An American Editor

January 8, 2018

A New Year — and a New Era for An American Editor

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Happy new year to all subscribers and contributors to An American Editor! As most of you know, blog founder Rich Adin has done me the great honor of handing off “editorship” of An American Editor. I’m both thrilled and intimidated by this responsibility — Rich created big shoes to fill, so to speak. The response to our announcements of this change from colleagues has been downright heart-warming, and I appreciate all of your generous comments in various forums. I hope to live up to his — and all of your — confidence in me.

While Rich and I have been editing professionally for almost the same amount of time, we work on very different kinds of projects, so my take on this profession will be unlike his. He routinely works on huge projects, usually in the medical field; even one of my biggest projects would probably make only a chapter in one of Rich’s usual manuscripts. He also functions as a company, with people who work for him, while I’m happily a sole proprietor, occasionally working with colleagues but mostly on my own. However, we share similar opinions about many aspects of editing today. We both care about quality and excellence, and are concerned about consolidation in publishing, outsourcing, and professionalism in the field. We notice many of the same things about how editors approach their work, how independent editors manage their businesses, and what clients expect or demand from editors at all levels.

Rich is also far more technologically and technically ept than I will ever be, but I’ll do my best to enhance my skills in that area on behalf of our subscribers.

Because I’m new to blogging on my own, I probably will not post quite as often as Rich has been doing, so please do not be concerned or disappointed if it takes awhile for me to work up to a three-posts/week schedule.

I’m glad to report that several of our columnists still plan to be involved with An American Editor and continue to share their perspectives on editing: Jack Lyon, of macro fame; Carolyn Haley, fiction editor (and author; a double threat!); and AElfwine Mischler, indexer (who also covers working in Arabic). We are open to new columns, either occasional or regular ones, from new contributors. If you would like to contribute essays to An American Editor, contact me with your ideas at Ruth.Thaler-Carter@anamericaneditor.com.

No one (including me) gets paid, so all posts you see here or would consider writing are labors of love — love of our profession, of quality, and — if this doesn’t seem too touchy-feely — of colleagues.

If there are topics you would like to see addressed here, please feel free to let me know at Ruth.Thaler-Carter@anamericaneditor.com.

Again, my thanks to all of you for your support of An American Editor to date, and from this point onward. Here’s wishing a productive and profitable new year for all.

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.

October 17, 2014

Worth Reading: The Future of the Book

As long-time readers of An American Editor know, one of my favorite and highly recommended magazines is The Economist. I find it interesting that it is a British “newspaper” whose largest subscriber circulation is in the United States. Sadly, there is no U.S. news magazine that even comes close to the quality of The Economist.

But I digress.

One of the virtues of The Economist is its high-quality, in-depth special reports and essays. The topics vary but the essay in the October 11 issue is near and dear to my heart as an editor:

The Future of the Book: From Papyrus to Pixels.

When I have spoken about the business of editing at conferences, I have said that editors, like all businesspersons, need to try to predict future trends for our business and plan for those trends. Of course, that is easier said than done, but for those of you who do try to identify trends and plan for them, this article is a must-read. It doesn’t give answers, but it certainly gives clues.

The article is the Essay in the October 11, 2014 print edition of The Economist for those who prefer the print version.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

April 16, 2014

Are Boom Times Coming?

As all self-employed in the United States know, April 15 is not only the date our personal income tax returns for the prior fiscal year are due, but also the time when we need to pay our first quarter estimated taxes for the current fiscal year. For me, it is also a time to spend a few hours looking at data I have accumulated during the first quarter and making an attempt to predict future trends.

In recent articles, I have noted the importance of data collection (see, e.g., The Business of Editing: Recordkeeping I and The Business of Editing: Recordkeeping II). I have also noted the upswing I have experienced in offers of editing work (see, e.g., The Business of Editing: An Embarrassment of Riches). In those articles, I hinted (at best) at the extent of the data I keep and analyze.

Important data that I keep are the number of projects I have been offered, the number that I accepted and the number I declined, and as much detail as I can about the projects I declined, but with particular focus on size, offered fee, subject matter, and schedule. I usually review and analyze this data quarterly, about the same time that I prepare my income information for transmittal to my accountant for the quarterly returns. (I know that many, if not most, of my colleagues do their own quarterly payments; after all, it is a simple form. But I have made it a practice over my years as a freelancer to always use an accountant even though the accountant’s services are not free. For my business it is worth the fee. The accountant also looks at the data I have collected and sometimes offers a very valuable insight into my business that I have overlooked.)

This year has been significantly different than previous years. When publishers started offshoring, I could see a trending decline in the number of projects I was being offered. Interestingly, at the height of the offshoring and of the consolidation of the publishing industry, a key indicator was the low number of projects that I declined. (I should note that I do track the reason why I declined a project. This is important data. It makes a big difference in my analyses if the reason was fee, schedule, project size, or subject matter, or a combination of these four. For example, if I declined a project because it was outside the scope of the areas in which I work [e.g., a historical romance novel], then that particular project plays a very minimal role in my analyses; in fact, other than being counted as a declined project, it has no role in my analyses.) At that time, few projects were declined.

I could then trace a leveling. Every year following the plateauing of the accepted-declined numbers, I could reliably estimate the amount of work I would have each quarter of the following year, from whom the work would come, and the type of work it would be. That information helped guide my marketing: how much marketing I needed to do, to whom it should be directed, and when it should be done.

Beginning in the last half of 2012 I noticed that what had been plateauing was changing. The number of projects and the size of the projects being offered were beginning to increase. Where previously the number of projects being declined had remained low and steady, the trend was starting to show an increase.

The data for 2013 reinforced this trend, with the numbers steadily, but slowly growing. Also the data showed an increase in the effective hourly rate, which indicates an improvement in efficiency as well as an improvement in the types of projects accepted.

For the first quarter of 2014, the data demonstrates a continuation of the trend. But the data shows a significant spike. For example, in the first quarter of 2014 I was offered and declined as many projects as I had declined for the whole year in 2011 and 2012. The data shows that the number of manuscript pages in the declined projects equals 46% of the number of pages that was accepted.

Perhaps more importantly, the data shows that clients increasingly tried to alter schedules in hopes that by doing so I could fit the projects in my schedule. This is an important bit of knowledge because I can look at, for example, 2007 and see that in 2007 clients were willing to alter production schedules for very few projects, but in 2014 it changed to the majority of projects.

The data indicates to me that, at least within my niche, boom times may be coming. The first quarter 2014 data is an eye-opener for me. I note that revenues are up 61%, the size of the projects under contract is up 143%, and the number of projects being offered is up 218%, but I declined 58% of gross number (or 46% in terms of manuscript pages), which is also an increase. Unfortunately, because editing is hands-on work that has limits on what can be automated, the number of projects that I can accept is governed by the same key determinants — number of manuscript pages, project difficulty, and schedule — that existed in 2000, which limited the number of projects I could accept in 2000, still control the number of projects I can accept today.

But data analysis also discloses how efficiently I can edit. The more efficient I am, the higher the number of pages per hour that can be edited. The higher that number is, the more projects I can accept; conversely, the lower that number, the fewer projects that can be accepted.

Although the percentages noted above look great, it needs to be remembered that they represent just the first quarter of 2014. Second quarter data could plummet those numbers when applied year to date. My point is that although analysis of the first quarter is important in the decision-making process for upcoming months, it cannot be the sole determinant. At most it is a guide. Had the numbers been down, however, the importance of the analysis would be much greater; the analysis would be a warning of a negative trend that requires immediate corrective steps.

As I said earlier, my first quarter results indicate a change in the publishing industry for my niche and implies that boom times are coming. But even if boom times are coming, who knows how long they will stay. It could be fleeting or it could be years. The answer lies in the data I continue to collect.

What does your data tell you about upcoming trends for your business? Are you doing better than previously? Do you limit your analyses to comparing gross revenue? If so, what does that comparison tell you about your business and what you need to do?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

May 13, 2013

The Crystal Ball Says . . .

The May 4, 2013 edition of The Economist reported that the British Research Councils will begin requiring taxpayer-funded research to be published in journals that make the research available free within one year of publication, if not sooner (“Academic Publishing: Free-for-all”). This mirrors the White House’s executive order to the same effect and a bill in Congress that would set the time limit at six months. Not to be left behind, the European Union is moving in the same direction

The crystal ball sees these as a positive trend for taxpayers, but a worrisome trend for authors and editors, especially when you realize where this leads: to the extension of self-publishing to research papers.

It doesn’t take much effort to recognize that a journal cannot survive if it is paying all the costs of production and marketing but cannot charge for the content. Publishers, being businesses, would have to shift the economic burdens, and the only place to which they can be shifted is onto author shoulders.

It is true that, now, many researchers hire editors at their own expense to help them prepare research articles for submission to journals. The authors see this as an investment because they are trying to be published in journals whose reputations will boost the authors’ reputation — the honor and prestige of being published in a journal known to reject 90% or more of submissions is calculable in the academic world. Getting published by Nature or Science is an academic plum; the same cannot be said for articles published in PLoS, which accepts 80% or more of the articles submitted to it.

The future seems to be that authors will not only have to bear the burden of the editorial costs, but also the production costs, which will be wrapped into a publication fee: “Want to have your article published in our journal? You need to pay us $x.” In other words, the vanity press model of publishing is the likely model that publishers of journals will adopt. As long as you are willing to pay to be published, you will be published.

Setting aside the ramifications such a system has for the reputation of the open-access journal and, thus, the reputation of the author published in the open-access journal, and setting aside the potential benefits to society of researchers having full access to these research articles, we need to consider the impact it will have on us in the performance of the work we do as editors and authors.

The boom in self-publishing of ebooks has not transferred its momentum to either editors or to authors. Although some editors have seen an uptick in work received from authors, most editors have not; many editors have seen, instead, a decline. More importantly, perhaps, is that editorial standards have declined as authors increasingly decide they can self-edit or that having their nephew’s kindergarten teacher (or the nephew himself!) do the editing for free or minimal cost is sufficient. Of course, it does not help that readers are buying error-riddled ebooks and often are unaware of the errors. (It is hard to convince someone who believes gr8 is an acceptable spelling of great that gr8 is erroneous.)

This momentum toward self- and nonprofessional editing also puts downward pressure on professional editors fees. We are in the race to the bottom!

A bright spot in editing has been academic editing. It hasn’t been financially bright but work-wise it has been shining when compared to the offshoring of “standard” editorial work. But that is because there have been several parties who were interested in achieving excellence, an excellence that is not represented by either most self-editing efforts or editing by nonprofessionals.

Yet I foresee a coming change as a result of the open access requirements. Researchers who are already hard pressed to financially support their research and who now pay for a preliminary submission edit, knowing that if accepted the journal will provide additional editing, will be rethinking whether to self-edit or have a nonprofessional do the editing, and whether to put pressure on professional editors to reduce fees, all because these authors will have to pay publication fees to the journals in addition to those fees they have already been paying.

According to The Economist article, the journal Nature claims it costs $40,000 per published paper to cover all of the production and review costs. I have no reason to doubt the number, but it makes me wonder who will bear — and pay — such cost in the open-access model of publishing? How many authors would willingly pay even 25% of that cost? How many authors could afford to absorb such costs?

If the journal is not absorbing the cost, then the ripple has to move downstream. It has to keep moving until it is finally stopped at the place where the cost is absorbed or until it no longer has momentum because either the costs to be absorbed have greatly diminished or no longer have someone to absorb them. How much of that ripple will editors have to absorb by way of lower prices?

(Something to note: “Lower prices” doesn’t necessarily mean reducing, for example, an hourly rate from $45 to $35. It can also mean leaving the rate as is but increasing the scope and amount of services provided. The effect is the same in both instances: it is a lowering of price.)

I also wonder when we will see this open-access publishing model extend to all of academic publishing, not just to journals. I expect that publishers, once they wrap themselves in open-access publishing and see that charging a fee to be published can be profitable, will apply this model to academic books. University presses are already financially in trouble; the open-access model of having the author pay the costs could reduce their financial stress. However, it would also mean less opportunity (or less money) for professional editors as authors strive to reduce their cost burden.

I think the future for authors is one of more costs and less prestige. More costs because the financial burdens will shift from journals and university presses to the authors. Less prestige because the quality of presentation of the research will decline and because a pay-to-publish scheme will reduce the selectivity of the journals and publishers — as long as you can pay, you will be published.

I think the future for professional editors is one of lower prices and less work. Lower prices because authors will pressure for lower fees, or a broadened scope of work, or both, and editors will not be able to resist that pressure because it will come from all directions. Less work because as the costs to publish rise, authors will try to self-edit or find colleagues or students or friends or relatives or other nonprofessionals to do the editing as a way to reduce their financial burden, with the result that there will be less work for professional editors.

My crystal ball says authors and editors need to begin thinking about how they will adapt to what the future portends.

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