An American Editor

September 8, 2021

On the Basics: Reflecting on editing then and now

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 11:42 am

© Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

In a recent online conversation about responding to an author who said their manuscript just needed a “light edit” because they had run it through Grammarly, a colleague asked whether “before computers, did folks also assume that editing was just rote grammar stuff or is this a new thing now that spellcheck and other computer functions are ubiquitous?”

I was not surprised to see a number of variations on “Yeah, right; that will happen” and “Never use that tool!” Of more discussable interest is that I thought it was a good question. Here’s my response:

“I think authors in the past had more respect for human editing skills, but there were far fewer aspiring independent authors and most had no way to find an editor. Far fewer got published because they didn’t have today’s outlets, with or without editors.

“And editing/proofreading wasn’t (weren’t?) perfect; almost every book I read [that was published] going waaayyy back has typos. Maybe not many, but at least a few. (It’s why I don’t borrow books from the library; I can’t help marking the typos!)

“Today’s tech tools make it easier for us to check or enhance our work, but those tools aren’t perfect, as everyone here knows. Put the tools in the hands of a skilled, careful editor and the combination is golden. It may still not be 100% perfect every time, but is likely to be much closer than when we didn’t have things like spellcheck and PerfectIt.”

And, of course, the post got me thinking further about publishing then and now, so here we are.

I started writing for publication way back in the 1970s, using a manual typewriter and not seeing my work until it appeared in print; if something got edited, I didn’t see the process.

We used correction tape or fluid to cope with typos, and often had to retype entire pages because there was no find-and-replace or typing over an error. Items might have been missed because there was no spellcheck. For what would now be called self-publishing projects, we typed on green stencil sheets and ran them through hand-cranked AB Dick machines. Making corrections on those was an even bigger headache than correcting typewritten pages on regular paper.

I started editing in the late ’70s — my own work and that of college friends, then on my college newspaper, then as a staff reporter for a weekly community newspaper — when self-correcting electric typewriters were cutting-edge new and exciting, and Compugraphic was the new technology for typesetting. Authors would hand in material typed on manual or electric typewriters, editors would mark up the manuscripts by hand, Compugraphic operators would type in the material and print out the text on bright-white coated paper, and we — often just whoever was handy and cared enough, depending on the environment; many of the places where I worked didn’t have formally trained or designated editors — would proof the resulting galleys before layout. Sometimes the galleys would be sent to authors for review, sometimes not. Corrections for the galleys would go to the Compugraphic operators to be retyped a line or even a word at a time, and pasted down manually.

We referred to printed dictionaries and style manuals, and spent a lot of time on the phone to track down and verify information; no Internet access from our desks to those resources, much less Google and other browsers.

The final galleys would be cut apart, backed with hot glue and pasted into place on heavy-duty graph paper. The pages would go to the printing house and turned into plates that were used to create bluelines (called that because they were in blue ink) — the last chance to review and make corrections, which were charged by the item, because every change meant a new printing plate.

It all took more time than most publishing projects today, although editing, proofreading, layout and more proofreading in the current digital world still takes longer than most authors or clients realize. And it involved costs — for making corrections, and for holding up printing because of a last-minute realization that something egregious had snuck through the editing and proofreading process (if there was one).

The digital environment today has created expectations that publishing — editing, design/layout, proofreading — occurs almost immediately. Clients also often assume that they can have multiple passes of all those steps without extra expense. That means that both in-house and freelance editors, proofreaders, designers and layout experts have to educate colleagues and clients about how the process works; how quickly and when changes can be made, if at all; and the impact of changes on deadlines and costs.

Of course, we also have to educate prospective clients about why they might want to work with us rather than, or in addition to, using online editing tools.

How have you dealt with clients who think that having used online editing or proofreading tools means their work needs “only a light edit or proofing”? How have you responded to clients who keep coming back with more changes but don’t want to pay for your additional time or expect (even demand!) that their project be published per the original schedule?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter ( is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and owner of An American Editor. She created the annual Communication Central Be a Better Freelancer® conference for colleagues (, now co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors ( and sponsored by An American Editor. She also owns A Flair for Writing (, which helps independent authors produce and publish their books. She can be reached at or

© An American Editor. Content may not be recirculated, republished or otherwise used without both the prior permission of the publisher and full credit to the author of a given post and the An American Editor blog, including a live link to the post being referenced. Thank you for respecting our rights to and ownership of our work.

September 3, 2021

Thinking Fiction: What is literature, anyway?

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 5:28 pm

© Carolyn Haley

Early this year, I wrote about the challenges that contemporary-novel-writing authors will face in adapting to the “new normal” (

Things haven’t settled down much in the months since then, but enough time has passed that new novels are coming out, through both traditional and indie publishing, in which authors who write contemporary fiction have adapted to the times in different ways.

Some of these works were in process when the combined pandemic and political upheavals started; others have been written since it became clear that daily life and culture were going to change permanently. Enough novels have crossed my desk for purposes of editing, reviewing, and recreational reading that I’m beginning to see patterns.

Even though these books qualify as commercial fiction, I’m interested in them collectively as a facet of literature. I read mainly American fiction but also samplings from western Europe and Canada; this essay is limited to personal observations about contemporary fiction written in or about those parts of the world.


To better understand what “literature” means today, and how it reflects our era vis-a-vis any other time, I turned to my trusty dictionary as a starting point.

Merriam-Webster Online Unabridged lists several definitions of “literature.” The one I was looking for is this:

3b: the body of written works produced in a particular language, country, or age

This definition embraces fiction, my central concern. But the literal definition does not expand to include purpose, so I went internet trolling to find a more nuanced meaning.

The first search results (I stopped after 20) agreed in principle, albeit with different wording, that the purpose of literature is to explore and express human nature. I refine that to mean creative writing that reveals truth and possibility through story. Doesn’t matter if it’s a simple genre romance or multi-generational saga or anything in between. Storytelling is as old as human civilization, and capturing it in writing is what constitutes literature.

In fiction publishing, there’s a distinction between literature as a written art and “literary” as a writing style and marketing category. My interest is in the former, and in seeing how authors across genres — the body of literature — are adapting to a global pandemic concurrent with intense sociopolitical changes.

Multiple adaptations

The trends I see so far among fiction authors are clustering in four approaches.

(1) Some novelists have simply incorporated societal changes into their stories, including peoples of all colors, cultures, and genders in their character sets as part of the norm of their characters’ worlds.

In physical descriptions, when characters are described at all, references to their racial or ethnic heritages are as generic as possible, country of origin omitted unless directly relevant to the story, and nonbinary sexuality alluded to by casual mentions, such as a man having a husband or a woman having a wife. All human varieties are assumed to be normal. No commentary about it in the narrative; the story just moves on.

(2) Other novelists have gone the apologia route, inserting front matter into their books to define their positions to readers before they launch into the story. Some literally apologize for even mentioning difficult subjects. Those subjects can be the pandemic or socially sensitive topics such as race, sexuality, politics, or violence.

(3) Another group has failed to separate their personal positions from their characters’ positions. I’ve seen this several times in prolific, popular series authors who are confident about their readerships. I usually read those books in pre-press for review, and recently they’ve been keeping me awake at night wondering how to honestly and fairly evaluate those works. Subtle, intermittent shifts in the narrative change the voice so reader attention is broken by what I call “author intrusion.” While the story is doing its job of expressing the position, the author seemingly can’t resist elbowing in (and the publisher’s editor[s] doesn’t elbow them back out), resulting in a distracting mixed message that undercuts the book’s own merits.

(4) Then there are authors who put their positions solidly into their characters’ mouths and actions, leaving themselves invisible but making their points loud and clear.

Art vs. propaganda

Just about every author writes from a political, emotional, and personal perspective, and has done so since the beginning of publishing time. Same is true for almost every creator who expresses through an artistic medium. People flock to the arts to find resonance for their thoughts and feelings. Nothing abnormal there; in fact, that’s the nature of the beast.

The trick is how well they do it — or not. Authors who draw readers into their worlds and involve them in the trials and tribulations of the characters/setting/time succeed in conveying their messages. They make readers think and feel, and indirectly advance their own thoughts and feelings while remaining offstage. The work is its own self.

But when authors step outside the story world to manipulate reader impressions, things slide onto the slippery slope between fiction and propaganda. In my opinion, if authors feel so strongly about something that they can’t keep themselves out of their story, they should switch to a nonfiction vehicle. Or write op-eds (opinion-editorial pieces).

My personal opinion is meaningless in the larger scope. As a professional editor, I strive to put aside my biases and be as neutral and analytical as possible when I edit or review a fictional work. (But I’m totally subjective when I read for recreation!) If a story is historical fiction, I expect the author to adhere to the mores of the time for plausibility. Unfortunately, this has become a flashpoint in some circles, where people judge historical scenarios by contemporary mores.

I think this is unfair. In most cases, the purpose of the story is to show how things were in comparison to today’s sensibilities. Condemning authors for being accurate — and in some cases, calling to ban a book because it’s offensive to contemporary tastes — is unreasonable. Let literature, let art, inform us about the past to help us analyze the present and advance toward the future!

Who owns the viewpoint?

Some contemporary novelists have become scared to write what they want to say because they expect rejection or pushback, even shaming, from a polarized, judgmental audience. I see reports about this on social media, writing/editing/publishing forums, and articles in publishing newsletters. I also hear about it directly from clients and associates.

This anxiety differs from the common one among authors about their work being accepted by a publisher or an audience. Their anxiety has broadened to social and political spheres, which has undercut their confidence.

Some of them question whether to hire sensitivity readers in cases where they wrote outside their everyday reality. Which is worth thinking about, because storytellers have been walking in “other” shoes for as long as people have been writing stories. What’s different now to make that a problem?

I don’t see a problem, because it’s standard practice for conscientious authors to research what they don’t know and round up more-knowledgeable people to vet their work where it touches unfamiliar areas. Acknowledgment and dedication sections in books are full of credits to people who have helped authors with verisimilitude and factual accuracy.

A sensitivity reader is nothing more than an individual offering insight into a different culture or norm. Just like any technical professional, a sensitivity reader is only one person representing a great body of information. Their insight may be valuable, but it must be taken with the same grain of salt as any other resource. How the author handles that information is ultimately what counts.

Context is the bottom line

What’s often forgotten in the world of literary criticism is the world itself. We all belong to an immense, diverse population spread across the planet. Something that’s meaningful or controversial in the United States of America might be irrelevant, inflammatory, or incomprehensible somewhere else — even at a regional level. For instance, rural Alabama in a bayou environment has little to do with the Minnesota boundary waters, or downtown Los Angeles or New York.

A novel’s content has to be framed by not only its subject but also its context. Authors with commercial ambitions must direct their work toward a specific desired audience. By definition, that eliminates others.

“Otherness” has long been a concern of science fiction and fantasy authors. They have the advantage of being able to make it up. Who can speak for aliens from other planets?

Extrapolating from there, nobody on Earth can truly speak for anybody else, so the purpose of a novel is to present what’s happening to a unique character(s), expressed by a unique author, in hopes of finding commonality among unique readers.

The benefit of this is a constant stream of education and enlightenment about different people through their adventures and misadventures. The only thing that matters is story. Story expresses our shared humanity, and the infinite number of stories expresses our individuality. How wonderful is that?

The word that encompasses it all is “literature.”

Carolyn Haley is an award-winning novelist who lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of three novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1997 and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at or through DocuMania. Carolyn also reviews for the New York Journal of Books, and has presented about editing fiction at Communication Central conferences.

August 31, 2021

On the Basics — Biz card, résumé tips as workplaces and in-person events return

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 1:57 pm

© Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

I’m breaking my usual pattern of posting here on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays because the writing spirit is strong, and there’s more to come this week on our usual posting days.

Now that businesses are going back to the office and a semblance of pre-pandemic worklife seems to be returning, it’s a good time to assess the effectiveness of résumés and business cards. They’re both still important tools for networking and job searches, even in the ever-increasingly digital world and for both in-house and freelance colleagues. 

Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind if you’re getting ready to order new cards or update your résumé.

Business card basics

Business cards that work for you are especially important as in-person events start to come back to life, and real cards are still popular, from what I’m seeing. Someone who enters your contact info in their phone by scanning your card might still keep the actual card ­— and use it first if it has flair and the information they need. I’m meeting new people at such events and seeing a lot of business cards — but many of them don’t do their owners justice.

• Use larger type for your name, company/business name, e-ddress, website URL and phone number. I’ve been seeing a lot of business cards lately with type so small that you almost need a magnifying glass to read e-ddresses or phone numbers. Making recipients squint to read that essential information defeats the purpose of handing out your card and increases the likelihood of errors when someone tries to use your e-mail address or phone number.

• Make space for larger type by dropping street addresses and focusing on website URLs, e-ddresses, and office and cellphone numbers. Not only does that reduce the volume of information and clutter, it creates a more-dramatic design impact. Anyone wanting to visit your office (or send you a fax) can call or e-mail for that information or — for a brick-and-mortar business — find it at your website.

• Include a QR code; it can go on the back of your card so it doesn’t take away from valuable space on the front of the card. It makes you look plugged in and up to date, and makes it easy for recipients to find and file your information, as well as to learn more about you by creating a link to your website or LI profile, whichever is more appropriate and useful. You could even put a QR for each on the back of your card.

• Ditch the glossy paper stock; it’s hard to write on coated paper for anyone wanting to take notes about where and when they met you or add other information.

• Put a handful of business cards in every briefcase, jacket/pants/skirt pocket, handbag, cellphone case, etc. You never know when they’ll come in handy, and you don’t want to have to scribble your contact information on a napkin or the back of someone else’s card.

• Scan your card and add a low-resolution image of it to your e-mail signature (sigline) — unless you’re job-hunting, in which case don’t include anything related to your current employer.

• If you are looking for a new in-house job, create a separate personal card to hand out to prospective employers or referral sources. Employers will want to know about your current and past jobs, of course, but you don’t want to disrespect your current employer. A personal version can still include your job title, with an e-ddress and a home or cellphone number that’s different from your work information.

Résumés that work well

Whether you’re looking for freelance or in-house work, you need a résumé that reflects current practices while making you look good. These suggestions are my own, based on observation of student and colleague résumés and recent reading.

• Label your résumé with your name so it stands out from all the people who will send theirs with the filename Résumé.doc.

• If you have a job and don’t want your employer to know that you’re looking for a new position, create a new e-ddress for this kind of personal activity. Never use your current work e-ddress for something like job-hunting!

• Keep it simple — no more than two typefaces/fonts, black type, no photos or artwork (other than a logo if you have a business identity or are a freelancer).

• Keep it relevant — include volunteer or professional development and membership activity, but leave out personal or family details unless they relate to what you’re responding to. For instance, I recently responded to an opportunity to write about eldercare, and included a (brief) mention of looking after my mom and my beloved Wayne-the-Wonderful as part of my qualifications for the project.

• Don’t attach your résumé to an e-mail message unless you’re responding to an opportunity that has expressly said to do so. Instead, provide your website URL and say that your résumé can be found there. Many business communication systems block messages with unsolicited résumés, whether they’re in Word, PDF, or some other program or format.

You might think of AARP as an organization for older retired people, but it offers advice and resources that anyone of any age and employment status can use. A recent issue of the AARP Bulletin newspaper addressed résumés with advice that works for both freelance and in-house job-seeking (I’ve paraphrased and, in some places, added to their advice).

• Use 11 or 12 point type size and sans-serif fonts (Arial, Calibri, Verdana) rather than serif (Times Roman).

• For your e-mail address, use your name or a variation of it rather than a nickname.

• If you don’t have a professional website that can be the basis of your e-mail address ( or, opt for one from gmail, which looks more current than AOL, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.

• Use a heading like Professional Summary for a snapshot of who you are and what you bring to a job, rather than Objective. The obvious, assumed objective is “Find a new job.”

• List your relevant skills. Consider not including Word or Outlook, which AARP says are “universally expected.” (I had no idea Outlook was considered some kind of standard!)

• If you’ve been doing temp work to fill in while you’re job-hunting, call yourself a consultant for that timeframe and list your relevant assignments under that heading.

• Do include dates for employment and degrees, even if you’re worried about appearing “too old.” Leaving them out creates suspicion and the assumption that you really might be too old for a given opportunity.

• Use the heading Experience rather than Work Experience, so you can include work-related volunteer projects you might have done to fill the gap between paid work or to build new skills. 

• Use bullet points and action verbs to make it clear what you’ve done and how your work has contributed to the success of a project or business. That can save words and space, so you include more information, and often is an easier voice to use in writing up your experience.

• Describe your achievements and background using keywords in the listing or opportunity — and check out the prospective employer’s website to find more to include.

• Feel free to include hobbies and philanthropic activities as long as they are relevant to the kind of work you’re looking for.

Your input

Have you updated your business card or résumé recently, or created a new one? What gave you the incentive to do so? Has there been time to assess whether it’s making a difference in your networking and work search?

Best to all in your endeavors as the world tries to go back to a semblance of normal.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter ( is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and owner of An American Editor. She created the annual Communication Central Be a Better Freelancer® conference for colleagues (, now co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors ( and sponsored by An American Editor. She also owns A Flair for Writing (, which helps independent authors produce and publish their books. She can be reached at or

© Ruth E. Thaler-Carter/An American Editor. Content may not be recirculated, republished or otherwise used without both the prior permission of the publisher and full credit to the author of a given post and the An American Editor blog, including a live link to the post being referenced. Thank you for respecting our rights to and ownership of our work.

July 30, 2021

Indexing Arabic Names: Compound Names that Cannot Be Split

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 9:20 am

© Ælfwine Mischler

Arabic names can be tricky to index and alphabetize in references. In previous posts, I discussed how to handle the definite article al- and family terms Al, Ba, and ibn or bint between names. Unwitting indexers and editors (and even authors) often err by inverting Arabic names that should be left as they are, or splitting compound names and inverting names in the wrong place.

Arabic has a lot of compound names that are identifiable by one of their elements. This column discusses the most common ones. Whether you are indexing or alphabetizing references, do not split these compound names. That is, do not invert — do not move only one element and not the whole thing. The identifiable compounds are based on the genitive construction (iḍāfa) and often, but not always, the second element begins with the definite article al-, which should be ignored in sorting.

I have collected these common compound names by recognizable elements. For the sake of simplicity, I have not used diacritics on the names.

Ibn + [something]

In pre-modern names and names of royalty, ibn (son of) or one of its variants may come between two names. These names are indexed as they appear and are not inverted (see Indexing Arabic Names: Family Terms).

However, when Ibn comes at the beginning of a name rather than between two names, it is capitalized in English, is not inverted, and is sorted on Ibn. Many medieval personalities are known simply as Ibn + [something]. The “something” might be the name of a father or ancestor, or the whole name might be a nickname. For example, the nickname of the 15th-century Egyptian hadith scholar Ibn Hajar al-ʿAsqalani means ‘son of stone’; al-ʿAsqalani indicates that the family originated in ʿAsqalan some generations before him. He is indexed as “Ibn Hajar al-ʿAsqalani,” sorted on I.

Here are some other names of this type — alphabetized as they should be, with the ignored al- shown in angle brackets (see “>Indexing Arabic Names: The Definite Article):

Ibn <al->ʿArabi, Abu Bakr Muhammad*

Ibn ʿArabi, Muhyi al-Din Muhammad*

Ibn Battuta

Ibn <al->Hajib

Ibn <al->Hajj

Ibn Hazm

Ibn Khaldun

Ibn <al->Tabban

Ibn Taymiyyah

*Muhyi al-Din Muhammad ibn ʿArabi (d. 638 AH/1240 CE) is a Sufi scholar who is known as Ibn ʿArabi or, sometimes, as Ibn al-ʿArabi (with the definite article). Follow your author’s practice to include or exclude the definite article. Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn al-ʿArabi (d. 543 AH/ 1148 CE) is a Maliki scholar and judge known as Ibn al-ʿArabi. Your author might refer to them as simply Ibn ʿArabi or Ibn al-ʿArabi, without the other names.

Bint + [something]

Bint (daughter of) is the feminine counterpart of Ibn and can occur as the first element of a compound name that is not split. Bint al-Shatiʾ (literally Daughter of the Riverbank) is the pen name of Aisha Abd al-Rahman. You should index it as written, without a comma and sorted under B. Your index might also include her real name (indexed as Abd al-Rahman, Aisha), with locators double-posted or a See cross-reference to her penname.

Abu (or Abū) + [something]

Abu + [something] (literally father of [something]) forms a type of nickname known as a kunya. The “something” is usually the name of the man’s eldest son, but the kunya might be used to indicate a trait. In the medieval period, people were addressed by their kunya and might be known primarily by it instead of their real name.

This form of name is still used in some Arab cultures today and may appear as a surname, nickname, or penname. Like other compound names, you should not split it, and if there is an article in the second element, you should ignore it in sorting. Thus, the Egyptian writer, poet, and historian Muhammad Farid Abu Hadid (1893–1967) is indexed as “Abu Hadid, Muhammad Farid.” The Palestinian Abu Nidal is indexed as written, possibly with a gloss of his real name (Sabri Khalil al-Banna), possibly with an entry at al-Banna, Sabri Khalil (sorted under B) with a See reference to Abu Nidal.

If Abu is preceded by ibn or bint, it becomes Abi (or Abī), and the entire sequence of Ibn/Bint Abi + [Something] should not be split.

Umm + [something]

Umm + [something] (literally, mother of [something]), is the feminine form of the kunya. Like the masculine form, it may refer to a woman’s eldest son, as in the case of Umm Salama (mother of Salama), or it may indicate a trait. The given name Umm Kulthum (also spelled Kulsum or Kalsum) means “one with chubby cheeks.” It was used as the stage name of the Egyptian singer Fatima Ibrahim el-Sayyid el-Batagi, whose stage name is indexed as “Umm Kulthum.” If the second element has the definite article, as in the case of Umm al-Qura (“mother of towns,” a nickname for Mecca), the article is ignored in sorting.

ʿAbd + [something]

This compound, meaning “servant of” or “slave of,” is probably the most common. The second element is usually, but not always, one of the names of God, and there is usually a definite article in the second element, which leads to various spellings in modern names. To bring common spellings together, sort word by word and ignore the definite article if it is not attached to the first element:

ʿAbdallah, Jamil

ʿAbd <al->Hamid II

ʿAbd Rabbihi

ʿAbd <al->Rahman III

ʿAbd <al->Rahman, Sayyid

ʿAbd <al->Samad, ʿAbd al-Qadir

ʿAbdel Ghani, Mahmoud

Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem

The one exception to this, by convention, is the name of the Egyptian president Gamal ʿAbd al-Nasser, who is usually referred to in text as Nasser and indexed as Nasser, Gamal ʿAbd al-, rather than as ʿAbd al-Nasser, Gamal. If your author ignores this convention and refers to him as ʿAbd al-Nasser, index him as the author has him, but also put a See cross-reference under Nasser.

It is common practice for an author to use only a surname on subsequent mention. However, twice I have caught an author using only the second element without ʿAbd; for example, referring to Sayyid ʿAbd al-Rahman as al-Rahman rather than ʿAbd al-Rahman. Al-Rahman is a name of God and cannot be used for a human. If you come upon such a mistake in a book, index the name correctly with ʿAbd and tell the client to correct the text.

[Something] + al-Din

Several compounds made of [something] + al-Din ([something] of the faith) are common names in modern Arabic, and served as a form of honorific in medieval names. In modern names the al- might be spelled ad-, ed-, or ud- to show the assimilation of the letter l, and the article might be attached to the second word. Din might be spelled Deen or Dine.

Common modern compounds are Nur al-Din, Saif al-Din, Salah al-Din, and Shams al-Din, all with various spellings (see “Romanized Arabic in English Texts: Sources of Variation” and “Romanized Arabic in English Texts: Other Challenges for Editors”).

[Something] + Allah

A few names, now primarily surnames, are formed with Allah as the second element: Farag Allah, Faraj Allah, Hasab Allah, Khair Allah.

Dhu (or Zu) + [something]

Dhu or Zu is a combining word in a few names. The u is a long vowel here, so the vowel of the article elides in pronunciation and this might be shown in various spellings, or the names might be written as one word: Dhu ’l-Qarnayn, Dhu’l-Qarnayn, Dhu-l-Qarnayn, Dhul Qarnayn, Dhu al-Kifl, Dhul Kifl, Dhu al-Faqar, Zulfaqar.

Miscellaneous genitive compounds

I have seen a number of names of prominent people incorrectly indexed. These names are also genitive constructions and should not be split.

Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, a former president of Pakistan, appeared in one index as “ul-Haq, Zia” with no sign of the first name. I could not access the text to see how the author had written the name, and I always see the surname hyphenated. This should be indexed as Zia-ul-Haq, Muhammad.

The former president of Tunisia, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, has Ben Ali as his surname. His given name is also a genitive-construction compound, which I have also seen used for other people with different spellings: Zine El Abidine, Zain al-Abidin, Zayn al-ʿAbidin. These should not be split.

Examples of Modern Names

A modern name might have two or more given names rather than a given name and a family name. The second name is usually the father’s name; the third name, if there is one, is the grandfather’s. Look at the last element and determine whether it is part of a compound name that cannot be split. Treat any compound names as a unit, then use the final name (simple or compound) as a surname and invert. Ignore the articles in sorting, as shown by the angle brackets.

ʿAbd al-Rahim ʿAbd al-Jalil >> ʿAbd <al->Jalil, ʿAbd <al->Rahim

            NOT <al->Jalil, ʿAbd <al->Rahim ʿAbd

Abu al-Hasan Kamal al-Din >> Kamal <al->Din, Abu <al->Hasan

            NOT <al->Din, Abu <al->Hasan Kamal

Aisha ʿAbd al-Rahman >> ʿAbd <al->Rahman, Aisha

            NOT <al->Rahman, Aisha ʿAbd

Ali Samir al-Dumyati >> <al->Dumyati, Ali Samir

Ali Moustafa Mosharafa è Mosharafa, Ali Moustafa

Mohamed Salah Eldin >> Salah Eldin, Mohamed

            NOT Eldin, Mohamed Salah

Mustapha Zine El Abidine >> Zine <El> Abidine, Mustapha

            NOT Abidine, Mustapha Zine El

Nasr Abu Zayd >> Abu Zayd, Nasr

            NOT Zayd, Nasr Abu

Noura Ahmad Dawud è Dawud, Noura Ahmad

In a recent book about Yemen, I found several modern, nonroyal names with “bin” between two names (for example, Ahmad Hani bin Dawud). I had to query the author about them because modern names don’t usually contain “bin” unless the person is royal. She replied that “bin” was part of the family name, so I told her to mark it to be capitalized and I indexed them on Bin: Bin Dawud, Ahmad Hani. If you find similar modern names, query the author.   

Titles and honorifics can appear in both medieval and modern names, and cause more problems for indexers. That is a topic for another post.

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 about Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology. She has presented a webinar on indexing Arabic names for the American Society for Indexing ( This post is based on the submitted version of “Indexing Arabic Names: The Basics,” published in The Indexer: The International Journal of Indexing, March 2021,

July 7, 2021

On the Basics: Marketing while uncomfortable

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 8:47 pm

© Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

A journalism colleague recently tagged me in a Facebook post about his discomfort with marketing his freelance services, saying he believes in “privacy, humility and discretion” and that posting about his work distracts him from doing the next project. He’s reluctant to post social media messages because he finds most of them “banal and narcissistic,” but he knows that at some point, he’ll have to market his business to succeed.

I suggested that he “think of social media posts as advice to and support of colleagues, and it might be easier to use that resource to promote your freelance business. Privacy, humility and discretion are valuable principles, but we have to do at least some marketing to be found and hired for projects!”

How does using social media to advise and support colleagues play into a marketing plan? When you answer questions, suggest resources, present solutions and otherwise come in handy in LinkedIn, Facebook and related platforms, including discussion lists and other forums, you establish yourself as professional, skilled, knowledgeable — and the people you help will remember you that way. They’ll think of you when a project comes up that they can’t take on for some reason. They’ll contact you to subcontract or refer you.

This colleague’s post, and my response, got me thinking about how hard it can be to take a business-like approach to freelancing and engage in marketing when we’d much rather be writing, editing, proofreading, etc. We like to think of ourselves as creative types (especially those of us who are writers or graphic artists), and the idea of being businesses or business-like is antithetical to that creative self-image.

But as freelancers, in business we are and market we must. (And even some in-house colleagues have to market themselves — to get promoted, to have their work recognized and appreciated, to find a new in-house job.)

Your first step is to create a website. Once that’s up and you remember to refresh it regularly (which I admit I’m very bad about doing), it will do a lot of your marketing for you. Potential clients will find you before you have to go looking for them. Add the URL for your website to your “sigline” (the contact info at the end of every e-mail message you send), and it becomes even more powerful as a marketing tool.

As colleague John H. Meyer said in a post to the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) discussion list, “Think of your online presence as a wheel, with your business website at the center, and everything else (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc., etc., etc.) as spokes. Whatever appears on any of the spokes can bring attention back to the hub, which is the permanent repository for all essential info about you and your service.” He has found that “even a non-business presence on various media has brought me clients.” As a result of having several opinion pieces published in local news media with a tagline that identifies him as a “free-lance editor,” several authors “went a-Googling,” found his website and are now clients. “Even if you’re not directly marketing, how you present yourself publicly can still help build your brand.”

(For tips on creating a website, see … or order a recording of my webinar about that topic from the EFA.)

In that online conversation, I also noted that “Cold queries do still work, though.” And they do. If marketing makes you uncomfortable, don’t think of them as marketing. Think of them as pitches or leads for new work. The advantage of cold queries is that you initiate contact with a potential client: You do some research, through Writer’s Market, library or bookstore visits, Literary Marketplace, LinkedIn, etc.; come up with an idea for an article or a perspective on how your skills and experience might meet their needs; and send your message. It’s essentially one on one, which doesn’t feel as much like marketing as being visible in social media. It doesn’t feel promotional. It is business, but it’s on a smaller scale. It’s, well … private, humble and discreet.

You can also create a blog, although finding new things to say on a regular basis might be a challenge.

You can write a book or booklet, which provides credibility and passive marketing backup and income.

You can set a schedule for social media posting and activity, or simply remember to scan groups and colleagues of interest occasionally and respond to some of their posts. I’m a big believer in answering questions in social media groups not only of colleagues, but of potential clients — people looking for editors, proofreaders, writers, etc.

You can also set a schedule for more-direct marketing activity, such as sending out query letters/messages on the first Monday of every month.

You can join and be active in professional associations, show up at events, speak up in discussions, present webinars, write for their publications, etc.

It’s all marketing. Resign yourself to the necessity, find a level of activity that you can live with and go for it. The results might not only be a pleasant surprise for your bank account, but more manageable, and eventually more comfortable, than you ever expected.

Above all, tell yourself that marketing isn’t bragging, posturing, being indiscreet or overly public about your life. It’s good business. Marketing is about letting the world know who you are and what you do, which you can do quietly and with subtlety, while still being effective in bringing clients to your door.  

Even rock stars — literal rock stars, that is — do marketing. Think about the rock band Kiss and their multiple commercial projects, which I just learned about: 5,000 licensed products that have nothing to do with music! We should keep our marketing efforts focused on our editorial business skills and services, but that’s not a bad example to follow from the perspective of marketing as a core element of a successful business.

What have you done to market yourself and your work effectively, whether you’re a freelancer or in-house employee? What have you overcome to make yourself be more marketed and marketable?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter ( is the owner and editor-in-chief of An American Editor and an award-winning creator of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide. She also created the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues, now cosponsored by the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors ( and An American Editor. She can be contacted at or

© An American Editor. Content may not be recirculated, republished or otherwise used without both the prior permission of the publisher and full credit to the author of a given post and the An American Editor blog, including a live link to the post being referenced. Thank you for respecting our rights to and ownership of our work.

June 3, 2021

Copyright reminder

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 3:37 pm

This is a reminder that all content in this blog is © An American Editor and may not be recirculated, republished or otherwise used without both the prior permission of the publisher and full credit to the author of a given post and the An American Editor blog, including a live link to the post being referenced. Thank you for respecting our rights to and ownership of our work.

May 28, 2021

On the Basics — What is editing? What is it supposed to do?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

A lot of sites and groups purport to offer expert advice about writing and editing. Some of it is good, some of it is bad and some of it inspires additional conversation. A recent online conversation discussed whether editing is supposed to make a piece of writing shorter vs. longer after a colleague saw a statement in a writing group that editing means making things shorter; when he responded that editing can also make things longer, he was told that’s revising, not editing. Other participants responded with the classics: Shakespeare’s “Brevity is the soul of wit” and Mark Twain’s “I’d have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have time.”

Yes, making a work more concise is often part of editing, and usually a good thing, but that isn’t all there is to editing. I’m with the colleague who sees editing as sometimes making something longer. Authors can be so familiar with their topics that they don’t realize their readers might need more detail, untrained in writing and apt to over-write or write without organization and structure, or in such a hurry to meet a deadline that they leave out important aspects of a topic. A skilled editor can help make the document meet its goal of completing incomplete material, and that usually requires adding to it.

There are also writers who just open the mental floodgates and write without planning, expecting their editors to make sense of the material or battle it down to meet a required length for them. Sometimes I do that to myself: I’ll write out everything I have for an article, then go back and cut it down if I have to meet a specific word count. (I save the longer version in case I find a use for the material I’ve cut to fulfill the assignment.)

When I’m wearing my editor hat, I cut a bit or add a bit, whichever is appropriate (with the caveat that I provide copyediting; I’m not interested in the much-harder work of developmental or substantive editing these days). Every document is different, and likely to require a different approach. To me, editing simply makes a written work better, which can mean cutting it down if needed; making it longer if needed; or simply making it clear, consistent, accurate and readable without changing the word count — perhaps by changing some words for ones that are a better fit but keep the manuscript at the same overall count — all while respecting the author’s voice. And even “better” can be a subjective matter, just to add to the complexity of the process.

What colleagues say

A recent issue of the ACES: The Society for Copyediting newsletter offered these perspectives about the meaning of editing, all of which ring true, at least for me:

Charita Ray-Blakely in “Editors should understand the possible pitfalls of anthropomorphism”: “One fundamental task of editing is to promote clarity in content”

Christine Steele, quoting or paraphrasing John Russial’s Strategic Copy Editing (Guildford Press, 2004) in “Critical-thinking copyediting”:

“Editing is not about nitpicking and finding mistakes — it is about making choices”

“Editing is about critical thinking”

“Editing is about working together and respecting others”

“Editing is about balancing perfection and pragmatism”

“Editing is about ethics”

The owners of the Editorial Arts Academy, judging from a recent Facebook post, lean toward the brevity perspective: “‘Less is More’ is the guiding principle when it comes to line editing. Authors don’t pay editors to rewrite their words but rather to improve on what is already there.”

And finally, Ally Machate of the Writer’s Ally posted that “Debut books often have shorter word counts than those from successful authors” and provided some comparisons between genres, career stages and more at:

Managing challenges

One of the challenges for many of us is not just defining substantive, developmental, line and copyediting to make it easier to establish what we’ll do with (or to) a manuscript, but to educate clients about the difference between editing and proofreading. How many of us have been asked to “just proofread” a document, only to see that it desperately needs editing? I’m sure that’s happened to many, if not all, of us, because a client either honestly doesn’t understand the difference or is less honestly trying to get editing work done for the price (perceived as lower) of proofreading. Establishing and hewing to these boundaries is not just a matter of defining levels of editing or what editing means, but a huge factor in figuring out how much time, effort and money will go into any given editing project, whether you’re working freelance or in-house.

Cutting extraneous, redundant or unclear material is part of editing. Fleshing out incomplete ideas can be part of editing, although it’s often more appropriate to suggest to the author that they should expand or complete something, especially if you’re copyediting. There’s more room to do that kind of revision with substantive or developmental editing, although too much actual added wording by the editor can become co-authorship or ghostwriting. 

One area where cutting vs. adding words can make the editing life more complicated is (for freelancers) on the financial side: If you charge by the word, you have to decide which word count to use for your fee. Most of the people I’ve seen discuss this pricing model use the original word count, but if you’ve done a lot adding to the manuscript, you might feel cheated of your rightful fee if you can’t charge for doing so. You might need language in your contract to cover that eventuality.

There’s also one occasional headache in the area of word count: how to account for the actual number of words. As I found out this past week, Word can’t always be relied upon to provide the correct count. My version suddenly showed what I knew was a 700-word document I was writing as having only 187 words; apparently the program got stuck at some point in the manuscript and didn’t “see” the rest of it. Copy-and-pasting into a new document cured the problem (and it helped that I save frequently as I work, whether writing, editing or proofreading), but it was a heart-stopping moment to think that I had somehow deleted most of my hard-written words! To an editor addicted to cutting out words, that might have been a good thing to see, but it certainly wasn’t a good moment here. When I asked colleagues what might have caused that glitch, nobody knew but everybody said something similar had happened to them at least once, if not often.

Experiences among us

How do you define editing, and your role as an editor, in terms of when/whether to cut and when/whether to add? What challenges have you had in establishing a definition and communicating it to clients or colleagues? How often has cutting vs. adding words been a factor?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter ( is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and owner of An American Editor. She created the annual Communication Central Be a Better Freelancer® conference for colleagues (, now co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors ( and sponsored by An American Editor. She also owns A Flair for Writing (, which helps independent authors produce and publish their books. She can be reached at or

May 24, 2021

On the Basics: What do experienced, successful freelancers “owe” to the newcomers?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

Someone recently posted an opinion in a journalism group that successful freelancers should give up their businesses for the sake of new freelancers. It made me think about what, if anything, successful and experienced people owe to those who are new to a profession in general or type of business in particular.

As most of you know, I’m a huge believer in being helpful to colleagues — at all levels of their careers or businesses, whether established or just starting out, working in-house or freelance, and any other aspect of their business lives. Not just out of gratitude to colleagues who have been helpful to me, but that “rising tide lifts all boats” theory, you know.

I’ve felt a responsibility to give something back in return for the advice, camaraderie and support that I’ve received from colleagues, especially fellow freelancers. I started freelancing on my own, almost serendipitously, and finding a supportive community of colleagues (primarily through the late, lamented Washington Independent Writers; sob) was a real gift. The people who were helpful to me then didn’t need my help, but I realized I could pass on what I had learned from them and from my own experiences to those who came into freelancing — or writing/editing/proofreading, etc. — after I did.

I do believe in helping “newbies” get a firm start on their writing, editing, proofreading, etc., careers. What makes no sense is expecting any of us to shut down for some undefined benefit to newcomers, or to colleagues who have been in business for a while but are not doing well yet. I don’t even know how that would work. I might hand off a project or client to a colleague who has more of the necessary skill and experience for that work than I do, and I’ve certainly referred colleagues for projects that aren’t what I prefer to do, whether because something pays less than I expect, involves a topic I’m not interested in or requires more effort (developmental vs. copyediting, for instance) than I feel like doing these days.

It does appear that the person making this claim hasn’t had a professional-level job in communications or published any freelance work, which could explain why they want successful freelancers to save them from doing the hard work of finding an in-house job or enough freelance work to be successful. The real world, of course, doesn’t work like that.

Newcomers might appreciate mentors to help them learn the ropes of the editorial niche they want to work in, and the ins-and-outs of successful freelancing — and many of us do provide that kind of support. Some of us have been mentors, either formally or informally. Most of us share advice and  insights through our blogs, books, classes or webinars, memberships in professional associations, or visibility in various online groups (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.). Some of us train new hires, or students and early-career colleagues, at our full-time jobs. 

Freelancing has never been easy to do, as most of us here can attest. It takes more than being able to write well; edit/proofread accurately (and respectfully); create effective, readable publications; design beautiful images and documents, etc. It takes a business approach and a lot of persistence to find clients or assignments, manage finances and taxes, balance varying deadlines, and handle everything else that leads to success.

Whether someone wants a traditional publishing career or a successful freelance business, it takes time. It takes training. It takes a little humility when starting out. Those of us who are successful have put a lot of time, effort and expense into building up our careers or businesses. Most of us love what we do and thrive on doing it well. We plan to keep going as long as our physical and mental capacities make it possible. Few, if any, of us are interested in new careers or premature retirement.

Being supportive doesn’t require closing our doors to support some vague “help the newbies” vision.

How to help

Once successful, it does make sense to give back, pay it forward or however we want to think about encouraging newcomers who might need a little backup as they get started. Some of us may no longer need advice about the basics of being in business, but we can — and I think we should — pass on the benefit of our experience to others.

We were all new to our work and — for those who aren’t working in-house — to freelancing, and we all learned from others. Passing on our knowledge is a mitzvah (a good deed) or investment in good karma. But that’s very different from closing down a business for some vague idea of helping less-established or less-successful colleagues.

Which brings me to how we who are established and successful can help newcomers to editorial work, especially people who are new to freelancing. We can:

Teach — through classes, webinars, conference presentations. Advise — through blogs, publishing, discussion lists, social media outlets, presentations. Share — by suggesting books, degree or certificate training programs, webinars, organizations, tools, other resources, answers to questions. Mentor — if you have the time and energy.

Helping a colleague is rewarding in many ways. Not only is giving back an investment in the future of our profession and our own successful businesses, it is good for the soul — and it feels great. It might seem selfish, but doing good feels good, whether through advising colleagues or supporting a charitable cause.

Colleagues’ perspectives

When the time comes for me to hang up my shingle and retire from my writing/editing/proofreading/publishing business, it won’t be newcomers who will hear from me about taking on some of my clients or projects, and I won’t do it by simply closing down in the hope that someone unknown and less-established will magically benefit from my disappearance from the scene. I’ll let my clients know my plans so they can start looking for a replacement, and I’ll contact colleagues I know to see if they would like to be referred to those clients. The colleagues I contact will be experienced in the appropriate editorial niches. From the freelancing perspective, my preference will be to offer such opportunities to established, professional freelancers with successful businesses. That’s what my clients are used to and whom they would prefer to work with.

If you’re experienced and successful, how do you see your role with newcomers? If you’re new to the editorial field or to freelancing, what do you expect to receive from established, successful colleagues?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter ( is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and owner of An American Editor. She created the annual Communication Central Be a Better Freelancer® conference for colleagues (, now co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors ( and sponsored by An American Editor. She also owns A Flair for Writing (, which helps independent authors produce and publish their books. She can be reached at or

May 21, 2021

Indexing Arabic Names: Some Family Terms

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 6:43 pm

Ælfwine Mischler

This blog post is based on the submitted version of “Indexing Arabic Names: The Basics,” which was published in The Indexer: The International Journal of Indexing, Vol. 39, No. 1, March 2021, and is available at

Arabic names can be tricky to index and to alphabetize correctly in references. In my previous post about indexing (and alphabetizing) Arabic names, I presented some tips for dealing with the definite article al-.

This post is about how to index a word that is sometimes mistaken for the definite article, and some family terms that turn up in Arabic names.

Al and Ba

The word Āl or Al means “clan” or “dynasty.” It is usually capitalized when transliterated, although authors (and copyeditors) sometimes mistake it for the definite article and lowercase it. Āl is never suppressed in sorting or moved to the end of the name.

It looks like this in modern Arabic: a squiggle similar to a tilde (~) over the alif on the right, and the lam on the left not connected to the following word as the definite article is.

Table 1: Modern script

You are most likely to find Āl in royal names or in history books (the Āl Faḍl Bedouin appeared in a book I recently indexed). An indexing colleague once asked how to sort Jalal Al-e Ahmad, an Iranian novelist. Wikipedia provided the Farsi script of the name (Farsi uses the Arabic alphabet), and from that, I knew that the Al here was “clan” and the name should be indexed as Al-e Ahmad, Jalal.  

Table 2: Jalal

In modern royal names, Al often comes near the end, followed by the name of the dynasty. The Emir of Qatar, for example, is Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Royal names are not inverted, so his should appear in an index just as I have written it. If your author treats Al there as the definite article and writes al-Thani, you should correct the author.

I have encountered the word or Ba in Yemeni names, sometimes hyphenated with the following name. It has a similar meaning of “family” and should not be split from the following name.

Ibn, bin, ben, b., bint, bt. between names

Ibn, bin, ben, b. mean “son of,” while bint, bt. mean “daughter of.” In modern Arabic names, these are not used except in names of royalty, and they are usually lowercased. You might find them, however, in Muslim names in non-Arab countries such as Malaysia.

In pre-modern names, you might get a string of names like Iman bint Yusuf ibn Ahmad (Iman daughter of Yusuf son of Ahmad) or Mustafa ibn Hisham ibn Yahya (Mustafa son of Hisham son of Yahya). Simple pre-modern names such as these — that is, without honorifics or epithets — should be indexed as you see them, without inverting. (More-complex pre-modern names will be discussed in later posts.) In modern names, such strings are usually only seen in names of royalty, which are never inverted.

The variations in the spelling of the term for “son of” may be based on Arabic grammar or on style choices. One publisher that I often work for uses bin for Gulf royalty, ben for names from North Africa (where it is the usual spelling), and ibn for other cases. Other publishers might consistently use b. Authors might be inconsistent, writing the names as they found them in their sources.

Ignore ibn, bin, ben, b., bint, bt. in sorting when they come between names. If they come at the beginning, that is another case to be discussed in another blog post. In the following examples of pre-modern names, the angle brackets surround text that is ignored in sorting.

‘Abdallah <ibn >Abi Bakr

‘Abdallah <b. >Salim <b. >Yusuf

Ahmad <ibn >Hanbal

Ahmad <b. >Ibrahim <b. >Samir

Ahmad <ibn >Idris <ibn >Yahya

In modern names, Bin and Ben might be part of a family name and should be capitalized. Do not ignore these in sorting, and do not split them.

Ben Ali, Zine El Abidine

Bin Laden Group

Bin Laden, Osama

Modern Arabic Names

European-style names — with a given name and a family name that passes from one generation to the next — only appeared in the Arab world in the 19th and early-20th centuries, and at different times in different places. Even today, many people use their father’s given name as a second name, rather than a family name. In Egypt (the country I am most familiar with), people use their given name, their father’s name, their paternal grandfather’s name, followed by either their great-grandfather’s name or a family name, on legal documents requiring four names. They do not use bint (daughter of) or ibn/bin (son of). In other contexts, people might use only their own name and their father’s name; or their own name and their grandfather’s name; or their own name and the family name; or their own name, their father’s name, and the family name. Many Egyptians are inconsistent in this and use different forms of their name in different contexts. In a modern book, however, I would expect to see modern people called consistently by the same names.

To alphabetize modern names, you need to recognize compound names that must not be split, which will the topic of another post.

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 about Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology. She has presented a webinar on indexing Arabic names for the American Society for Indexing (

May 19, 2021

Thinking Fiction: Three Types of Indie Editing Clients

Carolyn Haley

If you edit enough novels by independent authors, you’ll notice patterns in author types and ambitions. By this I mean broad patterns — which always contain exceptions — that can help guide editors in determining how to guide individual authors on their publishing journeys.

The three broad types of indie authors are those who (1) write to market (in my shorthand, the pragmatists); (2) write to express themselves then figure out how to find their audience (the dreamers); and (3) write for either/both reasons and believe that everyone is their audience (the in-betweeners).

In this context, writing styles and genres are irrelevant. It’s all about expectations and approach. Every indie editing job has its unique parameters and focal points, driven by author desire, budget, and publishing goal. How these weave together is where the distinctions come into play.

(1) The pragmatists

Authors who write to market tend to do their homework before presenting their books for editing. They have clear story ideas (usually lots of), intend to make money, and have invested time in researching the rules of the game. The economically efficient ones go for cheaper services than I can offer, unless they have well-lined pockets, although it happens occasionally that they regret their first choice(s) of editor and come to me for re-editing, either before publication or in reaction to embarrassing feedback from readers after they’ve released their books independently.

In the main, this group wants copyediting or proofreading. They are confident about their writing technique and storytelling, and often have worked with beta readers to iron out the wrinkles in their content. Then they just want somebody editorially competent to do the nitpicky housekeeping.

Almost always, these authors self-publish. Many of them are DIYers who have already formatted and illustrated their manuscripts when they submit them for editing. They know exactly which publishing service they will use to release the book, and how to promote their work.

Rarely do these authors care about the minutiae of punctuation and style. That’s the editor’s job, in their minds, and all they want is to have their text made clean and consistent. From the editor’s viewpoint, these are easy jobs, and what matters is to have straightforward conversations with the author to understand their particulars, then gallop on through the project.

(2) The dreamers

This group of authors is inclined in the opposite direction. They’ve had a story burbling inside them for years, and finally their life situation has given them a chance to pour it out. Many have retired from an unrelated career and are indulging at last in their dreams.

Unlike the pragmatists who write to market, the dreamers are usually under-informed about the realities of publishing, either traditional or independent. And they’ve done little or no study about composition, grammar, narrative structure, etc., since their school days.

They seek an editor who will be their partner and guide them through the wilderness. They lean hard on the editor’s knowledge and expertise. Viewed cynically, they can be considered artistes or hobbyists, and it’s sometimes painful to work with them, knowing their passionate effort has little chance of acceptance or sales in the real world. At the same time, they can be the most satisfying to work with, because of their enthusiasm, openness, unfettered creativity, and sometimes astonishing growth.

For these authors, editors need to provide a lot of information, starting with careful definition of services and costs for each level of service. Scope of work may include education in storycraft and the publishing process, including advice about composing query letters, synopses, and jacket blurbs and taglines. Often, these authors’ dream is for traditional publishing success, which may or may not be appropriate for their work. It helps a lot if the editor has publishing experience in addition to language and writing skills.

Emotionally, this group of authors is “needy” in comparison to the pragmatists, so editors should be conscious of their own willingness to be drawn into ego support and where to draw the line. In contrast to the pragmatists “driving the bus,” the dreamers need to be chauffeured, or at least given an explicit road map.

(3) The in-betweeners

The third group, not surprisingly, is an assortment falling between the two extremes. They throw in the most variables for the editor to manage. The main challenge with such authors is defining what they’ve written and toward whom to target it, because they frequently believe that publishing is a single-step process that leads to anyone and everyone having access to their novel and wanting to read it.

For these folks, editors need to take extra time up front to figure out what the author specifically wants and/or needs. Pitching services to them might run the gamut from manuscript evaluation to a deep developmental edit, with copyediting or line editing as options. Like the dreamers, the in-betweeners usually require dialogue and sample edits to pave the way for a successful arrangement. They understand some of the logistics and value-added aspects of editing, but might have to be educated or convinced.

(4) Others

There’s a fourth group of authors that indie editors are wise to steer clear of, although editors don’t have to work hard to avoid this group because its members don’t really want to be edited — although they often have strong opinions about it.

Such authors fall into two camps. One disdains editors completely, while the other thinks editors overcharge. It’s rare to receive inquiries from either faction, but occasionally an author who recognizes that editing helps goes searching for someone to provide that help — at the cheapest possible price. An editor’s best practice when that happens is to steer them to one of the low-dollar bidding sites and wish them well.

Patterns and particulars

In simplistic terms, indie authors cluster into black, white, and gray areas, each seeking different levels of editorial involvement. Understanding these clusters helps editors form a strategy for approaching and accommodating their differences.

In all cases, frank and polite communication before committing to the job is imperative. So is a contract that spells out scope of work, and payment and delivery terms. The goal — always — is to avoid either or both parties receiving something different from what they expect and desire. Considering authors in broad types can also help editors evaluate their personal limits and design their service offerings for maximum mutual benefit.

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

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