An American Editor

January 29, 2018

Signs that an Editor Might Not Be a Pro

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Today’s aspiring authors have a lot more resources for getting their work into readers’ hands than ever before, but often have little experience in the publishing world. That can make authors vulnerable to people who call themselves editors — whether of books or of other projects — but are not truly skilled or experienced in that realm.

Since I’m a writer as well as an editor and proofreader, I often think about editing matters from the author’s or client’s perspective. For subscribers to An American Editor who are writers, here are signs that an editor might not be a pro, so you know not to use the same person for your next book, or you might not want to hire an editor you are considering working with. You might even want to find someone to redo an already-published book so it does better in future sales.

For subscribers who are editors, these might be areas to consider when wondering why you aren’t getting as much work as you’d like, haven’t gotten repeat assignments from past clients, or are just starting out in the field. They also might serve as talking points when you want to explain to a potential client or employer why you’re the best pick — or at least an appropriate one — for their editing work.

As colleague Katherine Hinkebein Pickett has said, “Due diligence is essential to finding a qualified, reputable editor. When you know what to look for, you can hire your editor with confidence.” Equally, when we know what prospective clients might look for when choosing an editor, editors can power up their responses more effectively.

Authors don’t have to be experts in language and usage to notice some problems that could indicate work by an unprofessional editor, such as:

  • Every word in every title or chapter heading starts with a capital letter, including a/an, and, the, of, etc. (I see this a lot in online material, but that doesn’t make it right.)
  • Commas, periods, and closing parentheses are outside the quote marks (in projects using U.S. English).
  • There are commas before opening parentheses.
  • Basic spelling errors jump out at you or have been noticed by readers.
  • Punctuation is inconsistent or missing.
  • References/citations are all in different sequences or styles.

To head off such problems with your next book, or a new edition of the current one, here are some red flags to keep in mind. These also can function as suggestions for how editors can position their businesses better.

  • A prospective editor has no website, no testimonials at a website, no professional memberships, no LinkedIn profile/account, no formal training, no apparent experience, and/or no references.

A professional editor will probably have a website that outlines his or her training and experience, such as coursework from a respected publications program, in-house work, or a freelance track record. It should include testimonials from employers, colleagues, and/or clients attesting to the editor’s skills and approach, and references that prospective clients can contact (or a link to reach the editor to receive contact info for references).

The editor should belong to an organization such as the American Copy Editors Society, Council of Science Editors, National Association of Independent Writers and Editors, Society for Technical Communication, Editorial Freelancers Association, Society for Editors and Proofreaders (UK), Editors Canada, etc. Since groups like the American Medical Writers Association, Society for Professional Journalists, and National Association of Science Writers all have freelance sections and members who are editors, membership in them is also a good sign that someone is a professional.

Belonging to the Copyediting-L e-mail list and Editors Association of Earth (EAE) Facebook group also would be useful indicators of an editor’s professionalism and commitment to staying on top of trends in language in general and editing in particular.

Training could include having earned certificates from respected editing programs. Experience would, of course, include working in-house for a publisher, publication, or organization, or with individual authors. An editor who writes about the crafting of editing in his or her own blog, has published a book about editing, or is a regular and respected contributor to the editing-related works of others and lists or groups is also likely to be someone with experience and skills.

  • An editor hasn’t asked what style manual/guide you use or the editor should use, or hasn’t told you which one s/he will use for your project. There are several standard guides for using language and formatting documents. The Chicago Manual of Style, Associated Press Stylebook, American Psychological Association Publication Manual, and Government Printing Office Style Manual are the leading resources, with many more available for specific professions and industries. A professional editor is familiar with at least one of these and lets prospective clients know that’s the case, which should reassure authors who might be concerned about consistency and accuracy in their documents.

Identifying the dictionary that an editor uses is also helpful to clients. Spellcheck, as most of us know, is not sufficient, but even if it were, some clients have to be convinced by an authority other than the editor that a given word has been spelled correctly.

  • The editor’s only credential is a degree in English or a career as an English teacher. While knowing English is a plus (a strong grasp of grammar is essential for an editor), there’s a difference between what’s involved with teaching English and knowing how to edit. Simply having taught English or earned an academic degree in English is not enough to understand the importance and use of style manuals, publishing standards and conventions, and other aspects of editing.
  • An editor’s pricing is very low. That might be great for your budget, but is likely to be terrible for the quality of the editing. Someone whose rates are super-low is probably either new to editing or inexperienced, untrained, minimally skilled, and/or only editing as a hobby, rather than seriously committed to editing as a business and profession, with training and experience to match. From the editor’s perspective, lowballing your rates can make you look as if you’re new to the field, unsure of your skills, or desperate for work. If we don’t value ourselves, our clients won’t value us, either!
  • There are typos — misspellings, grammar and punctuation errors, etc. — in the editor’s e-mail messages, résumé, and/or website. An e-mail or word-processing program will highlight some of these issues for authors who are not sure of what is right or wrong. Some authors might not recognize such issues in communications from an editor, but they often are egregious enough for an amateur author to notice.
  • The editor promises 100% perfection or guarantees agent placement, a publisher, and/or bestseller status for your book. It probably would be easier to pitch an edited manuscript to an agent or sell it to a publisher, but having the manuscript edited is not a guarantee of getting published or selling lots of copies.
  • The editor claims to rely on spellcheck, online programs like Grammarly, and other tools to ensure perfection. Not only is perfection unlikely, as noted above, but it takes more than a mechanical software program to ensure high quality in editing. An editor who uses PerfectIt, the various tools at editorium.com, and EditTools from wordsnsync demonstrates a commitment to knowing about and using appropriate, respected resources to contribute to a better result, but doesn’t say those resources are all it takes to provide excellence in editing. The human brain and eyes are still essential to the process, which means experience and training are still vitally important to professionalism and providing high-quality service.

What have colleagues here encountered as examples of poor-quality editing, and how have you positioned your experience and skills to convince clients to hire you for editing projects?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, which hosts an annual conference for colleagues, and the new editor-in-chief of An American Editor.

April 6, 2016

On Ethics: To Out or Not to Out Clients II

Part I ended with this general rule:

Ethically it is not improper to disclose the name of a client except when the client is a nonbusiness individual who would reasonably expect confidentiality.

and the statement that there is more to the issue of disclosure. One of the big questions is whether it makes a difference if the forum for disclosure is a private one (i.e., one not accessible by the general public) or a public one (i.e., one accessible by everyone).

In the world of Google, does it matter?

One problem with the private-versus-public dichotomy is that too often there really isn’t a dichotomy. Much too often “private” forums are indexed by Google and other search engines, and so what is thought to be private really isn’t — the information appears in a search result.

Even “private” Facebook chats aren’t very private, especially as Facebook keeps altering its terms of service in an attempt to defeat any privacy preferences.

Does the nature of the forum really change the ethics?

To my thinking, it does not matter whether the forum is private or public. Aren’t the real issues the client’s opportunity to respond, the client’s expectation of privacy, and whether the client is an individual or a business? Do either change based on your decision to reveal the client in a public forum rather than a private forum?

An argument could be made that disclosure in a public forum does give the client an opportunity to respond, but with the hundreds of thousands of forums in existence on the Internet alone, it is a false argument. And certainly it is a false argument if you go to a public editors’ group meeting and discuss the client when the client lives in Paris, France, and the meeting is a Thursday luncheon in Horsehead Falls, NY.

No matter how you construe the arguments, the type of forum — public or private — has no effect on the ethics of naming individual clients without permission. Again, naming a business is different because the purpose of a business is to make itself known, whereas individuals have an expectation of confidentiality.

What makes an individual a business?

Let’s begin with this truism: If the individual is incorporated (e.g., Jones LLC), uses a business name (e.g., Jones Enterprises), or otherwise holds himself out as a business, then the individual is a business. If the individual asks that you invoice in a company name, then the individual is a business. But if the individual does everything in his own name and clearly is not earning their living as an author (e.g., is a stock broker or marketer), then the individual is an individual. The point is less that these specific things make an individual a business but how the client presents himself.

A cautionary word: If the client has a business, that fact does not make the client a business within your relationship. The question is the client’s presentation to you within the confines of your relationship, not the within client’s general life.

Does what you want to disclose make a difference?

A lot of editors will include in their résumés or on their websites a list of books that they have edited. I do. The practice is okay if the client is the publisher rather than the individual author, unless you have permission from the individual author or the book has been published. Once the book has been published, I do not think the author can expect his book not to be listed as a book that you have edited. The book is now public.

Listing books you have edited for an individual author is more a matter of when than whether. The individual author’s expectations of privacy and confidentiality about the fact that you edited their book expires on publication. But other expectations of privacy and confidentiality do not expire, such as the client’s expectations regarding the details of your relationship.

Suppose a colleague sees on your website that you edited a book by John Jones. The colleague has been approached by Jones to edit a new book and the colleague contacts you, asking for all of the details of your relationship with Jones, such as the manuscript condition, payment, amount of handholding required, etc. Your relationship with Jones was problematic. The manuscript was in bad shape, Jones disputed every suggested change, and Jones refused to pay 100% of the final invoice, feeling that you overcharged by “fixing” problems that didn’t exist. What should you disclose to your colleague?

Is it okay to disclose relationship details to colleagues?

Our tendency is to disclose all of our miseries to our colleagues after first stating, “This is just between us and not for rebroadcast.” Alas, when an individual author is involved, I do not think starting the conversation with such a condition makes a difference. But with a business, such as a major publisher, I think the outcome is different — and it does not matter whether the conversation is preceded by the “between us” condition.

As I have said many times, the difference is expectation. Businesses may have the same expectation as the individual author, but in the absence of an express agreement to the contrary, businesses are not entitled to the same deference to that expectation, and that’s because of the difference in the relationship.

No matter how unsatisfactory our relationship was with Jones, we are not entitled to disclose the elements of the relationship even under the condition of its not being repeated. This is not to say that there is no response that we can give. We can respond succinctly and generally: “I would not agree to edit another book by Jones.” It is the details that we cannot discuss without client consent.

Why shouldn’t we discuss the details?

The primary problem with editing is that it is subjective. When we claim a client’s manuscript is poorly written, we are expressing our personal, subjective opinion — we are not expressing objective fact. It is the “tomayto”–versus–“tomahto” problem. I can’t even say that a client’s manuscript needs significant adjustment to meet Chicago style, because Chicago is not a set of rules that cannot be broken; Chicago is a collection of opinions from a group of people someone has declared have a more valuable opinion than mine.

Although editing is not objective, whether the client pays invoices in a timely manner would appear to be objective. But even that is not objective. A client can be delaying payment because the client is unhappy with our work, or believes we are charging more than was agreed, or thinks we padded the invoice by adding hours that we didn’t actually work or need to work, or for any number of other legitimate reasons.

It is client identification that rules the roost

Which brings us full circle, back to the ultimate problem: The client cannot defend himself or offer explanations; the discourse is fully one-sided. Consequently, from an ethical perspective, we should not discuss our relationship with an individual client in the absence of the client’s agreement. The client has an expectation of privacy and confidentiality that as professionals we should uphold.

Remember that the key is client identification. We can discuss a manuscript’s quality if there is no way to connect the manuscript to the client. It isn’t the manuscript that has an expectation of privacy; it is the client. Thus the rule:

Ethically it is not improper to disclose the name of a client except when the client is a nonbusiness individual who would reasonably expect confidentiality. Consequently, it is unethical to discuss any facet of our relationship with a nonbusiness individual, including compensation problems and quality or condition of their manuscript, if doing so would be connected to the nonbusiness individual, in the absence of prior consent.

Do you agree? What is your opinion?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

March 30, 2016

On Ethics: To Out or Not to Out Clients I

In response to my last essay, Editing for a Client’s Direct Competitor, a colleague asked about my thoughts regarding identifying a client to other colleagues or to the world at large. I have always considered information about my clients to be confidential, but I never gave much thought to the extent of that confidentiality or to its basis.

In the beginning…

As with the above essay, it must be noted that editors do not have a universal code of responsibility and conduct to which we are subject. Instead, we have to govern our actions by common sense and by comparing them to an existing code that governs other professionals. However, regardless of the positions other codes may take, in the end our decision needs to be based on our individual concepts of right and wrong. That this should not be the case if we want to be perceived as professionals of the same level as, for example, doctors and lawyers does not matter; until editors are subject to a licensing system — whether it be local, regional, national, or universal — each editor must be judge, jury, and executioner of right and wrong in editing.

The blanket statement that client identities are confidential and not disclosable is wrong because it is too broad, too all-encompassing. The purpose of confidentiality in the doctor–patient, priest–penitent, and attorney–client scenarios is to encourage the patient/penitent/client to disclose information to the doctor/priest/attorney that the client would otherwise be reluctant to disclose for fear that everyone would learn the information and it would be held against the client. Imagine telling your attorney that you had committed a murder using a handgun but not a knife. This might be very important information for your attorney to know, especially if the person you are accused of murdering was knifed rather than shot. Would you confess to your attorney that you had committed an uncharged murder if you thought your attorney would need to tell the prosecutor?

In my 32 years of editing, I have never been in a position where disclosing the identity of my client, in and of itself, could be harmful to the client. If my client is Simon & Schuster, Simon & Schuster is also the client of hundreds of others. The name itself does not warrant a level of protection similar to the privilege afforded to doctor–patient, priest–penitent, and attorney–client relationships. Consequently, a blanket prohibition on disclosure is excessive.

So the first general rule is that it is not improper ethically to disclose the name of a client. But what if there is an expectation of nondisclosure?

Narrowing the rule

The general rule that it is not improper ethically to disclose the name of a client begins to break down when we separate our clients into categories of individuals and corporations (“corporations” is being used broadly to cover all business entities, including an individual who holds herself out to be a business). John James, indie author, has a different expectation of privacy than does Betsy Kong, Professional Editor, or Kong Editorial Services, or Simon & Schuster, Publishers.

An important point to note is that an expectation of privacy/confidentiality is not the same as a right of privacy/confidentiality. An expectation can become a right if there is a written agreement expressing that disclosure is forbidden, but in the absence of a written agreement that expressly says the client’s name is not to be disclosed to anyone, an expectation remains a hope, not a requirement.

Again, however, I think the requirement of nondisclosure rises higher on the required scale when the client is an individual person — the indie author — who is not presenting himself as a business and is not engaging with you in a business-to-business manner.

So my general rule changes according to the client; my revised rule is this:

Ethically it is not improper to disclose the name of a client except when the client is a nonbusiness individual who would reasonably expect confidentiality. In this instance, I would weigh the benefit to the client against the detriment of disclosure.

It’s the injury to the client…

When balancing the scales, it is always the benefit and detriment to the client — not to us editors — that is weighed. Perhaps telling our colleagues that John James is a deadbeat client will prevent a colleague from experiencing the same problem that I had should James try to hire him or her. But when I tell my colleagues that James is a deadbeat, what am I really saying? I am saying that I had a problem with James and I will relate the problem — for example, James refused to pay his invoice because he disputes its accuracy — but what I relate is solely from my perspective; James is not given a chance in the same forum to explain the problem from his perspective.

In this instance, James is likely to have expected that I would keep his name confidential. Few people want it known that they do not pay their bills. The detriment to James by my disclosing his name is far greater than the benefit to me. It may be of benefit to colleagues, but isn’t the benefit really only to the editor that James might subsequently approach? And that editor only gains a benefit if that editor happens to be a member of the forum where James’ name was disclosed.

Contrast this with disclosing a business’ name. Although the same arguments could be made, the detriment to the business is not, to my way of thinking, the same as to the individual. If Simon & Schuster doesn’t pay my invoice in a timely manner and I complain about it, hundreds of others can rise to the company’s defense because hundreds of others also work for the company. The detriment is not the same, if there is a detriment at all.

One more thing

Editors often want to boast that they are working for certain large, repeat-business clients. Many editors list them on their websites. It is not often that editors want to publicly complain about working for such a client. We know (or should know) that if we complain about Simon & Schuster, the publisher will rethink its approval of us and we could be removed from the approved list. In addition, other major, repeat-business clients are likely to take notice. Thus, when we disclose the name of a business client, we do so less to complain and more to associate ourselves with that client.

This is just the opposite of the usual individual indie-author client about whom we want to complain, and we are not overly concerned about possible repercussions with other clients. Our motivation is different, and the purpose of disclosure is different because of the client’s status.

So the rule is…

My rule is that I never disclose the name of a client who is an individual person to a general list, regardless of whether it is an open- or closed-access list. I may, if asked privately by a colleague, disclose an individual’s name to that one colleague, but I never broadcast an individual’s name. To my thinking, the detriment to the individual has the potential to far outweigh any benefit to me, so the scales of privacy/confidentiality skew in the individual’s favor.

I will disclose the name of a business if I think it necessary to do so. I must admit, however, that even in the case of a business, I am reluctant to do so because usually the problem with the business is with a single person, not the whole business. Again using Simon & Schuster as an example, I do not actually work with Simon & Schuster; I work with a project manager at the company. In fact, I am likely to work with several project managers at the company. Experience teaches that some are great to work with, some are good to work with, and some are a struggle to work with. And if payment of an invoice is late, it is likely that the problem lies with the project manager, not with the company.

On the other hand, some companies have changed policies, and the new policy adversely affects working with them in a more general sense. For example, the company may have changed its payment terms unilaterally, now paying freelancer invoices in 90 days rather than 30 days. In this type of instance, disclosure of the company name is both necessary and ethically okay when you are discussing payment terms and unilateral changes to a working relationship.

Broadly speaking, I think it wrong to disclose the name of an individual and okay to disclose the name of a business. But there is more to the issue than we have discussed here, and so the discussion will continue in Part II, starting from this general rule:

Ethically it is not improper to disclose the name of a client except when the client is a nonbusiness individual who would reasonably expect confidentiality.

What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

May 13, 2015

It’s Fundamental & Professional, Too

One of the more widely disseminated and read essays on An American Editor in recent times was “The Makings of an Unprofessional Editor” in which I stated that one sign of an unprofessional editor is inflexibility. As we all are aware, there are other makings, too. Some are more unprofessional than others, but all contribute to making an editor unprofessional.

Today’s makings are not only small signs of unprofessionalism, but they are contrary to fundamental principles of good business. Editing is a business, at least for me. I know that for some editors, editing is a part-time, second income job intended to bring in enough money to pay for next year’s vacation or a new car, but not intended to be the primary source for money to keep the family fed, clothed, and sheltered. But that’s not me.

I run my editing service as if it were Apple or Microsoft or General Motors — to bring in new clients and new projects, to be profitable, to earn for me a generous income. Consequently, I approach decisions that affect my business with all the care and caution that I can.

Fundamental to my “business plan” is to be seen as a professional editor. Clients may not like an editing decision I make, but there is never a doubt that I am professional. I can support my decisions if asked, and if I encounter a problem that will affect schedule, I address it head on and quickly — I do not wait for a manageable problem to become unmanageable before tackling it.

Which brings me to today’s makings of an unprofessional editor: replying to emails and answering the telephone.

Simmering in my thoughts these past few weeks have been my dealings with a couple of colleagues — or perhaps I should say “lack of dealings.” The quickest way to chase away a client is to ignore the client; similarly, the quickest way to lose an opportunity is to not grasp it when offered.

I had inquiries from a couple of potential clients for some good specialty work. By “good” I mean above the usual pay and for reliable clients. But the work was outside what I do; I have been at this long enough (31 years) and I’m old enough (“old” covers it) that I limit what I am willing to do and the types of clients for whom I am willing to work. So when these offers came in, I decided to send the clients elsewhere.

But when I send a client elsewhere, I usually contact the person to whom I want to send the client to make sure she is interested in the job and has the time to do it to meet the client’s schedule. My first contact attempt is by telephone, my second is by email — there is no third attempt.

The First Attempt: Telephone

When I telephone, I call during “normal” business hours; that is, during those hours that most of us consider business hours. I realize that my business hours do not match your business hours, and that is fine, but how about a return telephone call sometime this century? And that’s a sign that maybe I am not contacting a professional.

Every business owner understands, or should understand, that returning a telephone call is important if you want to keep current clients and gain new clients. There are several aspects to this “problem,” but two to focus on are these: (1) the call should be returned within a reasonable time, which in today’s world means no more than a few hours, and the quicker the better, and (2) you don’t return a telephone call by sending a text message or an email.

As for the reasonable time for returning a call, it strikes me that there is something amiss in one’s priorities when, instead of either answering the call or returning it within a short time, you respond to queries that aren’t directed specifically to you or that aren’t directly about either a job you are doing or want to do on lists like LinkedIn or make new posts on Twitter or Facebook. I know that when I call a colleague and leave a message that says I need to talk to her about a job but before I get a response I see her post messages in a forum, I lose interest in sending work to her. I wonder about her priorities.

If I have taken the time to telephone, does it not indicate that I wish to speak with you, not exchange emails or text messages? Explaining about a job or a client goes much faster by telephone than by texting, yet colleagues respond to telephone calls by texting.

I think not answering the telephone, not promptly returning a telephone call, and responding by texting/email rather than calling are all indications of a lack of professionalism. If there is a reason why you could not respond either quickly or by telephone, then an apology-explanation is appropriate.

Remember this: Editing is a person-to-person business that requires people skills. Being a good editor is not sufficient to be successful; interpersonal skills are important. Consequently, courtesy and good business sense as regards people are keys and indicators of professionalism. Do you like it when your doctor or your plumber doesn’t return your telephone call? How does it make you feel? Does it make you think they value you as a client?

The Second Attempt: Email

If time passes and I do not get a return call, I attempt contact by email. Sometimes I send an email immediately after leaving a voice message in which I ask the colleague to call me as soon as possible as I have a job to discuss with her. The email specifically asks for a telephone call.

I usually get a response — eventually and by email. By this time, I have decided not to pass the job on to this colleague because she didn’t respond as asked and offered no explanation for failing to do so. (There is also the question of how prompt her response was.)

This, too, is a business fundamental. When a client indicates a response method preference, a good businessperson adheres to that preference. It does not matter whether the client’s reason is silly or for national security — it is fundamental that it is the client who is in charge at this stage and the last thing that should be done is irritate the client.

I think not responding in the manner requested is an indication that the editor believes she is more important than the client, which bodes ill for the future business relationship. As I said earlier, courtesy and good business sense as regards people are keys and indicators of professionalism. Ignoring client requests and not responding promptly, in the absence of apology and explanation, is worrisome. How will my manuscript be treated if I’m treated as if my preferences matter naught?

The Professional Editor…

The professional editor cares about the impression she is making. She knows that everything she does communicates to her client (or potential client) her professionalism (or lack thereof). Most of us want to be viewed as professional. Consequently, we need to think about how we handle the mundane aspects of our business — are we communicating professionalism or giving signs of unprofessionalism?

We spend a lot of time and effort creating our presentation to the outside world — making sure our email signature is just right, that our website looks professional, that our forum messages demonstrate professionalism — so it seems foolish to let those efforts be undermined the little things.

Do you agree?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays —

August 21, 2013

Implied Promises & the Professional Editor

Previously, we discussed the demand for perfection (see The Business of Editing: The Demand for Perfection) and the disconnect between expectation and reality. Not discussed then, but of equal importance, is the question of an editor’s implied promises.

An implied promise is just that: a promise or warranty that the buyer — in our case, an author or publisher — can reasonably infer from statements or actions made by the editor. It is not something that the editor expressly says to the client. For example, if the editor said to the client, “Your manuscript will be error-free when I am done editing it,” the editor would be making an express promise (or warranty) to the client that, in fact, the manuscript will be error-free.

I suspect most of us are shaking our heads and saying to ourselves that no editor would be foolish enough to make express promises like that, but, alas, I see comments all the time from editors who make such statements. Sometimes I think I should hire them and, if they do not deliver, hold their feet to the proverbial fire.

But what worries me more are the implied promises. These are the promises that we do not expressly say to a client but which a client can reasonably infer. Perhaps we use a slogan, such as “Making manuscripts perfect!” or “Nothing slips by my eagle eyes.” Maybe it isn’t a slogan but a company name that there is an implied promise, as in “Roseanne’s Perfect Editing Service” or “The Perfectionist.”

As editors, we know that words have meaning and that, if we use a word, it is reasonable to expect the reader to draw a conclusion or inference. This is the ultimate purpose of advertising: the use of words and images to steer an observer down a certain path.

Words carry implied promises. When we hold ourselves out to be professional editors, we are not defining exactly what makes us professional, but we are implying that whatever professional means in the context of editors, that meaning includes us. And it is reasonable for a client to do what we have not done — define professional in the context of editing and apply it as the standard against which the client will judge us and our editing efforts.

It is this vagary that concerns me. I do not wish to imply that I am not guilty of exactly the same vagueness, because I am. But because we all do it does not mean it is not worrisome.

Clients have certain expectations about what an editor does. That, in fact, we may or may not do those things doesn’t matter. Because we rarely define the parameters of our work and because we have no universal working definition of what exactly is a professional editor, we subject ourselves to clients drawing implied promises from our calling ourselves editors.

In prior posts, I have discussed contract terms and how some clients try to take advantage of us with terms that are onerous, such as subjecting us to laws that govern a country in which we do not live and most likely have never even visited. The terms of such contracts are both express and implied standards. It is express in that (assuming we agree to the proffered terms) we subject ourselves to the laws of the foreign country; it is implied that we understand our responsibilities under those laws, because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t agree to the terms.

And so it is with clients who hire professional editors. We express that we are professional and imply all that professional encompasses; we imply that both we and the client understand the limits of what professional editor means. That we and our client understand the term differently is both our fault and dangerous for us, because, in the marketplace of opinion, it ultimately will be the client’s interpretation that will prevail.

We work with words, so we need to step back and look at the words we use to promote ourselves and to obtain business. What implied promises are we making? Are we implying that we will deliver an error-free manuscript? Or that our rates are the lowest? Or that we are equally skilled at editing science fiction as we are at editing engineering texts? Or that we are masters of the “standard” style guides and usage books applicable to the area of the manuscript?

We need to deal with author/client expectations just as we would have our expectations dealt with; that is, we need to eliminate as many areas of disharmony as possible by being upfront about what the client can expect when we are hired. We need to explain to the client exactly what role we will play and what the client can expect us to accomplish with the client’s manuscript. We must avoid leaving it to the client to imply.

When we choose our business names and slogans, we need to carefully tread the fine line between puffery (“I am the best”) and the implied promise (because I say I am expert in the Chicago style, you can expect your manuscript will conform 100% to the Chicago style). A failure to live up to the implied promises as the client sees those promises could be disastrous for our business reputations and our pocketbooks.

The point is that we need to look more carefully at our interaction with clients to be sure that we are defining terms carefully and minimizing the potential effect of any implied promise. We need to define professional, just as we need to define what constitutes a page and what constitutes an error. We need to prevent the client from developing unwarranted and unreasonable expectations as for the measures against which our work will be judged.

Consequently, we need to stop rushing forth with offers that a potential client can accept to our chagrin. For example, when a client tells us that a manuscript is 450 pages, before we rush to quote a price for the project, we need to verify that it is in fact 450 pages and not 900 pages. Because when we make our quote based on the client-provided information without verifying it, we are impliedly accepting that the manuscript is that long — even if the client used quarter-inch margins with 7-point type to get that length — and that we can, and will, do the work in the time and at the price we think is appropriate for a 450-page manuscript.

It doesn’t matter if you define a page as 250 words and I define it as 1800 characters; it matters that you have a definition and base your response to the opportunity on that definition, which might well be very different from the reality of the manuscript. That is, it matters if you define a page as 250 words and the client’s manuscript shows a page as 600 words.

May 24, 2013

A Video Interlude: An Editor’s Allegory

Filed under: A Video Interlude — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , ,

Although this video has nothing directly to do with editing, I think it is an excellent representation of what a professional editor brings to the table. In editing, it all begins with just one thought; in this video, it all begins with just one feather — and from those foundations, a final product arises.

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