An American Editor

May 3, 2017

On the Basics: Being Businesslike

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

The other day, I met a colleague for coffee who’s a freelance writer, proofreader, and voice-over professional who has been doing well at finding and being recommended for projects, but confessed to being terrible at the business side of dealing with clients.

Many of us struggle with the business of editing (and writing, proofreading, indexing, desktop publishing; whatever editorial work anyone here might do). That struggle is one reason for Rich Adin’s book by that very title (The Business of Editing: Effective and Efficient Ways to Think, Work, and Prosper), and for this blog and the columns by its various contributors.

Some of the things we talked about inspired this column.

Setting policies and limits

Getting paid can be the hardest part of freelancing, no matter what service or skill you provide. My colleague did the smart thing with a recent project: She asked for an advance on a five-book project for a local arts institution. The plan was that she would be paid a certain amount before starting, receive a payment as she finished each book, and then receive a final payment when the last book was done.

The good news: She got the first payment. The bad news: She didn’t get it right away. Because she knew the project was on a tight deadline for publication, she felt obliged to start work based on the promise that the advance would arrive soon. Even though the first payment did show up soon after she got started and the subsequent payments did come in reasonably on schedule, she realized in hindsight that she ran a real risk of not receiving the advance and there was a constant sense of foreboding over each payment.

Version control

Another project was a great example of scope creep: Every time she turned around, the client added more to the project. Because she did not have language protecting against the ever-expanding project, she was expected to absorb the new requests without additional payment — and felt obligated to do so. She spent a lot more time on the project than she had planned and wound up only being paid what amounted to minimum wage.

Contract concerns

Many of us have had the good luck to work with clients without needing contracts, or ones who adhere to contracts to our benefit. The most frustrating part of another project for this colleague was that the client ignored almost all of the elements in the contract. Yes, they signed it, but then proceeded to violate almost every clause. She eventually asked why they had agreed to the conditions of the contract when they weren’t complying with it.

The client’s response? “We wanted you for this, and no one else.” That is, they were willing to agree to anything as long as she agreed to do the work. She was flattered — and floored.

Because she’s a self-confessed perfectionist with an “if I start something, I finish it” work ethic, she did not want to walk away despite the frustrations. She knew that she was being played, even as she basked in the sense of being wanted and supposedly the only person who could do the project. She couldn’t figure out how to stand her ground, nor could she walk away.

Reality checks

Being committed to providing excellent service can backfire. Whether it’s from a sense of perfectionism and a commitment-based work ethic, or a fear of negative consequences (not getting paid, having the client badmouth you to colleagues), remaining committed to a project when the client is behaving badly is not good business. It’s bad for the project, bad for your mental (and physical) health, and bad for your business. As hard as it is to stand up for yourself, it’s something we all have to learn to do.

Being told “We want you and only you” or “We’ll agree to anything to get you on board” feels great. Sometimes that’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship with a client who does value you and treats you with respect, but sometimes it’s bait for a situation that turns into a nightmare. The flattery can blind us to a headache-inducing client or project.

One way to handle a situation like this is to do a reality check. Some of us may really be so unusually skilled that we’re the only one — or the best one — for a given project, but most of us aren’t all that unique. We want to feel that we are, but we aren’t; except for rare circumstances, we can be replaced. Another editor might do things differently, but differently does not necessarily mean worse.

Feeling irreplaceable can interfere with all kinds of aspects of freelancing, and sometimes even with working in-house. It can blind you to the reality that a client is treating you badly and making you crazy, and that it would be better for your business and yourself to either reset the boundaries or walk away.

Getting help

One strategy that my beleaguered colleague and I discussed implementing has two aspects: (a) keeping a contract template at hand that includes language regarding both a fee advance or deposit and protection against scope creep, so you don’t have to reinvent the contract with every new client, and (b) using your website to state such a policy.

Possible language could be:

“An advance/deposit representing 50% or the first X hours of the project is required with a new project. Depending on the length and scope of the project, interim payments may be required. The finished project will be provided once full payment is in hand.”

And:

“Any requests for work beyond the scope of this agreement/contract will be charged on an hourly basis in addition to the original fee, and will not be provided or performed without such additional payment.”

Not all clients will go along with such a policy, but it could be a lifesaver, especially with an individual author or a graduate student. While most such clients can be trusted to pay as agreed, some either never intend to pay for editorial services or do not budget sufficiently to pay the tab. When they see the final amount in your invoice, they panic, go into sticker shock — and disappear. This can especially be a concern with students, because when they hand in that paper and get that degree, they’re gone, and you might not be able to reach them to chase down your payment.

If you require an advance and establish interim payments for a lengthy project, you protect yourself against not getting paid (or at least against not getting paid in full), and you also help the client. Most people find it easier to pay a couple hundred dollars at a time over a few weeks to months than a couple thousand all at once when the project is done.

Establishing your policy

I hadn’t thought of this until that coffee date, but establishing your business policy for payments and scope creep and posting it at your website is worth considering. Doing so could head off problem clients who could become nightmares of uncontrolled project morphing and payment hassles, no matter how appealing the project might seem on the surface. However, merely posting it at your website is not enough to make the terms part of the work agreement.

It is important that specific policies — regardless of what they address — be included in written contracts and, because many of us do not work under formal contracts, in your e-mail exchanges with the client. At a minimum, your correspondence should include a statement such as:

“Additional terms governing our work relationship are available at ________ and are made an explicit part of our agreement by incorporation by reference.”

(Caution: Do not make supplementary terms available only on social media like Facebook. Not everyone participates. Be sure that wherever they are posted, they are universally accessible without a client having to “join” some third party.)

Finally, having colleagues to lean on and consult can be a lifesaver in establishing good business practices. Even just meeting over coffee to bewail the trials and tribulations of a problem client or project can provide useful insights from someone who has been there and done that.

For more insights

A number of other essays at An American Editor relate to this one and are worth reading for additional insights on the business of editing, including (for additional essays, be sure to search the An American Editor archives):

 

Rich Adin’s book (with Jack Lyon and myself), The Business of Editing: Effective and Efficient Ways to Think, Work, and Prosper, provides additional practical insights on this important topic.

The key is to remember that being the world’s best editor is not enough for a profitable career; you must be a good businessperson as well!

How have you handled payment, scope creep, and other business concerns? How have you found supportive colleagues, either online or in real life?

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.

August 10, 2015

On the Basics: Step Away from that Project — Professionally and with Class

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

The Background

Ten years ago, the three-person team responsible for editing an association newsletter quit for reasons never explained, with no notice, and without providing any material for a successor — no formatting or style information, no backlog of unused material, no contact information for vendors or past contributors; nada. The organization’s board of directors was gobsmacked, to quote our British colleagues.

That was a textbook example of how not to step away from a project, client, or job. No matter how badly you’re treated or how much you hate the project (and it was never clear that there was a reason for that team’s move), it’s always smart to take the high road on leaving. That even goes for being laid off or fired. You never know when such behavior will come up in a future workplace, freelance, or volunteer setting. You don’t want to be known as the unprofessional, even childish, person who took her toys and went home in a huff, leaving everyone at a loss in her wake. You want to be remembered as someone who behaved in a professional manner that made the transition smooth for your successor.

I stepped up to take on editing that publication and kept it rolling for more than 10 years. When I was ready to let it go and give someone new a chance at the editor’s role, I was reminded of how I came into the project. I also remembered starting a couple of new in-house jobs and feeling somewhat at sea because a predecessor didn’t provide much of a roadmap for what to do and how. I was determined to handle this transition very differently from my predecessors. I felt that I owed that to myself as a professional, but also to the organization and to whoever was next to serve as editor — perhaps most to my successor.

6 Tips

Here are a few of my tips on how to hand off a project gracefully and professionally.

  • Give decent notice. That seems obvious, but it can be tempting to throw a hissy fit and just walk off the job if it has become onerous or unpleasant. Professionals, though, don’t do that unless there’s genuine provocation, and sometimes not even then. Publications and projects don’t run themselves, and it can take time to find a replacement. The standard is usually two weeks, but it might be smart to give a month’s notice, especially if the publication or project you handle is on a monthly publishing schedule. Take the high road, be the better person, and give the employer, sponsoring organization, or client a chance to find a replacement before you leave.
  • Put it in writing. Create or update a job description that details what your replacement will be expected to do, when, how, and with whom. There might have been one when you started the job or assignment, but you may have put your own stamp on the role or taken on additional responsibilities, so add those details to the original description. In many instances, especially for freelance projects, there is no job description. Providing one will make it easier for the client or employer to find an appropriate replacement and for your successor to handle the work.
  • Help a replacement out. Some may say that this is more appropriate for a volunteer project than a paid one, but I think it’s a good idea to provide as much information as possible about the publication or project, from the preferred or house style manual to the look of the book, whether you’re an in-house employee, a freelancer, or a volunteer. I know I appreciate that kind of information when I begin a new project. Prepare a list of relevant details: publishing schedule and deadlines; programs or applications used; formatting — typefaces and sizes; columns numbers and widths; character styles (headlines and subheads, body text, captions, indents, bullets, etc.); vendor roles, names, and contact information; contributors for writing, artwork, and any other roles; budget details if that is part of your responsibility. Have at least a couple of unused articles in place to hand over so the new person doesn’t have to start with a totally empty quiver of material. A new person might want to do a wholesale redesign of that newsletter or magazine that you’ve loved editing, and may want to use all new contributors and freelancers, but probably will need to know how to put together at least one first issue based on the current version. (This might seem like a lot to do to help out a replacement, but it can also be seen as an organizing function for oneself.)
  • Offer insights. Don’t be a gossip and don’t badmouth colleagues, but — if appropriate — let your replacement know something about the hierarchy of the organization; most importantly, any chain of approvals and command to follow, along with who is likely to be the most helpful to a newcomer. If a client or supervisor has certain unpredictable quirks, consider sharing that information informally. For instance, new editor or freelancer might think that “due on Monday” means they have until 5 p.m. to finish an assignment or prepare material for collegial review, but the client or supervisor might be expecting it at 9 a.m. that day.
  • Suggest a successor. If you know someone in or outside the organization who would be your ideal replacement, recommend that person. You’ll do a favor to both the organization and the individual, and they’ll remember it. This is especially important if you’re a freelancer and decide to leave a project for some reason. Good freelancers can be harder to find than good employees.
  • Be available. Let your contact, supervisor, or colleague know how to reach you in the case there are questions that only you can answer. You won’t want to be taken advantage of once you’re out the door by spending a lot of time on helping out the organization or your replacement, but you do want — again — to leave with the image of someone who is professional, responsible, and helpful. Within reason, of course.

What else have you done, or wished someone had done for you, to make a professional exit from a project or position?

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, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

October 13, 2014

On the Basics: Overcoming the Isolation of Freelancing

Overcoming the Isolation of Freelancing

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

After helping to finalize The Business of Editing, the book compiling columns from Rich Adin’s An American Editor blog, I decided that we hadn’t done enough with the topic of how a freelance editor (or writer, proofreader, indexer, or any solopreneur who works from home) can overcome the potential isolation of working alone.

Although I understand it as a problem for others, I’ve never had a problem with isolation. That’s in large part because I’m about as extroverted as one can get — someone once said I could make friends with a lamppost. It’s also because of how and where I lived for the past many years — in apartment buildings, which provide built-in communities to interact with, and in walkable urban neighborhoods, where I could meet and interact with all kinds of people right outside my front door without much effort — neighbors, business owners and workers, beat cops, restaurateurs, dog walkers, other shoppers, and more.

For those who don’t live in such environments and have to go farther afield to feel connected with colleagues or the world in general, or who just need a little nudge to get out of an isolation rut, I have a few ideas. And I’m one of those folks now — I’m in an apartment building in a totally residential neighborhood and that lively outside world on my doorstep isn’t available any longer; it’s a world I miss. There are still neighbors to chit-chat with in the elevator or mailroom, and I can go out for a walk around the neighborhood, but there’s none of the business vitality, diversity, and community of Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, or Federal Hill in Baltimore, Maryland. It takes a little more effort to get up and out of the home-office rut.

The good thing is that, unlike when I started freelancing, nowadays you can combat isolation through the Internet, by participating in blogs, e-mail discussion lists and LinkedIn groups; on Facebook, Google+, Twitter; through Pinterest and Instagram, and whatever other new outlets pop up from one day to the next. There are new online communities every day. You can ask questions, offer insights and advice, explore new ideas, make friends, find clients and colleagues to work with — all without ever leaving your computer, much less your home.

Not that never leaving your home or computer is a good thing, but that connectivity does expand your horizons and connections with people with less effort than it takes to get out of the house, and with less trauma and more control for the introverted. The Internet makes it possible to stay connected to people you already know, find ones you thought were lost forever and meet new ones you would never otherwise have an opportunity to know. It might encourage introverts to stay put and leave the house even less often than otherwise, but it does expand your world.

That isn’t the same as, or enough, human contact, though. At least not for me. Ways I’ve gotten myself out of the office and away from the computer include:

  • Not subscribing to the daily paper, so I have to go out at least every other day, but ideally every day, because I still much prefer to read the newspaper on paper.
  • Joining a nearby pool club (for swimming, that is!) — or one for fitness, running, biking, hiking, dance — which has the potential to meet new friends, colleagues, and clients while counteracting the negative effect of all that sitting at a desk to work.
  • Joining and actively participating in local chapters of professional organizations — if there isn’t a local chapter, you can always start one.
  • Teaching and speaking, which brings in extra income while creating opportunities to meet new people.
  • Occasionally doing some work on my laptop at local coffee shops, where other people might ask what I’m working on or I might overhear and plug into conversations around me.
  • Playing mah-jongg (or bridge, euchre, etc.) — it’s good for your brain as well as your social life, probably brings in new people to meet, and could be good for your freelance business; a colleague invited me to join a regular game, and I’ve already met someone I’ll be doing some work for through that connection.

Other ways to combat isolation, both mine and a colleague’s, are:

  • Get a dog — You have to go out at least once a day (usually several times!), which creates opportunities to interact with neighbors at local dog parks.
  • Be proactive — Don’t sit around waiting for opportunities to socialize to come to you; be the one to start a writer’s or editor’s group, book club, dinner group, alumni connection, hobby club, etc.
  • Reconnect — Join a high school or college alumni association; some of those difficult old classmates may have become interesting, even likable, adults!
  • Get culture — Hang out at local galleries and museums; even if you don’t make new friends, you’ll enrich your soul (and might find new things to write about or edit).
  • Volunteer — You meet new people (some of whom might become clients), do good, and feel good.
  • Meet-ups — Considering how many freelancers there are in all professions, it is unlikely that you live where there are none, so why not start a local freelancers’ monthly meet-up? Meet for breakfast or lunch once a month and, if nothing else, discuss problems freelancers in your area are facing.
  • Marketing day — If you work directly with individuals and small businesses, why not set a marketing day — that is, a day when you will go out and meet with potential clients. For example, call your local bookstore and ask if it would be interested in your giving a presentation to writers, or call your local Chamber of Commerce and ask if they would like you to give a presentation on how members can benefit from hiring services such as you provide. The possibilities are myriad — just put on your thinking cap!
  • Silly day — The hardest thing for most people to do is to walk up to a stranger, introduce themselves, and give a marketing pitch. Why not break the ice with a Silly Day. Put your creative juices to work and do something silly (e.g., dress up like a clown and film yourself editing with humongous fingers); send it around to past, current, and potential clients and/or to colleagues with a note saying you hope this brings a smile to them; and invite them to participate in the next Silly Day with you. It will start slowly, but you will be surprised at how well this works on multiple fronts. People like to smile and smiles bring comradeship.

Thanks to the Internet, there’s really no excuse for being isolated, but the more introverted among us may need a little nudging to get out of the home office and at least see, if not interact with, the real world. Give it a try and try to make getting out a habit. You could be happily surprised at the results.

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, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

September 22, 2014

On the Basics: A Fifth Commandment: Thou Shall Be Prepared

A Fifth Commandment: Thou Shall Be Prepared

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

You don’t have to be a Girl or Boy Scout for “Be prepared” to matter. It’s also an excellent rule of business for a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, indexer, or other publishing/editorial professional.

For any freelancer (and most in-house editorial professionals as well), “be prepared” means some, if not all, of the following.

  • Create and maintain a stash of cash or a credit-card balance to cover emergencies — a computer crash, printer breakdown, phone foul-up, even e-mail outage (you might have to rent time at a cyber café to stay in touch with or send assignments to clients), not to mention family crises.
  • Have the right tools at hand — equipment (computer, software, printer), reference books, style manuals (both print and online), paper, pens and pencils (some of us do still write in long-hand, or get asked to edit or proofread on paper), fax capability (either a machine and phone line or an e-version) — whatever is essential to get your work done.
  • Put together a backup system so you’re ready to cope in an emergency. Have a laptop if you usually work on a desktop machine, and a second laptop, tablet, or other device if you do all your work on a laptop and it conks out; extra printer cartridges or toner; both disk and download versions of essential software so you can power back up after a crash; places to go — cybercafé, public library, co-working site — in a power outage or equipment breakdown; trusted colleagues in case you (or a spouse, child, or parent) get sick when you’re on deadline. Think about what could go wrong, and try to have mechanism in place ahead of time to respond.
  • Have a website, and keep it updated. It’s an invaluable tool for promoting and building your business. It doesn’t have to be fancy or extensive, but it has to exist these days for a freelancer to succeed.
  • Update your résumé, promotional brochure, website, and online profiles regularly. Every time you have a new client (or job) or publish a new project, add it where appropriate. If you read about new trends in résumés, revamp yours accordingly. Keep current versions as Word documents and PDFs on every computer or device you use, so you can dash it off in response to every new opportunity you might see or receive and update whenever the need arises. Make sure you never have to make excuses for not being ready to respond promptly or simply miss out on the chance to be considered; timing can be everything.
  • Have a good photo of yourself. You probably will want one for your website, and you might need it for a bio to go along with an assignment, or if you’re asked to make a speech somewhere. It doesn’t have to be an expensive studio portrait; an informal, well-composed, flattering snapshot will do.
  • Have a business card; get a lot of ’em printed up and carry them with you always, including to social events, the store, wherever. You never know when it might come in handy and lead to a new client.
  • Be ready to take on assignments with little or no notice. That might mean beating instead of meeting deadlines so you have time available to accept something new with little warning, or organizing your projects so you always have some wiggle room to add something new and appealing when the opportunity shows up.
  • For when you can’t or don’t want to be available for new projects, practice ways of saying “No” (or “Thanks, but not now” if that’s more appropriate). Plan ahead to know what you prefer not to cover or work on — topics, types, or lengths of projects; kinds of clients, etc. If you think about these things ahead of time, saying no will be less intimidating and you’ll be less likely to let someone badger you into saying yes to projects you don’t want to do.
  • Develop a personal script to use with difficult, demanding clients and ones you’d rather not work with, so you don’t have to respond to them off the cuff. You’ll be more likely to protect yourself against such situations if you don’t face every one of them as new and distinct.
  • Have a template for contracts and letters of agreement, so you never forget to include important details or clauses in assignments.
  • Have a template for invoices, so it’s as easy as possible to do the billing that’s part of every independent editorial business.
  • Develop a strong network of colleagues so you have someone to turn to when you’re sick, want to take a vacation, are offered a project that doesn’t interest you or you’re too busy to accept, or want to subcontract.
  • Read, read, read! The more you read, the better prepared you will be to cope with assignments. Read newspapers, magazines, books, blogs, and anything else for both business and pleasure — they all inform and expand your skills and ability to handle assignments.
  • Have health insurance, so you and your family are protected against the costs of health emergencies.

In addition, for writers, “be prepared” means:

  • Develop an ongoing, ever-growing network of sources and contacts, so you always have someone or somewhere as a starting point for a new assignment or project. Some editors and clients will tell you whom to contact, or at least a couple of sources to include, but even the ones who give you all the names you’ll need will be impressed if you can add a couple more. If you’re writing fiction, that network might be the starting point for character names or sources of background information and other research.
  • Know the market for your kind of writing. Writer’s Market and Literary Marketplace are great starting points, but look for writers’ groups — either in-person or online — to build up your knowledge base and stay tuned to news about publications that are right for your work. Conferences are also a good resource for market knowledge (and expanding your network).
  • Follow trends in publishing so you know what new ones might be best for your work and when to adopt them.

For editors and proofreaders, “be prepared” means:

  • Invest in training every year — either refresher courses or classes with new information — because trends in language, usage, tools, and technology are constantly changing, and we have to keep up with them to do our work at our best.
  • Consider learning new style manuals to be prepared to work with new types of clients or publications, just in case your current niche dries up.

Essentially, being prepared means being ready to cope with work and life emergencies, and up to date on anything that affects the work we do — or might do. Being prepared means being a better businessperson, better employee, and better freelancer.

Therefore, the commandment:

Thou shall 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, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

September 1, 2014

On the Basics: Thou Shall Behave Ethically — A 4th Commandment for Editors

Thou Shall Behave Ethically —
A 4th Commandment for Editors

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Recent discussions of ethics for editors here and elsewhere have inspired the concept of a fourth commandment:

Thou shall behave ethically.

To have an ethical editing business, it helps to understand two definitions of ethics. As Rich Adin has noted (see The Business of Editing: An Editorial Code of Professional Responsibility), one is “the rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession” and another is “the study of the general nature of morals and of the specific moral choices to be made by a person; moral philosophy” (vide American Heritage Dictionary).

I see being an ethical editor as somewhat of a combination of the two. I have rules for how I conduct my business — rules that I think can or should apply to any editor who wants to be seen as both professional and ethical — and I have a philosophy grounded in a moral code. That code is based on honesty: being honest about my skills, qualifications, availability, fees, and business model, and being honest with clients about their projects. It’s based on competency — I see competency and ethicality as complementary.

To me, being an ethical editor starts with presenting oneself as an editor, freelance or in-house, only if one has a level of training and experience that can support the claim to being able to do this kind of work. Far too many people nowadays are hanging out shingles or applying for jobs as editors (among other professions) who have no such training or experience. That puts authors and other clients at a serious disadvantage — they are often trusting their work to the hands of untrustworthy editors, and don’t know enough about publishing (or editing) to know the difference.

Granted, many of us start out in editing without much formal training. We learn on the job at publications, or we become editors because we’re the only people in the company who care about good grammar, correct spelling and punctuation, proper usage, and other aspects of ensuring that written material is clear, coherent, consistent, cogent, and whatever other c-words colleagues can come up with to describe well-written documents.

We find a deep-seated love of language, of words, of making clunky material into something readable and usable, even beautiful. We move on from there, sometimes getting additional formal training; sometimes learning from more-experienced colleagues; sometimes developing self-study mechanisms. If we really care about what has become our trade, we look for ways to continually hone our skills and become ever better at what we do. That, to me, is a hallmark of an ethical editor.

It probably should be noted that a skilled editor is not the same as an ethical one, although I like to think that a truly ethical editor is also a skilled one. Someone can have topnotch editing skills and still be unethical — charging for time not spent on a client’s project is probably the most common violation of an ethical code. An honest or ethical editor is one who doesn’t inflate or outright lie about skills and competency.

One of the most important aspects of an ethical editing business is to only charge for the work the editor actually does. If a project is based on a flat fee and the client doesn’t care how long it takes to do the work, it is ethical to charge the full fee, even if it takes less time to finish than expected. However, if the fee is based on an hourly rate, it is dishonest and unethical to charge for more time than one works. If a project is budgeted for 50 hours at $50/hour but it only takes 40 hours to complete the job, the ethical thing to do is to charge the client for only those 40 hours. Such honesty — or ethicality, if you prefer — is not only the right thing to do, even if it means losing a few dollars, but usually works in the editor’s favor over the long term, because it establishes an honest relationship with the client, who is more likely to trust such an editor and thus use that editor again.

An ethical editor knows and uses the standard tools of our profession. We don’t make up rules to suit ourselves or reinforce our own assumptions. Among other things, we learn and internalize the accepted rules of grammar, usage, punctuation, and spelling. We identify and use the appropriate style manuals for the sector(s) in which we work — the Chicago Manual of Style for book and much magazine publishing; the Associated Press Stylebook for journalism; the Government Printing Office manual for government-agency projects; the American Psychological Association manual for much of academic publishing; the Merck Index, Dorland’s, or, perhaps, American Medical Association manual for medical publications; etc. We have the leading dictionaries on our bookshelves and/or computers.

Of course, someone starting an editing career is unlikely to know any given style manual inside-out; that’s why it helps to work in-house in a professional environment. The ethical editor lets a prospective employer or client know his or her experience level and if  the editor is new enough to the field to still be learning the essentials of whatever manual the employer or client expects the editor to use. Some may think that such honesty will mean losing out on jobs, but we all have to start somewhere, and employers and clients understand that.

Along the same lines, an ethical editor stocks his or her bookcase with guides to grammar, because none of us can claim to be perfect. We’re all likely to have grammar gremlins or simply need the occasional refresher to make sure any changes we make are justified. If nothing else, we may need a reference at hand to support a proposed change with a client who needs to see a reason for everything done to a document beyond “I can’t explain why, but I know this was wrong and that my version is right.” Editors aren’t parents; we can’t get away with “Because I said so.”

Because an ethical editor believes in continually honing skills and knowing when to consult appropriate resources. We invest in the current versions of the appropriate manuals — often, we have more than one on our bookshelves — and learn as much as we can about them. For when the right choice doesn’t leap to mind, we subscribe to online versions of those manuals so we can check or verify our decisions. Beyond those tools, we learn (sometimes even establish) in-house preferences, since a publication, publisher, organization, or company can use one of the standard manuals as a starting point, but go its own way on some details.

We also wait until we know how to use the technical, as well as the academic, tools of our trade before inflicting ourselves on employers or clients. That is, we learn at least the basics of using Word and, in some environments Framemaker, Excel, Acrobat, InCopy, etc.

An ethical editor also stays current on language trends. Language evolves and changes constantly. An ethical editor knows to find ways to pick up on when new words enter the lexicon and existing ones change (just think of the country names that no longer include “the”), through reading and interacting with colleagues.

An ethical editor is connected with trustworthy colleagues and resources to ensure that she or he understands the nature of the work and sees information about new trends or changes in language, editing techniques and tools, useful resources, and other aspects of being effective and professional. (Interacting with unethical or dishonest editors could make an ethical editor turn into an unethical one, but I find that unlikely.)

Similarly to members of the medical profession, the ethical editor “first does no harm.” It is the role of the editor to enhance, clarify, and convey the author’s or client’s voice, not to rewrite the work in the editor’s voice or from the editor’s point of view. This also relates to being trained and experienced in grammar, punctuation, spelling, usage, etc. — doing no harm means not trying to fix clients’ material based on inadequate skills and knowledge, because that would mean both introducing errors and missing problems a skilled editor would be expected to recognize and fix.

Another important element to being an ethical editor is to incorporate clear communication with clients into our business practices and processes. That means letting clients know how we will work on their projects, what the fee will be, that we will meet their deadlines, and if there are problems that affect how and whether the editor can do the work and still meet those deadlines. It means asking questions rather than making assumptions, and keeping the client informed along the way.

The ethical editor does not do certain kinds of projects — writing a thesis or dissertation for someone, for instance, no matter how tempting the fee. An ethical editor may develop a kind of radar for material that doesn’t “fit” and should learn how to use antiplagiarism tools on behalf of clients such as book publishers and journals. An ethical editor also doesn’t do the client’s writing.

An ethical editor learns the differences between various levels of editing and between editing and proofreading, how to educate clients on what those differences are, and how to provide the services a project needs. For many reasons, both a lot of prospective clients and some colleagues have no idea that there’s a difference between copyediting and substantive or developmental editing, or between any type of editing and proofreading. Some clients are trying to get higher-level skills at lower-level fees or wages; others are truly ignorant of the difference. Either way, the ethical editor speaks up.

Being an ethical editor boils down to being honest about all aspects of one’s work process, skills, and presence in the field. To hold up your head and be a success in our profession,

Thou shall behave ethically.

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, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

June 30, 2014

Worth Noting: The “Be a Better Freelancer!” Countdown — LAST DAY

The Countdown Ends: Last Day

Today is the LAST DAY to take advantage of the special discount that An American Editor subscribers can receive for the upcoming “Be a Better Freelancer! (Re)Invent Your Business,” the ninth annual Communication Central conference for freelancers, September 26–27, 2014, in Rochester, NY.

Topics include launching your business, macros and other efficiency/productivity tools, working with MS Office, organization tips, a self-publishing roundtable, balancing freelancing and family life, resources, benefiting from social media, and more.

Until midnight (New York time) today, AAE subscribers can receive a special discount. Use this link to register and receive the special AAE price (the password is 2014c-c). Be sure to make your hotel reservations early — the conference coincides with the last weekend of a film festival and space will be at a premium the closer it gets to September.

Questions? Contact Communication Central owner Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, at conference@communication-central.com or 585-248-0318.

Remember that the countdown ends today. This is 0 day — the day when the AAE conference discount expires. You have until midnight (New York time) today to register and receive the AAE subscriber discount!

Disclaimer: Neither I nor the An American Editor blog has any financial or other interest in this conference. — Richard Adin, An American Editor

May 23, 2014

Worth Noting: Be a Better Freelancer! (Re)Invent Your Business

The Countdown Begins

Wondering how to launch or improve an editorial business, whether you offer writing, editing, proofreading, indexing or other related services? Come to “Be a Better Freelancer! (Re)Invent Your Business,” the ninth annual Communication Central conference for freelancers, September 26–27, 2014, in Rochester, NY, with an Editorial Bootcamp on September 28 at the same location.

Topics include launching your business, macros and other efficiency/productivity tools, working with MS Office, organization tips, a self-publishing roundtable, balancing freelancing and family life, resources, benefiting from social media, and more. Keynote speaker is Jake “Dr. Freelance” Poinier. Other speakers include Erin Brenner, Ally Machate, April Michelle Davis, Daniel Heuman, Katharine O’Moore-Klopf, Dick Margulis, Greg Ioannou, Geoff Hart, Jack Lyon, Laura Poole, Ben Davis, Amy Schneider, and Ruth E. Thaler-Carter.

Until June 30, AAE subscribers can receive a special discount. Use this link to register and receive the special AAE price (the password is 2014c-c). Be sure to make your hotel reservations early — the conference coincides with the last weekend of a film festival and space will be at a premium the closer it gets to September.

Interested in Laura Poole’s editorial bootcamp? Info for the Editorial Bootcamp is included in the conference registration PDF. The Editorial Bootcamp may be taken without attending the conference.

Questions? Contact Communication Central owner Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, at conference@communication-central.com or 585-248-0318.

Remember that the countdown begins. There are 38 days until the AAE discount expires.

Disclaimer: Neither I nor the An American Editor blog has any financial or other interest in this conference. — Richard Adin, An American Editor

May 12, 2014

On the Basics: Are Networking and Marketing Essential to an Editing Business?

Are Networking and Marketing
Essential to an Editing Business?

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

A recent discussion on the Copy Editing List (CE-L) raised the interesting question of whether it’s necessary to do marketing to have a successful editing business. At the heart of the conversation were varying takes on what “marketing” actually means. Networking came into the discussion as well.

Most of the participants in the conversation agreed that it’s essential not just to market your skills and business to be a success, but to do so constantly and regularly. A number of participants spoke up to reassure the introverted and shy amongst us that “marketing” can be done in a way that doesn’t force them into behaviors that don’t come naturally.

I see marketing as a necessary process for the success of any business, and as a constant one to work effectively on your behalf. I also see networking as a vital element of your marketing efforts.

A couple of “CELmates” argued that they have successful freelance editing businesses without ever doing any real marketing, making the point that having worked in editing jobs created a natural base of marketing and networking activity for their freelance ventures. They had a built-in network of employers and colleagues who would call on them for freelance services without their making much of an effort to get work from those prospective clients. Just “hanging out a shingle” by letting those former employers and colleagues know they were going freelance was often enough to establish a strong base of ongoing work. They saw no need to do any conscious marketing or further networking.

That laidback, no-effort approach may work — but only “may.” Nowadays, when the marketplace includes consolidation in the publishing world, outsourcing to cheaper markets or providers, and the proliferation of inexperienced people using the Internet to hang out their shingles as freelance editors, marketing and networking become more important to a freelance business, especially for anyone who doesn’t have years of experience and contacts to rely on.

What the colleagues who were able to launch their editing businesses didn’t realize is that simply letting an employer and coworkers know that you’re going out on your own is marketing. It may be a one-time effort, it may not feel like a marketing campaign — but it’s still marketing. Marketing is nothing more than letting the world know, on a large or small scale, that you’re open for business and available for assignments. Whether you tell five people or 500 that you’re a freelance editor, you’re doing marketing. The larger audience you reach, the more likely you are to succeed.

Neither networking nor marketing has to be especially aggressive. Among the less-aggressive techniques is joining professional organizations or communities that have membership directories you can be listed in or discussion lists where you can be visible. A well-crafted profile on LinkedIn can result in prospective clients contacting you, instead of you having to contact them; participating in relevant LinkedIn groups takes some time and energy, but also can generate new clients and assignments by clients coming to you, rather than you having to find or go to them.

Having your own website is also an effective marketing tool, because it gets your name (or business name) out there among those of other freelancers and in the environment that many prospective clients will use to find us. Once the site is up, you can let it function as a static “online business card” or you can make it active and up to date; how much time and effort you want to put into it is up to you and where you fall on the passive–active scale of marketing efforts.

These are essentially passive marketing activities that are ideal for the shy and retiring types, because they don’t involve any in-person, face-to-face activity and they don’t require leaving the comfort of a home office to engage directly with the outside world.

One colleague made the point that rethinking her approach helped her be better at marketing, despite a reluctance to engage in that activity in any formal way. She started focusing on how she could help her clients and presenting herself from that perspective, which felt more comfortable and less-pressured than anything using a “here I am, hire me!” approach that she saw as marketing.

That ties in nicely with another colleague’s approach: to put the focus on storytelling — telling people something about who you are, how you approach the editing world or process, how skilled editing can make a difference in the value of a document or project — and “stop beating people over the head with ‘marketing.’”

That makes sense when you consider that many freelance editors find the whole concept of marketing a little scary. We don’t want to seem pushy or aggressive; we just want to get and do the work. But you can do networking and marketing without much effort or being more aggressive than is comfortable for you (although more — when done well — is usually better in terms of building up your business).

Even subscribing to and commenting on a blog like this one is a form of networking — you’re interacting with colleagues, making your views known, showing how well you use language or understand the business of editing, as well as the editing process itself. Making cogent, coherent contributions to a blog or discussion list is also marketing, because it’s another way of putting yourself and some aspects of your skills out there, in front of potential clients or at least colleagues who might refer you for projects.

The vital thing for any freelancer, whether a newbie or a long-time pro, is to find ways to get in front of prospective new clients. Those prospects include friends, family, colleagues, and employers from past jobs, clients you haven’t heard from or worked with in a while — and people who don’t know you yet. How you do this is less important than that you do it. Whatever you call it and however you do it, marketing is important, if not essential, to a successful editing business — just as it is to any business.

We freelance editors have to remember that we are businesses and have to act like businesses, and that includes getting the word out about who we are and what we can do for clients — that is, marketing. Because we are businesses.

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, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

April 7, 2014

On the Basics: Is There a “Best Industry” for Editors?

Is There a “Best Industry” for Editors?

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

The publishing business is supposed to be declining, if not actually dying. I’m not sure that’s the case, but there certainly are a lot of challenging changes going on. In case publishing really is heading for extinction, does any other industry offer editors good potential for job satisfaction, career opportunities, and pay?

I say that any and every industry has that potential.

Too many people think the only way to work as an editor (or writer, proofreader, etc.) is to be in publishing per se—to work for publishing houses, publications, presses, maybe authors. They don’t seem to realize that editing (and, of course, writing, proofreading, photography, graphics, layout, etc.) also happens in every profession, business, and hobby there is.

If you aren’t finding success in editing work in traditional publishing with traditional clients such as book publishers, it’s time to start thinking in new ways. A number of “industries” still, and should continue to, need editors and offer opportunities for many of us.

Some of my editing work is for magazines, which I would classify as part of traditional publishing, but some is for law firms, marketing or public relations companies, professional offices in various areas of medicine, associations in a wide range of topics (including my high school alumni group!), businesses, and not-for-profit organizations.

A recent project involved writing and editing award nominations for a local hospital. Another was editing the required annual description of services for a financial advisor. I’ve also edited and proofread websites for several clients, including one for a heating/plumbing company. I write blog posts for a website for veterinary businesses. I just heard from a company in the transportation industry about proofreading its annual report. I’ve done the writing, editing, proofreading, and/or layout of newsletters and special reports for a variety of not-for-profit organizations. Trade and membership associations are hotbeds of publishing activity, producing newspapers, newsletters, magazines, websites, blogs, and conference materials. I edit letters and blog posts for the owner of a company that packages businesses for loans and sales.

None of these might be what colleagues consider publishing, but all are firmly in the realm of editorial work, and most, if not all, will continue to be needed and thus to need us.

Many such projects require skilled editing more than any particular industry experience or knowledge. These clients are comfortable with the technical or industry side of their material, but aware of their shortcomings in grammar, usage, even spelling and punctuation, which so many of us consider basic to our very cores. If you come across industry-specific technical details that you aren’t sure of, you can flag them for the client to check or verify.

Government agencies and nongovernmental organizations often seek editing services. I’ve done work for the World Bank, which has hundreds of programs and projects that require various levels of writing, editing, and proofreading. And that’s just one entity. I know of someone who has a contract with a local college to edit professor and student papers and, of course, many colleagues work directly with graduate and postdoctoral students on editing their theses and dissertations.

Judging by what I see and hear from several of my colleagues, there also is a lot of work to be had with authors in other countries whose native language is not English, but who need or want to publish their academic work in English-language journals.

Someone is writing and, therefore (in most cases), someone is editing and proofreading all kinds of sales and marketing materials. Think about things like product packaging. Someone has to write, then edit and proofread, the information on every label, box, bag, bottle, carton, pouch, etc. That goes for food, drink, medications, equipment, tools, CDs and DVDs, etc.; even those annoying labels in clothing that stick up from your collar or scrape the back of your neck. Someone also has to write directions or instructions on how to use some of those same items; not all of that is done overseas.

And don’t forget advertising copy, which often desperately needs an editor!

Even though many of us bewail aspects of it, the constantly growing self-publishing industry also can be a fertile field of opportunity for editors. It may take some extra effort to find self-publishing authors who understand the value of having their work edited, but those authors do exist, and their numbers may increase if reviewers and readers react more volubly to sloppy writing that cries out for a skilled editorial hand. And some of the packaging or service companies now offer editing to the people who come to them with manuscripts to publish; the rates from those companies may not be the highest, but some opportunities do exist in those corners of the industry.

What this all comes down to is that there is no one “best industry” for editors—all industries are good hunting grounds for work as editors. Opportunities are out there. Widen your search, and you might be surprised at what you find.

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, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

January 27, 2014

On the Basics: Editors and Education — A Lifelong, Ongoing Process

Today inaugurates a monthly series of essays by Ruth Thaler-Carter, “On the Basics.” In her essays, Ruth will explore the world of freelancing, drawing on her varied background as writer, editor, and conference host. Please welcome Ruth as a new columnist for An American Editor.

____________

Editors and Education —
A Lifelong, Ongoing Process

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

To succeed as editors, we need to educate ourselves all the time, at all times. Because neither language nor editing is static, we can’t be static. Language evolves and changes (not always in ways some of us like, but such is life), and so must editors.

We have to start our careers by educating ourselves about the essentials of good editing and the types of editing (copy, substantive, developmental, project, and production editing, not to mention editing vs. proofreading) we might do. Then we have to continue to educate ourselves throughout our careers to stay professional and at the top of the editing game. We have to stay up to date and know more than our clients — at least about language, if not about the topics of the materials we edit.

I think of this every time I see a query about a term or usage that I’m not familiar with, or encounter one new to me. I think of myself as skilled and well-educated, but I would never say I couldn’t learn more about language in general and editing in particular. Constant learning creates an editor who is more skilled and more credible than people who think they’ve learned everything they need to know to do good work as an editor.

Our editing education started long before we entered the profession, at least ideally — we learned the ground rules of spelling, grammar, usage, and punctuation in grade school. We might have had some refinement of that information through high school and college, but most of us received our actual editing educations on the job, refining that basic knowledge by learning about a specific topic, field, or profession and how publishing worked in that area, or as humble editorial assistants in a more general environment, where the editing function itself was the focus, rather than one particular topic. We learned from colleagues and from whatever style manuals were the order of the day at a given company, publishing house, or publication.

Some of us started editing long enough ago to have used blue pencils as the standard tool of the game. We educated ourselves then to use the appropriate markup “language” on paper copy. As the publishing world changed, we changed, too, and educated ourselves about new tools of the trade — word processors and then personal computers; WordPerfect, MacWrite, Microsoft Word, Acrobat, and other programs. Many of us have educated ourselves about more sophisticated resources as well, such as macros and macro programs like Editorium products, PerfectIt, and EditTools. We might not have called how we picked up these new skills “education” — it might have been labeled training, or professional development, or adaptation, or simple survival — but that adaptation was still an education process.

For freelance editors, education includes learning the ropes of being businesslike and separating editing as our craft from editing as a business. That is not an easy thing to do and something many of us are still struggling to do well, but it is essential to financial success.

There is more to educating ourselves, however, than just adapting to the need to use new tools or techniques as they evolve. To be the best editor you can be, as well as the most successful you can be, you have to continually educate yourself about the world around you — new uses of languages, new ways of using language, new words in the language. We have to pay attention to changes in style manuals, advances in various fields, political changes that affect country names and borders, and more. We can never assume that we’ve learned enough; there’s always more to know.

That means reading, constantly and widely — daily newspapers; a variety of general and news magazines; blogs about editing but also about other topics; professional publications; books in different genres; and more. Even watching TV news and some popular culture programs, as annoying as they may be and as superior as it may feel to eschew them, has educational importance. You can’t be a great editor if you cut yourself off from general information about the world around you. Books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, and other information resources that cover the world outside editing all inform the world of editing, and the mindset, skillset, and overall ability of an editor.

What you read for pleasure is also a factor in self-education, whether it be fiction, poetry, or nonfiction. Reading expands the mind and the imagination, as well as increasing your knowledge base. You never know when something you just read, even in a mystery or a novel of historical fiction, will inform and enhance your ability to edit a new project. And the more genres you read, the more types of projects you become eligible to edit.

Ongoing editing education also means being active in social media — on organizational and independent e-mail lists, and in LinkedIn conversations, web forums, and other environments where discussions of language and world trends and news can be found. We learn from each other as well as from more formal sources. Even Facebook can be a platform for learning about trends and events that could help you be a better editor.

We may not like all the changes in language and in the world around us, but we still have to know of them and deal with them on behalf of our clients or projects. The bottom line is that the more educated an editor is about editing in particular and the world in general, the better an editor that person is.

What do you consider essential to your ongoing professional education? How do you educate yourself to stay sharp and up to date about the craft and business of editing and the world in which you operate as an editor?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and desktop publisher who also owns Communication Central, which hosts an annual conference for freelancers every fall.

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