An American Editor

May 7, 2012

The Business of Editing: Contracts — A Slippery Slope

When I first began editing as a freelancer, I never was offered a contract by a client. I was hired to copyedit or developmental edit, and it was understood that I would do my best and the client would pay me for my work. Even the structure for payment was understood to be what constituted a billable (i.e., hourly or a page, which consisted of x). It was a “handshake” agreement.

For the most part, even today, this is how I conduct much of my work. Yet, increasingly, I am being asked to sign a contract. This has occurred since the last time I addressed this issue, in Editors and Contracts: Editor Beware! In the prior article, I talked about a contract from India. Today, I am talking about a contract from the United States.

Because this is the “client’s” standard contract, I have to wonder how many editors either read the contract that is proffered or if they do read it, understand it; or if they simply sign it and consider doing so a necessity to have any business. I also wonder how many, if any, editors simply reject a burdensome contract.

As some of you know, my background is as a lawyer. Before becoming a professional editor, I practiced law for a number of years and learned early on in that career that business-to-business contracts really do need to be read and understood, and not just blindly signed.

The latest contract that I received simply reinforced that learning. It would almost be impossible to write a more one-sided and unfair contract short of one that says I would be responsible for the other party’s financial losses should the stock market decline for the next 100 years.

Good editors are language-smart, but sometimes not business-smart. Sometimes the need or desire to have work outweighs the common sense that dictates “do not sign the proffered contract.” But it shouldn’t, because some contracts are so exploitative that you have to wonder about the company that is proffering it. Would you trust the dog that bites the hand that feeds it?

Essentially that is what a contract is — an expression of distrust. The question is how much distrust is tolerable. I find that the more onerous the contract, which indicates that the offeror really distrusts the people with whom it “wants to work,” the less worthy the profferor is of being trusted. And thus I prefer not to sign.

Consider statements that say you will be paid “for satisfactorily rendered services.” What exactly does that mean? Who decides? How long do they have to decide? Is it satisfactory to leave “due to” in a manuscript? Is it satisfactory to not distinguish between “since” and “because”? Suppose you think a series of items should be a bulleted list rather than a run-on sentence. Is that okay?

What about a clause that says the client can audit your books? Are you an independent contractor or an employee?

Or consider the attorney-in-fact clause, which says that you appoint the client as attorney in fact to sign your name to any necessary applications for intellectual property protection for any reason. The only thing missed is taking possession of the bathtub.

One of the strongest methods to ensure payment is the availability of the lawsuit remedy. Yet the contracts insist that any claims be arbitrated and that doing so be at your expense. Back in the beginning of time, arbitrators had a reputation for lack of bias and for fairness; that reputation is long gone. I would be hard-pressed to voluntarily give up my right to sue.

The contract I was most recently offered also stated that my work product was a work for hire and that I waive any claim to ownership in my work product. Period. End of story. The waiver doesn’t come about because I have been paid or even because the client is obligated to pay me. No, it comes about because I unconditionally waive all my rights (which I’ll do immediately after the cheese the moon is made of is placed for sale in my local supermarket).

When you receive a contract to sign, do you look at the limitation of liability clause? You should. Invariably, the client has no liability. There is no mention of your not having any liability, which means that you might have some.

My favorite clause is the one that reads similar to this: “This agreement shall be interpreted as written and negotiated jointly by the parties.” Rarely is a client willing to negotiate any term of the proffered contract; it is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. But this clause has a great deal of legal significance should a dispute arise.

Finally, I love when I get a contract that incorporates the material in an attached exhibit and the attached exhibit is not filled out. An early learned rule is never to sign a contract with blanks. Good luck proving it was incorrectly filled out after you signed, not before.

The list of objectionable clauses and why they are objectionable can go on, but simply listing them doesn’t answer the fundamental question: What can I, the editor who is offered such a contract, do about it? What should I do about it?

I usually send a note back saying I cannot agree to the contract as submitted and give reasons paragraph by paragraph. Usually there are a couple of unobjectionable paragraphs, but, for the most part, the more wrapped in legalese the contract is, the less likely I am to sign it.

I usually begin by noting that the contract has little relevancy to the services for which I am being hired. What relevance does a clause about patents have to copyediting? I suggest that, if a contract is necessary, we should discuss realistic terms that are relevant to what I am expected to do as an editor. I also make it clear that, contrary to the assertion in a contract, there are no universal, objective standards to which either party can look as measures of quality for editing, so it is necessary that client define precisely what standards the client will apply to my work product.

I go through this exercise knowing that it is futile; with rare exception, these contracts are nonnegotiable. But I want the client to understand that I do pay attention to detail, and this is a subtle way of enforcing that message.

In the end, it usually comes down to either signing the contract as submitted by the client or passing on the work. Given that choice, I decide how trustworthy I think the client is. If I think I can trust the client, I will sign the contract; if I have any doubts at all, I will not. There is little sense in inviting trouble.  Usually — but not always — my refusing to sign the contract means no work from the client. Several times in recent months, however, the client has simply worked with me as if nothing about a contract had ever been discussed. In these cases, the work with the client has been ongoing, not just a single project and then no more.

Regardless, editors need to be careful about the contracts they sign. It is better to not sign and lose the work than to work for a client whom you can’t trust. Just as you have a minimum acceptable fee for taking on work, so you should have a standard for contracts below which you will not descend. At the very least, never sign one before reading it carefully and assessing its potential impact on you and your business.

March 28, 2012

eBooks: Is it the Editor in Me?

Filed under: Books & eBooks,On Books — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
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Anyone who has looked at my On Today’s Bookshelf posts will see that I buy a lot of ebooks. And as I noted in the last On Today’s Bookshelf, my to-be-read pile of ebooks keeps growing, now numbering more than 500.

But that doesn’t mean I am not reading ebooks; rather, it means that even though I am reading ebooks as fast as I can, I am replenishing my stock faster than I can read. This would concern me if, in fact, I was reading every word of every ebook; but I’m not.

One of the “talents” I have developed over my 28+ years of professional editing is the ability to tell within a few sentences whether a manuscript is going to be particularly troublesome; whether the author has done a basically good job in writing and preparing the manuscript or is a terrible writer, prone to amateurish mistakes, and uncaring about how the manuscript is presented.

This “talent” doesn’t seem to be laid aside when I read an ebook for pleasure, which means that it doesn’t take many pages to decide whether to keep reading or hit the delete button, and much too often, I hit the delete button.

First, I need to dismiss, with a wave of the hand, the idea that the more a book costs, the better it will be. “It ain’t necessarily so!”

From ebook purchases I have made, it is clear that price is not an indicator of quality, especially not of editorial quality, as we have discussed on An American Editor any number of times.

Yet I have also discovered in discussions with other ebookers that quality has no universal meaning. eBooks that I have deleted after a dozen pages because of runon sentences, homonym miscues, and other annoying editorial matters, ebookers without the editorial eye have praised. It is not that they didn’t notice many of the same errors; they did. Rather, it is that they were more tolerant of the errors; they were able to look beyond the editorial problems to the story itself.

So this makes me wonder if I am not missing out some real gems — not necessarily literary masterpieces, just good storytelling — because of the editor in me. It also makes me wonder whether we will eventually devolve into two reading publics: one that cares greatly about the editorial quality of a ebook and so is unwilling to spend much money to buy an ebook and a second that cares little about the mistaking of hear for here and is focused on the story itself and thus willing to pay a higher price for a book as long as the story is interesting.

I also wonder whether American English is changing so rapidly that what editors today would declare error will tomorrow be declared acceptable or correct.

In any event, the problem for me is how to control my editing tendencies so that I can relax and enjoy the underlying story. How do I put aside my editorial hat for the reader’s hat? Should I do so?

The problem was less acute before ebooks. Before ebooks, traditional publishers took some pride in the quality of what they released, although the pride seemed to be diminishing in recent years. But once ebooks made the reading market open to all, the scramble publish pushed aside the need to ensure editorial quality. Part of this is the economics of ebooks; it is hard to justify spending $2000 on an editor for a book that will be sold for 99¢ or less.

Even recognizing the financial considerations, I struggle to read a book that makes me pause every few sentences to say: “The author meant whom not who” or “The author meant your, not you’re.” My neighbor says I’m too fussy. Am I really? Is it too much to ask that at least the basics of grammar and spelling be applied by an author?

What should an ebooker expect from an author, regardless of whether the author gives the book away for free or charges $9.99? Do not most readers have certain basic expectations? Or has the Age of Twitter hardened readers to accept anything goes?

I suspect that I will never be able to set aside my editorial hat when reading a book and so my delete button will continue to get a workout. Are you able to set aside your editorial hat?

March 27, 2012

Worth Noting: EditTools 4.1 is Released

EditTools 4.1 was released last week. It is available at wordsnSync. This is a free upgrade for all current EditTools licensees. I encourage you to download and install the upgrade.

EditTools 4.1 includes numerous improvements to existing macros and a couple of new macros. Some of the noteworthy improvements are the making of various datasets editable, the ability to choose to remove only certain highlight colors, the addition of a clipboard macro, and the ehancing of the Search, Count, and Replace macro. Most of the improvements are discussed at the wordsnSync website in the information about each macro.

Purchasers of the Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate package (Editor’s Toolkit Plus, EditTools, and PerfectIt!) are also eligible for the free upgrade.

How these three macro products can be used in your editing practice was discussed int these previous articles: The 3 Stages of Copyediting: I — The Processing Stage; The 3 Stages of Copyediting: II — The Copyediting Stage; and The 3 Stages of Copyediting: III — The Proofing Stage.

February 15, 2012

The Business of Editing: Pricing Yourself Out of the Market When Applying for Work

Part of my business involves having editors work for me on projects that I obtain from major publishers in the medical field. I constantly receive applications for work from editors. Every applicant receives my editing test, but I often never hear from them again, which is just as well, as their pay expectations are unrealistic.

One of the things that an editor who is looking to work for me has to state, when applying, is the minimum per-page fee the editor will accept. After all, why waste my time if I know that, no matter how good an editor the applicant may be, the minimum fee the applicant will accept is unrealistic and exponentially greater than the gross amount I will receive from my clients?

Of ten applicants, nine will state a minimum acceptable fee that is stroking the stratosphere. It isn’t that difficult to translate a per-page fee to an hourly fee to determine the “realness” of the asked-for amount. Most publishers expect editing of six to eight pages an hour and, when setting a budget for a project, base it on that rate of editing. So if you state your minimum acceptable fee is $25 per page, which I see often, you are asking for $150 to $200 an hour — a great fee if you can get it, but not based in the reality of the editing world.

There are four basic types of “employers” for editors: the publisher, the author, another editor, and a packager. (“Publisher” includes businesses and government agencies and anyone who ultimately will put their name on the document as the publisher.) In the case of the publisher and the author, the relationship between them and the editor is a direct one, so the editor can expect to receive the full amount of the fee the publisher or author is paying. And in the case of the author, the author may be expecting to pay a higher hourly rate than the publisher.

The latter two, however, are middlemen, and the job applicant should expect to receive less than what a middleman receives from the ultimate client. Middlemen are entitled to some return for their effort in finding the work (not to mention putting together and managing the team to produce it).

The finding of that ever-elusive work can be a costly endeavor.  Plus, it is the middleman’s reputation that is at stake when an editor is hired, not the editor’s reputation. I know the difficulties of finding enough work to keep editors busy year-round and I know that my clients never ask who the editor is/was: If the job was done well, I get the kudos (which I then pass on to the editor who actually earned the kudos), but when something goes amiss, I’m the one who has to smooth ruffled feathers and I’m the one who spends hours doing so; I’m the one who stands to lose the client and future work. In addition, I’m the one who spends money promoting the group’s services.

The middleman also acts as a buffer between a problematic client and the editor.

Perhaps more importantly from the editor’s perspective, at least in my case as middleman, I’m the one who gambles on getting paid. Of course, I am speaking only for my own business in this regard, but I make it a habit to pay an editor for the editor’s work within 24 hours, which is often before I bill the client and long before I actually receive payment. Should a client delay payment by weeks or months, or even never pay at all, the editor never knows as the editor was paid.

When applying for editorial work, the applicant needs to both keep in mind who the work is for and investigate what the going rate of pay is — and how it is calculated — for the type of work that the “employer” does. Of course, it would also help the applicant’s chances if the applicant had the requisite skill and knowledge to edit the types of publications the employer works on or produces.

But a realistic financial expectation is a key to getting past the initial stages of review by the employer. No matter how good an editor you may be, no prospective employer will give you a second glance if you price yourself out of the market. You cannot assume that if you pass a test but your fee request is above what the employer pays, you will have the opportunity to modify your request to bring it into line. That may occasionally happen, but it happens so rarely that an applicant should assume it never happens at all.

Again, it is the combination of realistic financial expectations and excellent editorial skills that wins work in today’s very competitive editorial market. Applicants for editorial work need to know and understand the market in which they are seeking editorial work. Does your experience indicate otherwise?

January 18, 2012

The Professional Editor: Artificial or Arbitrary Schedules

As I’ve noted before, I am now in my 28th year as an editor and I like to think I am as professional an editor as any of my colleagues. Yet there is one thing that always sticks in my craw when it comes to dealing with clients: the artificial schedule.

I call it an artificial schedule, but it could as readily be called an arbitrary schedule; the problems arise when compliance with the artificial schedule is rigidly demanded by the client. Occasionally, I have such a client.

Generally, when I have been handed an artificial schedule by a client, I write back and thank them but advise them that my goal is to meet the project end date, not the interim dates, and that to meet the end date and keep a project flowing, I will return edited material on a weekly basis (with an invoice, of course :)). Whether as a result of such weekly returns the artificial interim dates are met will be a matter of luck and chance, not calculation.

I should note that the projects that I work on and which come with interim artificial schedules are large projects, thousands of manuscript pages (my projects generally run 2,500 to 12,000 — or more — manuscript pages, often requiring more than one editor). Small projects, that is projects of fewer than 1000 manuscript pages, usually come to me with just an end date.

The problem with the artificial schedule is that it fails to consider (a) the quality of the author’s writing and how much work needs to be done to the writing, (b) the complexity of the manuscript coding that needs to be applied, (c) whether all or just some of the authors are native or fluent English speakers, (d) whether all of the manuscript has been supplied or there are outstanding chapters, (e) the number and type of charts, graphs, and figures, (f) that the first chapters go much slower than subsequent chapters as I try to “get a feel” for the project and learn what “common” errors are made across chapters, (g) the number and condition of the references, and (h) the myriad other problems that do not surface until a chapter is being edited. (This is where I thank heaven for the Microsoft Word macros I use: Editor’s Toolkit Plus from the Editorium, EditTools from wordsnSync, and PerfectIt from Intelligent Editing.)

Consider just one of the named stumbling blocks, item g. I recently edited a chapter that had 504 references of which only a handful were even close to being correct. Most had to be looked up because the author submitted, for example, author names like this: “Young, GM, YV AS, Trimble T, Excuse, R, al et,” and journal names like this: “Joint Quality Comm –  Safety.” Not only did punctuation have to be fixed, but YV AS had to be deciphered and the journal name checked and corrected. Imagine my consternation when I discovered that not only were the author names mostly wrong, but the article title was incorrect, as was the journal name (thank goodness, however, for my Journal macro which corrected many of the journal names before I began editing the references; see The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online IV — Mastering Macros for more information). Fixing the reference list took a considerable amount of time, yet an artificial schedule doesn’t allow for this.

It is the nature of an artificial schedule that it is often difficult to meet. The schedule is often created mathematically — x number of chapters divided by y number of weeks = z, the number of chapters expected weekly (or, instead of number of chapters it may be number of pages [which generally excludes figures] or some other calculable item) — but without regard to the real content. And because the client is a corporation, it lives or dies by schedules; it can’t live with the uncertainty that is inherent in a schedule-less world.

Another problem with the artificial schedule is that if enforced, it may well require the editor to work long days and weekends to meet it. While the inhouse person who sent the schedule relaxes on the weekend, the editor is working away just to meet an artificial deadline. I did not become self-employed to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and I value my leisure time.

As I noted earlier, I try to dissuade clients from establishing interim schedules. I do understand, however, that they are often required. In those instances, I accept them with grace, yet make certain that my client understands that I consider the interim dates as very broad guidelines and that the only dates on which I fixate are the end date and the weekly submission dates. Alas, that does not get through to all of my clients.

One client wanted the first batch of 15 chapters by x date. I was able to complete 14 of the 15 by the set date, but that was not good enough. The client wanted to know how soon the 15th chapter would be completed, was I going to be able to meet future dates, should the client find another editor to work on this project? I think I would have been more sympathetic to the client had this not been the first batch of chapters and were I behind by some significant number of chapters as the end date loomed closer.

We got past this kerfuffle as it became clear by the third or fourth weekly submission that I really did have a handle on the project and as the client began reviewing submitted chapters and noting the author-created problems and the high quality of the editing. But there are two points I wish to make:

  1. To the editor: Remember that you are a professional and you must take charge of the project and the schedule. You should not be intimidated into accepting a schedule whose only connection to reality is that it exists. You need to educate the client about problems encountered and why the schedule won’t work, yet ever mindful that you agreed to meet a certain end date. Be professional; take charge.
  2. To the client: Remember that the date that ultimately matters is the end date. It is not possible to tell, at least on a large project, from a first or second submission by an editor whether an end date is in jeopardy. Consider all of the things that may be imperfect about the material and make allowances for those imperfections and the time it realistically takes to correct them. Keep in mind that you and the editor are really a team with the same goal in mind. And remember that earlier chapters often take longer to edit as the editor becomes familiar with the author’s “style” and the kinds of problems that exist in the manuscript, some of which may lend themselves to, for example, the writing of a macro for use in subsequent chapters. (In such an instance, a macro can change a problem from a major headache to an inconvenience.)

When all is said and done, the professional editor will meet the client’s end date with a well-edited manuscript, which is the ultimate result wanted by everyone concerned with the project.

January 4, 2012

The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online VIII — Macros Redux

In The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online VII –  Macros Again, I discussed how I make use of a decision tree to design macros. Jack Lyon, the master of macros and author of Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word, approaches macros differently. In today’s guest article, Jack discusses his approach to macros.


Life in a Macro

by Jack Lyon

After mentioning my new Macro Cookbook over the course of several blog posts, Rich Adin has graciously asked me to write a guest editorial related to macros, something I’m delighted to do. In his most recent post, Rich described his technique for sketching out a flow chart on paper, which helps him outline what he wants a macro to achieve before he starts working on the macro itself. This time-honored technique for programming is clarifying and efficient, especially in the early stages of a macro:

As I read Rich’s post, however, I realized that it’s been many years since I created a flowchart before starting to make a macro. Why is that? I wondered. What’s changed? And what do I do differently now?

I think what’s changed is that I’m now a lot more focused on the outcome of a macro rather than its process. As my programming skills have improved, I’ve become more concerned with what rather than how, with ends rather than means because the ability to create those ends has become almost second nature. And I think most skills are like that.

I’m a moderately skilled jazz musician (Hammond organ with Leslie speaker — oh, yeah), but I still have lots to learn, and when I’m working on a new run, I have to play quite mechanically until finally my fingers learn where I want them to go. After that, I can use the run in a variety of songs. But a run isn’t a song. And it’s the song that’s important. The song is the run’s reason for being.

When I’m creating a macro, the first thing I do is decide precisely what I want the macro to do. Some examples:

  • Title case every paragraph styled as Heading 1.
  • Remove extra spaces between footnotes.
  • Convert an automatically numbered list into a manually numbered list.

After getting the purpose firmly in mind, I usually work on a simple macro to see if what I want to do is even possible (proof of concept). If I were trying to title case every paragraph styled as Heading 1, for example, my thinking might go something like this:

Okay, first I need to create a macro that finds a paragraph styled as Heading 1. Hmmm. Probably easiest just to record it.

So I record it. Here’s what I get:

Selection.Find.Style = ActiveDocument.Styles(“Heading 1”)
With Selection.Find
.Text = “”
.Replacement.Text = “”
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindContinue
.Format = True
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
End With

Now, what’s that command to title case selected text? Can’t remember. Probably easiest (again) just to record it.

So I record it. Here’s what I get:

Selection.Range.Case = wdTitleWord

Well, that will take care of one instance. What about all the rest?

Then I realize that this is a classic case of a macro pattern I use all the time:

  1. Find something.
  2. Do something to what was found.
  3. Find the next something.

See my Macro Cookbookfor more on this. Basically, it just means adding the following construction at the end of the macro:

While Selection.Find.Found = True
[Do something here]

In this case, I need to add the command to title-case the selected text, like this:

While Selection.Find.Found = True
Selection.Range.Case = wdTitleWord

 So the completed macro looks like this:

Selection.Find.Style = ActiveDocument.Styles(“Heading 1”)
With Selection.Find
.Text = “”
.Replacement.Text = “”
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindContinue
.Format = True
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
End With
While Selection.Find.Found = True
Selection.Range.Case = wdTitleWord

So gradually I’ll put together the various macro commands that work in sequence to do what I need.

Easy for me to say, right? Okay, okay. If you’re just getting started with macros, using Rich’s flowchart is a better way to go. Decide precisely, step by step, the things you want your macro to do, and list those steps:

  1. Find a paragraph styled as Heading 1.
  2. Title-case the paragraph.
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 until no more paragraphs are found.

Then get the commands for each step (by recording, borrowing, or whatever).

Then put the commands together to do what you need.

Finally, test your macro to see if it does what you planned. If it doesn’t, revise it until it does.

As this is the beginning of a new year, I’m feeling a little philosophical, so I’m wondering if we could apply a similar process to life. Can we figure out precisely what we want to have happen and then figure out the essential steps to make it so? Or is life more complex and unpredictable than that? Time to get out those flowcharts!

I hope this new year will be a happy one for you and yours.


It strikes me that Jack’s approach is to have a single focus and then to combine several single-focus macros into a single macro that runs serially. I may be wrong about his approach, but I do think it demonstrates how different the approaches to writing macros can be. Jack’s approach is also one that an experienced macro creator can use, but I think for those of us who are not at the mastery level, flow-charting is better because it helps us focus on the steps.

What do you think? Which approach will you adopt?

December 26, 2011

Working Effectively as an Editor — New Print Resources

In recent weeks, two new publications have appeared: Cite Right, 2nd ed., by Charles Lipson (ISBN 978-0-226-48464-8), and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed (ISBN 978-0-547-04101-8).

Although I have the print versions of Scientific Style and Format (7th ed), by the Council of Science Editors; The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed); the American Psychological Association’s Publication Manual (6th ed); and the American Medical Association’s Manual of Style (10th ed) within arm’s reach at all times (plus previous editions of these books also readily available), Cite Right is a timesaver and the first place I look for a quick answer to a reference styling question.

Alas, the second edition, published by, as “proudly” noted on the front cover, “…the University of Chicago Press, publisher of the The Chicago Manual of Style” suffers from the some of the same problems that the original release of the Chicago Manual (16th ed) did: a critical resource was not carefully checked for accuracy. I’ve noted a couple of errors in Cite Right, but even with those errors, this is a valuable tool for an editor.

A professional editor would not — should not — rely on a secondary source for primary source information. Rather, the secondary source should be used to refresh one’s primary source memory information. If used in this manner, that is, you have familiarized yourself with the primary source and have access to the primary source, but use Cite Right for a quick refresher of a style question you haven’t come across recently, then Cite Right is an excellent tool — and it is reasonably priced (list price is $14; discounted price at B& is $10.45). If you deal with references, and if you deal with more than one reference style manual, Cite Right should be sitting on your desk within easy reach. Among the various styles it includes are these: Chicago (Turabian), American Psychological Association (APA), American Medical Association (AMA), Council of Science Editors (CSE), American Chemical Society (ACS), Modern Language Association (MLA), and American Anthropological Association (AAA).

As pleased as I was to see a new edition of Cite Right, I was even more pleased to see a new edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. I own — and use — a lot of dictionaries. I like to compare usage, spelling, and definitions. Usually they are in agreement, but sometimes they do disagree. Also important is that coverage is not precisely identical as the editorial boards of the various dictionaries often decide differently about whether to include a “new” word.

Of all the single-volume dictionaries for American English that I use, the American Heritage Dictionary (AHD) is by far my favorite. I especially like its choice of font. As I’ve gotten older, and my eyes have gotten wearier, I increasingly appreciate the design of the AHD. Counterbalancing that, however, is the AHD’s physical dimensions and weight. Compared to the AHD, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed) is like a feather. Yet, I reach for AHD first.

A nice feature of the AHD is that for some entries it offers synonyms and usage information. That ties in nicely with my interest in word origins and usage (I do need to start writing again about usage and word histories; it has been too long since I last did so). I especially like reading divergent views about a word’s usage (which is why Bryan Garner’s Modern American Usage [3rd ed] is always nearby), because of the insight into language it can provide.

In any event, the fifth edition of AHD was published last month and it is a worthy, albeit not inexpensive (list price $60, discounted price at B&N $38.46), addition to any professional editor’s resources, even if your clients consistently prefer a different dictionary. AHD is worthwhile as a supplement that provides insight into our language, something that many of its competitors lack.

One negative I have found to being a professional editor is the constant procession of new or updated resources that I “need” in my library. I admit that I am always on the lookout for print resources that improve my editing skills and knowledge, which, hopefully, increases my value to my clients and prospective clients. But I am careful not to let these resources sidetrack me, which can easily happen. Books like Cite Right and The American Heritage Dictionary serve useful purposes, but they are not a substitute for a good grasp of editing fundamentals. That is something to keep in mind, especially if you are looking to hire a professional editor: An editor’s bookshelf can provide an insight into the editor’s skill level and interest, but is not a substitute for those skills. The resources an editor uses should complement the skills the editor has and applies.

November 21, 2011

The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online III — Mastering Word

Recall that Part I (The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online I — The Books) of this series called for professional editors to master the tools of their trade, particularly Microsoft Word if they edit using Word. There are good reasons to do so.

A few weeks ago, I was working on a book chapter that ran 453 manuscript pages, 49 pages of which were reference citations. (Yes, the number is correct; one chapter in this project I am editing ran 453 manuscript pages. Most of the chapters run 30 to 50 manuscript pages, but several are 200+-page chapters.) The project was for a client who uses a custom template and part of my job is to apply the template to the manuscript, styling every paragraph plus applying particular styles to items that need special styling in addition to the basic paragraph style, such as applying a special “overstyle” to a word that should be in a san serif typeface.

I used the macros I had written (and mentioned in The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online II — The Macros) to style the heads and then I had to manually style the text paragraphs as I couldn’t decipher a pattern that I could capture in a macro. It took a while to get the whole document styled and ready for editing (I like to do the master styling before I edit because that lets me determine, as I read the material, whether something needs to be styled differently), but I did finish — and because of the macros, I finished in much less time — and was prepared to begin editing.

That is when I realized I had made a mistake: I forgot to turn off Track Changes when I did the styling (I’ll prevent that from happening again by adding some code to my macros to turn Tracking off if it is on then, when the macro is done, turning it back on if it was on when the macro started). As all of us Word users know, that means a gazillion annoying balloon popups telling me when I had styled the text and the style I applied — there was no safe place for me to put my cursor! (Yes, I could have turned off show formatting in tracking, but the client wants to see certain formatting changes, so that was not a viable solution.)

It would have been an easy enough fix to just accept all changes in the document, except that I had already run my Never Spell Word and Journals macros and I did not want those changes accepted — I hadn’t edited the chapter yet and so I hadn’t approved the changes the macros made.

Here is where having some mastery of Word helps. What I needed was to have Word accept just the formatting changes and retain everything else. Because I have made an effort to learn something new about Word regularly, I knew how to solve my problem. The following steps are what I did in Word 2010 (I know this will work in Word 2007 and there should be a similar method in Word 2003 and in Mac versions of Word, but you will have to do your own exploring in those versions).

  1. I switched to the Review Tab and clicked on the tiny down arrowhead in Show Markup.
  2. I deselected everything but Formatting.
  3. I clicked on the tiny arrow in Accept and then clicked Accept all changes shown.
  4. I returned to the Show Markup dropdown and reselected everything I had deselected.

With this simple four-step process, I was able to solve my problem — only the formatting changes were accepted; all the rest of the changes that I had made using my macros remained for me to accept or reject.

This doesn’t seem like a big deal at first glance, but it was to me. If I couldn’t find a way to accept just the formatting changes, my choices would have been to (a) live with the annoyance (and I really do find it annoying) or (b) start over with the chapter and eat the time I had already spent styling this massive chapter (I charge a per-page rate, not an hourly rate, so I would have had to eat the time regardless, but even had I been charging an hourly rate I wouldn’t have charged the client — the fault was mine and it was for my convenience). Neither option was particularly welcome.

Perhaps you would have chosen to just live with the balloons. That’s okay as long as you know that there was an option to fix the problem quickly and easily. That is the essence of my clarion call to master the tools we use: knowing what our options are and not having a decision thrust upon us simply because we don’t know enough about how our tools work. Would you hire a carpenter who owned and used only a single saw blade because the carpenter didn’t know that different saw blades are used for different purposes and give different types of cuts?

We expect those we hire to perform services for us — whether they be a carpenter, a doctor, an auto mechanic, or some other tradesperson or professional — to have mastery of the tools of their profession so that they can give us knowledgeable advice. Shouldn’t we similarly be masters of the tools of our own profession?

I discussed the value of learning to write macros in The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online II — The Macros. Absent mastery of Word, absent knowing what functions Word can perform and can’t perform, how can we learn to write macros to ease performance of those functions? A macro is merely a method to accomplish a task more quickly, efficiently, and uniformly; it is not a method to perform a function that otherwise cannot be done. Macros call upon the same commands that you do when using Word. Consequently, mastering Word, which is, for many editors, a fundamental tool, is a step toward conquering macros. Neither mastery of Word nor creation of macros lives in isolation of the other. They are interdependent and should provide an impetus for editors to master the tools they use.

(Although I focus on Word and VBA [Visual Basic for Applications] as the tools to master, I know that some of you use tools other than Word and its macro language. For example, your focus may well be InDesign or some other text program. But what applies to Word applies to the programs you use as well. The point is less learning to master Word than it is to master whatever tool you use. InDesign, as an example, also has a scripting language that can be learned and it has its own text editor, InCopy, that also warrants learning and mastering.)

November 2, 2011

Deciding Personhood: Words Do Matter!

The October 26, 2011 New York Times had an article about an upcoming citizens’ vote on a proposition to amend the Mississippi state constitution. The initiative would declare “a fertilized human egg to be a legal person.” Proposition 26, according to Ballotpedia, reads:

Should the term “person” be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof?

(The official ballot summary of the measure reads:

Initiative #26 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to define the word “person” or “persons”, as those terms are used in Article III of the state constitution, to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.)

I don’t want to get into an argument about the merits or demerits of this proposition, or about abortion, or about when life begins. Rather, I think we should look at the proposition with an editorial eye. If this were a sentence (i.e., Proposition 26, not the ballot summary) in a book you were editing, would the sentence pass muster?

When an editor reads a sentence or a paragraph, the editor should be reading for many measures including construction, clarity versus ambiguity, word choice, and communication. If a sentence is ambiguous, does the ambiguity promote understanding when surrounding sentences are considered? Is it ambiguous only because it is introducing a new topic that has yet to be explored? Are the words chosen meaningful both separately and in combination?

Is the construction confusing? A good example of confusing construction is the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Its meaning may well have been understood 200 years ago without discord, but today, the construction confuses the meaning and thus it needs interpretation. Is not this a failing of Proposition 26?

As written, Proposition 26 uses one vague word to define another vague word. Person is being defined by human being (I am treating human being as a single word), which is similarly vague but is wholly undefined unless we say it is being defined by person. Also undefined are moment of fertilization and cloning, both important concepts that are intended to contribute to the definition of person.

If this were a novel, perhaps the choice of wording and the sentence construction would be of less importance. But this isn’t a novel: Voters are being asked to approve a Mississippi constitution amendment that is poorly constructed and whose choice of words is ambiguous.

So, exactly what are voters being asked to approve or disapprove? If 10 voters were brought together and asked to define or explain the sentence, would we get 10 different responses? If approved by voters (which is the expected outcome even though many right-to-life groups and the Catholic Church are opposed to its passage), what, exactly, would be approved?

The danger of sentences like Proposition 26 is that you need Humpty Dumpty to interpret it: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

I think it is sentences and paragraphs constructed like this proposition that make a professional editor’s life simultaneously challenging, rewarding, and frustrating. Here’s my challenge to you:

Given the opportunity to refine Proposition 26, how would you refine it so as to minimize any ambiguities? Can it be made unambiguous? Editorially, how sound or unsound do you find this proposition?

Good luck!

October 26, 2011

How Do You Do It? Amazon vs. Editors (II)

My previous post discussed the problem publishers are facing with Amazon’s stepping into the role of book publisher rather than just bookseller. On October 17, 2011, one New York Times front page headline read “Amazon Signing Up Authors, Writing Publishers Out of Deal.”

Read a bit further into the article and one discovers that Amazon isn’t talking about the number of editors it is employing (if any). One also discovers that Russell Grandinetti, a top Amazon executive, says, “The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader. Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.” Note no mention of editors.

So where does the professional editor stand? To paraphrase an editorial colleague, Amazon pays editors as if the editor lived in a third-world country. The truth of the matter is that the ground is shifting yet again for professional editors.

The standard practice for many editors has been to try to work either in-house or freelance for publishers. We have seen many of those jobs disappear as publishers have found it cheaper to outsource editorial tasks, and the globalization of our profession has caused a lowering of wages. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is forecasting no growth in jobs for the editorial profession for the next decade but a significant increase in competition for what jobs exist.

I don’t have the magic bullet that will cure this problem, but I do have an observation. When I discuss book buying with editorial colleagues, the standard response is that they buy from Amazon. It is like feeding the mouth that bites you. Because we can save a dollar or two, we buy from Amazon. Perhaps that isn’t such a smart idea as it reinforces Amazon’s belief that it is right.

I recognize that many of the books professional editors need are not inexpensive. I also recognize that professional editors probably read more books for pleasure in the course of a year than does the average reader. And I recognize that each dollar saved counts. But perhaps when it comes to Amazon, this is wrong thinking. Amazon is not my friend.

It is important to note what the Amazon model is: a willingness to have very thin margins. Thin margins do not leave a lot of money to be spent on what is considered an intangible, such as editing. I do not expect to suddenly see a rash of jobs for freelance editors at decent pay spring forth from the bowels of Amazon.

We editors can follow the path of publishers; that is, we can shake our heads in worry, wring our hands, and do nothing for fear of what effect our doing something might have on our future. But our future is already insecure.

Everything we have traditionally seen and done as professional editors is changing. I expect that in a few years the only editors still able to get work from publishers will be those in groups, not solo editors. This will be a fundamental change in how editorial work has been done.

An even more fundamental shift that I expect to see is that increasingly less work will come from publishers and the burden of hiring an editor will fall on the author. Should that occur, it will be disastrous for the author, for the editor, and for the reader. Experience so far with authors is that few are willing to invest the necessary resources for professional editing in the absence of pressure from a third party, such as pressure from a peer-reviewed journal. The gamble is too great and the value of editorial services is too ephemeral, not readily seen.

As I wrote earlier, I have no panacea for the troubles the editorial world will shortly begin facing. We didn’t face the original offshoring of the early 2000s very well, so I expect we won’t face these changes well either.

Yet one thing is certain: Editors who continue to buy from Amazon are only helping to bury themselves. Perhaps supporting Amazon is not the smartest idea editors have ever had and one that should be rethought.

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