Jk here: I’m glad it’s not just my imagination that even the big and supposedly reputable houses are hiring people who end up not doing a decent job. Does evidence of lack of competent editorial impact harm a book’s prospects? I guess some of them think not.
Richard H. Adin I never thought I would say “Gosh, I am glad I am retired,” but I am. Being retired has done many things for me, not least of which (aside from having the time to play with my granddaughters before their school and other diversions make me uninteresting and obsolete before my time) […]For Rent to Publishers: One Pistol with Bullet to Shoot Yourself in the Foot (or Why Good Editing Matters) — An American Editor
Not long ago, I asked an editorial community how it felt about clients’ requests to be taught and guided in the use of computers, email, and especially software such as MS Word.
Results were all over the board, from “Sure, I’m an expert” to “Not only no but hell no” to “If they want to pay me for it, I’m their huckleberry.” I asked because I don’t like it and am not good at it, and was wondering if this was rare. The reasons are complex, but are based on this: when I left that field behind, it was like a weight off my shoulders, and I don’t like re-shouldering it. Few seem to understand this reluctance, but we all have different paths and experiences. There are former police officers who never again touch a firearm once they retire. You couldn’t get my football widow mother to sit down and watch a game if I were playing in it, not even if you stapled her to the chair and propped her eyelids open à la A Clockwork Orange. She would look away and sing to drown out the audio for all three and a half hours. I think she’d rather have a bucket of horse turds dropped in her lap than a football.
So I was reading what the other editors said about tech support, and then one of the responses hit me with a flash of the road to Damascus (and no, it wasn’t a Syrian Arab Air Force strike aircraft firing rockets). There are Youtubes on everything. I can’t possibly know what the client is seeing, and I’m not willing to set up some form of screen-sharing remote access software. If I can find out the feature they need help with, and the version they are using, I can find them a YT that will discuss how the feature works. Their screen will look like what the video shows, and menu selections will have the same names as they will see on the video.
It feels like liberation.
Here is a helpful hint for all those of you who work with Word and an editor: Go to YT and search for ” track changes ” plus the version (e.g. ” Word 2013 “). Watch them. Live them. Groove them.
Because I’m still using Word 2007, I have zero interest in downgrading to a more current version, and what I see on my screen simply is not what you see. All I can do is confuse you.
I can’t charge you for confusing you. Not nice. I already do enough free work (emails, phone discussions) and have to establish a boundary, stay within my comfort and happiness zone. Doing tech support makes me not want to do my work at all, and I can’t afford that.
That still leaves the Track Changes learning curve, which brings into play the Sea of Red Ink. This is where their first view of the finished product, by default, shows it looking like a e-splatter film. I had one client just accept all the changes without review, so traumatized were they.
There’s a solution and it involves a better way to send the client his or her results. Send two versions: one with all changes accepted (no Sea of Red Ink), one with the changes awaiting acceptance (e-splatter film). I don’t like it, but I have to accept that the Sea of Red Ink is scary when it’s the first thing clients see. It isn’t the version I want them to begin with. What I normally want them to do first is read the edited version (which is not the default view in Track Changes, and which can’t be saved to be the default view) all the way through, with just comments, and see how it feels; see how they like the way they sound, just read and react.
Then I want them to review it with the tracked changes. The Sea of Red Ink will now show, but by now, the client will realize that every single teensy correction (loose space, case error, changed comma, fixed typo) leaves a trail of red pixels out to the margin. This will show, should show, that the Sea of Red Ink is not nearly as fearful as once believed. The simple act of a global S&R for “two spaces, replace with one,” will coat in e-splatter any page in most mss even though it led to no substantive alterations. It looks bloody, but it’s a minor scratch.
Sounds so reasonable, right?
Hardly any of them have ever paid attention to these directions. They dove straight into the Sea of Red Ink (default view), had whatever crisis they were going to have, and either recovered or did not. Their lips said “yes, yes” but their eyes said “FOAD FOAD FOAD,” as one long-ago RA colleague used to say about residents and activities. For me to expect them to follow my suggestions is naïve. I have to make that easier for them.
I’m tired of the crises and worrying about them, and I’m ten times tired of being asked for tech support. So now I’m going to send two versions as described earlier, so that I don’t have to do tech support to help them face the Sea of Red Ink. They never have to see it if they prefer not to; they can, if they wish, just use the fully accepted copy and put comments/edits there. It will still have changes tracked. This should make an enormous difference in outcomes, without ever removing acceptance or rejection of changes from their own hands, where that process belongs.
Not paying attention to that particular group any more due to excessive thought/speech policing, but I have to credit it for this one valuable thing. At least, in return for the many dozens of people I helped, I did get one help back. Could be worse.
By Jenna HartePart of The How They Do It SeriesJH: Readers skim when they read, especially if nothing is really going on in the story. Jenna Harte shares tips on keeping readers engaged in your novel.Jenna Harte is a die-hard romantic writing about characters who are passionate about and committed to each other, and frequently…Tips on Writing “The Boring Stuff” Readers Tend to Skip — Fiction University
By Bonnie RandallPart of The How They Do It Series JH: Wonderfully rich characters typically leads to a wonderfully rich novel. Bonnie Randall shares tips on how to reveal the depth and richness of your characters. A character is infinitely more than just who the author says they are. Like their living, breathing counterparts, fictional characters often…How to Write Rich Characterization: A Cheat-Sheet — Fiction University
This is when I typically generate a list of technology predictions for the coming year. The challenge this year isn’t coming up with predictions, it’s finding a moment of calm to share them when people are most likely to read. With a pandemic rolling along and the nation in political and economic crises to boot,…Bob’s 2021 Tech Predictions: What a Difference a Pandemic Makes — I, Cringely
Life has taught me that quite a few of those who have appointed themselves editors and proofreaders are competent to do neither. If you could see the number of posts in editors’ forums full of bad English, requests like “I want 2 become an editor can u point me to any sites where I can learn grammer?” you might despair. If you can see them, you despair daily.
All right. Let’s do something about it. Knowing what I know now, but assuming I were not actually an editor, how would I do it? Imagine I wanted to be a published author and sought editing help. Assume that no matter my proficiency with the language, I’m sensible enough to realize one set of eyes isn’t enough. I also realize that volunteer first readers might be reluctant to be blunt with me.
In addition to continuing to write every day, even if it were only fifty words, even if all I said was “writing sucks today because…” I would start with short stories. The goal would be to get them published sooner rather than later, firing up the income stream. I’d give away the first few for free, hoping to build a following. But before I published any, I’d be confronting the hiring of editing services. Thus:
It’s not smart to hire people when one doesn’t know what they do. Rather than be foolhardy, I would read up on the different editing modes, so that I didn’t sound completely clueless when time came to have the conversation. When I did that, I would probably conclude that I needed a developmental edit. Even if I weren’t sure, I would desire such an edit in order to see my blind spots. I might later evolve my writing to a point where I ceased to need these, but I’d be planning to wait for an editor to tell me that.
I would not go to any of the sites that purport to help one hire editing services from a pool. Know what I’d do? I’d get on one of the writers’ groups on Faceplant, like Writers Helping Writers or Writers Unite. While some of the requests from purported writers might quease me out, this would provide me two benefits. One, it would show me the truly wretched quality of English on display for most of the likely competition, thus making me feel much better about my own. Two, it would let me see which editors participated in attempts to help these poor lost souls. I’d watch how they conducted themselves. I’d grade them for honesty, knowledge, and helpfulness. I’d make a list of the top five and order it according to how much each provider appealed to me.
Then, one by one, I’d contact my top five. I would not contact several at once. I would not waste others’ time or try to get them all to compete with each other; this isn’t buying a new car. I’d look the first one up, contact her, and see what her process was like. I would not ask her about costs until the very end of the discussion. I’d ask her for a sample developmental edit, presuming she did those, on just one to two pages of short story. I’d be very up front that I was starting with short stories to improve my writing, build a name, and work into the process.
The quality of guidance in her sample dev edit would be an enormous factor. If it was cold, that would be all right provided it was intelligent and honest. I’d make sure that the sample included some passive voice, ellipses, italic emphasis, and some other bad habits, just so that I could get her take on them. I could live with her telling me it was complete garbage, provided she told me specifics about why. If I didn’t get a good vibe and feel from this process, I would thank her for her time and let her know I needed to keep searching for a better fit.
If I did get a good vibe, I’d do some innocent cyber research. I’d see what kind of reputation she had, look into her testimonials. If her website offered a list of her credits, I might buy one of those books just to see how her handiwork might have come out. If I decided she was The One, I would not send her an NDA to sign (the only one of those I ever signed was for a tech editing project that involved being privy to the hiring party’s clients’ confidential information). If she sent me a contract to sign, I’d read it and decide how I felt about its provisions. If she wanted money up front, I’d examine that and decide whether I was comfortable with it. Also, to be frank, if she charged by the hour I’d assume she was more likely to be capable than if she charged a flat fee. There’s complicated thinking behind that, and it’s by no means perfect or universal, but it is my considered observation and experience.
Once I hired her, I would carefully consider everything she said. At times I would challenge her in ways, especially by asking her to explain the reasoning. If she had a process, I would follow it, soaking up everything I could. I would pay her promptly when the time came. I would not try to piggyback free work. At the end of the first project, I would decide whether her participation had improved my skills and the project. If it had, I would seriously consider hiring her again.
JK here: I found this a good description of differing styles. As with editing, most people don’t know different modes exist. Enjoy.
Your goal, whether writing fiction or nonfiction, should be to paint word pictures vivid enough to engage the theater of your reader’s mind. Readers love to be educated and entertained, but they remember forever when they’re emotionally moved. So deciding which you’ll employ of the four main writing styles is crucial to leaving a powerful…4 Styles of Writing and How to Decide Which to Use — Jerry Jenkins | Proven Writing Tips
Now and then I sense that many observers think I have a pretty good gig: “You fix their grammar, duh, and get paid.” I grant that I’ve had worse jobs, and ones to which I was worse suited, but it has agonizing moments. (And I don’t just “fix their grammar.”) Take for instance:
A referral contact comes in: a rambling phone call leaving a several-minute message about her manuscript. It is evident that the caller is elderly and perhaps dealing with memory issues. Her name is Ada Miller. She conveys:
- The ms is an autobiography about Ada’s life, which has been about as interesting as most people’s (that is, not very much so).
- Ada was referred to me by my old friend Edna, who lives in the same senior complex. Edna is a wonderful lady who is always trying to do nice things for people, and I respect her very much.
- She has not quite finished it, but she would like a firm quotation. You know, just to get an idea of how much it will cost to clean up a few minor errors.
- Ada is on a fixed income, and in case I don’t get the hint, more or less indicates that this better not cost much and that I should offer a senior discount. After all, how hard can it be to fix a few typos? she asks with a chuckle.
I call Ada back, addressing her as Ms. Miller (old school Kansas boy, here), and attempt to discuss the ms. That is not feasible, unless I’m willing to talk over her and be branded rude. Ada rambles about her life, her story, her two cancer diagnoses, her children, her life, her story, how to find a publisher, her poverty, some other health problems, what a great buildup Edna gave me, and on. And on.
Ada is a lonely elderly lady hoping to make a little bit of extra money and get her story out there. She is a fundamentally nice, good person who thinks of others. However, she understands little about editing, the modern world of publishing, marketing to publishers, self-publishing, or any of that stuff. She expects me to educate her about all this, in between her soliloquies, and certainly does not expect to pay me for that time. (Not that I’ve ever charged for it, but I also reserve the right to limit it.)
When Ada does not like what she’s hearing from me, she argues with me in her genteel way. Each disagreement is grounds for her to deliver several minutes of reasons why she is correct.
Okay. You want to be an editor? Here’s your job. Decide:
- Plan on a massive amount of unpaid effort, wading through a ms loaded with problems, knowing Ada will reject probably half the edits, all in service of a project that will never make her one dime, for what will turn out to be an effective billing rate of about $5/hour. And that’s just for the editing time, which will be the most painful editing of your entire career. That’s not taking into account all of Ada’s loneliness emails and conversations.
- Find a way to reject this poor, nice, elderly potential client, who has no idea what she’s doing and isn’t willing to follow any guidance that she might not agree with. Challenge: do so without crushing her soul and sending her to Edna with many humphs about how unhelpful and rude you were to her.
Yeah, I have such an easy job.
At least, that’s how it looks and feels to me.
We used to take Portland Monthly, a print magazine of the titular subject matter and frequency. While it was very kombucha-Portlandy, with minimal relevance to us out in Burberton and especially to those of us who avoid downtown (and were doing so years before protests began), enough of its content had enough value that we enjoyed it. We’d learn about a few new places to eat, or local history, or something else fun. It was worth what we paid for it.
One fine day, my issue came with a flyer. It began by thanking us for our support of independent journalism and told us how wonderful we were. That’s when a thinking person begins to expect at least a four-joint bohica.* It then informed me that there would be a change to my subscription. In order to better meet subscribers’ needs, I’d now only get four mailed print issues per year. The rest would be available online. They urged me to give them my e-mail address, so that I would not miss an issue. There was nothing about a refund, either partial or full.
Now let’s examine this. Here’s my takeaway: “Hi. We heart you big time. However, we’re now quartering the amount of content we offer you under the terms of your original subscription. Why? Because fuck you, we think you are enough of an idiot to go along with getting 1/4 of what you paid for, and we really like cutting our costs.”
Canceling my subscription felt almost like a moral duty. I don’t want to read magazines on my computer or my flip phone (can’t anyway). If I had a more advanced phone, I wouldn’t want to read them on that either. However, they could have avoided this by offering me some form of refund, offering a subscription extension, just about anything–anything, that is, except what they did: “Because we think you’re an idiot, we will be giving you less content and no compensation; suck it.” They could even have begged: “We understand this is a major change in the terms for which you paid, and we hope you will consider that a small but valuable contribution to the cause of local journalism.”
It came down not to money (the $15-odd refund isn’t exactly enough to retire on), nor to questions about content and value. It came down to my recoiling from the tactic of first kissing subscribers’ asses, then insulting our intelligence.
They’re committing suicide. Deep down, these magazines don’t ever want to print another paper copy again, so they’re doing their best to drive away anyone who wants a physical magazine in their mailboxes.
Sometimes it feels like I’m the only one who stands up and objects to the constant messaging trend: “In order to serve you better, we are cutting staff, reducing hours, eliminating services, raising prices, decreasing portions, and trimming options. We want you to believe this is for your benefit. We think you’re enough of an idiot to buy this.”
* Slang of military origin, an articulated acronym for “bend over, here it comes again.” We used to measure them by joints involved, with three for example meaning the finger, four meaning the whole hand, and six meaning up to the shoulder. Up to twelve was a double bohica, and after that one counted vertebrae for the dreaded super bohica.
This blog has become somewhat my repository for frustrations with my own profession. This is where I can say what I was thinking when I read the actual question, yet without getting me kicked off the group or making a professional enemy.
Today’s frustration is the inability to ask the client questions.
If you went where I go–to editorial forums where (the public presumes) we all gather to reload our red pens and drink ourselves blind over semicolons–you’d wonder how some folks manage. Here is one of the most common hivemind questions: “My client did X and Y. I think it sucks. How can I tell him so without hurting his feelings?”
In the first place, as a professional editor, you should be a capable enough writer to frame any criticism in a way that doesn’t hurt too much. If you cannot write well enough to do that, or are too lazy or cruel to do so, don’t be surprised at negative results because you aren’t going to be very persuasive. That said, the client also has a duty not to personalize what should not be personalized. You just have to give her a way around personalization, and hope she takes it. Doing your job means telling the truth, but it will be better received if you are skilled enough to do so without being a big meany.
In the second, if it doesn’t make any sense to you, why are you on here weeping openly about it and agonizing what to do? ASK YOUR CLIENT WHAT SHE WAS TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH WITH THIS CHOICE. There are loads of space between “Your protagonist is such a jerk, I hate him” and “Your protagonist’s flaws will be alienating to some segments of the potential audience; what was your reason for presenting him that way?” The first method stings. The second assumes the characterization was a deliberate device, and asks the writer to share the Master Plan. Of course, there probably is not a master plan, and the author probably doesn’t realize that the character’s so awful, but is unlikely to take the question personally.
Ask the client. Why do editors not think of this simple option? How is one to present oneself as an authority on communication if one can’t figure out how to send an email and politely say “What’s with writing the whole book in italics?” or “What’s the theory behind the informal [read: lousy] grammar in narration?”
It just is not that hard to ask the client. What does one think is the downside? In which universe do writers not like to talk about their books?
Not the one I live in.