An American Editor

May 24, 2019

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

By Carolyn Haley

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

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

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

How Copyright Works

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

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

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

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

How Editing Works

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

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

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

Understanding Editing vs. Revising

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

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

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

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

The Alternative to Claiming Copyright

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Balanced Approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carolyn Haley, an award-winning novelist, lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1997, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at dcma@vermontel.com or through her websites, DocuMania and New Ways to See the World. Carolyn also blogs at Adventures in Zone 3 and reviews at the New York Journal of Books, and has presented on editing fiction at the Communication Central conference.

May 11, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 C-C conf Registration

2019 C-C Conf Topics and Speakers1

April 12, 2019

On the Basics: Finding joy in what we do

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

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

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

Sure!

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

Finding joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avoiding hassles

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

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

Weeding out the weasels

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

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

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

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

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