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Five and a Half Publishing Technologies You Must Know

     As principal of an editorial agency, I hire a lot of freelance editors and writers. And although I expect them to be wizards with words rather than with technology, I do expect them to have a certain level of technical competence. That’s why I’ve been surprised at some of the stunts that otherwise sensible, professional editors have been pulling recently.

Take the editor who told me she couldn’t send a file because it was “too big to fit through e-mail”—and she couldn’t compress it because she didn’t own WinZip.

And the editor who revised a file without using Track Changes because, she said, she thought I had “locked the Track Changes off.”

And the editor who took five hours to upload a document to my FTP site because she was using a dial-up modem. I almost missed a deadline because of that one.

On the heels of these incidents, I read a series of emails from freelance editors complaining about having to upgrade to Word 2007. Their complaints varied: they might have to buy new computers; they thought Bill Gates was evil; they preferred the 2003 interface. At this point, I lost it. “People!” I wanted to shout. “You’re professionals! Do you or do you not want to work?”

New technologies aren’t threats. They help us keep promises. In dithering over the relative merits of Word versions 2003 and 2007, and fretting over the cost of keeping up with other electronic tools, editors and writers miss an essential point: We have to be equipped with technologies that allow us to keep the promises we make to our clients to perform our work efficiently and to the highest standard. Our software capabilities should meet the needs of our clients, not cater to our personal comfort level.

After all, clients outsource work to freelancers and contractors not just to make their documents better but to make their lives easier. If outdated software or lack of needed software causes our clients confusion, snafus, or delay, they may turn to someone else for help—or decide that relying on unreliable outsiders isn’t worth the hassle.

So, to all the writers and editors out there who genuinely want to serve clients well but may be technology-shy, I dedicate these marching orders: Acquire and master at least the 5½ technologies recommended here. You’ll have a better shot at succeeding in the content-creation business and satisfying your customers.

The list is based on choices I’ve made over the past few years to upgrade technologies to meet the needs of multiple clients in multiple industries with their print publishing projects.

1. Microsoft Office. Let’s start with the basics. You’ve got to have a current version of Microsoft Office—that is, the suite that includes Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. If you haven’t switched over to 2007, yet, do it. The interface may take some getting used to, but over time, I think you’ll find that it helps you do more work with fewer keystrokes—just what Microsoft promises. Moreover, you can use it to edit files created in any version of Word, not just 2007.

In any case, we’re past the time when you can get away with using Word 97 or 2000. On a recent project, files that my team was editing started increasing wildly in size—from 6 or 7 MB to upwards of 30 MB. The problem was traced to a rogue editor working in Microsoft 95, which doesn’t handle image compression as well as later versions of Word do—meaning that the files ballooned in size when she saved them on her machine. Needless to say, the client was not happy. And we were left looking like idiots for not managing our staff’s technology more carefully.

2. Adobe Acrobat. Most people have Adobe Reader on their computer, the free software that allows you to view, print, and save Adobe PDF files. But working editors should consider having Adobe Acrobat Standard as well. Acrobat allows you to create PDFs from Word files (and other types of files) and lets you save PDFs as Word files. The latter function comes in handy when you’re asked to copyedit files that your client, for unknown reasons, only has in PDF format. Hasn’t happened to you yet? Just wait. It will.

Acrobat also allows you to “mark up” PDF documents with an electronic highlighter, pencil, and sticky notes—particularly important if you work with designers who send you PDFs for proofing.
I recently used this feature to proofread a brochure that a client had e-mailed. Rather than marking it up by hand and faxing or FedExing my changes to her, I tacked a few electronic sticky notes onto the file and e-mailed it right back to her. She forwarded the file to three other executives involved in the project, impressed by how e-notes were “so much easier than faxes.” That’s the benefit of not just following your clients technologically but leading them. Sometimes you really get to wow them when a new technology makes things easier and quicker for everyone. A much happier ending than with the Word 95 whammy.

3. “Zipping” files. Compression utilities like WinZip and StuffIt (and the built-in compression features in Windows XP and Vista) are our friends; they help us shrink large files so we can send them over e-mail programs, which often limit the size of attachments to 10 MB or so. (Note: Gmail now allows attachments of 20 MB.) Compression programs are generally easy to use; when you right-click on a document, commands like “add to Zip file” or “save as compressed file” appear on the popup shortcut menu; when you right-click on a compressed file, a command like “extract to here” appears.

Nevertheless, I’ve found the editors I work with to be almost uniformly intimidated by the zipping process. One of them bought WinZip, only to expect it to automatically zip any files she sent over e-mail. Another panicked when I told her she’d have to zip a file up before she could send it to me. To these valiant folks, and all ye others afraid of zipping, I can only say this: You can do it. You must do it. Start practicing now.

4. File transfer methodology. Sometimes, files are so large that they can’t be compressed enough to send over e-mail, even when they’re zipped. This presents a dilemma: A client wants you to edit a large, graphics-intensive file, for example, but he doesn’t know how to get it to you. He could break the file in pieces and send them to you individually—but that means extra work for him, as well as the possibility of the file’s formatting or numbering getting skewed in the process.

Instead, imagine how great you’ll feel when you say this: “You can upload the file to my FTP site.” Or this: “You can send it to me through YouSendIt.” Both of these methods take e-mail out of the file transfer equation altogether; instead, Person X uploads a file to a Web-based storage area, and Person Y downloads the file from the same area.

Having your own FTP site may seem over the top, but setting one up is actually simple and inexpensive (try Basecamp,, or Microsoft Office Live). And setting up a YouSendIt account, which allows you to electronically deliver very large files (up to 2 GB) to any e-mail address, is even easier. I’ve used both methods and found them to be invaluable when I’m working with clients who like to whip 30 MB PowerPoint files around on their corporate e-mail system—and expect you to be able to do the same.

5. Broadband. I know that some rural areas can’t get broadband. And I know that ruralites have the right to be freelancers, too. Nonetheless, the truth must be told: Broadband is good. Dial-up is bad.

The problem is this: Dial-up’s low connection speed means that it can take hours to e-mail or upload files that can be sent in minutes using broadband. That means that some of the technologies mentioned earlier—like YouSendIt—can’t be made to work in a reasonable time.

Remember my nail-biting wait for that file to upload to my FTP site? For five hours, I wondered whether the file would ever make it through and, if it did, whether it would be damaged by the excruciatingly slow process. Do you want to cause yourself and your clients this kind of stress and anxiety? If not, do everything you can to get broadband.

5½. Faxing. Faxing only gets a half point because it ain’t new and it ain’t glamorous. But sooner or later one of your clients will ask you to fax something. Knowing that, you must ask yourself this question: Do I want to be able to fax from home? Or do I want to have to skitter out to the public library or the quick-copy shop, knowing that my transmission will be branded across the top with its name? So much for coming across like a professional.

There are multiple options for faxing. You can pay for a fax line and invest in a combination printer/copier/scanner/fax (which could prove plenty useful for other work tasks), or you could combine a scanner with a service like eFax or MyFax, which allow you to send faxes over e-mail. Whichever system you choose, figure it out now—before you’re put on the spot and have to make that library or copy shop run.

Remember—you’re not just a wordsmith. You’re advising your clients on the very best way to work with words. Pay close attention to your clients’ technical requirements and try to stay even with or slightly ahead of them. If you want companies to outsource work to you, they need to know that their job won’t get hung up or messed up because you’re using out-of-date systems.

More importantly, if you want to hang on to your clients, introduce them to new publishing technologies—like the PDF sticky notes, for example—and educate them. When you do this, you’re helping them find the best solutions to their problems and to the best ways to accomplish their work. Chances are they’ll call you back for more projects rather than the editor who toes the line technologically, but doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

Article Source:

Samantha Enslen runs Dragonfly Editorial, an editing and copywriting firm that specializes in proposals, corporate communications, medical editing, and scientific and technical publications. She can be reached at

Posted on 2010-04-14, By: *

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Note: The content of this article solely conveys the opinion of its author.

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