects or because it is worth my while to charge a little less in exchange for a larger volume of work. Which brings me to the third point.

Third, volume discounting is reasonable as long as the discount does not go below my required EHR. In the case of a volume client, I always keep in mind my Rule of Three (see “The Business of Editing: The Rule of Three“) as it will do me no particular good to have a lot of business that I am losing money on. But volume clients are what I want because such clients assure me year-round profitable work. In a sense we have gone full circle. Discounting one’s rate is acceptable in the circumstance that doing so does not bring the rate below one’s required EHR.

Where most of us part ways is with the other requirements. Usually the argument is that

  • it is a new subject area for me that I want to explore
  • the client is poor
  • the subject matter of the project is one that I am very interested in

and other similar “reasons.”

The first question to ask yourself is this: Are you a business or a charity? If you are a charity, then these reasons have some merit; if you are a business, these reasons have no merit. As a business, you need to earn enough to stay in business and even to earn a profit. Why remain in a business that cannot provide income sufficient for your needs?

The second question to ask yourself is this: If I undertake this project, will it preclude me from taking on a higher-paying project? If it will, then it should be avoided. Why take on a project that costs you both money and opportunity?

The third question to ask yourself is this: If I take on this project will I have the time and money and energy to market myself to better-paying potential clients? If no, then don’t take on this discounted project. Discounting is fine when you are in a position to do so, when your business is such that whatever loss you will take can be made up for. It is also fine when it is connected to volume. But under no circumstance is it fine to discount below your required EHR, which means you must have calculated your required EHR beforehand. (To calculate your required EHR, see the five-part series “Business of Editing: What to Charge.”)

One thing we haven’t considered is the worth/value of your editing. I consider myself a highly skilled professional. My services can make a difference. How valuable are those services? The more valuable they are, the less willingly they should be discounted. I differentiate my services by the price I charge and the quality I provide; discounting takes away that differentiation. And it becomes a slippery slope: If I discounted today, why not tomorrow? The consumer will neither understand nor accept the fine differences we use to distinguish among projects and clients; if my price was $x yesterday, the consumer expects it to be $x today and on both days expects high-quality service.

Are there times you can discount? Yes. Are there times when you should discount? Yes. The way your  recognize those times begins with knowing your required EHR and evaluating whether giving the discount will further a legitimate business interest. In the absence of either, no discounting should be given, and under no circumstance should a discount result in an EHR below your required EHR.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

A Video Interlude: The Lessons You Didn’t Remember Learning

Filed under: A Video Interlude — americaneditor @ 3:58 am
Tags: ,

My wife came across the following video and it is a very powerful statement of the wrong lessons we are taught by society. Other than urging you to watch and listen, nothing more needs to be said except kudos to these three teenagers.

Changing the World, One Word at a Time

 

Richard Adin, An American Editor

January 5, 2015

The Ethics of Editing: Padding the Bill

It has been a while since the last discussion on ethics (see “The Ethics of Editing: The Sour Job“) and I thought it is time to return to the topic of ethics in editing. Today’s first question, as asked by Teresa Barensfeld, is:

Is it ever okay to pad your hours if billing hourly?

The quick, concise, and precise answer is: In my view, no, it is never okay to pad one’s bill.

Analysis begins from this perspective: (a) If I were the client, would I expect a vendor to pad its bill? (b) Would I be happy with the vendor if the vendor padded its bill? (c) Is this how I want to be treated in every-day transactions — be told one price yet being charged a higher price than quoted? No matter how I twist and turn, I find that my answer is consistently “no.”

In the scenario at hand, the editor and the client have agreed upon an hourly rate which is supposed to represent actual hours worked. (This is why many editors do not work on an hourly basis; it is too limiting.) The client has certain expectations that presumably were discussed beforehand, such as how many hours the project is expected to take.

And that is where the problem lies. The editor assumed that the project would require a certain amount of hours only to discover that, for example, it took half the expected time. Now is when the question of padding arises. Does the editor bill for the expected number of hours or for the actual hours worked? Or does the editor bill for some number of additional hours, a number between actual hours spent and expected hours, or for actual hours?

If you hire a plumber to do some work and the plumber tells you the price is $100 an hour and that the job is expected to take 10 hours, but the job goes faster and only takes 5 hours, do you want to pay $500 or $1,000? I know that as the client I want to pay what was agreed: $100 an hour for the actual number of hours.

If that is my expectation in my personal transactions, on what basis would I assume or expect my client to willingly pay me for more than what was bargained: my actual time? In fact, we tend to separate our positions. When we are the consumer we expect vendors, which are typically companies, to behave in a manner that benefits us. And when we are the vendor, we want our clients to behave in a manner that benefits us, which means being willing to pay for expected time rather than actual time.

I view this question as being a fraction of the entire contract between myself and my client. My contract includes the scope of the work to be performed, the schedule for my performance, and the expected payment time frame, among other things. Consequently, if I expect my client to pay me timely as per our agreement, should not my client expect me to bill per our agreement?

The not-discussed questions, which arise from the original question, are these:

  1. What if the expectation is that the project will take no more than 100 hours but the editor is 75% done and has already reached the 100-hour mark?
  2. Does the expectation act as a billing ceiling?
  3. What are the editor’s obligations?
  4. The client’s obligations?
  5. What effect do the answers to these questions have on the answer to padding?

These questions need to be addressed but another day. Today, the focus is on padding. I see no justification for padding one’s bill. Yet the question appears to become more involved and the answer more complex when we consider the following variances (which Teresa Barensfeld raised as part of her padding question):

What if the client tells you that although it accepts your flat-fee price, because of the company’s accounts payable policy, you still have to bill by the hour, with the knowledge that the number of hours on your invoice is not the actual number of hours, but the number that will make the final amount equal your flat fee? What if the client told you this after you started the job?

In this situation, there has been a major/significant change in the project terms. We have gone from an agreed hourly rate to an agreed project fee (“flat fee”). This is a very major/significant change. The client’s expectation is that the project will cost $x, regardless of whether the project takes 5 hours or 50 hours to complete. (Worth noting is that there is no difference between a project fee and a per-page fee assuming that there is agreement upfront on what constitutes a page. In both instances, a project’s total cost is determinable in advance by a client and the client’s predetermined cost should match the editor’s predetermined fee.)

The quibble, and it is a quibble, is whether how a project needs to be invoiced (in this case in hours) makes a difference. My answer is “no, it makes no difference.” Some accounting systems need certain data to work correctly; it is simply a method for getting to the correct result. In the suggested scenario, preparing the invoices to reflect hours even if the editor didn’t actually work those hours, is just an accommodation to the client’s mechanical process. I would also add that the request is being made by the client, not the editor.

The distinction is not subtle — dare I use the word? The distinction is between fraud and no fraud. In the original circumstance where the agreement was $x per hour, the expectation was that editor would charge for actual hours worked. In such circumstance, padding amounts to fraud (deceit, if you prefer). In the current circumstance, the client is being asked to pay the exact amount agreed upon, thus no fraud/deceit. There is no padding.

And in this instance the agreed-upon flat fee acts as a ceiling. It does not matter whether it takes the editor 5 hours, 50 hours, or 150 hours to complete the project — the total cost to the client remains the same. Of course, we run into the same questions should the editor determine that the project is taking longer than expected and the editor wants to add to the agreed-upon fee for those additional hours.

The ending question (“What if the client told you this after you started the job?”) makes no difference in my estimation. This is simply an accounting procedure because that is how the client’s system is set up. There is no dispute regarding the fee to be paid/charged. Ultimately, that is the issue: Is a dispute about the amount to be paid created by the editor’s actions? If yes, then there may be an ethical question; if no, then there is no ethical question (assuming the method for calculating the fee is itself legal and ethical).

So, my answer is that padding is always unethical (and tantamount to fraud) but accommodating a client’s request to bill for the agreed-upon sum in a certain way because the client’s accounting system requires it is not unethical in the situation presented.

Do you agree?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

(Do you have questions about ethics that you would like to see discussed? You can either ask them in comments to this essay or drop me an email with the question[s].)

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