An American Editor

February 28, 2018

On the Basics: Making the Best Use of Interaction with Colleagues

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Networking and Etiquette

It seems to occur almost every day — someone in a Facebook group or on an e-mail discussion list says they’re available for projects and asks colleagues in the group to send work to them. They might ask for referrals or recommendations or say they’re available for overflow or projects, that they’re starting out and need work, that they’re having a slow period or just lost a major client; some even ask group members to share contact information for clients. It doesn’t matter exactly how they phrase the request, but the basic message is “Please give me work.”

These messages invariably are from people who have never been seen or heard from before. They haven’t introduced themselves, haven’t asked any questions, haven’t contributed anything useful in response to other group members’ questions. Some are new to editing or freelancing, with little or even no training or experience; some have been working for a while, but have hit a dry spell.

Just this past week, a new member of a professional association showed up at its discussion list with the fast-becoming-classic “Hi, I’m new here, please give me your contacts or overflow work and recommend me to your clients and colleagues” message as his first post to the list. He did present his credentials, but still — he posted the same information about his background (essentially his résumé, which is not considered de rigueur on a list) — six times in an hour or so. This did him little, if any, good in terms of respect or interest from listmates.

As with most online communities, it is important to understand that people we “meet” in these collegial environments can be generous with advice and insights into our craft — both editing and freelancing — but that there is a certain etiquette for becoming part of these communities. It is becoming clear that we can’t say it too often: Not only is networking a two-way street, but newcomers should listen, read, and contribute before asking to be referred, recommended, hired, or subcontracted with.

Perhaps even more important, newcomers should remember that established colleagues, both freelancers and in-house workers, are invested in their contacts and clients, and in their reputations. We have put many years into building up our relationships and reputations by providing skilled, high-quality work and respecting the privacy of those we work with. Most of us are more than glad to offer advice and resources, but are not going to risk our reputations, and our relationships with clients or employers, by handing off contact information to strangers.

Keep in mind that there’s a difference between saying “I have openings in my schedule,” “I’m looking for new clients,” “Expected payments are running late and I could use some new projects” versus “Give me your contacts” and “Send me your overflow work when you don’t know anything about me.”

Some editors (and freelancers in other aspects of publishing) may list our clients and projects at our websites. That is not an invitation for others to contact those clients to offer their services, although we have no control over whether someone might do so. We can only hope that anyone who does take advantage of that information doesn’t pretend to know us in the process, or suggest that we’ve referred or recommended them.

With this as a basis, how do we make the best of getting to know each other either in person at meetings and conferences or online in discussion lists and groups without ruffling feathers and crossing lines?

Newcomers to a group can (some would say should) sit back and observe — “lurk” — after joining to develop a sense of what is appropriate for discussion, the tone of the community, and more. Once that is clear, ask questions about the profession, the skills needed, worthwhile resources for enhancing one’s skills, how to break in (most of us love recalling and recounting our early years in the field or in business).

Look for opportunities to establish a professional image and be helpful. Answer colleagues’ questions (if you can). Suggest new resources that haven’t been mentioned or vetted. Relate experiences that demonstrate skills in doing editorial work or dealing with difficult clients. Announce good news about new training you’ve taken, clients and projects you’ve snared, even kudos from clients who are happy with your work. Dial down any boasting, but let colleagues know how your work and business are progressing.

It takes time to gain the trust, confidence, and respect of colleagues. Once you’ve done so, it might be appropriate to ask for referrals and recommendations. Before doing that, though, stop and think about how you would feel if someone you don’t know anything about were to ask you for the contacts and clients you have worked so hard to build up. Use that insight to influence how you word your requests, whether one-on-one or in a group setting.

On the Other Side of the Fence

For colleagues who have established successful editing careers and businesses, today’s culture can be annoying, but it can’t hurt to provide some kind of response to pleas for help.

I try to live by the good ol’ Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” — and “What goes around, comes around” (or, as Billy Preston sang it, “Nothing from nothing leaves nothing”). When I was ready to start freelancing, I figured out most of what I needed to know on my own, but I also had some very generous colleagues. I tried not to take advantage of their time and knowledge, but it was so reassuring to know that they were available if I needed them.

Nowadays, even established, experienced editors and freelancers need help with the occasional sticky language, client, or technological matter, or even with financial dry spells. No one is immune. It makes sense to give back when possible, because we never know when we may have to ask for help ourselves.

I keep a list of useful resources to offer when someone asks for help in finding work. I also have a boilerplate response for people who ask — whether privately or in a group of some sort — for my client contact information, and for referrals, recommendations, “overflow work,” and other elements of my editorial business.

Helping colleagues feels good — and is an investment in karma: It might seem selfish, but you never know when helping someone out, even with just a list of resources, will come back to help you out in the future. I aim to enhance that karma through avenues like the An American Editor blog (both my own posts and those of our wonderful contributors), participating in lists and groups of colleagues, hosting the Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference, referring colleagues whom I know for projects outside my wheelhouse for any reason, and even hiring or subcontracting to colleagues I know and trust.

The operative phrase, of course, is “colleagues I know and trust.” I might not have met some of them in person, but I’ve learned enough about them to feel comfortable with referrals or projects.

How do you respond to people who make what you feel are unreasonable or inappropriate requests for client contacts or business leads?

February 19, 2018

Romanized Arabic in English Texts — Part 4: Omitting, Capitalizing, and Alphabetizing the Definite Article

AElfwine Mischler

As an editor and indexer in Cairo, I often work on materials containing Arabic terms and names. The Arabic definite article, usually romanized as al-, although such a small word — only two letters, alif lam — often presents problems for writers and editors of English texts.

In Part 3, I talked about:

  • assimilating with the following letter
  • merging the article
  • elliding the vowel

In this part, I talk about more difficulties with the definite article:

  • dropping the article in names
  • capitalizing
  • alphabetizing

Dropping the Article in Names

Most newspapers and trade books drop the article from surnames when the surname alone is used on subsequent mention of a person. For example, Bashar al-Assad on first mention, and Assad on subsequent mention. If this is the style of the publisher for whom you are writing or editing, be consistent, but note that in scholarly works, styles often call for the article to not be dropped. In those instances, Bashar al-Assad is al-Assad on subsequent mention.

My Egyptian colleagues have often complained to me about styles that drop the definite article from names. They feel that the article is an integral part of their names. One colleague said that her family name El-Naggar was a Muslim family name and that Naggar was a Christian family name. Dropping the article was changing her identity. Some contemporary people spell their family name as one word without the hyphen (sometimes with camel capping, as Nobel Prize–winner Mohamed ElBaradei spells his surname) and thus ensure that the article is not dropped.


My Egyptian colleagues also were adamant that the definite article in their names be capitalized, even when it was hyphenated to the main part of their name. However, most styles of romanization do not capitalize al- at the beginning of a name unless it comes at the beginning of a sentence or bibliography entry. Some styles capitalize al- only at the beginning of a sentence and not elsewhere.

When the definite article comes at the beginning of a book or journal title, styles vary. Some publishers lowercase the article in all cases, even when it comes at the beginning of a citation. Others capitalize the article if it is the first word in a title, but not elsewhere in the title.

For that matter, capitalization of other words in titles also varies among publishers. Some capitalize only the first word and proper nouns within the title, but not adjectives derived from proper nouns. The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed., for example, uses sentence style: “Capitalize only the first word and any proper nouns. This practice applies to titles of works as well as to names of journals and organizations” (Sec. 11.80). The International Journal of Middle East Studies (IJMES) says to follow English capitalization rules, which I would interpret to include capitalization of adjectives derived from proper nouns.

Once again, my advice to authors and copyeditors is to know what the publisher wants, be meticulous in creating your style sheet, and keep a sharp eye out for inconsistencies.


Arabic names beginning with the definite article are conventionally alphabetized by ignoring the definite article. Thus, for example, al-Nahhas is alphabetized under N. How the article is handled in alphabetical lists again varies from one publisher to another. Some will keep the article in its place but ignore it (a style often preferred by indexers), while others will detach it and add it at the end preceded by a comma: Nahhas, Mustafa al-. Indexes containing Arabic names should carry a note to that effect at the beginning to direct readers, especially in trade books. The convention is well known in scholarly circles, but a note is still useful for nonspecialist readers who might search the index.

Perhaps I have a streak of rebelliousness in me, or I am just influenced by my Egyptian colleagues who consider the article in their surnames to be integral to their identities. As more Arabs write their surnames as one unhyphenated unit, will the convention of ignoring the article in alphabetizing change? When I index a book with modern Arabic names, I itch to alphabetize all the names beginning with an article — whether it is attached or not — under A or E, depending on how the person spells his or her name. Otherwise, how will index users know (or remember if they have already read the book) that So-and-so spells his name as one word but What’s-her-name does not? Although it resulted in a long list of names under A in the index, I was quite pleased when the editor of The Oxford Handbook of Arab Novelistic Traditions requested that I not discount the article in names. However, book titles beginning with Al- had the article moved to the end of the entry.

One final note. The word for “clan,” Āl, is often written without the macron in trade books and newspapers, and might be confused for the definite article and wrongly attached to the following word with a hyphen. It appears in the name of the ruling family of Qatar, Āl Thānī, and also in the name of one sura of the Qur’an, Āl ʿImrān. If you should come upon such a name, it should be alphabetized under Al.*

*Heather Hedden, “Arabic Names,” in Indexing Names, ed. Noeline Bridge (Medford, NJ: Information Today, 2012).

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

February 9, 2018

On the Basics: Colleagues Lost and Not Found — Preparing for the Worst

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

No one likes to think about worst-case scenarios, especially for themselves, but we all have to do just that. Any one of us could easily have a crisis, or a colleague could have one, that affects our work. I’ve written about emergency preparation before (On the Basics: Coping with Emergencies, On the Basics: Some Ideas for a Strong Start to the New Year), as has Rich Adin (A Personal Odyssey: Preparing for the Worst), but recent events have hit quite close to home and inspired some new thoughts about this aspect of being a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, indexer, etc.

Have you experienced anything like these situations?

  • A usually ultra-reliable colleague hadn’t sent her newsletter column in by the deadline. She didn’t answer a couple of e-mail messages or respond to messages left on her landline voice mail, and her cellphone didn’t work. The only other way to reach her was through a couple of neighbors who had helped her in the past with sending and receiving e-mail when she had trouble getting messages. One of them eventually let me know that the colleague had fallen and died. She lived alone, had no siblings, children or close friends; no one in her professional organizations — we had two in common — had reported anything about her. If anyone had looked after her belongings, they hadn’t checked her computer to notify clients or colleagues about what had happened to her.
  • A client asked me to include indexing in a project that involved my editing the new edition of a textbook and a colleague laying it out, and said their preference would be the person who indexed the previous edition. I contacted the indexer, who was officially retired but said she would be delighted to do this project. About three months later, with the book edited and in layout, I tried to reach her to get the index going. Bam! I found myself up against a virtual brick wall. She didn’t respond to e-mail messages. She was on LinkedIn and Facebook, but didn’t respond to messages on either of those platforms. She didn’t have a website. I finally got her number from the client, but her phone number was out of service. Since I didn’t know this person, I couldn’t even contact anyone who might have been able to reach her or tell me what was going on.
  • A few weeks ago, I woke up with incredible pain in my side. I spent most of the day bent over in misery. I could sit at my desk and get some work done, but could barely stand up or move around, and the pain definitely affected my ability to concentrate. The pain went on long enough that I was seriously considering going to the emergency room.

Preparing for the Worst

Experiences like these reinforce the important of planning for the worst, especially if you’re in business. Clients (and family) depend on us. We can’t afford to leave them hanging, confused, frustrated, and eventually infuriated at our disappearance. A colleague’s Facebook post reinforced this: “… if anything happened to me, I would like other people to have a record of the work I had planned, what I’d finished, what I’d invoiced for, etc., so that clients could be notified of my non-availability.”

Dealing with the Problem

Here’s how I resolved these situations.

  • The newsletter contributor who died: I filled most of the issue space for her article with, sadly, an obituary for her and a short “evergreen” article in my files for the publication. I’ll put a call out for a replacement contributor in the next few weeks; this newsletter comes out every other month, so there should be time to find someone before the next deadline. It won’t be the same — she had a delightful, original writing voice — but necessity rules. I also will bulk up my stash of backup or evergreen articles: ones that are timeless and can be used at any time as needed. I strongly recommend that anyone responsible for an entire publication create such a file.
  • The missing indexer: I had to assume that the unreachable indexer was either incapacitated or dead. Luckily, I was able to bring in someone else who was both available and fine with the original person’s proposed fee. However, what if I hadn’t known other indexers? What if no one I knew had been available? What if a replacement indexer would not match the original rate? We all need to be plugged into networks of colleagues not just in our own fields, but complementary ones, at least if we want to provide services that are different from our own. While those resources might usually only be needed for referral purposes, they also could become part of your “team” for some projects.
  • My painful health issue: That severe pain receded by early afternoon and some online research and colleague/friend input reassured me that the major issues I was afraid of were unlikely, but I contacted the aides who sometimes help with my husband to be on standby and let my brother, who was serendipitously in town for the weekend, know whom to reach for computer input. I’m updating my list of client contact information and deadlines or processes (I work with several editing and proofreading clients on an on-call basis), as well as my passwords, and have asked two colleagues to be keepers of that information in case anything should happen to me that clients would need to know about. (My beloved spouse is computer-phobic and in poor health, so he doesn’t want to and can’t be responsible for anything related to my business or my computers.)

I plan to look at each ongoing project or client in terms of which colleagues might be good matches if anything should happen that means I can’t get work done, and will add their names and contact info to my client/deadline list. I also am more determined than ever to stay ahead of deadlines — including here!

On the personal level, we’re updating our wills, and I’ve asked my in-country brother and niece to be executors.

Preparation and Planning Tools

We all should have systems in place to let those who count on us know of a crisis, whether it’s temporary or permanent. Here are some of the tools that colleagues use to keep track of projects to make their editing lives easier — and make it possible for someone to step in, or at least provide notification, in an emergency.


iPhone’s Calendar app

Basic paper calendars for scheduling

Toggl for time tracking

QuickBooks for invoicing

An e-mail folder, Freedcamp file, and physical piece of paper to affix to a magnetic whiteboard

Freshbooks cloud-based accounting software to track projects, invoices, time spent on projects, and clients

Zoho for keeping client records, invoicing, and mass communications

Dropbox for invoicing, banking, and accounting

On the personal level, especially if you live alone or have health issues, consider getting a medical alert system and setting up a way to be checked on regularly, just in case. The colleague who died in her apartment might have been saved if anyone had known she had fallen — she was still alive when she was found (albeit nonresponsive). When my dad died, my mother arranged for a neighbor down the block to check on her if she hadn’t called by 9 a.m. every day. One friend has an agreement for neighbors to check on her if her car hasn’t moved in X days; another’s “warning sign” is that the drapes aren’t open by a certain time every morning. You could ask a friend or colleague to check on you if you haven’t posted to Facebook in X days. Our building mail carrier knows that anything more than two days of uncollected mail implies a problem, and would let the manager know that we might need help. (Just because you live in an apartment building doesn’t mean anyone notices your routine or would act on any change in it.)

What have you done to ensure that clients, colleagues, and friends will know if you’ve had a crisis that requires notifying them or getting help with projects (or in general)? How are you following the Girl Scout mantra of “Be prepared”?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, which hosts an annual conference for colleagues, and the new editor-in-chief of An American Editor.

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