An American Editor

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: http://wordcounters.com/?fbclid=IwAR0rxdeLOjhI93UHdT4dcYaavtWNtxe4-OyJAMxODebu4q5dX6i3uUD4TMs.

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

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

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 dcma@vermontel.net 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

April 20, 2021

Writing for review: Prepping pundits to painlessly publish peer-reviewed papers, Part 2

Geoffrey Hart

For Part 1, go to

Things to expect during peer review

If English is not your author’s first language or if the author has a foreign-seeming name or foreign address, you may encounter language prejudice. This is less often racist than it is the result of such authors believing they don’t need to be edited and submitting poorly written manuscripts as a result. Publishers who receive large numbers of such manuscripts naturally seek shortcuts to reduce their workload, and may only glance quickly at the author’s cover letter or address to form an opinion. If they don’t like what they see, they may reject the manuscript or return it for revision without ever reading it, and not because it lacks merit. Thus, authors should always have their cover letter edited, not just their manuscript.

Peer review has certain recurring themes that authors must deal with, ideally with an editor’s help:

· Multiple revisions: Reviewers are chosen because they are highly educated in their fields, and because they are highly opinionated. Thus, they’re asked to be critical of manuscripts and may insist on multiple rounds of revision until they’re satisfied.

· Contradictory reviews: Reviewers have different backgrounds and biases, and this leads to very different critiques by different reviewers. You can expect reviewers to agree on major problems, since such problems are hard to miss, but you’ll often find that something one reviewer loved is anathema to another reviewer.

· Academic politics: Academic fields have many theological disputes over different points of belief (e.g., the value of social construction), and it can be difficult to satisfy a reviewer who comes from a different academic sect.

Helping authors respond to reviews is something editors do well, since we have long experience with getting inside an author’s head, and that skill translates equally well to understanding what bothered a reviewer and what changes will remove that irritation. Editors are also skilled negotiators, and can help authors find ways to reach a consensus that satisfies both the author and the reviewer. Being aware of the prevailing dogmas in a field will help editors to guide authors around the worst minefields and to build bridges over holes that would otherwise trap the unwary author and provoke a reviewer. As you gain experience in a field’s language, ways of framing arguments, and standards of evidence, you can increasingly help authors revise their work to avoid these problems.

The review process can take a long time, and if you don’t submit the best-possible manuscript, a potentially important contribution to the literature may be rejected by a prestigious publisher without the option to resubmit. Thus, one important tip is to persuade the author to work with their colleagues before they submit their manuscripts for review.

There are two good reasons for this. First, the review is likely to be done faster. Second, a rigorous and critical review by a colleague may sting, but it has no consequences other than the need to rewrite. Solving those problems before a publisher sees the manuscript means it won’t be rejected because of those problems. (It may, of course, still be rejected for other reasons.) A publisher’s reviewers are also more likely to respond positively to a manuscript that has been edited professionally.

Academic vs. non-academic audiences

Early-career academic authors tend to have a laser-like focus on writing for their peers, since they know that their peers determine how successful they’re going to be in their chosen field. However, over time, authors may gradually expand their publishing efforts beyond their circle of fellow specialists. Often, they aim to turn many years of peer-reviewed publications into something a reasonably intelligent but non-expert reader can understand. They may be writing to funding agencies to beg for money, producing op-ed pieces for the general public in newspapers or on websites, or crafting textbooks for students. Yet unless they are professional writers and well-trained in writing for different audiences, they’ll need an editor’s help to make their thoughts comprehensible to an audience that isn’t dominated by their peers. I often joke that scientists shouldn’t be allowed to communicate with the general public without adult supervision. It’s funny specifically because it’s so true.

Editors understand that different audiences require different writing styles, and can help an author learn and use the most-appropriate style or modify their approach to account for a given audience’s unique characteristics. For example, academic readers expect and are skilled at interpreting formal, jargon-heavy writing that relies on many assumptions about what readers already understand — because the readers are experts in the author’s field. In contrast, non-academic audiences require less-formal writing styles, with less jargon, and assumptions must be explained — because general audiences are experts in a wide range of things, most of which are not the author’s field of expertise.

Note: Although most academic publishers now accept manuscripts in the first-person point of view, some are reluctant, particularly when they rely on older and more-conservative peer reviewers who haven’t yet entered the 20th century (let alone the 21st). Passive voice is no longer required, but you may be called on to help an author defend the choice of first-person. An acceptable compromise is generally to emphasize active voice wherever possible and minimize the use of “I” and “we” constructions; for instructional or procedural material, imperative voice is another good alternative.

That being said, one thing remains true for almost any audience: Write simply, concisely, and clearly. Although I once (true story!) had a manuscript rejected because “it was too well written,” that’s rare these days. Even the most turgid and constipated fields of study are increasingly willing to accept a well-written manuscript. The argument and conclusions may be complex and nuanced, but the writing never should be.

Responding to peer reviews

The end of the most-difficult stage in publishing an academic manuscript comes when your author receives the comments from the reviewers. These generally fall into three main categories: acceptance with minor revision, which will mostly require minor tweaks of the text; acceptance with major revision, which requires significant additional work (e.g., more lab research, more library time, reorganization) before the publisher will even consider reviewing the manuscript again; and rejection, which may be absolute or which may (if the author has a strong argument and a sympathetic publisher) be considered the equivalent of major revision.

As an editor, I’ve helped many authors persuade the publisher that a rejection really only requires major revision, or that an acceptance with major revision really only requires minor changes. A common reason for the latter is a reviewer who says, in effect, “I know that you wanted to write about dogs, but you really should have written about cats, so I reject your argument,” Most publishers will accept a counterargument along the lines of “No, I really can’t write about felids in an article about canids that was written for a journal that publishes only shaggy dog stories,”

Note: There is a thus-far theoretical fourth response, which is “acceptance without revision.” In more than 30 years of editing, I’ve never seen that response from the reviewers for a reputable publisher, largely because reviewers often go to heroic lengths to ensure that the publisher believes they rigorously reviewed the manuscript. To prove this, they will find ways to list some specific problem, however minor, that must be fixed.

Reviewers almost always have the final say — if your manuscript represents a hill they’re willing to die on in defense of some point of dogma. Because peer review is unpaid work, experts can easily refuse a request to review a future manuscript if a publisher irritates them — and ignoring their recommendation can be very irritating to a reviewer, especially one with an agenda. If enough authors stop agreeing to work with a specific publisher, that publisher will soon find themselves in the unfortunate situation of having no more peer reviewers, and thus, will no longer be able to refer to themselves as a peer-reviewed publication. They might even (horror!) have to pay experts to review their future publications.

Thus, publishers are reluctant to overrule a reviewer out of fear the reviewer won’t work with them again in the future, and may even warn their friends and colleagues to do the same. Sometimes you just have to accept a publisher’s verdict and move on. Fortunately, there are a great many academic publishers.

Most reviewers and most publishers are reasonable people who are willing to listen to an author’s responses and counterarguments. Although academic authors who have survived their thesis defenses tend to acquire a certain measure of skill at explaining and justifying their subject and responding firmly to critiques, for some reason, they completely lose that skill when it’s time to respond to a publisher’s review. Editors can be remarkably valuable allies when it comes time to respond to review comments, which is why I always offer to help my authors write their responses.

There are several things to keep in mind.

· Authors take their writing seriously, and are often offended or even enraged by critical comments. Although this is perfectly understandable, it’s unprofitable, because expressing those emotions to a reviewer is like throwing catnip to a cat: It only encourages a strong response. Help the author take a step back and seek ways to treat criticism as a means of improving their manuscript rather than a personal attack.

· Similarly, it’s unprofitable to argue with a reviewer, particularly if that argument can be seen as an attack. Instead, help the author find ways to acknowledge the reviewer’s point, explain what they were hoping to achieve, find a way to incorporate that point in their revision, and provide a persuasive response that satisfies both the reviewer’s objection and the author’s goal.

· Where possible, help the author find ways to implement each suggestion. The more suggestions they accept, the more willing a reviewer will be to listen to counterarguments for other points. For example, if a reviewer asks the author to cite five additional references, ensure that they have cited those five references. If the reviewer asks them to cite a specific journal paper (often one written by the reviewer), ensure that they have cited that paper. It costs the author nothing, particularly if the reviewer is correct that the references are relevant and worthy of citation.

· Never cave in on important points! If the reviewer is simply wrong, and won’t accept any argument to the contrary, move on and find somewhere else to publish. There are many, many publishers. If the manuscript has merit, some publisher will eventually see its value.

· Always thank the reviewers politely at the end of the response letter, even if you disagree with them. One standard wording that has worked well for me and that I encourage you to copy and modify to meet your needs: “Thanks for your efforts to improve my manuscript. I hope that my responses and the resulting changes will be satisfactory, but I’ll be happy to work with you to resolve any remaining issues.” This acknowledges the reviewer’s effort, and attempts to shift the review process from confrontational to collaborative.

· Only thank each reviewer once, at the end of the responses, other than for particularly important comments. If you repeatedly thank a reviewer for insulting your intelligence, critiquing your upbringing and moral character, and savaging your writing style, thanking them for each body blow quickly becomes seen as sarcasm, and that tends to make the reviewer more critical.

A final comment

I’ve been helping authors for more than 30 years by using these techniques, and as a result, have facilitated the publication of more than 6,000 journal manuscripts and scientific monographs, so it’s clear that these techniques work. Interestingly, they’ve also helped me greatly when I served as a peer-reviewer or as a journal’s review coordinator. The same approaches help me put my head in the right space to work with both authors and reviewers to achieve consensus and to change the review process from confrontational to a mutually supportive way to improve the quality of an author’s contribution to the literature of a field.

Reference

Hart, G. 2021. Creating truly effective outlines. NAIWE website (https://naiwe.com/).

Geoff Hart (he/him) works as a scientific editor, specializing in helping scientists who have English as their second language publish their research. He also writes fiction in his spare time, and has sold 33 stories so far. Visit him online at www.geoff-hart.com.

April 5, 2021

On the Basics: How networking can enhance success for an editing business

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Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

A lot goes into launching a successful editing business, and networking can be one factor in that success. I’ll be talking about the practical aspects of such a venture in a May webinar for the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE). This post is about networking from an editing perspective and is adapted from a post I wrote for my NAIWE blog that focuses on writing and networking.

Editors might not think of networking as an element of their new businesses, but that could mean losing out on valuable ways to learn about craft and business, and to develop connections that could not only improve those aspects of what they want to do, but also lead to a greater likelihood of finding — or being found by — clients. It can also help editors help their clients.

All editors probably share a common goal: for our clients’ words, thoughts and perspectives to find audiences and outlets. Regardless of their stage of creativity, visibility or success, every writer wants — even needs — to be seen and heard. For the editor, helping a writer client make that first sale or be published in that first outlet can be almost as exciting as it is for the writer, and networking is one way to help them get there.

Whether your client is writing a novel or a press release, a poem or a white paper, a play or a case study, a how-to book or a personal blog post, an academic article or a memoir, and whether your client is an individual, company, nonprofit organization, university, government agency or publication, you want what they write to be seen and appreciated. Beyond being seen, we also want everyone who sees our clients’ writing to understand it, respond to it positively by publishing reviews or acting on it somehow, recommend it to others, and read or buy the next piece we write. Skilled editing and networking can help that happen.

Where networking comes into play is in finding and sharing resources for learning to edit better by joining professional groups and taking classes; identifying colleagues to learn from, advise and share opportunities or referrals with; avoiding scams and bad clients; getting paid; and related details of an editing business or the editing life.

Through networking, in essence, you can meet colleagues who will provide advice, insights and resources, and who might refer you to editing projects and clients. And you can be one of those helpful, respected colleagues.

It’s important to remember, by the way, that networking is a two-way process. In fact, that might be the most important aspect of networking. An editor needs to create a net of contacts and colleagues who can help them do their work better and enhance their likelihood of finding clients. One of the best ways to do that is to be a useful strand in the nets of colleagues.  

And don’t let being new to editing or networking make you feel that you can’t contribute to the networking process. You can! Don’t forget the old saying that there are no dumb questions. You might ask the one thing about grammar, usage, structure, client relations, payment, etc., that dozens of other editors have been wondering about, but didn’t dare bring up because they were afraid of looking foolish. By raising that question and eliciting responses, you help everyone learn something.

If you can’t answers colleagues’ questions yet, look for resources you can share — books, courses, blogs, organizations, etc., that you have found useful or have seen in your real-world and online activity. Keep in mind that we all had to start somewhere, first by actually editing something, next by seeing it get published (and paid for), and then by becoming visible and active in some corner of the editing world.

Even extroverts like me had to learn the ropes of networking effectively; it isn’t just a matter of paying dues and using the resources of an association to enhance our own work. If you ask questions and get helpful answers, look for ways to provide answers to other people’s questions. If you join a group, whether an online community or a formal association, be active and visible, not just what I call a checkbook member: someone who joins and then sits back silently, contributes nothing and waits for the group to hand them success.

In the continuing pandemic era, we can’t do much networking in person, so the introverts among us don’t have to worry as much about fitting in at events as in the past (and, we hope, the future). Nowadays, you can use the virtual world to your networking advantage by “lurking” in online communities and professional associations for a while, to take the temperature of the environment and decide whether it will be helpful, and you’ll be comfortable, before you spend money on a membership or speak up with your questions and suggestions. Oh, and as the owner of an editing business, anything you do invest in joining an organization is a tax deduction!

Learn and profit from networking, and try to give as much as you take. Your reputation will blossom as a result, along with your editing business and efforts.

How has networking helped you launch and build an editing business? Have you overcome a fear of interacting with colleagues through networking?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is a widely published freelance writer/editor and the creator of Communication Central’s annual Be a Better Freelancer® conference, now co-hosted by NAIWE and the An American Editor blog. Through her active participation in a variety of professional associations, she is often called the Queen of Networking, and she’s the Networking member of the NAIWE Board of Experts.

January 15, 2021

On the Basics: Who’s the bravest of the brave in publishing?

      

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

We don’t usually think of writers as brave (unless they’re investigative reporters or pioneering authors whose work puts them at risk of reprisal from dangerous people), but I was reminded of the Wicked Witch in “Snow White” asking the mirror, “Who’s the fairest of them all?” when a social media post made me realize that independent authors are among “the bravest of them all” in the publishing world.

What makes indie authors brave? Just the fact of trying to get published.

Indie authors often have solid experience in an area of business or a profession that is worth sharing. Some have gone through challenges in life that taught them lessons that are also worth sharing — memoir is a popular genre these days. Many have fascinating ideas — they can create entire worlds! — or skill in translating real life into fictional versions of what they’ve experienced or seen happen to people around them.

But indie authors are frequently, maybe even usually, not trained in writing. They haven’t worked in publishing, or in a job in some other field that included the kind of writing they aim to publish. They haven’t taken classes in writing. They don’t have mentors. They might have written blogs, but those are often disorganized and only semi-coherent. (Not all, mind you; there are aspiring authors whose blogs are well-written, readable and interesting.)

Many indie authors are operating without a net. They’re trying to get published without solid skills or professional help in the basics of spelling, punctuation, grammar or usage, much less plot and character development, consistent style, structure or organization, coherent voice, and more. They don’t belong to writers’ or critique groups. They don’t have beta readers (many don’t know what those are). They have something to say — and it’s often something worth reading — but no experience to guide them in how to get it said and, once said, into the hands or before the eyes of readers.

Please be aware that these authors are not stupid, although some might be less than skilled as writers. They’re simply new to the process.

From what I see in various internet groups of writers and editors, some indie authors don’t seem to read enough of other people’s work to have a good sense of what makes a “good” book in a given genre. They ask for help with one aspect of a sentence or paragraph, but it’s the aspect of that sentence or paragraph that is the least important or least problematic; they don’t see the actual problem.

I have a lot of respect for anyone with the discipline and focus to do long-form writing, whether a book, essay, journalistic investigation, blog post; fiction or nonfiction; fact or opinion — whatever the work might be. I’ve done plenty of long-form writing, although not quite at book length, so I know what it takes, even though most of my training is in journalism, where shorter is often better. Long-form writing is involving, fulfilling, and enthralling, even when it doesn’t go smoothly.

Next steps toward publication

Once the writing is — or the author thinks it is — done, the idea of taking the next steps into publishing can be daunting, and requires another kind of courage. I admire the bravery of any not-yet-published author who asks for advice from colleagues (both writers and editors). Admitting ignorance of the process and opening themselves up to possible rejection or criticism of the work is scary. It takes courage to put time and effort into creating a book, especially one that reveals difficult or painful events in the author’s life, and try to navigate the world of publishing with no experience, contacts or knowledge of what to do.

An unpublished writer might think it’s easier to seek traditional publishing than to self-publish, because the traditional path means having an agent who does the work of finding the ideal publisher for a book, and someone at the publishing house who shepherds the book through revision (agents sometimes help with that process before trying to find a publisher), editing, design, production and distribution. Essentially, all the writer has to do is … write.

However, entering the world of traditional publishing means learning how the business works, starting with the value of having an agent. Then there’s finding an agent, and developing the patience of waiting for the book to be accepted by a publisher and make its way through the next steps before publication. That can take a year or longer, and by then, some books are no longer timely or get bumped by a new star in the author’s genre.

In today’s world, even traditional publishing also means that an author has to take an active part in promoting a book. Speaking of bravery, that’s a new role, and one that not only takes an author away from writing their next book, but also makes some authors quite uncomfortable.

The bravery factor is more noticeable for indie authors — those who opt for self-publishing — than for those who opt for traditional publishing. Beyond the challenge of writing with little or no experience and training, an indie author often finds out that they need more money than they realized might be involved in bringing their baby — book — to life. As an independent, the author is responsible for costs such as editing, proofreading, cover and interior design, printing (if they want “hard copies” on hand), and marketing or promotions. They have to learn — sometimes by bitter experience — to distinguish between the skilled professionals and the hacks in editing or proofreading, and in design. They also have to learn, again sometimes from experience, the difference between legitimate publishing services and vanity presses. Just finding ways to learn about these aspects of the process can be challenging as well.

Some indie authors just blast through writing their books and do their best to self-publish without professional editing, proofreading or other assistance. Those are usually the books that get called out in social media and reviews for errors in everything from the basics of grammar, spelling, punctuation and usage to consistency and accuracy in character names or event places, as well as sloppy writing in general. The author has demonstrated bravery in getting that book out there, but bravery doesn’t always guarantee success.

The editing aspect

Submitting work to be edited takes another type of courage, especially for a first-time author. It can be scary to ask for editing help. The average indie author has never worked with an editor who helped them organize ideas and fine-tune drafts, so they often don’t understand the editing process. They also are — understandably  — protective of their work. They might worry that an editor will be critical and tell them to make changes that they will not want to make. They might have worked on their books for years and be deeply reluctant to change a single word. They might even be afraid that an editor will steal their work.

A colleague who is both a novelist and an editor of fiction tells me that she frequently sees evidence of indie author courage: She works on “books [by] first novelists with terrific story ideas that were badly executed.” She finds that “[t]heir courage to put these out to somebody’s critique is significant, and the challenge to me to do them justice — encouraging them emotionally while advising them of what they need to deal with — has been high level and difficult at the same time.”

Editors who work with indie authors must be prepared to use more tact than they might need when serving professional writers. An indie author who has not been trained in writing and never tried to be published before might not understand the reasons for some of an editor’s changes. A good editor will be sensitive to the author’s feelings and handle the editing process with respect.

It should be noted that even experienced, well-published writers can be nervous about being edited. I’m always a little worried about what will happen to my words once I’ve submitted them to an editor or client, because I’ve seen my work changed in ways I dislike. Some of those changes have been outright wrong — a misspelled word, a grammar error introduced by the client — and some have been different perspectives or minor annoyances. Just this past month, a publisher changed my headline to use the wife’s nickname in it for a profile I had written of a couple whom I’ve known all my life — I only included the nickname because the husband used it in several of his comments; none of their friends would be likely to use it. As authors/writers, we can sometimes ask to see what will be published under our names, but not always.

Once in publication

When an indie author’s book is done and published, more bravery is called for. For many indie authors, this is the hardest part of the process, because indie publishing means the author has to handle promotions, marketing, fulfillment and related tasks. If their book is available through Amazon or other major online sources, they don’t have to do all of the fulfillment, but they still are responsible for letting the world know about their book.

That might mean creating a website, which would be another challenge. It could mean trying to arrange for book signings and tours — also a demanding process, and that doesn’t even include actually showing up for those events. It probably means blogging on their own, and getting guest posts on other people’s blogs. Oh, and trying to find reviewers who will say good things about their book.

All of these tasks require interacting with people — mostly strangers — and that is scary for the classic introvert writer. Facing up to handling those tasks takes courage. It goes against that ingrained personality and requires braving not only a demanding environment of communicating and interacting with other people, but the possibility of criticism and rejection.

Guts, glory and publishing success

Any way you look at any part of the process, writing and publishing take courage, and the indie author needs extra buckets of bravery. Consider this a tribute to their guts and a helping hand to their glory.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is an award-winning provider of editorial (writing, editing, proofreading, etc.) 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 (www.communication-central.com), now co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (www.naiwe.com) and sponsored by An American Editor. She also owns A Flair for Writing (www.aflairforwriting), which helps independent authors produce and publish their books. She can be reached at Ruth@writerruth.com or Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

December 2, 2020

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

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

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

Cultural considerations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhetorical issues

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

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

Editing tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


November 27, 2020

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

Carolyn Haley

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

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

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

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

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

First steps — understanding each other

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

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

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

Options and efforts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real costs

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

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

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

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

Editing roles

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

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

In other words, they must make their own rules.

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

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

Carolyn Haley, an award-winning novelist, lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie —  and is the author of three novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1977, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at dcma@vermontel.netor through her websites, DocuMania and Borealis Books. Carolyn also reviews for theNew York Journal of Books, and has presented on editing fiction at Communication Central‘s Be a Better Freelancer® conferences.

May 4, 2020

Navigating that Request for Proofreading When the Work Really Needs Editing

By Richard Bradburn, Guest Writer

As professional editors, we’ve all had them — the inquiry that arrives in your inbox: “I’ve written my first novel and my wife/partner/best friend/dog told me it’s really good. I can’t wait to publish it but I read somewhere that you should always get books proofread first. Can you give me a quote?”

I’ll assume that we agree you need to see the manuscript to give a definitive quote. You let the prospective client know and receive it by return e-mail. You open the manuscript. It begins with a prologue — a 20-page dream sequence set in cursive. Skipping most of that, you start the book proper. There are five chapters of exposition and world-building before the main character is introduced. Skim-reading further, you see evidence of point-of-view fails, pacing issues, generally poor sentence structure and grammar, and atrocious punctuation.

What to do?

The potential client has asked for a proofread, but in your professional opinion, the book is nowhere near ready for proofreading. It needs some serious copyediting and, your editorial hunch is telling you, probably some major structural surgery.

It may be that if you primarily work, even freelance, for publishing companies, you haven’t faced this dilemma. I’d imagine that someone further up the production chain has assessed what help the author needs and sent the book to you for the appropriate editing. However, it’s a common situation for those of us at the sharp end of the fiction universe who are dealing largely with authors who have no prior experience of the publishing industry or the editing process, and little or no realistic concept of how high the bar should be set if you are producing work for sale.

What follows with the client is a rather delicate dance of managing expectation and massaging ego for the author, and securing the right commission for yourself. I’ve developed a … I hesitate to say method, because that smacks of science … a strategy, if you like, for dealing with the issue.

You could just go ahead and proofread the manuscript (for a monstrous fee). It’s what the client has asked for. There are two issues with this.

One is reputational. If you proofread a shockingly poorly written book, there’s always the chance that it will come back to bite you. Asking the author to kindly not mention that you had anything to do with their masterpiece is all very well, and they may not put you in the front matter, but you have no control over what they say about you in the wider world. The book is going to do very badly, the author isn’t going to understand why (“I spent a lot of money on editing!”) and is probably, given their unenlightened attitude to publishing generally, going to look for someone else to blame. That could well be you. The author might have no great expectations, is happy with a few sales, and brags on social media about what a super editor they had. Other potential clients, perhaps with more idea about what a good book should look like, will look it up and … that’s the end of that potential client relationship.

The second problem is that it’s darned hard to proofread a terribly written book. Ask me how I know. It’s extremely slow, very frustrating and, at the end of it, demoralizing because you know that the end product is still going to be awful, no matter how diligently you work away. It’s also very hard to prevent mission creep from turning the proofread into a copyedit, for which you’re not being paid.

What are your options? You can come straight out with it: “This book isn’t ready for proofreading, because of x, y, and z issues. I suggest developmental (“structural”/“line” — whatever your terminology) editing to start, followed by copyediting …” It’s a tough call, but I’d suggest this is a poor way to start this delicate conversation. You’re giving the author lots of negatives. You’re telling them you’re not going to do what they ask. You’re telling them that their book needs substantial revision/rewriting when they thought they were a few weeks away from publishing. You’re telling them that fixing their book is going to be a lot more expensive than they thought, and require much more work on their part. You’re telling them, fundamentally, that they can’t write for <insert suitable expletive>, and that their relationship with you is going to be an intense and ongoing and expensive one, which they may not have been expecting.

You could just say, in as kindly a way as possible, that the book isn’t ready for editing, and the author should attend some writing classes, or join a local (or virtual) critique group and come back when they’ve gotten better at their craft. There are ways to phrase this so the author isn’t too crushed, but how helpful is that advice, really? Unless the author is local to you, you have no way of knowing what local classes the author has access to, whether the author can afford them, and whether those resources are any good.

As a freelancer, another issue is that you’re essentially rejecting this client. The manuscript might be such a horror show turning it down is an agreeable outcome for you, but let’s say that times are tight and you don’t want to flatly turn away any lead. How do you keep them engaged in your process, but start to realign their expectations?

My first step is always the same: Whenever you ask for the manuscript, always ask for a synopsis as well. A synopsis will tell you far more about the client and the book than actually reading their manuscript (that’s why agents and publishers insist on them in submission packages). With very little investment of your time, you can establish whether the client knows anything about novel structure, whether the characters have any discernible arc, and how distinct and cohesive the plot is. Even the very existence of a well-written synopsis tells you a lot about the client and their ambition, because synopses are hard to write. An author who has written one has read up about submission packages, has gone at least a little way down the path of analyzing their work as a reader would, and has put some thought into their character, plot lines, and overall structure.

This client is eminently worth pursuing, because an ambition to learn their craft is the one thing it’s particularly hard to instill remotely. If they have no synopsis and can’t be bothered to write one, my instinct would be to let that client go for the reputational and operational risks mentioned above. Money talks, but it would have to be shouting for me to take on that project. If they have no synopsis now but send one in later, and it’s a dreadful rambling mess, then at least you know where you stand: They are capable of taking instruction, they’re willing to learn, and they might prove to be a valued long-term client.

Armed with this information, you can begin the process of educating that author about how much work is going to be involved in molding their book into publishable material. If you have blog/website resources of your own, you can refer that author to articles you’ve written about plot structure or character arcs. If blogging isn’t your thing, there may be other resources written by editor peers that you can refer your client to (the “Talking Fiction” essays here at An American Editor, about editing fiction, would be a good starting point).

The big difference is that now this author is your client. You’ve established quietly and authoritatively your expert credentials, given them guidance, started them down a long road toward publication. You can send this client off anywhere on the web, but they will keep coming back to you because you are now, without really much effort on your part, their writing coach.

Why bother? Because ultimately you have no idea how far, under your tutelage and encouragement, this author might blossom into a productive, well-trained, and lucrative client.

I have one resource I’d like to offer: my book, Self-editing for Self-publishers. It’s a pretty comprehensive guide to all the major stumbling blocks that novice (and some even not so novice) authors have problems with: plot structure, character issues, point of view problems, etc. It also provides thorough explanations of common punctuation and grammar mistakes. I had never thought of marketing it to editor peers (I doubt there’s anything in it that a good fiction editor wouldn’t know already), but one of them who helped at the beta reading stage pointed out that it’s an ideal tool for exactly this situation. What if you really don’t want to engage in those long-winded e-mail coaching conversations that you may not have the appetite for and that have an uncertain financial payback? Tell your author, “Go buy this book. Work through it. When you’ve finished it, come back to me and we’ll have another look.” It’s the “silver bullet” that could save you an enormous amount of time and effort, and bring you a commission that you really want, rather than are struggling to avoid.

Richard Bradburn runs editorial.ie, a full-service literary consultancy. He’s a Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editors and Proofreaders in the UK; member of the Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders and Indexers in Ireland; partner member of ALLi; and approved supplier to Publaunch. He writes occasionally for the Irish Times and journals like The Arts and Letters Daily, and regularly talks about writing and editing at conferences in the UK and Europe.

April 27, 2020

On the Basics — Contracts, pro and con

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of questions about contracts between authors and editors (or other editorial freelancers and other prospective clients) — should we use them, what should go into them, how do we implement them, do we need attorneys to create them, and so on and so on.

Plenty of editors say they’ve never needed contracts in their work with individual authors. I’m glad for them; I’ve also had good luck with clients who didn’t have contracts and whose projects went smoothly enough that I didn’t regret not asking them to sign one of my own. For the most part, though, I think it’s smart to have something along the lines of a contract between service provider (editor) and client (author, publisher, organization, publication, company, university, etc.).

The con

One reason, and probably the only valid reason, not to have a contract for working with a new client is that some people are scared off by the very concept of “a contract.” It seems so … legalistic … so serious … so untrusting or suspicious. Asking for or offering a contact apparently comes across as expecting problems to arise at some point in the relationship.

One of the telecommunications companies even uses that perspective by boasting that they don’t require contracts for their services, making it look like an advantage for the consumer over providers that do. The problem? The consumer doesn’t have any protection against rate increases, service reductions and other issues that can arise during the life of the relationship.

The pro

And there’s the concern: Not having a contract with a client means that neither party has any protection in case there’s a problem. It can be worth the effort to explain to a reluctant client that a contract protects both you and the client. It gives you protection against the client not paying, paying very slowly or adding to the project without additional compensation, among other potential issues, but it also protects the client against the freelancer not doing the work as expected. Not that any of us would do that, of course, but it’s something to use to reassure the client.

The process

With the disclaimer that I am not an attorney, the good news is that a contract doesn’t have to be complicated or heavily legalistic. It can take the form of a letter of agreement or a checklist, or even a confirming e-mail message. You can ask the client to sign and return the agreement, or use language like “Unless I hear otherwise by Date X, this will constitute our agreement/contract.”

And speaking of e-mail, a contract nowadays doesn’t have to be on paper. A chain of e-mail messages describing the project and setting out and agreeing to the parameters can be treated as a contract. Just be sure to include language like “As we discussed and agreed, I will do such-and-such for this amount by that date …” — and to save those back-and-forth messages, just in case.

Contract details

What should go into a contract for editing services? Here’s a checklist I use to identify what I’m expected to do (for writing assignments, I include number of interviews and who provides the interview sources).

Genre

Scope (topic and length)

Fee or rate (per hour, word, page, project, etc.)

Definition of page

Payment policy and timing

Deadline(s)

Number of passes

Number of revisions (for writing projects)

Fee or rate for additional work beyond original scope

Expenses

Mediation jurisdiction if any problems

What you don’t need or should try not to agree to

One reason contract questions come up is the increasing tendency of clients to include draconian terms in current contracts, especially businesses and companies that aren’t used to working with freelance editors. The most-common one is expecting the freelancer or independent contractor to have liability insurance. Something like errors and omissions coverage might make sense for an investigative journalist, but editors rarely need something like liability coverage. That kind of policy is usually intended for situations where the contractor works onsite at the client’s office or property, uses heavy equipment on the client’s behalf or project, has subcontractors, and otherwise is likely to have access to the client’s information or property.

Accepting liability for your work is especially an issue for writers, editors and even proofreaders, because other people are likely to change (or not accept) what you submit. The publication process is fluid and involves people we never meet; even printers/production people have been known to introduce changes — and, unintentionally, errors — after an editor or proofreader signs off and gets paid for our role. We can’t be responsible for what happens made after we finish our part of the project.

Pointing out that you are a sole proprietor who works from home and doesn’t use heavy equipment or subcontractors can help carry the day when you’re asked to provide liability insurance to a client. If they still insist, add the cost to your contract and include language to the effect that you aren’t responsible for any changes made to your version of the material.

Authors new to the publishing process also might ask you to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). These are usually benign and more valuable as assurance for an author that an editor won’t steal their precious words for some reason than for any other reason; they generally commit you to not telling the world all about the author’s work, or perhaps that you worked on their manuscript. If you’d rather not sign an NDA, you could point out that any editor who would violate an author’s trust in such a way wouldn’t stay in business for very long.

What you don’t want to sign is a non-compete agreement that limits how you can use your skills with new clients in the future, even the near future. Signing such an agreement can lock you out of doing similar work for similar (or any!) clients, which would interfere with your ability to pursue your career or business.

Protecting yourself

You might not need a formal contract of your own that’s packed with dense, incomprehensible legalese, but you at least need someone with legal knowledge to rely on when a prospective client offers a contract that seems impenetrable. It’s one thing to say, “Read any contract before signing it.” It’s another to actually read and understand some of these documents.

My attorney is an old friend from back in high school whose practice is in intellectual property, copyright and contracts. I have her look over any contract or NDA that I’m asked to sign; we swap services, but it would be worth whatever she would charge if I were paying for her help. If you don’t know anyone who would be willing to review contracts for you, check with your local bar association or chapter of Lawyers for the Arts; some professional organizations also have legal services where one consultation is free, or there’s a substantial discount on an initial request. Such reviews shouldn’t cost much, and any expense is deductible at tax time.

For a template or boilerplate language, look to professional organizations and online resources like LegalZoom. Pick one and tailor it to your needs and each project.

The ideal resource

You don’t have to take my word for any of this, and you can get a lot more advice from colleagues Dick Margulis and Karin Cather from their book, The Paper It’s Written On: Defining Your Relationship with an Editing Client. That’s a must-have for every editor’s bookcase — and well worth having no matter what kind of editorial or publishing work you do.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and owner of An American Editor, which was founded by Rich Adin. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (www.communication-central.com), now co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (www.naiwe.com), sponsored by An American Editor, and (still) planned this year for October 2–4 in Baltimore, MD. She can be reached at Ruth@writerruth.com or Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

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