Senior editors’ unconference (EAC conference 2014)

What better way for senior editors to learn than by talking to other senior editors?

At the EAC conference, I led the senior editors’ unconference session, which was split into two parts. At lunchtime on Saturday, people were invited to come pitch topics for discussion. I wrote them on a flip chart and gave all participants three sticky dots to vote for their favourite topics. (And if we filled the hour with salacious editorial gossip, I figured that would be fine, too.)

After I tallied the votes, the list of topics was as follows:

  1. Marketing
  2. Setting rates
  3. Dealing with a stagnant client base
  4. Workflow best practices; user testing for workflows
  5. Mentorship—in both directions
  6. Usability testing
  7. Achieving buy-in with style guides
  8. Transitioning from print to digital
  9. Finding new professional development opportunities
  10. Getting out of being typecast
  11. SharePoint do’s & don’ts
  12. Working with international clients
  13. Working with subject experts
  14. File management and archiving

“Sr ask same as n00bs??” wondered Adrienne Montgomerie on Twitter. The top topics—marketing, rates—were the same ones that novice editors have to grapple with, but I was determined that this unconference session would unearth new ideas, not just the same old advice.

Everyone was welcome at the Sunday session; you didn’t have to be at the topic-pitching session to participate. The unconference was scheduled for the last time slot of the concurrent sessions, which worked well because people could bring ideas that other sessions they attended hadn’t covered.

Here’s a run-down of what we discussed. (I’ve eliminated the names here because I never got express permission to quote anyone, and some of what we discussed could be considered sensitive or controversial. If you’d like credit, though, by all means let me know.)

Marketing

Because marketing (#1), setting rates (#2), revitalizing your client base (#3), and getting out of being typecast (#10) are very much related, I concatenated those topics so that we could discuss them together.

One editor noted that her marketing strategy was very much non-marketing. She mostly just tells her friends what she’s doing and what she’s interested in doing. Her work and reputation have allowed her to build her business by word of mouth.

One editor has a diverse portfolio, including writing, editing, indexing, and training. When she has enough work of one type but wants more of another, she targets her online presence to the channel she’d like to build.

Not everyone in the room had a website, but those who did thought it was a valuable part of their marketing. A lot of people had LinkedIn profiles, but we seemed to agree that LinkedIn served as a useful secondary verification, not a good primary means of marketing.

Setting rates

Should you post your rates? That point was controversial. One editor pointed out that having a rate sheet that you send out takes away some of the anxiety of quoting rates or negotiating. Another editor has an instant estimator right on her site. One person said that having a rate sheet or a calculator wouldn’t work for her—she has different rates for different clients, and the rates may vary wildly based on the complexity of the material. She always asks for the document or a sample to give an estimate. Whether you charge by the word or hour or project, it all boils down to the same thing—if you’re good at estimating!

Perfect versus good enough?

How much effort should you sink into a project in the quest for perfection? This discussion was interesting: was a sign of a kind of “editorial maturity” the recognition that it never pays to care more than the client? “Some edits we make because they’re needed,” said one editor. “Some things we sneak in to impress other editors.” If a client wouldn’t appreciate the latter, then those changes probably aren’t worth it. One editor said that for a new client, she always strives for perfection, because she’s hoping for repeat business.

Workflows

How do we educate our clients about workflow best practices? The reality is, as one editor pointed out, “the best workflow for an editor isn’t necessarily the best workflow for an organization.” Organizations may have several authors collaborating on a document and many layers of approval. Self-publishers are more likely to have more flexible timelines, but some of them also need a lot of handholding about process. “About half of the work I do is educating self-publishing clients about the publishing process,” said one editor. Another problem with workflow is that a lot of editors who have never worked in house may not realize how the entire production machine works and how they fit into it. The Toronto EAC branch offers a yearly seminar on production editing—perhaps a consideration for other branches as well? Those of us who have worked in house but are now freelance also need to keep on top of developments in production workflow, because “some things are changing in house, and old rules don’t apply.”

Mentorship

What used to be a benefit of working in house was the mentorship you’d get from a senior editor. That system has changed, especially since editorial training programs have become more popular, although we seemed to agree that internships ideally ought to work on a mentorship model. One editor noted that we need mentorship in both directions: we can teach more junior editors editorial skills, while they may be able to teach us the best ways to use newer technologies. Our network, the EAC Listserv, and the Editors’ Association of Earth Facebook page were all cited as excellent sources of advice.

Usability testing

We moved on to usability testing, which is an essential part of the plain language process. We hear about it a lot but don’t necessarily know how to do it. Those who have done usability testing could attest to its value: although as editors we try to stay informed about a host of different topics, we have to remember that we have our own specialized language that others may not understand. It takes only two or three users to identify what the major problems are with your document. Usertesting.com offers online user testing that’s relatively affordable, and they have great packages if you aim to do a lot of testing.

Style guides

How do you achieve buy-in with style guides? Call it quality assurance, said one editor. If you use PerfectIt, you can use it to export a style guide for easy sharing. Also see my post about how to optimize your house style guide.

***

We didn’t have enough time to discuss the remaining topics. Anyone interested in international editing might want to read my summary of a panel discussion on the topic that we had at the EAC-BC branch.

Thanks to all editors who contributed ideas and attended the unconference session. It was a wisdom-fuelled, energizing way to cap off a great conference.

Enlighten others—and get paid for it: How to launch and run a training business—Graham Young (EAC conference 2014)

Graham Young has taught more than five hundred seminars on writing and public speaking, and at the EAC conference he shared some of his insights about the business of training others.

Should you start a training business? The pros and cons

“The number one reason to be a trainer? It beats working!” Young joked.

The benefits of running a training business are many: You’re helping people solve a problem, and you can change their lives. Once you leave the classroom, you’re not beholden to anyone. You don’t have to deal with bad bosses or eccentric coworkers, and you can tell well in advance what your schedule will look like. Training is also a great way to learn: “If you want to remember something, it’s best to say it aloud,” said Young. And if you’re already self-employed, adding training to your menu of services is easy.

Income from training, though, just as in any other self-employment situation, can be sporadic. It can get repetitive, and you might face quite a bit of competition.

How should you launch your training business?

If you decide that the pros outweigh the cons, Young suggests the following approach to launch your training business:

1. Pick a subject

Employment and Social Development Canada lists nine “essential” skills:

  1. Reading
  2. Writing
  3. Document use
  4. Numeracy
  5. Computer use
  6. Thinking skills
  7. Oral communication
  8. Working with others
  9. Continuous learning

Many employers are willing to pay for their employees to receive essential skills training.

2. Do a business case

Do some research on the competition, and figure out how your business would fit into the training landscape. Try to articulate how your business would fulfill an unmet need.

3. Choose a business structure

Should your business be a sole proprietorship, a partnership, or a corporation?

4. Select a business model

Should you work for yourself, for a training organization, or both?

If you work for yourself, you can charge as much as you’d like, you have to answer only to your clients, and you can update and change content to customize it for your clients. However, you’ll have to do all of your own marketing, respond to requests for proposals (RFPs) and handle contracts, and you might have to make all of your own arrangements for refreshments, printing, and AV equipment.

If you work for a training organization, you may have steadier work, someone else may take care of marketing and administrative tasks, and you might have the opportunity to add more courses to your portfolio. However, you may have to use someone else’s material that you can’t update, and the training organization may not share your professionalism.

You could get the best of both worlds by working for yourself and for an organization, but if you do, make sure you don’t compete directly with the organization, and be aware that any prospects you come across while teaching on behalf of an organization belongs to them.

5. Get qualified

If you’d like to start a training business, said Young, learn how adults learn. Young recommends The Art of Teaching Adults by Peter Renner.

Professional certifications can give you credibility, and real-world experience in the field you’re offering training for is a source of anecdotes that can help you turn a theoretical concept into something people can understand.

6. Cut your teeth

Gain confidence by speaking in front of a crowd. You might want to start out by teaching college courses or attending Toastmaster meetings.

7. Attend workshops

How do others teach, and how do you learn? Seeing how other training sessions are run can tell you what works and what doesn’t.

8. Find a mentor

If you can, find someone who has experience in training to guide you.

How should you run your training business?

Young encourages using the ADDIE model:

  1. Analyze
  2. Design
  3. Develop
  4. Implement
  5. Evaluate

Analyze

What problem is the training supposed to solve? (And is it really a lack of training that is causing the problem?) Who needs the training and why do they need training?

Understand that adult learners are autonomous, goal oriented, and knowledgeable. They want relevant information and solutions to their problems. “Adult learners come with certain expectations,” said Young. “Meet those expectations.” Otherwise you risk frustrating people.

Different people have different learning styles, so you should vary the way you present information to cater to different types of learners.

Design

Create a lesson plan, which should include the expected learning outcomes. Select the topics and content, drawing from personal experience, books, reports, journals, websites, social media, and interviews. Choose what teaching methods—lectures, demos, videos, discussions, exercises, role-plays, presentations—you’d like to use. Consider icebreakers or energizers to keep the participants engaged. Don’t forget to plan a strong closing, where you wrap up and summarize the key points.

Develop

Assemble the course material, including notes, exercises, and solutions. Balance theory with real-life examples. “When training,” said Young, it’s best to “show people examples in the context they’re familiar with.” Create your slides and other visual aids.

Try to limit class sizes to sixteen people, advised Young. In larger groups, you lose intimacy, and people are more reluctant to speak up.

Implement

Be prepared! At least a day ahead of time, confirm the location of the session, security arrangements, and AV requirements. Arrive at 45 to 60 minutes before your session starts so that you can set up. Always have a back-up of your presentation and notes. “Respect Murphy’s Law,” said Young. You may have to contend with double-booked rooms, missing manuals, malfunctioning AV equipment, or other problems.

Once the class starts, greet the participants and have people introduce themselves.

Establish your credentials and explain your role. Create a supportive environment, and be enthusiastic. “Be prepared to meet some great people,” said Young. (That said, some audiences may be hostile—maybe an employer sent them to a training session against their will—and you’ll have to adjust your training approach accordingly.)

If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it—but follow up with one. See if any of the participants have the answer, and encourage participants to learn from one another.

Evaluate

Hand out evaluations at the end of your course, and adjust your course or delivery as needed. You may be able to use some of that feedback as testimonials, with permission.

Young closed with the top three things trainers must do to succeed:

3. Help solve the problem—whether it’s through imparting knowledge or honing a skill.

2. Instill confidence. “Behaviour is more likely to be predicted by what people believe they can do than by what they actually can do.”

1. Entertain. “If you haven’t got your audience’s attention, nothing else matters,” said Young.

Indexer–author relations—Enid Zafran (ISC conference 2014)

Enid Zafran is a past president of American Society for Indexing and served on its national board for over six years. Among the books she has co-edited are Starting an Indexing Business, Index it Right! Advice from the Experts, and a couple of titles in the Indexing Specialties series, including one about legal texts and one about scholarly works. In 2010, Zafran’s contribution to the indexing profession was recognized with the Hines Award from the ASI. That same year, she became a certified indexer with the Institute of Certified Indexers.

Zafran runs the business Indexing Partners, which has clients ranging from academic presses, professional and textbook publishers, nonprofit associations, and authors. At the Indexing Society of Canada conference, she drew on more than thirty years of experience to tell us a bit about how to main good indexer–author relations.

Her talk focused on the times the indexer interacts directly with the author, as opposed to a publisher. These clients may have publishers who have asked them to find an indexer, or they may be self-publishing. “Self-publishing authors need a lot of hand holding,” said Zafran. They may be caught off guard by what’s involved in the indexing process, as well as how much it costs.

When an author first approaches you to do an index, ask for details of the job, including topic, word or page count, schedule, length limits on the index, and, if they’re working with a publisher, the publisher’s style. Ask to see some sample chapters before you commit; knowing the title and word count of a book may not be enough to tell you how dense the text will be and how much indexing it will need.

If an author supplies you with a list of terms, Zafran suggests including them in the index as a matter of course and importing them directly into your indexing software. “It’s easier to be agreeable and accept author lists,” she said. Further, when discussing a potential job with an author, “express some enthusiasm,” said Zafran. The author has put a lot of time into writing the book, and as indexer, you’re one of its first readers. A little enthusiasm goes a long way to establishing a good working relationship.

When discussing schedules and deadlines, explain your process and stress that you’ll need to work from final pages. Be sure to build in time for the author to review the index. Zafran tells her clients that her fee covers two hours of editing; additional changes would be charged by the hour.

This is also a good time to see if the project is big enough to warrant breaking it down into several milestones, both for author review and for payment. Zafran will sometimes ask a new client for a 25 per cent deposit before the job begins. “If they’re not willing to pay, you might have trouble getting money later,” she said. Zafran expects payment within thirty days of invoicing and charges a 16 per cent late fee. For rush jobs, she also charges a rush premium fee. Having worked with academics on scholarly books, she warned us about universities, which may require you to be registered with the them as a vendor. If you invoice without being registered, your payment could be delayed.

If the author is overseas, the bank may charge for a wire transfer. Inform clients that you’ll be adding that fee from the wire transfer to your invoice.

Once you firm up the job with the client, make sure you have written confirmation where they agree to the terms. Stay in touch before the job begins to make sure everything is still on schedule.

When indexing starts, explain to the author that you’ll need to go away and work—and tell them when you’ll have an index ready for them to review. “‘Can I see a draft?’ is one of the most dreadful things you can hear an author say,” quipped Zafran. No matter how much you try to explain that the draft is not the final index, the author will always have some reason to be unhappy with it.

When it comes time for the author to review the finished index, Zafran said that if she’s had good relations with the author thus far, she’ll send them both the indented and run-in styles. At this stage, four common complaints may surface:

1. The index doesn’t have all of the names I had in my book.

You’ll have to explain to the author that, in standard indexing practice according to the Chicago Manual of Style, names in front matter, acknowledgements, and notes aren’t included in the index. “With authors, when you cite the Chicago Manual, the discussion is over. You’ve invoked the word of God,” joked Zafran.

2. The index doesn’t pick up every occurrence of a term.

Zafran suggests using Sherry Smith’s term of “lesser mention” to explain why a term wasn’t indexed rather than the harsher “passing mention.” Also explain that an index differs from a concordance and that the indexer’s job is to lead users to substantive, helpful information.

3. Sometimes the index uses cross-references for acronyms; sometimes there are page numbers. Why the inconsistency?

Explain that entries with only one or two page numbers warrant double-posting rather than cross-referencing. Double-posting saves the user time, whereas cross-referencing saves space. With only one or two locators, there is no net space savings.

4. The topic of the book is barely indexed.

As tempting as it is to respond with, “Well then the whole book would indexed under that one heading, so what good would that be?” you’re more likely to get a favourable reaction if you explain “how the metatopic merits special treatment in the index,” said Zafran. Today, it’s considered a best practice to mirror the book’s chapter and subchapter structure under the metatopic heading, and most authors appreciate that this approach reflects the way they’ve dealt with the topic in the book.

***

Once you’ve submitted the index to the author’s satisfaction, send an invoice that includes the due date and a reminder of your late fee. Zafran will waive that fee if the client is only a bit late or is making a clear effort to comply. Make sure you have distinct numbers for each invoice—otherwise some clients (like universities) may not process payment. Once a payment is overdue, start calling. The client may not answer, but seeing you on call display may be enough to remind them that they owe you money. Finally, said Zafran, don’t be afraid to assert your copyright on your index to prompt late payers to pay.

If a job has gone well, remind the client that your business is built on word-of-mouth referrals and ask them to recommend you to other authors who could use your help.

House style and the zombie apocalypse: How a poorly thought-out style guide can cost you

Professional freelance editors will be familiar with a few industry-standard style manuals:

  • Chicago Manual of Style
  • Canadian Press Stylebook
  • Associated Press Stylebook
  • MLA Style Manual
  • APA Publication Manual

These references offer broad coverage of most style issues; they’ve been honed over several editions and generally serve editors well. Yet, the vast majority of organizations that regularly produce written communications and publications—including businesses, non-profits, government, as well as traditional publishers—will want to have their own house style. The key is to tame your house style before it takes on a life of its own.

Why do you need house style?

House style is important—for branding and identity, to accommodate audience expectations and ensure subject coverage, and for efficiency and workflow.

Branding and identity

As Barbara Wallraff of The Atlantic Monthly wrote in The Art of Making Magazines, “Even a bunch of highly skilled writers won’t do things consistently. And consistency strengthens the identity of a magazine.” The fact that you can see the word coöperation and know immediately that it comes from The New Yorker shows how powerful a style decision can be to a publication’s identity.

Even for non-publishers, house style ensures consistency of your brand: your organization’s name, its divisions and position titles, should always appear the same way. (For example, in Editors’ Association of Canada communications, you’ll see the organization called “EAC”—and never “the EAC.”)

Audience expectations and subject coverage

Industry-standard style manuals are fairly general and aren’t meant to cover specialized topics, so you may want your house style to fill in the gaps if you’re publishing in a particular genre. An example is cookbooks: publishers of cookbooks for the North American market have discovered that using only metric measurements and giving ingredients like flour in sugar in weight rather than in volume will basically doom the book to failure. These kinds of details would be helpful to have in a house style guide for a cookbook publisher.

Further, some specialized audiences have certain expectations; in some academic circles, for example, usage of particular words is restricted to specific situations, and capitalization and hyphenation can have carry special meaning. (For example, geologists will capitalize “Province,” “Zone,” and “Subzone” but not “subprovince.”)

Efficiency and workflow

Specifying a preference for one of several equally valid options helps establish your editorial authority and helps your editorial team work together. Nobody has to make the initial decision and communicate that to the rest of the team. You reap the most benefits if you use the same editors over and over—they’ll quickly adapt to your house style and use it automatically for your projects.

As for workflow, some house styles will also include special formatting and tagging instructions for editors to follow when they prepare a manuscript for typesetting. These elements are also important but, as I’ll argue later, should be separated out as process guidelines rather than style rules.

How do zombies fit in?

House style guides serve a legitimate role. The problem is that too many house styles are rife with zombie rules.

Zombie rules, a term coined by linguist Arnold Zwicky, refer to rules that may have made sense in the past but no longer apply. Some people like to make the distinction between zombies (which were alive at one point and are now dead) and bogeymen—which never made sense and were, in linguist Geoff Pullum’s words, “just mythical beings invented to frighten children.” For the sake of simplicity, I’m referring to all nonsense rules—previously alive or not—as zombies. Further, I’m extending Zwicky’s term beyond grammar and usage to all rules that should no longer rear their heads—because of changes in language, technology, or process. Other zombies creep into a house style guide because of personal preferences and pet peeves.

If you’re responsible for your organization’s house style, you can ultimately do whatever you want, but bear in mind that every zombie rule in your style guide is costing you money.

A case study of poor house style

Here’s an example from my own work: I’d sent an edit back to a journal publisher, and the in-house editor reviewed my work and gave me feedback, which I generally welcome. This time, however, the feedback was confounding. She wrote, “For future reference, please note that we use the serial comma before ‘and’ but not before ‘or.’”

Typically, when a client gives me feedback, I’ll thank them and let them know I’ll keep it in mind for the next project. This time I pushed back a little, explaining that I found that rule puzzling. After all, “and” and “or” are both coordinating conjunctions used in series, and usually, in most style manuals, we us a comma before both or before neither. I also told her that her style guide mentioned only “and”—and that she’d have to add the “or” rule if she really wanted to make the distinction clear. I ended by reiterating my confusion about the rule.

She responded, “It may not make sense, but it is our style.”

First, this is something I’d hope you’ll never have to say to your editors, who are likely to operate on logic and consistency. Second, think of all of the actions and interactions this exchange required. The in-house editor had to:

  • find my error,
  • fix my error,
  • correspond with me about my error (over several emails), and
  • update or clarify the style guide.

She would have to repeat most of these steps every time any other editor made the same mistake.

I had to:

  • correspond with the editor, and
  • add the item to my personal checklist.

Worst of all, I will be second-guessing myself about every rule and slowing myself down for every project I do with this client in the future. After all, if the style guide has this strange rule, what other ones does it have?

Each of these interactions cost the client time and money—and all for a rule that didn’t matter. It did nothing to strengthen the journal’s brand or communicate more clearly to readers, and it certainly didn’t lead to greater editorial efficiency.

Isn’t it a freelancer’s job, you might ask, to adapt to different styles? Absolutely—but rules that needlessly contradict industry standards are costly to both you and your editors. What’s more, freelancers are human. If your style guide is too long, we won’t necessarily remember everything when it comes time to work on your project. And any rule that makes editors stop or stumble will cost you money.

House style best practices

House style guides should supplement, not replace, industry-standard style manuals. Otherwise you’re not only reinventing the wheel; you’re essentially replacing a precision-engineered Formula 1 wheel with the wheel off a shopping cart. Because house style guides are supplements only, they should be no longer than five to ten pages—with the upper end reserved for extensive websites, magazines or series.

Further, house style should be audience focused in two ways:

  • the rules in your style guide should serve your readers, not editorial whims;
  • the guide itself should serve its readers—that is, your editors.

To make your house style the most efficient it can be:

  • regularly review your house style for validity (what I call house style audits)
  • separate policies and procedures
  • put it online
  • update to the latest edition of your industry-standard style manual

If you haven’t already chosen an industry-standard style manual to follow, that’s your first step. Next, you’ll want to audit your house style.

Audit house style

Gather your editorial team and at least one external consultant, maybe one of your regular freelancers, to critically evaluate each item in your house style guide. The external consultant will be able to come at the project with more objectivity and ask why the rules you have are there.

For each item in your house style, figure out whether it matches your chosen style manual.

If so:

  • If the rule is a common one, take it out of your house style guide; your editors will know to follow the rule in the style manual.
  • If the rule is uncommon, cite the location in the style manual where the rule appears (e.g., “We follow Chicago 8.82, which states that…”). Referring to the style manual will let you give an abbreviated version of the rule in your style guide.

If not, ask yourself why:

  • If you can’t figure out a reason the rule exists, take it out of your guide.
  • If there’s a legitimate reason for it, such as specific audience expectations, explain it. Your editors may not know your topic as well as you do.
  • If there’s an illegitimate reason for it (e.g., Diana in marketing hates hyphens), explain it. Not only will the clarification help editors remember the rule, but you’ll also know that when circumstances change (e.g., Diana takes a job at another company), you can immediately kill this zombie for good.

Basically, each item in your house style should be justifiable. When you review your house style, watch out in particular for places where your style guide contradicts itself, which can happen if it’s the product of several people’s input.

Finally, ask yourself if you can live with internal consistency alone. If you publish books, for example, each book will have its own style sheet, and readers are unlikely to compare the style of two of your books or care if they differ.

Good times to review your house style are:

  • when people leave,
  • when you introduce a new process, or
  • when you upgrade to a new version of software or update to a new edition of a reference.

Separate policies and procedures

Is your house style document just a style guide, or have you inadvertently canonized it? Some organizations put everything into their house style, from their mission statement to publishing and editorial philosophy. New editors may appreciate the background information, but, for the sake of efficiency, make sure you separate it from the reference material that the editors will have to access regularly. Having to read through preamble to find a rule slows editors down, and you’re paying for that time.

Also separate out style matters (e.g., serial comma or not) from process matters (e.g., formatting and tagging for workflow). Process will probably change much more frequently with changes in technology.

Put it online

I’ve evangelized extensively about the usefulness of editorial wikis, so I won’t do it again here, but I’m a firm believer in putting house style online so that you have one master copy that is

  • easy to revise,
  • easy to search, and
  • easy to make modular.

In a wiki, it’s simple to isolate the parts of your house style that apply just to copy editing, for example, so that you don’t overwhelm your copy editors with irrelevant details that only proofreaders would need to know.

Update your industry-standard references

Use the latest editions of style manuals and dictionaries as your references. Many freelancers now have online subscriptions to their references and have access to only the latest editions.

Taking the leap to a new reference may be an annoyance for in-house staff, but the aggravation is temporary. Freelance editors have to switch between styles all the time, so you’ll adapt in no time. To ease the transition, keep a running checklist of changes to run global searches for (or better yet, make a macro to automate the process).

***

A house style guide is an essential piece of a communication or publishing operation. Despite the quality of existing style manuals, I’d never suggest going without a house style. Writers and editors benefit from having some guidance and structure on projects, particularly if they’re new to your organization. Just be sure to keep your audience(s) in mind as you develop and maintain your house style guide so that you’re getting the most out of it.

Book review: Starting an Indexing Business

You’ve taken indexing courses. Read the indexing chapter of the Chicago Manual of Style and Nancy Mulvaney’s Indexing Books. Bought yourself indexing software.

Now what?

For most would-be indexers hoping to start their own freelancing business (as many of us are now aware), the actual indexing work isn’t the biggest challenge. Getting that work, not to mention managing the financial and administrative details of self-employment, is the tough part, and it’s one that gets very little attention in most indexing reference books. Starting an Indexing Business, edited by Enid Zafran and Joan Shapiro, is a rare exception, offering people who are launching—or considering—a career as a freelance indexer some insider wisdom about running their own business.

The fourth edition of Starting an Indexing Business was published in 2009, but it was recently released as an ebook. With chapters about moonlighting as an indexer while holding down a full-time job by Melanie Krueger, the business of being in business, by Pilar Wyman, and liability and exposure issues for indexers, by Enid Zafran, this book tries to answer a lot of questions that a freelancer just starting out might have. It’s a quick read, and it’s packed with tips from indexing veterans who have spent years in the trenches. Seeing the issues from different indexers’ perspectives is helpful, and the diversity of contributors shows that, despite having similar traits that make us good at what we do, different indexers take different approaches to running their business. Particularly interesting is the debate about whether to invest in disability insurance, with Wyman advocating for it and Zafran saying she didn’t see the need.

Zafran’s chapter about liability has a lot to offer, spurring the reader to think about how best to protect their business and to assert their copyright to make sure they get paid. A sample letter of agreement for indexing services also appears as an appendix to the book, and it serves as a helpful tool for freelancers to communicate clearly with a new client and start off their working relationship on the right foot.

Although the book has plenty of solid advice for new indexers, much of it will be old hat to people who have had a few projects under their belt. Being five years old, it also needs an update. I suspect that cold calling and mailing out brochures to prospective clients, as marketing strategies recommended by a few of the contributors, have largely given way to email enquiries and websites. I would also hope that a fax machine is no longer a must-have in the home office. Workflow and file transfer technologies have also evolved dramatically since the book’s publication, and ebooks and self-publishing have exploded. Further, the book is geared toward a primarily American audience, with references to health insurance and U.S. taxes that wouldn’t apply to Canadian indexers.

New freelancers may find Starting an Indexing Business helpful, although I wouldn’t call it a must-read. For those with a few years’ experience already, there isn’t much in this book that you won’t already know. And beyond the sample letter, I don’t see much in this book that you would refer to time and again, so I’d be inclined to borrow it from the library, if you can. If you do want to add this title to your collection, I’d suggest waiting for an updated edition, so that the advice better reflects current practices and technology.

Book review: The Employer’s Guide to Hiring Freelancers and Managing Outsourced Projects

Jim Coutu is an arbitrator who works with freelance job sites; essentially he’s a judge in what he calls “project divorce court.” When a project goes sour, it’s his job to pore over correspondence between the client and freelancer, interpreting often vague contracts to figure out who ultimately gets the money. In other words, he’s an expert in what can go wrong in a project, and he’s written an ebook, The Employer’s Guide to Hiring Freelancers and Managing Outsourced Projects, to shed light on common problems and offer suggestions on how to avoid them.

This book fills a critical void: whereas freelancers have banded together to form communities online, whether for stress relief through humour or for advocacy, there aren’t that many resources out there for people on the other side of that relationship. Clients are left to feel out their first projects on their own, and, without guidance, many of them are liable to make mistakes—some of which may start out as minor but can snowball to the point of jeopardizing a project.

Coutu’s background is in software, but his book covers all kinds of outsourcing, from web and graphic design to writing and virtual assistance (although neither editing nor indexing are mentioned). Helpfully, he gives specific tips and examples for each of these areas, as well as more general advice about

  • writing a solid project description so that bidding freelancers will know what you’re looking for
  • assessing the quality of a freelancer
  • paying by the hour versus paying by the project
  • looking out for potential copyright issues
  • keeping projects on schedule
  • working across different cultures and time zones

Coutu offers advice about how best to use the freelance sites’ features to protect yourself. For example, some of these sites will take screen shots of the freelancer’s desktop as they work as proof that they’re billing only for work on your project; the sites will also allow you to hold money in escrow and store a record of all of your correspondence with a freelancer so that an arbitrator can easily review the contract (and any changes to it). Although Coutu advocates care and rigour on the employer’s part, what I appreciate most about the book is that he never describes the client–freelancer relationship as an adversarial one. In fact, one of the first suggestions he gives is to “set the freelancer up for success. Make sure that they have everything that they need before you accept their bid, including specific requirements of what you want completed.” Your aim when using a freelance job site isn’t to get away with paying the least; rather, “the goal for both parties should be to get the work done at a fair price. The employer is happy that the work got done for a fair price, the freelancer is happy that they are paid a fair wage.” He also urges wary employers to consider the freelancers’ perspective: “Remember, the worker is also taking a risk working with an unknown employer who may take their work and not pay them.”

Coutu gives sample arbitration scenarios to show how the process would assess and resolve different kinds of disputes. Not surprisingly, problems in projects often result from poor communication, and Coutu emphasizes that both parties share a responsibility of ensuring that they have a common understanding of the contract. “Ambiguous wording issues are the fault of the employer,” he writes, and if you’re not getting what you need, it’s up to you to communicate clearly what the issues are. “Unfortunately,” Coutu writes, “I have seen many cases where poor feedback and poor feedback alone has caused a project to fail.” When a freelancer doesn’t meet expectations, advises Coutu, “Even if you absolutely hate what has been delivered, resist the temptation to reply with an emotional response. Always be professional.” He adds, “Emotional responses lead to arguments, not discussions.”

Also commendable is Coutu’s attention to copyright issues. He tells employers to be vigilant about running images used in a design through a reverse image search and text through Copyscape or Google to make sure there’s no infringement or plagiarism. He also notes that “freelancers who come from countries where copyrights are not enforced are simply not aware of the issues.”

Although Coutu makes his living as an arbitrator, he advises employers to use arbitration as a last resort, encouraging self-mediation as a first step. “As an arbitrator, I am keenly aware that the arbitration process is difficult for all parties. Even if you have a rock solid case that clearly documents abuses by the other party, arbitration is going to cost time that would be better spent on other endeavors.”

Because this book focuses mostly on one-off projects through online freelance job sites, it probably won’t be terribly useful to managing editors and production managers in publishing, whose day-to-day work involves hiring editors, designers, and indexers for a steady stream of projects. It doesn’t, for instance, suggest places other than freelance job sites—such as member directories of professional associations—to look for skilled freelancers, nor does it address the all-important relationship building and need to create a strong network of professionals you know you can trust to work on project after project. These ties are essential to keeping training costs down and ensuring coverage for all of your projects through the publishing cycle.

In contrast, self-publishers may find a lot of value in this book; some of them may choose to use a freelance job site to find a cover designer, for example, or someone to convert a print book to an EPUB. Unfortunately, The Employer’s Guide isn’t a comprehensive reference for self-publishers, as it doesn’t talk about the role of editors or indexers at all. In fact, in his advice about how to give feedback to a freelance writer, he writes, “If something is awkwardly worded, give examples of what might work better”—a task that a professional editor would certainly be in a strong(er) position to do.

Incidentally, as a self-published book, The Employer’s Guide is clear and easy to read, although, as an advocate for my profession, I have to say that I’d have preferred the book if it had gone through a copy edit and had a linked index. In terms of its content, a managing editor’s manual it is not, but for those who want to explore what the global work force has to offer, this book brims with sage advice that will help maximize your odds of getting what you want while minimizing your risks.

PubPro 2014 attendees can enter a draw to win a copy of The Employer’s Guide.

Editors’ Association of Canada members who have contract disputes with clients can turn to EAC’s mediator for help: http://www.editors.ca/members/services/mediation.html.

International editing—a panel discussion (EAC-BC meeting)

Anne Brennan moderated a lively panel discussion about editing beyond Canada’s borders at last week’s EAC-BC meeting. On the panel were:

  • Theresa Best, who spent several years editing educational policy documents in the UK, working not only on texts but also on metadata tagging for digital content;
  • Eva van Emden, who has clients in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, many of whom found her because of her background in biology and computer science; and
  • Carol Zhong, who specializes in academic editing for clients in Hong Kong as well as in Europe.

Both Zhong and Best worked abroad and kept those clients when they returned to Canada. Van Emden began editing for international clients early on in her freelance career, beginning with a magazine based in the U.S., which had posted the job on the American Copy Editors Society’s job board. The posting didn’t mention anything about the editor’s having to be in the U.S., so she applied for it and got it. Although some international clients find editors via EAC’s Online Directory of Editors, Best emphasized the need to be proactive in marketing. “All jobs I’ve ever gotten [with UK communications and editorial services agencies] were because I approached them.”

Van Emden maintains a mix of Canadian and international clients, but Zhong works exclusively internationally, as did Best before she took an in-house position in Vancouver a few years ago. Zhong had worked in house at the Open University of Hong Kong, where she got into academic editing, and after she moved to Vancouver in 2000 she continued working for them. She also helps a lot of professors prepare their journal articles for submission.

Jean Lawrence, who had referred some European clients to Zhong, also attended the meeting and had prepared a detailed handout of international editing resources (available in the members’ section of the branch website). “International academics are under pressure to get published in English-language journals,” she said, and “there’s an enormous need for editors in this area.” Agencies that pair academics up with editors exist all over Europe and Asia. “A good way to find reputable agencies is to look on journal websites,” which often have an “instructions to authors” section that strongly urge academics to have their work edited before submission and may list several agencies they would recommend.

Lawrence warned, though, that there’s a disconnect between what we expect to be paid as editors in Canada versus what people in some parts of the world can afford. And PayPal fees in some countries can be outrageous. An audience member chimed in, saying that on the flip side, to some businesses and organizations in countries like Iceland and Switzerland, Canadian editors are “cheap offshore labour” and that there are opportunities if you look for them. “How much can you charge an international client?” Brennan asked the panel. Best was able to make 30 to 40 pounds per hour; Zhong charges one of her clients 230 Hong Kong dollars per hour. Frances Peck noted that on an Editors’ Weekly blog post was a reference to what editors typically charge, but those rates are from the U.S. and are considerably lower than the going rates in Canada.

“How do you get paid?” asked Brennan. Van Emden has a U.S.-dollar bank account, and she transfers from the U.S. account to her Canadian chequing account. She also keeps an account in Holland. “It’s easy for Europeans to do bank transfers within Europe,” she said. Best and Zhong also maintain separate accounts for different currencies. Otherwise currency conversions have associated fees, and the bank may put a hold on foreign-currency cheques for up to thirty business days.

Brennan wondered, is it helpful—or maybe essential—to speak another language, if you want to edit internationally? Best worked in the UK, so English was all she needed, she said. Zhong speaks French, some Spanish, Italian, and a bit of Cantonese and Mandarin. “Absolutely it helps,” she said. “It helps with the text, because you know how they’ve translated what they’re trying to say.” Van Emden does a little Dutch-to-English translation and so can correspond easily with her clients in the Netherlands. Zhong said that she never has to communicate with her Hong Kong–based clients in any language other than English, because English is the language of academic instruction there.

Brennan asked the panel which style guides or style manuals they had to use. Van Emden said that one of her Hong Kong clients uses The Economist Style Guide, and her U.S. clients use the Associated Press Stylebook. Each journal, in contrast, has its own way of doing things, which can be frustrating. In the UK, Best said, everything is Oxford—Oxford English Dictionary, as well as the Oxford Guide to Style. One of her current clients uses the UN Editorial Manual. Zhong says that her clients sometimes use a mixture of U.S. and UK spelling and punctuation. The Chicago Manual of Style is used quite a lot, and she’s also had to use Harvard style for citations.

Brennan capped off the evening by asking the panellists what they considered the best and worst aspects of international editing. Van Emden struggled with time zones, which Brennan acknowledged could be a problem even in Canada. “In Europe, their working day is our midnight to 9am,” van Emden explained. “The turnaround times are short. Once, one of my projects got spam filtered, and I didn’t find out until eight hours later.” Sometimes, though, time zones can be an advantage, Zhong remarked. If she receives something during the Hong Kong working day, she can spend her day working on it and send it back to the client, who would receive it first thing in the morning. “What I love most [about international editing] is that I get to read interesting manuscripts that I wouldn’t normally get to read. It’s a cultural education. And it’s always gratifying when clients appreciate your work, especially when a journal accepts an article you’ve edited for them.”

Back to school: A self-indulgent personal post

This week I got an official letter of acceptance to the PhD program in SFU’s Faculty of Health Sciences, where I’ll be studying knowledge translation. In particular, I’ll be looking at ways to apply plain language principles to mental health research to make it more accessible to patients, practitioners, advocacy groups, and policy makers. I’m thrilled by the prospect of applying my editorial skills and clear communication knowledge to increase health and scientific literacy.

Although I’m heading back to school, in no way will I be leaving publishing; I adore my career, and my plan (although plans may change, of course) is to come right back once I’ve completed the degree. In the meantime, I’ll be dialing down the amount of publishing work I take on to a small handful of projects a year so that I can focus on my research.

I’ll also be drastically cutting back on my volunteer commitments with organizations such as the Editors’ Association of Canada. Over the past two years I’ve been a member of EAC’s Certification Steering Committee, which oversees the national program that certifies editors who have demonstrated excellence in proofreading, copy editing, stylistic editing, or structural editing. This committee is made up of some of the smartest, funniest, and most dedicated people I know, and working with them on projects to promote and strengthen the certification program has been a huge privilege. Leaving this collegial, optimistic, and productive group in August will be bittersweet.

At the branch level, I’ve worked with Frances Peck for the past two seasons (and with Micheline Brodeur last year) on the EAC-BC Programs Committee to set topics and invite speakers for our monthly meetings. We managed to put together an impressive lineup of speakers on fascinating subjects from forensic linguistics and cartography to subcontracting and the evolving role of libraries. Our ideas have spilled over into next season, and whoever takes over on the committee next year will be able to hit the ground running.

I can’t emphasize enough that my experiences on these committees—not to mention the professional relationships and friendships I’ve forged—have been tremendous for professional development, and I urge anyone considering volunteering for EAC to seize the opportunity. I will still be an active EAC member, and I am still happy to volunteer for small jobs here and there or for one-off events, but I’ll no longer have the time for ongoing committee work. If there’s still demand after this year’s PubPro unconference, a peer-driven professional development event for publication production professionals, I would be more than willing to run it again. And I still hope to attend EAC meetings and conferences and write up what I’ve gleaned from the sessions on my blog (although once I’m off the Programs Committee, I may allow myself to miss the odd meeting).

Speaking of my blog, my intention is still to post regularly on editorial, indexing, publishing, and plain language topics, but you might start seeing a bit more of a knowledge translation, health literacy, or mental health bent to my writing. Realistically, though, I won’t have time to do any more book reviews once school starts up. I’d love to keep crapping out my dumb little cartoons, but I might not be able to keep up with my monthly schedule.

Finally, I’d love to keep teaching in SFU’s Writing and Communications program. Changes are afoot in how those courses are being offered, though, so I’m not sure if I’ll still have a role to play. If it turns out that I will, I’ll be sure to post news about upcoming courses.

I’d like to thank all of my friends, colleagues, and mentors who have given me encouragement and advice as I’ve plotted this next step, which I have wanted to take for a long time. I feel incredibly lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing, supportive people.