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New Year Freelancer Housecleaning

Spurred into action by a recent post by colleague Katharine O’Moore-Klopf, I spent a good portion of the morning updating my online presence.

I reviewed my information on this site, my Freelancers Union profile, my EFA profile, my LinkedIn profile, and more. I made sure to participate in Twitter’s Follow Friday #FF and to refollow new followers.

Next on my list is reviewing my resume and my list of edited texts, as well as my Facebook business page. Then I need to send out New Year cards to my current and previous clients, as part of my freelance marketing plan.

Lunch will happen in there, somewhere.

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Inspiration

Some might say that copy editing, proofreading, and indexing are uninspiring. You work behind the scenes, invisible to everyone except the other production staff. Rarely are you mentioned in the acknowledgments of the books you come to know so intimately. The work can feel mechanical or dry, and overly focused on minutiae.

So what is a girl to do to find inspiration?

I surround myself with colleagues who bring me joy, even if only from afar. I tweet with them. We share links and chat on Facebook. I volunteer with them. We discuss the publishing world, freelancing, and words we love on LinkedIn.

Suddenly I have writers, editors, and journalists all around me. They help me believe I can write, and edit better, and be a more successful freelancer. Sometimes I can’t remember how we met, but I’m ever so glad we did.

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Earthlink, Poor PR, and Your Small Business

Normally I’m pretty mellow about bad customer service and public relations. Everyone has bad days, and I did time in a call center myself lo these many years ago, so I have some sympathy for people in that position.

But . . . there’s a limit.

Colleague and friend Katharine O’Moore-Klopf alerted her social network yesterday that her domain, kokedit.com, had been erroneously deactivated by her ISP and web host, Earthlink.

Meaning that her email and web site are unavailable. Not only does that directly impact her editing business, but it makes her incredible Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base unavailable to anyone else. She’s had to contact all of her clients individually to explain the problem. Her site is her online resume — so that’s unavailable to prospective clients also.

The Good: Customer service was relatively prompt in responding, via an alternate email address and Twitter. They also credited her account.

The Bad: Customer service told her it would take 24-72 hours to restore it. Why? No one knows. Funny how it was quick and easy to take down her domain but evidently quite time consuming and difficult to put it back up.

The Very, Very Ugly: Katharine, several colleagues, and I all posted inquiries, comments, and criticisms to the Earthlink Facebook page. Such postings started to be deleted by the page admin, although he/she stated at one point that their policy was to only delete postings that were considered obscene, derogatory, etc. None of us posted anything of the sort — we simply called them on their poor service.

The page admin also stated that they keep customer complaint posts on the page so that they can be held accountable and show their good service in resolving the issues. All posts regarding Katharine’s problem have been deleted. AND… all of my colleagues and I have been blocked from posting on that page. Even Katharine, a current customer.

I understand the concept of damage control, and I acknowledge a Facebook page owner’s right to control content. However, I also understand the power of public relations and of social media. Their choices today could be a textbook lesson in how NOT to manage customer complaints. By now, hundreds of people know about their idiocy instead of just Katharine, because of their decision to restrict valid criticism on an online forum.

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Apple iBooks Author EULA update

After all the hue and cry over Apple’s vague and alarming EULA for its iBooks Author product, Apple’s lawyers got smart and amended the provisions to clarify what exactly they were trying to wall off in their garden:

(ii) if the work is provided for a fee (including as part of any subscription-based product or service) and includes files in the .ibooks format generated using iBooks Author, the work may only be distributed through Apple, and such distribution will be subject to a separate written agreement with Apple (or an Apple affiliate or subsidiary); provided, however, that this restriction will not apply to the content of the work when distributed in a form that does not include files in the .ibooks format generated using iBooks Author. You retain all your rights in the content of your works, and you may distribute such content by any means when it does not include files in the .ibooks format generated by iBooks Author.

So, Apple wants to control distribution of .ibooks files, not the content. Fair enough.

The iBooks Author EULA wasn’t so much evil as lacking in foresight. Good on Apple for relatively quickly fixing that.

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It’s Chilly Out There

SOPA and PIPA have been all over the news lately, and for good reason. Numerous commentaries and protest actions finally made it clear to Congress that these bills were poorly written with overly broad powers destined to have a chilling effect on otherwise legal activities.

In more recent news, Apple released its new iBooks Author product, heralded (by Apple) as a new world of textbook publishing. It looks like a typically nice Apple product, with an easy user interface and functionality. It ties in with the expanding ebook market as well as the very strong iPad market.

But as some have pointed out, there are worrisome sections in the EULA.  One section says that if you create a work on iBooks and want to charge a fee for access, you have to have a separate contract with Apple, and that work may only be sold and distributed via the iBookstore. Seems a little greedy, but Apple wants to control its own publishing environment and isn’t in the business of free/open source distribution models, so I can let that pass despite my dislike for DRM.

I have a big problem with one small sentence in the agreement: “Apple may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion not to select your Work for distribution.”

So, your work could theoretically never be published if Apple doesn’t like it.

And, of course, “Apple will not be responsible for any costs, expenses, damages, losses (including without limitation lost business opportunities or lost profits) or other liabilities you may incur as a result of your use of this Apple Software, including without limitation the fact that your Work may not be selected for distribution by Apple.”

You create something, Apple decides (based on what, I’m not sure) that it doesn’t want to distribute your work, and POOF, all your time and product go down the proverbial drain. Unlike a traditional publishing process, you can’t go to a different publisher/distributor, or even self-publish it. It’s locked away forever.

Some point out that iBooks Author files can be exported as .txt or .pdf files, which would then be free for distribution elsewhere. I am unsure that the EULA defines “Work” clearly enough to confirm that, especially as a PDF would still include all the “proprietary” layout. Apple’s own description of the functionality states “Drag and drop a Pages or Microsoft Word document to the Book navigator to add it as a new section.” This implies to me that one could create a work externally to the software, import it, and that output would be subject to the EULA, but the original Word or other file would still be yours to do with as you see fit.

This lack of clarity, plus the fact that, evidently, the user doesn’t need to consciously accept such an agreement before using the software yet using the software itself binds you to the EULA, makes me mighty suspicious. Apple advertises this product as using “the industry-leading ePub digital book file type,” but what good is it to trumpet that functionality when you won’t allow cross-platform publishing anyway?

Generally, I like and use Apple products and platforms. But this seems a new low in their attempt to control users and products.

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Ceci N’est Pas un Synonym

Just beside the highway near my home is a large billboard for the Red Lion hotel chain that says “Count Less Sheep”. Every time I see it, I think, Damn, do advertising people not know the less/fewer rule?

This morning I was thinking about this rule. Is it that important, really? We all understand what the billboard means, just as we do at grocery stores that have “10 items or less” checkout lines. So who cares?

This is an age-old discussion among those who care about words and language: is it a slippery slope to poor grammar, or is it merely a reflection of the variable nature of language over time?

In this case, I would argue that the terms in question have different enough meanings to make the distinction important. Both are adjectives describing a decrease in amount, but with an important distinction. Less is used with mass nouns, where the exact amount cannot be quantified:

“We are getting less snow this winter than the average.” (We can measure snowfall, but in this sentence, snow is simply a substance, not a number of things.)

Fewer is used with count nouns, where we can quantify exactly:

“There have been fewer storms this winter than average.” (We can count how many storms have occurred.)

This morning I cast my mind for a similar example that is perhaps more tangible, because we use synonyms all the time with much less furor than when discussing less/fewer. (See what I did there? Ha!)

What about cupcakes vs. muffins? They’re both sweet baked items, often made in the same kind of pan and from almost identical recipes. They’re similar in size, and both typically are baked in paper wrappers.

On the other hand, cupcakes are always frosted and/or decorated, while muffins aren’t. Muffins are usually less sweet and served as a breakfast food or snack, while cupcakes are definitely dessert.

So, cupcake and muffin aren’t synonyms, even though the words describe very similar items. I think less and fewer work the same way. I wouldn’t say “I think this cupcake needs fewer frosting,” nor would I say “I should have eaten less muffins this morning”.

Because both of those statements are just ridiculous. Cupcakes can always use more frosting, sheesh.

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Cranky Editors, Irritated Writers

Copy editors can be a cranky lot. We’re responsible for fixing, conforming, advising, querying… all in relation to so-called errors. We take something a writer has created and we change it, often according to rules that the writer didn’t request nor is aware of. We’re a middleman between the writer and the publisher, or the writer and the production manager, or the writer and the typesetter, or a combination thereof.

I would say copy editors definitely add value. Writers need not worry about house style, or formatting headings, or arcane rules of how to format bibliography entries and can simply focus on the content. On the other side, the production staff need not worry about these things either, because they have hired the copy editor to do so.

But there is another aspect of copy editing that often goes unheralded: communication. We are the “experts” in the aforementioned arcana, and we must be able to explain such things clearly and (here’s the kicker) kindly and respectfully.

Recently an author griped in a freelancers’ group on LinkedIn that she needed advice in “dealing with [a] nit-picking, unqualified editor”. Aside from the problems of blatant errors in judgment on the editor’s part, what struck me was the seemingly poor communication going on.

An example: “He doesn’t agree to any concessions and seems overly concerned with grammar and punctuation than content.” I hear this writer saying that she wants her editor to compromise, and to retain her authorial voice more than conform to style conventions. These are not unreasonable requests, and yet it appears that the editor is struggling to comply with his client’s needs.

From the reverse perspective, Carol Saller recently griped about writers who don’t listen to their editors. While she had tongue firmly planted in cheek, Saller’s complaints are obviously real: authors who neglect to read clearly written instructions, who submit massive changes at the last possible moment, or who seem to have read the editor’s instructions but then respond in unreasonably complex or difficult ways.

I’ll go back to those kicker words kindly and respectfully. I think writers and editors often feel that they are on opposing sides instead of being a team. They are interdependent, and thus would be better served working together collegially. Of course there are going to be bad apples, as my LinkedIn example shows. But I look on my editing expertise as something that should help the author, not hinder.

So, I sometimes go overboard to retain that team feeling. Respect for the author’s voice and expertise in his or her subject matter is paramount; I expect that same respect in return for my editorial expertise. Clear communication, at all stages of the process, is vital. Rather than overwhelm with technical jargon, can I just say “XYZ is part of your publisher’s style, therefore I have made ABC changes”?

Please and thank you go a long way. Thinking ahead of time what your teammate might need is a big help: neither an author nor an editor is necessarily able to respond to requests immediately, so we have to leave space in the production schedule for communication. I often work with authors who are university professors, so understanding what times of year are more hectic for academics comes in handy. When the author is my client, I make sure to ask up front how much editing he or she wants, so that we can avoid later conflicts like grammar vs. voice.

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