An American Editor

September 12, 2016

The Proofreader’s Corner: Testing Editorial Pricing Models

by Louise Harnby

(Editor’s Note: This is Louise’s last essay for AAE. Because of demands in her business, she has found it increasingly difficult to find the time needed to write the high-quality and informative essays she has been writing since she first began contributing to AAE in 2013. All of us at AAE wish her continued good fortune and hope that sometime in the future she will be able to resume writing for AAE.)

This isn’t an essay about what one should charge. What you should, want, or need to charge to make your editorial business sustainable may be different from what I should, want, or need to charge to make my proofreading business sustainable. Rather, I’m focusing on how even experienced editorial freelancers should regularly evaluate what they are charging and how they are determining the price for a job, and whether they should introduce new pricing models that could increase their income. We’re back in the world of testing.

Tracking the data

If you don’t know what you need to earn each fiscal year (required earnings) and you don’t know what you are earning each fiscal year and how many hours you are working to achieve this income (actual earnings), you can’t evaluate whether your business is profitable or unprofitable, nor whether it is in financial growth, stagnation, or decline. And if you can’t evaluate the health of your editorial business, you won’t be able to evaluate the impact of introducing new pricing models, new services, new working-week regimes…new anything, in fact!

Data tracking doesn’t have to be complicated. I use an Excel spreadsheet to track my work schedule and earnings (a very basic template, which you can adapt for your own purposes, is available on The Proofreader’s Parlour at “Editorial Annual Accounts Template (Excel)”). Each line in my annual spreadsheet tells me the name of the client, the client type, the title of the project, the word count, the price charged, the time taken to complete the job, the dates for arrival and completion, an invoice number, the number of words per proofread per hour, and £ per hour earned.

At the end of the year, I can see at a glance my total earnings, my average billable hourly rate, and my average billable rate per 1,000 words. I like to record previous years’ totals on my current spreadsheet so that I can make quick annual comparisons. In this way, I have a macro view of my business.

I can also look at micro issues including, but not limited to, whether particular types of work are proving more lucrative than others (e.g., students vs. indie authors vs. publishers). I can see what’s working well and what’s working less well. That tells me how I might want to focus future marketing activities in order to expand the amount of work I do in the most profitable sectors.

Importantly, I track all requests to quote, so I know how much work I turn down, refer, make an offer on, and whether those offers convert into bookings or are rejected by the client. I keep a spreadsheet on my mobile phone that logs all requests from new clients. This logs the type of client (e.g., student, agency, author, publisher), the date the request was received, the type of work (e.g., thesis, book, report), and my response (offer, referral, decline). If my offer converts into a booking or if the client declines my offer at a later date, I amend the spreadsheet. Requests to work for existing clients are logged in a separate file on my PC. All confirmed bookings are entered into my annual accounts spreadsheet.

The data that you need to collect and evaluate will not necessarily be the same as the data that I need to collect and evaluate. One thing’s for sure, though – the more data you collect, the more insightful your conclusions will be.

Testing different pricing models

Even experienced editorial freelancers can fall into the trap of not testing different ways of pricing. When I set up my proofreading business, most of my work was for publishers. In the main, the publisher offered an hourly rate and a budgeted number of hours in which they expected the work to be completed. I would accept, negotiate, or decline. I became used to thinking in terms of hourly rates and this model was the one I used to build a price when I was quoting for other client types, even when I was in control of setting a price. So when a student asked me to proofread a thesis, I’d estimate (based on a sample) how many hours the job would take, and then multiply the figure by my self-determined hourly rate.

There’s nothing wrong with this type of model. Many people prefer it and believe it to be the most profitable way of working. However, it is not the only option; and even if it is the most profitable way of working for person X, it may not be the most profitable way of working for you. Furthermore, different models may yield better returns depending on client type or editorial service.

What is certain is that unless you test different pricing models, and record the data acquired during your tests, you won’t know whether model A or model B is your best choice. Here’s a breakdown of how I went about testing an alternative pricing structure.

The pretest micro view

Note that my data tracking, reviewing, and testing decisions are particular to my business. I’m a proofreader who specializes in working on book-length projects for academics and independent authors. I sometimes work on postgraduate dissertations and theses, business reports, journal articles, and promotional material. In general, my proofreading service is fairly uniform in terms of what I’m required to do. Projects rarely overlap — it’s a case of project in, project out, move on.

After several insightful discussions with a trusted colleague/friend who used a different pricing model to my hourly rate one, I decided to take another look at my data. First, I looked at my macro-level totals. These told me that my business was growing year on year. That’s all well and good, but what about the micro data?

By looking at the micro data for each client, I was able to see which client types were giving me the best value for money for every hour I dedicated to working for them. Remember that at this point I was charging by the hour. My data told me, among other things, the following:

  • When I was offered an hourly rate by publishers, I earned less per hour on average for this client type than when I charged independent authors, students, and businesses a fee based on price per hour.
  • Three publishers were outliers and were competitive with my other client types.
  • Many publishers were offering uncompetitive (for me) rates, though they were low-risk clients — long-term customers who paid on time, offered regular work, and were thoroughly enjoyable to work with.
  • I was turning down a lot of work from indie authors and students because there was no room in my schedule. Some of those slots were being taken up by the less-competitive but long-term, low-risk, much-loved publishers!

The pricing-model test

I decided to take a leaf out of my colleague’s book and test the per 1,000 words pricing structure for indie authors, students, and businesses. I created a formula in an Excel spreadsheet that uses an array (see “Guidelines and examples of array formulas”). The array is useful because it takes a large number and break it into blocks of units. Those sections can be priced differently. So, for example, one could set up an array formula such that the following proofreading prices might be generated (these are fictitious examples for demonstration only):

  • Initial 2,000 words: £18 per 1,000 words
  • Next 3,000 words: £14 per 1,000 words
  • Next 5,000 words; £10 per 1,000 words
  • Next 20,000 words; £7.50 per 1,000 words
  • Next 10,000 words; £7 per 1,000 words
  • Next 10,000 words; £6 per 1,000 words
  • Next 10,000 words; £5 per 1,000 words
  • Next 20,000 words; £4 per 1,000 words

Thus:

  • 100K-word novel = £658. Average rate per 1,000 words = £6.50
  • 40K-word novella = £348. Average rate per 1,000 words = £8.70
  • 10K-word business report = £128. Average rate per 1,000 words = £12.80
  • 2K-word children’s book = £36. Average rate per 1,000 words = £18

You could build different arrays for different client types or different services. These would reflect the different demands of the work. Fundamentally, the array formula allows you to build economies of scale into a pricing structure.

The test results

I introduced the test pricing model in August 2015. One year later, my average earnings per hour are now 40% higher. That increase is a piece of macro information that’s pleasing to note, but the micro data are worth discussing, too. My posttest evaluation of the data told me the following:

  • When I charged indie authors, students, and businesses on an hourly basis, I earned less on average than when I set the fee on a per 1,000 words basis.
  • When I set my fees on a per 1,000 words basis, I earned more per hour from businesses than from students and indie authors.
  • The business projects tended to be much shorter in length. Therefore, the total earnings per project were higher when I worked with indie authors and students.
  • All of the businesses wanted a fast turnaround, which incurred a premium rate (hence the higher per-hour earnings mentioned above) because of the out-of-hours nature of the work.

The posttest evidence-based decisions

Evaluating the micro and macro data (and talking to a trusted colleague) helped me to work out where I might have been guilty of basing my pricing structure on untested assumptions, and where there could be room for improvement. Testing, and evaluating the results of that test, enabled me to make evidence-based decisions about client focus and marketing. Personally, I prefer to have fewer short turnaround projects on my books, and a greater number of longer, but profitable, projects. That means:

  • I’ve whittled down my publishers to a those few whose rates are competitive with my other clients. That meant saying goodbye to some long-term clients whom I had very much enjoyed working with.
  • I’ve increased my promotion focus on the student and independent-author markets.
  • I now favor a price per 1,000 words model (there are exceptions) over a per-hour model.
  • Fast-turnaround work for businesses on a per 1,000 words basis is very lucrative but rarely fits comfortably into my standard proofreading schedule because of the large amount of book projects I am commissioned to work on (especially fiction). I prefer not to work out of hours so I’ve increased my out-of-hours premium levies (from double to triple) to reflect this position.

If I’d not recorded and evaluated my data, I would not have been able to evaluate the then current state of my business and identify opportunities for potential growth.

Following on from that, I’d not have been able to take actions (e.g., the pricing-model test) that would affect the future state of my business.

In my case, it’s not just the change in pricing model that impacted on the increase in my average billable hourly rate; looking at the micro elements of my work schedule and accounting information helped me to fine-tune my existing client base (e.g., publishers aren’t out of the mix — I do still accept work from a small number of competitive presses, even though they set the fees and even though these fees are based on hourly budgets; and my out-of-hours premium rates have increased).

Using your business ownership to make
choices for growth

Owning an editorial business means you have choice — choice about what to charge and how to charge, and choice about what to accept, negotiate on, or decline. What works for your colleague may be less fruitful for you. Some pricing models may work better for particular client types. And different types of editorial service may favor different fee structures.

When it comes to pricing, what you know is as important as what you charge. If you are basing your fee structure on untested assumptions, you may not be getting the best out of your editorial business. I’d recommend that we all regularly look at our work schedules and accounts in detail, evaluating the data at micro and macro levels. We should ask ourselves whether there’s room for improvement and consider testing new models (pricing, of course, isn’t the only thing we can test). In this way, we can make evidence-based decisions about how to charge, where to target our marketing, and which clients to say goodbye to and which to retain.

Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.

November 11, 2015

The Business of Editing: A Fifth Fundamental Business Mistake That Editors Make

Profit & Business Model

A business has to either be profitable so that its owners can earn a living or it has to have investors who are willing to fund the business for years and let the business lose money during those years because of greater future profit expectations or the business has to go out of business.

The first option is usually the option of the freelance editor. We rarely can convince people to invest in our business and let us generate losses for years (the Amazon model), because of the type of business editing is — personal and hands on. Amazon sells goods; the goods are not unique and buyers of the goods do not care whether Jeff Bezos has ever touched the goods. Amazon sells to us based on customer service and price.

Editing, as we know, is different. We are usually hired because of our skills (there are semi-exceptions as in my business model in which clients hire me because of my skills and because of the skills of the editors who work for me) and those skills are hands-on skills. We are hired to read each and every word and pass judgment on the words, the sentence structure, the grammar, and so on. Editors are hired to exercise judgment and improve a product; we do not expect Amazon to edit the book we buy from it.

As a result of this difference, Amazon can go years without making a profit, but freelance editors cannot. And Amazon can get people to invest money in it based on a not-written-in-stone promise of future rewards; outside editors themselves and immediate family, it is the rare person who will invest in an editor’s business with the expectation of a future profit.

Yet there is something in our business model and in Amazon’s business model that is identical (aside from the need for stellar customer service): We both need data to determine how we are doing and what we should be doing. The types of data we need are different, but we both need data.

Why Collect Data?

And this is where editors make a fundamental business mistake. Many editors simply do not collect data or if they do collect data, they make no business use of it. Yet data can tell us lots of things about our business. For example, data can tell us whether

  • a client should be kept or fired
  • certain types of projects should be avoided or sought
  • we are charging too little or too much
  • our focus is wrong or right
  • we need to start a marketing campaign now or can wait
  • our marketing campaign is a success or failure
  • making an investment is likely to increase or decrease our profitability
  • subcontracting would be a smart or dumb direction to go
  • and myriad other things

— all we need to do is gather and explore the data.

We’ve discussed several times how to calculate what to charge (see the five-part series, Business of Editing: What to Charge), but knowing what you need to earn and charge does not necessarily equate to profitability. It is not difficult to have calculated the rate you need to charge, charge that rate, yet be unprofitable. That’s because knowing what to charge is only part of the necessary information.

Consider the type of editing you do. I focus on long manuscripts, the longer the better, preferably 1,000 manuscript pages or longer. Offer me a manuscript that runs 15,000 pages and you will make me happy. Over the years I have been professionally editing, I have collected data on hundreds of projects — in fact, on every project that has passed through my office. Among the information I collected was project subject matter; whether single author or multiauthor; number of manuscript pages (which was calculated using my own formula); the time it took to complete the project; the number of projects I was offered, indicating the number I accepted and the number I turned down; the reason for acceptance or rejection; and the fee I was paid. (I gathered other data, too, but for our discussion, this list is sufficient.)

Analyzing Data

From this data, I learned what manuscripts were likely to be profitable for me. It is important to remember that we are not all alike; that is, what is profitable for me may be highly unprofitable for you. What is important, however, is to know whether what you are doing is, in fact, profitable for you.

Editors focus on editing — it is what they know best and what they feel most comfortable doing. But freelancers wear multiple hats. Not only do they wear an editing hat, but they wear the business owner’s hat. When wearing the business owner’s hat, editors need to assess their business objectively. It does not matter whether they love or hate editing; what matters is whether they are running a profitable business. To make that determination, editors must objectively collect and analyze data about their business.

One of the most important bits of data is time. How long a project takes to edit — not approximately, but exactly — is key information. It is information that is used to determine your effective hourly rate as well as the number of pages you can edit in an hour. It also is information that is needed when giving a client a quote. An editor needs to know whether, as a general rule, a heavy edit means 2 pages an hour or 6 pages an hour, because that helps you determine the likelihood of profitability at different price points.

The Excuses

I have heard editors say that data collection isn’t all that important for them because they bill by the hour, not by the page or project. Contrary to such sentiment, it is equally important to collect data regardless of how you charge, unless your clients have unlimited budgets (and I have yet to meet a client who does). It is also important because in the absence of data, it is not possible to determine whether you are making a sufficient profit.

Editors have told me that they know they are making a sufficient profit because they are able to pay their bills, put a little bit away in savings, and have money for entertainment, and that they are doing this without collecting and analyzing data about their business. Accepting that as true, data collection is still necessary because you may well discover, for example, that you can earn the same but in less time and with less effort. Or you might discover after analyzing the data that although you are making a profit, you are spending more time and effort to do so than is warranted and that making some changes in your business would increase your profit but require less effort.

The Reason

Data collection is key to business growth and profitability. Data inform decisions; data provide a foundation for action. It is a fundamental business error to not collect as much data as you can about your business.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays include:

August 12, 2015

The Business of Editing: Keeping Reference Callouts in Number Order

One of the most tedious and troublesome tasks for me when I edit is making sure that references are called out in number order in the text. In past years, I used a pen-and-paper system. I wasted a lot of paper and — much more importantly to my editing business — I wasted a lot of time having to move my hand from my mouse or keyboard to take up the pen-and-paper number order checking system material.

Because I tend to work on long documents, many with a large number of references, the time the pen-and-paper system took really added up. With the Reference # Order Check macro I have been able to reduce the time significantly, as well as increase accuracy.

Reference # Order Check is found on the EditTools ribbon in the References (A) submenu (B), where it is listed as Ref # Order Check (#2).

Reference # Order Check on the EditTools Ribbon

Reference # Order Check on the EditTools Ribbon

Clicking on Ref # Order Check (B) brings up the dialog for the macro, shown here:

The Reference # Order Check dialog

The Reference # Order Check dialog

If you work on multiple projects concurrently, you can track the references in each project by saving each project’s reference number list to its own file and then opening that file when you next work on the specific project (#1).

To populate Reference # Order Check, you enter the last reference number in a document in the # of references field (#2) and click Update List (#3). For example, if your document lists the last reference number as 123, you would type 123 in the # of references field (#2) and then Update the List (#3). The numbers 1 through 123 will appear in the display field (#4).

If your document has “a,b” references (e.g., 57a, 62a, 62b, 62c), you can add them to the list using the Insert feature (#5). You would enter the “a,b” value to be inserted in the Value to insert field, then indicate either the number it should be inserted before (Insert before field) or the number it should be inserted after (Insert after field) in the list. The “a,b” number will then appear in the list. For example, to insert 62b, you would type 62b in the Value to insert field and then type either 62c in the Insert before field or 63 in the Insert after field — assuming you had already entered 62a but not 62c in the list. To enter the number, click Insert (#5).

The Count (#6) gives you a total count of the number of references and, as with other EditTools macros, you have the option to Save, Save & Close, or Close (#7) the dialog.

Let’s assume that in our sample document there are 117 references. We would click on Ref # Order Check (B above) to open our dialog in which we would type 117 (#8) and click Update List (#9).

Setting for 117 references

Setting for 117 references

Clicking Update List populates the reference number list field (#9).

Populating Reference # Order Check

Populating Reference # Order Check

If the reference list also has a reference numbered 102a, that number would be added to the list by typing the number in the Value to insert (#10) and typing either 103 in the Insert before (#11) field or typing 102 in the Insert after (#12) field and then clicking Insert (#13).

Insert after

Insert before

Insert after

Insert after

As shown here, the number 102a is automatically entered (arrow). Clicking Save & Close (#14) saves the number list.

102a inserted

102a inserted

When Reference # Order Check is reopened, the saved number list appears (as demonstrated by the inclusion of 102a in our example [#15]) and the count now displays the total number of reference numbers as 118 (#16), which is our original 117 plus the addition of 102a.

The count

The count

In the excerpt from our sample document, the reference callouts have been highlighted. The first called out reference is 1 (#17), which we long ago came across; the next is 43 (#17).

Reference callouts in text

Reference callouts in text

A look at the Reference # Order Check dialog tells us that 43 is the next reference number that should be called out (#20), so we single-click on number 43 in the number field (#20) to remove it from the list. That will move the number 44 to the top of the list (#21), indicating that it is the next expected-to-be-found-in-the-document number.

Next reference number is 43

Next reference number is 43

After removing 43

After removing 43

However, the next reference number in our document is 47 (see #18 above), not the expected 44 (#21). This tells us that reference callouts 44, 45, and 46 are not called out in number order or may not be called out in the document at all. As editors, we would take the next necessary steps to deal with this problem.

Some other points: Using our example, if you Save & Close Reference # Order Check at this point (after having had 43 deleted from the number field) and reopen Reference # Order Check, your number list still begins with 44 as the first number (#22) but your count (#23) now indicates the number of numbers remaining in the number list. If you just Save, then the file is saved but the count (#23) does not change. The count changes when the file is refreshed as a result of its being closed and reopened.

After reopening the Reference # Order Check dialog

After reopening the Reference # Order Check dialog

Finally, numbers can be removed from the number field in any order; just click on a number. If you accidentally delete a number, reinsert it using the procedure outlined above for inserting a number (#10 to #14).

Reference # Order Check replaces the pen-and-paper method of tracking reference callouts. It is a more efficient method and allows me to keep my hand on my mouse, thereby reducing the time necessary to track the references. Like other EditTools macros, Reference # Order Check saves me time each time I use it, thereby increasing my profits. Reference # Order Check is one of the three macros I keep open on my desktop as I edit, the other two being Bookmarks and Click List.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays are:

____________

Looking for a Deal?

You can buy EditTools in a package with PerfectIt and Editor’s Toolkit at a special savings of $78 off the price if bought individually. To purchase the package at the special deal price, click Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate.

August 5, 2015

The Business of Editing: Managing Comments with Comment Editor

We all know that Microsoft Word wasn’t designed by editors for editors. As good a program as it is, it is a compromise. The result is that some “features” aren’t really features for editing; instead, they are time-consuming and thus cost efficient editors money.

This is certainly the case when it comes to managing comments and queries (hereafter “comments” means both) we have inserted in a manuscript, regardless of whether we inserted them using Word’s method or EditTools’ Insert Query macro. For example, to delete a comment, Word requires us to locate the comment in the text, select it, and delete it. Similarly, to modify the text of a comment, we need to locate the comment and open it. I have had instances where a comment I inserted on page 3 of a document needed to be changed because of information on page 19. To edit the page 3 comment, I had to leave page 19, not my preference when the only reason to do so is to be able to edit the comment. But that is the Microsoft way.

EditTools’ Comment Editor changes the way I deal with comments and has reduced the time I spend “managing” comments — which, in my editing world, means more profit for me.

Comment Editor is an easy-to-use method for reviewing and modifying comments created using either EditTools’ Insert Query macro (A) or Microsoft Word’s method. Comment Editor is accessed from the EditTools ribbon as shown here (B). Comment Editor can also be accessed by keyboard combination. To assign a hotkey combination, go to Hotkeys (C) and choose Set Up Hotkey for Macro and choose Comment Editor.

Comment Editor on the EditTools Riboon

Comment Editor on the EditTools Riboon

When a comment is inserted, Word automatically numbers it as shown here (#1):

Comment in text

The Comment Editor dialog

The Comment Editor dialog is shown below. It is from this dialog from which anything that can be done to a comment is done. There is no need to locate the comment in the text or go to it; wherever you currently are in your document is where you will stay unless you choose otherwise.

Comment Editor dialog

Comment Editor dialog

 

When you open Comment Editor, the main text area (#2) is automatically populated with every comment present in your document. As you can see, in our example, the document already has six comments. Comment Editor gives you a few options. If you use Word’s method to edit a comment, you need to go to the comment — otherwise the comment is inaccessible. That means you need to leave your present location in the document. For example, if you are at the location where comment 5 is found and realize that because of the text at that location, you need to modify comment 2, with Word’s system, you need to go to comment 2. Word also doesn’t provide a way to automatically return to where you were in the document.

Comment Editor doesn’t work that way. Instead, Comment Editor offers you the option to go to the comment or not. If you want to go to the selected comment, you can click Go to Comment (#3) — the manual way of going to an individual comment — or if you prefer to always go to the comment, you can set your default to automatically go to a comment when it is selected (#4). When you are done, you can return to where you were in the document by clicking Return to Before (#3), the manual method, or make your default that you automatically return when Comment Editor is closed (#4).

Another difference from Word’s method is that to get to a specific comment in Word, you go to the Review ribbon and click Next or Previous. In contrast, with Comment Editor, you simply choose the comment you want to go to in the text field (#2).

When you select a comment in the text field (#2), you are given several bits of information: comment ID or number, a small amount of the comment’s text, and the text you attached it to (see, e.g., #1 above). More importantly, you are also shown the complete text of the comment in the Text field (#5). This Text field (#5) is where you edit the comment. If you make a change to the text, click Update (#6) to update the comment in Word. Want to delete the comment? Click the Delete button (#6) and the comment will be deleted from your document and the comments will be renumbered.

If you want to keep Comment Editor open until you manually close it, check the box at #7. Comment Editor also displays the total number of comments in the document (#8) should you not be able to see all of them in the main field.

Inserting a new comment

Note what is currently comment 6 in the list of comments shown at #2. In the image below, Insert Query has been used to insert a new comment (arrow), which is numbered 6 by Word.

Inserting a new comment

Inserting a new comment

If we reopen Comment Editor, you can see that there are now seven comments listed and the comment we added above is shown as number 6 (violet highlight and arrow).

Inserting a new comment in Comment Editor

Reopening Comment Editor

If you were to use Word’s method, you would see the new comment at the bottom of the page, as shown here. (In this image the numbers 5 and 6 correspond to comments 5 and 6 in Word’s viewing pane.)

Word's display

Word’s display

 Modifying a comment in Comment Editor

Using Comment Editor, it is easy to modify a comment. As shown in the image below, we have selected comment 6 to modify (#9) by clicking on it to select it. Its text appears in the Text field at the bottom of the Editor (#10). The text we are adding to the comment is highlighted in yellow (for illustrative purposes; the highlighting is not part of Comment Editor) (#10). Clicking Update (#11) will add the text to the comment.

Modifying a comment in Comment Editor

Modifying a comment in Comment Editor

Before modifying the text, you will be asked to confirm that you want to update the comment, and the comment to be updated will be identified by its ID (circled text below):

A comment's identification

A comment’s identification

Clicking Yes results in the comment being updated as shown here:

Updated comment in Word's view

Updated comment in Word’s view

which we can see in Comment Editor when we reopen it:

Updated comment in Comment Editor

Updated comment in Comment Editor

The editing of the comment took place solely within the Comment Editor. Comment Editor lets us see the complete text of all comments in the document and lets us manage the comments as needed. Time is saved because we no longer have to travel around the document to find the correct comment to edit or to do the editing.

When there are a lot of comments

Dealing with comments in a long document that has many comments can be tricky. An example is shown in the image below, which shows the comments in the chapter I was editing when I was only two-thirds through the document. At this point in time, I already had 42 comments in the document (see #12). Because I could scroll through the comments in Comment Editor, I was able to locate the comment I needed to modify and change its text without moving from my present location in the document. A much easier and faster way to manage comments, especially when there are a lot of them.

Example of Comment Editor's Ease of Use

Example of Comment Editor’s Ease of Use

In my experience, it is not unusual for one comment to be dependent on another comment, or even on several other comments. Before Comment Editor, I had occasions when I had to go to and check several comments, modifying some of them, deleting others, which took time, especially to locate the correct comments. Comment Editor has made that process quick and easy.

Comment Editor is a much easier, quicker, and more efficient way to deal with inserted comments in Word than the method offered by Word itself. Most importantly, because it is efficient and a timesaver, using Comment Editor means enhanced profitability.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays are:

____________

Looking for a Deal?

You can buy EditTools in a package with PerfectIt and Editor’s Toolkit at a special savings of $78 off the price if bought individually. To purchase the package at the special deal price, click Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate.

July 22, 2015

The Business of Editing: Using & Managing Bookmarks

When speaking about the editing process with colleagues, I am always amazed that they so rarely use one of the most valuable tools that Microsoft provides — bookmarks. It’s not that I don’t understand why, but rather that because the Microsoft way is so cumbersome, colleagues simply don’t make much use of bookmarks.

Bookmarking is, for me, a valuable way to navigate the long documents I edit. They enable me to pinpoint locations quickly. With EditTools’ new Bookmarks macro, which allows me to make use of easy-to-read and more logical navigation-oriented bookmarks, I make even greater use of bookmarks.

Bookmarks the Microsoft Way

Microsoft (using Word 2010 as the example) requires me to take these steps to use bookmarking:

  1. Switch to the Insert ribbon.
  2. Click Bookmark.
  3. Type a name for the bookmark
  4. Click Insert.

That doesn’t seems so bad unless you want to manage your bookmarks. The first problem is with the bookmark name. I like meaningful names, such as EMMA software 1st use. Try to use that in Word’s system; you can’t because it has spaces and mixes letters and numbers — both unacceptable to Word.

Try moving a bookmark from location A to location B using Word’s system. A bookmark I regularly use is editing stopped here to indicate where I am in a manuscript when I stop because I need to go to another section of the manuscript. I use it to tell me where I was and to give me a method for getting back to that place. In Word’s method, to move the bookmark, I need to delete the bookmark and reenter it.

The other thing I like to do is rename a bookmark. Renaming bookmarks lets me use bookmarks to track whether figures and tables are called out in order and whether I have edited a figure or table legend. In Word’s system, renaming can only be done by going to the location of the bookmark, deleting the existing bookmark, and adding a new-name bookmark in its place.

Another problem with Word’s system is that to resume editing of my document, the bookmark dialog has to be closed. To make any change to any bookmark — whether that means adding, deleting, renaming, or moving — I have to open and close the dialog. Not only does that take time, but it makes for poor management efficiency for someone who likes to use bookmarks.

Basically, Microsoft is costing me money because every second counts in editing for profit. EditTools’ new Bookmarks macro makes bookmarking much more efficient and less time-consuming, which means more profit.

EditTools’ Bookmarks

As I said, I make extensive use of bookmarks. I bookmark every figure and table, for example. Not the in-text callouts, but the located-at-the-end-of-the-document figure legends and tables that I need to edit. If a document has five figures, then I have five figure bookmarks: figure 1, figure 2, etc. Same with tables. And as I edit I add bookmarks to things I think I might need to return to from later in the chapter, such as a formula, an acronym, a particular “term of art,” or a name, whether of a person or a study. I sometimes have 50 or more bookmarks in a document — now that I have EditTools’ Bookmarks macro and can use easy-to-read-and-meaningful names.

The Bookmarks dialog looks like this (click on images to enlarge):

EditTools Bookmarks

EditTools Bookmarks

The Bookmarks dialog shows a list of already inserted bookmarks in a document. When you open a document in Word and then open Bookmarks, Bookmarks will populate itself (#3) and list whatever bookmarks are already in the document. You can either keep them, delete specific ones, or click Delete All to delete bookmarks from the document — and it doesn’t matter whether it was you or someone else who originally inserted the bookmarks.

Inserting a bookmark

To insert a bookmark, enter its name in the Bookmark Name field (#1). As shown (#3), you can use spaces and mix letters and numbers; a name can be up to 30 characters long. After entering the name, click Add (#2) to add the bookmark to your document and to the list of bookmarks (#3).

Before editing, I go through a document and insert the “primary” bookmarks, that is, one for each figure and table legend, and one for where I want the “refs” bookmark used by Never Spell Word and other macros located. “Secondary” bookmarks are added as I edit. For example, if the author calls a software program EMMA, when I first come across it, I will insert a bookmark such as EMMA software 1st use. If I discover later that the author defines the EMMA acronym, I can easily move the definition to the first-use location. If the document is fiction, I might bookmark Jason blue eyes or Konowitz 1st use or Katydid Gorylla spelling.

Moving a bookmark

Moving a bookmark from page 3 to page 55 is easy — just two mouse clicks: select the bookmark to be moved and click Move Here (#4); the bookmark will be moved from wherever it is in the document to where your cursor is currently located in the document. Unlike with Word’s system, there is no need to delete the bookmark and retype the name and add it again. This is particularly useful for my editing stopped here bookmark. I use that bookmark to indicate my current location in the document when I need to go to another location, for example, to table 5: I move the editing stopped here bookmark to my current location, select the table 5 bookmark, and click Go To. When I am ready to return to where I had been in the document before going to table 5, I select my editing stopped here bookmark and click Go To. (A bookmarking tip: I have learned that the best way to number tables and figures is to use two digits, such as table 05, rather than the single digit shown in the image. The reason is that if there are 10 or more figures or tables, using the leading zero ensures that the tables and figures are listed in number order.)

PerfectIt users

If you are a PerfectIt user, Bookmarks offers you an easy way to set the area that PerfectIt should check: beginning and ending bookmarks (#6). Click on PSTART to insert a bookmark where PerfectIt should begin and PEND to insert an ending bookmark. When you run PerfectIt, it will search and report on the text between the two bookmarks. For more information, see PerfectIts’ Help files.

Keeping the dialog open

Another features of EditTools’ Bookmarks is the ability to keep the dialog open (#5). In Word, the bookmark dialog closes automatically. In EditTools, you have a choice (#5). I like keeping the dialog open because I am constantly accessing bookmarks (I keep the Bookmarks, Click List, and Reference # Order Check dialogs open; they fit side-by-side on my portrait-oriented monitor). But if you prefer closing and reopening the dialog as needed, you have two choices: You can click Bookmarks on the EditTools tab (black arrow below) or you can assign Bookmarks to a “hotkey” combination by clicking Hotkeys on the EditTools tab (red arrow).

Bookmarks on the EditTools Ribbon

Bookmarks on the EditTools Ribbon

Renaming a bookmark

I use bookmarks to track callouts of figures and tables (and anything else that needs special attention, such as formulas). With Word’s bookmark system, this was doable but time-consuming and prone to error. Of course, another way to do it is the old-fashioned paper-and-pen method, but Bookmarks is much more efficient and reduces the chance of error.

As mentioned earlier, I assign a bookmark to each figure and table legend before I begin editing. When I come to the first callout for table 1, for example, my procedure is as follows:

Renaming a Bookmark

Renaming a Bookmark

 

 

  1. I move (or insert if it hasn’t been previously created) my editing stopped here bookmark (green arrow) at the location of the callout in the text.
  2. Next, I select the appropriate preassigned bookmark, table 1 (red arrow), and click Go To (blue arrow) to take me to table 1.
  3. I edit table 1.
  4. When I am done editing table 1, I select the table 1 bookmark (red arrow) and click Rename (black arrow) to open the Rename dialog, shown here:

 

Changing the Name

Changing the Name

The Rename dialog shows the current name (#1) and includes that name in the To: (or rename) field (#2). I have chosen for the name to reappear in the To: field by choosing No (#3). If I had chosen Yes as my default, then the To: field would be blank.

After editing table 1, I want to rename the bookmark so that I know (a) I have edited it and (b) it has already been called out in the document. However, I may need to look at the table again, so I want table 1 to keep a bookmark. Consequently, what I do is add an x as a prefix to the current name, as shown here (#4); however, the bookmark’s renaming is not limited to the x I use — it can be anything that works for you:

 

The New Name

The New Name

When I click OK (#5), the bookmark remains in place in the document but is renamed to x table 1 as shown in the image below (blue arrow). The bookmark now moves to the end of the list and from looking at the Bookmarks dialog, I can tell that table 1 has been called out in the text and has been edited, and that the next table callout in the text should be for table 2.

 

In the Bookmarks dialog

In the Bookmarks dialog

To return to where I was in the document before going to table 1, I select editing stopped here (black arrow) and click Go To (#6).

For a better idea of how I make use of the Bookmarks macro, look at the image below. I can see that the next table callout should be for table 3 (#1), that tables 1 and 2 (#2) and figures 1 to 3 (#4) have been edited and called out, and that figure 4 (#3) and tables 3 to 8 (#1) have yet to be called out.

 

Using Bookmarks to track

Using Bookmarks to track

If the next callout I encounter is for table 5, I can see at a glance that table 5 is not being called out in number order, which allows me to renumber or query, depending on my client’s instructions. If I renumber, I can move or rename the bookmarks.

As you can see, EditTools’ Bookmarks makes bookmarking easy. Because it is an efficient way to use bookmarks, I can make more and better use of a valuable editing and navigating tool. Most importantly, because it is efficient and a timesaver, Bookmarks saves me time, which means enhanced profitability. Bookmarks is one of the three macros I keep open on my desktop as I edit, the other two being Click List and Reference # Order Check.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays are:

____________

Looking for a Deal?

You can buy EditTools in a package with PerfectIt and Editor’s Toolkit at a special savings of $78 off the price if bought individually. To purchase the package at the special deal price, click Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate.

May 6, 2015

Business of Editing: Cite Work Can Be Profitable

A recent “Tip of the Week” at Copyediting Newsletter, “Citing Work: What Do Editors Really Need to Do?” by Erin Brenner, discussed the problem of editing citations. As the article pointed out, “what you do to citations and how long that takes can greatly affect your bottom line.” Unfortunately, the article repeated and reinforced the shibboleth that editing citations is not (and perhaps cannot be) profitable.

As I am sure you have already guessed, I disagree.

The Problem

The problem with references is that too many authors put them together in a slapdash manner, ignoring any instructions that the publisher may have given about formatting. And Ms. Brenner is right that straightening out the author’s mess can be both a nightmare and unprofitable.

Let me step back for a moment. I want to remind you of what I consider a fundamental rule about profitability in editing: the Rule of Three, which I discussed 3 years ago in “The Business of Editing: The Rule of Three.” Basically, the rule is that profitability cannot be judged by a single project; profitability needs to be judged after you have done three projects for a client. Yes, I know that most freelancers look at a single project and declare profitability or unprofitability, but that doesn’t make it the correct measure. Anyway, the reason I raise this here is that it is true that for a particular project, having to edit and format citations can make a project unprofitable. But then so can editing the main text.

I have edited many projects over my 31 years where I wished there were more references and less text because the text was badly written but the references were pristine. References are not the automatic key to unprofitability.

Also part of the problem is not being clear what is your role as editor when it comes to the references. Copyeditors, for example, do not (should not) “fact check” references. When I have been asked to do so, I have clarified what the client really means, because I have no way of knowing if a cite actually supports the proposition to which it is attached. If the client really does mean “fact check,” which has yet to be the case, then I decline the project; I am simply not able to devote the time needed to read the cite and determine if it supports the author’s proposition and the client is not prepared to pay me to do so.

The copyeditor’s role is to conform the format of the cites to the designated style and to ensure the cite is complete. Whether the editor is supposed to complete the cite is a matter of negotiation. In my case, I limit that responsibility to a quick look at PubMed. If the cite isn’t readily found there, a quick author query is inserted and it becomes the author’s responsibility. I use EditTools’ Insert Query macro (see “The Business of Editing: The Art of the Query“) and selecting a prewritten query to insert so that a comprehensive query can be inserted within a couple of seconds. One example query is this:

AQ: (1) Please confirm that cite is correct. Unable to locate these authors with this article title on PubMed. In addition, PubMed/NLM Catalog doesn’t list a journal by this name. (2) Also, please provide the following missing information: coauthor name(s), year of publication.

It is much quicker to select a prewritten query than to write it anew each time.

One Solution

Cite work can be very profitable. As with most of editing, whether it is profitable or not often comes down to using the right tool for the job at hand.

I just finished working on a chapter (yes, a single chapter in a 130-chapter book) that is 450+ manuscript pages of which about 230 pages are citations. In fact, there are 1,827 cites for the chapter, and all the journal cites (roughly 1,800 of the references) were similar to this:

6. Jackson, S.P., W.S. Nesbitt, and E. Westein, Dynamics of platelet thrombus formation. J Thromb Haemost, 2009. 7 Suppl 1: p. 17-20.

7. Roth, G.J., Developing relationships: arterial platelet adhesion, glycoprotein Ib, and leucine-rich glycoproteins. Blood, 1991. 77(1): p. 5-19.

8. Ruggeri, Z.M., Structure and function of von Willebrand factor. Thromb Haemost, 1999. 82(2): p. 576-84.

when they needed to be like this:

6. Jackson SP, Nesbitt WS, Westein E: Dynamics of platelet thrombus formation. J Thromb Haemost 7 Suppl 1:17–20, 2009.

7. Roth GJ: Developing relationships: Arterial platelet adhesion, glycoprotein Ib, and leucine-rich glycoproteins. Blood 77(1):5–19, 1991.

8. Ruggeri ZM: Structure and function of von Willebrand factor. Thromb Haemost 82(2):576–584, 1999.

As you can see by comparing what the authors provided and what the book style was, a lot of work needed to be done to go from the before to the after. Conforming 1,800 references the standard/usual way editors do this type of work — that is, manually, period by period — could take many hours and thus be a losing proposition — or by using the right tools for the job, it could take a few hours and be a money-making proposition. I was able to conform the references in less than 4 hours and for 3.5 of those 4 hours, I was able to do other editing work while the references were being conformed.

How? By using the right tools for the job, which, in this case, was EditTools’ Wildcard Find & Replace and Journals macros, which were topics of recent essays (see “The Business of Editing: Wildcarding for Dollars” and “The Business of Editing: Journals, References, & Dollars,” respectively).

[There is an important caveat to the above: I was able to conform the references in less than 4 hours because I already had my datasets built. Over the course of time, I have encountered these problems and I have added, for example, scripts to my Wildcard dataset and journal names to my Journals dataset (which now has 78,000 entries). If I didn’t already have the scripts, or if I had fewer scripts that would address fewer problems, it would have taken me longer. But a professional editor tries to plan for the future and the key to successful use of a tool is the tool’s ability to handle current-type problems in the future.]

To clean up the author names and the cite portion (i.e., 1991. 77(1): p. 5-19) I used EditTools’ Wildcard Find & Replace Macro. Because it lets me write and save a find-and-replace string and put multiple strings together in a single “script,” with the click of a button I was able to run several dozen macros that cleaned up those items. In addition, EditTools’ Page Number Format macro let me change partial page ranges (e.g., 110-19) to full page ranges (e.g., 110-119) automatically. It took less than 15 minutes for the full reference list to be conformed and should I face a similar task next week, I already have the necessary scripts; I just need to load and run them.

What took the most time was fixing the journals. My journals dataset is currently 78,000+ entries and the Journals macro has to run through 1,827 references 78,000+ times. But what it does is fix those incorrect entries it finds in the dataset and highlights them; it also highlights (in a different color) those journal names that are correct. What that means is that I can see at a glance which cites I need to check (in this case, just a handful). And while the EditTools Journals macro is running in the background, I can continue editing other files – which means I am getting paid twice (because I charge by the page, not the hour).

Is it Profitable?

Do I earn money on this? Yes, I do. Consider this example (the numbers have no relevance to what I actually charge; they are an example only): If I charge $3 per manuscript page and the references constitute 230 pages, it means the cost to the client is $690 regardless of whether the references take me 1 hour or 50 hours. In this case, to conform the references took about 4 hours. For those 4 hours, I earned $172.50 an hour as an effective hourly rate. The reality, of course, is that I still had to look over the references and lookup a few, and I actually spent  7 hours on the references altogether, which means my effective hourly rate would be $98.57 at $3 per page. (Had I charged $25 an hour, I would have earned just $25 an hour, approximately one-quarter of the per-page rate earnings, which is why I prefer a per-page rate.) As you can calculate, at a different per-page rate, the earnings would have been higher or lower.

And that doesn’t count what I earned while continuing to edit as the Journals macro ran in the background.

My point is that using the right tools and the right resources can make a difference. I do agree that if I had to fact check each reference, I would not have made any money at a per-page rate (nor at an hourly rate because no client would pay for the time it would take to fact check 1,827 references — especially when this is only one of 130 chapters), but then I wouldn’t have done the work at such a rate (or at all). Whether a task is profitable depends on many factors.

The notion that editing references cannot be profitable is no more true than is the notion that editing text is always profitable. Editing references may not be stimulating work, but with the right tools it can be profitable. The key to profitable editing, is to use the right tool for the job.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

_____________

Looking for a Deal?

You can buy EditTools in a package with PerfectIt and Editor’s Toolkit at a special savings of $78 off the price if bought individually. To purchase the package at the special deal price, click Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate.

April 8, 2015

The Business of Editing: Coding for Profit

When I edit a manuscript, I always edit in Microsoft Word. I do so because I have all sorts of tools available to me that make the editing process go more quickly and accurately, and thus more profitably. I edit in Word even if my client will have the manuscript typeset in Adobe InDesign because Word is better designed for editing than is InDesign.

Consequently, my work requires that I either insert codes in the manuscript that tell the typesetter/compositor how material should be designed (typeset) or I apply styles for the same purpose. Inserting codes can be a time-consuming process. Each element of a manuscript has to be coded and each code has to be typed precisely. For example, the code for a B-level head that immediately follows an A-level head might be <H2_after_H1> and each time it is required, it needs to be typed correctly. In addition, I am often required to properly capitalize the head. All of this information is contained in the design I am provided.

Some editors get lucky and do not have to both code (style) and edit a manuscript, but most editors I speak with do have to do both. The question is how can I make this a quick-and-easy process so that it doesn’t dramatically affect my effective hourly rate (EHR) and my profit.

The answer is EditTools’ Code Inserter and Style Inserter macros. They work similarly, except that Style Inserter applies styles from a template and Code Inserter types the codes into the manuscript. (A description of how Style Inserter works can be found at the EditTools website.)

Code Inserter is found on the EditTools Toolbar. It consists of two parts: the Code Inserter macro (#1) and the Code Inserter Manager (#2). (Click on an image to enlarge it for easier viewing.)

Code Inserter Macro & Manager

Code Inserter Macro & Manager

When I receive a project, I receive a design that tells me how to various elements of the manuscript are to be coded. For example:

Design showing codes & capitalization

Design showing codes & capitalization

Each of the numbered items in the above image show an element and the code to be applied to the element as well as the capitalization for the element.

The first thing I do is make use of the Manager for Code Inserter. It is through the Manager that I can create the Code Inserter macro.

Code Inserter Manager

Code Inserter Manager

The above image shows a sample code inserter file. I can either create a new file or open an existing file (#1). Because many books use either the same or a very similar design, I can create a “template” file that I can open and then just make minor modifications to the codes. Also, because I can save these files, when it comes time to do the next edition, I am ready to go if the design is the same or similar. If I choose to create a new file, the Manager opens but is empty.

In the design above, note that the A-level head is all capitals and is coded H1. I set the code inside angle brackets as <H1> to set the code apart from what might appear in the text. I type a name for the code in the Name (#2) field, which name appears in the main field (#3). I could name code anything I want. A good example is – Text No Indent, which appears at the very top of the main field (#3). How I name a code is important when we run the Code Inserter macro. In the Code field (#4), I enter the code exactly as I want it to appear in the manuscript. In this case, I typed <H1>, which appears in the main field (#5).

I also can tell the macro where I want the code to appear when typed in the manuscript (#6): at the beginning of the line (At Start), at the cursor’s location (At Cursor), or at the end of the line (At End). This instruction is reflected in the main field (#7). But also noteworthy are the other options listed below #6, particularly Include End Code. If I were to check this box, after inserting the beginning code, the macro would ask me to move to the location for the end code, where it would automatically insert the proper end code.

At the same time that the macro inserts the code in the manuscript, it can also do some formatting. The formatting options are listed at #8 and appear in the main field at #9. Note that at the bottom of the main field, the H3 and the H3 after H2 codes are formatted italic (per client’s instructions). The other option is to set the head casing (#10 and 11). This part of the macro applies the information contained in Casing Manager found under the Casing menu on the Ribbon.

The final steps are to Add or Update the entry (#12) and to Save or Save & Close (#14) the Manager file. With the Setup Hotkey (#13), I can assign a hotkey to the Code Inserter macro (not to the Manager). That is handy if you prefer to have the macro open and close as needed rather than remain open while you work.

Once I have finished setting up the Code Inserter macro’s codes, it is time to turn to the manuscript. Once I have setup the coding in the manager, unless I need to make changes, I no longer will access the Manager, just the macro. The manuscript is code free, waiting for me to change it.

Manuscript without coding

Manuscript without coding

Some editors like to precode a manuscript, that is, code it before doing any editing; some like to code as they edit. I am in the code-as-they-edit group. I find it easier to determine what an element is based on what I have edited. For example, in the manuscript above, is the head an A-level head or a B-level head? I know from having edited the preceding material that it is an A-level head.

The Code Inserter macro presents a dialog that reflects all of the names you have assigned the various codes in alphabetical order. Note the location of – Text No Indent (#2) in the dialog below.

The Code Inserter Macro

The Code Inserter Macro

Code Inserter gives you the option of keeping the dialog open while you edit (#1). It is the default; however, if you uncheck the option, that will become the default for the next time you open the macro. Unchecking the keep open option means each time you need to enter a code, you need to open the dialog, either by clicking on Code Inserter in the EditTools Ribbon (see #1 in the Ribbon image at the beginning of this essay) or by having assigned the macro a hotkey (see #13 in the Code Inserter Manager above). Because I use multiple monitors, I keep the dialog open but on the monitor that does not have the manuscript displayed.

With the Code Inserter macro, inserting code and applying the formatting options is easy: just click on the checkbox next to the name of the code (#2 and 3). As the below image shows (arrows), the correct codes are inserted and the head has been capitalized, each done with a single click of the mouse.

Manuscript with coding applied

Manuscript with coding applied

If you work on long documents and need to apply codes and format according to a design, using Code Inserter both speeds the process significantly and increases accuracy — no more mistyping, retyping, or forgetting to apply a format. Style Inserter is just as easy as Code Inserter to use. Its basic operation is the same as Code Inserter and its Manager nearly a duplicate.

Regardless of whether you code or style, every second you save in the process adds more profitability. As I have emphasized in previous essays, editing is a business. Just as our clients are interested in reducing their editorial costs, we need to be interested in increasing our profitability by being more efficient and accurate. The macros in EditTools are designed to do just that — increase profitability and accuracy.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays are:

____________

Looking for a Deal?

You can buy EditTools in a package with PerfectIt and Editor’s Toolkit at a special savings of $78 off the price if bought individually. To purchase the package at the special deal price, click Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate.

September 23, 2013

The Twin Pillars of Editing

The twin pillars of editing are the thinking and the mechanical. Every editing assignment includes these twin pillars; they are fundamental as well as foundational.

The thinking pillar is what attracts people to the profession. Should it be who or whom? Does the sentence, paragraph, chapter make any sense? Does the author’s point come through clearly or have the author’s word choices obfuscated the message? The thinking pillar is what professional editors live for; it is often why we became editors. The semantic debates thrill us; the ability to rework prose to make it flow better is like an opiate.

Alas, the thinking pillar alone is insufficient to provide us with an income. Every manuscript requires the mechanical pillar and, to earn our wage, editors need to tackle that mechanical pillar.

The mechanical pillar includes many different functions, such as cleaning up extra spaces, changing incorrect dashes to correct dashes, incorrect punctuation to correct punctuation, and, perhaps most importantly, incorrect words to correct words and inconsistencies to consistencies. Many of these things can be, should be, and are done using macros.

Since 1984, I have earned my living as an editor; since the early 1990s, freelance editing has been my only source of income. I am pleased to say that I have made (and continue to make) an excellent income as an editor. The reason I have done well financially is that I have looked at the mechanical pillar of editing as a puzzle to be solved. Essentially, to be profitable and to make editing enjoyable, I want to minimize the time I need to spend on the mechanical aspects of editing and maximize the time I spend on thinking about what I am editing, while minimizing the time I need to spend on any single project.

The professional editor is part philosopher and part engineer. In our case, the engineer makes possible the philosopher. The mechanical pillar, which is the engineer’s role to tackle, often is the part of editing that most slows us down. It is the most difficult part of our work in the sense that it is difficult to find efficient, productive ways to speed the mechanical aspects. That is the function that macro tools try to fulfill, but we still end up doing individual searches and replaces to fix the rote things that the macros we use fail to fix.

The more financially successful an editor is, the more likely it is that the editor has mastered techniques that quickly eliminate some, if not most or all, of the tasks that fall under the mechanical pillar of editing. As I have stated many times before, mastering the mechanical aspects is why I created EditTools and why I use PerfectIt and Editorium macro programs. It is not that these programs eliminate the mechanical aspects of editing; rather, they reduce those tasks.

The remaining task is generally the applying of styles or codes to elements of the manuscripts. Unfortunately, this cannot be done automatically; I must read the manuscript to know whether something should be coded as a quote, a bulleted item, or something else. This is where, were we to apply a Venn diagram, the thinking and the mechanical pillars overlap.

The smaller I can make the overlap and mechanical areas of the Venn diagram, the larger the remaining area for the thinking pillar. The larger the thinking pillar, the more enjoyable the project. But this area is also the area in which I can best control my time.

Professional editors soon learn that there are some editorial questions that could be debated for hours and when the debate halts, still have not achieved a nondebatable resolution. In other words, many more hours could be spent on the point in question. Consequently, as we have honed our skills via the grindstone of experience, we have also developed a sense of how to best spend our time on the thinking pillar of editing.

We learn to stop debating endlessly whether to use serial commas or not, or whether which can be used if not preceded by a comma, or whether about is a true equivalent of approximately, or, my favorite, whether since and because are wholly interchangeable in all circumstances. (Another of my favorites is whether it is permissible to use due to in lieu of all its possible contextual meanings expanded.) Once we stop debating these issues, we begin to edge their resolution closer to the mechanical pillar.

If we decide that since can only be used in the sense of time, it becomes mechanical to change since to because or as in nontime usage. This becomes one more thing that liberates the thinking pillar to spend more time on those issues that require thinking skills. It also means that a little less time needs to be spent on the manuscript, unless we devote that time savings to the thinking pillar.

The point is that what editors need to seek to do, ultimately, is to increase what belongs as part of the mechanical pillar, lessen what falls within the overlap, and increase the time available for the thinking pillar. The more items that fall under the mechanical pillar and that can be macroized, the more income and profit an editor can make (assuming the editor is charging by a method other than the hourly method), because we can control the time we devote to the thinking pillar better than we can the time we devote to the mechanical pillar. The thinking pillar is like a bubble that can expand and contract as needed or as conditions warrant. The mechanical pillar lacks similar flexibility because there is a set amount of time required to accomplish all of the mechanical and overlap tasks. We reduce the time by using tools like macros, but then we increase the time when we add additional tasks or tasks that cannot be macroized.

If we think of editing as built on these twin pillars, we can make strides toward increasing our productivity, efficiency, and profitability.

April 15, 2013

The Commandments: Thou Shall be Profitable

Along with my recurring column called “The Business of Editing,” I’ve decided to start another series titled “The Commandments,” in which I, and perhaps some guests, will discuss commandments I (we) believe editors and authors should follow.

The series begins with this commandment for editors and writers, although I will couch most of it in terms of editing: Thou shall be profitable! It is primarily aimed, of course, at editors who have their own businesses, but is worth keeping in mind even for in-house staffers.

What good is it to be in business and not be profitable? Being profitable is more than just having a steady income. It means earning more than it costs you to run your business, and it means earning at least what you would earn if you were working for someone else — that is, more than the minimum wage!

The question of profitability is difficult, but the reality is that, if you cannot earn enough to cover business and living costs, including such costs as health insurance and retirement, then you are not profitable — and being profitable is probably the one inviolable commandment for any business.

I understand that there are other rewards of being self-employed, not the least of which is not being employed by someone else and being able to set your own schedule. But these are really illusory benefits if you do not earn enough to afford what are considered today the basics of life. If you are not profitable, the answer is not to give up, but to adjust your approach to the business of editing.

I remember my very first months as a freelance editor. In those days, I had no clients on day one. My first year as a freelance editor was a lean year — I didn’t earn enough to pay my mortgage, let alone feed my family. My turnaround year was my second year, when I doubled the gross of my first year, which was followed by my third year, when I doubled the gross of my second year.

In that first year, I had to make a decision: Pay the mortgage or use the money to promote my business. I went back and forth about what to do. In the end, I decided to skip the mortgage payment and use the money to promote my business. My thinking went along these lines: If I paid the mortgage, I put off for one month the loss of home for just one month; if I promoted my business, I gave myself an opportunity to put off the loss of home permanently, because the cure for my problem was more (profitable) work. As it turned out, I made the right choice.

This is the kind of choice that every business faces: Do you pay a current bill and hope enough business comes in to pay future bills, or do you invest in something that might encourage more business to come your way (or make the business you do have more profitable)? It needs to be noted that part of the problem for editors is that editing is a hands-on profession. It requires, like all crafts, that person-time be spent on the material. After all, if someone doesn’t actually read the manuscript, it will never be edited.

Spending person-time, however, also acts as a limiter on precisely how much work an editor can handle. Unlike manufacturing widgets, it isn’t possible to simultaneously read two pages from two different manuscripts and edit both — at least not do so and provide a professional edit. Consequently, editors need to find ways to speed up the work they do, do the work more efficiently and productively, and thus make room in the schedule for more manuscripts to edit.

In other words, profitability is the result of a combination of factors: a constant flow of manuscripts, to be edited at a price that will give the editor the potential to be profitable, and which will be edited efficiently and speedily.

Few editors I know have taken the time to analyze exactly what is the point of profitability for their business. One telltale sign is that the editor charges by the hour rather than by the page or the project or the word. Consider this: A person who works for a large company may earn $20 an hour, but, if you analyze the company’s books, you will discover that the employee costs the company another $15 to $20 an hour — or more — which means the company has to earn the equivalent of $35 to $40 an hour just to break even on the employee.

Self-employed editors do not think in those terms. They think that they have earned $25 an hour for 30 hours of work this week and so they have made $750 this week. But they haven’t really made $750. Approximately one-third has to be set aside for federal, state, and local taxes. That reduces the amount earned to $500. Because we all rely on the Internet these days to send and receive manuscript files and to find the resources we need, for example, to verify that a word is correctly spelled or used, there is the cost of the Internet connection. I grant that cost can range all over the place, but for minimal service, I suspect it runs at least $25 a month, so for this week, let’s allocate $6.25. Similarly with telephone service. Most editors I know have a cell phone. Again, plans and costs can vary widely, but I suspect that, on average, the cost runs $80 a month. For this example, let’s allocate $20.

I don’t want to go into each and every detail; you get the idea. But even with just these three allocations, that $750 has become $473.75 — and we know that there are more costs of doing business that need to come out of that sum, such as an allocation for rent/mortgage, for electric/gas, and for insurance, not even counting health insurance.

And there is one other problem with looking at this week’s earnings and projecting: It is not safe to assume that, if you earned a gross of $750 this week, you will earn at least that same gross each and every week. Experience indicates that some weeks will match, some will be less, and some will be more (which is why we pay an estimated tax).

Instead, editors need to determine what their hourly costs are and what their profit above that cost should be. That, then, becomes the amount you need to earn as an effective hourly rate (Remember our discussion of effective hourly rates? See Thinking About Money: What Freelancers Need to Understand and In Editing, It’s the Little Things That Count), which is a truer indicator of your profitability than the hourly rate you charge.

If you are not going to run a profitable business, why run a business? If your editing is not profitable and you do not take the steps to make it profitable, should you not rethink your career plan? I know, as I said before, that there are other reasons for being self-employed and for being an editor. And these are important. For example, there is no sense being an editor if you hate reading and dealing with author foibles. On the other hand, as much as you may love what you are doing, do you not also need to eat?

Consequently, this commandment: Thou shall be profitable! And if you are not, you will think about how to change your business plan so that you do become profitable.

February 1, 2012

The Business of Editing: The Rule of Three

I’ve decided to start a new occasional series called The Business of Editing. In this series, I will share with you my thoughts about the business aspects of being an editor. My 28 years of experience as editor were preceded by 14 years in the business world in various capacities, which gives me a more diverse perspective than you might otherwise expect. However, my experience as an editor is perhaps more limited than yours in that I only work on long-form nonfiction for publishers; that is, I do not work on, for example, journal articles and similar short-form material, and I do not work directly with authors.

On the other hand, one lesson I learned early in my career as a freelance editor is this: business is business. There are certain fundamentals to running a business that remain true across all business types, just as there are things that are unique to the editing business. When the discussion centers on something that seems inappropriate to your editorial business, don’t dismiss it. Think about it and think about how it can be made to apply to your business. A good example of this is today’s topic — what I call “The Rule of Three.”

My Rule of Three applies generally to two things in my business: whether I should keep or fire a client and whether a client is profitable for me. The two are intertwined. My Rule of Three is one factor in the answer to whether I should keep or fire a client, but it is the determinant in whether a client is profitable for me. If a client is not profitable for me, the client is fired; if the client is profitable for me, I may keep or fire the client based on other factors that I consider.

So what is the Rule of Three?

The Rule of Three is this: I never make a decision about a client, especially about the profitability to me of a client, until I have edited three manuscripts from that client. Experience has taught me that one or two manuscripts are not necessarily indicative of the types of manuscripts I can expect to receive from a client. The first manuscript may be so problematic that I am lucky if I earn minimum wage, let alone my desired effective hourly rate. (For a discussion of the effective hourly rate, see Thinking About Money: What Freelancers Need to Understand.) Or it may be so deceptively easy that I surpass my goal easily. Or it may fall somewhere between the two extremes, which is what usually happens.

But wherever the first project falls on the continuum, I need to look at additional projects to determine how typical/atypical this first project was.

When I first started my editing career, I was advised that I needed to review manuscript from any job offered before I accepted the job, and if I accepted a job that turned out to be much more complicated than I expected, I needed to be wary of taking on more projects from that client. I was given this advice by several experienced colleagues and I followed it for a few months — until I realized (a) how much time I was wasting on attempting to evaluate the difficulties of manuscripts and (b) how many clients I was considering firing because their manuscripts were not as “advertised.”

It was at this point that I implemented my trusty Rule of Three, and I have never looked back. I stopped trying to evaluate manuscripts in advance. I discovered that the bits and pieces of what I previewed were not necessarily representative of the manuscript as a whole. Look at it this way: I typically work on multiauthor books, where each chapter is written by a different author or group of authors, that run 3,000-plus manuscript pages. When I was sent sample chapters to evaluate, sometimes I got chapters that were well-written, sometimes I got chapters that were problematic because English was not the author(s) native language, and sometimes I got a little bit of both. But what did three chapters out of 130 chapters really tell me? Nothing very useful.

So I took the path of the Rule of Three and now I simply say I’ll do the project. By keeping careful records, especially of the time I spent editing, I found that I could make a reliable general conclusion about a client by evaluating my records after having edited three manuscripts. Three manuscripts seem to give a good balance of what I can expect to receive from a client over the course of time.

This is not to say that I do not occasionally “lose my shirt” on a project or run into a manuscript that is so troublesome I would like to make the authors and the in-house production editor run with the bulls, but I can look back over my 28 years and say that the clients with whom I have stayed (and who have stayed with me) are profitable for me and let me exceed my goal effective hourly rate over the course of the year.

Like most businesses, editing has a rhythm. Once you find the rhythm with a client, it can be made to work for the editor rather than against the editor. Regular readers of this column know of my praise for macros (see, e.g., The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online IV — Mastering Macros). Macros let you take advantage of the rhythm. The Rule of Three lets you find a rhythm and macros let you take advantage of having found that rhythm.

When you think about the Rule of Three, also think about this: Just as you are evaluating a client, a client evaluates you. Clients continuously evaluate editors. Similarly, I apply the Rule of Three on a continuing basis; after all, clients and manuscripts do change. The key is keeping careful and accurate records and not being misled by one manuscript (or part of a manuscript). You need to look at and for patterns and trends. You need to stay ahead of the curve, and when a good client becomes a bad client, you need to be willing to cut your losses.

Similarly, just because a client was unacceptable three years ago doesn’t mean the client isn’t acceptable this year. Try again and apply the Rule of Three again before automatically declining work.

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