KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Friday, December 19, 2014

Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

This guest post was written by my colleague Carolyn Haley, a talented editor and author. She last wrote a post here in 2011. Today she provides helpful insights for editors who suspect a particular project needs more editorial work than the author or other client requested.

Most independent editors, somewhere over the course of their careers, find themselves stuck with a project that needs way more work than they were hired to do. Much angst and frustration usually result, and sometimes damaged client relations.

How to fix this is a two-part equation. The first part is actually the second part: how to avoid a rerun in the future. That boils down to learning what kind of editorial work you are best suited for and how to acquire it, along with learning how to see undesirable projects coming and heading them off at the pass. Such foresight takes experience, starting with savvy communication with your prospects, and performing sample edits before you accept a job.

The real first part is getting through a project already on your desk that has expanded—or exploded—and still ending up with a happy client. The internal conflict often arises from editorial integrity—in other words, the personal need, compounded by the professional drive, to “fix” a poorly written work that seems doomed to publishing failure.

What’s Good Enough?
It’s not always possible to recast the contract. In those cases, your choice comes down to adapting to the changed circumstances or bailing out.

Bailing out is rarely desirable, leaving coping the better plan. To do so, you must spend some time thinking about broader issues. For example, what does “fix” or “make it right” mean? And what guarantee is there that any two editorial professionals are going to have the same understanding of what “right” is?

Most editors are uncomfortable working with subpar writing, at least when we do not have control and/or the remuneration to compensate for the labor and stress. As editors we are charged with helping authors make their work the best it can be, but who gives us the authority to deem that it’s good enough—or isn’t?

Is it more important to protect authors from making fools of themselves, or to accept that other parties are the ultimate arbiters of what’s “good enough” and just provide the service requested?

Keeping Perspective
I had to resolve this in my conscience and business strategy early on. I make my living editing mainly slush-pile-quality material. Occasionally something excellent comes along, but for the most part I get work that needs developmental editing—if not a full rewrite—for which I’m hired only for copyediting. (Sometimes I can talk clients up a notch but that’s the exception, not the rule.)

Learning how to deal with this has been a painful challenge. It helps to remember that I write dreadful stuff, too, and know how hard it is to do even that, much less learn what’s needed to improve the work and make it sellable or comprehensible to other people.

Within that frame of reference, I am able to keep in mind that just because I think somebody’s work needs significant rewriting, not everyone else does. If the entire professional cadre of editors went to the library together and each chose one book we think is superb and another we think is awful, we would likely end up with a stack a mile high in each category with few or no overlaps.

Point is, it’s not our job to judge our clients’ work. It’s our job to help them make their work shine, and educate them as best we can without overdoing our investment of time and effort, disproportionate to our pay.

A Win–Win Option
So, when you get stuck with a crummy project, here’s one way to deal with it.

Don’t waste your breath telling authors they need to rewrite; give them an idea how to go about it. This comes from showing via your edits, and telling via your comments, along with providing helpful resources. (For book-length work, I start with recommending Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer, then work down a list.)

Focus on the mechanics—clarity, consistency, choreography, comprehension—and present your comments and queries from a reader’s point of view. The work’s quality will be judged by readers and any acquiring editors or contest judges; not your problem if it’s doomed to rejection. All you can do is improve its chances in a harsh world.

When the job is finished, thank the author for the chance to work with him or her and wish them success. If the author is happy and wants to thank you lavishly in the acknowledgments, and you don’t want to be associated with the work, politely decline. You need only say that your policy is to remain neutral and invisible, as an editor’s job is to support an author’s work, not share credit for it.

Then ask for referrals.

Unless you’re operating at the topmost tier of the publishing world, it’s likely you’ll go around again with the same issues sooner or later. Only by keeping your workflow vigorous do you have a chance of attracting the best authors and enjoying the best jobs. So instead of griping about the quality of your clients’ work, dive in and become their partner to elevate it to the next level.


Carolyn Haley operates DocuMania, a freelance editing, writing, and reviewing service based in rural Vermont. She works with a diverse mix of commercial, indie, and academic clients on their works for publication, as well as teaches novice authors and editors.

Where to find Carolyn: businessLinkedIn profilebooksblogbook reviews

My Teacher in Freelancing

My son Neil, who taught me how to balance self-employment and parenting

This is my son Neil, 20 years old today, who spent years teaching me how to be self-employed with a baby/toddler/child/young adult around. And he taught me so well that I was confident enough to have one more baby after him while I kept my business running.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why and How to Build Good Author Relationships

As a group, we editors haven't always done a good job of making the case for the necessity of editors. One way we can do that is through building good author–editor relationships. In a guest post on the blog of the American Society of Business Publication Editors, I explain why and how to do so.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Managing Editor for the Journal of Urgent Care Medicine

I am absolutely delighted to say that I am the brand-new managing editor for the Journal of Urgent Care Medicine (JUCM), the official publication of the Urgent Care Association of America and the Urgent Care College of Physicians.

I worked with Lee Resnick, MD, FAAFP, during 2013 and 2014 to produce the books Textbook of Urgent Care Medicine and Textbook of Urgent Care Management, and we developed an excellent working relationship. Because of that experience, I am excited now to start collaborating with Dr. Resnick (JUCM's editor-in-chief), Peter Murphy of the Braveheart Group (JUCM's publisher), the journal's editorial board, and its authors to help make the journal the best it can be.

I will still be operating as a self-employed editorial consultant doing business as KOK Edit.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Tips for Working with Authors Who Aren't Microsoft Word Experts

Edited manuscript with tracked changes and comment balloons
Microsoft Word is a handy tool, but even those who use it for writing research reports or books aren't necessarily familiar with all of its features. When I work with authors, I don't want reviewing edits to be painful for either them or me, so I take steps to make things easier for both of us.

Before sending edited files to authors for review, I lock the files so that every change the authors make is tracked, using Word's Track Changes function. When I get the files back for review, I don't want to find out that the authors have made changes that I can't easily spot and review. (Yes, I can run Word's Compare function on my edited file and the file that the author reviewed but did not track. However, that function doesn't display the differences between documents in the way I can best process them. Your experience with Compare may be different.)

Also, I always send authors who are unfamiliar with the Track Changes function or with Word's comment balloons the following:

  • A screen shot (an image file) of what an edited manuscript looks like with changes tracked and with comment balloons showing, so they'll know what they're supposed to be seeing on their screen
  • This explanation for how I want them to review my editing:
The Track Changes function in Microsoft Word is turned on in your manuscript file to make it easy for me to tell which are your edits and comments and which are my edits and comments. You will not be able to use the Accept/Reject Changes function. This is to ensure that I can easily find your changes or comments to review them. If you do not agree with a particular edit, please delete it, and this will be tracked by Word. If text must be added, please insert it, and this will also be tracked by Word. Please place your answers to my queries at the end of the appropriate query.

What tips do you have to share?


Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Writer-Responsible Versus Reader-Responsible Languages

The blog Language Log has a wonderful post on that discusses a major distinction in the mind-set of writers with different native languages: writer-responsible languages versus reader-responsible languages. This distinction is one that I had intuited after years of editing manuscripts for authors who are non-native English speakers from many different nations, but until now, I had not had terminology for it.

The post quotes this excerpt from the 2011 post "Who Is Responsible for the Message?" on the CAL Learning (Culture and Language Training for a Multicultural Workplace) blog by Lauren Supraner:

English is a writer-responsible language. That means it is the responsibility of the writer to make sure the message is understood. Writing is clear, direct and unambiguous. Schools teach from early on the importance of structure, thesis statement and topic sentences when writing in English. A good writer assumes no or little background knowledge on the part of the reader.

Korean, Chinese, and Japanese are reader-responsible languages. That means the reader is responsible for deciphering the message, which is often not stated explicitly. For an American who is expecting direct and explicit information, this style can be very confusing.

I can say with confidence, because of my work with authors from other nations, that Korean, Chinese, and Japanese are not the only reader-responsible languages. Reader versus writer responsibility is the element that causes my international authors the most difficulty in writing for US English-language biomedical journals, because they are asked to write in a style that they see as antagonizing readers:

  • It's rude because it's direct.
  • It's rude because the writer doesn't take time to build a rapport with the reader.
  • It's insulting because it assumes that readers don't know much about the subject matter and thus it entails explaining and defining material that intelligent, experienced readers likely already know.
  • It's stiff because it requires many levels of parallel structure (such as parallel headings).
  • It's unimaginative because writers are expected to avoid speculation about the meaning of their scientific findings.
My international authors are used to writing in a way that they see as more reader friendly:

  • Most important is not explaining material that readers with advanced experience in the subject matter likely already know. This is seen as respectful of the reader's intelligence.
  • Readers, being intelligent, are expected to read between the lines and interpret what they read.
  • The writer uses a good deal of description.
  • The writer tries to draw the reader into a discussion of the possibilities. This may involve expressing opinions rather than just reporting findings.
If we, as editors, can understand both styles of writing, we will be better able to assist our international authors when they are required to write in the arena of US English.


Monday, September 08, 2014

Perfect Bound: A Guide Through the Book-Publishing Process

Confession: I haven't read all of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro yet. My paperback copy of it is shipping out to me now. So this isn't a book review, but I already know I want to use the book for two purposes:

  • To help my book authors understand what to expect
  • To teach myself more about the current indie publishing processes
If you are an editor too, consider doing the same.

Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro
I've worked in the publishing industry, both as an employee of publishers and as a self-employed editor, for 30 years. And things have changed a lot since I started out in 1984. I'm at the top of my game as an editor, polishing manuscripts until they sparkle the way their authors intended. But truly good editors know that to maintain their expertise, they must constantly take part in continuing education about their industry. What I've read of Perfect Bound so far has convinced me that it will be an excellent continuing-education tool. And I intend to recommend it to my authors, whether they plan to work through traditional publishers or to self-publish.

The book covers these topics:

  • Choosing a publication route
  • The acquisitions process
  • Manuscript development
  • Copyediting and query resolution
  • Design and layout
  • Proofreading, author review, and final revisions
  • Printers, distributors, and e-book companies
  • Marketing and publicity
Why do I think this book is going to be top-notch industry tool? First, author Katherine Pickett has worked in publishing for 15 years, working for major publishers McGraw-Hill Professional and Elsevier before choosing self-employment. Second, on her blog, Jane Friedman has shared an excerpt about developmental editors from Pickett's book. You know—that Friedman, the cofounder and publisher of Scratch magazine, the web editor of the Virginia Quarterly, and the former publisher of Writer's Digest. Third, Pickett works with authors, doing developmental editing, copyediting, and proofreading for them, so she knows their needs. Fourth, I've followed posts that Pickett has made in various online arenas frequented by fellow editors, including the email discussion list of the Editorial Freelancers Association (which we're both members of), and she knows what she's talking about. And fifth, I've read some chapter excerpts, and you can too.

Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, by Katherine Pickett, from Hop On Publishing LLC. Available in two formats: paperback (9780991499113; US$12.99) and ePub (9780991499120; US$7.99); 240 pages.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Make Your Own Video Tutorials to Remember Computer Skills

On the email list of the Editorial Freelancers Association, my colleague Martha Carlson-Bradley shared an excellent self-teaching and memory aid for editorial types. She has given me permission to share it here. It sounds to me like a good tool to use when we're learning new computer skills or want to be able to remember later how to perform a skill that we use only occasionally.

I've used iShowU to record myself using a new skill—sometimes right after watching a video tutorial, sometimes while someone kind is showing me how to do something. (iShowU records what's happening on my computer monitor and also records sound.) So I have a little video of myself going through all the steps, with my own commentary. I've also used iShowU to make little instruction videos for a friend. They're not finished or professional videos, but it's comforting to know that I have my own little set of instructions, especially for tasks I don't do very often and tend to forget.

Note that iShowU is for use on the Macintosh. But an online search shows me that there are also several screen-capture tools available for the PC, including Wink.


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