An American Editor

July 19, 2017

From the Archives: Business of Editing: Losing the Chance

(The following essay was originally published on
 An American Editor on May 20, 2013.)

Editors need work and, because we are self-employed, we cannot wait for work to come to us; we need to aggressively seek it out. That has always been the reality, but, with all the competition that editors face globally today, the editor who doesn’t seek out work is likely to have no work — unless something separates him from other editors that enhances his particular value to clients and brings them to him without his making an effort.

It is unfortunate that most editors do not understand how to find work. For many, as soon as they apply (inquire) about work availability, they have already lost the chance to gain a new client. There are lots of reasons why the chance is lost, but what follows are seven fundamental errors.

Error 1: Not knowing anything at all about the prospective client. For example, most of my work is medical and I primarily work with publishers and packagers, yet I receive applications from editors who want to edit fiction, or history, or anything but what I do. And when they receive the test they need to take, they send me e-mails asking if there is a different test that they can take that is more in tune with their interests. Why would you apply for editing work from a company that doesn’t work in your area(s)? Why would you think that a company that publishes cookbooks would consider hiring someone who makes it clear that she is interested in editing young adult fiction? This first error is a major error, generally fatal, but not on a pedestal by itself.

Error 2: Not understanding the pay parameters. One reason clients and employers ask about pay expectations is to weed the serious applicants from the nonserious applicants. To request a rate of pay that greatly exceeds what a prospective client pays or — more importantly — is itself paid, dooms any chance you may have of obtaining work.

When I receive applications, the first thing I do is look at the expected pay. Nearly 95% of applicants have wholly unrealistic expectations. Part of that lack of realism comes about because they are already working in an editorial-related field and in their field, the amount they state on their application is reasonable. But when you want to move beyond your field, you need to know what “standard” is in the new field. Unrealistic compensation expectations doom an applicant, if for no other reason than it loudly proclaims that the applicant has no experience. Why would someone hire an applicant whom they know they can’t pay? Or who they know will be unwilling to work at the pay scale that comes with the work?

Error 3: Not providing the information requested in the application in the form requested. I ask, for example, for the résumé to be in a particular form. Out of 25 applicants, one will comply. The other 24 simply demonstrate that they either cannot read and follow instructions, in which case they would not be good for my business, or that they don’t care enough about the work to make the effort to comply, in which case, why would I hire them and invite trouble? If they don’t care enough to follow my simple request, how can I be certain they will follow client requests? Or that they won’t cause clients to take their business elsewhere?

Error 4: Providing the wrong kind of information. If you are seeking work from someone who does mainly medical work, you need to highlight your medical experience or explain why your nonmedical experience is relevant. What you should not do is emphasize your nonmedical work in a vacuum: that is, leave your prospective client wondering if you have the necessary skills. This is especially evidence of poor judgment when it is combined with error 2, asking for wholly unrealistic compensation.

Error 5: Not taking any required exam in a timely fashion. Even if a prospective client is discarding your application because you made the first four errors, you have an opportunity, by completing the exam, to make the client rethink. I know that, when I have seen an exceptional exam from someone who committed any of the first four errors, I have made the effort to contact the applicant and explain the realities; I have discussed the possibilities further with the applicant. A well-done exam is a chance at resurrection and salvation — yet most applicants simply do not take the exam.

I find this particularly odd because I make it clear that an applicant will automatically receive a copyediting test and that the test is required to be considered. Yet, the applicant who doesn’t intend to take the exam submits an application anyway. Why do applicants think that prospective clients give any consideration to their applications in the absence of the completed exam?

Error 6: Not knowing how to take a copyediting test. There are certain fundamental things an editor is expected to do when editing a manuscript; those same fundamentals should be done on an editing test. The editing test is where you get the opportunity to show a prospective client that you really are a top-notch editor; that you are worth the compensation you requested; that you can do the job without a great deal of supervision; that you understand editing; that you are a professional.

Have you ever wondered how long it takes a client to determine whether an applicant has passed or failed an editing test? I can’t speak for everyone, but for myself and for several in-house editors who have the responsibility of reviewing submitted exams, the answer is that we can tell if you failed in less than one minute and whether you passed in less than three minutes. I’ll go you one better: I can tell you whether you failed my test in 10 seconds. (There are levels of failure. Some things result in an automatic fail, others simply get weighed in the balance, which is why there is the range of time.)

Copyediting tests are designed to assess core skills that the prospective client is most interested in, be it subject-verb agreement, following instructions, knowledge of subject matter lingo; whether certain resources are used; computer skills; or something else. Examiners also have a hierarchy and they have one or two things that, if you miss those, you automatically fail, whereas other errors are just added to the negative side of the balance.

The bottom line is that you need to know how to take a copyediting test, because a skilled editor will get past the automatic fail and will convey to the examiner that you are a talented, skilled editor.

Error 7: Calling the prospective client out of the blue and saying you want to apply for editorial work. Few clients are appreciative of this or have the time to deal with you. That is why many post information about how to apply for work at their websites. But even if they do not, writing rather than calling is the smarter method of seeking work from new clients. If nothing else, sending an email message gives you a chance to show that you edit your own material to produce accurate copy, while a phone call tells me nothing about your skills.

These are key errors, but not all of the errors, that editors make when seeking work. Correcting these errors is the first step on the path toward new clients and more work for an editor.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

May 20, 2013

Business of Editing: Losing the Chance

Editors need work and, because we are self-employed, we cannot wait for work to come to us; we need to aggressively seek it out. That has always been the reality, but, with all the competition that editors face globally today, the editor who doesn’t seek out work is likely to have no work — unless something separates him from other editors that enhances his particular value to clients and brings them to him without his making an effort.

It is unfortunate that most editors do not understand how to find work. For many, as soon as they apply (inquire) about work availability, they have already lost the chance to gain a new client. There are lots of reasons why the chance is lost, but what follows are seven fundamental errors.

Error 1: Not knowing anything at all about the prospective client. For example, most of my work is medical and I primarily work with publishers and packagers, yet I receive applications from editors who want to edit fiction, or history, or anything but what I do. And when they receive the test they need to take, they send me e-mails asking if there is a different test that they can take that is more in tune with their interests. Why would you apply for editing work from a company that doesn’t work in your area(s)? Why would you think that a company that publishes cookbooks would consider hiring someone who makes it clear that she is interested in editing young adult fiction? This first error is a major error, generally fatal, but not on a pedestal by itself.

Error 2: Not understanding the pay parameters. One reason clients and employers ask about pay expectations is to weed the serious applicants from the nonserious applicants. To request a rate of pay that greatly exceeds what a prospective client pays or — more importantly — is itself paid, dooms any chance you may have of obtaining work.

When I receive applications, the first thing I do is look at the expected pay. Nearly 95% of applicants have wholly unrealistic expectations. Part of that lack of realism comes about because they are already working in an editorial-related field and in their field, the amount they state on their application is reasonable. But when you want to move beyond your field, you need to know what “standard” is in the new field. Unrealistic compensation expectations doom an applicant, if for no other reason than it loudly proclaims that the applicant has no experience. Why would someone hire an applicant whom they know they can’t pay? Or who they know will be unwilling to work at the pay scale that comes with the work?

Error 3: Not providing the information requested in the application in the form requested. I ask, for example, for the résumé to be in a particular form. Out of 25 applicants, one will comply. The other 24 simply demonstrate that they either cannot read and follow instructions, in which case they would not be good for my business, or that they don’t care enough about the work to make the effort to comply, in which case, why would I hire them and invite trouble? If they don’t care enough to follow my simple request, how can I be certain they will follow client requests? Or that they won’t cause clients to take their business elsewhere?

Error 4: Providing the wrong kind of information. If you are seeking work from someone who does mainly medical work, you need to highlight your medical experience or explain why your nonmedical experience is relevant. What you should not do is emphasize your nonmedical work in a vacuum: that is, leave your prospective client wondering if you have the necessary skills. This is especially evidence of poor judgment when it is combined with error 2, asking for wholly unrealistic compensation.

Error 5: Not taking any required exam in a timely fashion. Even if a prospective client is discarding your application because you made the first four errors, you have an opportunity, by completing the exam, to make the client rethink. I know that, when I have seen an exceptional exam from someone who committed any of the first four errors, I have made the effort to contact the applicant and explain the realities; I have discussed the possibilities further with the applicant. A well-done exam is a chance at resurrection and salvation — yet most applicants simply do not take the exam.

I find this particularly odd because I make it clear that an applicant will automatically receive a copyediting test and that the test is required to be considered. Yet, the applicant who doesn’t intend to take the exam submits an application anyway. Why do applicants think that prospective clients give any consideration to their applications in the absence of the completed exam?

Error 6: Not knowing how to take a copyediting test. There are certain fundamental things an editor is expected to do when editing a manuscript; those same fundamentals should be done on an editing test. The editing test is where you get the opportunity to show a prospective client that you really are a top-notch editor; that you are worth the compensation you requested; that you can do the job without a great deal of supervision; that you understand editing; that you are a professional.

Have you ever wondered how long it takes a client to determine whether an applicant has passed or failed an editing test? I can’t speak for everyone, but for myself and for several in-house editors who have the responsibility of reviewing submitted exams, the answer is that we can tell if you failed in less than one minute and whether you passed in less than three minutes. I’ll go you one better: I can tell you whether you failed my test in 10 seconds. (There are levels of failure. Some things result in an automatic fail, others simply get weighed in the balance, which is why there is the range of time.)

Copyediting tests are designed to assess core skills that the prospective client is most interested in, be it subject-verb agreement, following instructions, knowledge of subject matter lingo; whether certain resources are used; computer skills; or something else. Examiners also have a hierarchy and they have one or two things that, if you miss those, you automatically fail, whereas other errors are just added to the negative side of the balance.

The bottom line is that you need to know how to take a copyediting test, because a skilled editor will get past the automatic fail and will convey to the examiner that you are a talented, skilled editor.

Error 7: Calling the prospective client out of the blue and saying you want to apply for editorial work. Few clients are appreciative of this or have the time to deal with you. That is why many post information about how to apply for work at their websites. But even if they do not, writing rather than calling is the smarter method of seeking work from new clients. If nothing else, sending an email message gives you a chance to show that you edit your own material to produce accurate copy, while a phone call tells me nothing about your skills.

These are key errors, but not all of the errors, that editors make when seeking work. Correcting these errors is the first step on the path toward new clients and more work for an editor.

February 13, 2012

The Business of Editing: Editing Tests

A constant refrain over the years has been, “I’ve been editing for x years and they still want me to take a test!” Some editors routinely refuse to take editing tests, considering them an insult, whereas others take every test offered and wonder why they aren’t getting work from the companies that tested them.

On my editor side, I understand the reluctance to take an editing test. After all, I’ve been a highly successful editor for 28 years and the person who is likely “grading” my test (should I take it) probably has no more than a few years’ experience and maybe not even more than a few months. On my business side, however, I have learned — the hard way — the importance of requiring a test, regardless of the number of years of experience the editor claims.

Tests are a difficult proposition. For all the reasons that two editors will edit the same manuscript differently, so will editors complete a test differently. And taking a test means trying to figure out what the test giver is really looking for.

I can’t tell you how many times over the years I have taken a test and thought I did exceptionally well, only to never hear again from the test giver. Clearly I missed something or what I did may have been correct but not what the test giver wanted. The third possibility, which does occur with more frequency than it should, is that the test giver lacks the experience to properly grade a completed test.

In the beginning, oh so many years ago, I thought there was a key to being successful with editing tests. Ultimately, I learned there is none — unless I could figure out what the test giver was testing for. I have taken tests where the key was intricate knowledge of a particular style manual, others where it was how queries were framed, others where it was to determine my knowledge of the tools I was using, and yet others where it was a test of my knowledge of English usage. Needless to say, I suppose, is that there were also numerous tests where I had no clue as to what knowledge was being tested.

When I first began hiring editors, I looked at their résumé and hired them or not based on those. No test was given. My belief was that an experienced editor would be capable of handling the work. To my chagrin, I learned that, more often than not, it was not true and hiring the editor without a test was a major mistake, occasionally costing me clients. Consequently, I no longer will hire an editor who hasn’t taken a test and passed it.

That experience also convinced me that if I wanted new clients, I had to be willing to take their tests. And so I am. Passing or failing the test is a hit-or-miss proposition because the tests rarely give enough guidance and it is difficult to discern exactly what I am being tested for.

Often the tests are a hodgepodge of author manuscripts — a paragraph from this author, another from that author. The more hodgepodgy the test is, the more likely it is a test for developmental editing rather than copyediting. The less hodgepodgy the test is, the more likely it is a straight copyediting test and/or a test to demonstrate your knowledge of your editing tools.

When taking a test, a comprehensive stylesheet is important. The stylesheet gives you an opportunity to indicate just how fluent you are with the resources you would be expected to use should you be hired by the test giver. I make it clear, for example, in the stylesheet exactly which dictionaries I used and that I am aware that, while dictionary A prefers xyz and dictionary B prefers xzy, I chose dictionary A to be the dominant dictionary.

I also use the stylesheet to explain my choices when it comes to English usage. I am not afraid to say that Chicago Manual of Style prefers abc over acb but Garner’s Modern American Usage prefers to distinguish between the two, and to use each in specific circumstances. I also try to point out where style manuals differ. My objective is to demonstrate my mastery of the tools I will be expected to use.

My point is that I assume the test giver needs to be educated and that I need to be the teacher. It may not win me the job, but I can at least believe I did all I could to get the job. Both test givers and takers need to remember that editing is often a matter of personal preference and, because that is so, more detailed explanation is often required.

I also include a cover statement that explains my approach to editing. It is important, I think, for the test giver to understand the steps I take with every author manuscript and why I take these particular steps. Such understanding can help explain the editing choices I made on the test. My cover statement also includes a listing of the tools and resources I have and use. To say that I am a medical editor implies that I own at least one medical dictionary, but it is so much clearer when I say that I own and use both Dorland’s and Stedman’s medical dictionaries and that I have a subscription to the tri-monthly Stedman’s Medical Spell Checker software.

The point is that I have a lot of competition for the work. The competition is both domestic and foreign in the Internet Age, so passing a test is insufficient by itself. I believe I need to do more to impress the test giver that, of all the candidates for the work, I am the best choice and that the test giver can back up any decision to choose me with all this additional information.

Does it always work? No. There are lots of reasons why I may not be chosen; reasons that fall outside the parameters of the test. The test is but one facet of a multifaceted decision tree. A number of times in recent years I have been told that I was by far the best choice except for how I calculate a page or my minimum fee, or because I only work on a per-page basis and cannot accept an hourly rate, or that my payment terms are at odds with their terms, or whatever.

Test taking is necessary. Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet to assure that one passes the test and fulfills every other consideration that enters the hiring decision. Like life itself, test taking is a gamble and the odds are stacked.

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