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

Monday, November 26, 2012

Fixing the "Editing Tools" Page of the Copyeditors' Knowledge Base

Argh and double argh!

It seems that 12 days ago, I unknowingly mangled the "Editing Tools" page of the Copyeditors' Knowledge Base (CKB). I've now restored the page the best that I could, but some entries that were once on that page may not be there now. If those of you who love and use the CKB gleaned some links from the "Editing Tools" page that you don't see there now, I would be fawningly grateful if you would e-mail those links to me at editor@kokedit.com.

Here's the technical explanation of how this mess occurred:

Whenever I add links to any page in the CKB, I do so within the page's PHP file online, via the file-editing interface of my web host. Then I always immediately close out the web-host interface and FTP into my web site's files via CuteFTP to back up any changed files onto my computer.

I've figured out what I must have done to mess things up with the "Editing Tools" page: While editing the file online, I went to a spot about halfway down the page, selected what I intended to be only a few lines, and deleted them. But apparently, I did not realize at the time that I selected the entire final half (!) of the code and text—not just a few lines—from the file before I saved it. So of course when I backed up the newly saved file onto my computer, what I backed up was the page that was now missing its bottom half.

Because I'm very strict with myself about backing up my web-site files onto my computer immediately after editing them, I did not have the earlier version on my computer to upload online. (In other words, the backup file that was on my computer was missing its bottom half, just like the "Editing Tools" page on my web site). I did, however, have a version of the page from 2011 when my web site was in HTML instead of PHP. So I copied the bottom half of the code and text from the old SHTML file and pasted it into the current PHP file, and then made adjustments where needed.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Aerobic Editing

I've written about the benefits of working at a sit–stand or standing desk. Now here's evidence that I dance while I'm standing at work, and that editing can indeed be aerobic. Silly you—you thought editing was a sedentary task. If you like disco, crank up your speakers while you watch the video clip. Why, yes, I am a middle-aged geezer.

Monday, October 22, 2012

When Opportunity Knocks

As an editor, you don't always know exactly what your authors think of you. On the few occasions that they make quite clear their view of you and your work, take such revelations as the gifts that they are and relish them.

I work with a lot of physician–researchers from around the world for whom remaining competitive in their profession means that they must always be working to get their research published in English-language medical journals. In addition to doing ESL (English as a second language) or EFL (English as a foreign language) editing for them, I always take special care with these authors to treat them with great respect, because not only do they have to be proficient in medicine and research but they also must deal with the sometimes frustrating US peer review and publication system. In addition, they must do all of that in English, which is their second or third language. I can't help but admire their perseverance a great deal.

Yixin Zhou, MD, PhD
Yixin Zhou, MD, PhD
One of my longtime authors is Yixin Zhou, MD, PhD, whose journal articles on orthopedic surgery I've been editing since 2005. He is the chairman of the Department of Adult Joint Reconstructive Surgery of Beijing Jishuitan Hospital, where the number of joint-replacement procedures performed increases annually by 20% to 30%. I will soon start editing number 15 in the steady march of articles I have polished for him. He tells me that my name is well known at his hospital; it is common knowledge, he says, that when I edit a manuscript for any surgeon, it usually gets published.

Being told that, after having corresponded with him by e-mail for years, was wonderful enough. But recently, Yixin e-mailed me to say that he was traveling to New York City for a medical conference and would like to meet with me. So on Saturday, October 20, I took a 1.5-hour ride on the Long Island Rail Road to Penn Station and then walked just over 1 mile to the Sheraton Hotel at 52nd Street and 7th Avenue, where Yixin and his colleagues were staying.

I was prepared to show Yixin and his colleagues my great respect for them by saying a few phrases in Mandarin. My colleague Jim Jones, a technical editor and Chinese-to-English translator, created an mp3 file for me so that I could listen to him saying the phrases and could then practice them. But once Yixin and I were talking, I remembered only to say, "Ni hao" ("hello"). He told me that my Chinese was good. But I know he was just being kind.

A gift of tea
A gift of tea
Yixin and I had drinks at the hotel's restaurant and chatted about the paths each of us had taken to get where we are in our respective professions. He had planned for us to have dinner with several of the younger surgeons in his department whom he is training, but they got stuck in Manhattan traffic. So Yixin and I went on to a nearby seafood restaurant, where we dined with several others who were in town for the same medical conference. One of them is a surgeon at another hospital (not Yixin's hospital), and three are sales representatives for Zimmer, a major supplier of orthopedic prosthetics (for the hip, shoulder, and knee) for surgeons around the world. They were all quite interested to hear that I am Yixin's editor, and he told me that he was telling them all about what good care I take of him and his manuscripts.

Yixin knows how much I love Chinese and Japanese whole-leaf teas, so during our meeting he presented me with a magnificently packaged gift of Chinese pi lo chun green tea, sometimes called biluochun. According to the one English sentence that appears amidst the Chinese characters on each wrapper, the tea will "pick you up, help you lose weight, break down cholesterin, as well as benefit those with blood pressure and heart problems." This is in line with what Yixin said to me when we were making our farewells later, at the end of the evening: "Please take good care of yourself, because you are important to us. Smile often, eat good food, and take care of your health."

But the highlight of the evening was this: Because the Chinese government is throwing money at its researchers, there is a big push for every specialist physician to do research and get it published in English-language journals. Yixin is training his younger colleagues in scientific writing, but he wants to pay my way to Beijing sometime within the next year so that I can teach them, working with the aid of an interpreter. Many of my international authors live in Asia, so it has long been my dream to meet them in person and talk with them.

But even in my most creative dreams, I never pictured myself traveling to Asia to teach physician–researchers! So even though I am an introvert and a homebody, I will take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if it does indeed finally present itself. Why? Because, as it says on the "About" page of my business web site,

It is enormously satisfying to help authors who are non-native English speakers communicate their research to their peers worldwide. I like to believe that what I do makes at least a small difference in the world in two ways:

  • Helping physicians communicate research that will enable other physicians to treat their patients more effectively
  • Increasing cross-cultural cooperation and communication one pair of people (an author and me) at a time

It is a privilege to be entrusted with polishing an author's work, one for which I am always deeply grateful. I can often be found drinking a cup of tea brewed using fresh tea leaves from China, Japan, Taiwan, or India in honor of my authors' publishing successes.

The most obvious benefit of Yixin's plan is that will I get to teach young researchers how to write for an English-language audience, which means that they will be able to communicate to a much wider group of readers the scientific advances they make, thus potentially helping many more patients around the world. But the best benefit, one that is quite humbling, is that I will have the chance to learn by immersion about another culture, one that I greatly admire. I hope that how I work with those researchers will, at least in a very small way, enhance Chinese–American communication, to make the world a friendlier place.

As events take place to make the possibility of my teaching in Beijing a reality, I will keep everyone posted through this blog.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Updated Resources for Writing and Editing Grant Proposals

Thanks to information from Paula Gordon, fellow member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, I've updated this 2011 blog post of mine: "Resources for Writing and Editing Grant Proposals."

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tools for Finding and Attracting Clients

In this economic recession and electronically connected world, self-employed editorial pros can't depend on just the old ways—making cold calls and sending prospecting packets out by snail mail—to get clients. It's wiser, for your bottom line, to use a variety of methods. These are the tools that I find to be good for discovering and attracting clients, listed in descending order by my sense of how many client inquiries come through each one:

  1. Word of mouth (which means publishing contacts recommending my editing services to others in publishing, and authors recommending my services to their colleagues)

  2. Participation in profession-related e-mail lists (check out some of the ones listed here)

  3. My business web site

  4. My listing in the freelance directory of the American Medical Writers Association (tie with item 5)

  5. My ad on the web site of the Council of Science Editors (tie with item 4)

  6. My presence on Twitter

  7. My listing in the member directory of the Editorial Freelancers Association

  8. My presence on LinkedIn

  9. My presence on Facebook

  10. My listing in the directory of the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences

  11. My listing in the Directory of CE-L Freelancers of the Copyediting-L e-mail list (see the "Freelancers" tab)

I've been self-employed nearly 18 years now and am quite good at hunting for and attracting new clients in a variety of ways. I haven't had a day without a work project in years. If you're a self-employed editorial pro and would like to learn more about how to use the social media Big 3—Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook—to find prospective clients and to attract them, sign up for my 90-minute November 1 webinar.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Doesn't All Editing Cost the Same?

Doesn't all editing cost the same? Spoiler: No.

This is why an editor's total fee differs among projects. In a corner of my office, on the wall, I have these editing speeds (number of 250-word manuscript pages per hour) posted from years ago when I worked on a lot of fiction manuscripts for mass-market paperbacks*:

Really messy mss.: 9 pp./h

Average mss.: 12–17 pp./h

Easy juvenile mss.: 19 pp./h

The bulk of the editing I do today is of manuscripts for biomedical journals, written by non-native speakers of English. My general editing speed for those:

2 pp./h

And of course each editor's speed is different, and a lot depends on how much work the manuscript needs, whatever the genre.

*Printed dimensions: usually 6.75" × 4.25".

Friday, August 17, 2012

At the End of a Project

Today I sent my final invoice for the cultural memoir that I've spent a long time editing. The author, a highly intelligent man whom I respect a great deal, sent me this wonderful e-mail just now:

Thank you very much for your skillful and excellent editing of [book title]. Because of all the hard work put in by you, [it] is a much better book with smooth-flowing text that tells its story well. It has been a pleasure working with you, and thanks again for your collaboration. Please keep in touch, and I am looking forward to presenting you a copy of [the book] in person soon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Video "What Is Substantive Editing?"

Sometimes you'll hear me talk about doing substantive editing, which is the type of editing I do all the time, both for native and non-native speakers of English. But what is it? In this video, the editor-in-chief of the journal Academic Medicine discusses substantive editing with the journal's director of staff editing. If you're an author, the video will help you understand more about what substantive editing is. If you're an editor, you might want to share the link to the video with your authors.


Wednesday, August 08, 2012

What "Thank You" Means to Freelancers and Mentors

Two little words can make a huge difference in my outlook—and in yours too, I'm sure: Thank you.

Those two words can motivate me to work harder, share more with colleagues, and be kinder to everyone around me. Do they affect you the same way?

Today I received the following e-mail from a colleague, and it inspired me:


I am a lurker on the X and Y [e-mail] lists and I just wanted to let you know that I am always appreciative of your interesting/informative posts to both forums! I have also learned a lot from browsing around your website and reading many of the excellent things you've posted there.

I have been doing part-time freelance work (copyediting and proofreading) since [year redacted]. . . . My day job . . . has been drastically cut back for the coming year and I'm looking at this as an opportunity to grow my freelance business. I really do believe I can be successful in this new endeavor, and a large part of my optimism is fueled by the sense of purpose and professionalism that I've passively cyber-gleaned . . . from more seasoned folks like you!

I'm sure you get feedback and kudos from your clients as well as from colleagues whom you've helped on specific matters. But I just wanted to let you know that there is at least one member of your "silent fan club" who is no less appreciative of your openness and sharing!

Thank-yous are especially important for the self-employed. We usually work alone, not in offices where we can hear such motivating words in person. Yes, we get paid to do what we do, but appreciation is rewarding too.

Thank-yous are also important to mentors. We help others because we enjoy doing so. But when we are thanked, we feel honored and moved to give even more.

Have you thanked a freelancer or a mentor today?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Software: Niche Spelling Checkers

This week, I've come across recommendations from colleagues for several spelling checkers other than those sold under the big-name brands. I haven't used any of them and so can't rate them, but you might want to investigate them.

  • Personal Best Spelling offers medical word lists that you can purchase and import into Microsoft Word to create custom dictionaries.

  • OpenMedSpel is an open-source medical spelling checker.

  • Inductel produces spelling checkers for medical, scientific and technical, and legal terminology.

If you have favorites that aren't listed here, please share details and links in the comments.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How Does an Editor Switch Mental Gears Between Projects?

A colleague asked me today, "What techniques do you use to transition from one project to the next within the same day?" She asked because yesterday I had posted to my Facebook wall that I was switching mental gears to move from editing Japanese medical English to editing a historical novel.

I replied that these are the steps I take:

  1. I move away from my desk for a few minutes and do some physical task or go outdoors for a while.

  2. If I had been sitting when I finished the first project, I stand up to start working on the next one. And if I had been standing, I sit down.

  3. When family members are home, I try to get them to give me total silence for a few minutes while I start the new project. With my husband and two sons having attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, I don't always get that silence, so sometimes I use my cabinetmaker husband's hearing protection (which looks something like this) for a little while.

If you're an editorial professional, how to you switch mental gears? Please share your techniques in the comments. Maybe some of your tips will be helpful to a colleague.


Tuesday, July 03, 2012

A Kind Word

What an unexpected pleasure to get a public shout-out from a fellow editor on Twitter!


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Why I Love Twitter

I'm reposting this, with a wide grin, from the e-mail list of the Editorial Freelancers Association, with permission of the original poster:

Hi, Katharine,

I took your [April 3 EFA] teleconference on "Using Twitter to Build Your Freelancing Business." I've put about 20 tweets on my Twitter account. Must try to do it three times a day as you suggested.

I was so happily surprised today to get a job editing a doctoral dissertation for a computer science student at USC. I asked him where he got my name, and he said he found it on Google, and then read my tweets! So I typed "Editing USC doctoral dissertations" in Google, and lo and behold my name appeared at the bottom of the first page, with a link to my Twitter account! I am definitely going to keep posting to Twitter.

Thank you for the course, Katharine. Do I owe you a finder's fee?

Mary-Anne Pops

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Gratitude from and for Authors

I just got promoted again.

One of the newest of my authors who are non-native English speakers, this one from China, wrote me to thank me for my editing. He addressed me as "Professor Katharine." :-) His thank-you is wonderful:

I am very impressed by your work and your precious effort and efficiency in editing this article. I have reviewed it and made revisions and answered the questions. Hopefully you can afford us further precious refinement of this paper.

Dear author, you have made my day.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Communicating in Images

Explaining imaging in spine surgeryA picture is indeed worth a thousand words.

While I was editing a journal manuscript for one of my authors from Japan who is a non-native English speaker, I was having trouble understanding what he meant to say in one particular sentence. The topic was imaging in spine surgery. He had written:

In spinal deformities, image quality is inferior because radiation does not incident parallel to the vertebrae endplates.

I e-mailed him and asked him to explain it to me, so he drew and then e-mailed a helpful diagram to me (shown here at left). I immediately understood that this was what he wanted to say:

In spinal deformities, the image quality is inferior because some of the vertebral endplates are oriented obliquely to the radiation source rather than parallel to it.

I wrote back right away to thank him and tell him that he is an excellent teacher. I was delighted that he had realized that the best way around the language barrier between us was visual. Close collaboration like that is one of the many reasons I find it so satisfying to work with researchers who are non-native English speakers.


Friday, June 22, 2012

"And Thus the Voyage Ended"

This makes me so sad. TSTC Publishing is closing down because of budget cuts.

TSTC PublishingTSTC Publishing was both an editing client of mine and the publisher of the first textbook I ever coauthored. Everyone who worked there is talented, and I loved working with them. Mark Long has been a visionary publisher, leading this nimble little publishing house through lots of innovations that the behemoths are only thinking about doing. Any publisher who snaps him up will benefit hugely. And Ana Wraight, you know I'll be here to mentor you as you decide whether to work for another publisher in-house or go freelance.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Is Editing Just Checking Spelling and Grammar?

Sometimes authors who are non-native English speakers come to me after reviewers for a biomedical journal have told them that their manuscript needs attention by an editor who is a native English speaker—even though the manuscript has been already "edited" by an English-language editing service. When I see that issues such as the following have slipped by supposedly professional editing services, I'm dumbfounded.

An article I recently edited concerns hip arthroplasty. Before I edited it, one particular sentence read like this:

Skin retraction was performed for 3 weeks, and there was no recurrence of dislocation.

This was my reaction, which of course I did not record in the manuscript: The incision was left open, with the skin retracted, for 3 weeks?! Or did surgery happen in extremely slow motion, with it taking the surgeon 3 weeks to retract the skin?!

This is how that sentence should have read:

The patient was placed in skin traction for 3 weeks, and dislocation did not recur.

Here is an explanation of skin traction, which is definitely not the same thing as skin retraction.

Spelling checkers and editing macros can help catch spelling errors and decrease time spent on rote editorial tasks, respectively, but they can't replace human editors. Good editing requires the use of a brain.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Copyediting Drug Names

Medical editors aren't the only ones who have to deal with drug names in the manuscripts they edit. In this guest post, my colleague Laura Poole, who is such a talented editor that she teaches newcomers to the trade, shares her strategies for handling drug names in nonmedical manuscripts.

My first job after college was with a company that developed training for pharmaceutical sales reps, and it taught me a lot about trademarked drug names. In the materials we created, we had to make sure the drug name was handled correctly every time it appeared—that is, with any unique registered marks and trademarks, capitalization, hyphenation, or other symbols. I remember my boss specifically saying, "Make sure the drug name isn't hyphenated at the end of a line, because that constitutes trademark violation, and they could sue us!"

Thankfully, I no longer have to worry so much about that kind of accuracy. However, that knowledge of and sensitivity to these terms has come in handy over the years as I branched out to work in scholarly nonfiction. I come across materials that are nonscientific or nonmedical in nature that reference particular drugs. Major style guides have some rules for how to handle trademarked terms, but I feel that drug names are a bit of a special case. (Maybe I'm still paranoid from that first job.) So I've developed a variety of alternatives when I encounter brand-name drugs in materials I edit.

My two preferred style guides, Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition [CMS]) and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th edition [APA]), have the following to say.

CMS 8.145: Generic names of drugs, which should be used wherever possible in preference to brand names, are lowercased. Brand names must be capitalized; they are often enclosed in parentheses after the first use of the generic name.

The patient takes weekly injections of interferon beta-1a (Avonex) to control his multiple sclerosis.

CMS 8.152: Although the symbols ® and ™ . . . often accompany trademark names on product packaging and in promotional material, there is no legal requirement to use these symbols, and they should be omitted wherever possible.

APA 4.16, similar to CMS, states that trade and brand names of drugs should be capitalized (generics should be lowercase).

An issue is that many brand names have become common language. Just as Kleenex and Xerox have entered our lexicon and are used in a loose way these days, we throw around common or well-known drug names such as Viagra, Prozac, and Claritin. Sometimes it serves the text to be able to further identify these substances; alternatively, it might improve the text to do away with the trade names where possible. So beyond the CMS and APA guidelines, I find a few other options to be useful choices, and I outline them here.

First, when encountering a drug name in text, look it up online to confirm correct spelling, any hyphenation that needs to be retained, and the generic name of the drug. You can almost always find more information by typing www.[drugname].com into your browser.

If the drug is mentioned in passing only once or twice, you might be able to substitute the broad type or class of drug for a brand name or a generic name. For instance, if the brand name or generic name isn't key to the narrative, "John takes Prozac" might easily be changed to "John takes an antidepressant" or "John takes a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor" (a bit of a mouthful!). Other examples:

  • Sally takes ACE inhibitors to treat her high blood pressure.
  • The pharmacist filled a prescription for a calcium channel blocker.
  • The doctor prescribed antipsychotics to decrease hallucinations.
  • Antibiotics are used to treat most ear infections.
  • Antiretrovirals are effective at treating HIV.
If you can use the generic to identify the drug (i.e., the brand name isn't key to the discussion) in almost all cases, then do so, and follow the CMS and APA guidelines. Thus, "John takes Prozac" might be changed, in this case, to "John takes fluoxetine," and you would continue to use fluoxetine every time it appears. If you're following CMS, you would say, "John takes fluoxetine (Prozac)." This gives a bit of a hat tip to the brand name, and you only need to identify it at first use. Examples:

  • Anne takes propranolol (Inderal) to treat her panic disorder.
  • Joe took methadone (Dolophine) as part of his rehab program.
  • The doctor prescribed a maintenance dose of levothyroxine (Synthroid).
You can also reverse this and primarily use the brand name, identifying the generic at first mention in parentheses. Save this for when the brand name itself might be more important to the text, or for those times when the generic name might be very long and it is shorter to use the brand name. Examples:

  • The doctor usually prescribed Haldol (haloperidol) for her patients with schizophrenia.
  • The gold standard of treatment for edema is Lasix (furosemide). [Note: These first two are examples are cases in which the brand name has entered the lexicon and is very well known.]
  • Viagra (sildenafil) is the most well-known of the so-called lifestyle drugs. [Note: In this case you definitely need the brand name because the text discusses a specific product.]
  • Phil Mickelson endorses Enbrel (etanercept). [Note: This one must retain the trade name because Mickelson is endorsing a specific brand-name product.]
  • Cialis is a competitor drug to Viagra.
  • BiDil (isosorbide dinitrate and hydralazine) is considered a commercial failure. [Note: The brand name is under discussion; also, the generic name is very long, so the trade name would be shorter and handier to use.]
Sometimes I hedge my bets with a parenthetical statement or addition to a footnote that indicates manufacturer information. This would be appropriate for certain materials—for instance, a text that compares various drugs that treat a particular condition, or material that discusses the pharmaceutical industry at large. Here are some examples:

  • Sildenafil (sold by Pfizer under the trade name Viagra) is a blockbuster drug.
  • Viagra (sildenafil; Pfizer) is a lifestyle drug.
  • When its patent protection ran out, zidovudine (originally marketed as Retrovir by Burroughs-Wellcome) was soon available in a generic version.

Laura Poole is the owner of Archer Editorial Services, providing professional copyediting to scholarly publishers. She is also the cofounder of Editorial Bootcamp, which provides online and in-person training for copyeditors and publishers.

Where to find Laura: editorial trainingeditorial servicesbusiness coaching

Friday, June 08, 2012

How an Editor's Style Sheet Can Help the Author

There's more to editing a manuscript than just fixing spelling, punctuation, and grammar. We copyeditors must keep track of a good many things in a manuscript to ensure that the finished book or article is consistent throughout and doesn't jar the reader by odd deviations from its intended structure, message, or voice. What are some of these? Proper spelling and capitalization of jargon, for a start. There's much more, such as chronological numbering of chapters and references, physical and personality traits of fictional characters, and how ranges of numbers are handled.

To do all of that, we create a document called a style sheet as part of the editing process. (Here are examples to download as PDFs: for a novel, for a book of literary criticism, for a medical textbook.) The style sheet then serves as a reference for anyone who deals with the manuscript later in the publishing process, including the author, the proofreader, the production editor, and the indexer.

Recently, several colleagues and I had a discussion on Facebook about an author's gratitude for my creation of a style sheet for her book. Editor and writer Patrick Inman offered an excellent explanation of the value of editors' style sheets for authors, and he has allowed me to share it here:

Authors are often too close to their material to consciously organize it. Also, for some writers at some points in the process, explicit sorting and categorizing may interfere with necessary ambiguity in thinking—ambiguity that has to be clarified in the writing but shouldn't be clarified too early in the development of a piece. When someone else provides that explicit organization in a style sheet, the suggestions it contains can be both supportive and freeing. The author can take the advice, or leave it, or, most likely, use what works and reject what doesn't.

Style sheets promote and enforce consistency. Just as important, they identify and catalog inconsistencies, and in so doing may point out where and how the editor has misunderstood the writer's intent. Clear points of misunderstanding are great signposts for authors. The editor's misapprehension shows the writer where readers may get lost. If the author believes the editor has managed to approach, read, and react to the text approximately as intended readers will, any text passages or patterns that the editor misidentifies or miscategorizes deserve close attention. The writer can figure out what he or she wants to happen at those junctures, and revise the text to make the trail clearer, or to make the puzzle more prominent, but in any case to create a more deliberate pattern that either gets to the point or creates purposeful confusion or questions in the reader's mind.

The most enjoyable and possibly headache-provoking editing gigs in the world must include continuity editing for the best mystery writers. I imagine those style sheets track what the reader knows when as part of their structure, including the misleading clues.

See the "Circuitry" section on pages 30–52 in Thomas McCormack, The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist (Paul Dry Books, 2006) for more on this. McCormack describes, with intricate examples, what he judges to be two of three essential tasks of novel editing: the acts of discovering or inferring and then communicating to the writer, first, how the text overall and at each point affects its ideal appropriate audience (the editor must have the sensibility to experience the text as those readers would), and second, how the narrative causes those effects (the editor must have developed the craft to make informed guesses as to what may be causing undesired effects).

McCormack wants us to always be aware that the point of editing is to offer clues and tools to the writer that may guide the writer in generating, revising, cutting, and structuring the work to achieve the writer's purposes. We can also help the writer decide what those purposes are by demonstrating what the current draft accomplishes or seems close to accomplishing. That may or may not be what the writer wants.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Why I'm a Convert to Standing at Work

Standing while I edit at my new sit–stand desk
I love my new sit–stand desk. When I stand while I work, I feel more alert, more in charge, physically lighter, unchained from my desk, and more cheerful. Using standing desks or sit–stand desks is becoming popular, in part because other people have experienced those same feelings when they stand on the job rather than sit. Gut-level enjoyment is what will get more people to stick with standing at work after they try it. But there are other reasons to avoid sitting all day long, ones that I find compelling.

The Backstory
I've been self-employed full time since January 1995. I edit all day long, and for most of those 17 years, I sat all day long too. I sat in front of my computer, which itself sat in a roll-around computer cart in a corner of my kitchen, because my home is small and has no spare room eligible for conversion to an office. Hardcover and paperback reference works, copies of journals I had edited, and paperwork sat stacked wherever I could find a bare countertop, because I had no office shelves. I had no real desk, so I glommed the kitchen breakfast table.

My sit–stand desk lowered for seated editing
I gave birth to two boys, one in December 1994 (a mere 2 weeks before I began freelancing full time) and one in 2001. When they were very young, I would do things to squeeze in more work to compensate for the time it took to care for them. For example, when they were babies, I often wore them in a sling-style cloth carrier, and they would fall asleep in the sling as they were breastfeeding. A happy baby meant I could work without interruption for a while. Later when they were mobile, I would close all the baby gates so that they were closed into my workspace with me, as if we were toddlers together inside a giant playpen. As they played with toys and crawled and then toddled nearby, I worked at my computer, seated. I often took time out to play with them or read to them, but I was sitting as I did so.

The Equation of Consequences
It didn't occur to me back then that I could edit while standing. I thought that standing at work was for people with very physical jobs, like my husband, who is a cabinetmaker. There aren't many work-related tasks that he can do while seated. If he's not on his feet moving around, he's not making money. But editing doesn't require walking back and forth from one piece of equipment to another, so because I was hyperfocused on building my editing business, my personal motto became "If I'm not sitting, I'm not earning." Eventually I encountered this equation:

constant sitting + a disinclination to exercise (a family tradition!) + three cesarean sections (my daughter was born in 1983, well before I began freelancing) + a carbohydrate-heavy diet (another Southern family tradition!) + a family history of diabetes (type 1 in my father and type 2 in my mother) = a gradual weight gain of 139 pounds, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and type 2 diabetes

By 2010, I was taking several medications for diabetes, plus medications for hypertension (high blood pressure), hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol levels), and hypothyroidism (underfunctioning thyroid). That's expensive. And it's emotionally distressing, especially because I am a medical editor: I know all about healthy behaviors, including getting exercise and eating a low-carb diet rich in fruits and veggies. But I hadn't been engaging in those healthy behaviors. So I changed the way I eat. I didn't "go on a diet." I changed the types of foods I eat and the quantities of food that I eat. The glycemic index is my friend. I'd stopped drinking soda years ago because I know what all that sugar can do to the body on so many levels. I began losing weight. But it didn't go very quickly, and every afternoon after lunch, I still felt sluggish and mentally dull. What was I doing wrong?

I wasn't moving. It was that simple. Sit all day long, and you'll lose muscle tone. Sit all day long, and you don't use much energy, so your body ends up with too much fuel hanging around that it doesn't burn off. Sit all day long, and your blood doesn't circulate as well as it should. That leaves you at risk for deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in the major veins), pulmonary embolism (blockage of blood vessels in the lungs by blood clots), and all sorts of other nasty physical consequences. I began reading more and more articles about the effects of too much sitting, and I became determined to find a way to stand while I work.

The Dream
I prefer working on desktop computers to working on laptops, so I wasn't going to get a laptop and just move from room to room in my house, standing sometimes and sitting other times. I came across a blog post by freelance translator Corinne McKay about her "treadmill desk." (Be sure to read her follow-up post.) This part of her post excited me:

Exercising while you work has been in the news of late, ever since Dr. James Levine, an obesity researcher at the Mayo Clinic, posited the idea that most desk-based workers would lose about 50 pounds a year if they walked at a very slow (1 mile per hour or less) speed while working, rather than sitting in a chair.

I tracked down an article about Levine in USA Today. But though I dreamed about getting his Walkstation, I knew that I couldn't afford $4,000-plus for a desk. And I read this article, which led me to the GeekDesk. That was much more affordable but still a large chunk of money. So I gave up on the idea for a while.

At my old improvised standing desk
But Cabinetmaker Husband had a temporary solution. He built a foldable box that I could set atop my computer cart's rollout so that I could place my keyboard and mouse on it to raise them to a level that I found comfortable for working while standing. It worked great and was very cheap. But it was heavy. And I found it a pain to set up and take down repeatedly during a workday.

The Sit–Stand Desk
Finally, in April of this year, Cabinetmaker Husband felt bad enough for me, hearing me talk about my dreams of an easier way to stand at work, that he sat down with me and drew up plans for a custom sit–stand desk, one that would allow me to alternate between sitting and standing. I knew, from all the reading of medical journals that I do, that this standing thing shouldn't be all or nothing. Yes, it's bad for your body if you sit all day, but it can be hard on your joints when you stand without reprieve or without moving around. So the plans that he created for my desk showed a stationary left side, with a pullout where I could do paperwork while seated, and a right side that I could raise and lower at the touch of a button. Here's a slide show (7.3 MB) about my desk's creation.

Money-Saving Alternatives
Before you ask whether my husband can make a custom sit–stand desk for you, you'll need to know that custom desks aren't at all cheap. All of the materials—lumber, hardware, and desk lift together—cost about $400. But that $400 is much less than what I could have paid. My husband saved us a lot of money by purchasing an electric scissor car jack to lift the standing portion of my desk; it's hidden under the desktop. The pneumatic lifts used in many commercially available desks cost between $800 and $2,000. Also, if I had had to pay my husband for his labor, just as his clients have to pay him, that would have been an additional $4,100 or so. And if I were a client of his who didn't live in the area, I also would have had to pay huge shipping costs, because this desk is heavy. Finally, once the desk was delivered, I'd have had to assemble it.

But don't despair if your budget is small or if you don't have a life partner who is a cabinetmaker. Lots of people improvise ingenious and inexpensive setups for standing at work. Here's a post from the blog Lifehacker, with photos, describing how one person improvised. And here are lots of photos of inventive, weird, and funny setups that people have improvised. Also, Mark Lukach at Wired has written a helpful review of several different commercially available standing desks, and he provides a good summary (with links) of current research about why sitting too much is unhealthy.

Good Practices for Standing
I'm not a physician or ergonomist, but these are the guidelines I try to follow while I stand at work:

  1. Stand on a good, cushy floor mat.
  2. Stand barefoot or in no-heel shoes (on that cushy mat).
  3. Alternate between sitting and standing, to build up core, back, hip, and leg strength.
  4. Stand with the knees slightly flexed, rather than locked straight.
  5. Shift weight from foot to foot periodically; don't stand as still as a statue.
  6. Make sure that the desk is truly at the right height for personal ergonomics.

I've lost a total of 91 pounds since I started making lifestyle changes 2 years ago. As you can see from the photos in this post, I still have more pounds to lose before I get to a healthy weight. But already, I have gone down 3 clothing sizes, my physician has decreased my daily dose of thyroid medication, my blood glucose levels are excellent (for someone with type 2 diabetes), I have more stamina, I sleep better at night, and I don't get drowsy or bored at work. I often dance to instrumental bluegrass, baroque, or Celtic music as I stand in front of my computer monitor and edit. And I feel great!

I'd enjoy seeing your sit–stand or standing setup, so please leave a comment with links to photos of your workspace.

I thank my colleague Adrienne Montgomerie for reviewing the first draft of this post and providing helpful suggestions. Everyone needs an editor—even an editor needs an editor! Be sure to check out her blog for lots of great how-to posts.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Rule of Self-Employment

Isn't this the way things always work for the self-employed?

My husband, Ed, has been waiting for a couple of weeks for an okay from the architect and designers before starting work on custom cabinetry for a mansion in the Hamptons. Today he was starting to get a little worried about the length of the wait and didn't feel like doing any of the home-repair projects he's been doing around here to keep busy. But I asked him to begin work on a desk for my office, so not long after he took measurements for the desk and started working on plans, the okay for that custom cabinetry arrived by e-mail.

The lesson from this story? When you get busy, more work always arrives. When you sit on your hands, no work arrives.

Friday, March 09, 2012

QR Codes in Print and Electronic Books

I think that this is really, really cool: TSTC [Texas State Technical College] Publishing, which is both my publisher and one of my editing clients, is using QR codes in its printed and electronic textbooks. This is what the publisher says on its Facebook page:

We have seen the future of textbook publishing, and thankfully it's a title we're releasing! Our forthcoming 3rd edition of Taking Charge: Your Education, Your Career, Your Life features, among other things, digital ancillary content that will be easily accessible (for free!) from both the print and e-book editions. Take a look at a sample at Issuu.com. (Remember, though, publication is still almost six months away, so this is most definitely a work in progress!)

Readers can the QR codes in the printed book with their cell phones and be taken to additional online book content. If you don't know what QR codes are, you can find an explanation here.

I love the book's redesign too. Additional disclosure: I was brought in as a coauthor for the second edition of the book in 2010.


Thursday, March 08, 2012

Why Editors Love Editing

Editing the web
The anecdotes that web editor Andy Hollandbeck tells in this interview on the blog of Copyediting newsletter illustrate exactly what's so wonderful about being an editor—the odd topics covered in manuscripts. Cool graphic too.

A Cautionary Tale: How Not to Treat a Small Business

Here's an excellent blog post from my friend and colleague Kristine Hunt on how, if you're a very large corporation, not to treat the owner of a small business. And the small business in question would be KOK Edit.

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