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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

My Copyediting Process Explained for Prospective Clients

When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing.
Enrique Jardiel Poncela
When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing and subsequent copyediting.
Enrique Jardiel Poncela (as added to by Denise Barker, freelance copy editor)

This post will answer the usual questions I get when an author is searching for a copy editor (the spelling and grammar police), which post I hope streamlines the usual flurry of e-mail exchanges between me and my prospective client at the beginning of our relationship.

Thank you all for considering me.

1. My Copyediting Duties: NOTE: These are my duties I've determined to carry out as a copy editor. I cannot confirm what other copy editors do. In other words, I go above and beyond the usual grammar and spelling edits. I follow my own creed, applied to each and every book I copyedit (as I do for those I create myself), called the Nine Cs of Effective Writing, as follows:
See my previous blog post (original version since amended) on this subject for further details here: http://livingthedreampublishing.blogspot.com/2015/12/the-eight-cs-of-effective-writing.html.

2. My Background: I've been a professional freelance copy editor for 8.5 years as of this writing, my first 5.5 years with Harlequin, overlapping my current work strictly with Indie authors. In my initial career, I was a legal assistant for decades to defense/trial attorneys and also some trademark/copyright/patent attorneys. So my former career needed the same skills that I utilize in my current career: my particular legal knowledge gained from reading the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure (and related Intellectual Property rules), my attention to detail, my innate spelling and grammar expertise, my firsthand knowledge of the 16CMS rules as to fiction works (from my reading of said 16CMS fiction rules) and where to find the needed nonfiction rules (regarding bibliography entries as versus endnotes and such) as well. I double-check myself against the 16CMS and Web11 regularly during a copyedit, especially 16CMS when coming up against some unique sentence construction created by an author. I've worked on more than four hundred copyediting projects to date, all timely returned.

3. My Request for Author's Pertinent Background Info: Should you send me an e-mail to inquire about my current availability or other copyediting-related matters, please attach a five-page writing sample from the book you wish to have copyedited, which sample must have some dialogue therein so I can adequately determine how "clean" your writing is (how well you know both grammar and spelling rules). Please also inform me as to whether this is your first book or your tenth or whatever, and include a short book description so I know the subject matter and genre. I appreciate those who follow these instructions, which streamlines the prospective client process.

4. My 2016 Copyediting Rate: My current rate for this year is $0.011/word count (based on the submission's actual WC as confirmed by Microsoft Word's own tally), which general 2016 fee is subject to some caveats that may raise my usual rate or will have me not taking on the project no matter how much you paid me. If the sample provided by the potential client shows every line of dialogue has multiple punctuation errors, I will bow out of copyediting that project, as I find it triples my time spent on such a book and generally makes me one grouchy woman. If the sample work shows massive grammar and spelling errors, I may undertake the copyediting job but will charge more than my usual going rate to pay me for the extended time involved. I also reserve the right to refuse to work on some projects that involve descriptive physical and verbal abuse of women and/or children and other such subject matters (yet murder is fine, as long as the bad guy gets caught. Go figure).

5. Microsoft Word (MSWord) Documents Only: I don't work on Mac docs.

6. My Preferred Author: I love working with prolific authors of various genres, all with a wonderful gift for storytelling and a better-than-average grasp of the US English grammar and spelling rules. While I will take on new or "newbie"-like authors at times, the vast majority of my clients are multipublished authors with a grand command of the US English language, who love my work and respect my abilities as a copy editor, and I love and enjoy their work and respect their abilities as great storytellers. We have formed a mutual admiration society of a sort. And I'd love to keep it that way as I bring in new clients.

In that vein, any professional author knows to spell-check his/her book before passing it along to anyone, be it beta readers, CP groups, much less an agent, a traditional-publishing acquisitions editor, a freelance developmental editor or a freelance copy editor or the like. Right? Right.

And any professional author knows not to watermark every page of his document with the words Copyright Protected or some other obvious restatement as to their Intellectual Property rights. If you know anything about copyright protection, you know you are covered (up to $5,000 I believe) the minute you type the document. Don't tell me about mailing a copy of said document to yourself. I'm so exhausted from refuting that nonsense. The Properties info on your MSWord doc predates any mailing to you of said doc. You could lose a court case just by going with the later date and the opposing side having an earlier one! Duh! Ask your IP attorney if you don't believe me.

Also, but please check with your copyright lawyer to be sure, you don't have to file a copyright application with the USP&TO to retain some (the up to $5,000 noted above) coverage. However, from my understanding, if you do file a copyright application, you can sue for more than the basic $5,000. The last time I checked, the USP&TO was charging $35 per application online. Visit uspto.gov for updated information. Just FYI.

On a final note, don't do what a newbie author did recently. Don't tell professional Indie authors or your professional copy editor that your rights are your own, like we don't already know that. OMG! That's one of the main selling points of being Indie, of going Indie over trad-pubbed. Not to mention such a statement shows the newbie has no knowledge of copyright law, plus just insulted the professional Indie authors, like any would stoop to steal the uninformed newbie's work to pass it off as their own. Sigh.

The newbie obviously doesn't know what Indie publishing means or entails, plus distrusts all-too-easily the very Indie authors whose group the newbie wishes to belong to. A newbie putting people on an instant defensive footing like that is a newbie with a very judgmental and highly biased mind-set, which is not the way to make friends or to endear the very writing professionals who could otherwise have greatly mentored said newbie to become a professional Indie author one day too. Rant over.

7. Getting Started: Once I discern the author's writing level from the sample submitted and learn the actual WC length of the doc to be copyedited by me, I can then give the author my proposed deadline for return of a Track Changes version of their original submission (based on any prepaid documents already in my queue, which will be worked before any additional projects come my way). Said deadline is contingent upon (1) full prepayment of my copyediting fees via PayPal being made immediately to hold the book's spot in my line, (2) that I actually received said funds in my special PayPal account (to be divulged later), said receipt confirmed via my subsequent issuance of my prepaid statement which notes the deadline date therein, (3) that the most recent author-approved version of the intended manuscript to be copyedited has a WC that matches the WC used to figure my full prepayment amount and (4) said author-approved latest version of the doc to be copyedited by me is sent on that same date as prepayment is made but to me via LivingTheDreamPublishing@gmail.com.

Should a payment not show up in my PayPal account at some point, I'll notify the author. Once that happens, the related deadline given is automatically rescinded. My business is very fluid. I can press Send on an e-mail to a prospective client and come back to my in-box to see my new e-mails include three 100K WC projects. All prepaid. So my prepayment-in-full rule holds a spot in my line, based on the time of arrival on that day, if need be. If you pay later, you may get a deadline one month later, which is usually the outer limits of any of my deadlines.

Only three times in the last 8.5 years did I have so much work that I didn't think I could return all in thirty days. So, when I get a 300K WC project (or know one is coming down the pike), I block off a four-week period to accommodate such a huge undertaking, and I'll adjust my new deadlines accordingly, with an explanation as to why I've exceeded my generic "within a month" turnaround time. I've actually returned some TC docs to their authors in as few as five days' time. It just matters how backed up my queue is and the length of said docs.

I do build in some buffer time within all my deadlines to accommodate for electrical outages or me getting sick or other such "surprise" events. Also, with each project I turn in, I notify the remaining authors in my queue at that time of such movement in my queue and if it allowed for their deadline to be moved earlier. That way all authors awaiting a TC doc from me are updated as to any new and improved deadline related to his/her manuscript.

NOTE: This freelance copyediting business seems to have a lull at the end of each year, whether October through December fully or just one of those months (I can't forecast which unfortunately). So keep that in mind.

8. FULL Prepayment Required (nonnegotiable): Since I charge by the WC, the author can easily multiply $0.011/WC x the actual WC of their submission (confirmed by MSWord's own tally) to arrive at my total copyediting fee due, and the author can then pay me in full ASAP via my particular PayPal account. If there is any payment discrepancy (based on MSWord's actual tally of WC on the original doc I receive from the client), I'll either return the overage paid or ask for the balance due before any work can commence on that related project. If the balance due arrives after I've gotten full prepayment of other projects, then the late-paying client's deadline is pushed back to a later date, and I will notify said author of same.

I work on a first-come, first-served basis based on full prepayment made to AND RECEIVED BY my PayPal account (as to time and date, if need be to distinguish a pecking order). I have a specific PayPal business account (not tied to any of my current e-mail addresses) that I will share with any prospective client who wishes to prepay and reserve their slot and related deadline.

9. My US Guidelines: The accepted US guidelines for fiction and layman's nonfiction alike are The Chicago Manual of Style, Sixteenth Edition (16CMS), for grammar rules, and Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition (Web11), for spelling rules (when not overridden by 16CMS 7.85), both sources being the latest editions of each guide and released in this century. These are the only guidelines that US authors of both fiction and nonfiction should go by (unless a medical white paper, that should follow the AMA guidelines, etc.). Beware of any (grammatically challenged and misinformed) persons who state "but everybody knows the rule is ..." if not reciting the specific 16CMS rule or the Web11 preferred spelling or when citing some obscure reference from a book published in another century (or valid for another country, like whatever grammar style guide is used in New Zealand, for instance).

See my previous blog post where I rant about false grammar rules bandied about. Click here: http://livingthedreampublishing.blogspot.com/2016/08/dont-propagate-false-grammar-rules-and_24.html.

Granted, there are other US manuals for newspaper/magazine articles (AP guidelines), for medical articles aka white papers (AMA guidelines), another for Christian writings, etc. Also there are other manuals per each country of a foreign author's residence and for publication therein. But for US authors of both fiction and nonfiction overall (with exceptions for certain "publish or perish" academic "white papers"), the 16CMS and Web11 are the rules to go by. Don't let anybody tell you differently.

10. Microsoft Word Track Changes: I use MSWord's Track Changes (TC) software to electronically mark digital copies of each manuscript I copyedit. If you are not familiar with the ins and outs of Track Changes, visit this site https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUf-IxzXyVk and others like it.

When I return a TC doc to a client, they will see many comments citing 16CMS 7.85 or 16CMS 9.2 and other various and sundry grammar rules, plus some notations of Web11 and Web11 pref. sp. (Web11 preferred spelling) comments where needed. For the author with an average knowledge of the US grammar and spelling rules, I usually find errors totaling 10 percent of the original document's word count. In other words, in average projects, for each 50K WC, I easily find 5K errors, as noted within TC's Reviewing Pane.

I have three stellar authors (out of the more than three hundred different authors I have had the pleasure to work with) who are so knowledgeable as to US grammar and spelling rules that their books fall below this usual 10 percent error ratio. Impressive. And that's from a copy editor's viewpoint, so I mean this is highly impressive and rarely found. Kudos to you three, who I have already shared this awesome finding with.

11. My Process: My heart is all for the Indie author, as I am one too. And I want to show readers, traditional publishers and trad-pubbed authors alike that Indie authors can publish a well-edited book, just like the trad-pubbed authors supposedly do better. However, I'm always finding numerous typos (like twenty or more) in trad-pubbed books I read in my downtime, and each time I send a list of same to the respective publishing houses to hopefully fix them on the next reprint.

For my Indie-author clients, I do two complete read-throughs of each copyediting document to catch as many errors as humanly possible. On my first pass, I'm clearing out all the grammar and spelling issues to make way for a more "whole picture" pass the second time, wherein I find plot holes that some developmental editors have missed, where I find legal issues that could burn the author and where I give them my pat suggestion to "see your lawyer" (as I am not a lawyer. I just used to work for them). I also give writing advice about myriad things, such as utilizing more white space to keep the reader moving forward by cutting down your long paragraphs into smaller ones, especially when thinking of a reader using his/her cell phone screen as an e-reader.

I may also give layman's marketing advice to the extent I know of any, as I am not a marketing guru by any measure. Hire your own publicist for those matters. I may also do some layman's formatting, but I tell my authors to consult their professional formatter, who does all the HTML coding and whatnot that I do not do. Note that Amazon requires a table of contents even for fiction books. So your professional formatter may set that up for you if you haven't already done so in your novel.

I explain certain edits made within the manuscript in a TC Comment as to the rule applied at the first change, not every time the same rule is violated thereafter. Some edits require no explanation, like changing "there" to "their." If I notice an author has a particular "blind spot," I'll point it out as a learning tip in another TC Comment, so the author can apply this new knowledge to future books created. So I teach grammar rules and weird spelling issues, and hope some authors take it to heart and use it toward clearer communication next time around. I make every effort to spell out any issues in the Comments section of TC. However, if the author still does not understand a point or two, I'm willing to answer a couple e-mails of questions after the work is turned in. But this rarely happens.

12. On or Before My Stated Deadline: I will return the TC doc to the respective author usually before the deadline date I gave when I was first hired to work on said project. In fact I return 99 percent of my projects early (before the stated due date) and only the rare 1 percent of my projects are turned in on the actual due date. I have never missed a copyediting deadline in all 8.5 years I've been doing this. I have never missed an attorney-related/trial deadline in all the decades I worked for them either.

The TC doc will, of course, contain thousands of detailed edits and comments for the author to review and Accept/Reject. For my new clients, I provide a cover letter, which basically sets forth the info found here, along with a very general overview of the work I did for said author, noting where most of my time was spent (those "blind spots" I mentioned earlier) and other general issues. I will also remind the author in my e-mail sending these documents how I already sent my prepaid statement for services to said author on a particular date, at the time the PayPal funds reached my specified PayPal account.

13. What I Don't Do: I don't work in person with anybody, anywhere. My workplace must be distraction-free for me to do my best job. As noted earlier above, I don't do professional formatting, but see my layman's formatting post here: http://livingthedreampublishing.blogspot.com/2016/08/a-laymans-basic-microsoft-word.html. I don't do professional publicity work; hire your own publicist. I'm no lawyer; contact one of your choosing. I'm not a marketing guru either, nor will I design your cover nor create your online book description (but will happily copyedit same, if you provide me with one).

I'm also not your virtual assistant. Meaning, if I tell you that I have an opening to squeeze you in on October 21, 2016, don't ask me three more times to tell you what date it was again. Hire a personal assistant or a virtual assistant or the teenager down the street to keep track of that stuff, or simply buy yourself a physical calendar and handwrite in the reserved date the first time I tell you this via e-mail. We're adults, folks. We each have our own responsibilities. And this one is not mine.

I don't give out my prepaid phone number for obvious reasons. I may charge for extraneous e-mails to capture my time in the form of a hourly wage (currently $35/hour). I don't do contracts, especially one-sided abominations. And the two people who asked me to sign a contract had trust issues based upon someone's actions earlier in their life, but for which I seemed to be the one to pay for such indiscretions. That insults me to no end as I refuse to be lumped in with the untrustworthy thieving cads in this universe. I also refuse (but with much less venom) to be lumped in with the generic label of "all women love to shop at the mall." I'm an individual and should be respected for who I am. So don't even ask me to review a contract, much less create one. I'll mark your e-mail as Sp*m in a nanosecond. I've wasted days in that fruitless and maddening endeavor and have exhausted my patience for dealing with it. Forever. I hope those two found copy editors better suited for them.

14. The Freelancing Entrepreneur versus the Indie Author Who Copyedits: When I'm wearing my businesswoman's hat, I am endeavoring to run a successful business (without burning the clients, but also without any client with an excessive e-mail habit cutting into my time for which I've been prepaid to work on other authors' manuscripts with the ticking time bomb of corresponding deadlines). So, as I get more clients, I do need to reduce wasted time and capture some otherwise unpaid time of mine and turn it into revenue-producing time. The bigger the tribe, the more need for rules, right? Plus, I am a copy editor. I'm all about concise and efficient communication (on both the receiving and sending ends).

Now, as the freelance copy editor who has a real heart for the Indie author, I'm frank but tactful when needed; I share my knowledge of various matters to help each author understand the underlying tenets applied, if only to make sense of our sometimes confusing US English language. As an author myself, I know how criticism can sting, so I'm very careful how I broach any suggestion to my clients. I never want to discourage any author at any time. Therefore, as an entrepreneur, I may seem impatient at times, yet I am extrapatient when handling copyediting changes with clients. I hope you can appreciate the difference.

Thanks again for considering me as your future copy editor. Regardless of your decision, I hope you find the best copy editor for you. db

"If your vocation isn’t a vacation, then quit, leap, change careers."

Denise Barker, Author, Blogger, Copy Editor
Books that Build Character(s)

What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies inside of you. Ralph Waldo Emerson
When you give someone a book, you don’t give him just paper, ink, and glue.  You give him the possibility of a whole new life. Christopher Morley
The best inheritance you can leave your kids is an example of how to live a full and meaningful life. Dan Zadra

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