An American Editor

November 17, 2014

On the Basics: Discovering and Benefiting from a Tech Tool

Discovering and Benefiting from a Tech Tool

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

I don’t think of myself as a significantly technical person, so I was nervous about doing an editing project for our colleague Rich Adin because it meant using his wordsnSync Max Stylesheet. I was flattered that someone of Rich’s stature in our field would think enough of me to give me an assignment, and I was confident of my editing skills, but afraid I wouldn’t be up to the technical demands of the Max Stylesheet system.

For me, it’s more nerve-racking to work for someone I know than for a client who’s a stranger — I hope everyone I work with thinks well of me, but the opinion of someone I know matters to me more than that of someone I’ve never met. Using Max felt like a great opportunity to look like an idiot to someone I respect and whom I very much wanted to respect me as well. I was very worried about letting him down.

I did misunderstand one aspect of the process — I thought I was supposed to use Max to check on the style or versions of items in the project manuscripts, when the point was for me as the copy editor to actually create the style sheet as the project went along. Once that was clear, though, I found myself actually enjoying using Max — in fact, I loved it!

I knew what a style sheet was. I’ve made style sheets or notes for other projects, using Word. But that was like etching on stone tablets compared to the ease and functionality of Max.

Among other practical aspects, Max automatically alphabetizes entries for you, but my favorite function is how it handles names and acronyms or initialisms. You can enter a name with its acronym in parens as one step, and Max places each element — the name and the acronym — in its own column but together, so you can easily double-check for the right ones and don’t have to enter them as separate items or search to see what a given acronym stands for. The name comes first in the right-hand column and the acronym is first in the left-hand column, but the two elements stay together. For example, if the text I am editing has “World Health Organization (WHO),” I can copy the name directly from the text and paste it into the entry field in Max. When I click Add Entry to Stylesheet, Max automatically enters the phrase in the W/W (acronym) sections of the stylesheet as shown below — I don’t have to manually (1) type the phrase, (2) alphabetize it, nor (3) reverse it.

W W (acronym)
World Health Organization (WHO) WHO (World Health Organization)

When you enter a new item, Max shows you similar listings, so it’s easy to check for redundancy. Since you have to confirm each new entry (Max will automatically assume confirmation after 45 seconds), you also have a chance to change your mind if needed. And it won’t allow repeat entries of identical information; Max automatically rejects duplicates.

Max also permits super- and subscripting, italicizing and bolding, underlining and strikethrough, and small caps and symbols. Max has no predetermined size, so it works equally well for small projects with short stylesheets and large projects with extensive stylesheets. Searching is also easy.

Rich says that the real beauty of Max is demonstrated when a project has coeditors. All coeditors can access the same stylesheet, add to it, and see the changes made by a coeditor in real-time. Max promotes consistency in multieditor projects. I haven’t yet been part of an editing team to experience using Max in such an environment, but I hope to have that experience in the not-too-distant future.

Max also has advantages for clients. According to Rich, clients are given access to the stylesheets for their projects. The client can’t make changes to the stylesheet, but can review it during the editing and advise the editor of things to be done differently (e.g., use distension rather than distention or use an en-dash rather than a hyphen in a particular circumstance). In addition, the client can download a copy of a current-to-the-minute stylesheet at any time to share with proofreaders and authors — including years later when it is time to prepare a new edition.

There’s far more to this program, but these aspects alone make it worth using. I’m hoping that Rich can and will make Max available to colleagues who don’t work with him, because it’s definitely a valuable tool. There’s even something cozy and personal about a program called Max.

And now that I’ve mastered Max, I may feel up to trying macros!

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.

May 1, 2013

Business of Editing: The Logistics of Large Projects

As I wrote in my previous post, Business of Editing: Taking On Too Much, I have been hired to help edit a portion of a very large project. My portion runs to 5,000 manuscript pages, which have to be edited within 6 weeks.

After having written about the ethical issues of having undertaken a project that was bigger than the original editors could handle, I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss some of the logistical problems of massive projects. Let’s begin at the beginning: This project, before editing of any chapters, ran approximately 8,000 manuscript pages. (I use approximately deliberately as this was the in-house editor’s estimate; I only know with certainty the page count for the chapters I have actually received.)

Projects of that size are the types of project that I often receive and over the years, I have developed a system for working with such massive amounts of manuscript. In fact, it was because of my receiving projects of that size that I developed EditTools. As you can imagine, with such projects consistency becomes a problem, and the stylesheet seems to grow on its own.

The first logistical problem I address is that of editors: How many editors will be needed to edit the manuscript within the time allotted by the schedule? I built my business, Freelance Editorial Services, around the idea that a team of editors can do better financially than a solo editor. Although this notion has been disputed many times over the years, I still believe it to be true, based on discussions that I have with solo colleagues. It is this team concept that enables me to undertake such large projects with confidence, knowing that I will have a sufficient number of well-qualified editors to do the work.

The second logistical problem I address is the online stylesheet and giving access to it to the editors who will be working on the project. I discussed my online stylesheet in Working Effectively Online V — Stylesheets. When several editors work collaboratively on a project, this online stylesheet enables all of the editors to see what decisions have been made, and to conform their decisions with the decisions that have been made by coeditors. Consequently, if an editor makes new editorial decision (i.e., it has not been previously decided by an editor and inserted on the stylesheet) to use distension rather than distention, or to use coworker rather than co-worker, all of the other editors can immediately see that decision — within seconds of its being entered into the stylesheet — and can conform their editing to that decision or dispute it. It also means that errors can be caught and corrected. For example, if an editor enters adriamycin, another editor can correct it to Adriamycin (it is a brand name, not a generic drug) and immediately notify all editors of the original error and correction.

In addition, my client also has access to the stylesheet. The client can view and print it, but not modify it. This serves two purposes: (a) the client can provide proofreaders with up-to-the-minute copies of the stylesheet and (b) the client can look at our editorial decisions and decide that he would prefer, for example, distention rather than distension, notify an editor of the preference, and the editor can then make the change and notify all of the coeditors, who can then make any necessary corrections in chapters not already submitted to the client.

The third logistical problem I address is the creation of a starter NSW (Never Spell Word) file for the project. The Never Spell Word module of EditTools is where known client preferences are stored. For example, if I know that the client prefers distention to distension, I enter into the NSW file the information to change instances of distension to distention. Also into this file goes editorial decisions, such as marking DNA as an acronym that does not ever need to be spelled out but that the acronym US (for ultrasound) should always be spelled out as ultrasound. The NSW file also serves to remind editors of other editorial-decision–related information. I provide each editor with a starter NSW file and each editor will add to their NSW file as they edit.

The NSW macro is run before beginning editing a chapter. Its purpose is to promote consistency across chapters and to make it easier for an editor to visually see editorial decisions that have been made. The NSW macro includes several components. For example, my basic NSW for medical editing also includes a dataset for drugs and organisms. Its use helps speed editing by providing visual clues, such as an indication that a drug name is correct even though the spell checker is flagging it as erroneous — it becomes one less thing that I need to verify.

The fourth logistical problem I tackle is references. These projects often have lots of references. One chapter of the project that I just received, for example, runs 305 manuscript pages, of which there are 61 pages of references — a total of 652 references (most of the chapters have more than 300 references). Dealing with references can be time-consuming. My approach is to separate the references from the main chapter, putting them in their own file. This serves four purposes: (a) Microsoft, in its wisdom, has determined that if spell check determines there are more than some number of errors in a document, it will display a message that there are too many errors for Word to display and turns off spell check. Although spell check is not perfect, it is a tool that I do use when editing. I would prefer it to flag a correctly spelled word as misspelled, giving me an alert, than my possibly missing something. Spell check is a tool, not a solution. (However, it does help that EditTools helps me create custom dictionaries so that correct words that are currently flagged as errors by spell check can easily be added to a custom dictionary and not flagged in the future.) By moving the references to their own file, I eliminate this problem of Word turning off spell check for too many errors.

(b) It provides me with an opportunity to run my Journals macro. Every time I come across a new variation of a spelling of a journal name, I add it to one of my journal datasets. My PubMed (medical) journals dataset currently has more 14,675 entries. With the references in a separate file, I can run that dataset against the reference list and have my macro correct those journal names that are incorrect (assuming the information is in my dataset) and mark as correct those that are correct. What this means is that rather than having to check journal names for 652 references in a chapter, I have to do so for at most a handful. It also means that I can concentrate on the other reference errors, if any, such as missing author names. Instead of spending several hours on the references alone, I can edit the references in a much shorter amount of time. (It took 26 minutes for the Journals macro to check the 652 references against the 14,675 entries in the dataset.)

(c) The third purpose is that separating the references from the main text lets me run the Page Number Format macro. In less than a minute, I had changed the page numbers in the 652 references from 1607-10 to 1607-1610 format. How long would it take to do this manually? Having the references in their own file means I do not have to worry about the macro making unwanted changes in the main text, especially as this macro runs without tracking.

(d) The fourth purpose separating the references from the main body of the chapter serves is that it lets me run my Wildcard Find & Replace macro just on the references. There is no chance that I will use the macro and make unwanted changes to the main text. WFR is efficient because it lets me create a macro that works, such as one to closeup the year-volume-pages cite, and save it for future reuse. WFR even lets me combine several of the macros into a single script (that also can be saved for repeat use) so that the macros run sequentially in my designated order. As an example: I have created macros to change author names from the format Author, F. H., to Author FH,. If you have to do this manually for several thousand author names, you begin to appreciate the power and usefulness of WFR and how much time it can save. (I also will use WFR on the main text when appropriate. What I avoid by separating out the references is the possibility of something happening to either the main text or the references that shouldn’t.)

The above steps are among those I take that make handling of large projects easier and more profitable. There are additional things that I do for each chapter, but the point is that by dealing with manuscript in a logical way, projects become manageable. In addition, by using the right tools, editing is more accurate, consistent, and faster, which leads to a happy client, more work, and increased profitability.

Do you have any thoughts on how to handle large amounts of manuscript? Do you take any special steps for preparing a manuscript for editing or while editing?

May 28, 2012

The Business of Editing: Consistency

One of the directives I regularly get from clients is that they want consistency. For example, they do not want a word spelled out sometimes and an acronym used in place of the word at other times. In books, they want consistency across chapters whenever possible.

Years ago, when I edited journal articles, each journal had a style to be applied consistently across articles, regardless of whether I edited one article or 100 articles.

This drive for consistency is likely to have been the mother of the editor’s stylesheet. The stylesheet serves multiple purposes, two being to let the editor check treatment of a term in hopes that treatment is consistent across a manuscript and for a proofreader to see what decisions the editor made (e.g., is it non-negotiable or nonnegotiable; distention or distension?) and apply those decisions where the editor may have been inconsistent.

We know as readers that consistency is important, even in fiction. I find it distracting and annoying when the heroine is “nearly six-foot tall with strawberry-blond hair and jade-colored eyes” in chapter 1 but has become “five-and-a-half feet tall with dirty-blond hair and hazel eyes that change color” in chapter 3. Going from Amazonian to ordinary in three chapters can alter a plotline significantly.

Knowing that consistency is important, what steps do editors take to ensure it? In my olden days of editing, I relied on the stylesheet; I had no other tool in my arsenal that was as facile for the purpose, especially not with the size of projects on which I generally work. The stylesheet worked well when it was small (relatively speaking), but as it grew in length, it became a cumbersome tool for ensuring consistency. It became cumbersome because of the need to check it so often, and because, in the early days, the stylesheet was handwritten, which meant not alphabetized, making finding things difficult.

So I began experimenting and found ways to automate the stylesheet using programs like Macro Express, a program I still use (but not for my stylesheet). Ultimately, I designed an online stylesheet (see Working Effectively Online V — Stylesheets for a discussion of my stylesheet), which remains open in my web browser and gives me quick and easy access. Yet, I discovered that, as much of an improvement as the online stylesheet is, it was not enough. Consequently, I created two of the macros that appear in EditTools: Never Spell Word and Toggle. Using these two macros means there are fewer inconsistencies across long manuscripts.

When I get a project from client Y, I usually know that the client wants certain things to appear in its publications, or, if not across its publications, within the particular project I am working on. For example, the client may tell me that every time I see the head REFER, it should be changed to REFERRAL, or that a common acronym such as WHO never needs to be spelled out. (Usually the directive is that “common acronyms need not be spelled out at first use” without providing a list of those common acronyms; it is part of my job as an experienced editor to recognize which acronyms will be readily understood by readers of the book.)

Never Spell Word (NSW) lets me add words and phrases to a project-specific list and apply a specific color highlight to those words and phrases so I can be consistent across chapters. For example, if I enter WHO and assign it the highlight color magenta, and run NSW on the manuscript, I know each time that I see WHO in magenta that it does not need to be spelled out. If I come across “World Health Organization (WHO)” in the text, I’ll see WHO in magenta and I’ll know to delete “World Health Organization” and the parens around WHO.

Similarly, I can enter into the list to change World Health Organization to WHO. When I run the NSW macro, not only will the change be made (with tracking on), but WHO will be highlighted to indicate to me visually that this is correct.

The advantages of NSW over similar macros are basically twofold: (a) the highlighting, which gives a visual clue; and (b) the ease with which new items can be added to the list while editing. This second point is important; it means that the list is not static and it can grow as I find things to add to it.

NSW is only a part of the consistency equation, however. Toggle is another important tool. NSW is run on a file after basic file cleanup but before editing. It is run only once on a file, although I may add to its list as I edit a file. Toggle, in contrast, is not run on a file. Instead, it is used to change a word or phrase while editing. My current Toggle list has more than 1,500 entries in it. These are the things that I do not want to change universally (i.e., correct using the NSW macro); instead, I want to decide whether to make a change as I come to the item.

Using the WHO example, again, if I need to spell out WHO the first time it is used in a chapter but not on subsequent uses, then I want the information in my Toggle macro, not in my NSW macro because NSW will change it every time and I’ll have to undo some instances, whereas Toggle will make the change only when I tell it to do so. Like NSW, Toggle can have and access multiple lists. There is a primary (or universal) main list and then there are supplemental project-specific lists that can be accessed simultaneously with the primary list.

In a Toggle list, I would enter “WHO” and ask that it be changed to “World Health Organization (WHO)”; it would appear in the Toggle list like this:

WHO | World Health Organization (WHO)

Now, when I come to WHO in the manuscript, if I want to spell it out, I place my cursor in WHO and run Toggle; it deletes WHO and enters World Health Organization (WHO). This is done with Track Changes on.

I’ve used a simple example, but Toggle can be used for both complex and simple changes. For example, an entry in my primary Toggle list is as follows:

1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine | methylphenyltetrahydropyridine (MPTP)

Toggle promotes consistency in two ways: (a) it reduces spelling errors that occur when typing a replacement and (b) it is easy to use and fast.

If you know that a client wants to avoid “due to,” it is difficult to create a universally applicable substitute. Toggle gives you as many options as you create. If a client always wants World Health Organization referred to as WHO, NSW can make that happen. It is easy to remember what a client wants when there are only a few things, but the more things a client wants and the more inconsistent an author is, the less valuable the stylesheet is to an editor and the more valuable macros like NSW and Toggle are — they increase consistency and reduce the time required to be consistent.

Postscript (added after article was published): Last night I finished a novel published by a major publisher in which, within three lines, a character’s name appeared three times and each appearance was a different spelling. If the editor had used used Never Spell Word, this would not have occurred. The editor would have entered the character’s name at its first appearance into the NSW list (or, better yet in the case of fiction, the author should have supplied a list of characters with correct name spellings and ll the names would be entered into the list before any editing began) and then as the editor ran NSW on each chapter, if the character’s name was not highlighted in green, the editor would know immediately that the name’s spelling needed to be checked. Granted that the errors occurring in such close proximity should have been caught regardless of the use of NSW, but it does point out how such things can slip by and how the proper tools can help improve consistency.

April 5, 2012

Worth Noting: EditTools Fix Released

Filed under: Editing Tools — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
Tags: , ,

Recently, EditTools version 4.1 was released as a free upgrade. However, subsequent to the release several users ran into problems. Consequently, yesterday version 4.1f was released and is available from If your current version of 4.1 is working fine, there is no reason to download version 4.1f. If you have experienced a problem or just like to keep current, you can download the new release. If you already have version 4.1 installed on your computer, you will be asked if you want to repair it, to which you should answer yes.

March 27, 2012

Worth Noting: EditTools 4.1 is Released

EditTools 4.1 was released last week. It is available at wordsnSync. This is a free upgrade for all current EditTools licensees. I encourage you to download and install the upgrade.

EditTools 4.1 includes numerous improvements to existing macros and a couple of new macros. Some of the noteworthy improvements are the making of various datasets editable, the ability to choose to remove only certain highlight colors, the addition of a clipboard macro, and the ehancing of the Search, Count, and Replace macro. Most of the improvements are discussed at the wordsnSync website in the information about each macro.

Purchasers of the Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate package (Editor’s Toolkit Plus, EditTools, and PerfectIt!) are also eligible for the free upgrade.

How these three macro products can be used in your editing practice was discussed int these previous articles: The 3 Stages of Copyediting: I — The Processing Stage; The 3 Stages of Copyediting: II — The Copyediting Stage; and The 3 Stages of Copyediting: III — The Proofing Stage.

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 capabl 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.

January 25, 2012

The Publisher’s Search for Savings

The current issue of The Atlantic has a very interesting article, “Making It in America,” which asks a very difficult question: The article explores manufacturing jobs and wonders what will be the future for the unskilled laborer. The article is well-worth reading and thinking about, even though the professional editor is skilled labor, because just as manufacturers seek cost savings, so do publishers, especially in the Internet Age.

One problem with publisher attempts to save costs is that much too often the effort is focused on editorial costs, the so-called hidden costs, which generally means reducing the compensation paid to freelance editors. I would be less concerned about taking a cut in my compensation if my compensation had risen over the course of years. However, it hasn’t; the rate being offered by many publishers today is the same rate publishers were offering in 1995. Another way of saying it is that publishers have been the beneficiaries of editorial cost savings since 1995 because they haven’t increased the rate of pay in the past 17 years commensurate with the increases in costs of living.

But advocating that is beating one’s head against a reinforced brick wall. Why? Because editorial costs are hidden costs in the sense that, unlike a book cover that buyers see immediately and that can either improve or lessen chances of a sale, editorial matters are not noted until after the book is already purchased, usually weeks after purchase, when the return period has already expired. We may curse the publisher of a book riddled with editorial errors, but whereas we might “blacklist” an author, we don’t “blacklist” a publisher. Consumers simply do not shop for books by publisher; publisher brands are weak brands. When was the last time you asked a bookseller for the latest book published by Harper & Row?

Regardless, recently, I received a communication from a major publisher with its latest idea for lowering costs. I applaud the publisher for thinking about ways to save costs and for experimenting; this is something that too few publishers do, yet need to do in the ebook age. But I’m not convinced that the approach being taken will result in any significant savings.

The underpinnings of the approach is that there is a difference between editing and reading: the former is time-consuming, the latter less so. I have been thinking about this division and have asked colleagues for their view of whether the reading effort while editing differs from the reading effort when looking only for errors such as misspelling and homonym misuse, but not “copyediting.”

The colleagues I spoke with regarding whether the “copyediting read” differed significantly (or at all) from the “error read,” were similarly minded — amongst themselves and with me. Their was universal agreement that the reading effort remained the same and was equally time- and effort-intensive. Asking an editor to read for errors but not copyedit is like asking a fish to swim in air — the editorial skills are not so easily shunted aside.

In my case, there could be no cost savings even if there was a difference because I charge by the page, not the hour. Fifty pages are still 50 pages, whether thoroughly read or not. Consequently, while I think the publisher has the right idea — look for cost savings — this attempt is unlikely to result in significant savings. The publisher would likely save more by simply switching from an hourly based fee for editing to a per-page rate. Such a move, although many editors cannot see it, also would greatly benefit editors. (For a discussion comparing hourly and per-page rates, see Thinking About Money: What Freelancers Need to Understand. You can also search past articles using the search term per-page rate.)

Let’s begin with human nature. If I am paid by the hour, I have no incentive to do a job either faster or more efficiently. (I assume that the quality of the editing would not differ regardless of how the editor is paid.) If I am happy earning $21/hour, I am as happy earning it for 40 hours as I am earning it for 50 hours; after all, what I am happy with is the $21/hour, which is constant, and having the work in an increasingly competitive environment.

But think about if I am paid by the page. If I am paid $3.50 a page, I can earn my comfortable $21/hour by editing at a rate of 6 pages an hour. Imagine how luxurious it would feel if I could edit at the same level of quality but at 10 pages an hour — I would then earn $35/hour. There is now an incentive for me to increase my efficiency and speed without sacrificing quality.

For the publisher, the per-page rate sets a maximum fee for a project. There is no more budget speculation about what a project will cost because hours are no longer part of the formula; instead, the focus is on saving time by getting the project completed sooner — a shorter turnaround. The costs are controlled because an editor can’t dally over the manuscript in the belief that the longer it takes to edit, the greater the editor’s income.

It also gives the publisher an opportunity to weed out from its stable of editors those who are inefficient and more costly because of their inefficiency. Remember that savings are not only gotten by reducing payout to an editor; even greater and more important savings can be had by shortening the time from manuscript to published book, especially in the eBook Age when faster-than-instant gratification is demanded.

Shifting to a per-page payment also frees a publisher to evaluate ways to increase accuracy, efficiency, and productivity. A colleague who was discussing EditTools with me (trying to find out what enhancements are coming in the near future :)), told me that as a result of using tools like EditTools, she has been able to increase the number of pages she can edit in an hour by as much as 50%, with an even higher level of quality than previously, both of which have resulted in increased work opportunities. Whereas many publishers and editors currently have little incentive to experiment with these types of tools, switching to a per-page rate from an hourly rate would provide that incentive. The ultimate results would be cost savings for the publisher and increased income for the editor.

Unfortunately, in the cost savings game, win-win situations are rare. Neither publishers nor editors are willing to break the traditional path. One of my clients told me that they are unwilling to insist that editors accept a per-page rate; in fact, the client expressed reluctance to use editors who want to work on a per-page rate, saying that they fear editors would make less money and thus exacerbate the problem of finding quality editors. The client went on to say that even after 15 years of my working for them on a per-page rate, they consider me an exception and the per-page rate experimental; additionally, few editors have asked for a per-page rather than an hourly rate. Similarly, no matter how many presentations I have made over the years demonstrating why the per-page rate is better for editors as a general rule (as with anything, whether it is better depends on what you do; there is no universal rule that applies in every circumstance), many editors refuse to try it and of those who do, a goodly number have told me that “they lost their shirt” on project X on a per-page rate and thus refuse to use it ever again.

I am at a loss how to convince publishers of the benefits of the per-page rate for their bottom line; corporate thinking runs in hourly segments, and, as one client noted, there are too many “approvals” required. But those publishers I have talked with who have moved many of their freelance editors to the per-page rate tell me that they can see overall cost savings.

As for the editors who “lost their shirt” on a project, the answer is this: First, you cannot evaluate the profitability of a client based on a single project. Similarly, you cannot evaluate the profitability of a payment method on a single project. You must evaluate both on the basis of at least three completed projects. There are lots of reasons why the shirt could have been lost on the single project, not least of which was the editor’s continuing to approach the project as if it was hourly paying. I can tell you from my own experience that it takes time to learn how to efficiently address a manuscript and that even today, I occasionally get a project on which I lose my shirt. But if I lose my shirt on one out of 100 projects, the other 99 more than makeup for the one’s loss.

Perhaps a discussion of the factors that can cause you to lose your shirt should be another day’s topic. Until then, do you stick with hourly only projects, do a mix, or per-page/project fee only? Why and what is your experience? Why are you reluctant to move from an hourly based fee to a per-page fee? Are you really satisfied with the hourly rate publishers pay?

January 18, 2012

The Professional Editor: Artificial or Arbitrary Schedules

As I’ve noted before, I am now in my 28th year as an editor and I like to think I am as professional an editor as any of my colleagues. Yet there is one thing that always sticks in my craw when it comes to dealing with clients: the artificial schedule.

I call it an artificial schedule, but it could as readily be called an arbitrary schedule; the problems arise when compliance with the artificial schedule is rigidly demanded by the client. Occasionally, I have such a client.

Generally, when I have been handed an artificial schedule by a client, I write back and thank them but advise them that my goal is to meet the project end date, not the interim dates, and that to meet the end date and keep a project flowing, I will return edited material on a weekly basis (with an invoice, of course :)). Whether as a result of such weekly returns the artificial interim dates are met will be a matter of luck and chance, not calculation.

I should note that the projects that I work on and which come with interim artificial schedules are large projects, thousands of manuscript pages (my projects generally run 2,500 to 12,000 — or more — manuscript pages, often requiring more than one editor). Small projects, that is projects of fewer than 1000 manuscript pages, usually come to me with just an end date.

The problem with the artificial schedule is that it fails to consider (a) the quality of the author’s writing and how much work needs to be done to the writing, (b) the complexity of the manuscript coding that needs to be applied, (c) whether all or just some of the authors are native or fluent English speakers, (d) whether all of the manuscript has been supplied or there are outstanding chapters, (e) the number and type of charts, graphs, and figures, (f) that the first chapters go much slower than subsequent chapters as I try to “get a feel” for the project and learn what “common” errors are made across chapters, (g) the number and condition of the references, and (h) the myriad other problems that do not surface until a chapter is being edited. (This is where I thank heaven for the Microsoft Word macros I use: Editor’s Toolkit Plus from the Editorium, EditTools from wordsnSync, and PerfectIt from Intelligent Editing.)

Consider just one of the named stumbling blocks, item g. I recently edited a chapter that had 504 references of which only a handful were even close to being correct. Most had to be looked up because the author submitted, for example, author names like this: “Young, GM, YV AS, Trimble T, Excuse, R, al et,” and journal names like this: “Joint Quality Comm –  Safety.” Not only did punctuation have to be fixed, but YV AS had to be deciphered and the journal name checked and corrected. Imagine my consternation when I discovered that not only were the author names mostly wrong, but the article title was incorrect, as was the journal name (thank goodness, however, for my Journal macro which corrected many of the journal names before I began editing the references; see The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online IV — Mastering Macros for more information). Fixing the reference list took a considerable amount of time, yet an artificial schedule doesn’t allow for this.

It is the nature of an artificial schedule that it is often difficult to meet. The schedule is often created mathematically — x number of chapters divided by y number of weeks = z, the number of chapters expected weekly (or, instead of number of chapters it may be number of pages [which generally excludes figures] or some other calculable item) — but without regard to the real content. And because the client is a corporation, it lives or dies by schedules; it can’t live with the uncertainty that is inherent in a schedule-less world.

Another problem with the artificial schedule is that if enforced, it may well require the editor to work long days and weekends to meet it. While the inhouse person who sent the schedule relaxes on the weekend, the editor is working away just to meet an artificial deadline. I did not become self-employed to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and I value my leisure time.

As I noted earlier, I try to dissuade clients from establishing interim schedules. I do understand, however, that they are often required. In those instances, I accept them with grace, yet make certain that my client understands that I consider the interim dates as very broad guidelines and that the only dates on which I fixate are the end date and the weekly submission dates. Alas, that does not get through to all of my clients.

One client wanted the first batch of 15 chapters by x date. I was able to complete 14 of the 15 by the set date, but that was not good enough. The client wanted to know how soon the 15th chapter would be completed, was I going to be able to meet future dates, should the client find another editor to work on this project? I think I would have been more sympathetic to the client had this not been the first batch of chapters and were I behind by some significant number of chapters as the end date loomed closer.

We got past this kerfuffle as it became clear by the third or fourth weekly submission that I really did have a handle on the project and as the client began reviewing submitted chapters and noting the author-created problems and the high quality of the editing. But there are two points I wish to make:

  1. To the editor: Remember that you are a professional and you must take charge of the project and the schedule. You should not be intimidated into accepting a schedule whose only connection to reality is that it exists. You need to educate the client about problems encountered and why the schedule won’t work, yet ever mindful that you agreed to meet a certain end date. Be professional; take charge.
  2. To the client: Remember that the date that ultimately matters is the end date. It is not possible to tell, at least on a large project, from a first or second submission by an editor whether an end date is in jeopardy. Consider all of the things that may be imperfect about the material and make allowances for those imperfections and the time it realistically takes to correct them. Keep in mind that you and the editor are really a team with the same goal in mind. And remember that earlier chapters often take longer to edit as the editor becomes familiar with the author’s “style” and the kinds of problems that exist in the manuscript, some of which may lend themselves to, for example, the writing of a macro for use in subsequent chapters. (In such an instance, a macro can change a problem from a major headache to an inconvenience.)

When all is said and done, the professional editor will meet the client’s end date with a well-edited manuscript, which is the ultimate result wanted by everyone concerned with the project.

January 16, 2012

Why Won’t Amazon Compete in the ePub Market?

Since the beginning of the “modern” ebook era, when Amazon entered the marketplace with its Kindle, I’ve wondered why Amazon chose to follow its own path as regards format and DRM rather than adopting the ePub standard and a more benign or universal form of DRM. I’ve wondered because by choosing its own path, Amazon has decided that readers who are not Kindlers (by which I mean consumers who read on dedicated e-ink devices that are incompatible with Amazon and thus cannot buy ebooks at Amazon unless they are willing to strip the DRM and convert the file, which the majority are either unwilling or unable to do) is not a demographic to woo.

What is it about ebooks that makes them different from virtually every other market that Amazon is in? Amazon sells, either directly or indirectly, all kinds of universally usable electronic equipment and entertainment. It does not sell, for example, digital music or movie DVDs that are incompatible with the devices consumers already own or buy at Amazon or elsewhere. Only in ebooks has Amazon struck a different path.

In every other category of goods for sale at Amazon, Amazon tries to woo every consumer it can. Only in ebooks does it deliberately exclude millions of potential customers. Why? What is it about ebooks that warrants this divergence by Amazon from its very successful business plan? Granted that Amazon would prefer to sell you a Kindle and lock you into its eco system, but that, at least on the surface, makes no sense as a reason to exclude millions of other ebook consumers from being able to buy ebooks at Amazon. One would think that Amazon’s priority is to sell ebooks on which it makes a profit, not reading devices on which it is said to lose money.

Try as I might, I see no obvious reason for this discrepancy. Amazon could sell its Kindles and also sell ebooks in a Kindle-specific format alongside an ePub format. Or it could sell its Kindles and simply make Kindles ePub compatible. Yet it does neither. It prefers to exclude millions of ebookers who are using devices that require the ePub format.

So I ask again: What makes the ebook market different from the other entertainment markets in which Amazon competes?

It surely can’t be because Amazon doesn’t think it can have a winning hand. Amazon has competed and continues to compete in the hardcover and paperback market on equal terms with all competitors, yet it is the dominant bookseller in those markets. I would expect Amazon to dominate in the ePub ebook market as well, simply because of its marketing prowess, its reputation for value and low prices, and its willingness to operate at a loss fiscal quarter after fiscal quarter.

Although no one has accurate numbers, I think it is reasonable to speculate that Sony, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble have sold millions of ereading devices, not one of which is compatible with the Amazon ebook store. Yet every B&N-branded device is compatible with the Sony and Kobo ebookstores (and every ePub ebookstore except Apple’s) — buy a book at Sony, download it to your computer, and sideload it onto your Nook. No questions asked. Similarly, Kobo and Sony devices work the same with any ePub ebookstore except B&N and Apple.

Why is Amazon willing to ignore the millions of readers in the ePub market? Strategically, Amazon has always tried to make people want to shop at Amazon because of price, selection, and ease of buying. Isn’t that the rationale behind the patenting of the 1-click system? And this is the strategy Amazon follows in everything it sells — except ebooks. Why?

I wonder about this but have no answer. I’m certainly open to suggestions, but I struggle to see how ebooks are different from movie DVDs, digital music, televisions, baby diapers, or any other commodity within Amazon’s sales world. The rationale for establishing an exclusionary system for ebooks when all else is inclusionary eludes me.

What else also eludes me is why Amazon thinks this is good policy for Amazon. Amazon has always worked on the principle that if a person buys their hardcover or paperback books from Amazon, they will also buy their TV from Amazon. So if a person won’t or can’t buy their ebooks from Amazon, are they likely to buy their TV from Amazon? Does this exclusionary policy on ebooks have a snowball effect on other items Amazon sells and on the other markets in which it competes?

Consider this difference as well: Amazon has gone to great effort to create the Kindle, its own dedicated reading device using a proprietary format and DRM scheme. But it hasn’t gone to that effort for other devices such as a DVD player. Why? What makes ebooks and the ebook market different from every other commodity that Amazon sells and every other market in which Amazon competes?

The only answer I have come up with, and I don’t find it a satisfactory answer, is that of all the industries represented by the goods that Amazon sells, the weakest in every sense of the word is the publishing industry, making it the one industry that is highly vulnerable to a direct attack by Amazon. Amazon can become a major publisher because of the industry’s weakness and thus be a vertically integrated enterprise — something that would be much more difficult and costly if attempted in the movie or TV production industries.

Of course, the same question can be asked about B&N’s choice of a DRM scheme, but at least B&N has made it freely available to all other device makers. That it hasn’t been adopted by Kobo or Sony, for example, does make me wonder if B&N hasn’t made a major error in not changing its DRM scheme to be compatible with Sony and Kobo. I think given a choice between the Sony, Kobo, and B&N ebookstores, most ebookers would shop at B&N, even if they prefer the Sony or Kobo device over the Nook.

What do you think?

January 11, 2012

eBooks: Are eBooks Commodities? Redux

Followers of An American Editor read the previous post, eBooks: Has Amazon Turned eBooks into Commodities?, and probably groaned at my sacrilegious point of view while frantically shaking their heads “no, neither ebooks nor books are commodities.” The argument regarding the commoditization of books is an “old” one for me. A few years ago, Jack Lyon and I made presentations at a Communication Central conference in Rochester, NY and drove to Poughkeepsie, NY together — a 4.5-hour drive. On that drive, this was one of the weighty matters we discussed. Jack was adamant that books are not commodities

I used to think the same, but books, particularly fiction books, have gone the way of athletes and soda pop and become commodities. (By the way, if you haven’t seen the movie Moneyball, starring Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt, which is the story of a major league baseball team coming to the realization that with free agency, baseball players are now commodities, I highly recommend you see it. A true story that is well done as a movie.) What follows is Jack’s response to my commoditization view.


Books as Dish Soap
by Jack Lyon

In a previous post, Rich Adin discussed ebooks as commodities [see eBooks: Has Amazon Turned eBooks into Commodities?]. This ties into a discussion Rich and I had a couple of years ago about marketing. The conversation went like this:

Jack: I hate the whole corporate mindset that treats books as “product”—just a homogenous mass of words and pages. It’s like marketing dish soap.

Rich: That’s how books should be marketed.

Jack: What?!

Rich: Yep. Just like dish soap. How else would you do it?

I never did come up with a good answer to that question. Finally, I admitted that Rich was right—but I didn’t like it then, and I still don’t!

Let’s go back about 30 years to my first job as editor at a trade publishing house. I really admired the company president, who held not an MBA but a Ph.D. in English literature. Here was an executive who actually cared about books! In a speech to employees, I heard him say this:

“I love the opportunity we have to share what we do with others, to be able to face a customer and honestly say, ‘I love what I’m doing, and I can share something with you that can change your life forever. I can give you a friend that will never, ever leave you.’…It was at least ten years ago that I heard Charles Scribner say, ‘If books become obsolete, I will make candles.’ He didn’t explain his remark, but I think he had in mind that although the electric light has made candles obsolete, candlemaking today is a $100 million industry—not large, but it casts a lovely light, and, after all, books are candles.”

Shortly after that speech, the chairman of the board assigned the president a new position—as CEO of a department store. This man who loved books so much ended up selling kitchen appliances and underwear.

I see the commoditization of books as being analogous to the commoditization of everything else, including people. We no longer have personnel departments; instead, we have human resources. We no longer have leaders who understand a particular industry; instead, we have MBAs who are cranked out like sausages to manage corporations in any industry. With our narrow focus on the bottom line, we’ve ripped the heart out of our businesses—at least, those that used to have one.

So are books commodities, like dish soap? To some degree, yes. As Rich points out, if I can’t get my horror fix from Stephen King, I can easily turn to Dean Koontz. Their books are what economists call “substitute goods.”

If I can’t get Coca-Cola, I’m happy to drink Pepsi (although that’s not true of dedicated Coke drinkers like Rich). If I can’t use Dawn on my dishes, I’m happy to use Dove. Advertisers are aware of this, which is why they spend so much money promoting Coke over Pepsi (and vice versa). Other than the emotional appeal used in marketing, there’s not a lot of difference between one substitute good and another.

The same is true of many genre books, like romance, westerns, and science fiction. I’m usually just as happy to read Orson Scott Card as I am to read Gene Wolfe. But there are exceptions. To me, Wolfe’s There Are Doors is more than just your everyday science-fiction entertainment. Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep speaks to me on a level that few other books attain.

And what do we do when a masterpiece like Moby Dick comes along—or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Little Prince, The Mouse and His Child? Don’t you have a handful of books that have changed your life? I know I do. Such books truly are candles, and their glow illuminates the world in ways nothing else can. In spite of marketers’ promises, I don’t think that’s something dish soap will ever do.


Jack’s argument is less that books aren’t commodities than it is that some books rise above the level of being a commodity. But in the case of fiction, especially bestseller fiction of today, I still think books are substitutable. If they weren’t, what would I read in my favorite genres as I wait for the next book by a favorite author to become available? And what happens when that favorite author stops writing? Do I suddenly stop reading?

What do you think?

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