An American Editor

June 17, 2019

On the Basics: Where Do We Go for Our Own Editing Support?

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By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, AAE Owner and Editor-in-Chief

As often happens, I’ve been inspired by a Facebook post to write a column here. This time, someone asked where editors who are also writers find editors for their writing work. Here’s how I responded:

“Since I’ve been writing, editing and proofreading professionally for a looonnnng time, I’m lucky to have a network of colleagues and friends whom I can trust to look at my stuff if needed. If none of my go-to people are available, I give preference to anyone who has attended a Communication Central ‘Be a Better Freelancer’® conference.
“I would never bother with a ‘nameless editing site’ or outlets like Upwork. If I didn’t know anyone to ask, I’d go to the EFA, NAIWE, ACES, EAC, SfEP, etc., to look for someone whose skills and background seem compatible.”

As a much-published writer, I get edited by some of my clients, so I know what it feels like to be on that end of the relationship or process. As a freelance editor and proofreader, I work on material by clients, some of whom are more nervous about being edited than others (although I’ve rarely had to deal with outright outrage). As the owner and editor-in-chief of the An American Editor blog, I edit colleagues regularly (and I hope sensitively).

As we all know, editing can be a delicate dance: We have to learn how to balance fixing obvious and more-subtle errors with retaining the author’s voice and not upsetting an author by the level or volume of changes we suggest. We have to learn how to relay our substantive changes with authority and tact — not always easy to do simultaneously. We have to be able to explain or defend some of our changes, which can be a challenge when there’s something we know is wrong but we can’t quote a specific rule to support what we think the author should do.

Being professional editors ourselves makes the search for our own editors both more challenging and more interesting. We’re likely to be more demanding about the skills and experience another editor brings to the process, and we might be more difficult to work for. Finding and working with editors on our own material can make us better at both writing and editing by reminding us of the value of that outside set of eyes on our work, and showing us where our writing needs help. We also might be grateful to learn how to make our own writing better, stronger, livelier …

As editors, we know how the process works. Some of us may have had challenging experiences with clients, so we know how not to behave on that side of the equation.

Steps in the process

The first step is to accept that everyone needs an editor (or at least a proofreader). No matter how experienced any of us might be, we can’t see our own writing with total objectivity. We know what we meant to say and often see that intent, rather than how a phrase, passage or entire article might come across to readers. We even miss clear-cut typos in our own work, especially if we’ve turned off spellchecker to enhance the writing flow or don’t use resources like PerfectIt or various Editorium tools to automate some of the process.

We have to put our egos aside so we can focus on what I see as the ultimate goal of editing: making the work better.

The next step is to define what we need or want from a colleague’s editing services, and whether we can pay for their help.

With all that said, where do we go (channeling the Chief Blue Meanie’s plaintive query to his sidekick Max in “Yellow Submarine”!)?

As I said in my Facebook post, I can’t see myself using online sources like freelance.com, Upwork, Reedsy, Craigslist, etc., to find an editor for my own writing. I know that many colleagues use such sites to find projects and find them worthwhile, but I turn to other channels. I start by looking among my colleagues for someone who has editing experience, has demonstrated strong knowledge of usage and all its aspects, follows the rules of groups or lists that we belong to, and seems as they would be sensitive to an author’s tender ego or at least knows how to relay suggested edits tactfully. In other words, I probably look for someone a lot like myself. We probably all would do that.

Having a colleague edit my writing work is usually a simple matter of contacting someone and saying, “Do you have time to look something over for me?” For those here who don’t have the great good fortune of a network like mine, here are a few tips.

  • Edit yourself — set your manuscript aside for a day or two, and then go through it one more time to make sure it’s as clean and complete as possible. Try to view it through a reader’s eye to find clunky passages, danglers, missing facts, consistent style (especially with character names!), and any other elements you would look for in a client’s material.
  • Put together a brief description of your manuscript or project — genre, length in number of words, preferred style, planned outlet if known, deadline, etc.; level of editing you want to receive; budget. (If you’re low on funds, think of ways you might be able to swap services, but remember how you feel when a prospective client wants Cadillac editing for go-cart prices.)
  • Put your ego in your pocket.
  • Go to reliable sources: the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors, Editorial Freelancers Association, American Copy Editors Society, American Medical Writers Association, Society for Technical Communication, Society of Editors and Proofreaders, Editors Canada, freelance sections of specialty groups like the Society of Professional Journalists or National Association of Science Writers, etc.
  • Post or list your project with one of these professional associations, or identify a few people through their directories who look like a good match and contact them directly.
  • Remember to let those you don’t choose to work with know that you’ve found someone.
  • Go for it!

If you’ve had someone edit your writing work, how did it go? And are there resources I’ve overlooked that colleagues would find useful for this?

May 24, 2019

Thinking Fiction: Protecting an Editor’s Rights — If Any

By Carolyn Haley

A subject that comes up from time to time in publishing circles is whether an editor has any copyright interest in an author’s manuscript — that is, the edited version of the manuscript. Some editors believe the edited version is unique to them and forms a new and different work, which can give them leverage in demanding payment from a recalcitrant party.

I first saw this tactic suggested as a last-ditch measure against publishers that don’t play fair — those that pay late or try not to pay at all. I’ve since seen editors adding language to the same effect in their contracts with independent authors, to protect themselves from clients who change their tune after the job is done and refuse to pay, or take way longer to pay than was agreed. As part of the language, the editor’s claim to having a copyright in the edited version becomes null and void upon receipt of full payment.

In my opinion, attempting to conflate copyright with payment is irrational and unprofessional, regardless of whether a given case is winnable in a court of law. My opinion comes from my combined position as an author, an editor, and a self-employed business entity.

How Copyright Works

Consider first that copyright applies to intellectual property. Per the U.S. Copyright Office, it pertains to “original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression.”

“Original” and “tangible” are the key terms, because ideas themselves are common and fluid, and expressed in myriad ways by myriad people, and have been so over centuries, if not millennia. Copyright law only protects an individual’s unique presentation of an idea, not an idea itself. (Nor are titles protected by copyright.) In addition (italics mine), “copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner.”

A work qualifies as derivative “if the changes are substantial and creative, something more than just editorial changes or minor changes. . . . For instance, simply making spelling corrections throughout a work does not warrant a new registration, but adding an additional chapter would.”

With those criteria in mind, how much does an editor have to change in a manuscript before it becomes a different enough “tangible medium of expression” to acquire uniqueness, and thus give the editor a copyright?

How Editing Works

Adjustments in punctuation, spelling, subtleties of phrasing, consistency — the tools of line editing and copy editing — all serve to clarify an author’s unique expression of their ideas, not change them. Perhaps developmental editing can get deep and gnarly enough to significantly change an author’s presentation, but does it change the book’s concept, audience, characters, or plot, or the author’s essential language and style?

If so, then the contract between author and editor should be about co-authorship, not editing.

The main thing to understand is that in an editing job, the author has the right to accept or reject the editor’s changes and suggestions. That gives the author ownership of the content by default. In some draconian contracts out there, an author may have signed away that right and must accept whatever a publisher’s editor or an independent editor does to the work — but in that situation, the author has made a regrettable mistake. In the absence of such contract terms, the agreement between author and editor generally is based on the editor helping improve the author’s work, not alter it.

Understanding Editing vs. Revising

Another argument against claiming copyright of the edited version of a work is the nebulous relationship between editing and revising. A manuscript is a work in progress until it’s locked into its published form and released. Until that point, starting with the first draft, most authors revise their work numerous times, and may have other parties, such as friends, family, colleagues, beta readers, editors, proofreaders, agents, and pre-publication reviewers — paid or unpaid — participate in the process. These helpers, individually and collectively, contribute to a version of the manuscript different from the one before, which is different from the one before, as often as needed to complete and polish the work.

Should each party in that revision cycle get a copyright interest in the work? Should the parties involved in the next cycle supersede them because a new, copyrightable version has been created?

What if the author desires to register their copyright after the first draft? Registration is not required for an author’s copyright to be valid, because copyright is automatically granted the moment a work is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” Registration is recommended to protect the author’s interests in the event of a legal challenge, but is not conditional for protection. Nonetheless, many authors register their copyrights because doing so makes them feel more secure. Imagine, then, what the paperwork and costs would be if they had to register every updated version of a work in progress, each one involving different people!

The whole idea is silly, because all editing occurs before a work is deemed complete. As such, it is subsumed into the overall development and revision process. Without a legal structure to define and support the many layers of building a publishable work, and the many people who might be involved, there is no basis for giving anyone but the author a copyright in the work.

The Alternative to Claiming Copyright

Having copyright-related language in editing contracts might be effective with publishing companies that employ accounting departments and lawyers, who fear legal action and can’t or won’t take the time to research the efficacy of defending copyright claims. Such language also might discourage individual authors from playing head games with independent editors.

More likely, the language would chase away independent authors of good will who are paying out of their own pockets for professional editing services, and who desire a personal, supportive, and honest relationship with their editors. Many writers have been coached by other writers or online gurus to fear that editors will steal, or drastically change, their work. Adding the threat of somebody claiming a copyright on their work will just reinforce their anxiety and give them a reason to look elsewhere — or go without editing at all.

In which case, an editor won’t have to worry about getting paid.

Getting paid does remain the bottom line. It can best be assured through transparency and a straightforward contract. My contract states: “Unless a co-authorship arrangement is made in writing, all royalties and monies gained from the sale of the book will be the sole property of the book’s copyright owner. Editor acknowledges no rights to the manuscript beyond the right to withhold delivery of the edited manuscript until final payment for work is received.”

In other words, the politically incorrect expression “no tickee, no shirtee” applies. I consider this a reasonable business position (i.e., I do the work, you pay me for it), and that claiming a copyright for something that isn’t mine is needlessly aggressive. It is also not trustworthy, owing to the copyright claim’s dubious enforceability and the specious element of “oh, that claim disappears as soon as you pay me.”

From an author’s standpoint, I wouldn’t hire an editor who would hang that kind of threat over me. My book is my book, and somebody who thinks they have the right to hijack it is somebody I wouldn’t deal with.

A Balanced Approach

Editing is — or should be — a cooperative profession, not an adversarial one. Editors stating plainly that they expect to be paid are declaring themselves professional businesspeople. Editors stating plainly that they are prepared to co-opt an author’s copyright are inviting trouble. Most publishers and indie authors will pay for services rendered. The minority who won’t pay are the reason that editors consider using the copyright-claiming ploy.

One way to avoid needing such a ploy is to require a deposit before commencing work. This usually isn’t an option for independent editors dealing with publishing companies, which state the terms that editors must take or leave. In such cases, editors need to weigh the pluses and minuses, negotiate the best they can, and be prepared to accommodate a loss should the project go awry.

When making deals with indie authors or amenable companies, however, editors should state their terms and stick to them. I have found that a signed agreement delivered with a 50 percent deposit demonstrates a client’s intention to pay. They go into the deal knowing that I will sit on the finished edit until they pay the balance, and if they don’t pay, they lose the work and have to start all over again.

In the event they don’t pay, I may have wasted time but not suffered a total loss. The less-than-expected final compensation might end up being a painful learning experience, but still, learning can’t be discounted. Meanwhile, I still have something in my pocket to show for the effort.

Nine times out of 10 (more accurately, 9.999 times out of 10), I end up with full payment on time, a happy client, an open relationship, and future work from the client or someone they refer. These benefits come from respecting authors’ work and position, and not messing with their heads. Better yet, their work goes to publication; and with luck and a good story, cleanly edited, they enjoy publishing success. I doubt I would have this track record if I made it a policy to step on their writerly toes.

How many of our readers have invoked copyright claims on edited work with authors who have not paid as promised and planned? Has it worked for you? What other techniques have you used to ensure being paid?

Carolyn Haley, an award-winning novelist, lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1997, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at dcma@vermontel.com 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 on editing fiction at the Communication Central conference.

May 15, 2019

On the Basics: Rethinking Saving Everything

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, AAE Owner

For more years than I can count, I’ve saved everything related to my work: multiple paper copies of published articles and of pre-computer edited and proofread projects; electronic or digital copies from the days of 5 1/4-inch disks to 3.5 diskettes to Syquest and Zip disks to CDs; finished files on both my iMac desktop computer and MacBook Air laptop; cloud storage …

My theory was that we never know when a client might want to redo or update a project, and I wanted to be the freelancer whom my clients could rely on to have old copies of projects at hand, just in case.

I recently changed my mind about this approach. In preparing to move halfway across the country last fall, even though to a larger space, I found myself wanting to scale back on this extensive, bulky, obsessive wealth of backups. I had to empty out file drawers for the movers, and clear stuff off shelves and out of cubbyholes; the more I could get rid of, the more I could save on the move. A light bulb went off: It seems unlikely that anyone would want anything more than a year old, but even if they do, I could keep a paper copy of everything, so I’d be able to scan anything that someone might want, and update old versions in new, current editions of software.

I went through those file cabinets in my home office and weeded out all but one paper copy each of published works. Then I went back and pitched all the loose copies after I remembered that I have a copy of everything in notebooks organized by year and going back to the 1970s, which creates the one paper copy that all that I really need — in these days of websites and online portfolios, there’s rarely a need to send someone a paper copy of a finished project. Although my file cabinet copies were organized by client or publication name and the notebooks are organized by year, I’m pretty sure I can remember at least roughly when I worked with which clients and thus can pull old copies as needed.

Next, I got rid of all paper copies of edited and proofed projects — anyone wanting to update or revise any of those nowadays will send me an electronic file to work on, and a current version is likely to be different from the one I worked on years ago. Even if it’s the still the same, my edits should already have been incorporated, and it would make more sense to reread the current version as if it’s new than to try to copy old edits from the past. The clients should have paper copies of anything not available electronically and also should be the one responsible for scanning paper copies to create new versions.

I wouldn’t use those paper edits in pitching to new clients anyhow, because no one would want their “before” versions made public, even on a limited basis. I don’t need to wonder about that or to have signed anything promising not to show the edited version of a document to anyone other than the client. If a prospective client wants proof of my editing or proofreading skills, I’d rather do a short sample than risk embarrassing a past client by showing what I did on their projects, even if I can hide their names. And my website has (wonderful) testimonials from clients attesting to the value of my skills and services, often more effective than samples.

After trashing all those paper copies, I bagged all the various types of disks and headed to the local recycling center to dispense with those as well. I still have electronic versions of everything that’s a year or so old on my computers and in cloud storage.

I even gave up my dad’s little classic Mac and my ancient Radius CPU, taking those to the recycling center as well (after wiping their hard drives).

It felt wonderfully liberating to clear out so much old material — and saved a bunch of effort in packing, which probably saved some money in the way of moving costs. I’m hoping a client won’t ask for a very old project after all, but I’m prepared to defend not keeping ancient files or copies, and can always photocopy or scan my paper versions from those yearly notebooks.

The next task for the aspiring organizer in me: going through all those old business and tax records to get rid of everything from receipt copies to entire years’ worth of documentation! That will open up an entire bookcase … I won’t know what to do with those empty shelves.

For a little farther down the road, it’s time to clear out old computer files in my e-mail program, Dropbox cloud storage account and project folders on both computers … at least I can never say I have nothing to do!

How have you changed your processes for saving projects and client files?

May 11, 2019

Check out the topic and speaker lineup for 2019 Be a Better Freelancer® conference

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, AAE and Communication Central owner

For those who have been eagerly awaiting information about Gateway to Success, Communication Central‘s 14th annual Be a Better Freelancer® conference, you need wait no longer! Here’s the lineup of topics and presenters; specific days and times will be announced soon, along with detailed speaker bios.

The conference will be held October 11–13, 2019, at the Chase-Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis, MO. Hotel rooms are $150/night (plus taxes) and are comfortably shareable. (The conference rate is in place starting on Thursday, October 10.) The conference runs from 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Central time on Friday and Saturday, October 11 and 12, with continental breakfast and lunch included, and 9 a.m.–12 noon on Sunday, October 13, with coffee and tea provided. Dinner outings at nearby restaurants will be organized for the group, but are not included in registration.

This year’s conference is cosponsored by the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE) — an exciting first-time partnership. To register, go to https://naiwe.com/conference/ or www.communication-central.com.

The central location should be appealing for colleagues who have been interested in previous Communication Central events but found the East Coast location a challenge. We look forward to welcoming you to the Gateway City and an exciting panoply of resources to make your freelance efforts more productive and profitable!

Friday, October 11, and Saturday, October 12, 8 a.m.–5 p.m.
• You Oughta be in Visuals: Make Your Social Sizzle to Fire Up Your Freelancing, Walt Jaschek
Most of us are “word people,” but nowadays, it’s more and more important to promote a freelance business through visual media as well as the standard networking, social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.), website, press releases and other traditional efforts. Video content is expected to make up 80 percent of all Internet traffic by the end of 2019. Learn how to use video, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, podcasting and similar visual outlets to get the word out about your skills and services. This lively session will get you excited about adding visual elements to your promotional efforts.
• Finding and Working with Independent Authors, Dick Margulis
Independent authors might be the best, and fastest-growing group of, clients for many freelancers to work with, especially because many will pay for skills and services in editing, proofreading, design and layout, and publishing. Learn how to build up your freelance business by finding clients in, and structuring effective, profitable working relationships with, this sector of the publishing world.
• New Angles in Editing, Marilyn Schwartz
Those who revere Amy Einsohn’s classic Copyeditor’s Handbook will be thrilled to know that the University of California Press has published a new fourth edition, substantially revised and updated by Marilyn Schwartz, along with a new companion workbook prepared with co-author Erika Bűky. The Handbook has long served as
a valuable resource for writers and an essential reference for editors and proofreaders at every stage of their careers and in all areas of editing. Get the insider’s take on both the timeless wisdom of this beloved text and some critical new angles in editing that are explored in the revised edition and its accompanying Workbook.
• Working with Word/Acrobat, April Michelle Davis
Whether we like it or hate it, Microsoft Word remains the big dog on the word-processing playground and we all have to use it for writing, editing and proofreading work because it’s what most of our clients use — but using it effectively still presents challenges for many freelancers in publishing. Acrobat is also becoming a standard for not only proofreading, as it was originally designed for, but editing as well. Learn how to make the most of these essential tools, including practical tips and shortcuts/macros, educating clients unfamiliar with the programs, and rescuing documents from those dreaded crashes.
• Build a Better Website to Promote Your Freelance Business, Meghan Pinson and Ruth E. Thaler-Carter
It’s become common knowledge that freelancers need websites to build and support their business efforts. Find out why, and learn how, with tips on how to name your site, what to include, what not to do, how to make your site — and your business — look their best, and how to generate traffic through effective search engine optimization. If you don’t have a website yet, this session will get you started. If you already have one, this session will help you make it better at promoting your business and laying the groundwork for better interactions with clients.
• The Art of Persuasion: How to Get Paid What You Deserve, Jake Poinier
Getting paid what we’re worth is a challenge for freelancers both new and established. There always seems to be a new twist in how clients try to pay less than we expect or think we have earned. Pick up on practical, effective insights into positioning yourself with clients to ensure you generate the fees, rates and overall income that your experience and skills deserve, including tactics for increasing rates from current clients, developing referrals and more.
• Get it in Writing!, Dick Margulis and Karin Cather
The very idea of a contract for freelance editorial work scares many of us silly, so we often agree to projects without having agreements or contracts in hand. That can work — but it can backfire. The authors of The Paper It’s Written On (developed as a result of a previous Communication Central presentation) — one long-time freelance editor/book developer and one attorney/editor — will walk you through why a contract is important and what to include in one.
• The Business of Being in Business, April Michelle Davis
It takes more than good writing skills, a sharp eye for typos, a love of reading, the ability to alphabetize, a cellphone camera, etc., to be a successful writer, editor, proofreader, indexer, graphic artist or any other freelancer. Succeeding means being serious about the concept of being in business. You can be brilliant at what you do and still fail if you don’t set up your freelance effort as a business and treat it as such. Find out how to incorporate key business skills and tools to make your freelancing a success — or a bigger and better one.
• Effective Résumés for Freelancers, Rose “JobDoc” Jonas
Even in these days of online visibility through websites, LinkedIn profiles and similar ways to tell the world how great you are in your freelance niche, you often still need a résumé. Crafting one that works is a challenge, especially for those turning to freelancing after (or while still) working in-house. Find out what does and doesn’t work so you have the right document at hand whenever you need it.
• Your Best Publishing Option: Traditional, Hybrid or Entrepreneurial, Roger Leslie
As a freelancer, you decide how your books come to life. Knowing the key elements of book production, marketing and distribution direct you to the best publishing option for you. Choosing the publishing route that best suits your time, money and energy empowers you to do what you love most as your business and brand grow from a colleague whose goal is to help you “Live the Life You Dream.” Writers can use this session to get their work published; editors and proofreaders will find the session helpful in understanding how to work with aspiring authors.
• What Freelancers (Can) Do, Panel Conversation
You don’t have to be a writer or editor to freelance. Learn about opportunities for proofreaders, graphic artists, website developers, indexers and other types of freelancers — and resources they can use for success.

Sunday, October 13, 9 a.m.–12 noon
Freelancing 101: Launching and Managing Your Freelance Business, Meghan Pinson
Freelancing is a dream for so many people nowadays, and the “gig economy” is only expanding as time goes by. Learn when and how to launch and manage your freelance business to minimize the risks and maximize the advantages, along with tips about balancing work and family, among other important considerations.

2019 C-C conf Registration

2019 C-C Conf Topics and Speakers1

April 22, 2019

On the Basics — Making time for marketing

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Editor-in-Chief & Owner

We’ve all heard the seemingly constant drum roll about the importance not only of marketing our editing services and businesses, but of doing so constantly, regularly, eternally. We’re expected to develop and post regularly to our own blogs, comment on colleagues’ blogs, be active in Facebook groups for our various business niches, post often at LinkedIn, blather on Twitter, join in professional associations, participate in the discussion lists and other outlets of those groups, create and send out newsletters, even be visually present in places like Instagram and YouTube. Not to mention attend meetings of those associations, go to the occasional conference, maybe even make presentations.

Oh, and don’t forget learning about and enhancing the keyword and search engine optimization (SEO) aspects of, and updating content at, our websites — assuming we’ve all created websites for our editorial businesses, or had them created for us.

On top of all that, there are also reminders to contact past and potential clients regularly with pitches for new work. It never ends!

Doing all that seems daunting, for introverts in terms of their personalities and extroverts in terms of their energy levels — and, more importantly, seems to leave little time for actual editorial work. One of my clients provides its clients with a list of awards worth entering, and just carrying that out — preparing submissions targeted to various awards, geographies, individuals and services — could require one or two full-time staffers (or freelancers!) with no other responsibilities.

What rarely gets mentioned is how to make time for all that promotional effort when there are actual projects to complete and deadlines to meet (not to mention a personal life). Here are a few ideas.

Oh, and by the way — marketing your skills is important to in-house editorial professionals as well as freelancers, although perhaps not as much. You never know when a full-time in-house job might suddenly go poof! and disappear. If you wait until that moment to start marketing yourself, it will take much longer to get noticed and rehired, and any interim freelance efforts will be much harder.

Start small

To keep from feeling overwhelmed, especially to the extent of letting the pressure to market keep you from doing anything at all, start on a small scale. Don’t commit to blogging every day or posting everywhere every day. Choose a given day, or week, for blog posts, and one or two channels to focus on at first. As the process becomes easier and more routine, increase the scope and frequency of your efforts.

Accountability

Establishing accountability systems is a great way to structure marketing — and work as well. Some colleagues partner with individual accountability buddies to keep themselves on track and make sure that neither marketing efforts nor deadlines go awry. Others participate in accountability groups whose members keep each other on schedule.

One of my online groups invites members to post about their recent successes every Friday. I’m not sure how much good that does for my business, other than keeping me in their minds when members of that group need to subcontract to or refer someone by reminding colleagues of the kinds of projects I handle, but it’s fun to do and a useful reminder of things I might want to add to my website. However, when the new Friday thread would show up, I couldn’t always remember what I wanted to post. I started keeping a Word document on my computer to record a week’s activities, achievements and issues as they occurred; when Friday comes along or I’m ready to do some website updates, all I have to do is copy from there.

Scheduling

One of my clients suggests setting a quarterly schedule for law firms to update attorney bios at their sites, to accommodate news about successes, new professional development activities, pro bono projects, presentations and publications, rankings, and other aspects of individual members of a firm that don’t necessarily change from day to day.

We editors and writers, both in-house and especially freelance, can do the same kind of thing. Having a schedule makes it easier to organize the information you need to add without making it feel quite as daunting to do. If you assign every Monday or Friday afternoon to marketing activities, and put that on your calendar as well, it’s easier to do those activities. Seeing them on your calendar also provides an often-needed nudge to pull together the information you need, or make the effort required, to get it done. It’s always harder to avoid something that’s staring at your from the calendar page or in that to-do list!

Automating

Another helpful approach is to automate your social media postings. There are a number of apps for doing this; you write a post — or several posts — ahead of time and the app sends out the information on a schedule that you set. All you have to do is remember to write something to be disseminated; the app does the rest for you.

Office hours

Using office hours to manage regular work can help free up time to do the marketing activity that we need to do. To keep from being overwhelmed by the combination of client demands or expectations with marketing efforts, set office hours and stick to them (at least as far as clients can see — we can work into the late hours, on weekends and holidays if necessary, but clients don’t have to know we’re doing that).

Many of us put our office hours at our websites. Others craft responses ahead of time to be prepared for those inevitable times when clients ask for work to be done at what we consider unreasonable hours.

Deadline-driven

Another approach is to treat marketing activity as an assignment. This is similar to scheduling specific days to do marketing: Put it on your calendar as if it’s a work deadline.

Networking

You knew I couldn’t write about a business aspect of editing without mentioning networking. Being active and visible in professional organizations, discussion lists, LinkedIn and Facebook groups, Twitter, etc., is essential to your marketing activity. Networking is where you meet and are met, see and are seen. The more people see that you are someone with skills who is worth working with, the more business you will generate.

Rewards

Beyond all of these approaches, some of us respond best to rewards. Be your own Pavlov and build in treats to motivate yourself to market your freelance business. A day off, a brisk walk, a generous helping of chocolate or ice cream, a movie outing … whatever makes you feel good about accomplishing a marketing goal, give yourself a reward for making progress. Sometimes the carrot of that reward is all it takes to push yourself to include a marketing effort on a busy day. And it doesn’t have to be a major move. Something as basic as updating a LinkedIn profile, adding new language to a website, answering a question at a discussion list, attending a networking event — it’s all grist for your marketing mill.

How do you make time for marketing your editorial work? What has worked best for you?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is the editor-in-chief and — as of 2019 — owner of An American Editor and an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide. She also created and hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (www.communication-central.com), this year co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (www.naiwe.com). She can be reached at Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

April 12, 2019

On the Basics: Finding joy in what we do

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

Decorating/cleaning maven Marie Kondo hit the headlines recently when she was (somewhat mis)quoted as saying that no home needs more than 30 books. Those of us in the editing/publishing profession may have consigned this pellet of her advice to the litter box (we probably all have that many style manuals, dictionaries, grammar books and related tools of our trade, and that’s before we even get to reading for pleasure!).

However, one aspect of Kondo’s advice or approach to cleaning and decorating that we can consider is to find joy in our work lives. For Kondo, anything that doesn’t “spark joy” when you pick it up and think about its role in your life should be discarded. Can we take a similar approach to writing, editing, proofreading and related projects?

Sure!

Projects or clients that don’t spark joy should be avoided or dismissed. Of course, we don’t always know that a project or client — or regular job — will spark the opposite of joy until we’re neck-deep in a difficult project, entangled with a challenging client, or fending off an unpleasant boss or co-worker, but keeping this philosophy in mind as we start new work relationships can be an important first step in sparking and maintaining joy in our work.

Finding joy

If our editorial work doesn’t spark joy, why are we doing it? Life is too short to invest a lot of energy and effort into doing work that we don’t enjoy. Of course, we all encounter projects that are difficult or boring, and clients who are … challenging to work with or for, but those should be the minority in your portfolio. There should be at least one project — ideally most, if not all, of them — that is a joy to do, both in terms of the work and the client. Most of us also have encountered workplaces that spark more fear, resentment, anger or depression than joy — such conditions might be why many of us become freelancers.

We can’t always afford to walk away from a job, whether it’s in-house or freelance, but there’s value in seeking to get joy from what we do, and in using the idea of sparking joy as a basis for whether to keep going or start looking for alternatives.

I find great joy in writing articles that clarify intricate topics, introduce readers to new ideas and people, expand my horizons of contacts and knowledge, and generate a payment that I find acceptable. I find joy in editing and proofreading material to make my clients look better (see https://americaneditor.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/on-the-basics-a-love-of-editing/ for details). Seeing my name on my work, whether it’s in print or online, also evokes joy; even after all my many years in business as a freelance writer/editor, there’s still something thrilling about such recognition and visibility. It always feels like the first time.

It also sparks joy when clients pay not only well but promptly (so I make it easy for them to do so by using resources like PayPal and direct deposit). Getting repeat projects from clients, especially when I don’t have to ask to be hired again, is another aspect of a freelancer’s life that creates joy (and sometimes relief).

Those are practical aspects, of course, especially for those of us who are freelancers rather than in-house workers. The more philosophical or even emotional aspect is the joy created by receiving thanks and compliments for my work. I’m pretty confident of my skills and my value to clients, but it always feels good to have that validated — so good that I keep every single compliment in a file and post many of them to my website as testimonials.

Those comments have another role in our lives: When a client, colleague or employer is being difficult, or a project is not generating any joy, glancing at some of those compliments can turn the tide from depressed to delighted.

Clients benefit from being generous with praise and appreciation, too; those who provide such feedback are the ones who go to the top of my list when someone needs work done in a rush.

Avoiding hassles

There’s certainly no joy in dealing with difficult clients or projects. We can adapt Kondo’s philosophy to our editorial work by heading off many hassles through good ol’ common sense. While many colleagues have managed without contracts for years, we can protect ourselves from problems by using contracts when working with new clients. A contract doesn’t have to be complicated; it can be a straightforward statement of what you will do, at what length (number of words for a writing assignment, number of pages for editing or proofreading — with a definition of “ page”!), when, etc. (For invaluable insights into contracts, get a copy of The Paper It’s Written On, by Dick Margulis and Karen Cather.)

Imagine the joy of having language in place to rely on if a client is late with sending their project to you but still expects you to complete it by the original deadline; adds more interviews or other topics to a writing assignment, or additional chapters (plus an index, glossary, appendix or three …) to an editing project; tries not to pay, or at best, pays very slowly and very late; wants to acknowledge your services even after rejecting most of your suggestions and edits …

Weeding out the weasels

As Kondo implies, it’s possible to weed out our clients much as we might weed out our wardrobes and homes (we won’t include bookcases here). Because I have much too much stuff, including outfits I’ll probably never wear again, I don’t let myself buy anything new unless I get rid of something old.

We can manage our editorial businesses similarly: If you’re feeling overwhelmed, bored, frustrated or annoyed by the demands that a low-paying client or unpleasant workplace makes on your time and/or energy, make the effort to find one that pays better, or at least treats you better. Then you can ditch whatever has been creating negativity and taking your attention away from opportunities that give you joy in your worklife.

What sparks joy in your editorial work? How do you find and keep that feeling if a project, client or regular job starts to suck the joy out of your life?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is the editor-in-chief and — as of 2019 — owner of An American Editor and an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (www.communication-central.com), this year co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (www.naiwe.com). She can be reached at Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

April 8, 2019

Storycraft for Novelists and Their Editors: Resources to Help Authors Get It Right

By Carolyn Haley

Most of the clients in my editing business are indie authors. The majority of them are “newbies” who have completed their first novels and are not sure what to do next.

Without exception, these authors have terrific story ideas. Almost without exception, their stories are weakly executed, and have a low chance for the commercial success the authors desire. My challenge is to figure out what editorial service to offer these writers so I can support both their goals and my business in a win-win arrangement.

Developmental editing is the obvious choice for weak manuscripts. However, it isn’t always the correct editorial service to propose. This might be because of author preference — they don’t want that service or can’t afford it — or because of mine: I’m not a great developmental editor and don’t enjoy that work. Because I am more of a mechanic than a concept person, my best skill is helping writers polish their completed novels through line or copy editing. When a developmental edit is appropriate but not a viable option, I propose a manuscript evaluation. That gives authors the constructive, broad-view feedback they want without my having to edit a manuscript that will probably be rewritten.

A manuscript evaluation is also significantly less expensive than a developmental edit, and therefore more accessible to more prospective clients. If all goes well, I usually get their revised — and much improved — novels back for line or copy editing.

With manuscript evaluations, I always include three book suggestions for authors to study while they’re awaiting my delivery. The combination of service plus resources helps guide their revisions and results in better works.

The big three

There are so many how-to-write guides out there, in print and electronic form, that reading any of them can help authors hone their skills in composition and storycraft. Rather than just tell a prospect “go do your homework,” though, I specify the books that have impressed me the most and that give, in my opinion, the best bang for the buck:

1) Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain

2) On Writing by Stephen King

3) Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Each book is worth reading on its own. As a set, they are mutually supportive and profoundly educational, especially for authors early in their novel-writing endeavors.

1) Techniques of the Selling Writer

This is a master class in a paperback. More so than any other how-to guide I’ve ever seen, Techniques breaks down storywriting into its most basic nuts and bolts, then shows how to assemble them into a compelling tale. Although first published in 1960s, when many novelists were learning their craft through writing short stories and selling them to a thriving magazine market, the techniques remain applicable to writing novels in today’s very different world. The skills are universal and timeless, and Swain makes them comprehensible.

Reading the entire book in one gulp can be overwhelming, though. This book is best considered a textbook, as it covers material on par with a college course. Indeed, Swain was a teacher, and he comes across as an enthusiastic and savvy professor who inspires his class. It’s definitely a volume to acquire for a home library. My own copy is defaced by highlighted passages, dog-eared pages, and embedded paper clips. I reread it every few years to keep the knowledge fresh in my mind.

Swain’s foundation concept is the motivation-reaction unit. It’s a creative interpretation of physics, in that something happens, then something happens in response to it, in a progressive chain (and then … and then … and then …).

The cause-effect relationship escalates through a story, driving character and plot, creating tension, and leading to resolution. Many writers, upon seeing a story parsed in motivation-reaction terms, have slapped themselves upside the head for failing to miss what suddenly becomes obvious. When they review their novels in this context, they find it easier to identify areas that aren’t working and understand how to fix them.

2) On Writing

Stephen King is one of the elite contemporary novelists who has become a household name. His advice, one would expect, is worth paying attention to for novelists with commercial ambitions. You don’t have to a horror writer like King to benefit from his insights.

I agree. On Writing is part memoir and part writing guide. To emphasize that point, it is subtitled A Memoir of the Craft. I recommend it as a counterbalance to Techniques of the Selling Writer. While Swain’s book is almost ruthlessly mechanical, King’s book is intensely personal. (Technical, nonetheless: He would zap me for using so many adverbs!)

It’s relaxing to read On Writing after Techniques, but at the same time, the former allows the lessons of the latter to sink in. The two combined illustrate how novel-writing is both an art and a craft, and underscore a crucial concept that artists in any medium need to learn: You must know the rules before you can break them.

King expands on this idea, saying, “Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”

This is important to understand if you are writing a novel (or advising the author of one). What I value most about King’s book is how he takes the tools itemized by Swain and puts them into a context most writers can relate to. He also subdues any intimidation that Swain’s how-to book might trigger and supports an author’s right — and need — to experiment, explore, tell the truth, be themself.

He doesn’t do this by dissing technical skills or commercial intentions. Rather, he helps writers understand and organize their toolkits as a means of telling their stories honestly and with passion, for optimal reader response.

King is exceptionally good at helping people distinguish between good advice and B.S. As part of this, he provides guidelines on whom to listen to, and when, which is critical for authors when they emerge from writing a draft to expose their work to readers, then honing their work for publication. Novel-writing is both an intellectual and emotional process, and King understands and describes this dual aspect beautifully. Newbie authors who feel insecure about themselves as artists can gain confidence about their chosen path while absorbing and using the skills they need to move forward as craftspeople and businesspeople.

The first time I read On Writing, I almost inhaled the whole book in one gasp. In later revisits, I skip King’s personal story and focus on his clinical advice. I strongly recommend that other writers do the same.

3) Characters & Viewpoint

Orson Scott Card, an icon in science fiction and fantasy, discusses stories as a whole in this book — even though the title suggests the content is limited to characters and viewpoints. The essence of his presentation is that all characters and viewpoints (along with plots, dialogues, settings, styles — everything about writing a novel) need a framework to define them, both for writing and for audience expectation.

“Forget about publishing genres for a moment,” he instructs, turning attention to “four basic factors that are present in every story, with varying degrees of emphasis. It is the balance among these factors that determines what sort of characterization a story must have, should have, or can have.”

He calls these factors the “M.I.C.E. quotient,” which stands for Milieu, Idea, Character, Event. This element is the book’s key takeaway, beyond its excellent analysis and advice about the title subjects.

A Milieu novel is about the world a story is set in, most commonly involving the protagonist leaving a familiar environment, entering a strange new one, then returning home after life-changing adventures. An Idea story covers a big concept, usually opening with a question and closing when the question is answered. A Character story is about what somebody goes through that transforms their life. An Event story covers something major that happens and how the character(s) deals with it.

Any novel can combine these elements, and most do. Defining the dominant M.I.C.E. characteristic helps authors set up and deliver upon what story promise readers expect them to fulfill. The broad strokes of M.I.C.E. lead to the fine points of genre categorization — a common area of confusion when authors try to market their books.

(Side note: Card covers the M.I.C.E. quotient in another book, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. Both were written as contributor volumes to different Writer’s Digest fiction-writing series.)

Same points, different angles

All three of these reference books address the same points from different angles. The authors agree that successful novels engross readers in story while giving them truths they can understand and identify with. Specific techniques build suspense, draw character, and evoke time and place. Artistry isn’t magic; it needs skill to connect people and ideas. Put it all together right, and both writer and reader enjoy a mutual, yet individual, great experience.

For these reasons, I recommend that editors of fiction read the same books. Editors who themselves write novels can benefit from their author and editor perspectives; editors who don’t write fiction can gain a better idea of what their author clients go through, and how they are slanting, or might slant, their work.

Many other books address the myriad aspects of writing fiction, not to mention writing in general. Each one I’ve read has added to my knowledge and understanding, as both an editor and a writer. The trio recommended here packs a lot of helpful information into easy-to-read and easy-to-understand packages.

Most important on the business side, all of my clients who have studied these books have enjoyed huge leaps forward in their progress toward publication.

Let us know what books have been helpful to you in either guiding aspiring authors or enhancing your own writing craft.

Carolyn Haley, an award-winning novelist, lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1977, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at dcma@vermontel.com 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 on editing fiction at the Communication Central conference.

March 18, 2019

Book Indexes: Multivolume Indexes

Ælfwine Mischler

Last year, I had the pleasure of indexing the third and final volume of a history of Egyptology while creating a combined index of volumes 1–3. (I confess that I have a bit of a soft spot for this book. Volume 1 was my first paid index — and a complicated text for a first-timer — and I was thrilled that the author included me in the acknowledgments.)

When I indexed volumes 1 and 2, the publisher had not thought of having a combined index in the last volume, so I did nothing out of the ordinary in indexing the first two books. When the publisher asked for a combined index, I asked colleagues for any tips or tricks, and they alerted me that it would be a lot more work than just merging the first two files into the third. They were not joking! (Fortunately, I was able to negotiate a higher per-page price.)

More Editing

The publisher gave me PDFs of the final indexes for volumes 1 and 2, and I compared these carefully with the indexes I had written. I wanted to see any changes the publisher had made and refresh my memory of both the subjects I had indexed and their organization.

In my indexing software (I use Sky Indexing), I made a copy of each volume’s index and entered the publisher’s edits, and then increased the locator numbers (a locator is a page or a range of pages) by 1000 in volume 1 and by 2000 in volume 2. Thus, for example, page 35 in volume 1 became 1035 and page 35 in volume 2 became 2035. I then merged these into a new file, in which I indexed volume 3. I changed the page numbers to the correct forms with volume numbers as a final step so I would not have to type 3: before every locator for the new items.

The real extra work came in creating and organizing subentries. Many entries in volumes 1 and 2 had only a few locators without subentries. When the indexes were combined, these entries had too many locators and I had to make subentries. This required going back into the PDFs for those volumes and rereading those pages.

Other entries in a single volume had subentries, but there were so many in the combined index that they became unwieldy. I reworded some subentries to combine them, but more often, I put the subentries into broad categories and split them into nested entries.

Two of the great names in Egyptology illustrate this editing process.

Howard Carter, who discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, had only five locators in the index of volume 1 (covering from antiquity to 1881), with no subentries. In volume 2 (covering from 1881–1941), he had 14 subentries. In volume 3, the discovery of Tutankhamun covered 40 pages in two chapters, and in the combined index, Carter was in two nested entries:

Sir Flinders Petrie also appeared in all three volumes. In the volume 1 index, he had seven locators with no subentries. (In volume 1, which covered a much longer span of time, the managing editor and I agreed to use longer strings of locators to save space.) In volume 2, there were 26 subentries for Petrie. In volume 3, the Petrie entry was nested to break the subentries into broad categories:

I made some other changes in the combined index. Many of the big names had a subentry “career” or “early career” or “legacy.” These were all force-sorted as the first subentry under the name. Volume 1 discussed many books. I reviewed these entries and removed some from the index that were mentioned with little or no discussion. This was relatively easy to do in the indexing software because I could group all the records that had italics in the main entry. If a book had only one locator, I reread the page in the PDF. Sometimes there was sufficient discussion to keep the title in the index. In addition to these smaller edits, I reorganized some of the large entries.

When I was finished with the editing, I changed the locator numbers to volume and correct page number — an easy task in the software.

This long, complicated index needed a final check. For this, I generated a page proof in numbered order. (This option may not be available in all indexing software.) I went through the page proof line by line. This allowed me to check that double-posted items were correct; for example, that 2:17–20 appeared in both “Petrie, Sir William Flinders, methods and techniques of: excavation” and “methods and techniques of archaeologists: of Petrie.”

With a Heads-up

In this situation, I did not know that a combined index would be required in the last volume of the series when I worked on the first two volumes. What if I had a heads-up on another project? What would I do differently in indexing the early volumes?

I would create subentries for anything that was likely to appear in the following volumes, even if it did not require subentries in the current volume. When I was finished editing the index with the extraneous subentries, I would suppress them in the current index, saving them for the later combined index.

This could be done in one of two ways. I could save the index with a different name, and then in the new one, consume the extraneous subentries, that is, remove the subentries but retain the locators, which my software can easily do. When I made the combined index, I would merge the file with the subentries into the new file.

Or I could duplicate each of the entries with extraneous subentries in one file, label them with a color code and filter them out, and then consume the subentries in the unfiltered records. To make the combined index, I would unfilter the records with subentries.

Either way, the combined index would still be more work than a single-volume index, and I would charge a higher rate. A combined index is more than the sum of its parts. Be aware of this if you are either of the parties negotiating for such an index.

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

March 4, 2019

Lazy Writing, Part 2 — Something to Combat, but Sometimes Appreciate

By Carolyn Haley

For Part 1 of this article, go to https://americaneditor.wordpress.com/2019/02/15/thinking-fiction-lazy-writing-part-1-something-to-combat-but-sometimes-appreciate/

Extra padding

Sometimes lazy writing involves using more words than needed. Characters give a sigh or give a wink instead of just sighing or winking. They make their way somewhere instead of walking, driving, climbing, wending, etc. They have a feeling of dread about something instead of dreading it, or haven’t seen someone for a while instead of for hours, days, weeks, months, or years. Readers soon get tired of such lazy usage and yearn for some brevity and specificity.

The same effect occurs with over-creativity, by which I mean referring to a character in too many ways. Joe might be a short guy with black hair who is also a police officer in Chicago. As paragraphs about his action go by, he’s referred to as Joe, the short man, the black-haired fighter, the cop, and the Chicagoan. In trying to avoid repetition, the author ends up confusing the reader by introducing too many variables. This tends to happen in action novels, where a character is lightly sketched at first appearance and never developed to the point of being easily recognizable later. Such variability again makes the reader have to work hard to keep track of who’s who.

Loose ends

The most common lazy writing I encounter is false suspense, although this is a result less of laziness than ignorance. It usually occurs in a first novel, when the author doesn’t yet understand the difference between suspense that generates the “What happens next?” question and suspense that generates the “What’s going on?” question.

I recently challenged a client about why he kept starting new chapters in new places and times without telling us who was talking or where/when they were. That information came several paragraphs or even pages into the chapter. He said he liked dropping readers straight into the action. That’s fine if readers can follow the logic leap. If not, it’s a head-scratcher that is certain to leave readers impatient and confused.

Lazy writing occurs also in matters of verisimilitude. When writers get carried away with the excitement of their story and don’t later verify facts and logistics, it falls on the editor to burst their balloon by pointing out that a scene can’t happen the way it’s described.

Most such bloopers are easy fixes, such as adjusting the scene to account for moonlight (or lack of), or whether it’s possible to maneuver with bodies lying around underfoot, or how a specified gun type might behave, or accounting for vehicles left crashed in the middle of the road when the hero then zooms down said road unimpeded. Sometimes a technical blooper might require a major recast of scene or even storyline; but, thankfully for both writers and editors, bloopers usually are of the “duh” type, such as cigarettes lit but never put out (or smoked in 30 seconds or 30 minutes), or the consequences of a major wound (people who don’t bleed, or continue running around when they’ve had a lung shot out), and the like. Fixing those items doesn’t require revising the whole book.

The subjectivity factor

The laziest of lazy writing, in my passionate opinion, is the cliffhanger, be it the ending of a scene, a chapter, or an entire book. I acknowledge that this can be a matter of taste, and I struggle with determining whether that’s truly the case or if the story is hurting itself by using that device. How to respond to cliffhangers is, perhaps, the most difficult decision I must make as an editor. Do I let it go, or flag it as a criticism or item for discussion? As a recreational reader on my own time, cliffhangers inspire me to simply toss a book over my shoulder, but as a professional editor, I can’t do that.

Cliffhangers strike me as a cheap shot, as manipulative, as author intrusion into a story. They occur most often in series novels, used as an attempt to bribe readers into reading the next book. I consider cliffhanging a lazy technique because, as a reader, I want resolution. I am willing to keep turning pages if the author keeps the suspense and interest mounting, but I don’t need to be compelled to continue by force. I want closure of the individual volume’s story with promise of more to come, not major components left dangling to provoke me into reading the next book.

As with almost everything relating to writing and editing novels, subjectivity is a big factor. My job as an editor is to inform an author about any spot where other readers might bark their shins. It’s up to the author to decide whether those places are things they want to think about and change.

If the author chooses to let an issue stand, I’m fine with that. I care only that they make an informed choice. The marketplace will decide whether it’s the right choice. Most of us know that you can’t please everyone, and the author’s goal is to connect with the audience who wants to read their stuff. My job as an editor is to help them achieve that end.

The editor’s role

It’s a rare editor who doesn’t encounter lazy writing during their career. Those who work with indie authors, especially new ones, encounter it often. Tolerance for editing lazy writing should be considered when deciding what kind of editorial work to do for a living. That tolerance level also an important component of structuring contracts — defining exactly what the editor is going to do to the client’s manuscript is essential to a good working relationship.

If you have the heart and soul of a developmental editor, and you find clients willing to pay the cost, then you can dive into someone’s early work and help them avoid symptoms of lazy writing. This not only gives you job satisfaction, but also helps line and copy editors down the road, who might not be developmentally inclined and have a harder time sorting out the material, defining the boundaries of their work, and helping their clients.

Line and copy editors do sometimes have to deal with un-developmentally-edited texts, because their clients are unwilling or unable to pay for the higher level of edit that would catch and help the author fix instances of lazy writing. In all cases, no matter what level of editing is involved, editors have to define terms and expectations carefully in the work they propose to provide. Copy editors are generally limited to making comments and queries instead of rephrasing, and both editor and author might end up tearing their hair out if the “edited” manuscript is overloaded with changes and queries attacking the text when that’s not part of the agreed-upon scope of work. A client expecting the mechanical focus of copyediting might not be open to the heavy hits on their prose by an editor who recognizes lazy writing and tries to improve it, while a client expecting deep involvement in their prose might feel cheated if all they get are mechanical edits.

Appreciating the lazy …

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate lazy writing. It forces me to concentrate on a story and think hard about the details, get engrossed in the characters, take the author seriously. Addressing the questions that lazy writing triggers and talking with the author about them brings out the best of our relationship, letting us blend the artistic and analytical elements that bring out the best of the work. Ultimately, we all — author, editor, and the story itself — end up more muscular and vibrant. How can that not result in a better book?

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

February 20, 2019

Sticking to Your “Rate Principles” … Essential, but Not Always Easy

By Elaine R. Firestone, ELS

“Rate principles” is a term I coined for that point when you say, “This is my limit for how low I’ll go in my rates for a given type of work,” and mean it and follow it.

I’ve been a freelancer for over six years now (and a professional editor for much longer), so I’ve heard my share of horror stories from colleagues who received e-mails that just didn’t “smell” right, and I’m always vigilant when I receive e-mails from previously unknown sources inquiring about my services. I recently got an inquiry from someone who was most obviously legit, even without researching the potential client’s name and affiliation. She sent a long and incredibly detailed description of the journals she oversees, including their respective subjects, the audience of each one, and even the voice each strives to maintain. She also stated what she wants a copy-/substantive editor to do, as well as from where she got my name (my Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) profile). That’s always good to know.

The next step was to respond if I was interested in the work, the areas in which I thought I could work most efficiently, and my rates for doing this type of work.

I didn’t respond right away. I wanted to think carefully about both whether I wanted to take on a new client at this time and — especially — the rate question. Because I have different clients who pay different rates (for various reasons not germane to this article), I was a bit torn about how to respond:

— Do I go with my lowest rate in hopes of getting the work?

— Do I go with my highest rate because I want to make as much as possible?

— Do I go with the middle-of-the-road rate to hedge my bets?

What should I do?

My thoughts went back and forth along a number of lines:
— If I go with the lowest rate, I’m definitely going to resent the work, both now and in the future.
— If I go with the highest rate, I doubt I will get the work at all.
— If I go with the middle-of-the-road rate … well … I still may resent the work over time, especially because learning their way of doing things won’t be easy, nor would learning the nuances of the new science area.

What did I do?

I started my response by thanking the client for the detail in her e-mail. I went on to reiterate, in a very short narrative, a few of my qualifications that made me an excellent fit for the work, citing things that she ideally already read in my EFA profile and website. (Doing this is an excellent strategy, by the way, because the client is reminded how great you and how impressive your qualifications are before reading the rate you’ll charge.) Finally, I said that yes, I was interested and thought the subject matter was fascinating (it never hurts to use a little flattery), and then gave my rate. Which rate, you ask? A rate that wasn’t quite my highest, but much higher than my middle-of-the-road one.

But why? Why did I do that? Why didn’t I quote a lower rate? Well, here are my reasons for not quoting a lower rate to help ensure — at some level — that I’d get the job:

  1. My time and expertise are worth money.
  2. There is no guarantee that — even at a low rate — I’d be chosen. Someone with an even lower rate could always undercut me.
  3. If I got the job, it would be fairly regular work, and I didn’t want to resent either the time I had to spend doing it or the work itself.
  4. My time and expertise are worth money.
  5. Once working for a low rate, I have found it’s often difficult to raise it any appreciable amount without losing the client. It sometimes takes years to do, and sometimes, it’s impossible. The rate I accepted from my lowest-paying client was to just get the work when I started out freelancing. That rate has never caught up to my higher rates, leading to, at times, resentment of the work. (See #1, above).
  6. I had more than enough other work at the moment, so the rate had to make it worth my while to juggle this with the work of another client.
  7. My time and expertise are worth money.

Notice that “My time and expertise are worth money” is repeated three times. It’s worth all of us repeating that phrase over and over again.

Some of you may be new editors, or maybe you’re seasoned professionals. Maybe you’re new to freelancing or maybe you’ve been freelancing for decades. Whatever stage of your career you are in, whether you’re just determining your rates, or if you’ve been “at it” awhile and you’re contemplating a rate hike, I highly recommend that you read Rich Adin’s column “A Continuing Frustration — The ‘Going Rate,’” where he talks about figuring out what your “effective hourly rate” is.

Whether I get this work or not, however, I feel like I’ve “won.” If I get the work at my stated rate, I gain a new client, at a good rate, in a potentially fascinating new-to-me science discipline, which in turn becomes résumé candy. If I don’t get the work, I still have my existing clients with more than enough work to keep me busy (but with my sanity intact), plus I can keep my self-respect because I didn’t compromise my rate principles.

Many of you don’t have the financial advantage of being able to turn down work just because it doesn’t pay well … you rationalize that any work is good work — which I understand, because I’ve been in that situation. Many of you don’t have rate principles to begin with (which we should all have, no matter what they might be), so you take anything offered even if you have some type of financial cushion as a fallback.

A number of colleagues have said over the years that if you lose a low-paying client, then you have time to market to higher-paying clients, but if you gain a low-paying client, you are probably doing the same amount of work as for a higher paying one, but without the benefits of a higher bank balance, along with less time to devote to seeking out the higher payers.

I urge everyone here to first determine your individual “effective rate,” then formulate your “rate principles,” and try to stick to them. Your self-respect, your happiness, and your bank balance will thank you for it.

Elaine R. Firestone, ELS, is an award-winning — and board-certified — scientific and technical editor and compositor specializing in the physical and agricultural sciences. After a 25+-year career editing for NASA, Elaine started ERF Editorial Consulting, where her motto is “‘ERF’ aren’t just my initials — it’s what you get: Edits. Results. Final product.”©

Editor’s note: Let us know how you approach setting and sticking to your rates.

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