Make a Plan

What happens to your projects if you’re incapacitated? Who will notify your clients, and how will they find the necessary information?

We like to think that we are invincible, but there may come a time when you are seriously ill or injured — or worse — and unable to take care of business. While of course your health is the priority, it’s also a good idea to have some plans in place so that a trusted family member or friend can jump in and notify your clients.

The system I’ve developed for this has three parts:

  1. My master spreadsheet, which lists all of my projects this year and indicates which are past, current, and upcoming.
  2. My client reference manual, which lists contact information for all of my clients.
  3. My computer desktop, which has aliases to the folders for all of my current projects and to my master spreadsheet.

Written instructions in a safe place that my trusted people know about tell them how to get into my computer; where to find the spreadsheet, files, and client reference manual; and what to do with all that information. In short:

  1. Check the spreadsheet and get the project name and contact name for each current and upcoming project.
  2. Look up the contact information for each contact in the client reference manual, and then email or call them to tell them what the situation is.
  3. For current projects, which will have at least something done on them already, zip the project folder in its entirety and email it to the contact.
  4. If a current project shows that a payment has been received already, check my task manager to see where in the process the project was and refund if needed.
  5. If the situation is dire, notify every recent contact in my client reference manual (I cut off “recent” at three years).

There are additional considerations if someone is shutting down your business entirely on your behalf, but I think this is a good system for triaging your business and letting you focus on recovery.

Have you made contingency plans for your projects if something happens to you? Does your plan have any special steps? Share in the comments below!

Leave a note in the comments. (ALL comments are moderated, because OMG the link spam, and the spammers are getting more clever with their legitimate-sounding first posts, so please be patient if your comment doesn’t show up right away.)

Build a client reference manual

Meet my client reference manual.

Despite the photo, the majority of my client reference information now lives on my computer in Evernote; I keep the binder only for stylesheets and memos that originally came in hardcopy only. One of these days, in all my spare time, I may opt to scan it all. Or not.

What’s in my client reference manual?

  • Copies of client style sheets
  • Client preferences, institutional and personal (e.g., publisher A wants manuscript page numbers noted on proof pages; PM1 requires PDF correx be done with stamps; it’s fine to use PDF commenting tools on proofs from PM2)
  • Client rates
  • Records of any discussions we’ve had about potential projects, including rates quoted and the formulas I used to figure it
  • Client policies (publisher B requires all proper names be checked in both copyediting and proofreading)
  • Invoicing procedures and payment time frames (publisher C requires use of their invoice form; publisher D always pays in 8–10 weeks, regardless of due date on invoice; publisher E shuts down invoice processing for the entire month of July, so invoices submitted from May 20 through the end of July won’t be processed until August [yes, I actually have a client that does that!])
  • Personal notes about individuals (not creepy, but something like “PM3 doesn’t like chocolate” so that I don’t send that person a chocolate bar as a holiday gift)
  • Records of any trouble with a particular client (late payment, tendency to ignore instructions and/or boundaries, etc.)

Having this reference allows me to keep all of my information about clients in one place. I also track information on potential clients; you never know when someone will circle back and want to work with you later, after a first project didn’t come together. (It’s happened to me three times this year.) Having the information on the original quote lets me quickly generate a quote for a new project without having to start at square one again.

I’d love to know: Do you track this kind of information for your clients? If you do, how do you organize it?

Leave a note in the comments. (ALL comments are moderated, because OMG the link spam, and the spammers are getting more clever with their legitimate-sounding first posts, so please be patient if your comment doesn’t show up right away.)

Managing tasks

My job as a self-employed editor means keeping track of dozens — sometimes hundreds — of discrete tasks for each project. And at any given time, I typically have three to five projects on my desk at the same time, sometimes up to ten in various stage of completion.
How do I keep track of it all?
The cornerstone of my system is a detailed checklist for each project. I wrangle those to-do lists with a program called Things, but the same principles apply no matter what program you use, whether it’s a dedicated to-do program or a word processor, or even if you make checklists on paper.
These project checklists contain every single little thing I have to do for each project. Everything.
I break tasks into groups, put them in the order they need to be completed, and assign a date to each one. That date may end up shifting a bit, but it gives me a starting point for looking at what needs to get done when.
Because I do a lot of similar projects for the same clients, I’ve created master checklist templates for each type of project from each client. These contain all the possible things I might need to do for that project.
When a new project comes in, I duplicate the relevant template, fill in the project information, and add/remove/adjust tasks as needed.
For example, here’s a task list for a proofreading project:
  • confirm receipt
  • add to master project sheet (this is a spreadsheet where I keep track of all of my projects: word count, ISBN, etc.)
  • schedule
  • check pagination
  • check RHs
  • check alignment
  • check TOC
  • check chapter titles in notes
  • check all chapters present, in order, and treated the same
  • check alphabetization of references
  • check alphabetization of glossary
  • check all notes present and in order
  • print note-checking sheets (I have a particular way of making sure all notes are accounted for; I’ll write about that another time)


  • FM
  • chapter 1 (and so on, through to the last chapter)
  • BM
  • crossmarking (incorporate author changes)
  • check for BBs and stacks
  • final flip-through

Wrap up:

  • finalize stylesheet, if necessary
  • invoice
  • return
  • finalize master project sheet
Because my projects are usually book projects and I usually break those down by chapter, I’ve populated my templates with a large set of chapter numbers. I simply delete the ones I don’t need. This is a huge time saver, since I don’t have to type out chapter numbers every time I get a new project in.
(I do get a good chunk of popular fiction to work on, and those tend to have a ton of super-short chapters. For those, I create clusters of three or five chapters in one checklist item. I’m not that much of a micromanager.😊)
Trusting and following the checklist is the key to making sure tasks don’t fall through the cracks.
I’ll talk next time about how I manage the bigger picture.

The Envelope of Destruction

The Envelope of Destruction is a filing hack I have been using for a number of years. The premise is simple: if you have to hang on to a piece of paper for a while, but not forever, stick it in the Envelope of Destruction. It will be there if you need it, but otherwise, it will automatically self-destruct (well, kind of) in one year.

It’s like a tickler file, but for your shredder.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Get a letter-sized 12-month file from the office supply store. Although I try to avoid plastic in my office for environmental and aesthetic reasons, this is one place where I prefer plastic, because it can stand up to manhandling better than the paper ones. Plus, I found one with a pretty design on it.
  2. If the compartments aren’t already labeled, label them: one for each month. In my experience, I have found that the kind of labels that slide into the slot don’t stay put very well, so you might want to use sticky labels on the tabs instead or at least fold a little tape around the open part of the tab to prevent sliding.
  3. Label the folder. “Envelope of Destruction” appeals to me, but you may want to choose another label, like “Purgatory” or “Holding” or “Toss Me” or whatever. The contrast of the skull and crossbones with the floral print on my envelope makes me happy — and my office is all about happy over utilitarian.
  4. Put it to use. When you get some slip of paper you might need to refer to again sometime in the next year, but don’t need to keep forever, stick it in the slot for the current month.
  5. Set up a task for the first day of every month to empty your Envelope of Destruction for that month and send the contents through the shredder. Obviously, you won’t have anything to empty for the first year you use this system, but after then, it’s a monthly thing.

What goes in the Envelope of Destruction?

  • Checks you mobile deposited.
  • Paper purchase orders clients insist on mailing to you (rather than simply giving you the relevant number in an email).
  • Mailing and courier tracking receipts for items you sent to clients.
  • Your time-tracking sheets, if you keep track of your time on paper.
  • Notes you’ve scribbled about projects that you might need to go back to.

Why go to all the trouble?

It makes a nice little system for dealing with ephemeral paper.

You don’t have to sort through files later and decide what to keep and what to toss; you’ve presorted the things that need to be tossed into a system that ensures they won’t get fossilized in your filing cabinet.

It ensures things won’t get tossed before their time, so they’re there on the off chance you need to refer to them. For example: when you’re so busy for a few months that you neglect to balance your business checkbook, it’s easy to find the October check that didn’t get deposited after all because your bank’s app developer put the cancel button to close to the accept button, so that you can deposit it for real this time.*

But I only need to keep the checks I’ve mobile deposited for four months. Why not file it four months ahead? Why keep it for a full year?

You could. But then you’re using brainpower to remember that it’s four months, not three, not four, not six, and you have to calculate that. Oh, this is April, so four months from now is May, June, July, aha August! Just stick it in the current month slot and don’t worry about it. It doesn’t matter that you keep it a little longer than you have to. Make systems as easy on your brain as you can.

You also don’t have to remember two months from now when you go to look for it that it’s a four-month thing and you’ll find it in August — just look for it in the slot for April, the month when you deposited it.

If you have other examples of things to stick in the Envelope of Destruction, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

*Ask Me How I KnowTM

Curiosity killed my morning

The post below is an expansion and clarification of a post I made on my personal Facebook account yesterday. I zipped that one off in about 45 minutes, and parts of it were not as clear as they could have been and not well explained, so I thought I should take a little more time to gather my thoughts and clean up the post.

I’m involved in a number of social media and email groups for editors and authors, and when the news  hit two weeks ago that Alec Baldwin was complaining about errors in his memoir Nevertheless, my corner of the innertubes was all abuzz. The editors came down mostly on the side of He must not have checked his page proofs and Authors! They have no idea what an error is. The authors were pretty much screaming Those horrible editors! That negligent publisher!

Yesterday, just as I was getting ready to leave to run some errands, a fellow editor shared Baldwin’s post with the long list of errors. All editors have nightmares about missing something crucial in a book, and this multi-page list is the stuff of which nightmares are made. And we all also hear about “errors” that aren’t actually errors at all, but differences in style or changes made for grammar or clarity. The list of errors is longer than I would expect for a high-profile book of that length (272 pages) and contained a few doozies. Could a major publisher really let so many errors slip through on a high-profile book like this one?

Out of professional curiosity (and love of a good trainwreck), when I picked up my reserve from the library, I swung by the new books section. Angels sang and luck shined upon me: there was a copy on the shelf.

When I returned home, I took a short break from making sure the verbs agreed with the subjects in my current copyediting project and got out my reading glasses, prepared for a juicy hour or so figuring out who was to blame here.

Spoiler alert: It’s (mostly) not the editor(s)/publisher.

Nearly half of the “errors” he lists don’t appear in the book at all. Of the remainder, about a third are style calls, not outright errors. One is not an error at all. There are indeed a few errors — about the number I would expect in a first printing — but only two of those shift the meaning of the original. And that last one of those, at the very end of the book? Yeah, someone should have caught that.

Life tip: Before you go off on your editor and publisher and make an ass of yourself, you should probably check to make sure that things you’re calling mistakes are actually mistakes.

My best guess is that he was working from an advance reader copy (ARC) and didn’t realize that it wasn’t the final version of the book. ARCs are bound galley proofs that publishers put out before the production process is complete to build buzz about a book and send out to reviewers. They are usually made from the post-edited but pre-proofread pages, although I have heard of some being made from pre-edited pages. ARCs will contain errors. An ARC usually (but not always) is well-marked as such and often contains a notice in the front pages of the book that it is a pre-publication copy and not the final text.

BUT, even if all those errors did appear in the final book, authors are responsible for reviewing and approving their proofs. Editors and proofreaders can be miracle workers, but we are not infallible. (Hell, I just had to look something up in the copyedited manuscript of the first book in the series for a project I’m working on now, and something I missed jumped right out at me. I hope the proofreader caught it.)

I don’t have access to the versions of the manuscript used in the production of the book, so I can’t comment on the state of the manuscript to begin with, and I’m not going to hazard a guess. I’ve worked on several high-profile books like this one, and famous people are Just Like Us, as they say in the celebrity magazines: Some are great writers, and some are… not so much (no, I don’t edit and tell). A handful of misses in the final product is not unreasonable, and if the manuscript needed heavy editing, perhaps even downright miraculous (but I have no way of knowing if that’s the case here). People often like to focus on the two misses, rather than celebrating the four thousand catches the editor makes and the couple dozen the proofreader makes.

Errors that are actual errors could have been in there to begin with, and the editor, author, and proofreader all missed them.

The editor could have caught them and queried them (I’m thinking especially of the two errors that changed the intended meaning), and the query could have been ignored or not answered clearly.

The original could have been correct, and the editor could have introduced errors that the author didn’t stet in manuscript review.

Sometimes things go awry in accepting and rejecting tracked changes (and a few of these have that feel to them); if the manuscript wasn’t locked, the author could have screwed that up, or whoever did the post-editing cleanup (whether copyeditor or production coordinator or intern) could have screwed it up.

The point is that there are any number of places where errors could have been introduced/missed.

So, on to the list. I’ve reproduced Baldwin’s post here, including the introductory paragraphs for context, with my response to each item below. His words show with a line next to them. Note that I have no association with this book, Baldwin, or the publisher, HarperCollins. (Although: Hey there, HarperCollins, if you’re out there reading. I’m a good editor, and I’m always looking to add new clients to my roster. Check out the rest of my site and get in touch.)

Needs further exploration indicates errors/changes/differences of wording that may have originated in the original or in the edit; there’s no way to tell why there’s a discrepancy without viewing the manuscript chain, which I (obviously) don’t have access to.

As I reported earlier, at the launch of my book, I found that the publishers (HarperCollins) had left intact numerous typos and editorial omissions when the book went to print. I would like to offer this index of corrections merely for the sake of presenting my book to you as I had originally wanted.

Many of these gaps were discovered during the recording of the audio book. Therefore, my thanks to Robert Kessler who produced the audio book of NEVERTHELESS for helping me compile the list below while we were working together.

vii: I’d hide away BEHIND ivy walls…

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

viii: Opportunities arrived to appreciate LIFE’S beauty, mysteries…

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

viii: And try to become immortal, like MARILYN Monroe…

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

9: Our Winter Games were limited by topography (cut “here”)

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

9: One winter you are building A snowman…

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

9: The driver gets out and BANG! You hit him.

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

9: …extra second for Maynard or Sauer to gain another step, you hang in. He comes at you like the Pittsburgh defense…

Needs further exploration: The final printed book reads (more text added for context): Imagine a car drives by and you hit it with a snowball. The driver gets out and BANG! You hit him. The driver spots you through the fence and he charges after you. But like Namath in the pocket, waiting that extra second for Maynard or Sauer to gain another step, you hang in. You go at them like the Pittsburgh defense, and BANG! You fire again.

The difference here does change the meaning, and if I had been the editor and wanted to make that change, I would have queried it. A sports-minded editor would have questioned it if it appeared as it does in the book, since the snowball throwers are obviously the offense here and the driver is the defense. An editor who doesn’t know anything about sports likely would have glossed right over it.

9: The skitcher would get down low and scurry in behind the car…

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

12: On our TV, the Late Show broadcast MOVIES LIKE How Green Was My Valley…

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

18: The bank threatened to GARNISHEE his salary to collect.

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

26: However, in the meantime, my lonely, virtually homebound mother ONLY required that I join her on a trip to the lau[n]dromat…

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this, complete with the n in laundromat that was missing from his “correction.”

26: …forging an emotionally incestuous bond that pulled ME, or at least attempted to…

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

26: I could say that it was puberty that stifled my memory. [Cut “the fog of”]

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

33: STEVE wanted to get this work over with as fast as possible…

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

33: So he’d drive us to a house, WE’D leap out of the trailer…

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

34: I began to wonder, had I not bothered to suit up, would they even have noticed.

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

35: THUS, he came down on me hard.

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

35: I assumed they must have a washer/dryer at military school, so I pondered… [Cut “though”]

Nonexistent: The final printed book says exactly this.

41: I planned to go to law school eventually, because I was most comfortable with WORDS and I suppose…

Style call: The final printed book says texts instead of words. While it is a difference, it’s not an outright error.

42: At that point… [Air Force should be capitalized] –> Also further down: I thought about how I would gladly give years of my life to the Air Force [capitalize]

Style call: The Chicago Manual of Style (which is used for most mainstream book publishing) governs capitalization of such terms in 8.111: “Words such as army and navy are lowercased when standing alone, when used collectively in the plural, or when not part of an official title.” If an author absolutely insists that air force be capitalized, I’d let it go, but this is not wrong.

47: I had taken an “Acting… where I performed scenes FROM Cat on a Hot Tin…

Style call: The final printed book has for instead of from. Scenes from is the more usual expression of this, but scenes for is not outright wrong.

49: They were around fifteen in number… from The Treasure of THE Sierra Madre.

Fact-checking error: I don’t know where that responsibility lies in the HarperCollins ecosystem. Most of my clients have me do basic fact-checking like this as part of copyediting, but others leave that responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the author. (Do any book publishers employ in-house fact-checkers anymore?)

55: During the summer of 1980 [not 1979]

Needs further exploration: If he intended that to be 1980, yes, that’s an error, but it’s only an editing error if it was changed from what was in the original and there was no context for making that change.

55: … where I rolled the most famous lines of the greatest playwrights AROUND in my mouth.

Actual error. It makes no sense without around.

76: And the movie I was shooting while staying in that hotel hardly measured up to the artistic standard that Tuck HAD spent his life pursuing.

Style call: Tuck is still alive, and you can argue that presumably he is still pursuing an artistic standard and the past perfect is not necessary.

93 – up 11 “Manipulating their public relations was a large order of business.” Changed to “Manipulating their public relations was a large order of business for the cast of Knotts.”

Needs further exploration: Yes, the second makes more sense here — but with the correct spelling: Knots. Without the context of for the cast of Knots, the sentence just kind of hangs out there, and you wonder what it applies to. But only an error if an editor actually took that wording out.

{These next four “changed to” items are a little hard to parse. In all cases, the original is what appears in the book; it was not changed to the second thing. I’m thinking that maybe these are notes of what was changed for the audio book and the “changed to” part is what should have been in the book, so that’s how I’m going to read them.}

111 – down 3 – “…and the choices you make for your character are only matter if they are revealed to the camera.” Changed to “…and the choices you make for your character only matter if they are revealed to the camera.”

Actual error: But it’s a different error than noted here; the are is not extraneous but misplaced, and it should appear earlier in the sentence with a serial comma following: How you have prepared, how you look, how truthful you ARE, and the choices you make for your character only matter if they are revealed to the camera. And I’m one of those sticklers for only placement; I probably would have changed it to matter only. (This is one of those that strikes me as a possible error in accepting/rejecting tracked changes, or perhaps just a cut/paste misaim on the paste.)

119 – General note. – Alec mentioned that it seemed like some of the backstory behind the “Calling Barney Keith Richards” joke was cut from the book. He expressed that this backstory was necessary to further set up the joke of him writing “Keith Richards” in place of Barney’s his name. Therefore, add to that Barney was heavily medicated during the rehearsal period due to his injury.

Needs further exploration: This is not an error unless the editor struck it out without querying. There’s also the possibility of a legal review decision here, since it seems to be talking about a third party under the influence. All high-profile books go through legal review for potential problems — especially memoirs for libel. As an editor, I would have flagged this kind of thing for legal review. And I don’t think the joke is completely lost without it. It might not be as crystal clear, but I think a reasonable person could make that leap from falling twice to “Keith Richards” and see what he was implying.

15[2] – up 4 – “Jake Bloom, who in addition to being an agent also one of Kim’s lawyers, told her…..” Changed to “Jake Bloom, who was also one of Kim’s lawyers, told her…”

Needs further exploration + actual error: A difference in wording, and the published version is missing a was. A quick glance at Google shows that he does make deals, too, although he’s not specifically listed as an agent. I haven’t read the book, other than the items in question here, and it doesn’t have an index, so I don’t know if he was earlier established as an agent in the book, in which case this could be a way of reminding the reader who this is. If the editor changed this without querying, it’s an error.

153 – up 6 – “Now, we all know what it feels like for the pretty girl in school to get everything she wants.” Changed to “Now, we all know what it feels like for the pretty girl in school who gets everything she wants.”

Needs further exploration: If the editor changed this, yes, it’s an error, because it changes the meaning of the sentence. Yes, the “changed to” version makes more sense, and the version in the book is a little muddy. But if I were editing this and it appeared the way it appears in the book, I’m not sure that I would have done anything to it, since it’s reported speech.

163: In a range of films from Golden Boy to THE Bridge on the River Kwai and Sabrina…

Style call: Initial articles on titles are often omitted for sentence flow. I probably would not have removed it here if it was there originally, but this is not an outright error.

165: He returned to the theater with some regularity, certainly [remove comma here], more than most at his level.

Style call: I wouldn’t add a comma there, but if the author had established a style that used a lot of commas after sentence adverbs like this, I probably wouldn’t delete it, either.

166: When I watched Cruise in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, I thought he had won THE Oscar.

Fact-checking error: Cruise has been nominated three times, but never won, so it wouldn’t be another Oscar. Again, where the fault lies depends on who is responsible for fact-checking.

190: I didn’t want TO ever [cut “to”] miss a shot to see Ireland because I was in Prague or Sydney.

Style call. Ever to appears in the book. While to ever is the more natural wording, ever to is not wrong.

241, 5 lines up, should read “…office should be held by someone inside…”. The words “held by” are missing.

Actual error.

255: (at the bottom)—“ Karajan” should be “von Karajan”

Not an error: Nope. Sorry, but Herbert von Karajan goes by Karajan. See the movie made about him, his own website, and numerous other references to him in respectable publications.

257: As an actor, you are called upon to make the public private. It should be: “make the private public.”

Actual error: And kind of a big one, since it’s a keystone sentence that sets up a Big Thought about acting in relation to life. Even if it appeared in the original as make the public private, someone should have caught and queried that, because it makes no sense in context. However, without the manuscripts to examine, there’s no way to know where that crept in. It’s entirely possible that the editor did query it, and the query was ignored.

Final tally: 37 “errors” in the list. If I did my addition correctly, here’s how they break down:

17 of them are imaginary: they don’t exist in the final printed book.

1 of them is not an error at all.

7 of them are style calls.

2 of them are fact-checking errors.

6 of them need further exploration to determine if they are editorial errors or author errors.

5 of them are actual editorial errors, things that should have been caught by an editor or proofreader.

(The breakdown totals to 38, because one was a “needs further exploration” that also contained actual editorial error.)

(And yes, I broke with conventional style in rendering those counts as numerals instead of spelling them out, but with a purpose. Good editors consider the context and make choices to serve the specific situation, rather than just slavishly following rules.)

The thing I find most intriguing about this whole situation is way people immediately leapt to conclusions when the errors were first announced and then listed. People took the list of “errors” at face value and drew their conclusions based on their own biases. The editor(s) and publisher are terrible, horrible people and negligent to boot. Traditional publishers don’t pay for quality editing/proofreading anymore. The author must have completely blown off checking his proofs. The author is calling things errors that aren’t actually errors.

The truth is more nuanced. Publishing is a complicated process with many moving parts. There are multiple opportunities for errors to slip by or creep in and for misunderstandings to occur. It’s a rare case when you can blame everything that goes wrong with a book on one particular person or thing. We’re all human, and we all make mistakes.

I can understand — to a degree — Baldwin’s panic at thinking he found so many errors in his published book. But the grown-up way to handle it is not to throw a public temper tantrum and say that your book’s editors were “too busy to do a proper and forensic edit of the material.”* You pick up the phone, call your editor, and ask them to check into what went on. In five minutes, you’ll have the beginnings of an answer (“The first six things on your list don’t appear in the book. Are you sure you’re looking at the final print version and not an ARC or other kind of proof copy?”). And then your editor could go on to check the rest of your list and resolve the rest of the items, noting the actual errors to fix in the second printing (if there is one) and paperback edition (if there is one). Voilà, and you haven’t made an ass of yourself in the meantime. 

*For the record, forensic in that sentence would get a query from me, if I were editing that: AUTHOR: Is forensic the word you really mean here? Forensic typically refers to debate or application of scientific knowledge, and doesn’t really apply to the editing process.

I’d love to know what you think:

  1. What was your first thought when you heard about this list? Did you assume they were the author’s errors, or the editor’s, or some mix, or something else?
  2. What level of errors is acceptable in your view? Are you an author, editor, or simply a reader? Do these kinds of errors affect your enjoyment of a book?

NOTE: Please refrain from personal attacks on Baldwin or his character; they’re not relevant here, and that’s not a conversation I want to foster in my web space. You are, however, allowed to call him an ass, as I have, for not verifying before tearing his editor(s) and publisher apart and throwing them under the bus.

Leave a note in the comments. (ALL comments are moderated, because OMG the link spam, and the spammers are getting more clever with their legitimate-sounding first posts, so please be patient if your comment doesn’t show up right away.)

Tame your email!

Photographer unknown, ca. 1880. US Postal Museum.

Email can be a nightmare. All those messages jammed into one inbox, all clamoring for attention and action like toddlers wanting to show you their latest trick. How do you sort out the ones that truly need attention from all the rest, the ones who jammed a marble up their nose versus the ones who want to show you the miracle that they can lick a piece of cheese and then eat it or can turn around in a complete circle without falling down?

The answer, my friends, is setting up a different email accounts for different purposes, then using some filters to sort those messages into different folders for different purposes.

A quick note: I am a Mac user who uses Apple’s Mail program. All modern stand-alone email programs that I am aware of can easily handle multiple accounts and filters; you just need to figure out how to do that within whatever mail program you’re using. If you use only a web interface for dealing with mail, you can still use separate accounts, but you’ll have to check them all individually. (Pssssst… That’s no fun. Try an actual email program.)

It’s easy to set up separate email accounts for different purposes, and I recommend setting up at least five: 

  1. a “good” business account for your clients
  2. a business account for email lists
  3. a business account for all other nonurgent business messages (order confirmations, etc.)
  4. a “good” personal account for your friends and family and important personal accounts (bank, etc.)
  5. a commercial mail account for promos, newsletters, noncritical memberships — all that completely nonurgent stuff that you probably don’t need/want to read very often, but want to have for the two times a year you buy something from retailer X because you know there’s a 40% discount code in there somewhere that you wouldn’t have if you didn’t get their emails

On the surface, it sounds like you’re making things more complicated this way (aren’t we trying to simplify?), but trust me, once you get this in place, your inbox will be a thing of beauty.

And if you need more, or different ones to suit your own purposes, have at it. As we say around here, People Vary.

Another quick note: The reason we’re setting up different email accounts instead of simply filtering everything is that the filters you set up in your desktop mail program will not work when you check your email on your phone or tablet. I typically don’t read email on my phone unless I’m out and about and it’s from one of my VIPs (I’ll talk about that in a minute), and when I do, I want to be able to see just the important stuff, not sludge. So I generally only look at the inboxes for accounts 1 and 4 when I’m checking on my phone or tablet.

Now the filters:

  • Set up a folder in your email system for each of your mailing lists, and change the address you use to subscribe those lists to your shiny new address. Most mailing lists automatically append a common prefix to the subject line of each message, so it’s easy to filter on that. For example, all of my Copyediting-L ( mail filters into a folder called CE-L. Bam! No list mail in my inbox.
  • Set up a folder called Nonurgent Business or some such, and filter anything addressed to account 3 to that.
  • Set up a folder called Commercial or some such, and filter anything addressed to account 5 to that.

And then the tricky part: getting the right addresses associated with the right entities. The way I handled getting the dreck out of my inbox was changing addresses with newsletters, promos, membership orgs, and all that as new mail came in. It took some time and effort over the course of a couple of months, but in the end it was worth it. Got a message from Bob’s World of Goat Cheese in your “good” inbox? Still want to hear from Bob? Click the link to change your email address (it’s usually at the bottom of the message) and do it. Some email list managers will only let you unsubscribe, then you have to jump through the hoops to resubscribe with the new address. (I’m sure they lose a lot of subscribers that way. I know I just went meh when confronted with that extra hoop more than a couple times and simply unsubscribed.)

Now, mailing list messages, nonurgent business stuff, and newsletters and the 16 sale messages Ann Taylor sends out every. single. day. will not even darken the door of your “good” inbox. They’ll live in their own folders, where you can view them at leisure, not when you’re trying to find that one message from a prospective client that you know is in there somewhere, but it’s buried under solo business promo newsletters poorly written in the third person and endless coupons for JoAnn, and you can’t quite remember the name, so search does you no good.

And when that Commercial Mail folder gets above a tolerable level of unread messages (because really, no one reads every promo message they get — who has time for that, Ann Taylor?), you can simply nuke the contents unread, if you’re brave, or you can sort by sender and skim before you nuke the messages, like me, because you know you left a receipt you need in there somewhere instead of immediately saving it as PDF and putting it in your receipts folder like a perfectly organized person would.

The remaining two accounts, your “good” business account and your “good” personal account, will naturally filter to the inbox, and your inbox should now contain only those “good” messages. Until the spammers find you, but that’s another post altogether.

Final step, if your mail program has the capability: Mark your active clients, your partner, and (probably) your mother as VIPs. In Apple Mail, that means that when I get a message from one of those people, I get a ding on my phone and a popup on my computer right away. I may not choose to act on that message right at that moment, but I know I have a message from someone important, and I can skim the first couple lines that show up in the notification to see if it’s something I need to deal with now. I can’t begin to count how many projects I’ve been awarded because I was able to see and respond to messages quickly. The VIP system allows me to limit checking my inbox to just a few times a day without missing anything important in between those times.

If you don’t have a similar capability in your mail program, you could set up a special VIP folder and filter mail from certain people to that as an alternative.

This setup will keep your main inbox fairly clean and actionable and get the fluff out of the way until you have time/desire to look at it.

Managing multiple projects

projectstackThe usual workload here at Pax Studio is anywhere from three to six projects at a time, in various stages of progress, although sometimes it’s less, and sometimes it’s more. How do I manage all that? Block scheduling and interweaving.

One of the first things I do as part of my project intake process is preliminary assessment and breakdown. This means taking a small amount of time — maybe half an hour, for most projects — to take a closer look at what is involved, verifying that all the pieces are there, and breaking it down into discrete tasks for my to-do list.

I’ll go into detail about my to-do system another time, but for now, all you need to know is that every little thing I need to do for each project is on that list.

Now, I don’t want to overwhelm myself by trying to shuffle eight million little to-dos around every single day, so I keep my detailed to-do list and my calendar as completely separate entities. I’m even old-school when it comes to my work calendar, and I use a Moleskine Weekly Notebook — I’m a visual person, and while I love my tech toys, I’ve found that when it comes to planning out my week, I need it on paper.

My calendar is nicely divided with one week on each spread, with all the days on the left of the spread and a blank page on the right. Project due dates are written on the calendar in a distinct color that I don’t use for anything else (green glitter gel pen is the current favorite, if you’re curious). I keep a very general to-do overview on the right page: finish this project, start that project, make serious progress on another project. That guides my week, keeping me aware on a macro level of what I need to accomplish for the week.

My project assessment tells me how much time I will need to get a project done, so I translate that into blocks on my calendar. I do not assign actual times to those blocks, although you might choose to do that for yourself, if you need the structure (9-11 a.m., project A chapters 1-4, or some such). I like a bit of flexibility in my day, so I leave it loose.

Here’s a real-life example of my current week.

On my plate:

  • project A: short proof, due Friday, just arrived, not started yet
  • project B: medium proof, due Friday, mostly done
  • project C: copyedit, due a week from tomorrow, mostly done with first pass
  • project D: long proof, due a week from Thursday, started but not very far in
  • project E: long proof, due two weeks from today, not started yet
  • project F: short proof, due Wednesday, just arrived, not started yet (this is for my short turnaround client)
  • write up letter of agreement for upcoming project

For the sake of keeping it simple, I’m leaving out the projects that were due today that I spent the morning wrapping up, returning, and cleaning up after.

So, I take a look at my calendar and see that the only things I have scheduled this week are book group Wednesday evening and a cookout Saturday. I’m going to need to make an extra trip to the store on Friday to get stuff for what I’m bringing to the cookout, so I make a note on Friday’s calendar to go to the store.

I also have a note that we may have a meeting at the bank this week, if all the stars and everyone’s calendars align, so I know to leave a little wiggle room for that, if it comes to pass.

I tend to look at my work in two-hour chunks. I may opt to spend all my chunks on one project, or I may spread them out over multiple projects. It just depends on what’s going on that day. I’ve been doing this for a long time, so I no longer feel the need to write time allocations next to each thing, but if you’re just starting out, you might find it helpful to note them; for example: project A (2 hours), project B (4 hours), or whatever you need to make it work for you.

The plan:

Monday afternoon:

  • bang out that letter of agreement (easy thing to get off my plate)
  • finish main part of project B


  • complete project F
  • complete project A
  • finish first pass on project C


  • work on project D


  • work on project D
  • wrap up final bits of project B and return it


  • readthrough & final correx on project C
  • (don’t forget to go to the store)

Project E still has plenty of time in the schedule and there’s not much else on my plate next week, so I’m not going to worry about it at all this week. If it were a copyedit, I might opt to work half days Wednesday and Thursday on D and then E, but they are both fiction proofreads, and I’ve found that it’s better for me keeping everything straight to not interweave two similar-ish projects.

I can look at this week’s macro to-do list and see that I have no time to add anything else, so if someone comes at me with a rush project they need back this week or early next, I know to say no.

Next week’s macro to-do list consists of finishing project D, then starting and getting a good way toward finishing project E. I know, based on the time I estimated these projects would take, that next week will be a pretty full week, but there is enough time in there to squeeze something else in there if I need to. I don’t worry about looking at scheduling it out by day until the beginning of that week.

This system helps keep me organized and on track.

I’d love to know:

  • When you have more than one project on your desk, do you work on them in sequence, or do you interweave them?
  • Team Electronic, Team Paper —or Team Combo?
  • Do you have a favorite paper planner?

Leave a note in the comments. (ALL comments are moderated, because OMG the link spam, and the spammers are getting more clever with their legitimate-sounding first posts, so please be patient if your comment doesn’t show up right away.)

Don’t organize what doesn’t need to be organized


True confessions: I love my label maker. It turns my filing cabinet and reference notebooks into things of beauty: neat, orderly, easily scannable to find what I need.


I have learned to not turn so quickly toward the siren song of the label maker, begging me to make a crisp new folder for that one lonely scrap of paper that just crossed my desk. I have learned to embrace the controlled chaos of more general folders for those things that I am unlikely to ever have to look at again, but need to keep just in case.

Yes, that’s right: I, hoarder of pretty office supplies, who as a child spent hours of free time coming up with grand organizing schemes, have gone to the Dark Side. I no longer make folders each year for each type of business expense and dutifully file receipts in them (natch, making a copy of a receipt that covers two different kinds of expense and filing each one in the appropriate folder). I don’t have an income folder for each client into which I can drop the little stubs that come with each check.

Pax Studio LLC has a scant smattering of folders in the front of the file drawer to gather paper: general, banking2016 income, and 2016 expenses. That’s it.

I have to go into those folders so rarely that the time spent creating and organizing folders the way I used to and the time spent sorting and filing into those categories is completely wasted. On the off chance that I need to access something in those folders, it’s simple to flip through and find what I need — especially since I’m in the habit of dropping the most recent thing into the back of the folder, so it all stays relatively in chronological order.

Don’t waste time organizing what doesn’t need to be organized. 

I’ll write another time about my slow shift to electronic record keeping.

I’d love to know:

  • Are you a recovering over-organizer?
  • Do you avoid the office supply aisles at Target because you have a life and wandering down there means you’ll lose an hour of it to petting the pretty pens and fondling the notebooks?
  • How do you deal with your paper detritus?

Leave a note in the comments. (ALL comments are moderated, because OMG the link spam, and the spammers are getting more clever with their legitimate-sounding first posts, so please be patient if your comment doesn’t show up right away.)


Text expansion: Your magic secret helper


Anyone who has talked computers and productivity with me for more than five minutes knows of my love for TextExpander, a program that lets you create shortcuts for typing text that you use over and over and over again. TextExpander is a Mac program, but there are several similar programs for PC; my PC-based friends tend to use PhraseExpress. TE is what I know, so I’ll be writing from that point of view, but PhraseExpress will probably do most, if not all, of the same things.

(TextExpander just — as in not even two weeks ago — released version 6, and they’ve gone to a subscription plan for $40/year for individuals. While I have my quibbles about subscription software in general, I think that’s still a good value for something I get so much use out of. YMMV. And it’s also supposed to work on and coordinate with iOS, although I haven’t tried that aspect yet. They offer a trial, so you can try it out before you commit.)

The idea is fairly simple: You set up a shortcuts, and when you type your shortcut, TE automagically expands into the text you’ve associated with it. For example, since I type my business name so often, I set up a shortcut for it. When I type ]]ps, it expands into Pax Studio with a space after it.

You can set up just about any shortcut you like. I like to use two closing square brackets in front of my shortcuts, because they’re not something I would otherwise type in the normal course of my day, and I don’t have to use the shift key to get them. You, of course, can make your shortcuts be anything you like.

TE works with longer snippets (that’s what TE and PE both call the longer text you expand into), too. I have one shortcut set up that will expand five characters into a four-paragraph email.

And you can get even more complicated. You can insert dropdown menus, blanks, and the like into your snippets. You can include fields that will populate with the contents of your clipboard, or the current date or a calculated future date. Snippets will hold styled text (limited) and images as well, and scripts (although I haven’t been brave enough yet to try those).

How is text expansion useful for editors? 

  1. Create shortcuts for phrases, sentences, and paragraphs you regularly use in email correspondence. For example, it’s a lot faster to type “]]msret” than it is to type “Attached are the manuscript, stylesheet, and invoice for this title. Please confirm receipt. [paragraph break] As always, please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any questions or feedback. Thank you for this project, and please let me know if there’s anything else I can put on my schedule for you.” At the paragraph break, I enter any information specific to the project that the project manager needs to know. I’ll also tweak the wording to fit the situation (e.g., the manuscript is large enough that I have to send it via Dropbox rather than email attachment). But the bare bones of the message are there.
  2. Create shortcuts for common author queries. I use ]]dok for “AUTHOR: Deletion okay? //” (years ago, one project manager requested that I end my queries with two slashes, and I’ve adopted the practice across the board; it makes it easier to know when the query is at an end, especially when Word truncates the text in the balloons). I have one also set up just to generate “AUTHOR: ” for when I have to type a query from scratch.
  3. Create shortcuts that expand into marketing or agreement text. I have snippets set up that describe exactly what is included in each of my services. For bonus points, incorporate a date calculation into your quote snippet that will indicate that your quote is good until a specific future date, say one month or three months or one year from today.
  4. Create shortcuts for those numbers you never remember. For example, one client wants me to use their special invoice form, and I have to fill in my EIN on that form, so instead of looking it up, I just type ]]ein and it automagically expands.

Lori’s tips for using text expansion programs: 

  1. Pick some standard preface for your shortcuts, and make it something easy to type. I use ]]. You might choose yy or == or whatever works for you. Just make sure that it’s not something that occurs naturally, or you’ll end up with unwanted expansions in the middle of your words as you type. (It’s not necessary to use a preface, but I found that it’s a lot easier than trying to find plain letter combinations that don’t also occur naturally in words.)
  2. Make your shortcuts several letters long after your preface so that you have many options. If you simply use, say, ]]a as an expansion, you’re limiting the number of expansions you can have, because you can’t then start any other snippet with ]]a. Most of mine are three or four letters long.
  3. Think about choosing the option to play a sound when a shortcut is expanded. I like the aural cue that something has happened so I can be sure I’m not inadvertently typing something I didn’t intend. I like the friendly little bubble sound.
  4. Don’t set up too many snippets at one time. It’s hard to learn and implement a new routine all at one time. Pick a few things to start with (maybe your business name, an email closing, a common author query), then get used to using those for a few days or a week before you start adding more. TE has a handy little popup, too, that will remind you when you’ve typed something that you’ve already set up a shortcut for and tell you what the shortcut is; you might consider turning that option on.
  5. Take time to explore the more advanced options, once you’ve had a chance to get used to the basics. There are some really interesting possibilities there.


I’d love to know:

  • Do you currently use a text expansion program?
  • What types of things do you use text expansion for?
  • If you don’t currently use a text expansion program, do you think it might help you be more efficient?

Leave a note in the comments. (ALL comments are moderated, because OMG the link spam, and the spammers are getting more clever with their legitimate-sounding first posts, so please be patient if your comment doesn’t show up right away.)

(FYI, I just turned everything under the horizontal line, minus the specific bullet points, into a snippet, since it’s something I intend to use on most posts: ]]postend, baby.)

Building a business manual

At the 2016 American Copy Editors Society conference, I presented a session on systems and shortcuts for running a solo business that was well received — standing room only, in fact. (I’m a little bit blown away by that, actually.)

I’ve had many requests to share a little more in depth about some of the things I touched on there, since that hour went so quickly and I couldn’t dive too deeply into anything. So, here we are, at the start of an occasional series about working smart and building efficiency into the ways you do the things that support your business.

Note: While my presentation was aimed at freelance editors in particular, many of these systems and shortcuts could be applied to just about any kind of solo enterprise. I use the same approach in my other business, Alchemary, adjusted to fit how that business works.

And above all, as in all things, People Vary, and what works for me might not work the same or at all for you, so take what works, tweak what needs tweaking to fit your business and work style, and disregard the rest.


So, then, what is a business manual, and how does it help?

A business manual is where you keep all those nitpicky little details about your business that you need to know but don’t need to be rattling around in your head every day, taking up space. It also documents procedures for doing things that you need to do for your business but may not do very often and tend to forget (mail merge in Word, I’m looking at you). All of those details live together in one easy-to-access place.

That one place could be a Word file, an Evernote file, a password-protected webpage, a Google doc — whatever floats your boat. For extra bonus points, you can print it out and put it in a three-ring binder and keep it within arm’s reach of your desk, then update it as necessary. (I’m a bit old-fashioned that way.) Mine is a Word file that lives in my Dropbox, and a printed copy lives in a simple three-ring binder that sits on the bottom shelf behind my desk. I like prettying things up, so it has a nice cover, and I use sheet protectors rather than punching papers. Maybe one of these days I’ll get that cover sheet reprinted in color. Or pull out the crayons. Mine is not so hefty that I need subject dividers, but if that’s the way you roll, go for it.

Why does a business manual help? Because it gathers everything you need to know to run your business all in one place, you save a ton of time digging around and searching for info when you need it. Examples: On the rare occasion when I need to sign a contract in my business name (I’m an LLC), I don’t have to Google around to find the legal way to sign; it’s right there in the manual. Just this past week, I got a new UK client who is going to pay by wire transfer; all the info I need to give them is right there in the manual. For Alchemary, I have to file sales taxes twice a year, and the system to do so is clunky and opaque; the reminders for what numbers I need to gather and which ones go in which box are right there in that manual.

(On a somber note, it also serves as a repository of basic information about your business if something bad were to happen to you.)

Time is money. We’ve all heard this, probably for most of our lives. And it’s true. For every five minutes you spend poking around on the internet looking up how to do something for the umpteenth time, that’s five minutes you’re not spending on paying work. And let’s face it, that five minutes ends up being twenty minutes, because silly cat videos or someone was wrong on the internet. Sure, five minutes isn’t a big deal, but over the course of a day, week, month, year… all that time adds up. I’d rather spend it getting paid or — gasp! — doing something fun.

Here’s what’s in my business manual today: 


  • Bank info, including routing and account numbers and branch hours
  • Incoming wire information
  • QuickPay information & instruction link (Chase’s way to email money to someone)
  • Credit card number and contact phone in case lost or stolen
  • Breakdowns by year of income by client and by service


  • Account numbers (mine and clients’)
  • Cutoff times for different shipping locations
  • Info on what it costs to mail the types of envelopes and packages I send frequently (updated every time USPS changes it)
  • Link to product page for the mailers I like


  • Set descriptions of the different things I do (master)
  • General estimating and pricing info
  • Reminders to self (“this type of project always needs extra time for x, y, and z,” etc.)


  • Language about my policies (master) — turnaround times, rush fees, scope creep, etc.
  • Notes about my own internal policies and rules (never work for jerks, etc.)*


  • Reminders of the routines and timetables I’ve set up for myself*
  • How-tos about stuff I don’t do often enough to master (mail merge, Quickbooks reports — sometimes are just links to well-written posts)
  • Master checklists (reference only)

General office

  • Info on supply reorders, with links, where possible (printer cartridges, label maker labels, preferred pens & pencils, rubber stamps, notebooks, planner)
  • General timetable for upgrades
  • Equipment and software serial numbers, activation keys, and links


  • A link to my LLC formation papers (actual copy in printed manual)
  • How to sign contracts for LLC


  • Running holiday card/gift list
  • Links to purchase cards/gifts I like
  • References
  • Titles I’ve worked on in various categories
  • Cover letter language
  • Reminders of which resume is for which occasion (file name not perfect)


  • Jack Lyon’s awesome wildcards cheatsheet, which I picked up at one of his sessions at Communication Central a few years ago
  • Reminders of those keyboard shortcuts I need for just a couple projects each year but can’t be bothered to store in long-term memory
  • Things keyboard shortcuts cheatsheet (Things is the amazing to-do program that I use [Mac only], which I’ll write about another time)

*I find it extremely helpful to have these things written down. Having clear policies (and adding to them as I go along) about my boundaries and routines is a psychological trick that works for me when my monkey brain wants to go off on a blog-reading spree in the middle of work time or take on a particular type of project or client that just doesn’t mesh well with me. YMMV.

I add to the manual as things occur to me or if I find myself looking something up for the second time.

I also have a separate client manual for keeping track of things specific to each client, and I’ll talk about that another time.

I’d love to know:

  • What other information would you put in your own client manual?
  • Is there anything in my list that you’d like to know more about?
  • What other things would you like to know about running an efficient solo business?

Leave a note in the comments. (ALL comments are moderated, because OMG the link spam, and the spammers are getting more clever with their legitimate-sounding first posts, so please be patient if your comment doesn’t show up right away.)