An American Editor

December 17, 2014

The Practical Editor: Triaging Your Time and Editing

Triaging Your Time and Editing

by Erin Brenner

Editing at the end of the year can be challenging. We struggle to motivate ourselves. The days are shorter and colder (for some of us, anyway), encouraging us to stay in bed for just five more minutes.

We struggle, too, to fit the work into our available time. There are holiday activities crowding our schedules, and we want to go have fun. As freelancers we’re more tempted to do so. After all, the boss won’t mind, right?

Then there are the year-end activities associated with running our own businesses. Understanding how well we did this year and planning for next year take time, but the health of our business depends on them.

Our needs aside, though, there’s another problem. Many of our clients are in a mad rush to finish everything by December 31. What is it about the end of the year that makes us want to tidy everything up and be finished? Even clients we don’t work with regularly might pop up because another editor they depend on is on vacation.

Suddenly we have more work than we can reasonably edit in the usual timeframe, never mind the client’s shortened deadline. It’s time to triage, both our schedules and the client’s work, the latter with the client’s consent, of course.

Triage Your Schedule

There’s no getting around the fact that there are more demands on our time come November and December. When practical, the best course is to plan ahead of time how many hours you can reasonably work in the last two months of the year. What kind of time off do you need or want to take care of year-end business tasks and your personal life?

To maintain your sanity, build downtime into your schedule. Do something you enjoy. If decorating a tree gives you life, prioritize it. Schedule it if you have to, and don’t let it be taken from you. Even if it’s just one special activity, do it. It will make the busyness easier to handle.

Which leads us to the flip side: Do you need that extra work coming your way? Expenses rise at this time of year, and January can be a slow month. Review your expenses and make a conscious decision about how much extra work you need to reach your financial goal. This will make it easier to tell some clients no later.

Also consider whether you need to take the extra work or not. Will the client make that last-minute work a nightmare? Will they appreciate your efforts later? Sure, the extra money is nice, but if the wolf isn’t at the door, are you just teaching bad clients to disrespect your time? Or do you need to do the work because the client will walk away if you don’t, and you need that client?

Everyone has different needs. Take a moment to define yours and how you can best balance those.

Triage the Editing

Before you jump into a manuscript, determined to edit it as fast as you can, make a plan. Triaging is about consciously deciding what you will edit and what you won’t in order to meet a looming deadline.

Discuss with your client first how you will triage. If this is an ongoing client, you can generalize the triage list enough so you can use it whenever the situation calls for it. Always discuss your list with the client beforehand, however. The client has a right to know what kind of edit they’re paying for.

Your client may need educating, as well, on why some edits are more important than others. Clarity outweighs style every time, at least for the reader. Be willing to negotiate, too. Sometimes whether you cap an industry term is all a client’s boss cares about. Your client should know the politics of their situation and what needs to be done to keep everyone happy.

When triaging, try to take at least a few minutes to skim the document. Does anything jump out at you as a particular problem? Anything you can safely ignore? For example, perhaps you can meet the deadline if the author checks their own math. While you’re skimming, ensure sentences start with a capital letter and end with the appropriate punctuation.

Use your time-saving tools to the max. Run those macros, use shortcuts, and apply anything else that saves time. Don’t forget to spell-check; let the software catch as many spelling mistakes for you as it can.

Once you’re ready to edit, keep your prioritized list at the front of your mind. Accuracy and clarity go to the top of the list. A missing serial comma will be the least of your worries if the author has a giant hole in the argument.

If you’re responsible for legal concerns, such as trademark use, plagiarism, and libel, keep those high on your list as well.

Fix awkward constructions and duplicate words. If there is easy-to-spot, easy-to-fix wordiness, fix it. If you start to get bogged, though, and the meaning is clear, leave the wordiness.

Correct egregious errors in word choice, but leave the debatable ones alone.

Check names and headlines. Both of these things will jump out at skimmers, and there’s never a good time to misspell someone’s name.

Fix anything that will jump out at readers.

If you distinguish between a light, medium, and heavy copyedit, you can triage at those different levels, as well. Go through your usual edit list and prioritize those items that affect accuracy, clarity, readability, and legal concerns.

Remember the purpose of triaging: doing the best edit you can in too-short of a time. Prioritize your time and your editing, and you’ll preserve your sanity for another day.

Erin Brenner is the editor of the Copyediting newsletter and the owner of Right Touch Editing. You can follow her on Twitter. Erin is also a guest presenter at various conferences on topics of interest to freelancers.

August 25, 2014

The Practical Editor: What You Need to Know to Edit Fiction

What You Need to Know to Edit Fiction

by Erin Brenner

A copyediting student asked me recently how she could learn to edit fiction. The copyediting and copyediting certificate program I teach in covers basic and intermediate skills of copyediting. While it’s a good program, it doesn’t cover everything (no program could). Hence, my student’s question on what to do next.

To specialize in editing any subject, you should have a good grasp of that subject. I participated in a Twitter discussion lately on how much you have to know to copyedit a subject intelligently. We didn’t conclude anything, but we generally agreed that you have to know something about the subject to edit it.

What I know about fiction, I learned in obtaining my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in literature. At this point, a lot of it comes naturally to me, so I had to do some research on what resources were out there and what other editors did with fiction manuscripts.

Disappointingly, there aren’t many training tools (an opportunity for someone, surely!) and of those out there, few seem to distinguish genre fiction (science fiction, romance, mystery, etc.) from literary fiction (everything else). Naturally, if you want to edit genre fiction, you want to be familiar with the specifics of the genre, as well.

Here’s what I gathered.

Developmental Fiction Editing Tasks and Resources

Generally speaking, a developmental editor works with the manuscript’s structure, either before the author has written the book (common in nonfiction) or after (common in fiction). It’s the big-picture view.

As a developmental editor, you’re looking for structural and organizational problems. You’re judging whether the author’s concept or theme works throughout the manuscript. Is the structure logical and appropriate? You’re looking at the author’s voice closely: Is it consistent? Appropriate for the story and audience? You’re also looking for sections that don’t work, whether they ramble on or are starved for detail.

Beyond that, you need to look at the various elements of the fiction work:

  • Plot. Does the plot make sense? Does it hold together? Are there any holes?
  • Timeline and events. Is the timeline logical and believable? Do events advance the plot? Build character? Are there any events that don’t add to the story in some way?
  • Setting. Is the setting appropriate for the story? Does it enrich the story or seem at odds with it?
  • Pacing. Different stories have different speeds. Does the pacing here seem to drag? Move too quickly?
  • Characters. Are the characters well-formed and believable? Do they grow, as real people do? How well do characters interact with each other?
  • Dialogue. Does the dialogue match the character? Does it seem believable? Move the plot along? Is there any dialogue that seems mismatched in some way?

Though it doesn’t deal with fiction in particular, Developmental Editing by Scott Norton is the go-to resource for editors wanting to do this type of editing. The Author-Editor Clinic offers online courses in developmental editing for fiction and creative nonfiction.

For fiction in particular, try resources for about literature itself: themes, models, symbols, archetypes, and so on. One promising book (which I haven’t read) is How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster. It appears to have a good overview that would give editors a working understanding of general fiction. (If you read it, let me know what you think of it.)

If you’re up for a challenge and really want to dig into literature, check out the works of Joseph Campbell and The Nature of Narrative by Robert Scholes, James Phelan, and Robert Kellogg.

Midlevel Fiction Editing Tasks and Resources

Any time you define editing stages, someone else will have different definitions. One editor’s developmental editing is another’s structural editing. A third editor might see structural and line editing as the same stage, with developmental being its own stage.

Whatever you call this stage that comes between developmental and copyediting, you’ll be doing a line-by-line edit of many of the tasks in the developmental edit. You’ll also look at flow, usage, and sometimes language mechanics.

I couldn’t find any resources for this specific stage of fiction editing. (If you know of any, please share them in the comments.) A trained editor could pick up the skills necessary from a developmental fiction editing resource, I’d wager.

Copyediting Fiction Editing Tasks and Resources

Copyeditors look at the word and sentence level of a manuscript. Grammar, usage, spelling, and style are all concerns here. So are logic, consistencies, and basic facts.

To copyedit fiction, you should be familiar with some of the basics of story structure, story elements, and character building so that you can edit without harming the story. You need to be alert for continuity issues (e.g., changes in character descriptions) and plausibility. If the story is set in present day, the details should be right. If it’s set in the future or on another planet, the world should follow the rules the author set up. Keep an eye out for possible trademark and copyright issues, too.

Editcetera has a correspondence course on copyediting fiction, and at Copyediting we’ve covered fiction editing in a couple of ways:

  • A fiction-editing audio conference with Amy Schneider. For those who don’t know, Amy works as a freelance copyeditor for the big publisher, and authors regularly request her (translation: she really knows her stuff).
  • The April-May 2013 issue of the Copyediting newsletter. This issue contains several articles on fiction editing, including one by Amy on the style sheet she developed for editing fiction. I’ve used the style sheet; it’s fantastic.

As I said at the beginning, a lot of what I know about fiction I internalized a long time ago. What other tasks do you think are particular to fiction editing? What resources do you use to obtain the skills necessary? Share your thoughts below!

(Starting in September, you can read more about fiction editing in Amy Schneider’s monthly column.—AAE.)

Erin Brenner is the editor of the Copyediting newsletter and the owner of Right Touch Editing. You can follow her on Twitter. Erin is also a guest presenter at various conferences on topics of interest to freelancers.

July 21, 2014

The Practical Editor: 11 Standards for Ethical Editors

11 Standards for Ethical Editors

by Erin Brenner

In a follow-up to my article on the possible need for editor certification, Rich Adin wrote about the need for an ethics portion of a certification program.

It’s a good thought. If we American editors are to organize ourselves to create a certification program that identifies expertise and skill (and that’s a big if), demonstrating an understanding of ethical considerations would be a worthwhile addition. While some ethical practices  are universal (“be honest and fair in your business dealings”), experienced editors should be aware of pitfalls that new editors may not be, such as whether one should bill for breaks when billing a client hourly.

Rich’s article listed several ethical situations editors could find themselves in, and Teresa Barensfeld and Harriet Power list several more in the comments section.

It’s helpful, though, to think of all of these questions more broadly. when considering creating a own code of ethics to follow. Mark Allen framed the questions at Copyediting this way:

  1. What is my responsibility to the truth?
  2. What is my responsibility to the reader?
  3. What is my responsibility to the author?
  4. What are my business-related responsibilities, such as following contract expectations, billing honestly, and maintaining confidentiality?
  5. What is my responsibility to my own convictions?

I’d add “What is my responsibility to the publisher?” as the author’s and publisher’s goals do not always align.

But we don’t have to start from scratch on deciding what ethical editing looks like. Several organizations have already put thought into the matter, and we can crib from them.

The American Medical Writer’s Association’s Code of Ethics is probably the best, most concise outline  I’ve seen so far. While the code is written particularly for medical communicators, we can easily apply most rules more generally. For example, fiction editors might not need to worry about scientific rigor in the text, but they should certainly maintain an objective outlook of the text to help make the manuscript the best it can be.

Two other organizations, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and the Editorial Freelancers Association, offer codes of practice for their members. Longer and more complex, these codes nevertheless guide members with ethical standards.

All of these rules, ethical questions, and suggestions boil down to some broad practices (some of which I noted on Copyediting) every editor can observe, whether they’re codified or not:

  • Be honest and fair in business dealings. Treat others with respect and fairness. Act like a professional at all times. Respect confidentiality. Only take on jobs that you can actually do. Resolve conflicts fairly.
  • Follow any applicable legal guidelines. This will matter more for some editors than others, such as those working on copy closely regulated by a government agency (think medical copy).
  • Set expectations at the beginning of each project. Be clear about the kind of results you can or are willing to provide for the pay and time available. If you’re  hired to do copyediting, clients can’t expect you to do context (substantive) or developmental editing instead or in addition to copyediting.
  • Outline the details of the project. Spell out each party’s responsibilities, payment terms, project schedule, dispute settlement, and other details important to the project, preferably in a contract.
  • Follow directions. Keep your end of the bargain.
  • Be prepared to defend your edits. The author has a right to understand the reasoning behind any edit.
  • Explain opaque edits upfront. Be sure the author can follow your reasoning. Also explain any edit that might push the boundaries of what you’ve been asked to do.
  • Respect the author’s opinions. This is the author’s work. You don’t have to agree with the author’s opinions, but you do have to respect them.
  • Bill clients based on the agreement and the work you actually do. If your contract allows for 75 hours on a project and you complete the work in 50 hours, only bill for 50 hours.
  • If you can’t meet a deadline, let the project manager know as soon as you know. Adjust expectations and help resolve any conflicts. How much personal detail you share is up to you.

We might lack a national code of ethics for editors, but there is plenty of material out there from which editors can form a personal code and stick to it. Savvy editors will put the code in writing and share it with clients as a way to instill confidence and offer a guarantee of quality and professionalism.

Erin Brenner is the editor of the Copyediting newsletter and the owner of Right Touch Editing. You can follow her on Twitter. Erin is also a guest presenter at various conferences on topics of interest to freelancers.

June 23, 2014

The Practical Editor: What Does Professional Certification Look Like?

What Does Professional Certification Look Like?

by Erin Brenner

Rich Adin has talked about a desire for licensing copyeditors (see Evaluating Editors) to help prove their worth. It’s an idea that intrigues me. There are existing programs that offer certificates in copyediting, but these certify that you’ve completed a specific course load, not that you have experience and a tested level of mastery.

Worse, there’s no standard training program. You can take a single college course, several college-level courses, or public training courses in copyediting and learn vastly different, if useful, things. Each of them will say that you’re a copyeditor when you’re finished.

Not all copyeditors are trained equally, then.

So when I attended the Editors’ Association of Canada’s (EAC’s) national conference in Toronto this month, I was curious about the group’s certification program.

I talked to a lot of folks about it. Not everyone agrees on the value of it or that the way it’s currently set up is the best way. But love certification or hate it, EACers are passionate about this subject.

The EAC first formed a committee on certification in 1997, after talking about the need for it for a decade. Testing didn’t even begin until 2006. It was a long, slow process that has depended entirely on volunteers.

Here’s how the EAC approached creating its program.

Types of Editing and Standards

The EAC is open to all types of editors, so deciding what type certification should cover was a first step. The organization chose four categories to certify, with labels it found descriptive: proofreading, copyediting, stylistic (“clarifying meaning, eliminating jargon, smoothing language and other non-mechanical line-by-line editing”), and structural (“clarifying and/or reorganizing a manuscript for content and structure”).

Next, it had to define standards of what’s involved in these different types of editing. The standards, which are based on Canadian style, are reviewed periodically for possible updating.

I can only imagine the debates that occurred on what the standards should be. I’ve heard comments that the committee would debate for “months and months” over the standards and what they should encompass. That it took nearly a decade to get to the point of testing says something.

Testing and Grading

The EAC approaches certification similarly to how other industries approach it. Think accounting certification and medical boards. These aren’t certificates of learning, but of mastery and experience. As a result, the tests aren’t easy; only the foolish don’t prepare well for them.

Currently, the tests are on paper and in-person only, largely for security reasons. The committee is looking at ways to computerize the process and imitate better how most of us work.

Two tests are offered in November at various locations around Canada. You can earn certification in any of the categories — in any order — or take all four to become a Certified Professional Editor (CPE). You must score 80% to pass a test.

The EAC created a study guide for each of the tests, which includes practice tests and sample graded tests. It also offers a list of resources and study techniques. I heard more than once the advice to apply test-taking skills from your college years.

Because editing is so subjective and because this is a test of mastery, grading is a challenge. Tests are graded by hand by two trained graders with extensive answer keys. If the graders disagree on whether someone should pass or fail, a third grader is brought in. Then a marking (grading) analyst and an independent auditor review the graded tests.

Value

Earning certification is great confirmation of your abilities, but given the time and costs involved in getting it, it must be more than that. As Rich Adin has noted (see Who Speaks for the Freelance Editor?), the real value is in clients and employers understanding what it means to be a CPE and desiring to hire them over non-certified editors.

One editor I talked with noted how the scientists he edits for immediately changed their opinion of him when he became certified. Specialty degrees and certifications are something his clients understand. They now see him as a colleague rather than support staff.

At this stage, though, it’s up to individual editors to educate their clients on the value of certification. The EAC’s next step is to educate the Canadian hiring community. Already there has been headway: some job ads have stated that CPEs need not take the editing test when applying for the job. But there’s a long way to go yet.

Right for the United States?

For a program like this to work in the United States, we need two things: a strong professional organization and the liberal borrowing from or licensing of the EAC’s program. If Americans don’t have to start from scratch, we could get up to speed much quicker. Starting small by focusing on just copyediting certification would help, too. We could add more certifications as time goes on.

My big reservation is that there really isn’t an organization ready to take on this challenge. The American Copy Editors Society (ACES) is great, but it’s still heavily focused on journalism and has taken up the much-needed crusade against plagiarism and sloppy reporting. Other editor organizations are either focused on a specific type of editing (e.g., Board of Editors in the Life Sciences, which already has a certification) or are too local, lacking the resources for such an undertaking.

But maybe I’m wrong. Is there an editing organization out there ready to take on the challenge of creating a US certification program? Are there enough interested editors willing to form a new group to explore professional certification for American editors?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Thanks to Jeanne McKane, Frances Peck, Stan Backs, and everyone else who spoke with me about certification at the conference.

Erin Brenner is the editor of the Copyediting newsletter and the owner of Right Touch Editing. You can follow her on Twitter. Erin is also a guest presenter at various conferences on topics of interest to freelancers.

May 19, 2014

The Practical Editor: Teaching the Art of Copyediting

Teaching the Art of Copyediting

by Erin Brenner

A while back, Rich Adin wrote in a blog post, Is Editing Teachable?, that copyediting can’t be taught. He said:

Editing is…a craft, a skill. It is more than knowing an adjective from an adverb, a noun from a pronoun. It is more than being able to construct and deconstruct a sentence or a paragraph. We know that grammar and spelling are things that can be taught.…But editing has an air of unteachability about it.

I agree that editing is a craft, one that editors continue to learn throughout their careers. And while telling an adjective from an adverb is useful, it’s just the beginning of learning copyediting.

Editing courses, Adin says, teach only the mechanics of copyediting because that’s all they can teach. By “mechanics,” he means “the things that are applied by rule [or] rote,” he told me in an email.

But you can’t teach students how to “reconstruct a sentence so that it is clear and accurately portrays the message,” Adin continued.

“It is not possible to teach one to be a good or great editor,” Adin had written in his blog post. “If it were possible, there would be more great editors and fewer average editors.”

Let’s look at these two ideas separately.

Teaching More Than Editing Mechanics

My own definitions of editing come from The Copyeditor’s Handbook by Amy Einsohn. Einsohn breaks down the task of copyediting into several parts, including:

  • Mechanical editing: making a manuscript conform to a house style, including correcting for such items as spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, punctuation, treatment of numbers, and so on.
  • Language editing: correcting or querying the author on errors in grammar, syntax, usage, and diction.
  • Content editing: correcting or querying the author on errors of internal consistency, content discrepancies, and structural and organizational problems.

Adin and I have essentially the same definition of mechanics, then. Editing a weak sentence into something clear and accurate would seem like language editing to me; in some instances, it might be content editing. Both are teachable, though, and deconstructing sentences and paragraphs is an excellent way to do so.

Break that sentence into its parts and see how it works. What happens when you move modifying phrases around? Does a sentence sound stronger with an important phrase at the beginning or end? These are places of power in a sentence, and a copyeditor can learn to use those places wisely.

Maybe word choice is the problem. Has the author chosen a word that’s precise enough to carry the meaning? Copyeditors should be alert to connotation and denotation of words.

Another key to finding clarity in sentences is understanding rhythm and how that’s achieved. An awkward rhythm can distract readers from the message.

All of these things and more can be explained and, more importantly, practiced. A recent lesson for my Copyediting II students included an exercise in coordinating and subordinating ideas in sentences and paragraphs. My job is to judge how well they’ve done that based on the original meaning of the text and to guide them to better decisions when necessary.

A lot of language editing can be taught by teaching writing style. In The Oxford Essential Guide to Writing, Thomas S. Kane broadly defines style as “the total of all the choices a writer makes concerning words and their arrangements.” What kind of choices are we talking about? Things such as:

  • Diction
  • Verb choice
  • Passive vs. active voice
  • Coordination and subordination of ideas
  • Use of negatives
  • Variety in words, sentence structure, and paragraph structure
  • Redundancy

In addition, copyeditors can learn how to create transitions between sentences and paragraphs and how to organize words in a sentence to better emphasize the main idea. All of these items can be taught and practiced.

Of course, a writing style is a complex thing and not always easy to identify minutely, but we can identify certain characteristics of style and note when something doesn’t fit. When you can identify the problem, you can fix it.

Why Aren’t There More Great Editors?

If teaching copyediting is possible, then, how come there aren’t more great editors? Many reasons, including:

  • Not all copyediting training is created equal. Some materials, no matter what kind you use, are simply better than others. In part, you’re only as good as your training.
  • Not all copyeditors are created equal. Like any other career, copyediting demands certain abilities, such as attention to detail. Some people are simply better at noticing details. Others are good at seeing the big picture. We all have innate abilities that suit us to certain kinds of work.
  • If more people were great, who would be average? Those at the top of their industry are just that: the top. The exceptions, not the rule. Most folks are average, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

In fact, though, we don’t really know how many copyeditors are great. As Adin has pointed out, we lack a national organization in the United States that measures how good a copyeditor is. How can we know how many great copyeditors labor in obscurity? We may bemoan the quality of the published word, but can we lay all the blame on copyeditors and ignore writers’ skills, the time given to edit, or any other variable in the publishing process?

I, too, would like to see a national organization that sets a standard for editing, recognizes those editors that achieve it, and educates the world about the importance of those standards. Doing so would also indicate that we think copyediting can be taught.

Erin Brenner is the editor of the Copyediting newsletter and the owner of Right Touch Editing. You can follow her on Twitter. Erin is also a guest presenter at various conferences on topics of interest to freelancers.

April 28, 2014

The Practical Editor: Define Your Terms, Then Negotiate

The Practical Editor:
Define Your Terms, Then Negotiate

by Erin Brenner

Recently, I saw a job ad that advertised for a copyeditor for a 5,500-word academic article. The article had already been accepted for publication, according to the ad, and the author was looking for a light copyedit, most likely to make a good impression on the assigning editor.

Even if the article will be edited in-house, this is a good call. The cleaner the copy, the more likely the assigning editor will hire this writer again.

I have an occasional client for whom I do such work, and she is thrilled with the results. The copyediting not only produces cleaner copy, it helps her to be more confident. The editing has led to her receiving more assignments. And why not? Assigning editors are busy folks, too, and the easier you make it to publish your article, the more likely they’ll call you again for another.

What’s a Page?

Back to the ad. The author is willing to pay $9 a page for the project. Does this sound good to you? Before you say yes, ask yourself this very important question:

What does the author mean by page?

Many folks in the publishing industry define a manuscript page as 250 words, and the Editorial Freelancers Association encourages that definition.

However, you can define a page in whatever way makes the most sense to you. As Ruth Thaler-Carter notes in a previous blog post (see The Commandments: Thou Shall Establish the Rules of Engagement Before Beginning a Project), Rich Adin uses a character count.

The key is to ensure you and your client are using the same definition of a page.

Let’s say the author from the ad is using the 250-word definition. That’s a 22-page document, resulting in a $198 payday:

5,500 words/250 words per page = 22 pages
22 pages × $9 per page = $198

If you can edit seven pages an hour, you’ll complete the project in 3.14 hours. Even if you round up your total to 4 hours to account for administration work on the project, you’ll earn $49.50 an hour. That’s a good rate in my book.

Even if the editing take longer, say four pages an hour, you’ll spend 5.5 hours on it. Round it up to 6.25 hours, and you’ll earn $31.68 an hour. Depending on your circumstances, this could still be a good rate. (However, it’s always a good idea to calculate your required effective hourly rate [see Thinking About Money: What Freelancers Need to Understand] ahead of time.)

But let’s say the author means one page is equal to a page in the Word file, not an uncommon occurrence. How many pages is this according to our 250-word definition? The total will vary greatly depending on several variables, including font, font size, leading, length of paragraphs, and margins. If you haven’t seen the document or been given a page count, you’re taking a risk on being able to make a decent hourly rate on the project.

How much of a risk?

In Ariel 12-point type, with a couple of boldfaced headers per page and a 1-inch margin all around, 5,500 equals about 10 pages. At $9 a page, I’d earn $90 on this job. If I edit at seven pages an hour, I’m earning just $22.50 an hour. If I edit at four pages an hour, $14.40 an hour. Ouch!

And let’s not forget that this is an academic article; it’s very likely the article includes citations. Are these footnotes or endnotes, which aren’t automatically included in Word’s word count? If you’ll be responsible for editing those citations, your editing pace and subsequent hourly rate dropped again.

Define and Negotiate

It’s crucial, then, that you’re using the same definitions as your client. This could be a good, quick job or a miserable money loser. Ask your author the following:

  • How do you define a page? Offer your own definition and see if they’ll accept it.
  • What do you mean by “light copyedit”? Try to discover what the author specifically wants done to the article.
  • What are my responsibilities regarding citations? Are they included in the word count?
  • Can I see the entire manuscript first? Determine for yourself whether you can edit it to the client’s satisfaction in a timeframe that earns you a decent paycheck.

At this point, you should have enough information to determine whether that $9 per page is acceptable. If the answer is no, it’s time to negotiate:

  • Tell the author how much you would charge to do what’s needed or wanted. Emphasize what the eventual outcome of such an edit would be. Sure the manuscript will be cleaner, but so what? Your job is to explain the “so what”: higher quality leads to better reception by the assigning editor, a greater chance for more work, a more positive reception by readers, and a rise in the author’s reputation.
  • Tell the author what you would do for the offered rate. If the author is truly cash-strapped but wants your services—and you want to work with this author—you could do less editing for less money.

Define your terms with the client. Negotiate for what you want. And if you and the author can’t agree, gracefully let them go on their way.

Erin Brenner is the editor of the Copyediting newsletter and the owner of Right Touch Editing. You can follow her on Twitter. Erin is also a guest presenter at various conferences on topics of interest to freelancers.

February 24, 2014

The Practical Editor: Working the Real World

Today’s column by Erin Brenner marks the first essay in a new monthly series, “The Practical Editor.” In this series, Erin will address real-world editorial issues and the balance needed between real-world demands and what could (would) be if all the stars were aligned in the editor’s favor. Please welcome Erin as a new columnist for An American Editor.

________________

Working the Real World

by Erin Brenner

There’s nothing like honing a well-written manuscript until it would make the angels weep for its beauty, grace, and clarity. Helping create a work of art thrills and satisfies me. Having a hand in producing something like this from George Eliot’s Middlemarch would be an honor:

We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, “Oh, nothing!”

Too bad that I and most of my colleagues work in the real world.

Few manuscripts are the next Middlemarch, few authors a modern George Eliot. Certainly, we copyeditors could weave an author’s words until they became something glorious, but we run up against real limits: in raw materials to work with, in time to do the work, in money to be paid for the work.

Of course we want to do it all. Of course we want to turn that doggie daycare website into Literature! Why else would we have become copyeditors? Literary geniuses are rare, though. Much of the editing we do is the down-and-dirty variety on manuscripts that will be read tomorrow and wrapped around fish the day after.

True, there’s more text being published than ever before, even discounting all the casual emails, Facebook postings, and so on. That’s more opportunities for copyeditors. But because of that increase, readers are absorbing material more quickly, too. They don’t always notice the niceties. It’s get the message and move on.

Most of the time.

Then there are our dream projects: projects where the client wants the Cadillac service. They want you to bleed over every word, to make the manuscript sing—and they’re willing to pay for it and give you the time to do it.

Copyeditors need to know what the manuscript at hand calls for. What are the author’s and publisher’s goals? However beautiful Eliot’s prose is, it doesn’t sell soap.

What is the audience’s expectations of the manuscript? However much Eliot makes you feel, she doesn’t teach you how to perform open-heart surgery.

The practical copyeditor keeps the author, publisher, and audience in mind while editing, flexing well-trained editing muscles to find that unique balance between good writing and getting the job done for the manuscript at hand.

In this column, I’ll explore practical editing. It’s not enough to know the rules. You need to know how to apply them and why you would apply them differently in various situations. When would allowing vogue words be acceptable? When would you follow an author’s awkward dictate, such as “don’t split infinitives”?

Copyediting is a muscle. Having the power to do the heaviest lifting is useful, but being able to control how much power you use at any time is better. And knowing when to apply that power, and when not to, is invaluable. It’s the difference between failing and succeeding in our business.

Part of that control comes from understanding the difference between usage rules and style guidelines, so I’ll examine some common misunderstandings, such as the idea that all redundancies are bad and that certain phrases, like “don’t use reason why,” shouldn’t be used. I’ll also look at why it’s OK to use notional agreement, singular they, and hopefully as a sentence adverb.

I’ll provide lessons on structuring your editing for the real world — the one with doggie daycares and deadlines. The Copyeditor’s Typographic Oath will be a great map to guide us, as will the ideas of zombie rules and dog-whistle edits. I’ll offer triage lists, a method for judging the acceptability of neologisms, and online resources to inform your editing.

We’ll also talk about practical approaches to running an editing business and marketing yourself, such as structuring your business to meet your needs, balancing work and play, and learning to say no. We’ll discuss using social media as part of your marketing plan and why it’s important to do more than social media.

I’ll even debate some of Rich Adin’s ideas and expand on others. Can you really not teach copyediting? Is there really no such thing as light, medium, and heavy copyedits? Perhaps I’m biased on these points because I teach in a copyediting program. But I know how I struggled in my early days and how the training helped me. I believe you can teach copyediting, though not everyone can learn it.

I invite you to send me your topic requests as well. What would you like me to write about? Email me!

Erin Brenner is the editor of the Copyediting newsletter and the owner of Right Touch Editing. You can follow her on Twitter. Erin is also a guest presenter at various conferences on topics of interest to freelancers.

November 11, 2013

Four Questions & Jargon

Every editor has to deal with jargon, because every form of writing has jargon designed to speak to the author’s audience. The question that editors need to resolve is this: Should I delete jargon? Today’s guest essayist, Erin Brenner, tackles the question by asking four questions about the jargon and its use.

Erin Brenner is the editor of the Copyediting newsletter and the owner of Right Touch Editing. You can follow her on Twitter. Erin is a guest presenter at various conferences on topics of interest to freelancers.

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Before Deleting Jargon, Ask These Four Questions

by Erin Brenner

Copyeditors are trained to spot jargon. We’re taught to see it as obscuring meaning, as something designed to keep readers out, so delete it we must. Yet jargon can be helpful as well. For those familiar with it, jargon can provide a concise way to say something.

Instead of automatically deleting jargon, we should be considering whether it’s helpful to the reader.

How do you do that? Let me show you.

Ask Four Simple Questions

While editing the newsletter recently, I came across three jargon terms in an article about email discussion lists by Katharine O’Moore-Klopf: listmate, onlist, and offlist. I’ve been participating in such discussion lists for a long time, so I didn’t even blink at the terms.

But one of my copyeditors, Andy Johnson, did. Given that the article is aimed at folks who don’t currently participate in discussion lists or boards, would those readers understand the terms?

Johnson knows that jargon must be helpful to readers or be removed—just like every other word in a manuscript. To determine whether the terms are helpful, I apply a list of questions I wrote for deciding whether to use a neologism in a manuscript:

  • Does the word in question mean what the author intends it to mean?
  • Does the word fit the style and tone of the text?
  • Will any connotations of the word inhibit the author’s intended message?
  • Will the audience understand what the author means by this word?

In this situation, O’Moore-Klopf was using the terms correctly. They fit well within the piece, and there were no connotations of the terms to inhibit meaning. The problem was whether the audience would understand the terms. The article was targeting readers who don’t currently participate in discussion lists, remember.

We could determine whether there would be readers who wouldn’t understand the jargon by determining how well known the jargon was outside of discussion lists. I started my search for these words:

  1. In several dictionaries. No results.
  2. In the Corpus of Contemporary American English. Zip.
  3. On Google. Now I had a few results:

a. listmate: There is some list management software called ListMate that grabs most of the first few results pages; about four pages in, I found one result that was in the subject line of a Yahoo Group message.

b. onlist: Results included social media handles and program commands. They also included some descriptions of activity on a list (as opposed to off it).

c. offlist: This term had the best results. It appears in Wiktionary, a Minecraft forum, and discussion comments. It’s also as a tag on Instagram and Pinterest.

By this point, I had a fair idea that these terms weren’t used much, if at all, outside of discussion lists. Still, I checked one more place, Google Books, and came up with a few accurate results. Most were books about discussion lists or marketing; one was on relationships in the digital world. Another was a book about language usage in a specific culture, while another was a fiction book set in the modern day.

Given that the terms were not often found in the mainstream, I hesitated to use them. Listmate seemed self-explanatory once the idea of discussion list had been introduced. Onlist and offlist were less clear; although our readers are intelligent and could parse out the meaning, we’d be making them work for it. Could we say the same thing without those terms?

We could. In most places where onlist was on its own, we could just drop it; the context was clear already:

If you have a funny work-related anecdote that you can share [deleted: onlist] without violating anyone’s privacy or embarrassing anyone, do so.

Offlist didn’t appear on its own, but when paired with onlist, we rewrote the phrasing:

Avoid complaining, either on the list or in private e-mail conversations [was: onlist or offlist], about colleagues, listmates, and clients.

In addition to the places I noted above, consider checking industry publications similar to yours and a news database, such as Google News. The first will tell you if the jargon is common in your industry, and the second will tell you if the jargon has become familiar to a wider audience. If the jargon appears in either place, you can feel comfortable keeping it in your manuscript.

Copyeditors don’t have to spend a great deal of time trying to determine how mainstream a piece of jargon is. It took me about 10 minutes or so to research all three terms in a light way and decide that the issue my copyeditor had raised was valid. I saw enough evidence for me to advise the author and seek her preferences.

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Do you  have “rules” that you apply to determine whether jargon should be deleted? Are they the same as Erin’s four questions or something different? Some professional editors work in niche subject areas, for example, medical books written by doctors for doctors or computer programming books written by programmers for advanced-level programmers. Are the rules about jargon and the questions to be asked about jargon outlined by Erin applicable?

Perhaps most important: Does eliminating jargon really matter in today’s Internet and Twitter age?

What do you think?

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