An American Editor

May 1, 2013

Business of Editing: The Logistics of Large Projects

As I wrote in my previous post, Business of Editing: Taking On Too Much, I have been hired to help edit a portion of a very large project. My portion runs to 5,000 manuscript pages, which have to be edited within 6 weeks.

After having written about the ethical issues of having undertaken a project that was bigger than the original editors could handle, I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss some of the logistical problems of massive projects. Let’s begin at the beginning: This project, before editing of any chapters, ran approximately 8,000 manuscript pages. (I use approximately deliberately as this was the in-house editor’s estimate; I only know with certainty the page count for the chapters I have actually received.)

Projects of that size are the types of project that I often receive and over the years, I have developed a system for working with such massive amounts of manuscript. In fact, it was because of my receiving projects of that size that I developed EditTools. As you can imagine, with such projects consistency becomes a problem, and the stylesheet seems to grow on its own.

The first logistical problem I address is that of editors: How many editors will be needed to edit the manuscript within the time allotted by the schedule? I built my business, Freelance Editorial Services, around the idea that a team of editors can do better financially than a solo editor. Although this notion has been disputed many times over the years, I still believe it to be true, based on discussions that I have with solo colleagues. It is this team concept that enables me to undertake such large projects with confidence, knowing that I will have a sufficient number of well-qualified editors to do the work.

The second logistical problem I address is the online stylesheet and giving access to it to the editors who will be working on the project. I discussed my online stylesheet in Working Effectively Online V — Stylesheets. When several editors work collaboratively on a project, this online stylesheet enables all of the editors to see what decisions have been made, and to conform their decisions with the decisions that have been made by coeditors. Consequently, if an editor makes new editorial decision (i.e., it has not been previously decided by an editor and inserted on the stylesheet) to use distension rather than distention, or to use coworker rather than co-worker, all of the other editors can immediately see that decision — within seconds of its being entered into the stylesheet — and can conform their editing to that decision or dispute it. It also means that errors can be caught and corrected. For example, if an editor enters adriamycin, another editor can correct it to Adriamycin (it is a brand name, not a generic drug) and immediately notify all editors of the original error and correction.

In addition, my client also has access to the stylesheet. The client can view and print it, but not modify it. This serves two purposes: (a) the client can provide proofreaders with up-to-the-minute copies of the stylesheet and (b) the client can look at our editorial decisions and decide that he would prefer, for example, distention rather than distension, notify an editor of the preference, and the editor can then make the change and notify all of the coeditors, who can then make any necessary corrections in chapters not already submitted to the client.

The third logistical problem I address is the creation of a starter NSW (Never Spell Word) file for the project. The Never Spell Word module of EditTools is where known client preferences are stored. For example, if I know that the client prefers distention to distension, I enter into the NSW file the information to change instances of distension to distention. Also into this file goes editorial decisions, such as marking DNA as an acronym that does not ever need to be spelled out but that the acronym US (for ultrasound) should always be spelled out as ultrasound. The NSW file also serves to remind editors of other editorial-decision–related information. I provide each editor with a starter NSW file and each editor will add to their NSW file as they edit.

The NSW macro is run before beginning editing a chapter. Its purpose is to promote consistency across chapters and to make it easier for an editor to visually see editorial decisions that have been made. The NSW macro includes several components. For example, my basic NSW for medical editing also includes a dataset for drugs and organisms. Its use helps speed editing by providing visual clues, such as an indication that a drug name is correct even though the spell checker is flagging it as erroneous — it becomes one less thing that I need to verify.

The fourth logistical problem I tackle is references. These projects often have lots of references. One chapter of the project that I just received, for example, runs 305 manuscript pages, of which there are 61 pages of references — a total of 652 references (most of the chapters have more than 300 references). Dealing with references can be time-consuming. My approach is to separate the references from the main chapter, putting them in their own file. This serves four purposes: (a) Microsoft, in its wisdom, has determined that if spell check determines there are more than some number of errors in a document, it will display a message that there are too many errors for Word to display and turns off spell check. Although spell check is not perfect, it is a tool that I do use when editing. I would prefer it to flag a correctly spelled word as misspelled, giving me an alert, than my possibly missing something. Spell check is a tool, not a solution. (However, it does help that EditTools helps me create custom dictionaries so that correct words that are currently flagged as errors by spell check can easily be added to a custom dictionary and not flagged in the future.) By moving the references to their own file, I eliminate this problem of Word turning off spell check for too many errors.

(b) It provides me with an opportunity to run my Journals macro. Every time I come across a new variation of a spelling of a journal name, I add it to one of my journal datasets. My PubMed (medical) journals dataset currently has more 14,675 entries. With the references in a separate file, I can run that dataset against the reference list and have my macro correct those journal names that are incorrect (assuming the information is in my dataset) and mark as correct those that are correct. What this means is that rather than having to check journal names for 652 references in a chapter, I have to do so for at most a handful. It also means that I can concentrate on the other reference errors, if any, such as missing author names. Instead of spending several hours on the references alone, I can edit the references in a much shorter amount of time. (It took 26 minutes for the Journals macro to check the 652 references against the 14,675 entries in the dataset.)

(c) The third purpose is that separating the references from the main text lets me run the Page Number Format macro. In less than a minute, I had changed the page numbers in the 652 references from 1607-10 to 1607-1610 format. How long would it take to do this manually? Having the references in their own file means I do not have to worry about the macro making unwanted changes in the main text, especially as this macro runs without tracking.

(d) The fourth purpose separating the references from the main body of the chapter serves is that it lets me run my Wildcard Find & Replace macro just on the references. There is no chance that I will use the macro and make unwanted changes to the main text. WFR is efficient because it lets me create a macro that works, such as one to closeup the year-volume-pages cite, and save it for future reuse. WFR even lets me combine several of the macros into a single script (that also can be saved for repeat use) so that the macros run sequentially in my designated order. As an example: I have created macros to change author names from the format Author, F. H., to Author FH,. If you have to do this manually for several thousand author names, you begin to appreciate the power and usefulness of WFR and how much time it can save. (I also will use WFR on the main text when appropriate. What I avoid by separating out the references is the possibility of something happening to either the main text or the references that shouldn’t.)

The above steps are among those I take that make handling of large projects easier and more profitable. There are additional things that I do for each chapter, but the point is that by dealing with manuscript in a logical way, projects become manageable. In addition, by using the right tools, editing is more accurate, consistent, and faster, which leads to a happy client, more work, and increased profitability.

Do you have any thoughts on how to handle large amounts of manuscript? Do you take any special steps for preparing a manuscript for editing or while editing?

July 2, 2012

The Business of Editing: Culture and Editing

A client asked me to look at some excerpts of material that had been offshore outsourced for editing and to give my opinion whether something struck me as wrong or incorrect. In the past 6 months, I have had several requests from clients asking me to clarify style rules and whether material comports with those rules. The clients have recognized that their expertise is different from mine and that the combination of our skills can result in a better product.

A frequent query involves American Medical Association’s AMA Manual of Style 10th edition §19.1 “Use of Numerals.” Most non-editorial clients find the AMA’s instructions confusing, especially as it contravenes the instructions given in other style guides, notably the Chicago Manual of Style.

But this client request fell into another category: not was a style guide convention contravened, but did the editing make sense.

The subject had to do with legislation and one sentence in one of the text portions I was asked to review read as follows:

The legislative solution was to make it easier for gays to marry women to obtain birth control…

Certainly, from a grammatical perspective and taken in isolation, there is nothing wrong with that sentence fragment. But was it culturally correct?

Editing cannot be done in isolation of the world around us. Form (grammatically correct in isolation) cannot control over function (communication and understanding). Instead, there needs to be a meeting of form and function because only with that meeting can we be certain that what is intended is what is expressed.

It immediately struck me that something was wrong with the sentence. A good test is what I call the substitution test, in which I substitute a synonym for a key word to ask does it still make sense. In this case, my immediate notion was that no substitution was necessary but I applied the test anyway, substituting homosexual for gay. Why was this important? Gay in America increasingly means male homosexual exclusively; homosexual means both male and female, that is, gays and lesbians. Other cultures may use other terms for genderizing homosexuality, but since this was a book for American audiences, American culture rules.

With the term gay, the sentence makes sense every which way but sexually; with the term homosexuality, it makes no sense either politically or sexually. In America, lesbians currently are generally not free to marry women for any reason. In a culture that does permit homosexual marriage or civil unions, the sentence would pass the substitution test, but not in the United States, where the overwhelming legal position is that homosexuals cannot marry or even have legally recognized civil unions.

The point is that because of my familiarity with the culture of the audience for whom the book is intended, it is clear to me that there is something wrong with the sentence. The cure is simple, however. All that is needed is a well-placed comma, so that the sentence reads as follows:

The legislative solution was to make it easier for gays to marry, women to obtain birth control…

Yet there is another problem with the sentence. Logically, why would a gay marry a woman to obtain birth control? That alone, under normal circumstances, should have raised red flags. But, again, I think it may be a cultural thing. I suspect that in more repressive cultures or in cultures in which the homosexuality is more underground than in America, gays may well marry women for a variety of reasons, even as a means of birth control.

Yet there is one other, at least questionable, problem with the sentence, with or without the comma cure, even though it is illogical for gays to marry women to obtain birth control: the use of gays. As I noted above, in America, gays increasingly is gender-specific, referring to male homosexuals and excluding lesbians. So the sentence, even as cured, means that it would be easier for males to marry but still impossible for females to marry. If nothing else were true about legislation affecting homosexual marriage, this would be true: In the United States, legislators would not grant marriage rights to one sex but not the other when granting homosexuals the right to marry.

Although the cured sentence would be better if homosexuals were substituted for gays, and much less prone to possible misunderstanding, there is another cultural reality in America. As noted above, gay has traditionally meant both male and female homosexuals, but it is increasingly being used as the word for male homosexuals to the exclusion of lesbians. As Bryan Garner writes:

Gay and lesbian. Though common, this phrasing is peculiarly redundant since lesbians are gay women.…What is actually happening, no doubt, is that gay is undergoing what linguists call specialization — that is, in some of its senses the word is becoming sex-specific. (Garner’s Modern American Usage, 2009, p. 387)

Consequently, in this instance, aside from adding the comma, I think a professional editor would query the author, explain the historical uses of the words, and suggest that homosexuals be substituted for gays. I also think that the professional editor would query the author to make sure that the addition of the comma is correct, that with the comma the sentence now reads as the author intended. Although I cannot think of a valid reason to omit the comma, perhaps the author has one

Alas, in this instance, neither the comma was added nor the queries made. Alas, also, there were several similar sentences in the samples I was asked to comment on, that had very questionable phraseology but passed the editor without query. Several needed no query, just punctuation.

I think this is less a matter of the editor’s skill, although it could well be that the original editor was not a professional editor, but more of a culture-related problem. It is not easy for out-of-culture editors to catch the cultural nuances of material intended for an audience that lives in another world culturally. For publishers, the question is solely one of containing costs. Instead, it should be one of making sure that the published product doesn’t miscommunicate; unfortunately, that is not the trend in today’s publishing. Just as publishers see a worldwide market for their books, they see a worldwide market for service providers. In some instances, that broad sight is appropriate, but not when it comes to editing for a specific cultural market.

May 31, 2012

The Business of Editing: What an Author Should Give an Editor

I know I’m a bit out of synch with my usual schedule of posts, but this topic has been swirling around my thoughts for several days, and I’m finally getting time to write about the topic.

The hardest job an editor has, I think, is determining what the author wants the final product to be like. The editor’s role is to help the author mold the manuscript so that it ends up meeting the author’s wants, not the editor’s belief as to what the author wants.

The problem is that few authors provide the information necessary to accomplish the task. In the books I currently work on, any guidance comes from the publisher, not the author, which is not how it should be. Years ago, when I edited fiction and worked directly with authors, a lot of time and effort were wasted with back-and-forth communications in an attempt to land the author and me on the same page. It is one of the reasons why I stopped working directly with authors (although in the past year I have had many requests from authors to edit their fiction, and I am contemplating doing so).

In the case of fiction, I think an author should provide an editor with the following information:

  • a one-page summary of the story;
  • a complete list of characters, including the desired name spelling, any relationships between characters (e.g., spouse of, sister of, granddaughter of), and a physical description of each character;
  • a complete list of geographical locations, indicating whether each is real or made up, and with correct spelling;
  • a list of special terms or made-up words;
  • a timeline of major events; and
  • an indication whether this is part of a series (e.g., book one of a trilogy).

Depending on the story and the author’s plans I would also ask the author to provide additional information.

It is true that an editor can gather all of the above information herself from a first read of the manuscript. But leaving the task to the editor means that there is no assurance that something important will not be missed or misinterpreted. More importantly, it wastes valuable (and costly) time that could be better spent actually editing.

With nonfiction, the list changes based on the type of book and the intended audience. As I have mentioned in other posts, most of my work is in medical textbooks written by doctors for doctors. What I would like to know in advance are such things as:

  • which acronyms can be always used as acronyms and not spelled out because they are commonly understood by the intended audience;
  • how certain terms should be approached (e.g., Is ultrasound acceptable/preferred when talking about the procedure, which is more correctly called ultrasonography? Should it be x-ray or radiography?);
  • preferred spelling where there is more than one spelling option (e.g., distension or distention?); and
  • any other author preferences that I should be aware of.

The point is to make the editing and the review of the editing go smoothly and not end up being focused on something that is minor because it is a pet peeve of the author.

This review focus is really at the core of why an author should provide an editor with as much information as possible. Over the course of 28 years of editing, more times than not, when an author has complained about the editing, the complaint has been because no one passed on information about what the author wanted or expected. The author became focused on the tree rather than the forest.

An often heard complaint from disgruntled fiction authors is that the editor screwed up the book. I don’t doubt that the editor made mistakes, but my first thought goes to the information that the author provided. Was the editor just handed the manuscript or was the editor given sufficient information that the editor’s mistakes are really the sign of an incompetent editor and not of a lazy author?

Unfortunately, there are authors who believe that the only role an editor should play is that of spellchecker because whatever the author wrote is perfect as is, with the exception of the occasional misspelling. I remember editing a novel early in my career where I correct the misuse of their, there, where, were, your, and you’re only to receive a nasty note from the author telling me how I had taken a well-written manuscript and made it a poorly written one, and that I had been hired just to check spelling, not to change words or meaning. I scratched my head vigorously because I would have thought that changing where to were was correcting a misspelling and not changing meaning, but I clearly was missing something. As it turns out, the author believed that using the wrong words reinforced the character’s illiteracy. The author may have intended that but missed the connection because the character used polysyllabic words that indicated a good command of language except for these words. More important, however, was that the author’s failure to communicate to me that the character was intended to be illiterate meant that I didn’t catch the characterization error that resulted from other word choices. The book was a disaster from the author’s intended perspective and I didn’t help matters because of the lack of pre-editing information.

Authors and editors should collaborate, not fight each other. The goal of each is to make the book the best it can be. Authors need to take a more proactive role in the collaborative effort by providing basic information — without waiting to be asked for the information — before the editor begins work. Together, the author and editor can make the author’s voice heard.

May 28, 2012

The Business of Editing: Consistency

One of the directives I regularly get from clients is that they want consistency. For example, they do not want a word spelled out sometimes and an acronym used in place of the word at other times. In books, they want consistency across chapters whenever possible.

Years ago, when I edited journal articles, each journal had a style to be applied consistently across articles, regardless of whether I edited one article or 100 articles.

This drive for consistency is likely to have been the mother of the editor’s stylesheet. The stylesheet serves multiple purposes, two being to let the editor check treatment of a term in hopes that treatment is consistent across a manuscript and for a proofreader to see what decisions the editor made (e.g., is it non-negotiable or nonnegotiable; distention or distension?) and apply those decisions where the editor may have been inconsistent.

We know as readers that consistency is important, even in fiction. I find it distracting and annoying when the heroine is “nearly six-foot tall with strawberry-blond hair and jade-colored eyes” in chapter 1 but has become “five-and-a-half feet tall with dirty-blond hair and hazel eyes that change color” in chapter 3. Going from Amazonian to ordinary in three chapters can alter a plotline significantly.

Knowing that consistency is important, what steps do editors take to ensure it? In my olden days of editing, I relied on the stylesheet; I had no other tool in my arsenal that was as facile for the purpose, especially not with the size of projects on which I generally work. The stylesheet worked well when it was small (relatively speaking), but as it grew in length, it became a cumbersome tool for ensuring consistency. It became cumbersome because of the need to check it so often, and because, in the early days, the stylesheet was handwritten, which meant not alphabetized, making finding things difficult.

So I began experimenting and found ways to automate the stylesheet using programs like Macro Express, a program I still use (but not for my stylesheet). Ultimately, I designed an online stylesheet (see Working Effectively Online V — Stylesheets for a discussion of my stylesheet), which remains open in my web browser and gives me quick and easy access. Yet, I discovered that, as much of an improvement as the online stylesheet is, it was not enough. Consequently, I created two of the macros that appear in EditTools: Never Spell Word and Toggle. Using these two macros means there are fewer inconsistencies across long manuscripts.

When I get a project from client Y, I usually know that the client wants certain things to appear in its publications, or, if not across its publications, within the particular project I am working on. For example, the client may tell me that every time I see the head REFER, it should be changed to REFERRAL, or that a common acronym such as WHO never needs to be spelled out. (Usually the directive is that “common acronyms need not be spelled out at first use” without providing a list of those common acronyms; it is part of my job as an experienced editor to recognize which acronyms will be readily understood by readers of the book.)

Never Spell Word (NSW) lets me add words and phrases to a project-specific list and apply a specific color highlight to those words and phrases so I can be consistent across chapters. For example, if I enter WHO and assign it the highlight color magenta, and run NSW on the manuscript, I know each time that I see WHO in magenta that it does not need to be spelled out. If I come across “World Health Organization (WHO)” in the text, I’ll see WHO in magenta and I’ll know to delete “World Health Organization” and the parens around WHO.

Similarly, I can enter into the list to change World Health Organization to WHO. When I run the NSW macro, not only will the change be made (with tracking on), but WHO will be highlighted to indicate to me visually that this is correct.

The advantages of NSW over similar macros are basically twofold: (a) the highlighting, which gives a visual clue; and (b) the ease with which new items can be added to the list while editing. This second point is important; it means that the list is not static and it can grow as I find things to add to it.

NSW is only a part of the consistency equation, however. Toggle is another important tool. NSW is run on a file after basic file cleanup but before editing. It is run only once on a file, although I may add to its list as I edit a file. Toggle, in contrast, is not run on a file. Instead, it is used to change a word or phrase while editing. My current Toggle list has more than 1,500 entries in it. These are the things that I do not want to change universally (i.e., correct using the NSW macro); instead, I want to decide whether to make a change as I come to the item.

Using the WHO example, again, if I need to spell out WHO the first time it is used in a chapter but not on subsequent uses, then I want the information in my Toggle macro, not in my NSW macro because NSW will change it every time and I’ll have to undo some instances, whereas Toggle will make the change only when I tell it to do so. Like NSW, Toggle can have and access multiple lists. There is a primary (or universal) main list and then there are supplemental project-specific lists that can be accessed simultaneously with the primary list.

In a Toggle list, I would enter “WHO” and ask that it be changed to “World Health Organization (WHO)”; it would appear in the Toggle list like this:

WHO | World Health Organization (WHO)

Now, when I come to WHO in the manuscript, if I want to spell it out, I place my cursor in WHO and run Toggle; it deletes WHO and enters World Health Organization (WHO). This is done with Track Changes on.

I’ve used a simple example, but Toggle can be used for both complex and simple changes. For example, an entry in my primary Toggle list is as follows:

1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine | methylphenyltetrahydropyridine (MPTP)

Toggle promotes consistency in two ways: (a) it reduces spelling errors that occur when typing a replacement and (b) it is easy to use and fast.

If you know that a client wants to avoid “due to,” it is difficult to create a universally applicable substitute. Toggle gives you as many options as you create. If a client always wants World Health Organization referred to as WHO, NSW can make that happen. It is easy to remember what a client wants when there are only a few things, but the more things a client wants and the more inconsistent an author is, the less valuable the stylesheet is to an editor and the more valuable macros like NSW and Toggle are — they increase consistency and reduce the time required to be consistent.

Postscript (added after article was published): Last night I finished a novel published by a major publisher in which, within three lines, a character’s name appeared three times and each appearance was a different spelling. If the editor had used used Never Spell Word, this would not have occurred. The editor would have entered the character’s name at its first appearance into the NSW list (or, better yet in the case of fiction, the author should have supplied a list of characters with correct name spellings and ll the names would be entered into the list before any editing began) and then as the editor ran NSW on each chapter, if the character’s name was not highlighted in green, the editor would know immediately that the name’s spelling needed to be checked. Granted that the errors occurring in such close proximity should have been caught regardless of the use of NSW, but it does point out how such things can slip by and how the proper tools can help improve consistency.

April 30, 2012

Business of Editing: Schedules and Client Expectations

A couple of months ago, I was hired to edit a new medical text. The publisher estimated the manuscript to be 2500 pages and wanted a 4-week turnaround with a medium-level edit. When I received the files for the entire project, I did a page count; the client had greatly undercounted the manuscript size. Instead of 2500 ms pages, the actual count was 5300 pages. (Why the disparity? Because, for example, in the original manuscript figure legends were in 7-point type and chapters had 70+ legends; tables and references [of which there could be several hundred in a chapter] were in 8-point type; paragraphs were single spaced.) In addition, it had to be conformed to AMA style; almost nothing conformed to AMA style as presented.

I advised the client and suggested that a 10-week schedule would be more appropriate. I was told to start the editing and the client would get back to me about the schedule.

In 2 weeks, I was able to edit nearly 1400 ms pages, but even at that rate, an 8-week schedule would be needed and it assumes that the initial pace could be maintained.

At the 2-week mark, I was told to stop work on the project. Instead of being edited locally, the manuscript would be shipped overseas (i.e., outside the United States to India) for editing because (a) the budget was based on 2500 ms pages and (b) there is insufficient flexibility in the schedule to extend it to 8 to 10 weeks or longer. The client was assured that both its budget and schedule could be met in India.

I was not overly concerned about the loss of this particular project; I had others waiting. But I was concerned about how realistic client (not just this particular client, but clients in general) expectations are when it comes to both price and schedule; more so schedule than price. I wonder how Indian copyeditors — let alone copyeditors from anywhere — will be able to do a medium edit on a very technical medical textbook in 4 weeks. I am not questioning the Indian editors’ editing skills, as I do not think this is a question of skills. I do understand how the price can be met in India, but not the schedule or the required editing level.

More importantly, it worries me what is becoming of the publishing industry. The upheaval caused by ebooks is not being well dealt with by anyone yet. One of the outstanding negatives to ebooks is the ease with which poor quality books can saturate the marketplace. Too many ebook authors are writing as if they were Georges Simenon, an author who once stated that he was able to turn out a new novel every 21 days. (Simenon was prolific and I particularly enjoyed his Inspector Maigret novels.) But unlike Simenon’s novels, which were well-written and well-edited, many ebooks are neither.

At one time readers could feel assured that the pbook they were buying that was published by a traditional publisher also was well-edited. Publishers devoted the time and the money to ensure a minimum quality.

Yet that seems to be changing today. In the case of the books I work on, which are medical texts written by doctors for doctors, I am concerned that unrealistic expectations will cause a decline in quality in books that can have serious implications for the well-being of consumers. If a novel tells you that the Taj Mahal is in Tibet, no harm is done to the reader, only to the author’s reputation. But if a medical text tells you to remove the left lung when it should be the right lung, the potential for harm is present; you have to hope someone catches this error before you are operated on.

Again, the question is not so much that of competency of the editors as it is the compression of the schedule. Editing a 200-page novel in 4 weeks is not wholly unreasonable; errors that slip by are not likely to be catastrophic except possibly to the author’s reputation. But to edit a 5300-page medical text in 4 weeks strikes me as unreasonable, even if the editorial work is divided among numerous editors. I suppose the question boils down to how many editors are used, but as the number of editors used increases, the greater the likelihood of inconsistency and the greater the variation in skill level among the editors.

I know that publishers are increasingly being run by the “bean counters” who take steps to reduce editorial costs because there is no readily visible-to-the-consumer effect of an editor’s work. Editors are the invisible people who can make a good manuscript better. Publishers are increasingly competing with the self-publishers and so must mimic the self-publishing way to final version, which is little to no editing and/or the least expensive editing possible combined with a compressed production schedule in order to get the finished product to market more quickly.

I wonder if, in the end, this will be good for the industry as a whole; that is, not just for the traditional publisher but for the self-publisher, too. In the attempt to get to market sooner and to publish as quickly and as often as possible, are publishers of all stripes sacrificing too much? Will the result be a changed literary landscape that would not be recognizable to a reader who grew up reading the Hemingways and Steinbecks of an earlier era?

Perhaps more importantly, in the case of nonfiction, is this compulsion to reduce costs and speed up production dangerous for the reader and consumer? Is our insatiable appetite for instant gratification and cheap pricing going to boomerang?

How do you give a high-quality edit to a highly technical manuscript of 5300 pages in 4 weeks without making any significant editorial sacrifice? Are client expectations becoming increasingly unreasonable? Something to ponder, I think, and perhaps even to worry about.

April 5, 2012

Worth Noting: EditTools Fix Released

Filed under: Editing Tools — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
Tags: , ,

Recently, EditTools version 4.1 was released as a free upgrade. However, subsequent to the release several users ran into problems. Consequently, yesterday version 4.1f was released and is available from www.wordsnSync.com. If your current version of 4.1 is working fine, there is no reason to download version 4.1f. If you have experienced a problem or just like to keep current, you can download the new release. If you already have version 4.1 installed on your computer, you will be asked if you want to repair it, to which you should answer yes.

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.

March 26, 2012

The Business of Editing: To Post or Not to Post Your Fee Schedule?

Recently, colleague Katharine O’Moore-Klopf gave a link to an article that appeared at The Freelancery blog, “Should you post your fees? Publish your pricing? Hit yourself with a stick?” Having read the article, I am not certain I agree with the author that there are only two reasons for posting a fee schedule: (1) “To make people quit calling” and (2) “When you sell mostly to first-time buyers, one-time clients.”

I am not an advocate of posting a fee schedule, but then the type of work I do doesn’t really warrant a fee schedule. Yet I can see situations in which posting a schedule can be valuable. Afterall, does it matter whether you tell a potential client through a posted schedule that you charge $100 an hour or in a live conversation? If the client is willing to pay that price and wants your services, either method should work; if they are unwilling to pay that price for your work, either method should turn them away except that the latter method required your spending time to lose a client.

There are several issues to consider. First, you need to be knowledgable about your clientele and about the clients you want to attract. Are these the type of people/clients who would expect to see a fee schedule?

Second, what is your reputation for the work you do? Is your reputation such that if you charged a premium the client would hire you anyway? Or is it such that price will overcome your reputation?

Third, you need to be aware of what the “standard” price points are for your services. For example, if you charge $100 an hour for copyediting but most of your competition charges $20, in the absence of a reputation that provokes the feeling of must-have-at-any-price, posting a schedule is a sure way to not get a client, although as noted above, the result would be the same face-to-face. The more your schedule is in line with what the market rate is, the less harm that can occur by posting your schedule. But posting such a schedule can tell clients that here is an editor with a stellar reputation whose fees are in line with what the client expects to pay (or is willing to pay).

I think the third point really is the key to the answer. If clients expect to pay $20 an hour and your schedule, whether posted or not, is $20 an hour, then posting the schedule may well draw in additional clients.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that the answer lies in first evaluating your fee schedule against the “norms” for what you do and then in light of the clients you wish to attract or retain. Another factor that needs to play a part in the decision-making process is how you calculate your fee.

We have been talking about a schedule in terms of dollars, but a schedule can be vaguer than that yet be equally informative. For example, in my case, if I were to post a schedule, I would say something like: “Freelance Editorial Services does not charge an hourly rate. We charge a per-page rate for copyediting with a page calculated as…” or “Freelance Editorial Services does not charge an hourly rate. We charge a project rate, which is calculated as follows: …”

However, posting a schedule by itself is not helpful to you or even to the client. There needs to be a justification for the schedule. For example, I might write something like this: “Over the 28 years of my editing career, my focus has been on medical books written by doctors for doctors. My specialty within that medical community is multithousand-page manuscripts and multiauthor manuscripts that require the use of multiple Freelance Editorial Services editors to complete in a timely and accurate fashion.” Perhaps I would write another sentence or two and then give my fee schedule.

The point is that combining a rationale with a fee schedule can be a fruitful way to generate additional business. Posting a schedule that stands alone, that isn’t surrounded by reasons justifying the schedule may do no harm but is unlikely to do much good either.

As with everything else we do, posting a fee schedule can be turned into a marketing tool. There are so many variables to be considered, that it is not possible to blanketly say never post a fee schedule or always post a fee schedule. The correct answer has to be: it depends on what you want to accomplish and whether posting a fee schedule can help you reach that goal.

A failing of myself and my colleagues is that we seek rigid answers to business questions and problems because we want to focus on what we do and like best: the editorial function. But to succeed, we really need to wear multiple hats and we really need to change hats depending on whether the question is an editorial question or a business question. Although both require analyzation, the type of analyzation process required is different for each.

What reasons do you have for either posting or not posting your fee schedule?

February 20, 2012

The Making of a Professional Editor

On a list for professional editors in which I participate, a colleague posted about a post she recently read in an online forum from someone calling herself an editor. This “editor” related that she had been asked by a prospective client if she used the Chicago Manual of Style — and she had never heard of it! Her approach to editing and proofreading is not to “touch the style of the manuscript or document (but) simply proofread and correct any mistakes in grammar, spelling etc.” The “editor” wondered whether her approach to editing was “odd.” I think the real questions are not is her approach odd, but is her approach professional and is her approach the mark of an editor?

The issue is not one of using the Chicago Manual of Style — after all, the majority of the work I do does not use the Chicago Manual of Style; my work relies on other style manuals — but familiarity with the tools of professional editing and an understanding of the role that style manuals (What is style?) and other tools play in editing.

The quote raises multiple issues from a professional editor’s perspective, not least of which is this: Does “simply proofread[ing] and correct[ing] any mistakes in grammar, spelling, etc.” make someone not a professional editor? (And foundational to these questions are: What is proofreading? and What is copyediting?)

To answer the question, one must delve into what separates the professional editor from all those people who claim to be professional editors but really are, at best, amateurs. Most of us would accept that the idea that reading a novel and catching a few typographical errors doesn’t change us from reader to professional editor, nor does it signal that “I should be an editor!”

On the surface, not knowing what are the dominant style manuals used by professional editors in your country is a sure sign that you are not a professional editor. (By the way, I do not know the country of the person being quoted, which could make a difference, but when read in context, I think it safe to assume that either the person or the prospective client or both are from the United States where the Chicago Manual of Style is prevalent.) Why? Because how can you know the correctness of a “grammar or spelling” decision in the absence of two things: an appropriate dictionary and an appropriate style manual?

Style manuals give you guidance on whether, for example, certain prefixes should be closed up rather than hyphenated; they give you guidance on whether it is proper to spell out ten or leave it as a numeral; they give you rules to follow to ensure that the grammar decision made on page one is followed on page twenty-three. Perhaps most importantly, they act as verification for the decision being made. Style manuals promote consistency not only within a single document but across multiple documents. It is that consistency that prevents readers from getting bogged down in the wrong things when reading a book.

To say one does not correct style is the same as saying that one has chosen to accept a hodgepodge style. There is nothing wrong with deciding not to apply a particular style to a manuscript, regardless of how pedestrian or undisciplined such a decision makes a manuscript. What is wrong is not knowing that you are making such a decision because you have no idea what style, as applied to a manuscript, means.

Over my 28 years of editing, I like to think I have progressed from a novice with little knowledge to a professional with lots of knowledge, even though there are many professional editors with even greater knowledge about our profession. One of the paths to that growth is familiarizing oneself with the tools of our trade, namely, dictionaries, style manuals, usage manuals, and the like.

Also over those years, I have become savvier about discerning who is and is not a professional editor. I emphasize professional because I think that is the keystone. Our world does not lack for people whose shingles proclaim “Editor Inside.” Our world does lack, however, for standards by which to judge just how professional that “Editor Inside” is. Thus, I have developed my own criteria against which I judge, in the absence of actually having the claimant edit manuscript for me, whether the claimant is a professional.

The first criterion is dictionaries. When I speak with an editor, one of the things I am interested in is the number and types of dictionaries the editor uses and has at his or her fingertips. Not all dictionaries are created equally; some have international reputations for quality, others have reputations for simply being. I do not put much stock in the skills of an editor who relies on The Free Dictionary and Wikipedia alone, or a medical editor who doesn’t subscribe to Stedman’s Electronic Spell Checker Pro.

The second criterion is style manuals. I expect a person who is an editor to have a broad interest in the things editors do and so I want to know what style manuals an editor uses and has at his or her fingertips. I know many editors who own one style manual, and that manual is often not even the latest edition. (One editor told me that the last good version of the Chicago Manual of Style, which is now in its 16th edition, was the 11th edition and that the 11th edition is the only manual the editor uses.) I have never had a project that uses the Council of Science Editor’s Scientific Style and Format manual, but I own a copy of the current edition because sometimes I need to learn more about a subject area than I can find in the manual of style the client wants me to use.

The third criterion is usage guides. Language usage changes, sometimes rapidly, sometimes slowly, but the English we use today is not the English we used 50 years ago, let alone even 10 years ago. I think a professional editor is attuned to this changing and one way of keeping attuned is through the use of usage manuals. When an editor tells me that they rely on Fowler’s Modern English Usage, I pause — American English has changed significantly since the release of the Burchfield edition. It is not that Fowler’s shouldn’t be on the editor’s shelf and consulted, it is that an absence of Garner’s Modern American Usage makes me question the editor’s professionalism.

The fourth criterion is ancillary texts. Depending on the editor’s areas of expertise, I expect a professional editor to make use of subject-matter-specific ancillary texts. For example, I would expect a medical editor to have resources about drugs available, or a resource like The Merck Index to verify chemical composition. An editor who works on contemporary novels may need to have access to resources on slang or quotations.

The fifth, and final, criterion is a basic one. I expect an editor to have resources devoted to grammar.

I think the difference between the amateur editor and the professional editor is witnessed by the above criteria, although not wholly determined by that criteria. To me, the criteria afford clues as to whether this editor is an editor I am willing to trust to do a professional editing job. Of course, a person could score perfect on the foregoing criteria and still be a poor editor — it is almost impossible to know in the absence of the actual editing of manuscript (be it project or test) — but an editor whose professional library is barren is an editor who edits by the seat of his or her pants. An editor who is unfamiliar with the leading texts in the profession and their field of editing is unlikely to produce a professional edit.

In the end, editing is a profession of decisions and many decisions to be made have more than a single answer. A professional editor is one who is aware of the alternative answers to a question and then makes a decision that is justifiable and supportable by more than “because I say so.”

February 17, 2012

Worth Noting: Citing Medicine 2e from the National Library of Medicine

On another list in which I participate, I was reminded about Citing Medicine, 2nd edition: The NLM Style Guide for Authors, Editors, and Publishers, by Karen Patrias with Dan Wendling, Technical Editor, and published by the National Library of Medicine. This is a free publication and regardless of your editing specialty, a very worthwhile manual to bookmark or download.

(I downloaded it on its original release in 2007 and combined all the chapters into a single PDF thinking I would print it out. However, this manual runs close to 1700 pages, so I never did get around to printing it, although I still occasionally think about do so; I simply call it up from my hard drive when needed.)

Citing Medicine is the most complete manual on citation style I think I have ever seen. Even when a client tells me to follow a certain style manual, I find that there are times I need to get some guidance from Citing Medicine. Its comprehensiveness makes it useful as an adjunct to probably all of the more traditional style manuals, and its price cannot be beat — FREE!

Also worth knowing is that it is maintained and updated. The version currently available, although originally released in 2007, has been updated and is current through October 2011.

Citing Medicine, 2nd edition belongs on every editor’s virtual resource shelf.

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