An American Editor

March 19, 2014

The Business of Editing: Recordkeeping II

In The Business of Editing: Recordkeeping I, I discussed the importance of keeping records to determine whether it is better for you to charge by, for example, the page or the hour. But that article gave a very limited view of why recordkeeping is important.

Businesses run on data. As freelancers, we are well aware of the reliance of corporate clients on data — the data is used to determine everything from whether a new edition of a book should be undertaken to how much should be budgeted to produce the book. Although we do not have the same issues to think about, those that we do have are as equally weighty for our business.

For most freelancers, the beginning year(s) are devoted to accepting paying work of any type. When I first started, I accepted book editing, book proofreading, journal article editing, advertising, desktop publishing, and whatever other assignments came my way. And I kept detailed data on every one of those assignments.

Every couple of months I would analyze the data, but it wasn’t until I had about a year’s worth of data that I could draw conclusions. The data told me that for me:

  • advertising work didn’t pay
  • proofreading didn’t pay
  • book editing was the most lucrative work — but only if
    • it was on a per-page or project-fee basis
    • the manuscripts were of a sufficiently large size
    • the work was nonfiction
    • the work was not for academic presses
    • the work was not directly with the author
    • the work was copyediting

I also learned other things, such as what types of subject matter were best for me and that I could increase profitability by working with other editors.

Let me emphasize that the above were lessons I learned based on my experience and my data. I am not suggesting that they are true lessons for anyone else. Rather, the point is that the collection of data can help direct your business into the areas that are most lucrative for you.

Data also helps guide marketing efforts. Once I learned what was best for me, I was able to focus my marketing efforts on those services and (potential) clients. I stopped trying to be all things to everyone; instead I focused solely on those things that had the greatest potential to help me reach my goals. Once I realized that editing fiction was less lucrative for me than editing nonfiction, I eliminated my marketing efforts to fiction publishers and refocused my efforts to nonfiction publishers.

All of that is well and good, but the focusing of my efforts was not the biggest boon I got (and continue to receive) from data collection. Rather, the biggest boon is identifying those projects that were financially more successful and those that were less successful.

With that identification (which is something you cannot readily do if you charge by the hour because hourly charging makes all projects equally successful, regardless of whether that is the best or least success you can have), I was able to focus on what made one project more successful than another. I was able to glean the stumbling blocks.

One example: I discovered that projects that had hundreds of references with each chapter were a mixed bag of success. Those that were second or subsequent editions were more likely to have greater success than first editions because authors would often follow the citation formatting of the prior edition, but if it was a first edition, there often was no uniformity to the style the authors followed.

I also discovered that the two primary problems that I encountered with references were wrong journal abbreviations and wrong format of author names. The questions were (1) could these problems be solved or at least mitigated and if so, (2) what are the solutions? The solutions took some time to formulate, but having identified the problems, I could focus. The ultimate result was the creation of my Journals macro and the Wildcard Find & Replace macro. My journals database now approaches 20,000 entries (see Business of Editing: The Logistics of Large Projects for more information), which makes checking and correcting journal names easy and accurate. The Wildcard macro makes it possible to fix many of the incorrectly formatted author names. Combined, the two macros significantly reduce the time I need to spend on the references.

Of course, other problems also needed addressing, but I would not have been able to identify common problems in the absence of the data; in the absence of the data, I would have been able to identify only the problems in an individual project, which may not have recurred in other projects.

Ultimately, the more information you can parse from the projects you work on and can categorize, the more you will be able to identify common problems among your projects that you can address. The more of these that you address, the more profitable you can make your business.

There is all kinds of data worth collecting, but I have found one of the most valuable to be my churn rate; that is, how many pages an hour I can edit. That number varies by project and project complexity, but I have found it important to track. I know that I need to churn a minimum number of pages per hour (on average across a project) to meet my goals. When I see that a certain type of project consistently falls short of that minimum number, I know that I need to rethink accepting such projects.

As I hope is evident, data is the lifeblood of even a freelancer’s business. The more effort you put into collecting and analyzing data regarding your work, the more likely it is that your goals will be met. This endeavor is well worth the time and effort required.

What data, if any, do you collect and analyze? How often do you review the information? Has it helped guide your business?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

May 15, 2013

The Only Thing We Have to Fear: Wildcard Macros

Whenever I talk to colleagues about macros, it is as if a funereal pall has enclosed us. My colleagues, generally, tell me that they cannot write macros, that it is much too complicated, especially wildcard macros.

If I ask if they ever use Word’s Find & Replace, they all admit that, yes, they do. “Congratulations,” I say, “because each time you use Find & Replace, you have written a macro! You just haven’t recorded it.”

The only thing we have to fear about macros is our fear of macros.

I suppose, technically, Find & Replace is not macro writing, but truly, a macro is just a way to find some sequence and do something to that sequence — be it bold the sequence, highlight it, replace it with another sequence, delete it, whatever.

Most everyone who uses Microsoft Word has recorded a keyboard macro. Word makes doing so very easy. Again, congratulations if you have written a keyboard macro, because you are on your way to macro wizardship.

There is a key to writing macros. It is a secret that macro wizards rarely share, but I’m going to share with you. The secret is wrapped up in a single magical word: analysis. Analysis of what you need a macro to do is the key to writing a macro. Sure you need to have some arcane language (what good is wizardry without arcane language all its own?) and all of the arcane language you need to write the macros can be found in Jack Lyon’s Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word and in Wildcards in MS Word Macros, which is a compilation of information on wildcards that Jack Lyon wrote for his blog years ago and which you can download for free by clicking the title-link. Alternatively, you can use the Wildcard Find & Replace Macro found in EditTools to “write” the macros for you, but analysis is the real key to writing macros.

Consider this problem: You have a list of 100 references in which the styles are all over the place. Author names are often listed like this:

Arnold, J. H., K. L. Swift, and A.J.H. Archimedes.

but you need the author names to look like this:

Arnold JH, Swift KL, Archimedes AJH:

You can fix the names manually or by using macros. Manually will take nearly forever, so the better method is to use macros. Here is where analysis matters.

When I began using macros, I saw this problem and thought, “How can I write a macro to fix these author names?” My thinking was a single macro to take care of it all. I quickly discovered that a single macro can’t do the job, but a series of macros that can be combined into a single macro could. The key was series of macros, which meant that I needed to break the problem down into solvable (or macroable) parts.

The first part is Arnold, J. H., which I need to change to Arnold JH,. What I need to find is as follows:

  1. any mix of letters of varying length
  2. that is followed by a comma
  3. and a space
  4. a single uppercase letter
  5. followed by a period and a space
  6. a single uppercase letter
  7. followed by a period
  8. and a comma and a space

I need to replace the find list with

  1. the mix of letters found in 1
  2. the space found in 3
  3. the single uppercase letter found in 4
  4. the single uppercase letter found in 6
  5. and the comma and space found in 8

Note that what I no longer need is not included in the list of replace with items (i.e., find items 2, 5, and 7). Also note that, in analyzing what needs to be found, items that I no longer want are listed on their own lines in the find list.

If you are using Word’s Find & Replace dialog with Use Wildcards checked, you would manually enter the following Find string [paired parens represent the information on a single line in the find list, thus, ([A-z]@) represents line 1: any mix of letters of varying length]:

([A-z]@)(,)( )([A-Z]{1,1})(. )([A-Z]{1,1})(.)(, )

And the following Replace string (the backslash+number represents the corresponding find item, e.g., \1 represents line 1: any mix of letters of varying length and \8 represents line 8: a comma and a space):

\1\3\4\6\8

I can hear you groan. But it isn’t as difficult as it appears. All of the information to write the strings is available in the downloadable Wildcards in MS Word Macros document (just click on the link).

If you are using the EditTools’ Wildcard Find & Replace Macro, you click buttons to make your selection and the code is written for you. An added feature with the Wildcard Find & Replace Macro is that you can save this find and replace so that you can reuse it in the future; with Microsoft’s Find & Replace, the strings cannot be saved. However, what I used to do before I created the Wildcard Find & Replace Macro — and recommend that you do — was keep a special Word document with these strings in it so I could copy and paste when needed in the future. I set up the file like this:

1. Change Arnold, J. H., to Arnold JH,
Find: ([A-z]@)(,)( )([A-Z]{1,1})(. )([A-Z]{1,1})(.)(, )
Replace: \1\3\4\6\8

Once you have entered the strings in either Microsoft’s Find & Replace dialog or in the Wildcard Find & Replace Macro, click Replace All and all author names that fit this particular format will be altered. Then move to the next series to analyze, which is to change K. L. Swift, to Swift KL,. In this instance, what I need to find is as follows:

  1. a single uppercase letter
  2. followed by a period and a space
  3. a single uppercase letter
  4. followed by a period
  5. and a space
  6. any mix of letters of varying length
  7. that is followed by a comma
  8. and a space

I need to replace the find list with:

  1. the mix of letters found in 6
  2. the space found in 8
  3. the single uppercase letter found in 1
  4. the single uppercase letter found in 3
  5. the comma found in 7
  6. and the space found in 5

What I no longer need is not included in the list of replace with items (i.e., find items 2 and 4). Also note that, in analyzing what needs to be found, items that I no longer want are listed on their own lines in the find list.

If you are using Word’s Find & Replace dialog with Use Wildcards checked, you would manually enter the following Find string:

([A-Z]{1,1})(. )([A-Z]{1,1})(.)( )([A-z]@)(,)( )

And the following Replace string:

\6\8\1\3\7\5

I said that you can’t save the strings as a macro if you are using Word’s Find and Replace dialog. That is true as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go all that far. There is a way to save the strings as a true macro without using EditTools’ Wildcard Find & Replace Macro. What you do is record a simple Find and Replace macro, for example, find bush and replace it with blues, using Word’s Record Macro feature, and give it a name like WildcardAuthorCorrection1; be sure to keep a list of what that macro does (or will do once you edit it). (If you don’t know how to record a simple macro, the fastest and best way to learn is to use Jack Lyon’s Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word. Within a few minutes you will be a master at recording simple macros and even at editing them.)

Open the newly recorded macro to edit it, and replace the .Text = bush entry with .Text = [your find string] and replace the .Replacement.Text = blues with .Replacement.Text = [your replace string]. Make sure all the items labeled as True are changed to False except change .MatchWildcards = False to .MatchWildcards = True.

Once you get hooked on macros, the possibilities are endless and you’ll never let go. More importantly, you will improve your editing speed, accuracy, and efficiency, which translates into a higher effective hourly rate and a more profitable editing business.

You’ve got nothing to fear — macros are conquerable!

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