An American Editor

December 2, 2020

Finding, working with, and retaining (ESL) clients, Part 2

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 10:24 am
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Geoff Hart, Contributing Writer

For Part 1 of this discussion, go to: https://americaneditor.wordpress.com/2020/11/25/finding-working-with-and-retaining-esl-clients-part-1/.

Cultural considerations

Different cultures have different approaches to communication, and many misunderstandings can be avoided if you learn about and account for these differences. For example, some cultures are more relationship-centered (e.g., Chinese, Spanish) than English-based cultures, whereas others are more “businesslike” (e.g., German). In China, authors often want to get to know you before they’ll trust you enough to discuss business. The first time a Chinese author brought me to China to meet him and his colleagues, my stay in Beijing began with a dinner where we all talked about simple personal and social things. There was no discussion about our plans for the visit before the end of the dinner, when it was necessary to discuss the following day’s activities. In contrast, business meetings with most North Americans begin with a cursory exchange of informalities, then dive right into the business at hand. ESL authors tend to be familiar with western customs, and expect you to behave like a barbarian who’s ignorant of their culture. I take great pleasure in pleasantly surprising them.

Note: Avoid falling into the trap of stereotyping. People from any culture are individuals, and behave individually. You’ll need to follow your author’s cues, whether explicit or implicit, to know how to proceed. When in doubt, ask!

In high-context cultures, such as China, much is left unsaid and must be inferred. For example, when you receive a compliment in North America, it’s assumed that you will thank the person for their compliment; saying nothing suggests that you feel the compliment was deserved, and can suggest arrogance. In China, the opposite may be true. Accepting a compliment by thanking the giver can convey arrogance by suggesting you feel you’re worthy of the compliment. Ignoring or downplaying the compliment expresses humility by not drawing attention to yourself.

Better still, try diverting the compliment. At the end of one stay in China, my host complimented me for being “very Chinese,” since I’d made considerable effort to learn and practice correct social etiquette — a worthwhile investment. I thanked him before I could stifle the reflex, but quickly added: “I think it would be more correct to say that I am more Chinese now than when I arrived in China; there is still so much to learn.” His smile told me I’d handled my mistake well.

Definitely learn about your author’s cultural etiquette, particularly if you will be meeting them in person. For example, Japanese bow to each other in formal situations, with the depth of the bow proportional to the importance of the other person. Chinese do not bow. In China, business card exchanges are an important greeting, since the cards are your way to ensure you heard the person’s name correctly. Rather than tucking the card into your pocket, like we do in the west, receive it with both hands, read it carefully, pronounce the person’s name (and position, such as “Director Wang”), then lay the card on the table before you if you are sitting or continue holding it in your hand if standing. Similarly, when you offer your business card, hold it in both hands, with the text facing the recipient so they can read it without having to rotate the card.

Learn your author’s cultural assumptions. For example, the Chinese concept of guanxi is extremely important. Although the word is often translated as “networking,” that misses crucial nuances: an assumption of mutual aid and a careful accounting for favors given or received. In a western network, it’s assumed that you’ll simply refuse an unreasonable or inconvenient request from a colleague, but when you become part of an author’s guanxiwang (guanxi network), you are expected to go far beyond the call of duty to help them and any member of their guanxiwang if they ask you for help.

This can be problematic for eager young authors who seem to work 24/7 and expect us to do the same. It also leads to problems when an author who trusts your work wants you to work with their colleagues, too, which is common practice in China. That’s great when you’re starting out and need more clients, but can rapidly become impossible to manage because your number of clients grows exponentially as each new client introduces you to everyone in their guanxiwang. I solved this problem by explaining that although I understood the importance of guanxi, I could no longer accept new work due to a lack of time. Instead, to honor our guanxi, I told them I was happy to introduce them to other editors in my own guanxiwang.

If you’re interested in forming more than a business relationship with your clients, learn about their important holidays. For example, most people are familiar with the Chinese new year, which occurs in February. It’s an important time for getting together with family and friends to celebrate. Far fewer westerners are familiar with the Chinese national holiday in the first week of October, which is the busiest travel time of the year, since the length of the holiday lets far-flung families come together from all corners of China to celebrate. Most authors appreciate it when you send greetings, particularly if those greetings show an understanding of their culture. For example, when I send Chinese new year greetings, I always research which animal is featured in a given year, and seek ways to relate the characteristics of that animal to the work we do together.

It’s also fun to contact your authors on your own national or cultural holidays. For example, I send western new year’s greetings to my clients, thank them for our work together, and tell them how much I look forward to working with them again in the new year. However, although you’d think this should go without saying, don’t assume you know their religion and particularly don’t assume that they’re Christian. (No, really! I’ve seen many people make this mistake.) If you’re Christian and want to wish a ESL author a merry Christmas, do so by explaining what it means to you and why it feels so important. Emphasizing family occasions is a good way to build connections; emphasizing Christian theology is not.

On the more-amusing side, don’t jump to conclusions when an author with an unusual name contacts you. I’ve long since lost the original e-mail and couldn’t retrieve the correct name, but I was once contacted by someone whose name resembled “I.M. Beçilić” — which I misread as “imbecilic,” and thus assumed it was probably a scam. Just when I was about to delete their message without responding, instinct suggested that I Google them — and I quickly discovered they were a real person. We ended up not working together, but I introduced them to a colleague. Similarly, a colleague once received a request to work with a “Nigerian banker” — who proved to be a real Nigerian banker in need of editing assistance for their book.

Rhetorical issues

Different cultures often adopt different rhetorical styles, and you’ll begin to recognize these differences as you gain experience. For example, Chinese authors often describe the literature of a field in their literature review in what western authors would consider to be reverse chronological order. The rhetorical difference arises because western writers proceed forward from oldest to most-recent to show how the research has evolved, whereas Chinese authors consider the recent research to be more important, and believe that it’s implicitly clear that the new work evolved from the older work. Thus, they present the newer work first. Their approach isn’t wrong, but it is unusual in English, so I usually suggest that my authors use English chronological order.

Sometimes you’ll discover interesting historical artefacts in an author’s writing. For example, older Chinese authors may not have learned how to use western data presentation devices such as tables and graphs. My Chinese friends tell me that this is because Mao discouraged the use of such forms of information. As a result, older writers often explain a concept using only words and numbers, when a figure or table would be more efficient. Because I do primarily substantive and developmental editing, I look for opportunities to present information more efficiently using graphs or tables, teach my authors how to use graphs and tables, and improve the quality of any graphs or tables they used ineffectively.

Editing tips

Because ESL authors are generally less-skilled with English than native speakers, editing is likely to create more changes in a manuscript than with native English authors. This turns reviewing your edits into a challenge. It also means you should take more care about how you edit a manuscript to make it easier for an author to review your changes and reduce the risk of errors when they review your changes. (The greater the number of small errors they must accept or reject, the greater the number of errors they’ll make. This is also true for native English speakers.)

Here are some suggestions how to make your edits easier to review:

•       Replace entire phrases or even whole sentences; never ask an author to decipher complex puzzles created from many small changes.

•       Polish your comments, explanations, and questions until they shine with lucidity.

•       Don’t just report problems; provide solutions they can emulate. If your proposed change is perfect, they can copy it and paste it into the manuscript. If it’s imperfect, they can still copy and modify it. (Because many authors are not experts at using their word processors, it’s helpful to remind them they can copy and paste text from your comments.)

•       When you need to describe a problem, use the most-precise words, even if they seem complex. Authors who write in a second language will own a bilingual dictionary, and the more precise your wording, the easier it will be for them to find the correct meaning. That being said, use the tips in Part 1 of this article to illustrate a problem if you can, instead of relying on editorial jargon.

•       Don’t track changes they must accept (e.g., a publisher’s format requirements) — but do add a comment to describe what you’ve done so they never begin to suspect that you’re changing things behind their back. This can lead to a loss of trust, particularly early in a relationship.

•       Teach them how to review your edits effectively (both quickly and accurately). For example, refer them to my primers on revision tracking (http://geoff-hart.com/resources.html#downloads). Feel free to download these primers and modify them to meet your needs.

These tricks not only make it faster and easier for the author to review your work; they also mean there will be fewer errors for you to correct when you review the revised manuscript again.

It’s also worth noting that every language has its quirks, and authors who have learned those quirks for their native language often carry those quirks into how they use their new language. For example, with Chinese authors:

•       Definite and indefinite articles are rarely used in Chinese, so they’re often misused when authors write in English. (I’ve provided a concise tutorial on this subject [GH1] on my website. See the “Downloads” section at the end of this article for details.)

•       Pronouns are rarely used in Chinese, including possessives such as “their.” This leads to much repetition of the full words where a native writer would simply use a pronoun.

•       Similarly, possessives are poorly understood. For example, you’ll often see “of China” instead of “China’s.” The problem is exacerbated for combining possessives with long institutional names. You’ll often see “the X of the [10-word institute name] instead of “the institute’s X.”

•       Chinese authors tend to cite literature, figures, and tables late in the paragraph, after they’ve finished describing these things, instead of citing them early to provide context for the information that follows. Authors for whom English is their native language often start a paragraph with words such as “Table 1 summarizes …,” followed by a paragraph describing that summary. In a Chinese manuscript, you’ll often find the table cited only at the end of the last sentence of the paragraph.

•       Bilingual dictionaries that help them translate from Chinese to English can contain errors. For example, many Chinese authors use few, rare, or scarce when they really mean none.

As I noted earlier, authors who are writing in their second language are usually better in the language of their subject than they are in conversation. As a result, they often use phrases that don’t quite mean what you think they mean. Sometimes, those phrases even seem potentially offensive. Before you respond emotionally, assume that the author has good intentions, and ask yourself what they think they’re saying. For example, my authors often wish me “good luck.” In English, this sometimes means “you’ll need all the luck you can get with this one,” but more often, a Chinese author really means “I wish you good fortune,” which is a standard and warm closing phrase in Chinese. Another example is “I will pay for this when [condition is met].” This is rarely an attempt to escape payment by suggesting they’ll pay only when they’re satisfied with your work; more often, it’s a simple reassurance that they really do intend to pay.

Phonetic spelling errors are a particularly common problem. These often result from false cognates (faux amis in French; falsi amici in Italian, jiǎ tóng yuán cí in Chinese) or simple near-misses. My Japanese authors often write glass when they mean grass, for instance, but Chinese authors rarely have this problem; Japanese doesn’t use L, and because of how Japanese is pronounced, authors often substitute R for L. In contrast, my Chinese authors often write conversation when they mean conservation.

Authors who natively use a non-Roman script often spell names incorrectly (both theirs and those of their colleagues); thus, don’t assume any names in a manuscript have been correctly spelled. The problem also goes the other way. When I write to my authors in pinyin (a standardized romanization of Chinese characters), I have to be very careful about the tones if the  context of the message is at all unclear.

For authors who use a symbol-based language, problems often result from confusing two English letters that have similar shapes. Understanding these visual errors often helps me decipher problem words that seem to make no sense in context. Examples of shape confusion include:

•       Letters with strongly similar shapes: c / e, r n / m, K / X, k / x, f i / h, lower-case L / 1, u / ii

•       Letters that are similar, but with a single missing stroke: r / n, h / n

•       Letters that have been rotated or flipped or both: Z / N, p / b, p / d, p / q

As experts in English, we tend to correct these errors subconsciously as we read. Thus, while we’re editing, we need to find ways to not overlook these problems. Some will be caught by your spellchecker, but many won’t be because the letter replacement still leaves a valid word. You can use tricks like creating an exclusion dictionary in Word, or recording search-and-replace macros that highlight specific words you have trouble with. In the end, though, you just have to be alert to these kinds of problems and force yourself to slow down and pay attention.

For authors who repeatedly make the same error and don’t seem able to memorize the correct form, it can be fatiguing making the same correction over and over again. One solution is to master search-and-replace so you can make these corrections globally. Another is to use a tool such as PerfectIt (https://intelligentediting.com/).

Note: With ESL authors, it’s particularly important to never do a global search-and-replace if you won’t have time to review the entire manuscript. Errors are easy to make, and can undermine the author’s confidence in you. The same caution applies to native English authors, of course.

In the final part of this discussion, I’ll discuss ethical issues, how to get paid, and how to retain (ESL) clients, as well as some of the frustrations and rewards of working with these authors.”

Geoff Hart (he/him) (www.geoff-hart.com) works as a scientific editor, specializing in helping scientists who have English as their second language to publish their research. He’s the author of the popular Effective Onscreen Editing, now in its 4th edition, and of the well-reviewed Writing for Science Journals. He has been a frequent presenter at Communication Central’s Be a Better Freelancer® conferences. He also writes fiction in his spare time, and has sold 28 stories thus far.


November 27, 2020

Thinking Fiction — The Indie Editor/Author Equation, Part 1

Carolyn Haley

In the business combination of independent editor and independent author, especially in the realm of fiction, both parties quickly learn that there are no rules to the game.

Yes, there are best practices we should all consider; and yes, editors and authors must adhere to the legalities and tax responsibilities required by their locations; and yes, there are generally accepted ethical guidelines in conducting financial transactions for services.

Aside from those, indie fiction writing-editing-publishing is the new Wild West!

That’s because anyone can open shop as an editor, just as anyone can write a novel. There are no educational or technical qualifications to be either; no licensure mandated, no expertise needed beyond functional literacy. No official entity is watching or managing; no sanctioned organization or employer is mentoring, evaluating, or penalizing. Individual editors and authors must decide on their own how to operate together, and make personal judgments on what constitutes “good enough.”

This combination almost guarantees messy relationships and novels. The negative results are well-represented in the marketplace, and well-covered in other articles and blogs. This essay focuses on how to avoid those messes and succeed as an indie editor working with indie novelists.

First steps — understanding each other

It starts with understanding what “indie” means. On the surface, “indie” is merely shorthand for “independent.”

For editors, that means “self-employed” (aka “freelance”) versus being on the payroll of a publishing house.

For authors, it means essentially the same thing — they are not writing on behalf of a company, only for themselves. They might plan to self-publish their novel from the start or decide to do so after failing to interest traditional publishers in their work, or they might seek to publish traditionally and persevere toward that end. Any of these authors might seek indie editors to help them advance toward their goals. That’s why we can’t consider “indie publishing” to be synonymous with “self-publishing.”

Options and efforts

It frequently falls on indie editors to help indie authors distinguish between their options and guide their efforts. The main distinction between traditional and indie publishing is in which direction the money goes, combined with author involvement and control.

In the traditional publishing model, the author never parts with a dime. The publishing house bears all of the editing, proofing, production, marketing/promotion, and distribution costs, and eventually the author gets royalties on sales (after earning out any advance), at a modest percentage.

Actually, it isn’t quite true that no money ever comes out of the author’s pocket in traditional publishing (trad-pub). To gain access to the best houses, and often any house at all, novelists need to sign with an agent. Agents offer many valuable benefits to an author, but in exchange they take a commission of 10–20% of the author’s earnings. That indirect tap is often overlooked in the trad-pub vs. indie-pub decision.

Because trad-pub has become extremely competitive, with more authors struggling for fewer slots, many authors hire indie editors before submitting their work to agents and acquisition editors to help get their novels onto the playing field. They also might purchase help to navigate the bewildering maze of queries and synopses. Sometimes that pre-submission investment pays off — big time! — but most authors never recover their investments.

When their novels do get picked up by a trad-pub house, they’ll likely have to pay for their own marketing and promotion to keep their books available over the long term. Although this happens a lot with small publishing houses, it’s becoming increasingly true with big houses, too, so the original economic advantage of traditional publishing is slowly being eroded by changing market forces and consumer practices.

On the control and involvement side: In traditional publishing, authors (or their agents) must negotiate what rights are granted to the publisher for what terms. Assuming they reach a satisfactory contract, the book goes into production and out of the author’s control. They might have some say in the cover design or marketing campaign, and/or acceptance/rejection input over editorial changes, but in many publishing deals, authors are left out altogether between signing the contract and seeing the finished book.

Indie publishing is the reverse. The author pays for everything up front, but gets the full return of any income after expenses, and retains full control of rights, and full or semi-control during production.

For example, if the author is publishing through an author-services company, such as BookBaby, then that entity might perform tasks the author isn’t involved in (e.g., editing, design, production) as part of a purchased package. But most times, authors get authorization control.

Danger comes if an unsavvy author hooks up with an unscrupulous company, which might confuse authors into signing away rights out of ignorance and deliver a sloppy, unprofessional product as well.

Authors who pursue true self-publishing are their own business: a micro-size company with full decision-making authority and retention of all rights. These author-publishers are wholly responsible for hiring editors, proofreaders, cover and interior designers, typesetters and formatters, audiobook narrators and producers, publicists, promoters, schedulers, accountant, attorney. Not to mention ensuring that all tasks are performed, and managing the outgo and income of the enterprise.

Real costs

Many new authors have no idea how much money publishing requires (thousands!), because for generations, those costs were buried in publishing house salaries and administration overhead — information not publicly available. When indie authors move outside that model to get indie help, they are often rocked back on their heels by “sticker shock.” This is a regular problem for indie editors seeking clients, because appalled authors who haven’t done their homework aren’t prepared to pay professional rates.

Originally, all book editors worked in-house for publishing houses. Over decades of economic, cultural, and media changes, editorial staff began getting pushed off payrolls and forced to go freelance or change occupation. Meanwhile, computers and the Internet made it easier to work remotely, drawing more editors into the field from myriad directions.

This change was accelerated by the entry of Amazon into the arena along with other author-service providers and aggregators/distributors, which transformed indie publishing from a pure vanity exercise to an intentional option for authors. In turn, it has increased demand for editorial support outside traditional publishing houses.

Today’s indie editors are predominantly sole-proprietor businesses who might contract with a publishing house, or an author-services provider, or directly with an individual author — maybe all of the above — to perform specific editorial services at self-established rates.

Editing roles

When working for a traditional publisher or author-services provider, indie editors deal with an intermediary, who might be called any combination of production or project manager/editor/coordinator. The indie editor has no contact with an author beyond the back-and-forth of files (sometimes not even that — indie editor provides edited files to the coordinator and never sees or hears about them again). The institution pays the editor, under terms that may or may not be negotiable. Editors must adhere to house rules of process and style (sometimes flexible; most times not), and usually wait weeks or months for their paychecks.

In contrast, when an indie editor works directly for an indie author, nobody else is involved. It’s a one-on-one private arrangement with lots of room to go smoothly — or horribly. Both parties are responsible for communicating what they want and need and expect; for establishing and agreeing to rules of engagement, and adhering to them; and being willing to discuss changes in a grown-up and flexible way.

In other words, they must make their own rules.

Time and experience among indie editors and authors are establishing successful approaches. Still, choices must constantly be made, be they for basic operation or how to organize an individual project. See Part 2 of this column for insights into what those choices could be and how to navigate them.

Part 2 of this column will be published on Friday, December 4.

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 three 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.netor through her websites, DocuMania and Borealis Books. Carolyn also reviews for theNew York Journal of Books, and has presented on editing fiction at Communication Central‘s Be a Better Freelancer® conferences.

November 25, 2020

Finding, working with, and retaining [ESL] clients, Part 1

Geoff Hart, Contributing Columnist

Editor’s notes: It is an honor and a pleasure to add Geoff Hart to the ranks of An American Editor columnists. We hope you enjoy this expanded and improved version of the author’s presentation at Communication Central’s 2016 Be a Better Freelancer® conference, Rochester, NY.

Where the author has indicated Note, the text should be a indented or block text, but your An American Editor owner hasn’t figured out how to do that yet in a new version of the WordPress editing function.

Resources will be included in Part 3 of this column.

For those interested in Geoff’s book (see author bio at end of column), Lulu.com offers 30% off all books with code BFCM30 from midnight November 27 through November 30 (presumably midnight North American Eastern Standard Time).

***

For the past 33 years, I’ve been working as a scientific editor. My specialty is working with authors who have English as a second language. (For simplicity, I’ll refer to these authors as “ESL” authors hereafter.) As you can imagine, this leads to challenges I don’t encounter with my authors who speak English as their native language. Challenges that, on the whole, I enjoy. In this series, I’ll tell you a bit about why I enjoy the work so much and how you can find, work with, and retain ESL clients. I’ve placed brackets around “ESL” in the title because, as you’ll see, much of what I’ll discuss is also true for non-ESL clients, with a slightly different spin.

Why you should work with ESL clients

When I started my freelance career, I continued working with scientific researchers, but decided to emphasize authors who learned English as their second (or more) language. In addition to seeing this as an under-exploited niche, I decided that I wanted to broaden my perspective beyond what I’d been learning from my western authors. Specifically, I focused on Japanese and Chinese authors, because these were two cultures I was somewhat familiar with and very much enjoyed. The resulting diversity of topics and concerns has proven every bit as rewarding as I’d hoped. I’ve particularly enjoyed the chance to learn more about other countries and cultures. In one case, expressing this interest even resulted in a short teaching gig at a Beijing university and offers of a longer-term teaching position when I’m retired and can afford to spend multiple months living abroad.

As an ecologist by training, I benefited from another lesson: Diverse ecosystems are most robust, and tend to be most stable. Translated into editing terms, adding Asian clients meant that my workload was potentially recession-proof (like an ecosystem or a diversified stock portfolio) because economic downturns in Asia usually differ in timing and intensity from western downturns. In addition, authors in different countries tend to have different busy periods, and this helps to spread out the work somewhat. For example, the school year (for university authors) differs among countries, as do the teaching and writing responsibilities that university professors have to fit into their busy schedules. Because most of my clients work outdoors, at locations ranging from forests to deserts, their field research seasons differ between hemispheres (e.g., summer in the south is winter in the north). I still have “crunch” periods when it seems that all my authors need my help simultaneously, but the reduced number of slow periods with no work more than compensates.

As a freelancer, it also didn’t escape my notice that higher pay rates are possible in some areas of the world. For example, costs are higher in parts of the European Union and in Japan than they are in North America. For simplicity, I use a standard rate for all my clients (but with a discount for my Chinese clients, due to their smaller incomes and budgets), but if you’re more economically astute than I am and tailor your rate to each market you work in, you may have the option of raising your rate as high as each individual market will bear.

How to find ESL clients

There are as many ways to find clients as there are editors. I’ve listed several in my article on “finding work in tough times” (Hart 2006). I started by defining the authors I most wanted to work with (ESL authors). Once I knew who I wanted to work with, I contacted the editors of hundreds of peer-reviewed science journals that published articles in the areas of research I understood well enough to do substantive editing. I started with a form letter, in which I explained what I proposed:

•       I would work directly with authors, eliminating the burden on the journal’s staff.

•       I would help the author produce manuscripts sufficiently clear that the editor knew whether they were ready for peer review, and sufficiently good that it was worthwhile sending them for review.

•       I would ease the burden both on peer reviewers and on the journal’s editorial staff.

•       There would be no cost whatsoever to the journal; all they had to do was send my brochure (a concise PDF file I provided) to authors who needed my help.

That is, I focused on the problems experienced by journal editors that I could solve for them, not on why I was a good editor. To support this proposal, I explained the skills I offered (training as a scientist and many years of work with ESL authors) — but this supported my proposal (“let me solve your problems”) and was not the key to my proposal. The key was that I focused on the needs of my clients, a philosophy I’ve emphasized throughout my career. I quickly began receiving inquiries from Asian authors.

(The rest of this article focuses on examples from my Chinese authors, since they represent the majority of my clients, and the cultural differences from western authors are most revealing.)

Another approach is to start with the languages you speak. I speak French fairly fluently, and have worked for years with French authors, but I wanted to broaden my search to other languages, so I learned enough Mandarin and Japanese that I can at least greet authors politely in those languages, even if I can’t carry on a conversation in either language. Wanting an excuse to learn more of both languages and more about both cultures gave me a strong incentive to do so, and that desire was very much appreciated by my authors as they came to know me.

Although this suggests that you should think across borders and oceans when you look for ESL clients, the high mobility of modern writers suggests that you should also think locally. For example, universities, research institutes, and think tanks often employ authors from other countries. Attending international, national, or local conferences that focus on the subject you want to work on is another way to meet authors — these authors often need help from an English editor who can communicate well with them, possibly even in their own language.

To meet non-researcher authors, look for social groups such as the cultural societies that host events (e.g., Chinese new year, Diwali) or business associations (such as the Pan-Asian American Business Council). Meeting people in these groups is pleasant for its own sake, but also offers ways to find future clients. But avoid the mistake of only attending to seek clients; people will recognize this kind of mercenary behavior and turn away from you.

Note: If you want to work with graduate students at a university, carefully confirm with the university’s graduate studies department whether any regulations limit the nature of your work. For example, a PhD thesis must be an original work of scholarship, and some universities interpret this to mean that no developmental or substantive editing is allowed. In such cases, all you can do without obtaining a written exception to that rule is to offer proofreading and formatting services. A student’s failure to follow the university’s rules scrupulously can lead to a thesis being rejected. When in doubt, ask the university to respond in writing so you have proof of your permission to proceed.

In addition, leverage your network by asking your colleagues about opportunities. I exchange work opportunities with half a dozen colleagues. When I have work I can’t do, whether due to lack of expertise or lack of time, I refer the inquiries to those colleagues. In return, they refer some authors they can’t handle to me. I don’t charge a fee for such referrals; I treat it as a purely pro bono thing, which I can afford to do because I have far more work than I can handle and a good income. I do have colleagues who ask for a “finder’s fee” for such referrals, and that’s perfectly legitimate if you prefer to work that way.

How to work with ESL clients

Working with ESL authors is mostly similar to working with native-English authors, but a few quirks are worth mentioning.

Clear communication

Clear communication is important for any author­–editor relationship, but it’s particularly important when you work with ESL authors. First and foremost, self-edit your written communications ruthlessly. Don’t assume your meaning is clear. You’ll find that people who are communicating with you in their second language have much higher expertise in the language of their subjects than in the daily conversational language that relates to bread and butter issues such as specifying deadlines and contract terms for working together.

Although some editors communicate extensively with their ESL authors using online meeting software such as Zoom, particularly in these pandemic days, I find that most of my authors aren’t sufficiently comfortable with spoken English to enjoy this approach. Thus, almost all of our communication is via e-mail. To ensure that messages reach their target, I maintain two backup e-mail addresses in addition to the address provided by my service provider: the address associated with my website and a Gmail address. If one address is blocked or the service is temporarily unavailable, I can use the other addresses. For example, my service provider is often blocked by government and university networks because of their cavalier attitude toward spam. For many of this group of authors, I know I can’t use my main address. Similarly, ask your authors whether they have a second address you can use if necessary. If you don’t receive a reply within a day of sending an e-mail, try again using their second address. For particularly unreliable e-mail systems, send your message to both addresses at the same time, since it’s unlikely that both will be unavailable simultaneously.

Note: Carefully check your e-mail provider’s terms of service. For example, Google analyzes and indexes all Gmail messages, which means Gmail is inappropriate for messages that contain files that describe research breakthroughs, patent applications, and other confidential information. Most e-mail providers don’t encrypt their e-mail in any way, so e-mail can be read by anyone who gains access to their account. For e-mail that must be protected against prying eyes, consider using ProtonMail (https://protonmail.com/).

Reply as fast as possible (ideally, immediately!) to queries. Remember: If you’re working with authors on the other side of the world, the time zone difference means there can be a delay of up to 12 hours before they receive your reply, and this time can be critical for authors who are working under a tight deadline. Don’t assume your message was received. Always ask authors to confirm reception of your e-mail by explicitly requesting confirmation (e.g., “please confirm that you received both files with no problems”) or by asking a question they’ll have to answer (e.g., “which of your two addresses should I use on the invoice?”). Resend your message and any attached files if you receive no reply within about a day. It’s better to “spam” an author than to make them miss a deadline because you incorrectly assumed they received a file that you sent them.

Note: When you negotiate schedules, carefully account for time zone differences (http://www.worldtimeserver.com/). For example, I use language such as “I will return your paper on [date], eastern Canada (Montreal) time.”

Retain copies of all correspondence, in case you need to return to an earlier message to clarify some point. Disk space is cheap, particularly if you use an online e-mail service like Gmail. Although you can leave all your messages in your mail software, I prefer to copy them into a correspondence file in Microsoft Word for each author. This collects the information in one place, the search functions are generally superior, and it’s easier to move the text to other programs if necessary. Alternatively, if you prefer storing e-mail as e-mail, consider configuring your e-mail software to use the IMAP protocol (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Message_Access_Protocol), which leaves your e-mail on the service provider’s servers so that you can access it from all of your computing devices (e.g., your smartphone in addition to your laptop computer).

Until you’ve worked with an author long enough to know their needs, don’t assume you understand those needs. Learn the difference between what they want (e.g., “I need the edited manuscript Friday”) and what they really need (e.g., “but I’m not going to work on it before Monday, so Monday is probably fine”). Make these needs explicit rather than guessing. Back when I was a wage slave, I always asked each author when they wanted the manuscript and when they really needed it; the two dates were rarely the same.

For an ESL author, spend some time learning how they want to work with you; this may not be “the western way.” Some will just want you to tell them what to change; others want to understand why you recommend changes and to work with you to discuss all changes. Learn their busy periods (e.g., the date range for the school term vs. the summer research period, annual conferences they try to attend, national holidays). Add notes to your calendar, well in advance, to warn you that these periods are coming so you can plan your schedule more effectively.

Speaking of schedules, carefully note your own planned absences on the calendar so you can warn your authors well in advance about when you’ll be unavailable. For example, as I’ve begun moving toward retirement, I now reserve most of December as private time, when I will concentrate on my own writing. Thus, I warn authors at least two months in advance that I won’t be available during that period and that they need to reserve my time well in advance; I warn them that once my schedule is full, they’ll wait three+ weeks before I’m available again in January.

In my experience, busy authors often forget these warnings. That’s fair, since our job is to meet their needs, and their job is to write. In any event, authors benefit from a reminder. When I plan my annual vacation, I notify authors two months in advance and again one month before I leave. One useful, if deceptive, trick: If you know that certain authors always write to you at the last minute, tell them you’ll be gone one week before your actual departure date. That way, when work arrives at the last minute, you still have time to do the work. If an author notices this trick (“I thought you said you’d be away …”), explain that you would ideally like to have left on the date you announced, but you made time to help them anyway because helping them is important to you. This isn’t a lie if it’s true; the last week before my vacation is usually filled with domestic work and other preparations.

Provide status updates about your availability. For example, if you’ll be trying to edit a large book during a certain period, warn your clients there will be delays during that period. Be willing to negotiate extensions both with the author (for yourself), and with publishers that impose deadlines on your authors. For example, most journal editors are willing to give an ESL author more time to return a revised manuscript if they know that the revision is complete and the author is only waiting for their English editor to become available. (This won’t work if the publisher has a hard deadline, such as releasing a book or special issue of a journal right before a major conference, but negotiation works more often than you’d expect.)

Note: If you’re in the fortunate situation of having more work than time, negotiate agreements with colleagues you trust to work with your authors when you’re not available. Coordinate their schedules with yours well in advance to avoid any surprises; they’ll be absent sometimes, too.

As your workload increases, start building room and flexibility into your schedule to cope with unexpected busy periods. For example, I reserve one day per week for a client who sends me a regular stream of work. When they don’t send me a manuscript, I can usually find another manuscript I can work on while I wait for theirs to arrive. Based on many years of experience with how my workload varies during the year, I’ve learned to include such unscheduled (“open”) days on my calendar. Currently, I try to keep one day open per week in addition to the work for that weekly client.

When you receive a manuscript that’s longer than the author estimated when they reserved your time, ask for more time. If you can meet the original deadline, that’s great — but if you need more time, you have it. I’ve always appreciated the advice to “promise late, deliver early”; that is, if I’m able to complete the work faster than expected, the author gets a pleasant surprise, but if not, they still receive my work on the expected date. As I’m getting older, my editing speed is declining, so I find that I need this extra time more often. I warn my authors at least annually about the maximum I can reliably edit in a day’s work, and ask them to predict the length of their manuscript and ask for more than a day when they contact me to reserve my time.

Show, don’t tell

As I noted earlier, ESL authors often speak the language of their specialty far better than they speak the common language that represents the glue for social interactions.

Although you can sometimes rely on complex words if you know your author is willing to use a dictionary, consider instead whether you can illustrate your meaning. For example:

•       If you must resort to grammatical jargon, illustrate it. For example, “In this sentence, the verb accord is the dataset is or the data are.

•       If you must name punctuation, illustrate it: “Add or delete the semicolon (;) between author names in all references.”

•       If you must refer to shapes or symbol names, illustrate: “delete the asterisk (*) and replace it with a triangle (Δ).” Similarly, showing works better for patterns and colors: “Delete the red cross-hatching: [///].” (Editor’s note: Attempting to apply red “ink? to the /// element results in the whole sentence being made red.)

Part 2 of this article will continue with a discussion of cultural considerations, related rhetorical issues, and editing tips.” The final part will include references for the entire discussion.

Part 2 of this column will be published on Wednesday, December 2.

Geoff Hart (he/him) (www.geoff-hart.com) works as a scientific editor, specializing in helping scientists who have English as their second language to publish their research. He’s the author of the popular Effective Onscreen Editing, now in its 4th edition, and of the well-reviewed Writing for Science Journals. He has been a frequent presenter at Communication Central’s Be a Better Freelancer® conferences. He also writes fiction in his spare time, and has sold 28 stories thus far.

November 23, 2020

Back to the present

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 3:44 pm

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

It’s been too long since I’ve posted here; I apologize and plead a boatload of work (a good thing!) and recuperating from major surgery in early October. I’m pretty much back to normal and hope to be more active here in coming weeks as we try to wrap up this crazy, scary year and look to the new one with hope.

While I figure out what you might like to see from An American Editor, two colleagues have stepped up with new content for you. Carolyn Haley‘s new Thinking Fiction column is at https://americaneditor.wordpress.com/2020/11/27/thinking-fiction-the-indie-editor-author-equation-part-1/, and a three-part series from a new contributor, Geoff Hart, began this week at https://americaneditor.wordpress.com/2020/11/25/finding-working-with-and-retaining-esl-clients-part-1/.

Thank you for your patience and presence!

September 25, 2020

2020 Be a Better Freelancer® conference is a hit!

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

The 15th annual Be a Better Freelancer® conference, held virtually in October 2020, continued the partnership between Communication Central, the An American Editor blog, and the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE) as co-host and PerfectIt as lead sponsor.

Another sponsor was new to the conference: The Six-Figure Freelancer and its author, Laura Pennington Briggs.

We had several hundred registrations for our first all-virtual event and more than 100 actual participants. There was only one technical glitch — a huge relief! — and that was quickly resolved, thanks to the skills of NAIWE executive director April Michelle Davis.

Session topics included an exciting array of current tips, resources and insights about business basics, expansion, self-publishing and more.

For most of the past 15 years, “Be a Better Freelancer”® has been the only conference specifically for freelancers in the editorial world — writers, editors, proofreaders, indexers, desktop publishers, graphic artists, photographers, website creators, etc.

The 15th annual Communication Central-NAIWE Be a Better Freelancer conference offered a strong emphasis on opportunities in the self-publishing realm, as well as resources for overall business success, productivity and expansion. Sessions were consecutive rather than concurrent.

The conference event was online and free to all. Recordings of sessions are available at $30 each after the event; here’s the link to purchase any or all session recordings: https://naiwe.selz.com/categories/be-a-better-freelancer-conference

We plan to return to the full in-person format with concurrent sessions in each timeslot in 2021 in St. Louis, Missouri.

Thank you to everyone who participated, especially our knowledgeable and generous speakers, and our sponsors.

Topics and speakers included the following.

Startup Essentials and Business Basics, Ruth E. Thaler-Carter
If you’re thinking about launching a freelance communications business, there’s a lot to do before making your plans known to the world and in your first few months. Get the basics of structuring and announcing your freelance writing, editing, proofreading, indexing, website, book production, graphics or other publishing-related business from a freelancer who’s been leading the way for many years.

Getting Your Self-Publishing Client to a Finished Product, Dick Margulis
Opportunities for an editor to break into traditional book publishing are vanishing, but they continue to expand rapidly in self-publishing. Independent publishing is now an established and accepted part of the publishing industry. In this session, you will learn how to help your independent author–publisher clients produce the high-quality books they want. Learn how you can work with and guide independent authors in a way that is fair to them and worthwhile for you. The session will be an overview of the independent publishing process, including ethical, financial and practical considerations, to help you figure out where you can fit into the process in a way that works best for you.

This session will provide a comprehensive and detailed summary of the steps and skills entailed in producing a book that meets commercial standards. Armed with this knowledge, you can guide your client toward intelligent decisions about who should do what. The self-publishing author is a publisher. Publishing a book is a business activity. Making a book is a craft activity. Self-publishing should not be do-it-yourself publishing, and you can partner with others to produce the book so the (self-)publisher can focus on marketing, sales and distribution — their proper role.

Perfecting Your Process with PerfectIt — Beginner Level, Daniel Heuman
No one became an editor because they like checking for consistency of hyphenation and capitalization. Thankfully, there is a faster way to do it! PerfectIt is an add-in for Word that speeds up checking while still leaving you in control of every decision. Thousands of editors around the world use PerfectIt to fix these small details so they can focus on the work that matters.

This session is primarily for complete beginners who have never used PerfectIt before. It will cover what the software can and cannot find, with an overview of all the styles and checks that it can run. It will show you how suggestions vary by location, and every location and suggestion needs to be checked for context. It’s open for users on Macs or PCs.

Perfecting Your Process with PerfectIt — Advanced Level, Daniel Heuman
Spending hours checking that every detail conforms to a style manual is time-consuming and can distract you from the most important work of substantive editing. There is an easier way! This session will show how you can use PerfectIt to select a style sheet, build your own custom style sheet and check your preferences. The session will explain how to use PerfectIt’s advanced functionality with a focus on custom styles and custom checking. It will show how you can share style sheets with colleagues and set up a different style sheet for each client and every style that you work with. This will be an advanced workshop that is primarily for editors who already use PerfectIt on a PC with Windows.

Questions and answers; general networking

Success in Working with Self-Publishing Authors, Katherine Pickett
With the continuing surge in self-publishing, more and more editors find themselves working with self-publishing authors, and many of them have no idea how the publishing process works. Although many editors have worked with writers for a long time, the needs of self-publishers are different, and anticipating those needs is key to good results. This session will help you avoid the pitfalls and find success when working with self-publishers. Topics include:
• Where to find self-publishing clients
• How to estimate time and cost of projects
• Why and how to set boundaries
• How to protect yourself from scam artists
• Areas of job growth
• Where to find additional resources for self-publishers

The Magic of Macros, April Michelle Davis
The more we can do to increase efficiency in the writing, editing or proofreading process, the more valuable we are to employers and clients, and the more we can earn. Get the scoop on creating and using macros in Word to make your workflow faster, more efficient, more accurate and more productive from author and editor April Michelle Davis, executive director of NAIWE and a proven expert in this important approach tool.

Editing Fiction in the Independent Arena, Carolyn Haley
More and more authors are publishing their own novels these days, whether solo or through a service. Most of them want — and need — editors just as much as their traditionally published peers, but there’s no formal infrastructure to support them, making indie publishing a free-for-all for both authors and editors. This session will address your questions about being an independent editor serving independent authors. Send your questions in advance for discussion during the session.

Bigger and Better — Expanding an Existing Freelance Business, Ruth E. Thaler-Carter
After your freelance business has been up and running for a while, it’s time to think about how to make it more successful. Should you offer additional services? Look for new sources of clients? Get more training? Become more visible? Learn about ways to “grow” your business from Communication Central owner and conference creator Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, who has expanded her freelance business from writing only to providing editing, proofreading, websites, public speaking and event planning.

Questions and answers; general networking

The Business of Being a 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 taking seriously 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 a serious venture. Find out how to incorporate key business skills and tools to make your freelancing a success.

Speaker bios

• Writer and editor April Michelle Davis (www.editorialinspirations.com) is executive director of the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE) and an expert in macros, Word and business-organizing resources.

She is the chapter coordinator for the Virginia chapter of the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA), and past chair and website administrator for the Mid- & South-Atlantic chapter of the American Society for Indexing. She has published two booklets through the EFA, A Guide for the Freelance Indexer and Choosing an Editor: What You Need to Know, and a young-adult novel, A Princess in Disguise.

Davis is a lifetime member of the ACES: The Society for Editing and a contributing member of the Christian Proofreaders and Editors Network.

She has a master of professional studies degree in publishing from George Washington University;  a bachelor of arts degree in English from Messiah College; and certificates in editing (University of Virginia), book publishing (University of Virginia) and professional editing (EEI Communications).

Before starting Editorial Inspirations in 2001, Davis was an assistant editor at the National Society of Professional Engineers and a program assistant for the American Prosecutors Research Institute.

Carolyn Haley lives fiction as an editor, author, reader, and reviewer. She has been editing professionally since 1977 and as DocuMania (documania.us) since 2006, working with publishers, packagers, and indie authors. She also has written three novels, which have been published both traditionally and independently (carolynhaley.wordpress.com). She is also the fiction columnist for An American Editor.

• Daniel Heuman is the CEO and founder of Intelligent Editing (intelligentediting.com), and developer of PerfectIt, which is used by thousands of professional editors around the world. He has spoken at conferences of Communication Central, ACES, the Chartered Institute
of Editing and Proofreading, Editors Canada, SENSE, the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA), and many other organizations.

Dick Margulis (www.dmargulis.com) focuses on thoughtful editing, appropriate design, expert production and comprehensive project management for publishers of all sizes. He learned to set type at an early age and has been studying and practicing typography ever since, becoming a go-to resource for colleagues and independent authors interested in book publishing and memoirs. He is the co-author with Karin Cather of the invaluable book The Paper It’s Written On: Defining Your Relationship with an Editing Client, which he and Cather developed after presenting a session about contracts at a past Communication Central conference.

Margulis has more than four decades of experience in helping companies and authors communicate effectively, internally and externally. He has made significant contributions to client projects such as corporate identity, including logo design; user manuals and technical documentation; web and intranet sites; books and magazines; and much more. He is known for his deep understanding of and skill in typography and book production.

• Katherine Pickett is the owner of POP Editorial Services, LLC (www.POPediting.net) and author of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro.

She worked in-house with McGraw-Hill Professional and Elsevier Inc. for seven years before starting POP in 2006. Through POP, she offers copyediting, proofreading, and developmental editing to authors and publishers across the country. She is an active member of the EFA and president of the Montgomery County chapter of the Maryland Writers’ Association. She has been educating writers and indie publishers about the book-publishing industry since 2008.

Ruth E. “I can write about anything”® Thaler-Carter started Communication Central in 2006 to serve and bring together colleagues at all stages of their freelance careers. She is the author/publisher of “Get Paid to Write: Getting Started as a Freelance Writer” and author of “Freelancing 101: Launching Your Editorial Business” for the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA), with a new 2020 edition including contributions by Robin Martin. She presents webinars and in-person sessions on freelancing, the basics of editing and proofreading, websites for freelancers, and related topics for the EFA, NAIWE, Cat Writers Association, American Copy Editors Society (ACES; she was one of the first ACES freelancers), Association Media & Publishing, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), Writers and Books, International Association of Business Communicators, and other professional organizations, including the UK’s Society for Editors and Proofreaders.

Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and proofreader who has been published and worked on projects internationally, nationally, regionally and locally. She writes, edits and proofreads material in everything from the arts to the metric system to animals, education, communications, statistics and more.

Often called the Queen of Networking for her extensive involvement in professional organizations and ability to connect colleagues with projects, resources and each other, she is the NAIWE Board of Experts member for networking; Resources chair of the SPJ Freelance Community; newsletter editor and chapter co-coordinator for the EFA; communications director for the St. Louis chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators; and more.

If you need more …

If you have questions, feel free to contact Communication Central here or use the contact form.

Read conference Testimonials here

September 9, 2020

On the Basics: Yet another scam warning

Filed under: Editorial Matters,On the Basics — An American Editor @ 12:35 pm
Tags: , ,

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

Sigh … the creeps of the world just keep on trying. If only they’d apply all that energy, effort and — yes — occasional creativity to something productive, maybe we’d achieve world peace.

There’s a new version of the scam pretending to offer editing, proofreading or writing jobs with major pharmaceutical or publishing companies. This one is supposedly from Grifols Pharmaceuticals and refers to something called Telegram for interviewing instead of Google Hangout. Like previous versions, it claims to have found you through the EFA member directory, which many colleagues have found convincing; there probably are versions citing other professional associations as well. Delete, delete, delete! If you’ve received this and responded, do not engage any longer, block the supposed sender to whom you responded and change your e-mail password.

And while I’m on the subject, here are some protection tips from AARP, via “Dear Heloise,” in case you (or someone you know) receive one of the increasingly common blackmail attempts from scammers claiming they have access to your e-mail program, Internet accounts or computer camera, and will release embarrassing photos, videos or social media posts if you don’t pay them, usually via bitcoin or buying gift cards:

Do not respond.

Change your password(s) immediately.

Make sure your anti-virus software is current.

Delete messages from any senders you don’t know or recognize.

If you have friends or relatives whose cognitive functions or access to information like this might be a bit compromised, please warn them about these and other common scams directed at older people. Let’s do our best to thwart these jerks and keep each other safe.

August 31, 2020

On the Basics: The ethics of editing college applications

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

Once again, inspiration for an An American Editor blog post struck in reaction to a collegial discussion list conversation. (Some of you may have seen the beginnings of the conversation; this is an expanded version.)

A colleague mentioned having received a request to write or edit the client’s kid’s college application and said she responded by telling them that college applications should be the student’s own work. She characterized the request as a possible ethics issue, and I agree; I said I would have responded the same way. If they had only asked for editing services, it might have been different.

This is a frequent, albeit unfortunate, type of request. The asker usually has every intention of paying for the service, so it isn’t a scam in the financial sense, but either doesn’t know or care that it could be unethical. I manage or respond to these requests by making it my policy not to provide editing for college or grad school applications; proofreading, maybe, but even that can seem borderline inappropriate.

This might be an uncomfortable topic to discuss, but I’m interested in how colleagues think about it. Some institutions will let applicants use editors or proofreaders for application statements or essays, but forbid hiring someone to write those materials. Some draw distinctions between doing such work for native speakers vs. speakers of other languages, or between disciplines — hiring an editor or proofreader is OK for students in the sciences, engineering, maybe business, etc., but not for those in English degree programs.

I have a huge amount of respect for anyone who is willing to function in a language other than their original one, especially English, which can be a challenge even for well-educated origin speakers (as we often see here). And I’m not monolingual: I’ve studied and used French, German and Spanish — but wouldn’t want to tackle writing in any of them until I had spent time immersed in them again; even German, which I picked up in childhood mostly from listening to my Austrian parents and only studied formally much later.

In the application process, it seems more fair for someone’s command of any language to be clear in — literally — their own words, especially in areas like medicine, where lack of fluency could have life-threatening results.

On the other hand, rejecting an applicant because of clunky English in an application might be a disservice to all concerned. Many applicants are very talented in their fields and deserve the opportunity to continue their educations at institutions in countries other than their own. There also can be a difference between someone’s spoken and comprehended levels of language vs. their skills in writing it. And it’s valuable for students to meet and interact with peers from other countries and cultures, no matter which ones are involved. Being accepted into a program and interacting with native speakers, both instructors and fellow students, day in and day out would improve a non-native’s command of English as well.

One colleague found it “hard to believe someone has the nerve to ask for such a thing in this day and age.”

Actually, I find it understandable (not acceptable, but understandable). It isn’t new. There have always been ways for students to game the system, even if only by having their parents write or edit their school work or applications, and students have been selling their work to each other for ages and a day. It’s even easier to do nowadays than ever before: Entire businesses are built on writing student essays and applications (businesses that do the writing for students at any level, and people who work for such businesses, are unethical in my eyes and those of many others, both individuals and institutions/organizations). Papers, and probably application essays, can be purchased online with ease. Celebrities pay thousands to phony up their kids’ applications, sometimes without the kids’ knowledge.

There also can be a thin line between editing and rewriting, although the distinction between writing and editing is easier to draw.

I typed papers for fellow students when I was in college (back in the Dark Ages before computers 🙂 ), and would correct some of their spelling or basic punctuation errors as I went along, but I wouldn’t rewrite if their concepts weren’t clear. There was a big difference between typing up a handwritten paper and rewriting or even editing it. More recently, I proofread my niece’s résumé and a cover letter for her; she’s in landscape architecture and is bilingual in English and Hebrew. I was comfortable with catching a few typos that had nothing to do with her professional skills, but I did have an ulterior motive for making her material as close to perfect as possible: I’m hoping she gets a job offer here where I live!

The good news is that the growth of companies that do the work for students and the ease of plagiarizing via the Internet has led to innovation in response, such as anti-plagiarism software programs. These can be used not just to check on whether someone has copied from known published works, but whether they’ve used material that has been “outed” as generated by someone (or thing) other than the student in question.

In the discussion of this that I mentioned above, several colleagues had perspectives on this that were ethical and interesting. Some have worked for college writing centers by providing coaching and advice without actually doing students’ work for them. Others have developed freelance services with a similar focus — helping clients learn how to write more clearly and effectively, but not doing the writing for them.

How and where do you draw a line?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) 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 created the annual Communication Central Be a Better Freelancer® conference for colleagues (www.communication-central.com, now co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (www.naiwe.com), sponsored by An American Editor and this year planned for October 2–4 as a virtual event. She can be reached at Ruth@writerruth.com or Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

August 23, 2020

On the Basics: New resources for freelancers

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

I’m breaking precedent with a Sunday post to share some professional good news: The updated edition of my “Freelancing 101” booklet for the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA), featuring new input from EFA Publications chairperson Robin Martin, and the updated new edition of the EFA’s “Resumés for Freelancers” booklet, which I’ve co-authored with original author Sheila Buff, are among the new publications available at the EFA’s new bookstore:
https://shop.aer.io/editorial_freelancers_association_bookstore

Robin deserves a huge round of applause for herding cats (um, authors) and – even more challenging – organizing the new bookstore.

I hope our subscribers find these publications useful. They were a lot of fun to produce and should be – if I say so myself – excellent resources for various aspects of a freelance editorial (not just editing) business.

August 21, 2020

On the Basics: Yet another scam warning

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

Sorry to end the week on a somewhat sour note, but I wanted to warn colleagues here about an apparent current new scam aimed primarily at editors. (Some of you may already have seen discussions about this one; this is for those who haven’t.)

If anyone gets requests from a supposed Ayse Cetin or Fatma, they are probably scams, although we haven’t figured out what the senders are after. They’ll say they need help with something for a fall class, probably in math — coaching or editing, or writing in general. The initial message is likely to include a Word document as an attachment.

If you respond, they’ll do a few rounds of e-mail correspondence (even if you say that you don’t work in their area), and then they’ll want to meet via Zoom. They’ve wasted a lot of time for quite a few colleagues so far in e-mail back-and-forthing and Zoom time, as well as attempts to research the supposed senders to determine whether the requests are legitimate — but haven’t actually hired anyone.

One confusing aspect in trying to figure out what they’re up to is that they’re spending a lot of time and effort on communicating with several dozen editors to date — far more than most scammers bother with before getting money out of people. I’m guessing that a version of the overpayment scam would evolve; others think this is an attempt at hacking e-mail or Zoom accounts.

If you’ve received and responded to this, change your e-mail and/or Zoom passwords. If you receive any version of this and haven’t already responded, delete, delete, delete.

This kind of headache aside,  here’s wishing colleagues a safe, healthy and fun weekend.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) 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 (www.communication-central.com, now co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (www.naiwe.com), sponsored by An American Editor, and this year planned for October 2–4 as a virtual event. She can be reached at Ruth@writerruth.com or Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

August 7, 2020

Website changes that can lead to finding new clients

By Nate Hoffelder, The Digital Reader

Guest Columnist

With the pandemic dragging on in the U.S., public events such as conferences and trade shows are effectively canceled for the indefinite future. Your chance of meeting new clients (or colleagues who might refer you to new clients) in person is essentially nil, which means that your website is 10 times more important today than it was last year.

If you haven’t taken some time to refresh your site recently, now is a good time to do so.

In my last post for An American Editor, I discussed 18 questions you should ask when refreshing your site. Today I would like to share seven specific changes you can make to your site to win more clients.

Let’s start with email.

Get a professional email address

One easy way to set yourself apart from all the other editors out there is to get an email address that matches your website’s domain. Almost everyone has their email with Gmail, Yahoo, AOL or another of the big web service companies. Those services are fine, to varying degrees, but using MyName@MySite.com simply looks more professional. It sends the message that you are serious enough about your work that you choose to present a professional image. (Editor’s note: It also gives you a permanent e-ddress, so you can change providers as necessary without having to notify everyone you’ve ever corresponded with about a new point of contact.)

At the same time, you should also choose an address that starts with your name or occupation. If your current email address references either your kids, pets or hobbies, that again does not present a professional image. My email address is Nate@NateHoffelder.com. It’s not terribly original, no, but it does present the right image, while an email address ending in Verizon, Comcast or AOL would not.

Add a Services page

Clients can’t hire you if they don’t know what you do, and that is why your website needs one or more pages listing your services.

I used to have several service pages, each focused on a single service, but now I just have the one services page on my site. I list four services on that page, and for each service, I explain what I do and how my clients benefit. I also have a button that links to my contact form.

Pro tip: The easier you make it for a website visitor to take action, the more likely they are to become a client. (Repeat after me: A frustrated visitor is a lost client, while an engaged visitor is one step away from being a paying client.)

Include testimonials

One of the best ways to convince a potential client to hire you is to tell them what others are saying about your work, which is why you should add at least a few testimonials to your website. I have about 20, which might be overkill, but I formatted my testimonial page so they are not too overwhelming.

Find the eight or 10 testimonials in your files that you think are the best, and copy them to a new page on your site. Be sure to fix the formatting so the client’s name is in bold, and use enough white space between each testimonial for them to stand out.

Add samples of your work

Your website’s visitors are going to wonder whether you have the skills they need. The best way to show them that you do is to have samples of your work, either on your site as links or images, or as PDFs that can be downloaded.

If possible, try to include both a before and after. This will give potential clients a better understanding of your style, and what you bring to the table. (Editor’s note: One important caveat for editors and proofreaders, though — Be sure you have the client’s permission to show what you did for their material. Not everyone wants the world to see the “before” version. And even with that permission, do your best to anonymize the material to minimize the potential for embarrassing the client.)

Collect emails for your mailing list

Email newsletters are one of the most-effective ways of marketing your services. An e-letter is your best opportunity to be invited to talk to potential clients by sending messages to their inboxes. But before you can send newsletters, you need to get email addresses for prospective readers, and for that, you need a mailing list sign-up form.

Even if you don’t want to send newsletters now, you should still have a sign-up form just in case your plans change. I can’t tell you how many years I wasted by not collecting email addresses, and I don’t want you to repeat my mistake, so please do yourself a favor, and add a mailing list form to your site.

While we are on the topic, why stop at one form? My recommendation is that you have a form for your mailing list in the footer of every page, in the sidebar next to blog posts, as a pop-up, and at least twice on your home page.

Speaking of which, what does your home page look like?

Create a home page

One common problem I have seen with neglected websites is that they usually do not have a custom-written home page. Instead, blog posts take up the prime real estate. This is a terrible oversight because the home page is one of the most-viewed pages on a website. It is the best chance to introduce yourself to potential clients and win them over.

The marketing industry knows website home pages are so important that marketers have written whole book chapters about only that page. They’ve written 2,000- or 3,000-word blog posts explaining in detail how to get just one aspect of the page perfect.

I am not going to make you go read those voluminous posts, but I do have a post for you. It covers the six key elements you should have on your home page. I think that a website’s home page is so important that it has its own 996-word blog post. If you have limited funds or time, it is the one part of your website that you need to work on.

Ideally, however, I think you should improve all parts of your website. You never know which part will influence your next client the most.

Any questions?

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 (https://the-digital-reader.com), mentioned on news sites such as the NYTimes, Forbes, BoingBoing, Techcrunch, Engadget, Gizmodo or Ars Technica. He is scheduled to discuss websites for the 2020 virtual Communication Central/NAIWE/An American EditorBe a Better Freelancer® conference this fall. The Digital Reader was a sponsor of the 2019 conference.

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