An American Editor

April 27, 2020

On the Basics — Contracts, pro and con

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of questions about contracts between authors and editors (or other editorial freelancers and other prospective clients) — should we use them, what should go into them, how do we implement them, do we need attorneys to create them, and so on and so on.

Plenty of editors say they’ve never needed contracts in their work with individual authors. I’m glad for them; I’ve also had good luck with clients who didn’t have contracts and whose projects went smoothly enough that I didn’t regret not asking them to sign one of my own. For the most part, though, I think it’s smart to have something along the lines of a contract between service provider (editor) and client (author, publisher, organization, publication, company, university, etc.).

The con

One reason, and probably the only valid reason, not to have a contract for working with a new client is that some people are scared off by the very concept of “a contract.” It seems so … legalistic … so serious … so untrusting or suspicious. Asking for or offering a contact apparently comes across as expecting problems to arise at some point in the relationship.

One of the telecommunications companies even uses that perspective by boasting that they don’t require contracts for their services, making it look like an advantage for the consumer over providers that do. The problem? The consumer doesn’t have any protection against rate increases, service reductions and other issues that can arise during the life of the relationship.

The pro

And there’s the concern: Not having a contract with a client means that neither party has any protection in case there’s a problem. It can be worth the effort to explain to a reluctant client that a contract protects both you and the client. It gives you protection against the client not paying, paying very slowly or adding to the project without additional compensation, among other potential issues, but it also protects the client against the freelancer not doing the work as expected. Not that any of us would do that, of course, but it’s something to use to reassure the client.

The process

With the disclaimer that I am not an attorney, the good news is that a contract doesn’t have to be complicated or heavily legalistic. It can take the form of a letter of agreement or a checklist, or even a confirming e-mail message. You can ask the client to sign and return the agreement, or use language like “Unless I hear otherwise by Date X, this will constitute our agreement/contract.”

And speaking of e-mail, a contract nowadays doesn’t have to be on paper. A chain of e-mail messages describing the project and setting out and agreeing to the parameters can be treated as a contract. Just be sure to include language like “As we discussed and agreed, I will do such-and-such for this amount by that date …” — and to save those back-and-forth messages, just in case.

Contract details

What should go into a contract for editing services? Here’s a checklist I use to identify what I’m expected to do (for writing assignments, I include number of interviews and who provides the interview sources).

Genre

Scope (topic and length)

Fee or rate (per hour, word, page, project, etc.)

Definition of page

Payment policy and timing

Deadline(s)

Number of passes

Number of revisions (for writing projects)

Fee or rate for additional work beyond original scope

Expenses

Mediation jurisdiction if any problems

What you don’t need or should try not to agree to

One reason contract questions come up is the increasing tendency of clients to include draconian terms in current contracts, especially businesses and companies that aren’t used to working with freelance editors. The most-common one is expecting the freelancer or independent contractor to have liability insurance. Something like errors and omissions coverage might make sense for an investigative journalist, but editors rarely need something like liability coverage. That kind of policy is usually intended for situations where the contractor works onsite at the client’s office or property, uses heavy equipment on the client’s behalf or project, has subcontractors, and otherwise is likely to have access to the client’s information or property.

Accepting liability for your work is especially an issue for writers, editors and even proofreaders, because other people are likely to change (or not accept) what you submit. The publication process is fluid and involves people we never meet; even printers/production people have been known to introduce changes — and, unintentionally, errors — after an editor or proofreader signs off and gets paid for our role. We can’t be responsible for what happens made after we finish our part of the project.

Pointing out that you are a sole proprietor who works from home and doesn’t use heavy equipment or subcontractors can help carry the day when you’re asked to provide liability insurance to a client. If they still insist, add the cost to your contract and include language to the effect that you aren’t responsible for any changes made to your version of the material.

Authors new to the publishing process also might ask you to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). These are usually benign and more valuable as assurance for an author that an editor won’t steal their precious words for some reason than for any other reason; they generally commit you to not telling the world all about the author’s work, or perhaps that you worked on their manuscript. If you’d rather not sign an NDA, you could point out that any editor who would violate an author’s trust in such a way wouldn’t stay in business for very long.

What you don’t want to sign is a non-compete agreement that limits how you can use your skills with new clients in the future, even the near future. Signing such an agreement can lock you out of doing similar work for similar (or any!) clients, which would interfere with your ability to pursue your career or business.

Protecting yourself

You might not need a formal contract of your own that’s packed with dense, incomprehensible legalese, but you at least need someone with legal knowledge to rely on when a prospective client offers a contract that seems impenetrable. It’s one thing to say, “Read any contract before signing it.” It’s another to actually read and understand some of these documents.

My attorney is an old friend from back in high school whose practice is in intellectual property, copyright and contracts. I have her look over any contract or NDA that I’m asked to sign; we swap services, but it would be worth whatever she would charge if I were paying for her help. If you don’t know anyone who would be willing to review contracts for you, check with your local bar association or chapter of Lawyers for the Arts; some professional organizations also have legal services where one consultation is free, or there’s a substantial discount on an initial request. Such reviews shouldn’t cost much, and any expense is deductible at tax time.

For a template or boilerplate language, look to professional organizations and online resources like LegalZoom. Pick one and tailor it to your needs and each project.

The ideal resource

You don’t have to take my word for any of this, and you can get a lot more advice from colleagues Dick Margulis and Karin Cather from their book, The Paper It’s Written On: Defining Your Relationship with an Editing Client. That’s a must-have for every editor’s bookcase — and well worth having no matter what kind of editorial or publishing work you do.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and owner of An American Editor, which was founded by Rich Adin. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (www.communication-central.com), now co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (www.naiwe.com), sponsored by An American Editor, and (still) planned this year for October 2–4 in Baltimore, MD. She can be reached at Ruth@writerruth.com or Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

April 20, 2020

Thinking Fiction: The Three Bottom-line Facts of Writing and Publishing Novels

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By Carolyn Haley

Over the years, my editing enterprise has evolved so that most of my clients are now indie authors. A high percentage of them are first-time novelists. Some have done their homework and understand what to expect from editing and publishing; for others, it falls on me to help them align their expectations with reality as part of the job.

To date, I haven’t worked with an author who doesn’t desire to publish. The biggest idea that most new authors aren’t prepared for is the psychological transition from the personal art experience of writing to the impersonal business of publishing.

In other words, once their book is out of their hands, it becomes an object.

This is why I routinely convey these three facts that novelists must understand and accept if they want to publish:

  1. It’s your story, your voice, your work.
  2. Writing is a craft as well as an art.
  3. Once your book leaves your hands, it becomes a consumer product.

Owning one’s work

If I had a dime for every time I’ve tried to convince a new author that their voice and efforts are legitimate, I’d be a wealthy woman!

So many new authors apologize for themselves, comparing their stories, their years (or not) of writing, their personalities, to people who are prominently successful. They do not believe their voices or ideas can compete on that level, or even have merit. They put too much importance on what other people — including me as an editor — think of their efforts, considering each step of the writing process to be an exercise of judgment, usually against them.

Some do go the other way and think that every syllable that comes out of their pen or keyboard is a priceless pearl, but I rarely get those folks as clients. Usually they fall into the insecure camp.

That’s when I emphasize that the story is their own: their idea, their voice, their art/craft work. Not mine. My job is to help them tell the story so it’s coherent and accessible to the largest number of readers, particularly the desired audience.

The author’s job is to believe in their story, and believe that somebody out there wants to read it and will understand it. Whether that’s a single person or a million people depends on what the book is and through what channel it is made public. The bottom line never changes: You must get the right book into the right person’s hands on the right day. I, the editor, might not be that right person, but I believe every client’s book is the right book for someone.

The book has to be as smooth and tight as it can be before it’s passed around — and therein lies part of the problem. It’s hard for new authors to grasp that every story can be written dozens, sometimes hundreds, of different ways. Just ask anyone who has recast their novel over and over again in response to personal drive, beta reader feedback, or editorial direction. Sometimes the biggest problem is knowing when to stop!

Ultimately, what makes a story uniquely the author’s is how it’s expressed. Just like snowflakes and fingerprints, no two authors’ voices are the same. Even if someone is retelling a classic fairy tale and the story itself is unoriginal, the way an author writes it is what counts. (This is the basis of copyright protection.)

Aside from that legal aspect (a work is protected by copyright from the moment it comes into existence), it’s the author’s responsibility to establish and hold boundaries for their work. Some boundaries are intangible, like accepting or rejecting influence, while others are concrete, like contract terms. Authors need to know themselves well, believe in their work, and be clear about their goals if they want to survive the transition between writing a novel and publishing it.

Writing is a craft as well as an art

The first thing most new authors need to understand is that only the tiniest percentage of writers get their novels shipshape in one draft; in fact, I would be surprised if anyone publishes a first version unless, perhaps, they’re self-publishing and think their work doesn’t need at least a critique if not editing (and proofreading). The rest of us need help somewhere along the line. The old saying “can’t see the forest for the trees” applies here, in that it’s nigh impossible to perceive both overview and detail at the same time: A writer is usually so intimately involved in creating their story world that they can’t detach enough to perceive the package in the same way as an outsider would. That’s why writers need beta readers and editors. Those other eyes see what the author can’t. Ideally, the multiple perspectives of beta readers, an editor, and a proofreader (again, at the least) combine to make a novel the best it can be.

Having the flaws in one’s work pointed out is a hurtful experience. Some writers can’t take this and either skip the help phase or get so defensive about it that they draw their boundaries too tightly and reject every suggestion. Others writers swing the opposite way and revise to accommodate every person’s preferences. That rapidly becomes a merry-go-round they can’t get off, and might result in the book getting worse instead of better. Savvy writers manage their emotional reactions and take what they need from the feedback, reject the rest, and move on toward their writing and publishing goals.

Savvy writers also recognize that every reader will have a different reaction to every story, whether it’s their mother, an agent, an editor, a paying customer, or a reviewer. Pleasing all of them can’t be done, so it’s not worth trying.

Authors must bother, instead, to get their vision translated into clean, coherent prose and structure so the most readers possible will be able to understand and embrace it. Authors must figure out who they want to connect with and aim their fine-tuning efforts at that audience.

Books are consumer products

Authors who seek traditional publishing will likely have to compromise somewhere, and face the prospect that they could lose control over their work if they don’t read the fine print in a contract. Once they’ve signed with an agent or publishing house, they can’t change their mind without consequences.

Their personal boundaries, then, must be solidly understood internally before they reach out to others. I advise authors to look at their boundaries in light of their goals, and be prepared to think hard about what they want so they can respond appropriately when faced with hard choices. They have to be prepared to accept the consequences any time they stick to their guns, and not play the blame game. It’s their book, and they are ultimately responsible for its fate through saying yes or no at decision points.

The upside of hard choices is the gain that can come from pain. Commonly, the character, plot, or plausibility point causing the strongest reader or editor objection (and the most distress in the author at the thought of changing or cutting it) came from the author’s heart and feels vital to the story. They need to own this problem and solve it by one of two means: (1) Dig deep into their creativity and figure out how to make the problem point work to mutual satisfaction, or (2) just delete the problem (an action known as “killing your darlings”) and then use it in another work. Sometimes problem parts truly are extraneous — something the author loves that just doesn’t serve the story. It also might be that they only need to solve a craft issue, and doing so will set the art free.

Subjectivity

Just because a person writes something with all their heart and soul doesn’t mean it’s any good. “Good” is a subjective judgment, of course, based on other people’s tastes, but it’s also a technical judgment, based on coherence and convention. A small percentage of the reading public is open to experimental material or has a high tolerance for sloppy presentation if something else grips their attention — characters, story line, relevance. The rest expect novels to follow certain standards of story structure, language use, and genre tropes, and they don’t want to see typos or poor grammar, punctuation, and spelling, or boring info dumps, or unbelievable characters and situations. It’s an insult to readers to foist immature work upon them. They want the best a writer can do.

Therefore, authors who desire good sales and reviews must study writing and story craft as well as find someone who knows what they’re doing to review the manuscript and help polish it. Rare is the writer who has all the skills needed to conceive and execute a story for hundreds of pages so other people can get lost in reading it. The greater a writer’s experience, the less they have to learn and compromise; but until that experience has been attained, the writer must expect to work long and hard, and receive some negative results along the way to success.

 

In all the arts (writing, painting, dance, music, sculpture, drama), a common wisdom is, “You have to know the rules to break them.” Knowing the rules is craft. Knowing when to break them is art. Writers who don’t know the rules — who think art alone will carry their work to acclaim — generally don’t succeed to their satisfaction. To avoid that, they must do their homework, and allow people who are farther along the path to help. That’s how the successful folks become successful. Learning to write is a continuum, and a given author is at their own point along it, always seeking to advance along the line. There is no ultimate point of achievement, only process and evolution.

The impersonality of being an object

Many people liken writing a book to having a baby, and revising it to raising a child. Publishing a book is like pushing a fledgling out of the nest to fly or fall. The author might retain a connection to the creature they’ve created, but at some point, it becomes an independent entity that will leave them behind.

That phase begins the moment they let another person read the manuscript. What lived privately in their head becomes an object vulnerable to other people’s perceptions. The only way to prevent this is to keep the manuscript in a drawer. It’s shocking to learn how differently other people will interpret what seems to clear to the writer, or that they will react opposite to what the author intended. Depending on what they wrote, how they wrote it, who reads it, the author’s relationship to them, and how adept the responder is at couching critique in technical rather than personal terms will determine how well the book (and author) weathers exposure.

Editors, unlike most beta readers, are trained to view a book in craft and marketplace terms, and their job is to analyze the forest while an author is focused on the trees (and vice versa). For self-publishing authors, editors are the test readers before a novel hits the public. They help finesse an author’s work and advance it toward the publishing goals. The keyword here is help. Editorial feedback helps authors make the technical and psychic transitions to understanding their book as a product — the result of art and craft honed for reception in the wider world. Once money enters the equation, either going out or coming in, an author’s art becomes a consumer product.

When consumers read an author’s acknowledgments in a published book, they usually see a list of folks who contributed to the project. “It takes a village” is a common theme. Authors who seek help, love help, accept help, reach their goals. Authors who spurn it usually don’t. That’s why it’s important to understand the reality rules of writing and publishing. Authors who own their work, ask for and accept help with it, and recognize that it will become something beyond them, for better or worse, usually get where they want to go.

Carolyn Haley is an award-winning novelist who lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of three novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1997 and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at dcma@vermontel.net or through her websites, DocuMania and New Ways to See the World. Carolyn also blogs at Adventures in Zone 3 and reviews at the New York Journal of Books, and has presented about editing fiction at the Communication Central conference.

April 12, 2019

On the Basics: Finding joy in what we do

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner, An American Editor

Decorating/cleaning maven Marie Kondo hit the headlines recently when she was (somewhat mis)quoted as saying that no home needs more than 30 books. Those of us in the editing/publishing profession may have consigned this pellet of her advice to the litter box (we probably all have that many style manuals, dictionaries, grammar books and related tools of our trade, and that’s before we even get to reading for pleasure!).

However, one aspect of Kondo’s advice or approach to cleaning and decorating that we can consider is to find joy in our work lives. For Kondo, anything that doesn’t “spark joy” when you pick it up and think about its role in your life should be discarded. Can we take a similar approach to writing, editing, proofreading and related projects?

Sure!

Projects or clients that don’t spark joy should be avoided or dismissed. Of course, we don’t always know that a project or client — or regular job — will spark the opposite of joy until we’re neck-deep in a difficult project, entangled with a challenging client, or fending off an unpleasant boss or co-worker, but keeping this philosophy in mind as we start new work relationships can be an important first step in sparking and maintaining joy in our work.

Finding joy

If our editorial work doesn’t spark joy, why are we doing it? Life is too short to invest a lot of energy and effort into doing work that we don’t enjoy. Of course, we all encounter projects that are difficult or boring, and clients who are … challenging to work with or for, but those should be the minority in your portfolio. There should be at least one project — ideally most, if not all, of them — that is a joy to do, both in terms of the work and the client. Most of us also have encountered workplaces that spark more fear, resentment, anger or depression than joy — such conditions might be why many of us become freelancers.

We can’t always afford to walk away from a job, whether it’s in-house or freelance, but there’s value in seeking to get joy from what we do, and in using the idea of sparking joy as a basis for whether to keep going or start looking for alternatives.

I find great joy in writing articles that clarify intricate topics, introduce readers to new ideas and people, expand my horizons of contacts and knowledge, and generate a payment that I find acceptable. I find joy in editing and proofreading material to make my clients look better (see https://americaneditor.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/on-the-basics-a-love-of-editing/ for details). Seeing my name on my work, whether it’s in print or online, also evokes joy; even after all my many years in business as a freelance writer/editor, there’s still something thrilling about such recognition and visibility. It always feels like the first time.

It also sparks joy when clients pay not only well but promptly (so I make it easy for them to do so by using resources like PayPal and direct deposit). Getting repeat projects from clients, especially when I don’t have to ask to be hired again, is another aspect of a freelancer’s life that creates joy (and sometimes relief).

Those are practical aspects, of course, especially for those of us who are freelancers rather than in-house workers. The more philosophical or even emotional aspect is the joy created by receiving thanks and compliments for my work. I’m pretty confident of my skills and my value to clients, but it always feels good to have that validated — so good that I keep every single compliment in a file and post many of them to my website as testimonials.

Those comments have another role in our lives: When a client, colleague or employer is being difficult, or a project is not generating any joy, glancing at some of those compliments can turn the tide from depressed to delighted.

Clients benefit from being generous with praise and appreciation, too; those who provide such feedback are the ones who go to the top of my list when someone needs work done in a rush.

Avoiding hassles

There’s certainly no joy in dealing with difficult clients or projects. We can adapt Kondo’s philosophy to our editorial work by heading off many hassles through good ol’ common sense. While many colleagues have managed without contracts for years, we can protect ourselves from problems by using contracts when working with new clients. A contract doesn’t have to be complicated; it can be a straightforward statement of what you will do, at what length (number of words for a writing assignment, number of pages for editing or proofreading — with a definition of “ page”!), when, etc. (For invaluable insights into contracts, get a copy of The Paper It’s Written On, by Dick Margulis and Karen Cather.)

Imagine the joy of having language in place to rely on if a client is late with sending their project to you but still expects you to complete it by the original deadline; adds more interviews or other topics to a writing assignment, or additional chapters (plus an index, glossary, appendix or three …) to an editing project; tries not to pay, or at best, pays very slowly and very late; wants to acknowledge your services even after rejecting most of your suggestions and edits …

Weeding out the weasels

As Kondo implies, it’s possible to weed out our clients much as we might weed out our wardrobes and homes (we won’t include bookcases here). Because I have much too much stuff, including outfits I’ll probably never wear again, I don’t let myself buy anything new unless I get rid of something old.

We can manage our editorial businesses similarly: If you’re feeling overwhelmed, bored, frustrated or annoyed by the demands that a low-paying client or unpleasant workplace makes on your time and/or energy, make the effort to find one that pays better, or at least treats you better. Then you can ditch whatever has been creating negativity and taking your attention away from opportunities that give you joy in your worklife.

What sparks joy in your editorial work? How do you find and keep that feeling if a project, client or regular job starts to suck the joy out of your life?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is the editor-in-chief and — as of 2019 — owner of An American Editor and an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (www.communication-central.com), this year co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (www.naiwe.com). She can be reached at Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

February 7, 2018

Lyonizing Word: Helping Authors Write

Jack Lyon

In my previous post, Lyonizing Word: Workflow for Writing, I suggested some tools that would help authors write without the problems that are almost inevitable when working in Microsoft Word. These include inconsistent and meaningless formatting, document corruption, fouled-up footnotes, incorrect AutoCorrect “corrections,” and so on. Unfortunately, most authors already use Word and aren’t likely to change. How can we, as editors, help them create Word documents that are well-structured and clean, thus reducing our own workload?

Word itself includes a feature that helps make this possible, although I doubt that many editors or authors are even aware of it: Restrict Editing. You’ll find this feature on Word’s Ribbon interface under the Review tab.

What does it do? It prevents authors from using arbitrary, meaningless formatting, applying various fonts in various sizes higgledy-piggledy all over the place as authors are wont to do. The only formatting they can do is with styles — and then only with the styles that you allow. You will like this. And your designer will like this. And your typesetter will like this.

At first, your authors will not like this. But once they understand how it works, they should find great relief in not having to design as well as write. All they have to do — all they can do — is apply a heading style to headings, a block quotation style to block quotations, and so on. They can get on with actually writing, rather than worrying about whether this heading should be bold and that one italic, whether poetry should use Garamond or Palatino. As technical writer Brendan Rowland notes in comment 153 on the blog Charlie’s Diary, “When you’ve worked with locked/protected docs in Word, you’ll never want to work any other way. Life becomes so much easier. No more user-created spaghetti formatting — this becomes a distant memory.”

Restricting Editing

Here’s how to set up a document that restricts editing in Microsoft Word:

  1. In Word, create a new document.
  2. Click the Review tab.
  3. Click the Restrict Editing icon (far right).
  4. Put a check in the box labeled “Limit formatting to a selection of styles.”
  5. Just below that, click Settings.
  6. Put a check in the new box labeled “Limit formatting to a selection of styles.”
  7. Put a check in the box next to each style that you want your authors to be able to use. For recommendations on what those styles might be, see my article “But What Styles?
  8. Under the Formatting heading, make sure the first box is unchecked and the last two are.
  9. Click the OK button.
  10. Now, in the task pane on the right, click the button labeled “Yes, Start Enforcing Protection.”
  11. To enforce protection, enter a password, confirm it, and click OK. The password doesn’t need to be long and complex; it just needs to be something your authors won’t guess and that you will remember. In fact, something as simple as your initials will do. After you’ve entered a password, your authors can’t turn off protection, so it really is protection.
  12. Save the document.
  13. Give the document to your authors, instructing them to write their masterpieces in that document and no other.

Creating Character Styles

There is a problem with this system, however, and it’s a serious one. When you restrict formatting to a selection of styles, Word no longer allows you to use directly applied formatting like italic and bold — styles only, so no CTRL + I for you! The only way around this is to use character styles (not paragraph styles) that are set to use italic, bold, or whatever you need. And here, in my opinion, is what you need:

• Italic.

• Superscript.

• Subscript.

• Strikethrough.

What, no bold? Not unless you’re working with an author whose field requires bold — some branches of math or medicine, perhaps. But for most authors, access to bold means they’ll try to use it to format headings when they should be using a heading style, such as Heading 2 or Heading 3.

What, no underline? Again, not unless you’re working with an author whose field requires it. Otherwise, some authors will use underlining when they should be using italic — a holdover from the days of the typewriter.

Now you need to add the character styles to your document. Here’s how:

  1. For the time being, stop enforcing protection on the document. Otherwise, you won’t be able to create a new style. You remember your password, right?
  2. Click the little arrow at the bottom right of Home > Styles to open the Styles task pane on the right.
  3. At the bottom of the task pane, click the little New Style icon on the bottom left.
  4. Give your style a name, such as Italic.
  5. In the box labeled “Style type,” click the dropdown arrow and select Character. This is key to making this work.
  6. Under Formatting, click the Italic button.
  7. Click the OK button.
  8. Repeat the process for any other character styles your authors will need.
  9. Again enforce protection for the document.

A side benefit to using character styles is that they can be imported into InDesign, where they can be set to use whatever formatting is needed — something that isn’t possible with directly applied formatting like italic or bold.

Creating Keyboard Shortcuts

So now the character styles are available, but only from the Styles task pane. Not very convenient; your authors are going to want their CTRL + I back. Here’s how to provide it:

  1. Under the File tab, click Options > Customize Ribbon.
  2. Click the button labeled “Keyboard shortcuts: Customize” on the bottom left.
  3. In the Categories box on the left, scroll to the bottom and select Styles.
  4. In the Styles box on the right, select the style you created earlier (such as Italic).
  5. Put your cursor in the box labeled “Press new shortcut key” and, well, press a new shortcut key. Let’s use CTRL + I for our italic character style.
  6. Click the dropdown arrow in the box labeled “Save changes in:” and select your document. Now your keyboard shortcut will be saved in the document rather than in your Normal template. Don’t skip this step!
  7. Click the Assign button on the lower left.
  8. Click the Close button on the lower right.
  9. Click the OK button.
  10. Save your document.
  11. Give the document to your authors.

Now when your authors select some text and press CTRL + I, the Italic character style will be applied, so they can work without using the mouse to select the Italic style in the Styles task pane. Easy, intuitive, perfect. Rinse and repeat, with the appropriate keyboard shortcuts, for your other character styles.

At this point, you may be wondering why I didn’t just create this document for you. Stay tuned; next time I will, with a few little extras to make your life easier. But if you ever need to do all of this yourself, now you know how.

Jack Lyon (editor@editorium.com) owns and operates the Editorium, which provides macros and information to help editors and publishers do mundane tasks quickly and efficiently. He is the author of Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals, Wildcard Cookbook for Microsoft Word, and of Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word. Both books will help you learn more about macros and how to use them.

April 25, 2016

On the Basics: So You Want to be a Writer

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

My freelancing business has evolved over the years from all-writing to a mix of writing, editing, and proofreading, but writing is my first love and I think of myself as a writer first and foremost. Writing comes easily to me, at least most of the time. In some ways, writing is more fulfilling than editing or proofreading because it’s an act of creation. I enjoy making someone else’s writing more readable, but I love creating my own written work. Giving voice to my ideas, and to the ideas and achievements of other people, through my writing is a wonderful way to live and work.

Many subscribers to An American Editor see themselves as editors or proofreaders only, but others have ventured into writing as well. Since adding writing to your business services, or just writing something for your own sake, might be on your mind, I thought I’d write about writing this month.

It seems as if anyone and everyone nowadays wants to be a writer, or at least get published, although wanting to get published is nothing new. There have always been people with a yen to write who have scribbled away in their garrets or kitchens, and never been published or earned a penny for their efforts. Writing has always had a certain cachet; it’s always been an accomplishment that attracted wannabes (and I don’t mean any disrespect by that term). From what I see in social media, the writing-related publications I read, and the publishing or writing events I attend, the majority of today’s aspiring writers seem to want to write memoirs, with fiction coming in second.

Some aspiring writers may not want to be professional, full-time writers and go the traditional publishing route for books or the equally traditional route of working for a publication as a staff writer. You may have a single idea, passion, or mission, or had a single “extraordinary” experience that you want to write about. You can do that, and find an audience, more easily nowadays than any time in the past.

Others do want to write for newspapers or magazines, but have no training or experience in producing professional, publishable material. If that’s you, some basic journalism training is probably in order.

There’s also a subset of this community — the businessperson who’s been persuaded that writing a book about his or her business/profession/path to success is a great way to get more sales. This is often someone with good ideas but no writing experience or skills, at least in the kind of writing that makes a good book that would attract readers (and, thus, new customers for the business). This is someone who could be a great client for a substantive or developmental editor, or for someone interested in ghostwriting.

What’s different today, and it’s not always a good thing, is that almost anyone — heck, maybe anyone! — can and often does get published. It isn’t a good thing when the writing is sloppy, careless, disorganized, rife with errors, unoriginal, and otherwise of poor quality. It can be a good thing because voices that traditional publishers ignore now have ways to be heard and read. You only have to look at the hundreds, if not thousands, of blogs; the many self-published authors and businesses catering to them; and the people who seek advice about getting published to realize that the desire to write for publication is strong and flourishing, regardless of the quality being produced.

So what do you do if you want to be a writer? If you’re a successful, skilled editor, you already have a good sense of what makes a piece of writing “good,” so you’re one step ahead of many aspiring writers who have no idea of how to craft something that other people will enjoy reading. If you have something you want to say, you have a reason to write. Don’t let other people dictate what you say and how you say it (unless they’re your assigning editors, in which case, do what you’re told, but find ways to retain your voice in the process).

There’s plenty of good advice “out there” for aspiring writers. Among the respected writers providing such advice are William Zinsser, Anne Lamott, Stephen King, Annie Dillard, Paula LaRocque, Bill Bryson, Ray Bradbury, Roy Peter Clark, Marie Arana, and Dean Koontz, making advice easy to obtain from your local bookstore. What most of the advice boils down to is this:

  • Just write — write every day.
  • Write what you know (although some say to write whatever you want — after all, who really knows anything about zombies, wizards, and fictional science?) And you can research professions, places, and other topics that interest you even if you’ve never experienced them.
  • Read all the time — a variety of authors and genres. The more you read, the more you absorb the essentials of what makes something readable and the more your own writing will benefit. You’ll develop an instinct for what makes good writing to emulate and bad writing to avoid.
  • Budget for an editor for any long forms of writing you plan to do. As everyone who subscribes to An American Editor knows (or should know), a good editor is essential for making a piece of writing its best.

For encouragement, feedback, and resources, it can’t hurt to join a writers’ group; bookstores and libraries often host such groups. If there’s a literary center in your area, look into classes there; if not, see if area universities and colleges, libraries, or even continuing education programs from your local high school offer writing classes (you don’t have to undertake a degree to benefit from college or university classes). There’s something especially valuable about personal, in-person interaction with a teacher and other students that will help you hone your craft. I can’t vouch for online resources because I’ve never used them, but I have seen colleagues recommend joining online writers’ groups and taking online writing courses if you can’t find anything local or just feel more comfortable in the virtual world than the real one.

It also helps to subscribe to The Writer, Writer’s Digest, and Poets & Writers magazines, all of which provide insights on the writing process and how to get published. If your goal is to write for pay for magazines, you will also want to have Writer’s Market on hand.

It’s important to keep in mind is that writing is work. It’s hard work, although I’ve never found it to be the painful process that many other writers experience. For me, the hardest part is just starting a project; once I get those first few words out, it “Feels So Good,” as Chuck Mangione’s song says, and the rest tends to flow like the proverbial river.

Most writing projects require research, interviewing, and organizing before you sit down and write the first few words. Part of the writing commitment is being prepared to repeatedly edit and revise your work until it’s as good as you can possibly make it. Depending on the project, you then may have to deal with being edited by someone else, which is not always easy to handle, especially if it involves rewriting.

It often helps to create an outline or timeline for a piece of writing so your ideas are organized enough for readers to follow you along. That even helps you stay on track, especially with memoir and other types of nonfiction.

Writing is exciting, interesting, fulfilling work, but it is work. Writing well is even harder work than writing in and of itself. You might have to spend more time on revising what you write than on producing a first draft.

If readers of this blog want to become writers, I have only one suggestion: Do it. Just sit down and do it. You might not do it well, but if you are a writer, you will write. If you are a good writer, you will write well — and you will take advice and editing from colleagues who will make your work even better (many of whom you can find right here, among fellow subscribers).

Get those ideas and opinions out of your head and written down. Let the need to write flow from your brain to your hands to the keyboard. Only when you actually start to do the work of writing will you find out whether you really have something to say in a way that other people will understand and respond to, and maybe even purchase.

The saying that anyone has a book in them may well be true; the worlds of blogging and self-publishing certainly make it seem that way. I haven’t had the discipline or courage to test that theory yet. My book is still lurking in there somewhere, but my voice gets heard in other kinds of writing, and that’s enough for now.

Today, there are thousands of outlets for your writing. Beyond the traditional publishing houses and publications, there are more online outlets than can be counted, and there’s always the option of creating your own outlet. Some outlets have stringent submission requirements, some publish anything they receive, and your own blog or self-published book has no limits. There is no reason not to write, even if you aren’t sure that your writing is any good.

Show us what you can say!

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.

March 10, 2014

On the Basics: Repurpose Your Prose to Make the Most of Your Time and Effort

Repurpose Your Prose to Make the
Most of Your Time and Effort

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Although An American Editor usually tackles all things editing, I was asked to consider occasionally writing about writing. Because writing is my first love in terms of my freelance services, I’m delighted to do that, so here goes. In a way, though, this is about both!

Whenever you have a good idea or write a good article, it’s worth thinking about how to make the most of it—ways in which you can reuse or “repurpose” the same information in different ways. Among the possibilities are other articles, press releases, white papers, books and booklets, blog posts, tweets, and speeches or webinars. Even if you’ve signed a contract giving rights to the article to the initial publishing outlet, you may be able to reuse your notes and quotes in other ways, either print or online.

If you’ve written a series of articles or blog posts, you could turn them into a booklet or book (a good example of how this is done is The Business of Editing: Effective and Efficient Ways to Think, Work, and Prosper, the content of which began as An American Editor blog essays). In these days of self-publishing, that is increasingly doable.

Turn to a resource like the venerable Writer’s Market or Literary Marketplace for ideas about where else to sell the information—maybe even the same article, depending on the rights you sold for the original version. Just be sure to let new editors know that you’ve already published something on the same topic or about the same person. If you pitch the idea of reprinting or repurposing a published story, be sure to mention that the new outlet has a different readership or geographic reach, or how you would edit the original version to be different enough to be appropriate for the new one.

For me, short posts to LinkedIn have been jumping-off points for full-length articles here, as well as ones for my Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication. I’ve used the same idea, from slightly different angles, for posts and articles for different organizations—the common thread might be, say, New Year’s resolutions, but I tailor each version to the specifics of a given publishing, writing, organizational, or freelancing niche. That is, I edit myself.

If you’ve written several articles on the same topic, you might have the makings of a syndicated column—having the same pieces used in several different publications—and being paid more than once for the same work. Do some research on how syndication works, and give it a shot. Just be prepared to keep the topic rolling over time. Syndication may mean one article getting published in a dozen places, but it usually isn’t a one-shot deal; it means keeping a flow of articles going.

You also could take an original article and develop a longer, deeper version for a website, which is a popular technique for many publications nowadays, especially for newspapers. The time and space constraints of a daily paper may limit a story to a short-and-sweet version of a story, but the website offers scope for more in-depth reporting, analysis, images, and more.

Repurposing your writing doesn’t always mean going longer on a finished article; it can also mean chopping it up into smaller pieces. You could turn excerpts from or shorter versions of your articles into online posts—blogs and tweets, for instance. One article could become an entire month’s worth of posts to your Twitter account.

And articles aren’t the only projects that can be used in multiple ways, or the only ways to reuse information. I’ve used my notes from conference presentations for both onsite newsletters and subsequent articles for magazines and newsletters covering the industries or professions that were the focus of the presentations.

The outlines and talking points from an early speech about freelancing became the basis for my self-published “Get Paid to Write! Getting Started as a Freelance Writer” booklet. I just had to flesh out my notes and outline, and they turned smoothly into a booklet, which I’ve updated a few times now and may be about to expand further into a book. A couple of years later, I used the content from that publication as the starting point for a new one on “Freelancing 101: Launching Your Editorial Business” for the Editorial Freelancers Association, recasting some of the original material and adding information to make it relevant to people who are editors, proofreaders, indexers, and other members of the editorial field, as well as writers.

I’ve used a section from my “Getting Started” booklet as the basis of a column for the newsletter of the American Copy Editors Society (ACES). My editor said I could use that section just as it appears in the booklet, but I preferred to do some fine-tuning to make it unique to that publication. How much self-editing you do on repurposed articles is up to you.

I’ve also converted both speeches and articles into webinars. There are differences in how you talk about a topic and how you write about it, but the essential information can be the same. You might make more use of contractions in a speech or webinar than in an article, and you would have to practice your timing and use of emphasis, but the same material often can make both a great article and an effective presentation.

Those of us who write put a lot of time and effort into crafting our work. Capitalize on that time and effort by looking for ways to reuse the same information. Your income, and fame, will increase!

Now to think of more ways to reuse some of my own recent work …

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.

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