An American Editor

April 27, 2020

On the Basics — Contracts, pro and con

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of questions about contracts between authors and editors (or other editorial freelancers and other prospective clients) — should we use them, what should go into them, how do we implement them, do we need attorneys to create them, and so on and so on.

Plenty of editors say they’ve never needed contracts in their work with individual authors. I’m glad for them; I’ve also had good luck with clients who didn’t have contracts and whose projects went smoothly enough that I didn’t regret not asking them to sign one of my own. For the most part, though, I think it’s smart to have something along the lines of a contract between service provider (editor) and client (author, publisher, organization, publication, company, university, etc.).

The con

One reason, and probably the only valid reason, not to have a contract for working with a new client is that some people are scared off by the very concept of “a contract.” It seems so … legalistic … so serious … so untrusting or suspicious. Asking for or offering a contact apparently comes across as expecting problems to arise at some point in the relationship.

One of the telecommunications companies even uses that perspective by boasting that they don’t require contracts for their services, making it look like an advantage for the consumer over providers that do. The problem? The consumer doesn’t have any protection against rate increases, service reductions and other issues that can arise during the life of the relationship.

The pro

And there’s the concern: Not having a contract with a client means that neither party has any protection in case there’s a problem. It can be worth the effort to explain to a reluctant client that a contract protects both you and the client. It gives you protection against the client not paying, paying very slowly or adding to the project without additional compensation, among other potential issues, but it also protects the client against the freelancer not doing the work as expected. Not that any of us would do that, of course, but it’s something to use to reassure the client.

The process

With the disclaimer that I am not an attorney, the good news is that a contract doesn’t have to be complicated or heavily legalistic. It can take the form of a letter of agreement or a checklist, or even a confirming e-mail message. You can ask the client to sign and return the agreement, or use language like “Unless I hear otherwise by Date X, this will constitute our agreement/contract.”

And speaking of e-mail, a contract nowadays doesn’t have to be on paper. A chain of e-mail messages describing the project and setting out and agreeing to the parameters can be treated as a contract. Just be sure to include language like “As we discussed and agreed, I will do such-and-such for this amount by that date …” — and to save those back-and-forth messages, just in case.

Contract details

What should go into a contract for editing services? Here’s a checklist I use to identify what I’m expected to do (for writing assignments, I include number of interviews and who provides the interview sources).


Scope (topic and length)

Fee or rate (per hour, word, page, project, etc.)

Definition of page

Payment policy and timing


Number of passes

Number of revisions (for writing projects)

Fee or rate for additional work beyond original scope


Mediation jurisdiction if any problems

What you don’t need or should try not to agree to

One reason contract questions come up is the increasing tendency of clients to include draconian terms in current contracts, especially businesses and companies that aren’t used to working with freelance editors. The most-common one is expecting the freelancer or independent contractor to have liability insurance. Something like errors and omissions coverage might make sense for an investigative journalist, but editors rarely need something like liability coverage. That kind of policy is usually intended for situations where the contractor works onsite at the client’s office or property, uses heavy equipment on the client’s behalf or project, has subcontractors, and otherwise is likely to have access to the client’s information or property.

Accepting liability for your work is especially an issue for writers, editors and even proofreaders, because other people are likely to change (or not accept) what you submit. The publication process is fluid and involves people we never meet; even printers/production people have been known to introduce changes — and, unintentionally, errors — after an editor or proofreader signs off and gets paid for our role. We can’t be responsible for what happens made after we finish our part of the project.

Pointing out that you are a sole proprietor who works from home and doesn’t use heavy equipment or subcontractors can help carry the day when you’re asked to provide liability insurance to a client. If they still insist, add the cost to your contract and include language to the effect that you aren’t responsible for any changes made to your version of the material.

Authors new to the publishing process also might ask you to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). These are usually benign and more valuable as assurance for an author that an editor won’t steal their precious words for some reason than for any other reason; they generally commit you to not telling the world all about the author’s work, or perhaps that you worked on their manuscript. If you’d rather not sign an NDA, you could point out that any editor who would violate an author’s trust in such a way wouldn’t stay in business for very long.

What you don’t want to sign is a non-compete agreement that limits how you can use your skills with new clients in the future, even the near future. Signing such an agreement can lock you out of doing similar work for similar (or any!) clients, which would interfere with your ability to pursue your career or business.

Protecting yourself

You might not need a formal contract of your own that’s packed with dense, incomprehensible legalese, but you at least need someone with legal knowledge to rely on when a prospective client offers a contract that seems impenetrable. It’s one thing to say, “Read any contract before signing it.” It’s another to actually read and understand some of these documents.

My attorney is an old friend from back in high school whose practice is in intellectual property, copyright and contracts. I have her look over any contract or NDA that I’m asked to sign; we swap services, but it would be worth whatever she would charge if I were paying for her help. If you don’t know anyone who would be willing to review contracts for you, check with your local bar association or chapter of Lawyers for the Arts; some professional organizations also have legal services where one consultation is free, or there’s a substantial discount on an initial request. Such reviews shouldn’t cost much, and any expense is deductible at tax time.

For a template or boilerplate language, look to professional organizations and online resources like LegalZoom. Pick one and tailor it to your needs and each project.

The ideal resource

You don’t have to take my word for any of this, and you can get a lot more advice from colleagues Dick Margulis and Karin Cather from their book, The Paper It’s Written On: Defining Your Relationship with an Editing Client. That’s a must-have for every editor’s bookcase — and well worth having no matter what kind of editorial or publishing work you do.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter ( is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and owner of An American Editor, which was founded by Rich Adin. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (, now co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (, sponsored by An American Editor, and (still) planned this year for October 2–4 in Baltimore, MD. She can be reached at or

April 20, 2020

Thinking Fiction: The Three Bottom-line Facts of Writing and Publishing Novels

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 11:44 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By Carolyn Haley

Over the years, my editing enterprise has evolved so that most of my clients are now indie authors. A high percentage of them are first-time novelists. Some have done their homework and understand what to expect from editing and publishing; for others, it falls on me to help them align their expectations with reality as part of the job.

To date, I haven’t worked with an author who doesn’t desire to publish. The biggest idea that most new authors aren’t prepared for is the psychological transition from the personal art experience of writing to the impersonal business of publishing.

In other words, once their book is out of their hands, it becomes an object.

This is why I routinely convey these three facts that novelists must understand and accept if they want to publish:

  1. It’s your story, your voice, your work.
  2. Writing is a craft as well as an art.
  3. Once your book leaves your hands, it becomes a consumer product.

Owning one’s work

If I had a dime for every time I’ve tried to convince a new author that their voice and efforts are legitimate, I’d be a wealthy woman!

So many new authors apologize for themselves, comparing their stories, their years (or not) of writing, their personalities, to people who are prominently successful. They do not believe their voices or ideas can compete on that level, or even have merit. They put too much importance on what other people — including me as an editor — think of their efforts, considering each step of the writing process to be an exercise of judgment, usually against them.

Some do go the other way and think that every syllable that comes out of their pen or keyboard is a priceless pearl, but I rarely get those folks as clients. Usually they fall into the insecure camp.

That’s when I emphasize that the story is their own: their idea, their voice, their art/craft work. Not mine. My job is to help them tell the story so it’s coherent and accessible to the largest number of readers, particularly the desired audience.

The author’s job is to believe in their story, and believe that somebody out there wants to read it and will understand it. Whether that’s a single person or a million people depends on what the book is and through what channel it is made public. The bottom line never changes: You must get the right book into the right person’s hands on the right day. I, the editor, might not be that right person, but I believe every client’s book is the right book for someone.

The book has to be as smooth and tight as it can be before it’s passed around — and therein lies part of the problem. It’s hard for new authors to grasp that every story can be written dozens, sometimes hundreds, of different ways. Just ask anyone who has recast their novel over and over again in response to personal drive, beta reader feedback, or editorial direction. Sometimes the biggest problem is knowing when to stop!

Ultimately, what makes a story uniquely the author’s is how it’s expressed. Just like snowflakes and fingerprints, no two authors’ voices are the same. Even if someone is retelling a classic fairy tale and the story itself is unoriginal, the way an author writes it is what counts. (This is the basis of copyright protection.)

Aside from that legal aspect (a work is protected by copyright from the moment it comes into existence), it’s the author’s responsibility to establish and hold boundaries for their work. Some boundaries are intangible, like accepting or rejecting influence, while others are concrete, like contract terms. Authors need to know themselves well, believe in their work, and be clear about their goals if they want to survive the transition between writing a novel and publishing it.

Writing is a craft as well as an art

The first thing most new authors need to understand is that only the tiniest percentage of writers get their novels shipshape in one draft; in fact, I would be surprised if anyone publishes a first version unless, perhaps, they’re self-publishing and think their work doesn’t need at least a critique if not editing (and proofreading). The rest of us need help somewhere along the line. The old saying “can’t see the forest for the trees” applies here, in that it’s nigh impossible to perceive both overview and detail at the same time: A writer is usually so intimately involved in creating their story world that they can’t detach enough to perceive the package in the same way as an outsider would. That’s why writers need beta readers and editors. Those other eyes see what the author can’t. Ideally, the multiple perspectives of beta readers, an editor, and a proofreader (again, at the least) combine to make a novel the best it can be.

Having the flaws in one’s work pointed out is a hurtful experience. Some writers can’t take this and either skip the help phase or get so defensive about it that they draw their boundaries too tightly and reject every suggestion. Others writers swing the opposite way and revise to accommodate every person’s preferences. That rapidly becomes a merry-go-round they can’t get off, and might result in the book getting worse instead of better. Savvy writers manage their emotional reactions and take what they need from the feedback, reject the rest, and move on toward their writing and publishing goals.

Savvy writers also recognize that every reader will have a different reaction to every story, whether it’s their mother, an agent, an editor, a paying customer, or a reviewer. Pleasing all of them can’t be done, so it’s not worth trying.

Authors must bother, instead, to get their vision translated into clean, coherent prose and structure so the most readers possible will be able to understand and embrace it. Authors must figure out who they want to connect with and aim their fine-tuning efforts at that audience.

Books are consumer products

Authors who seek traditional publishing will likely have to compromise somewhere, and face the prospect that they could lose control over their work if they don’t read the fine print in a contract. Once they’ve signed with an agent or publishing house, they can’t change their mind without consequences.

Their personal boundaries, then, must be solidly understood internally before they reach out to others. I advise authors to look at their boundaries in light of their goals, and be prepared to think hard about what they want so they can respond appropriately when faced with hard choices. They have to be prepared to accept the consequences any time they stick to their guns, and not play the blame game. It’s their book, and they are ultimately responsible for its fate through saying yes or no at decision points.

The upside of hard choices is the gain that can come from pain. Commonly, the character, plot, or plausibility point causing the strongest reader or editor objection (and the most distress in the author at the thought of changing or cutting it) came from the author’s heart and feels vital to the story. They need to own this problem and solve it by one of two means: (1) Dig deep into their creativity and figure out how to make the problem point work to mutual satisfaction, or (2) just delete the problem (an action known as “killing your darlings”) and then use it in another work. Sometimes problem parts truly are extraneous — something the author loves that just doesn’t serve the story. It also might be that they only need to solve a craft issue, and doing so will set the art free.


Just because a person writes something with all their heart and soul doesn’t mean it’s any good. “Good” is a subjective judgment, of course, based on other people’s tastes, but it’s also a technical judgment, based on coherence and convention. A small percentage of the reading public is open to experimental material or has a high tolerance for sloppy presentation if something else grips their attention — characters, story line, relevance. The rest expect novels to follow certain standards of story structure, language use, and genre tropes, and they don’t want to see typos or poor grammar, punctuation, and spelling, or boring info dumps, or unbelievable characters and situations. It’s an insult to readers to foist immature work upon them. They want the best a writer can do.

Therefore, authors who desire good sales and reviews must study writing and story craft as well as find someone who knows what they’re doing to review the manuscript and help polish it. Rare is the writer who has all the skills needed to conceive and execute a story for hundreds of pages so other people can get lost in reading it. The greater a writer’s experience, the less they have to learn and compromise; but until that experience has been attained, the writer must expect to work long and hard, and receive some negative results along the way to success.


In all the arts (writing, painting, dance, music, sculpture, drama), a common wisdom is, “You have to know the rules to break them.” Knowing the rules is craft. Knowing when to break them is art. Writers who don’t know the rules — who think art alone will carry their work to acclaim — generally don’t succeed to their satisfaction. To avoid that, they must do their homework, and allow people who are farther along the path to help. That’s how the successful folks become successful. Learning to write is a continuum, and a given author is at their own point along it, always seeking to advance along the line. There is no ultimate point of achievement, only process and evolution.

The impersonality of being an object

Many people liken writing a book to having a baby, and revising it to raising a child. Publishing a book is like pushing a fledgling out of the nest to fly or fall. The author might retain a connection to the creature they’ve created, but at some point, it becomes an independent entity that will leave them behind.

That phase begins the moment they let another person read the manuscript. What lived privately in their head becomes an object vulnerable to other people’s perceptions. The only way to prevent this is to keep the manuscript in a drawer. It’s shocking to learn how differently other people will interpret what seems to clear to the writer, or that they will react opposite to what the author intended. Depending on what they wrote, how they wrote it, who reads it, the author’s relationship to them, and how adept the responder is at couching critique in technical rather than personal terms will determine how well the book (and author) weathers exposure.

Editors, unlike most beta readers, are trained to view a book in craft and marketplace terms, and their job is to analyze the forest while an author is focused on the trees (and vice versa). For self-publishing authors, editors are the test readers before a novel hits the public. They help finesse an author’s work and advance it toward the publishing goals. The keyword here is help. Editorial feedback helps authors make the technical and psychic transitions to understanding their book as a product — the result of art and craft honed for reception in the wider world. Once money enters the equation, either going out or coming in, an author’s art becomes a consumer product.

When consumers read an author’s acknowledgments in a published book, they usually see a list of folks who contributed to the project. “It takes a village” is a common theme. Authors who seek help, love help, accept help, reach their goals. Authors who spurn it usually don’t. That’s why it’s important to understand the reality rules of writing and publishing. Authors who own their work, ask for and accept help with it, and recognize that it will become something beyond them, for better or worse, usually get where they want to go.

Carolyn Haley is an award-winning novelist who 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 three novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1997 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 the New York Journal of Books, and has presented about editing fiction at the Communication Central conference.

April 15, 2020

On the Basics: Presentations that could help colleagues cope with the medical crisis

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 6:26 pm

These are scary days for many, if not all, of us as the COVID-19 crisis takes over our lives on so many levels. Whether it’s your editing (or other) work life or your personal life that seems to be warping out of control (if not both), I hope I can provide some help. I’m presenting webinars this and next week that should help colleagues cope a little better with the disruption

• “Survival Tips for the Current Crisis,” 7–8:30 p.m. Eastern time, April 16, hosted by the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA). To register, go to:

• “The Way of Networking: Connecting Effectively,” 7–8 p.m. Eastern time, April 23, for the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE). To register, go to:

April 8, 2020

Questions to ask when refreshing your editor website

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 10:26 am

By Nate Hoffelder, The Digital Reader

Contributing Columnist

A few weeks back, An American Editor owner Ruth Thaler-Carter published a post that discussed what editors and authors should have on their websites. It was a great post, but it got me thinking about how we could help those of you who already have websites. If you already have a site, you don’t have to know what to add to it; you want to know how to identify the parts that have to be fixed. I can help you with that.

With all public events canceled for the duration, your website is a dozen times more important as a marketing tool now than it was last month. You can no longer count on meeting new clients at local mixers and at writing conferences; now you have to recruit them online — and that includes on your website.

If you haven’t touched your site in a while, now would be a good time to fix any errors, update the content and refresh the design so it looks inviting.

I spend a fair amount of time on helping clients fix up their sites, and I’d like to share a few of the things that I look for when updating a site, then explain how you might go about the process of refreshing yours.

It starts with knowing what you should look for.


  1. Do you list all of your services on your site? Are the prices or rates correct? Have you removed any services you no longer want to offer?
  2. Does your bio mention your most-recent high-profile project or client? Does the photo make you look good?
  3. Is your event calendar current? Have you removed the canceled in-person events, and added your livestream events? (Now might be a good time to add a calendar if you don’t have one.)
  4. When was the last time you added a testimonial from a satisfied client?
  5. Are there any typos in your blog posts? (When was the last time you published one?)
  6. Do you have a subscribe box in the sidebar so visitors can follow your blog?


  1. Are there any broken links in the menu? Does the menu include all of your important pages?
  2. How fast do the pages load?
  3. Do all the links work on your home page? What about your other pages?
  4. If a prospective client fills out your contact form, will the message be sent or will the site eat it?
  5. Do you have share buttons on all blog posts?
  6. Does your mailing list form work? If you put in a name and email address, will the subscriber info be added to your subscriber list? (Do you have a mailing list?)


  1. Can someone look at your site and tell what editorial services you offer?
  2. Does your home page have a clear message for visitors?
  3. Do you encourage visitors to engage in some way? (This could include sending you a message, signing up for your mailing list, etc.)
  4. Are your background images so busy that they distract from your site’s content, or do they stay in the background where they belong?
  5. Does your site look cluttered, or does it have lots of blank space?
  6. Is the text legible, or does it tend to blend into the background? Is it too small to read easily?

These are tough questions, I know. The average person has trouble spotting errors in their own work, and that can make it difficult to check the content of your own site. Furthermore, few have both the experience to answer the design questions and the skills to answer the tech questions.. And frankly, this is quite the long list of questions (even for me).

This is why I think you should assemble a team to help you evaluate your site. You can think of this team like an author’s beta readers, and if you know any beta readers, that would be a good place to start. I would then ask your author friends to join your team (they bring a client’s eye to the project), and if you are good friends with a graphic designer, you might ask them for their opinion. (Obviously you shouldn’t ask them to work for free, but perhaps you could find a way to trade favors.) You might also ask a techie friend to help by answering the tech questions.

Once you have assembled a roster of 12 to 20 volunteers, break them up into smaller teams and assign each team specific questions to answer. Ask each team to look at specific pages on your site, and report back. You want to be thorough, so if possible, have at least three people answer each question and check each page.

The reason you want to assign tasks to each team is so all pages get checked, and all questions will be answered. If you just let your helpers look at whatever they want, you will find that some pages will be checked by everyone while other pages won’t be checked at all. The only way to make sure that all of any issues on your entire site have been found is to give specific assignments.

When the answers start coming in, compile them into a list. Triage the list to identify which issues are important and which ones aren’t actually problems. Then sort the list into two parts: one for things you can fix yourself and another for things that you need someone else to fix for you.

Will your budget stretch to hiring an expert? If not, could you work out a trade or maybe learn how to do the work yourself?

A lack of money and time has killed more projects than I would like to admit, so don’t beat yourself up too badly if you have to leave some problems unresolved. Instead, add this project to your to-do list so you can remember to get back to it one day.

Are there any other aspects of your website that could use work?

Nate Hoffelder has been building and running WordPress websites since 2010. He blogs about indie publishing and helps authors connect with readers by customizing websites to suit each author’s voice. You may have heard his site, the Digital Reader (, mentioned on news sites such as the NYTimes, Forbes, BoingBoing, Techcrunch, Engadget, Gizmodo or Ars Technica. He is scheduled to speak about websites at the 2020 Communication Central/NAIWE/An American Editor “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference. The Digital Reader was a sponsor of the 2019 conference.

April 5, 2020

On the Basics — Being alone in quarantine times (and normal ones)

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 6:11 pm

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

We’re seeing a lot of advice and resources to help couples and families who are quarantined together for the moment, with one parent/partner or both working at home for the first time, laid off/furloughed and otherwise facing unexpected new family dynamics because of the coronavirus crisis. No one seems to be focusing on how this works, and feels, for someone who lives alone. Since that would now be me, among many others, I thought I’d jump into the breach and see if I can help.

In the two years since my husband died, I’ve almost gotten used to living by myself again, but the current medical crisis is making this harder than usual, and I can’t be the only one experiencing some stress about it. My recollection of life-before-Wayne-the-Wonderful is that I didn’t mind living alone, but always hoped to find that person I could make a good life with. I was lucky to find him, even luckier to have 30 years with him and devastated to lose him, but am determined to have a good life on my own again. It was going pretty well until the current crisis. I’m starting to feel a little bored with my own company.

If you’re new to living alone, take heart; you can do it, even if it’s hard and not what you want from life. If you’ve been doing this for a while, congrats on making it so far; you can keep it going. Either way, this isn’t easy, even it’s become customary.

Being home alone might not be as much of an issue for the introverts among us, or those who have lived alone for a lot longer than I now have. Somehow, though, enforced isolation feels different from isolation by choice. Not only is it more conscious and public, in the sense that everyone is talking about it, but it always feel better to make our own choices about how we live. Being told how to live feels intrusive and … somehow undemocratic.

Even in good times, editorial workers are prone to losing track of time, being immersed in a project, and ending up with sore backs, blurry eyes and fuzzy brains as a result. We often do get lost in a project, surfacing after several hours of editing, for instance, and surprised at how much time has gone by. Focus is a good thing, but more than an hour without a short break and three or four hours without a longer one is not healthy, nor is it good for the quality of editorial work.

Now that so many of us are at home even more than usual, alone or otherwise, we have to space out our activity more than usual, especially the butt-in-seat, brain-fully-engaged things like writing, editing/proofreading, grading papers, research, etc. — anything that involves sitting for extended amounts of time. It’s especially challenging when we’re alone to remember to stop work and breathe, move and pace ourselves; we don’t have anyone at hand to remind us to stop work for a snack, a snuggle, a walk, an errand run … something and anything to enhance mental and physical health.

If you have a dog, of course, that does force you to stop and get out of the house a couple of times a day. A cat can be a good companion (I’m now happily a cat person again, after more than 30 years without having a cat, and she definitely makes it easier to rattle around the place by myself), but doesn’t require leaving the house, and we cat people don’t have cat parks to go to the way that dog people can enjoy socializing — for both themselves and their animals — at dog parks.

If you don’t already, this is the time to get in the habit of using an alarm of some sort (I started to say “alarm clock,” and then remembered that many of us use our computers and smartphones for such things!) as a reminder to get up and move around briefly, or stop work for more than a few minutes. It’s a good habit to have at any time, but especially now, when immersing ourselves in work or computer time — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, games, puzzles, etc. — feels like the only way to stay connected to the real world. Or to escape from it, now that I think of it.

Both before and after Wayne-the-Wonderful came into my life, I never had any real problems with finding ways to combat isolation as a freelancer who works from home (with the caveat that I’m the poster child for extroverts). In normal times, I combat loneliness and aloneness with being active in professional associations whose local, national and regional events I can organize or attend; getting together with friends and neighbors for meals and outings; running errands to the grocery store, bookstore, post office, hardware store (now that I’m a homeowner, the hardware store is a frequent destination!); going to concerts, lectures, fundraising events for nonprofits I support …

In normal times, I also suggest that home-based colleagues look for ways to break through a sense of isolation by joining hobby groups; volunteering in person for causes we believe in; extending ourselves to spend time with family, friends and neighbors, especially older folks who would appreciate our company (and maybe our help with using technology) — that is, not waiting to be called but initiating those interactions; not subscribing to home delivery of the daily newspaper so you have to get out of the house to pick up a copy; finding a congenial bar or restaurant as a regular “Cheers”-like hangout (you never know — I met my husband over Sunday brunch at my neighborhood pub!); taking the dog out on walks and to the dog park; joining a pool or fitness club (for both the physical health benefits and another way to interact with like-minded people); joining a church/synagogue/whatever. Some colleagues even prefer to have a post office box, both for privacy considerations and as a reason to get out of the house a couple of times a week. Keep all of this in mind for when life returns to normal.

Even in normal times, people living alone have access to a wealth of resources to keep from feeling isolated, much of which become lifesaving in times like now. We can get our daily news online easily (and perhaps too constantly, nowadays). We can order supplies, food, entertainment and more from home, and have everything arrive on our doorsteps. We can manage finances, for the most part, from home (thank goodness for clients who pay by direct deposit, PayPal, Zelle, etc.!). At least in the editorial field, most of us can do our work from home (often more productively and effectively than in the midst of the distractions of the average office environment). We can communicate and interact with family, friends, colleagues, classmates, clients and more on the web. No one who wants to be connected has to be unconnected. It’s worth remembering that many of us are in much better circumstances than people in other professions/industries and places.

By the way, many local animal shelters, especially Humane Society chapters, are doing drive-up adoptions these days (if you aren’t ready for the responsibility of adopting a furry companion, there’s always fostering on a short-term basis). Many have also figured out ways for volunteers to help with dog-walking and other ways to pitch in safely in these scary days.

These are not normal times, of course. Here’s wishing safety, survival and comfort to all of my colleagues here, whether you’re home alone all the time or just for now, or are lucky enough to have someone(s) with you whom you want to be with.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter ( is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and — as of 2019 — owner of An American Editor. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (, this year co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (, sponsored by An American Editor and (still) planned for October 2–4 in Baltimore, MD. She can be reached at or

March 25, 2020

On the Basics — What should be on your website?

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 11:43 am

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

Many of us have time on our hands at the moment, so this might be a good time to focus on creating, updating or revamping a website. That’s the kind of thing we tend to let slide when we’re focused on current deadlines; we might do updates or new content for our clients, but our own sites get left in the dust for “someday.” Well, friends, someday is today. Working on our websites is a good distraction from the chaos around us and a great investment in our professional futures.

What to include in an artist’s, designer’s or photographer’s website seems fairly self-evident, so this post focuses on tips for websites of writers, editors and proofreaders, and indexers.

General guidelines

As I’ve said in my presentations about websites, there are a few things we should all include in our websites, regardless of what kind(s) of editorial work we do.

Check for current contact information and make it easy for people to reach you. A simple contact form is often the best bet. You don’t have to publish a phone number or street address, and you don’t even have to have a link to your e-mail address, although that is my preference. If you don’t have a contact form now, consider creating one.

Make sure you have a copyright line on every page. If you haven’t updated yours with the current year, this is the time to do so.

You can include a photo of yourself if you want to, but don’t feel obligated — a photo might make you and the site seem more human and approachable, but visitors want to know about your work and usually don’t care what you look like. If you do use a photo, use one that does you proud. A headshot is all you need, or maybe one of you at your desk. Informal shots are fine; you don’t have to spend a fortune on a professional portrait. Just make sure it’s something that looks professional.

Don’t list hobbies unless they relate to the work you do.

An editor’s or proofreader’s site

Editors and proofreaders face a special challenge when creating websites for themselves, because it’s a lot harder for us to “show our work” than it is for writers, artists, designers, photographers, book layout and design professionals, indexers — most editing and proofreading clients would rather the world not see the “before” versions of their projects.

That said, there are plenty of effective editor/proofreader websites out there. Yours could include:

Information about your training and experience

List of skills

List of services

Definitions of levels of editing, especially the difference between substantive and copy- editing, and the difference between editing and proofreading

Descriptions of what you do (and don’t do)

Genres you work with

Style manual(s) you’re familiar with

Explanation of your process

Statement about providing samples, referring to a professional organization such as the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA;

Samples you’ve created

Testimonials from clients about your work

Information about payment options (deposits, methods — checks vs. PayPal vs. direct deposit, etc.) and deposit policy

Refund policy, if you have one

Organizations you belong to and what you do in them

Resources for more information (organization sites, for instance)

An author’s site

As a reader, what I look for in an author’s website are cover images, book synopses, reviews or links to the book(s), and buying info, along with a detailed author bio.

Let visitors and prospective clients know about:

The genre(s) you write in

Your training and experience, if relevant — usually more important for journalists and writers who work with publications and organizations than for authors of published books

If you write for clients rather than write your own books, include links to your published work — as long as the client says it’s OK to do so. I also put images of the first pages of some of the articles I’ve had published, but not entire articles, at my website; mostly to create visual or graphic interest, but also to “prove” that I’ve been published.

Your publishing history

Your writing process

The inspiration for your writing work

Organizations you belong to and your roles in them

Compliments about your writing voice and published work

Information about payment options (deposits, methods — checks vs. PayPal vs. direct deposit, etc.) and deposit policy

Refund policy, if you have one

Resources for aspiring authors (agents, books, self-publishing tips, courses, etc.)

Authors you admire

An indexer’s site

If you’re an indexer, you might have an easier time setting up your website than editing and proofreading colleagues. Consider including:

Software program(s) you use

Training and experience

Types/Genres of projects you work on

Covers of books and reports you’ve indexed (with client permission)

Client testimonials

Your pay model or rate

Information about payment options (deposits, methods — checks vs. PayPal vs. direct deposit, etc.) and deposit policy

Refund policy, if you have one

Organizations you belong to and what you do in them (especially if you belong to the American Society for Indexing;

What are the challenges of setting up and maintaining your website? How often do you do updates or revisions? What are some of the sites you’ve found helpful or inspiring?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter ( is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and — as of 2019 — owner of An American Editor. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (, this year co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors ( and planned for October 2–4 in Baltimore, MD. She can be reached at or

March 23, 2020

On the Basics — Passing the time in quarantine

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 11:02 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

The coronavirus crisis is forcing change on every aspect of society that I can see, and will have long-lasting effects on all of our lives, both professional and personal. I hope all of our subscribers here will be safe.

Among concerns is that scammers and spammers are ramping up their schemes to take advantage of this scary time, so be extra-vigilant. While situations like this bring out the best in most people, it also brings out the worst in others. I’ve already seen warnings about people going door-to-door peddling phony cures (although that’s likely to stop as more stay-at-home orders go into effect), and inaccurate suggestions are going the rounds in places like Facebook, especially its messenger service. Warn family and friends (especially older people and those who live alone) that the longer this lasts, the more fake “cures,” treatments and tips will circulate. Tell them not to take “advice” or buy anything from unfamiliar sources, and ask them not to “forward to everyone in your address book.”

We also have to be aware that being stuck at home for unknown lengths of time can create tension among family members, in addition to boredom. Domestic violence is expected to increase. I don’t know how to counteract that trend, but being aware of the possibility might help some of us hold it at bay.

It also could get dangerous to venture out if stay-at-home orders last for longer than we hope and people feel increasingly desperate or angry about the situation. If you have to leave home for groceries, medications and other essentials, try to have someone with you, be extra-alert, don’t forget your cellphone and don’t dawdle.

Between crisis anxiety and being stuck at home due to work closings and stay-in orders, we’re all likely to eat more than usual, and more stuff that isn’t healthy. Comfort food is one thing; junk food is something else entirely. Two suggestions: (1) If you’re doing a store run, don’t be tempted to stock up on junk food, even if the kids are demanding it; if you have some at home, stash it somewhere inaccessible. (2) Up your activity level – do calisthenics and hallway walking indoors, go for walks around the block every couple hours, take the kids or the dog on longer walks than usual, go to a park for a hike or stroll. You’ll feel better mentally and physically.

We’re also likely to spend more than usual on online shopping as a distraction, so be careful not to go overboard because you or your family members need something to do. Start looking around the house for projects to tackle that can be done without spending more money; make such projects into games and challenges for family and neighbors.

Don’t give up on professional development opportunities. While major conferences have been cancelled, most host organizations are finding ways to keep the learning and networking aspects going through Skype, Zoom, GoToWebinar and similar resources.

I came up with a few more ideas for passing the time as more and more of us are seeing restrictions on activity and in-person interaction with family and friends (not to mention clients, colleagues, employers and places we’re used to going to – stores, banks, museums, sports settings, concerts, meetings and more), as well as issues with work and income.

Find ways to help – family members, neighbors, colleagues, total strangers. Whether it’s running essential errands or communicating through GrandPads, videoconferencing and physical windows, the more we do to help each other, the better we’ll feel.

Sort, file and pitch – business and personal records, checkbook registers, credit card statements, clothes, unpacked boxes, souvenirs, photos, outgrown or never-used toys, expired canned goods and other staples or medications, collections, books, etc.

Plan to give away – any of the above that you realize you don’t need

Garden – mulch, weed, clear, soil-test, start planting; it’s good for your mental and physical health, and the results could help cheer you up

Catch up – on reading (book piles, magazines, newspapers in real life; online; in Kindle and other phone apps), laundry, redecorating, mending, repurposing

Write – that book you’ve been meaning to start or finish, poetry, letters to friends for mailing on paper or electronically, blog posts for later publication

Update – your résumé, will and health directives, savings and investment plans, marketing projects

Resurrect an old or start a new hobby

Learn a new skill or program — the Internet is awash with YouTube and other resources for learning on your own or at home with family members

Clean – the house, home office, car, garage, etc.

Assemble – puzzles, dollhouses, workshop/building projects, knick-knacks into art

Get out – walk around the neighborhood or drive and then walk/hike at a park

Communicate – with family and friends by phone, e-mail and Internet, both to reassure each other and to counter false information. You might even learn interesting things about family and personal histories that never came up before.

Invent games – for kids both at home and around your neighborhood. One of my friends posted about a game for kids that started in his Chicago neighborhood: putting teddy bears in your windows and coming together online to identify where they are – like an Easter egg or treasure hunt that can be done virtually as well as physically. Coming up with creative outlets and activities will, again, be good for our emotional and mental health.

How are you coping? How is your work life going so far?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter ( is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and — as of 2019 — owner of An American Editor. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (, this year co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors ( and planned for October 2–4 in Baltimore, MD. She can be reached at or


March 13, 2020

On the Basics: Tips for coping with the current health crisis

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

Many AAE subscribers have been working from home for years, so the current movement to that model as a response to the coronavirus crisis (yes, it is at crisis level in many ways) is no big deal. Others work in outside offices and are faced with transforming their own or their colleagues’ work styles into being home-based.

Based on my many years of working from home, here are some suggestions.

At home

  • If you live with family members, let them know that you need peace and quiet, with minimal interruptions or intrusions, when you’re trying to work. Both spouses/partners and younger kids will think it’s great to have you at home with them, but might have to be tactfully educated about why you’re there, what you have to get done for work and when (or if) you can take a break to hang out with them.
    • Ask everyone to let you answer the home phone if you have one, so clients and colleagues don’t get your adorable five-year-old on the line or someone who forgets to take important messages.
    • Set aside a dedicated workspace and make sure everyone knows not to mess with your computer and paper files. If you have a room that becomes your office, consider putting a Do not disturb! sign on the door.
    • Have a laptop for work that no one else in the house is allowed to use, or invest in an inexpensive desktop setup that is also hands-off to everyone but you.
    • Get dressed in something more business-like than jeans and T-shirts so you feel like you’re working — and your family treats you accordingly.
    • Get out of the house every day, for a walk around the block, lunch with family or friends, trips to the store or library as needed or appropriate, etc.
    • Keep a schedule similar to your usual workday so going back to the office won’t be as big of a jolt when you get the all-clear.
    • If your company doesn’t have a template to log your projects and time, create one — even if you aren’t asked to provide it.
  • If you have children of about grades 5 to 9 (U.S. system) who might have to stay home because local schools close down, a Facebook colleague suggested using (there’s even a PDF of lesson plans for “Teaching Literary Elements Through Song Lyrics”) and the site Every-Day Edits to keep them busy.
  • Splurge on some new books, toys and games for kids, partners, parents, pets, etc., and consider subscriptions to online movies, e-books and other sources of information and entertainment that you might not have needed until now. If you have to stay home for any unusual amount of time, the usual entertainments could get old pretty quickly.

For the office

  • Set up regular phone or Internet meetings to track project status and employee health or needs — not necessarily daily, but certainly weekly.
  • Create a template for individual employee project activity.
  • Expand sick day guidelines/benefits.
  • Provide laptops for anyone who needs them.
  • Set up special passwords and login access so people working from home don’t expose company materials to access by family members and visitors.
  • Triple-check health-related warnings and recommendations before sharing them with employees.
  • Stock up on sanitizers, gloves and face masks for employees.
  • Adopt a heightened routine for cleaning surfaces throughout the office, including door knobs, stairwell railings, elevator buttons, desks, keyboard, phones, etc.
  • Remind employees that any and all communications, quotes and comments about how the company is handling this issue must come from authorized spokespeople, and ask (or tell) employees not to post about it to Facebook and other social media.

In general

Whether you work in-house or freelance from home, you might feel the urge to stock up on household supplies and find that your usual grocery or big-box store is running low. Remember that drugstores and department chains (Target, Dollar Stores, etc.) carry things like toilet paper, dry goods, pet food and supplies, beverages, over-the-counter medications and other healthcare products, etc. Many also have refrigerated sections with perishable or frozen foods. There should be a variety of options for keeping your home stocked with whatever you might need in the next few weeks.

Best of luck to all!

How are you coping with and preparing for this situation? What other suggestions do you have for colleagues, whether in-house or freelance?

March 2, 2020

On the Basics: Enhancing diversity and inclusion in your writing (and workplace)

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 6:04 pm

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner, An American Editor

Being inclusive and diverse may seem as challenging as switching from two spaces between sentences to one, but really isn’t that hard to do — in many ways, both can be done easily, even though they continue to be a matter of discussion (in the case of spaces between sentences, contention!). Since the publishing world is publicizing, if not championing, the use of new pronouns and options for colleagues to self-identify by ones they prefer, our field can also lead the way in making written works — and the people or businesses producing them — reflect a wide range of variety in ethnic, religious, national/international and gender identities.

I’ve been surprised to notice that TV commercials have become far more inclusive and diverse than many of the programs they support. We editorial professionals can follow their lead in presenting or including a variety of faces and voices.

As writers, most (if not all) of us owe it to our readers to include, and accurately represent, people of all backgrounds, or at least enough to make it clear that we understand there is a world of variety that we live in, work in, and write/edit/proofread about.

As editors (and maybe even as proofreaders, although this should be managed before that stage), we owe it to our authors and other clients to say something when an opportunity to be inclusive is missed.

As anyone who hires writers, editors, proofreaders, etc., we owe it to our employees and the people they serve to widen the scope of where we look for new people.

As organizers of events, we owe it to participants to go beyond the usual group of presenters to find new and varied voices and faces to make those events more interesting and representative of an industry, profession and cause. It’s also smart to use new channels to reach participants who bring variety and diversity to the events.

That doesn’t mean every story or event has to include everyone, but that it’s worth making the effort to go beyond a standard, and somewhat limited, range of people to illustrate the topics we work on. It makes sense to create stories and publications that reflect the real world, and the reality is that world is one of variety, difference and diversity.

One of the best ways to be more inclusive and diverse is to look for versions of the professional associations we turn to first for advice, colleagiality, new hires, trends, projects, etc. In the USA, the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) might be the lead organization of and for journalists, but there’s also the National Association of Black Journalists and groups for and of journalists who are Pacific Asian, Hispanic, etc. If your company needs to bring in more women, look to the Association of Women in Communications. There are organizations for photographers and artists of color, and probably for other communications professionals as well; if not independent entities, there might be subgroups of standard associations that include people of color, various nationalities, different genders, etc.

This perspective isn’t limited only to organizations in communications to consult when hiring. If you’re a journalist, you need to look beyond the big, standard organizations to find people to interview who represent various voices and culture. Associations are a great source of, well, sources — experts in or members of almost any profession or field you can imagine. You might usually contact the American Medical Association for people in that profession to feature in profiles or include in interviews, but there’s a National Medical Association whose members are black. You might know about the American Bar Association, but there’s also the National Bar Association for and of attorneys of color, and the National Association of Women Lawyers or the Women’s Bar Association, just as starting points. Most national trade or membership associations have groups or committees for members of various backgrounds as well.

The not-for-profit sector is also a rich source of diverse sources, situations and experiences. No matter what you’re writing about, or what your authors/clients are writing about, there’s a nonprofit for that — and a lot of them are smaller than a Red Cross, AARP, United Way, etc., but doing important, productive work that includes and/or affects people of varied ethnic, religious, economic and other backgrounds. Some of the larger nonprofits partner with smaller organizations that can add diversity to an article or other project.

The Internet is full of sources of images, many copyright-free, that can be added to various projects when you want to include people of color, different genders, people with disabilities, nontraditional family units, etc.

An easy first step from the grammar perspective is to stop using he, him and his as the default pronoun, and even to avoid the somewhat-clunky s/he, her/him and hers/his or switching back and forth within a piece of writing. The easiest way is to use plural pronouns wherever possible, especially when you don’t know or need to identify the gender or preferred pronoun of someone being written about. To make this even easier, they/their as a singular has been adopted by the major style guides, but I’ve found that plurals usually keep the flow going more smoothly and don’t make readers stop to wonder about meaning.

In the aftermath of recent reactions to the novel American Dirt, where the author has been pilloried for writing about experiences of people from a culture she doesn’t belong to, this might seem risky. I’m not talking about presenting oneself as something one isn’t (although I don’t think that’s really what that author did, and canceling her readings seemed cowardly on the part of bookstores and other venues, even given the insane threats she and they received). I’m talking about realistically presenting the world as it is: full of variety in backgrounds, perspectives, opinions, experiences and more.

Whether you’re writing, editing, proofreading, illustrating, publishing, hiring or more, take time to look beyond the easy sources to find people who represent a wider world of reality. The results — more interest, more readers, more sales, more respect — will be worth the effort.

Have you encountered a lack of diversity in the editorial work you do? Have you succeeded in increasing diversity and inclusion in your projects?

Ruth E. “I can write about anything”® Thaler-Carter ( is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and — as of 2019 — owner of An American Editor. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (, now co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors ( She can be reached at or

February 21, 2020

Registration is open for 2020 Be a Better Freelancer® conference!

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 4:48 pm

Whether you’d like help with using editing tools or expanding your editing business, Communication Central‘s annual Be a Better Freelancer® conference can help — and you can register for the 2020 event now! The conference might not be until October 2–4, but registering early will save you money (that doesn’t mean the date and place haven’t been set, by the way; in case anyone wonders, it means “Just because the conference isn’t until …”).

An American Editor subscribers may use the lower registration rates along with past conference attendees and members of the conference co-host (as of 2019), the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE). This year’s conference — the 15th! — will feature presenters both new and familiar, with topics you need to make your editing work and business better than ever. We’ve reduced the costs to make it easier for more colleagues to attend and to offset the cost of parking for those who opt to drive to Baltimore for the event.

2020 C-C conf Registration

See you in Baltimore, MD, for this invaluable event!

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