Everyone can decide for themselves.

No, really. Everyone can make their own decisions about the singular “they.” (I happen to know that Ray and I are on opposite sides of this particular issue. I’m posting about it only because someone I’ve known longer than I’ve known Ray posted about it over on my Facebook wall about a half-hour ago, and in the process of responding to her, I relocated the two wonderful blog entries that helped me face my fear of “singular they” and move past it.)

You may or may not realize that being up in arms over “singular they” while remaining placid about “singular you” could be called hypocritical by some. (Not by me, but by some who are even more rabidly grammar-nerdly than I. There are such people. Oh, yes, there are.) I point this out as a matter of concern for my readers’ relative safety while roaming the Internet.

Once upon a time, long long ago (but not in a galaxy far far away), “ye” (now “you”) was the plural second-person pronoun, and “thou” (now mostly extinct except in historical and fantasy writing) was the second-person singular. Over time, the latter fell into disuse and the former became the acceptable catch-all second-person singular and plural pronoun. And that, my readers, is how we wound up needing phrases like “all of you” and dialectical constructs like “you’uns” and “all y’all” (because “y’all” is singular, you know?). Pitching a fit over a singular they, but accepting singular you without question, causes some people to react very badly indeed. Of course we’re still in the very midst of the shift for the singular they, while most of us were raised with the singular you (unless we lived in Yorkshire in the 1940’s, for example, when “tha” was the dialectical form of “thou” used in everyday speech).

And so, here are the links I mentioned at the start of this ramble. I hope that if nothing else you will find them entertaining. (I can also hope that some of you might decide that the singular they makes sense, just like the singular you does.)

http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2011/12/16/pronoun-agreement-out-the-window/

http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2012/01/05/dogma-and-evidence/

I want to address one more point, because I can hear the thought rumbling around out there in the ether. While I have come to accept the usefulness of singular they when the gender of the antecedent cannot be known and I want to avoid the wordiness of “his or hers” or “himself or herself” or what-have-you, when I am copy editing this is an issue I discuss with the author. If said author is apoplectic at the concept of the singular they, I will do my best to recast sentences to not need gender specificity. If said author is receptive to the concept, happiness ensues. It’s all part of my job, ensuring that the author’s voice is clear even after I’ve fixed all the problems. This isn’t really a problem. It’s a choice–one that everyone can make for themselves.

 

Baby puppies and High Velocity Angry Canaries

Many years ago, when I worked for Scott, Foresman and Company (yes, the Dick and Jane people), editorial seminars were de rigueur. At one such gathering, we received handouts containing examples of “baby puppies.” Regrettably, I no longer have the handout, and none of the other examples stuck with me like that one did. However, I can still discuss the concept–and how my view has changed over time.

We were told in no uncertain terms to avoid redundancies such as “baby puppies.” And, dutifully, we excised them from our texts. Luckily for those of us in the nascent Electronic Publishing Division (now extinct), our work seldom included such things. We dealt with user manuals for educational computer games and school management software. That gave us whole other grammatical and usage-related jungles to hack through with our CMoS-issued machetes, but very few “baby puppies.” I felt cheated, sometimes.

Now, I have a different perspective. Yes, a puppy is a young dog. But not all puppies are babies, are they? Some are nearly a year old, and certainly no longer deserving of the “baby” descriptor. Those little cuties who aren’t yet weaned, though–they’re baby puppies, for sure. The same logic applies to baby kittens. Baby kittens are itty-bitty furballs with tiny, high-pitched mews. And hypodermic-needle-sharp claws and milk teeth.

When I was forced to take a creative writing section in high-school English, I used the phrase “bone-dry dust.” In large (not-so-friendly) red letters in the margin, the instructor wrote “What other kind is there?” So much for my creative writing. That pretty much killed what little interest I’d had to start with, to be honest. Even at that age I was much happier fixing poor grammar and mechanics than trying to be creative. At least I didn’t have to go through that again.

We still find examples from the Department of Redundancy Department, often in the chromakeyed lower-third crawls on local news programming. “Fatally killed” is a common one. “Fatally shot,” fine. “Fatally stabbed,” sure. “Fatally killed” just makes someone who (thankfully) remains faceless and nameless look foolish (while being faceless, which is a pretty cool feat all by itself, isn’t it?).

Another issue pointed out on the handout for that particular seminar was assuming that your editor/proofreader knows what you’re talking about. The example was from a brochure for a heating and air-conditioning business. The copy used the acronym “HVAC,” and the senior editor had noted “write out” in the margin. A junior editor got the project next, and took a shot at the meaning without looking it up (this predated the Internet, you see–it would’ve meant physically moving around in search of a reference book or someone else who knew the information). That’s how the phrase “High Velocity Angry Canaries” found its way into one version of the brochure in question. No word on whether it actually saw print. One would hope it did not. (For anyone who doesn’t know, HVAC stands for “heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning.”)

If by chance you’ve written a technically-oriented piece, please do your editor a solid (ooh, I’m trendy!) and provide a file of the specialized vocabulary you used. That will save everyone involved time and frustration, and potentially could save you (the writer) money as well–because your editor won’t have to dither around looking up information you’d have been better off providing yourself. This is also true for fantasy/science-fiction writers, truth to tell. If you’ve made up a number of alien races, providing a file containing the names of each (spelled, capitalized, punctuated the way you want them) will save your editor hours of headaches wondering whether the right form is “Graz’zyt” or “Grazz’yt.” (And honestly? Apostrophes have been done to death. Please consider not using them in proper nouns. Thank you.) Also please include proper names of any members of those races, with correct mechanics and spelling. Extrapolate as you will from what I’ve said here and decide what else you need to apply this to. I have confidence in you. I really do.

And editors? Don’t be afraid to ask your writer about providing such a file. They might grouse and grumble at first, but once you’re deep into the project and you don’t have to harass them daily with questions such as how they really want to spell “Graz’zyt,” they’ll thank you. (And if they don’t, shame on them.)

Until next time, then, I hope you all have as much baby puppy face time as you wish. (Or baby kitten face time, if that’s your thing. Or baby something else. Maybe you don’t even like babies, in which case–okay. I need to go now.)

 

Charging for freelance editing

I thought I’d look at a subject that is near and dear to the heart of every freelance editor and proofreader: how to charge for your services. I’m not talking about how much to charge; that’s a thorny topic that I will cravenly kick down the road for later. Instead, let’s talk about the method by which you charge. The four most common systems are charging by the word, by the page, by the hour, and by the project. And on top of all that, you must decide whether to charge different rates for different kinds of editing.

==  Charging by the Word  ==

This system has the benefit of being simple and clear for everyone involved. Just do a word count on the document and tell the client exactly what the total cost will be. If the job requires that you work from printed pages rather than a file, you’ll have to count the words by hand first.

One potential drawback is that you are paid the same regardless of how much work you put into the job. If you edit or proofread a 7,000-word article or short story that is written flawlessly, you’ll do all right. But the more likely situation is that you get a manuscript that is, um, flawful. (Hey, maybe I should submit that to the Collins Dictionary: flawed + awful = flawful.) Working on 7,000 flawful words will take you a lot longer, but you won’t get paid more for your efforts.

Do those situations balance out overall? That is, will you get enough clean jobs that require less time to make up for the messy jobs that eat up too much time? That’s a question you’ll have to answer for yourself based on who your clients (or potential clients) are and what kind of manuscripts you’ll receive.

==  Charging by the Page  ==

This system relies on the industry standard that says a page consists of 250 words. Again, do a word count on the document, but here you also have to convert that to the appropriate number of pages before you come up with the final price. And again, if you’re working from printed pages rather than a file, you’ll have to figure out how many industry-standard pages the job entails.

Charging by the page has the same benefits and drawbacks as charging by the word. If the manuscript is in good shape, you’ll probably come out ahead on the job. If the manuscript is so stinky that you need safety gloves and tongs to pick it up, you’ll put in longer hours for the same pay.

==  Charging by the Hour  ==

This system seems simple at first—you charge by how much time you put into the job. One major benefit is that the pay is commensurate with the amount of effort required. If a job comes to you well written, you will spend less time on it overall, lowering the total cost for the client. If a job is a mess and needs lots of help, you will spend more time overall, raising the cost. It’s fair for everyone involved (as long as you keep track of your time accurately).

However, the reason I said this method seems simple is that some clients are reluctant to hire an editor without knowing how long the job will take. They don’t want to be on the hook for a final price that could be higher than what they were expecting (and who can blame them?). If you charge by the hour, you should also give your client an estimate of the number of hours you’ll put in. That requires that you have enough experience in the field to size up the initial manuscript and judge the amount of blood, sweat, and tears you’ll expend.

You’ll also need to spell out what happens if you were wrong and the job takes more or less time. If you quote an estimate of 12 hours and the project ends up taking 16, the client might not be thrilled to pay for the extra hours. Thus, it helps to give regular updates on how the work is progressing. That way, if you’re approaching the quoted number of hours and know that you’ll need more time, the two of you can figure out a solution.

==  Charging by the Project  ==

In this system, the client pays you an agreed-upon price to do the job, no matter how much time you end up putting into it. This method is appealing for clients who don’t have much in their editing budget and want to eliminate the guesswork of the other methods. It’s not always the best method for the editor, but in some cases a client will simply say, “I can pay you X amount to edit my manuscript,” and you must decide whether to accept the job or turn it down.

As another option, if you accept the job for a fixed price, you can break that down to an hourly rate to help manage your time. For example, let’s say that you normally charge $30 per hour, but you accept a job that pays a fixed price of $500. A bit of quick division reveals that if you want to earn your usual hourly rate, you should devote no more than 16.6 hours to the project. Of course, that doesn’t mean you stop editing in midsentence when the timer reaches zero. Instead, you budget your time throughout to ensure that you can finish the job in 16.6 hours. (This option assumes that you’ll still do good work in those 16.6 hours. If you cut corners and do a sloppy job just to stick to the allotted time, that won’t do the client—or your reputation—much good.)

==  Differentiating Your Services  ==

Different jobs require different types of editing. Simple proofreading is at one end of the continuum. Developmental work is at the other. Between the two extremes are light, medium, and heavy copy editing. If you want to charge different fees based on the type of work performed, you’ll need to assess the initial manuscript and let the client know what kind of editing is required. That’s a skill in itself, one that you gain only from experience. A look at the Editorial Freelancers Association rates page shows many different specific services that editors might offer. (It also shows the range of suggested fees, but as I said up top, that’s a subject for another day.)

This complication usually comes into play when you charge by the word or by the page. I find that when you charge by the hour, it doesn’t really matter what kind of work you’re doing—light proofreading will automatically take less time than heavy copy editing, so the client will pay less overall.

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This post isn’t meant to be comprehensive. Each of the topics mentioned above has aspects that I haven’t touched on, and the choice is not black and white—you can use a combination of any or all of them in your work. But I thought it would be useful to look at the basics (as I see ’em, anyway) and start a conversation.

Copy editors and fiction editors

So there I was, wondering what to post here on the blog, and then fate stepped in and delivered unto me a wonderful little essay on the difference between copy editors and fiction editors, written by Torah Cottrill (who happens to be both a writer and an editor).

In my own professional work, I do both kinds of editing. Karen focuses mainly on copy editing. But plenty of people out there—including many self-publishing authors, unfortunately—don’t differentiate between types of editing. No matter what you’re writing, it’s important to know what kind of editorial services you want and/or need to make your stuff as appealing as possible to your audience.

And now, take it away, Torah!

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A Few General Thoughts About Editors

It’s worth pointing out, for those not familiar with the distinction, that copy editors and fiction editors are two entirely separate things. (Although there are cases where the same person can do both, it’s actually pretty rare for one person to be good at both.)

Copy editors will make sure you don’t use “bare with me” or “should of” or “sneak peak” and that your typo “what is” instead of “what if” gets caught and corrected. Copy editors can catch continuity errors (for instance, that your character had a red shirt in the first chapter, but you described a blue shirt in chapter three), and can even offer advice about restructuring sections of text and about reworking clunky or confusing language.

Fiction editors look at the larger picture of your work, and can help you decide things like whether you need to add more POV characters, if the narrative structure is falling apart in chapter 5, whether your antagonist is believable, and all of the other story advice that writers dream of when they imagine “having an editor.”

Both types of editors are invaluable. What you should spend your money on depends on what you feel you need. Bottom line, everybody needs to have a copy editor (or a friend who’s good at those kinds of details) look at their work before it’s published, because basic errors of grammar and spelling are inexcusable in work you offer a reader.

As with any professional service, ask for references when looking for any type of editor. Ask what the editor offers, and how much he or she charges. Ask for a sample of his or her work. Discuss price and what you get for your investment. Maybe you’d benefit more from general advice on the structure of your novel, based on the first two chapters and a detailed outline, rather than from a full-blown edit of the whole work. Maybe you only want a final proofreading polish rather than a more intensive copy editing pass. Discuss what you want to achieve by working with the editor, and how the editor can help you accomplish that.

Remember, like any other professionals, editors have varying degrees of experience and expertise, and varying personalities. Spend the time to find someone who’s a good fit for you.

For examples of both kinds of editing, look at the Serious Pixie blog by Susan Morris and GRAMMARGEDDON! by Karen Conlin and Ray Vallese.

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Very well said, Torah. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us—and for the shout-out to our blog. (I disabled the GRAMMARGEDDON! link you put in your essay so as not to create a self-referential loop that would destroy reality. That’s me, generous to a fault.)

E-books that read YOU

Today I heard a great story on the NPR radio program On the Media. The host talked to Alexandra Alter, a reporter who wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal (which you can read here) about how the major e-book publishers are tracking your e-reading habits and using the data to shape future publications. As you read an e-book, your Kindle, Nook, or iPad is gathering data about where you start reading, where you stop, what sections you skip, what passages you underline, and so on, and transmitting that information back to the publisher. Here’s the opening paragraph from the Wall Street Journal article:

It takes the average reader just seven hours to read the final book in Suzanne Collins’s “Hunger Games” trilogy on the Kobo e-reader—about 57 pages an hour. Nearly 18,000 Kindle readers have highlighted the same line from the second book in the series: “Because sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them.” And on Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the first thing that most readers do upon finishing the first “Hunger Games” book is to download the next one.

With the data they collect, the publishers determine (rightly or wrongly) what readers want to see and then try to deliver more of the same in subsequent releases. In other words, the publishers are putting their e-books through virtual focus groups.

And it gets better (or worse; your mileage may vary). In the radio interview, Alter added that some publishers have started releasing early digital editions of books, gathering data on how customers read those books on their devices, and then changing the eventual print editions to reflect that feedback. So if enough people quit reading the book before the end, the publishers are likely to punch things up so the hardcover has a better chance of keeping your eyeballs all the way through.

Set aside the privacy concerns for a moment (though I don’t want my Nook to narc me out to Barnes & Noble—do you?). Regardless of whether you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing that publishers are trying new ways to create books that will hold your attention, it’s not hard to see how this development might diminish the perceived role of editors. If an algorithm can decide that chapter 1 is boring and the book takes too long to read, but there’s a very popular passage in the middle of chapter 7, so let’s have more stuff like that, is there still room for humans in this process?

Sure, that question is a bit dramatic, because the answer is yes, at least for right now. But how can we stop publishers that are focused on the bottom line from giving too much weight to data about sales and reading habits?

Seal of A-proof-al

I just became aware* of an interesting post that went up a few months ago on The Digital Reader. It asks a very intriguing question: Should editors certify that an ebook has been edited?

I really like the idea of a shiny burst stamped onto the cover of each ebook, similar to the old classic Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval (still going strong!) or the mark of the Comics Code Authority (which has faded away in the last few years). But honestly, there are a million reasons why it wouldn’t work: lack of standardization among editors, absence of a certifying body, never knowing whether a seal was earned or rubber-stamped, the difficulty of assessing the value of line editing versus development work, and so on.

A “seal of good editing” would be more or less meaningless, and the reading public would recognize it as such before too long. The best way to make your book appeal to potential readers is to make it readable, which usually means hiring a good editor and listening to his or her suggestions.

But it’s still fun to imagine an editor, red pen in one holster and a branding iron in the other, riding from town to virtual town, cleaning up the lawless publishing frontier one bad sentence at a time, burning his or her seal into the trail of pages left behind.

* Thanks, Steven Schend!

The pastor is not the study (but he could be in it)

I didn’t expect to find GRAMMARGEDDON! fodder this early in my day, nor did I expect to find it in the blog of a typographer/book designer. But, then again, in my experience typographers aren’t editors, usually. So–on with the post.

Dangling modifiers are annoying creatures. They cause the astute reader to stop and ask questions about what’s being said, questions that wouldn’t occur to the reader if that modifier had been corrected by some method or other. Here’s the one that stopped me this morning:

“As a pastor, commercially available Bible studies were just as bad.”

Hm. The pastor is not a study. The pastor is the person who may well purchase books or studies. The sentence would have been better phrased thus: “As a pastor, I found the commercially available Bible studies were just as bad.” “As a pastor” then modifies–correctly–the subject of the sentence.

The blog entry is one I found very interesting, truth to tell. I’m going to bookmark it, so I can return later and read it thoroughly. You see, just because I find a grammatical error that should really have been caught (even by a piece of software, if not a real live person) does not mean I then invalidate the source entirely and proclaim it to be garbage.

Here’s the link, for anyone who wants to know more about “Writing in InDesign.”