An American Editor

March 21, 2018

On the Basics — Tackling the Other Kind of Writer’s Block

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

There are two kinds of writer’s block. The one most of us are familiar with is when you have trouble starting to write something, whether it’s an assignment or just for yourself. You sit in front of the screen (or at the typewriter, or with your pen and pad; some of us still like the old-style writing implements) and nothing happens. If you write nonfiction, you have interview notes and background material, but you can’t put them together. If you write fiction, your imagination has fled, your ideas have dried up, your characters are flat and stale. Nothing flows. It’s terrifying.

A block can be caused by fear of rejection, feeling intimidated by a prestigious assignment, and any number of other emotional issues. Plenty has been written about overcoming writer’s block. Most suggestions involve stepping away from the project. I don’t avoid writing if I get blocked, though.

I’ve been lucky to rarely experience true writer’s block. I might procrastinate on starting to write something, but that’s a little different from actually being blocked.

The few (thankfully) times I’ve had to cope with traditional writer’s block, the easiest way to break free has been to write a letter, usually to my mother. Even after I moved back to my hometown and there was no need to write letters any longer because she was either across town or right downstairs, and even since she died, I would write letters to her if I couldn’t get started on a writing assignment.

There’s something about writing to someone who will be completely accepting and uncritical that frees up my mind and my muse. After a couple of paragraphs, I’m ready to plunge back into my current assignment and get it done.

Another Type of Block

The writer’s block that is less well-known and less-discussed is one against revision — the inability to rewrite something you’ve actually managed to write. Not so much for yourself, but for an assigning editor or client. I’m lucky again that I’m not often asked to do any major revisions on what I write, but it does happen on occasion, and I hate it.

Once I’ve done my interviewing and research, crafted a draft, edited myself, proofread the result, and sent off the article, I’m done. It’s out of my head and heart. I’m eager to see it in print or online, but I don’t want to revisit it (unless I have ideas for repurposing it somehow). Being asked to revise is frustrating at best and feels impossible at worst.

I’m not talking about minor details where an editor might question a turn of phrase or ask to confirm a factual detail. I’m talking about substantive revision for some reason. Usually that reason is that the editor or publication has decided to take a different angle than originally planned. It isn’t that I didn’t do a good job or didn’t fulfill the requirements of the assignment; it’s that someone wants additional information or to have the information approached from a new direction. (This is when, by the way, contract language protecting against change of scope is invaluable. If I get paid more to do a substantive revision, that helps oil the wheels of my brain and unblock my ability to respond.)

Several years ago, I pitched an article to a magazine for writers that I would love, love, love to be published in. I did something I rarely do: wrote the story and sent it on spec (that is, on speculation — without a contract or agreement, in the hopes it would be accepted; more about that in a future essay). They liked it, but asked for extensive revisions. It’s been sitting in a folder ever since. I was and still am totally stuck; I just can’t wrap my brain around what they want. The problem probably is that the revision request isn’t specific enough for me to respond to it. I can answer actual questions, but taking a whole new approach to the subject seems to have jammed my gears completely.

Every once in awhile, I take out that typewritten manuscript (that should tell you how long ago this happened) and think about re-crafting it for re-submission. I’m not sure if I could even reach the person who was the subject of the article; he might not be alive any longer. The editor who responded to the original submission is no longer at the magazine, which might actually work in my favor; the current editor might like the unrevised version! But the thought of that unfinished, and thus unpublished, piece is like the irritant in the oyster, and I want it to evolve into that bright, beautiful pearl.

It’s quite possible that just writing about how difficult it can be to revise what I thought was a finished work might do the trick and help me find a way into a new version of this article. One approach might be to go back to my original notes and start as if I hadn’t written the first version at all. One can hope.

The Blocked Editor

Writer’s block, obviously, applies to writers — but editors get blocked, too. A very dry or complex manuscript, a first project for a prestigious client, a huge manuscript that takes longer than expected, the need to learn a client’s wacky house style … an editor can get stuck and feel unable to keep going with a demanding project. Even an enjoyable project can push an editor into a work blockage if it collides with something less-interesting to work on, requires using a different style from your usual one, or arrives when you’re struggling with health or personal issues.

Traditional approaches to writer’s block can work for blocked editors.

  • Step away from the computer and your desk or home office, and go out for a walk.
  • Play a game.
  • Treat yourself to a meal or movie with a friend or family member.
  • Switch to another project.
  • Post to a friend’s or colleague’s blog.
  • Spend an hour or two on a craft project.
  • Envision how good it will feel to get it done — or how you will spend the fee.
  • Write a letter to someone.
  • Switch to another project for a while.
  • If the deadline isn’t imminent, give yourself a couple of days or the weekend off.

Just as I was writing the first draft of this post, I got a message from Writer’s Digest magazine with a mention of what might be a useful resource for anyone else stuck in this situation: Write and Revise for Publication by Jack Smith. I just might get a copy and see if it can help. In the meantime, I might take another look at that folder. The subject’s organization doesn’t seem to exist any longer, but maybe I can revise that story and get it out to the world — an updated version might look good to another market entirely.

Have you been blocked on a project? If so, how did you get yourself jump-started so you could finish it up?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is the editor-in-chief of An American Editor and an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, not-for-profits, and companies worldwide. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues. Ruth can be contacted at Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

February 28, 2018

On the Basics: Making the Best Use of Interaction with Colleagues

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Networking and Etiquette

It seems to occur almost every day — someone in a Facebook group or on an e-mail discussion list says they’re available for projects and asks colleagues in the group to send work to them. They might ask for referrals or recommendations or say they’re available for overflow or projects, that they’re starting out and need work, that they’re having a slow period or just lost a major client; some even ask group members to share contact information for clients. It doesn’t matter exactly how they phrase the request, but the basic message is “Please give me work.”

These messages invariably are from people who have never been seen or heard from before. They haven’t introduced themselves, haven’t asked any questions, haven’t contributed anything useful in response to other group members’ questions. Some are new to editing or freelancing, with little or even no training or experience; some have been working for a while, but have hit a dry spell.

Just this past week, a new member of a professional association showed up at its discussion list with the fast-becoming-classic “Hi, I’m new here, please give me your contacts or overflow work and recommend me to your clients and colleagues” message as his first post to the list. He did present his credentials, but still — he posted the same information about his background (essentially his résumé, which is not considered de rigueur on a list) — six times in an hour or so. This did him little, if any, good in terms of respect or interest from listmates.

As with most online communities, it is important to understand that people we “meet” in these collegial environments can be generous with advice and insights into our craft — both editing and freelancing — but that there is a certain etiquette for becoming part of these communities. It is becoming clear that we can’t say it too often: Not only is networking a two-way street, but newcomers should listen, read, and contribute before asking to be referred, recommended, hired, or subcontracted with.

Perhaps even more important, newcomers should remember that established colleagues, both freelancers and in-house workers, are invested in their contacts and clients, and in their reputations. We have put many years into building up our relationships and reputations by providing skilled, high-quality work and respecting the privacy of those we work with. Most of us are more than glad to offer advice and resources, but are not going to risk our reputations, and our relationships with clients or employers, by handing off contact information to strangers.

Keep in mind that there’s a difference between saying “I have openings in my schedule,” “I’m looking for new clients,” “Expected payments are running late and I could use some new projects” versus “Give me your contacts” and “Send me your overflow work when you don’t know anything about me.”

Some editors (and freelancers in other aspects of publishing) may list our clients and projects at our websites. That is not an invitation for others to contact those clients to offer their services, although we have no control over whether someone might do so. We can only hope that anyone who does take advantage of that information doesn’t pretend to know us in the process, or suggest that we’ve referred or recommended them.

With this as a basis, how do we make the best of getting to know each other either in person at meetings and conferences or online in discussion lists and groups without ruffling feathers and crossing lines?

Newcomers to a group can (some would say should) sit back and observe — “lurk” — after joining to develop a sense of what is appropriate for discussion, the tone of the community, and more. Once that is clear, ask questions about the profession, the skills needed, worthwhile resources for enhancing one’s skills, how to break in (most of us love recalling and recounting our early years in the field or in business).

Look for opportunities to establish a professional image and be helpful. Answer colleagues’ questions (if you can). Suggest new resources that haven’t been mentioned or vetted. Relate experiences that demonstrate skills in doing editorial work or dealing with difficult clients. Announce good news about new training you’ve taken, clients and projects you’ve snared, even kudos from clients who are happy with your work. Dial down any boasting, but let colleagues know how your work and business are progressing.

It takes time to gain the trust, confidence, and respect of colleagues. Once you’ve done so, it might be appropriate to ask for referrals and recommendations. Before doing that, though, stop and think about how you would feel if someone you don’t know anything about were to ask you for the contacts and clients you have worked so hard to build up. Use that insight to influence how you word your requests, whether one-on-one or in a group setting.

On the Other Side of the Fence

For colleagues who have established successful editing careers and businesses, today’s culture can be annoying, but it can’t hurt to provide some kind of response to pleas for help.

I try to live by the good ol’ Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” — and “What goes around, comes around” (or, as Billy Preston sang it, “Nothing from nothing leaves nothing”). When I was ready to start freelancing, I figured out most of what I needed to know on my own, but I also had some very generous colleagues. I tried not to take advantage of their time and knowledge, but it was so reassuring to know that they were available if I needed them.

Nowadays, even established, experienced editors and freelancers need help with the occasional sticky language, client, or technological matter, or even with financial dry spells. No one is immune. It makes sense to give back when possible, because we never know when we may have to ask for help ourselves.

I keep a list of useful resources to offer when someone asks for help in finding work. I also have a boilerplate response for people who ask — whether privately or in a group of some sort — for my client contact information, and for referrals, recommendations, “overflow work,” and other elements of my editorial business.

Helping colleagues feels good — and is an investment in karma: It might seem selfish, but you never know when helping someone out, even with just a list of resources, will come back to help you out in the future. I aim to enhance that karma through avenues like the An American Editor blog (both my own posts and those of our wonderful contributors), participating in lists and groups of colleagues, hosting the Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference, referring colleagues whom I know for projects outside my wheelhouse for any reason, and even hiring or subcontracting to colleagues I know and trust.

The operative phrase, of course, is “colleagues I know and trust.” I might not have met some of them in person, but I’ve learned enough about them to feel comfortable with referrals or projects.

How do you respond to people who make what you feel are unreasonable or inappropriate requests for client contacts or business leads?

February 21, 2018

On the Basics: Developing and Posting Business Practices

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter 

Several things came together recently to make me think about aspects of my freelance business that I usually “just do” without conscious thought or planning.

It isn’t that I fell unthinkingly into being a freelance writer/editor. I did freelance writing for several years while working full-time, and one newsletter writing and editing project saved my bacon when I lost one of those jobs. That taught me to have at least one substantial freelance project in hand at all times, even with a satisfying full-time job. But I did reach a point in one of those jobs when I felt burned out and decided I was ready to freelance full-time.

Although I didn’t take what is common advice (including my own nowadays) to save several months’ worth of expenses beforehand, I did consciously plan the launch of my business: I negotiated turning that full-time, in-house communications manager job with a trade association into a freelance contract, along with finding two onsite editing projects. That meant I could start out with a known income and didn’t have to panic about finances, unlike unfortunate colleagues who experienced “involuntary freelancing” by being laid off unexpectedly, RIFFed (a government worker who was part of a Reduction in Force), or fired.

My approach was more reactive than proactive. I didn’t have a formal business plan, marketing strategy, set of policies, contracts, work process, or any of the other elements of what some people would say are important to a successful business. And I launched Communication Central with nothing but a list of conference topics and speakers jotted on a napkin! I would query potential clients — mostly publications and organizations I wanted to write for — and respond to unsolicited offers of projects, but none of it was especially organized, even though it was successful.

I did make a point of joining and being visible in professional associations even before going out on my own as a freelancer. Using the job bank of a regional writers’ group resulted in those two onsite projects that constituted two-thirds of my business when I officially launched my business, and helped me garner a variety of writing assignments as well.

I’ve done quite well over many years without a formal business structure for either my freelance business or Communication Central. Income went up and down over the years, but never down enough to be frightening. New work sometimes seemed to appear almost magically when needed. However, these recent developments made me think:

  • A friend and colleague posted about developing a mission statement for her coaching and presentation business. (She works primarily in the not-for-profit sector, where mission and vision statements are standard.)
  • A prospective client asked me about my process for handling editing projects.
  • Another prospective client asked how I handle deadlines.

I decided that it couldn’t hurt, and could help, to develop some formal guidelines for my business this year. Clients — whether current, prospective, or even past — might be reassured by knowing something about how I work and what my principles are.

My Business Principles

In thinking consciously about what I do and how I do it, I realized that I do have both a process and a set of principles or ethics to guide my editorial business. They may need some further fine-tuning — with each item I thought of, another one came to mind — but the essence is there.

Clients (and colleagues) can expect that I will do the following for the core services I provide.

Writing

Do research as needed for each assignment.

Write in a clear, active, direct voice.

Produce original material.

Quote or paraphrase sources accurately.

Include diverse voices as sources whenever possible.

Check facts.

Editing

Confirm and maintain client’s preferred style.

Maintain (and learn from) a library of current style manuals and grammar guides.

Retain/Respect the author’s or client’s voice and style.

Maintain consistency and accuracy throughout each document.

Check everything twice.

Proofreading

Stick to the proofreading perspective — maintain the distinction between proofreading and editing.

Any and all projects

Be reliable.

Meet or beat deadlines.

Provide quality and consistency.

Be accessible and responsive.

Provide new insights and resources.

Respond to clients promptly, pleasantly, and tactfully.

Track and respond to new trends and tools as they arise.

Continually learn new techniques and adapt to new technology.

Give clients more than they ask for.

Develop a network of colleagues for support in case of an emergency.

Respect and learn from colleagues.

Share resources and opportunities with colleagues.

Process

Provide prospective clients with background information.

Discuss project in detail.

Confirm client style preferences, project scope, rate/fee, deadline(s), revision policy, kill fee, cancellation policy, payment process, etc., before beginning project.

Request information about client — website, past issue(s)/previous edition, annual report, previous publications, CV or résumé, etc.

Obtain full contact information for interviewees and details of other research sources.

Alert client to any problems or concerns immediately.

Ask client before going beyond original hours or budget.

Complete project on schedule.

Invoice as agreed with client (advance and interim payments or on completion).

Do not accept projects involving unfamiliar technology or tools.

Wrapping Up

Now that I’ve clarified what I provide and how I work, maybe I should add something about what I expect from clients! In initial conversations about any new project, I do make a point of confirming as much of the project elements as possible and asking pertinent questions about how the client and I will work together (as noted in those process points). It might be worth posting the other side of the equation to my website. Something to think about.

Do AAE subscribers have written business practices, policies, or processes? If so, do these include any elements not discussed here? How do you relay them to prospective and active clients? Do you state any requirements for how you expect clients to work with you?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is the editor-in-chief of An American Editor; an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, and companies worldwide; and the owner of Communication Central, which hosts an annual conference for current and aspiring freelancers. Ruth can be contacted at Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

February 12, 2018

On the Basics: Onsite as Opportunity or Headache — The Freelancer’s Occasional Dilemma

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Being a home-based sole proprietor as a freelance editor brings many joys and benefits. We can work to our own preferred schedules, dress as we please, avoid rush-hour traffic aggravation, listen to the music or TV shows that we enjoy without bothering anyone (or being bothered by someone else’s choices) … the list goes on.

Every once in a while, though, some of us receive offers to work onsite as independent contractors. The reaction is often a knee-jerk “no”; as book designer Steve Tiano said recently in a LinkedIn post: “Why on earth would I want to work on-site as an independent contractor? That’s the pain-in-the-ass of getting up in the morning (or evening, depending), dressing up (okay, just a little, at best), traveling to their location — all like an employee, with none of the benefits of being an employee. This is really the most obvious example of a raw deal for a worker.”

As I responded at LinkedIn, Steve has good points. Those are all aspects of working onsite that make staying put in a cozy home office look even more appealing than usual. Add in the discomfort factor for introverts and it makes a lot of sense to avoid onsite assignments. But let’s not rush to judgment — or a decision — too quickly.

Steve’s post addresses the basic logistics. There’s more to the possibility of working onsite.

  • It’s good to be flexible as a freelancer. Doing the occasional onsite assignment is a great way to break out of your established routine and do something different; something that can refresh, rejuvenate, even renew your energy and interest in your work. That change of venue and the time spent with colleagues could provide new tools, approaches, and ideas that will be fuel for your business when you get back home.
  • You might profit from it. It’s possible to negotiate a higher fee for onsite work than what you usually charge — clients often respect onsite “consultants” more than home-based “freelancers,” and pay accordingly. You can use some of that to offset your travel, wardrobe, and meal expenses, and still come out ahead.
  • Working at home can be isolating and insulating; it’s easy to get a little stale. Interacting with people in real life might be intimidating for the introverted, but can be healthy (and even fun). I’m the poster child for extroverts, so this aspect is important to me — while I love the convenience of working from home and can’t imagine ever going back to working in-house, sometimes I miss being around colleagues. I like being able to check something with a human being rather than a computer screen, being asked to help someone in person, and sharing water cooler moments in real life.
  • Working onsite can be good for the ego. Every time I’ve done this, the people in the office have not only been pleased with my contributions, but have said so while I was there. That positive face-to-face feedback felt wonderful. Of course, this doesn’t always happen; some onsite projects can involve difficult supervisors and unpleasant co-workers who resent the “outside expert.” You could even feel isolated in the midst of a busy office — the assignment might mean working in a cubicle or room of your own, only emerging to leave at the end of the day and not getting any direct response to what you’ve done.

(To head off such issues, consider asking the client to introduce you to the staff before you start work, explain why you’re there, and assure them that you aren’t meant to replace anyone — only to help with an overflow situation or handle a technical matter for which you have special skills. Don’t wait for employees to make the first move — force yourself to step out of that cubicle and be visible to them. Ask for their advice on something or offer a compliment to show that you respect them and aren’t some arrogant expert with a superiority complex.)

  • Connecting with a client and its employees can lead to additional work. Once people meet you in person, they’re more likely to remember you when another need for a freelancer comes along (assuming you get along with these colleagues while onsite, of course). It’s also an opportunity to talk about what other kinds of editorial services you could provide, especially if something comes up while you’re there that you would never know about from your home office.
  • If the client’s office is in a building with other companies, working there means learning about those other companies and perhaps creating a bridge to working with them in the future. You could use the time before and after your onsite assignment to introduce yourself to someone at those other companies, or at least leave your business card there.

I do speak from experience: I’ve done onsite conference coverage several times over the years, and recently accepted an onsite assignment with a local client that was great. In terms of Steve’s points and that recent assignment:

  • I didn’t have to be there until between 10 and 11 a.m., and didn’t have to be onsite for more than a couple of hours each day, so it didn’t require an unusually early start to my day or coping with rush hour traffic in either direction. When the client wants you onsite, sometimes you can set the schedule.
  • It was at a creative agency, so I didn’t have to dress up; in fact, I was a little over-dressed for their casual environment. Of course, I like dressing up, so that wasn’t as much of a chore for me as it might be for others.
  • Their office was only about 10 minutes away, and my bank and grocery store are along the route there — where I needed to go even without that assignment. A client office a lot farther from home, and out of my usual loop, might be less tempting and more hassle than it would be worth.
  • They didn’t mind my bringing along my laptop, so I could keep up with e-mail while there, respond to any clients who tried to reach me, and do some other work while waiting for the onsite material to be ready — all while charging for my actual time there, even if I wasn’t working for this client the whole time (I asked about that before invoicing).
  • Their office was amazing. It’s in a renovated manufacturing building that I wasn’t even aware of, so I learned something new about local architecture. The kitchen alone was worth being there: gourmet coffee and snacks!

How do colleagues here feel about working onsite, at least on occasion? Have you tried it? If so, how did it go?

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.

February 9, 2018

On the Basics: Colleagues Lost and Not Found — Preparing for the Worst

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

No one likes to think about worst-case scenarios, especially for themselves, but we all have to do just that. Any one of us could easily have a crisis, or a colleague could have one, that affects our work. I’ve written about emergency preparation before (On the Basics: Coping with Emergencies, On the Basics: Some Ideas for a Strong Start to the New Year), as has Rich Adin (A Personal Odyssey: Preparing for the Worst), but recent events have hit quite close to home and inspired some new thoughts about this aspect of being a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, indexer, etc.

Have you experienced anything like these situations?

  • A usually ultra-reliable colleague hadn’t sent her newsletter column in by the deadline. She didn’t answer a couple of e-mail messages or respond to messages left on her landline voice mail, and her cellphone didn’t work. The only other way to reach her was through a couple of neighbors who had helped her in the past with sending and receiving e-mail when she had trouble getting messages. One of them eventually let me know that the colleague had fallen and died. She lived alone, had no siblings, children or close friends; no one in her professional organizations — we had two in common — had reported anything about her. If anyone had looked after her belongings, they hadn’t checked her computer to notify clients or colleagues about what had happened to her.
  • A client asked me to include indexing in a project that involved my editing the new edition of a textbook and a colleague laying it out, and said their preference would be the person who indexed the previous edition. I contacted the indexer, who was officially retired but said she would be delighted to do this project. About three months later, with the book edited and in layout, I tried to reach her to get the index going. Bam! I found myself up against a virtual brick wall. She didn’t respond to e-mail messages. She was on LinkedIn and Facebook, but didn’t respond to messages on either of those platforms. She didn’t have a website. I finally got her number from the client, but her phone number was out of service. Since I didn’t know this person, I couldn’t even contact anyone who might have been able to reach her or tell me what was going on.
  • A few weeks ago, I woke up with incredible pain in my side. I spent most of the day bent over in misery. I could sit at my desk and get some work done, but could barely stand up or move around, and the pain definitely affected my ability to concentrate. The pain went on long enough that I was seriously considering going to the emergency room.

Preparing for the Worst

Experiences like these reinforce the important of planning for the worst, especially if you’re in business. Clients (and family) depend on us. We can’t afford to leave them hanging, confused, frustrated, and eventually infuriated at our disappearance. A colleague’s Facebook post reinforced this: “… if anything happened to me, I would like other people to have a record of the work I had planned, what I’d finished, what I’d invoiced for, etc., so that clients could be notified of my non-availability.”

Dealing with the Problem

Here’s how I resolved these situations.

  • The newsletter contributor who died: I filled most of the issue space for her article with, sadly, an obituary for her and a short “evergreen” article in my files for the publication. I’ll put a call out for a replacement contributor in the next few weeks; this newsletter comes out every other month, so there should be time to find someone before the next deadline. It won’t be the same — she had a delightful, original writing voice — but necessity rules. I also will bulk up my stash of backup or evergreen articles: ones that are timeless and can be used at any time as needed. I strongly recommend that anyone responsible for an entire publication create such a file.
  • The missing indexer: I had to assume that the unreachable indexer was either incapacitated or dead. Luckily, I was able to bring in someone else who was both available and fine with the original person’s proposed fee. However, what if I hadn’t known other indexers? What if no one I knew had been available? What if a replacement indexer would not match the original rate? We all need to be plugged into networks of colleagues not just in our own fields, but complementary ones, at least if we want to provide services that are different from our own. While those resources might usually only be needed for referral purposes, they also could become part of your “team” for some projects.
  • My painful health issue: That severe pain receded by early afternoon and some online research and colleague/friend input reassured me that the major issues I was afraid of were unlikely, but I contacted the aides who sometimes help with my husband to be on standby and let my brother, who was serendipitously in town for the weekend, know whom to reach for computer input. I’m updating my list of client contact information and deadlines or processes (I work with several editing and proofreading clients on an on-call basis), as well as my passwords, and have asked two colleagues to be keepers of that information in case anything should happen to me that clients would need to know about. (My beloved spouse is computer-phobic and in poor health, so he doesn’t want to and can’t be responsible for anything related to my business or my computers.)

I plan to look at each ongoing project or client in terms of which colleagues might be good matches if anything should happen that means I can’t get work done, and will add their names and contact info to my client/deadline list. I also am more determined than ever to stay ahead of deadlines — including here!

On the personal level, we’re updating our wills, and I’ve asked my in-country brother and niece to be executors.

Preparation and Planning Tools

We all should have systems in place to let those who count on us know of a crisis, whether it’s temporary or permanent. Here are some of the tools that colleagues use to keep track of projects to make their editing lives easier — and make it possible for someone to step in, or at least provide notification, in an emergency.

Excel

iPhone’s Calendar app

Basic paper calendars for scheduling

Toggl for time tracking

QuickBooks for invoicing

An e-mail folder, Freedcamp file, and physical piece of paper to affix to a magnetic whiteboard

Freshbooks cloud-based accounting software to track projects, invoices, time spent on projects, and clients

Zoho for keeping client records, invoicing, and mass communications

Dropbox

http://waveapps.com for invoicing, banking, and accounting

http://www.officetime.net

On the personal level, especially if you live alone or have health issues, consider getting a medical alert system and setting up a way to be checked on regularly, just in case. The colleague who died in her apartment might have been saved if anyone had known she had fallen — she was still alive when she was found (albeit nonresponsive). When my dad died, my mother arranged for a neighbor down the block to check on her if she hadn’t called by 9 a.m. every day. One friend has an agreement for neighbors to check on her if her car hasn’t moved in X days; another’s “warning sign” is that the drapes aren’t open by a certain time every morning. You could ask a friend or colleague to check on you if you haven’t posted to Facebook in X days. Our building mail carrier knows that anything more than two days of uncollected mail implies a problem, and would let the manager know that we might need help. (Just because you live in an apartment building doesn’t mean anyone notices your routine or would act on any change in it.)

What have you done to ensure that clients, colleagues, and friends will know if you’ve had a crisis that requires notifying them or getting help with projects (or in general)? How are you following the Girl Scout mantra of “Be prepared”?

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.

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.

January 17, 2018

What Not to Do as a Newcomer to Freelance Editing

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Over the years, I’ve noticed that many people inadvertently make gaffes when they’re just starting out as freelance editors (or writers, proofreaders, indexers, graphic artists, layout and design providers, etc.). As you start out, or as you look for opportunities in new areas of skills, topics, or services, you don’t want to be the person remembered for a clumsy entry into a community of colleagues.

Keep in mind that most colleagues are more than generous about sharing advice and even fixing problematic sentences — essentially doing your work for you. Be careful not to take advantage of that generosity.

With that in mind, here are a few things not to do when you’re starting out. Or even if you’ve been in the profession for a while!

  • Jump into a discussion group or list to ask how to get started. It might seem like a logical thing to do, but there are so many resources to check out that it shouldn’t be necessary to ask such a general question. Most established freelancers are more than willing to share information, but get tired of the same old “how do I get started” questions that could easily be answered by doing a little research yourself — looking through group archives, doing online searches, consulting bookstores, etc. Once you’ve done some of that basic research, ask something specific.
  • Make your first comment in a discussion list or group a request (or what looks like a demand) that people send you their “overflow” work or refer you for projects. Wait until you have contributed something — preferably several things — useful to the group before you expect people to consider you as someone to refer, recommend, or subcontract to. At least let members of the community know what your background, training, and experience are. Established colleagues are not going to recommend, refer, or subcontract to someone we don’t know and whose skills and experience aren’t evident.
  • Have typos and clunky language in your first — or any — posts to groups of colleagues. Yes, many online environments are considered virtual water coolers or almost family gatherings, and some communities are more forgiving of errors in posts among colleagues than others. And yes, we all make mistakes. But our online presence is often the only way colleagues meet us. If we want people to think well of us as professionals, we have to make our posts as clean, error-free, and coherent as possible. You don’t want to be remembered for error-filled posts when an opportunity arises to be referred, recommended, or hired by a colleague.
  • Ignore the rules of a group. Editorial professionals, especially editors and proofreaders, are supposed to be detail-oriented (perhaps to an extreme extent). If you join a discussion list that calls for tags or labels on messages, use ’em. If the group discourages personal or off-topic posts, pay attention.
  • Complain — to a client or to colleagues — about late payment before it’s been 30 days after you billed for a project, unless the client has clearly agreed to pay sooner than that. Payment by 30 days after invoice date is a standard in the business world. Some clients use 30 business days, and others are using 45 or 60 days. Some will cut and mail that check on day 30, so it won’t reach you for another couple of days. We have a right to be paid on time, but “on time” could mean day 31 or 32. Even if your agreement or contract is to be paid 10 or 15 days after the invoice date, give it a couple of days before checking on the payment if it doesn’t arrive by the agreed-upon date, and make the inquiry polite, not frantic or arrogant.
  • Tell clients you need to be paid because you can’t pay your rent or buy groceries until you receive their payments. Clients don’t care — at least, most of them don’t. They care about getting top-quality work back as scheduled. They also don’t need to get the sense that you can’t manage your finances, even if their lateness is causing the problem. If you have to chase late payments, state the matter in terms of being paid because you did the work as agreed, not because you need the money for essentials.
  • Accept a project deadline and/or fee without seeing the complete document or nature of the assignment first, or accept an editing or proofreading client’s description of the document’s number of pages and level of editing or proofreading needed. A client’s definition of a “page” and what the manuscript needs can be very deceptive. Until the you see the manuscript, you don’t know if the client’s page is single-spaced, in 8- or 9-point type, with next to no margins. Whether you use 250 words or 1,800 characters as your standard definition of a page, use it to determine the actual length of the manuscript.

Clients also tend to think their projects are better than they really are, and “only need a light edit/only need proofreading.” When you actually look at the document, it may need a heavy, intensive edit — one that is substantive or developmental — that will take two, three or 10 times longer than a light edit or proofread.

If you base your estimated fee or deadline on what the client says, you’re likely to cheat yourself — and work yourself to a frazzle for far less money than you should receive.

  • Accept a project when you don’t really know how to use the software program(s) it requires, unless you let the client know ahead of time that that’s the case. Clients don’t want to be your learning curve. Figuring out how to use a new program or application will slow down your editing speed, which could result in missing a deadline or earning less than you should.
  • Respond to a job listing when you aren’t qualified for the project. That only makes you look unprofessional, wastes the prospective client’s time (and yours), and makes the group sponsoring the listing service look bad. Focus on the opportunities that you really are qualified for and your results are likely to improve.
  • Answer questions that weren’t asked. If you can’t respond to what someone actually asked about in a forum, group or discussion list, don’t. If you have a related but different angle, start a new discussion rather than dilute the original one with information that isn’t helpful to the original poster.
  • Fail to look things up that are easily found online or in group/list archives. Most questions about starting out as an editor, a freelancer, or both have already been answered, either in the group you belong to or elsewhere, but so have many questions about usage, grammar, and other aspects of editing. Learn how to check the archives of the discussion lists, forums, and groups you belong to so you don’t ask questions that have been answered dozens of times.
  • Cry poor. This may seem harsh, but try not to use poverty to beg for work or as the reason you aren’t using current technology. Most of us have been there — short of cash, desperate for income, stuck with late-paying clients — and will be sympathetic, but would rather see someone make an effort to overcome these situations than play on that sympathy. Again, we deserve to be hired and paid for our professional services, not because we’re broke.
  • Bulk up your posts to a discussion list or forum with tons of repeated previous message content. As a colleague who manages a list said recently, when asking listmembers to trim their posts, “We’re editors here, so let’s edit.”

What “newbie” goofs did you make when starting out as an editor or freelancer? What would you advise colleagues not to do?

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 (2018: September 21–22 in Rochester, NY), and the new editor-in-chief of An American Editor.

January 10, 2018

On the Basics: So You Want to be a Blogger

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

There are thousands of blogs already “out there,” but that hasn’t stopped blogging from continuing to expand. Given the increasing scope and popularity of this communication channel, it might be time for you to take the plunge and join the blogosphere. Here are a few things to consider before or when doing so.

First Steps

Before committing to blogging, take some time to plan what you’ll do and say. First and foremost, have a point, purpose, and original angle. Before you start blogging, survey the landscape — see who else is posting about the topic or profession you have in mind. A lot of colleagues are already blogging about all aspects of the publishing profession, so make sure you have something unique and original to contribute to the blogosphere before you jump in with a blog of your own. It might make more sense to become a contributor to an existing blog that relates to your interests than to start your own, similarly to the columnists here at An American Editor. (That could help with the next point as well.)

Set a schedule. Decide how often you’ll post new material to your blog. Try not to be overly ambitious: It might seem like a good idea to make new entries every day, and it can seem easy in the first blush of launching a new blog, but posting daily is a lot of work, and can be hard to maintain. Few things can erode your credibility more than having to cut back on the frequency of your posts because you can’t keep your blog going at that level. You’re better off starting by posting once or twice a week and expanding to more often if you find you have enough to say for increased frequency (the same goes for those who launch marketing or promotional newsletters). Being a contributor to an existing blog can help with reducing the pressure to produce more than you really have time for.

Keep it tight. People today are swamped by so much information coming at them from so many angles that it’s hard to stand out, much less establish a regular following. People are more likely to read shorter blog posts than longer ones. If you have a topic that deserves more detail and depth, consider breaking it into a series of two or three parts.

Plan for the future. Before formally launching your blog, pull together a few posts in advance that aren’t time-sensitive. That will make it easier to establish momentum and keep it going. If something news- or opinion-worthy crops up before you use your prepared posts, so much the better — craft something to respond to the timely topic and save one of the existing ones for the next opening in your publishing cycle.

To enhance your planning process and reduce the pressure to produce, keep an eye on a year’s calendar to find events and celebrations that could tie into your blog posts. One that comes immediately to mind is National Punctuation Day in September, but other holidays could relate to your particular topic. So could events such as conferences of organizations in your area of the field. And a new year is almost always fodder for at least one blog post about personal or professional resolutions, goals, and new directions.

Building Your Audience

Once you’re out there in the blogosphere, you’ll need a following. There’s little pointing having something worth saying if no one is reading what you post.

Start by notifying everyone appropriate in your contacts of your new offering. That may not mean everyone you know — who might be interested in your blog will depend on the topic.

Post information about your blog to your Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media accounts. In doing so, let colleagues (and clients, if appropriate) know that you’ll be open to their responses. Every time you publish a new post to the blog, announce it in those social media venues.

If you belong to any professional organizations, send a news item to be published in their newsletters and other communications outlets to members. You might even get coverage if you don’t belong to a given organization but your blog covers information that is relevant to its members.

Put a link to the blog at your website, and add its URL to your e-mail sigline (signature). If you’re low on business cards, add the URL to it with your next order.

Look for opportunities to mention the blog in responding to social media and blog posts of colleagues and organizations you belong to.

Making it Better

If you already have a blog, you might want to make it better, especially if you aren’t getting very much readership or response to it. Improving a blog usually involves targeting a readership more effectively, writing more clearly and coherently, looking for new ideas and angles, getting professional editing or proofreading help, etc.

One way to make your blog more interesting to more readers would be read not only the blogs of colleagues but new and different newspapers, magazines, newsletters, etc., and perhaps watching new television programs, that expand your view of the world. This would help you stay up to date on news and trends in the world at large and the profession, giving you more to write about with greater depth and scope.

Making your blog better also could mean asking colleagues to contribute posts, which would expand your blog’s reach to new readers, provide new and different insights, and take some of the pressure off you to constantly produce new material.

Whether you blog about our profession or something more personal, here’s to a successful effort.

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 a regular contributor to An American Editor.

December 13, 2017

An AAE Announcement: Change Is Coming

Filed under: Breaking News,Uncategorized — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
Tags: ,

As some of you know, I have semi-retired. I say “semi” because I am still accepting the occasional job from select clients, but my days of full-time editing are morphing into a couple of projects a year and lots of time with the grandchildren (with another coming in January).

I originally thought I would turn my attention to An American Editor, but I have found that I am increasingly being distracted by other things, not least of which are tackling my ever-growing To-be-Read pile of books (I did a rough count last week and the pile has grown to more than 200 books) and working on EditTools and a new book on the business of editing.

Because I think An American Editor is a valuable blog, I have decided that rather than end it, I would pass on editorial responsibilities to someone I think will do an outstanding job of continuing the traditions I have established for AAE over the nearly eight years (the first essay was on January 4, 2010) of its existence and more than 1,000 published essays. The new editor-in-chief of AAE is our own

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

who has authored the On the Basics essays for AAE.

Ruth will be assuming her duties as of January 1, 2018. I will still be around and an occasional contributor to AAE, kind of like the not-seen publisher. Ruth will be in charge, so any questions — including about becoming a contributor to AAE — should be directed to her at Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

I hope you all will join me in wishing Ruth congratulations and wishing her a long and successful association with AAE.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

December 6, 2017

On the Basics: The Holiday Season Is Upon Us — How Do We Manage Client Greetings?

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Freelancers face this issue every year: How do I greet and thank my clients/customers during the December holidays? Is it appropriate to send gifts to my clients/customers?

I’m a big believer in end-of-the-year gestures for my clients. Sending a holiday or end-of-the-year greeting, with or without a gift, is a good business and marketing move. Expressing appreciation for a client’s business shows you don’t take them for granted. With clients you only hear from once in awhile, that holiday greeting is also a great reminder of your services and contributions to the success of their business or projects. The arrival of my holiday greeting always triggers at least one response along the lines of, “What great timing – your package made me realize that we need your writing/editing/proofreading services for this new project. Are you available for…?”

Colleagues have noted that they get similar responses when they announce that they’re going on vacation (whether for the December holidays or at other times of the year). There’s something about saying you won’t be available that makes clients want you for a project at that time.

I also try to remember to send holiday or new year’s cards to clients I haven’t worked with in the past year. That’s almost a guarantee of new business in the new year!

Because I don’t know what everyone celebrates, I use a thank-you message rather than “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Chanukah,” or even “Happy Holidays.” I respect everyone’s choice of holiday to celebrate, and I don’t assume that everyone celebrates the same things that I do.

I collect items throughout the year to use as part of a small gift box for each client. Since I’m known for being somewhat obsessed with all things purple, these tend to be purple candies and knick-knacks. Each box includes a mug and pen with my business contact information, business card, and greeting card. I usually include packets of local coffee or hot cocoa, and exotic teas. Some years, I’ve sent candles (purple, of course – lilac-scented, in honor of our Rochester lilacs!) or seed packets with appropriate language in the card. The overall value is well within the limits that government employees are allowed to accept, and the nature of the gift stands out from the common gift basket, generic chocolate, bottle of wine, etc.

Customizing your holiday gift is the ideal. Even if some of the elements in mine are not labeled or marked with my business info in some way, key pieces are branded with my logo, e-mail address and/or website URL, and phone number: a mug or wine glass; a pen with the same information; my business card, of course; the greeting card itself. I haven’t used a professional printing service for the greeting card yet, but am seriously thinking about it for this year. I’ve accumulated a major stash of thank-you cards for this purpose and I’ve been creating my own greeting to print, sign and insert, something more polished might be a better idea.

Timing may be everything, but we can be flexible. If the month of December gets really crazy, I sometimes send out my holiday greeting and gift in early January as more of a “thank you for your business last year, here’s to a great new year together” message than one that references the holidays. (The advantage of waiting until January is that my greeting doesn’t get lost in the flood of everyone else’s holiday messages, not to mention all those catalogs and other advertising junk.)

Assembling the boxes (free from the post office) and filling them is time-consuming, and time can get away from us, so some colleagues may prefer to reach clients with just a card for the holidays. That’s fine — there’s no requirement to send a gift, and not everyone will feel comfortable doing so. One way I plan to reduce the time and hassle factor on my own behalf is to pay a friend’s teenager to help me with putting the boxes together and filling them up. I envision a day or two of the living room being carpeted with boxes lined up to receive their fillings, and a mini assembly line for the two of us to use in putting everything in each box.

As for practical considerations, inexpensive gifts and the cost of sending them are tax-deductible business expenses as marketing or promotions (at least under current guidelines), making them not only a gracious gesture but a practical investment in your business.

I enjoy the opportunity to tell my clients that I recognize that my business would not exist without them, and to let them know that they mean more to me than just a payment with each completed project. My clients seem to enjoy receiving this annual gesture, and the goodwill it creates is as valuable as when it triggers a new assignment.

Here’s to a happy holiday season and profitable new year to all my An American Editor colleagues!

How do you handle client greetings at the end of the year?

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 a regular contributor to An American Editor.

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