An American Editor

July 2, 2012

The Business of Editing: Culture and Editing

A client asked me to look at some excerpts of material that had been offshore outsourced for editing and to give my opinion whether something struck me as wrong or incorrect. In the past 6 months, I have had several requests from clients asking me to clarify style rules and whether material comports with those rules. The clients have recognized that their expertise is different from mine and that the combination of our skills can result in a better product.

A frequent query involves American Medical Association’s AMA Manual of Style 10th edition §19.1 “Use of Numerals.” Most non-editorial clients find the AMA’s instructions confusing, especially as it contravenes the instructions given in other style guides, notably the Chicago Manual of Style.

But this client request fell into another category: not was a style guide convention contravened, but did the editing make sense.

The subject had to do with legislation and one sentence in one of the text portions I was asked to review read as follows:

The legislative solution was to make it easier for gays to marry women to obtain birth control…

Certainly, from a grammatical perspective and taken in isolation, there is nothing wrong with that sentence fragment. But was it culturally correct?

Editing cannot be done in isolation of the world around us. Form (grammatically correct in isolation) cannot control over function (communication and understanding). Instead, there needs to be a meeting of form and function because only with that meeting can we be certain that what is intended is what is expressed.

It immediately struck me that something was wrong with the sentence. A good test is what I call the substitution test, in which I substitute a synonym for a key word to ask does it still make sense. In this case, my immediate notion was that no substitution was necessary but I applied the test anyway, substituting homosexual for gay. Why was this important? Gay in America increasingly means male homosexual exclusively; homosexual means both male and female, that is, gays and lesbians. Other cultures may use other terms for genderizing homosexuality, but since this was a book for American audiences, American culture rules.

With the term gay, the sentence makes sense every which way but sexually; with the term homosexuality, it makes no sense either politically or sexually. In America, lesbians currently are generally not free to marry women for any reason. In a culture that does permit homosexual marriage or civil unions, the sentence would pass the substitution test, but not in the United States, where the overwhelming legal position is that homosexuals cannot marry or even have legally recognized civil unions.

The point is that because of my familiarity with the culture of the audience for whom the book is intended, it is clear to me that there is something wrong with the sentence. The cure is simple, however. All that is needed is a well-placed comma, so that the sentence reads as follows:

The legislative solution was to make it easier for gays to marry, women to obtain birth control…

Yet there is another problem with the sentence. Logically, why would a gay marry a woman to obtain birth control? That alone, under normal circumstances, should have raised red flags. But, again, I think it may be a cultural thing. I suspect that in more repressive cultures or in cultures in which the homosexuality is more underground than in America, gays may well marry women for a variety of reasons, even as a means of birth control.

Yet there is one other, at least questionable, problem with the sentence, with or without the comma cure, even though it is illogical for gays to marry women to obtain birth control: the use of gays. As I noted above, in America, gays increasingly is gender-specific, referring to male homosexuals and excluding lesbians. So the sentence, even as cured, means that it would be easier for males to marry but still impossible for females to marry. If nothing else were true about legislation affecting homosexual marriage, this would be true: In the United States, legislators would not grant marriage rights to one sex but not the other when granting homosexuals the right to marry.

Although the cured sentence would be better if homosexuals were substituted for gays, and much less prone to possible misunderstanding, there is another cultural reality in America. As noted above, gay has traditionally meant both male and female homosexuals, but it is increasingly being used as the word for male homosexuals to the exclusion of lesbians. As Bryan Garner writes:

Gay and lesbian. Though common, this phrasing is peculiarly redundant since lesbians are gay women.…What is actually happening, no doubt, is that gay is undergoing what linguists call specialization — that is, in some of its senses the word is becoming sex-specific. (Garner’s Modern American Usage, 2009, p. 387)

Consequently, in this instance, aside from adding the comma, I think a professional editor would query the author, explain the historical uses of the words, and suggest that homosexuals be substituted for gays. I also think that the professional editor would query the author to make sure that the addition of the comma is correct, that with the comma the sentence now reads as the author intended. Although I cannot think of a valid reason to omit the comma, perhaps the author has one

Alas, in this instance, neither the comma was added nor the queries made. Alas, also, there were several similar sentences in the samples I was asked to comment on, that had very questionable phraseology but passed the editor without query. Several needed no query, just punctuation.

I think this is less a matter of the editor’s skill, although it could well be that the original editor was not a professional editor, but more of a culture-related problem. It is not easy for out-of-culture editors to catch the cultural nuances of material intended for an audience that lives in another world culturally. For publishers, the question is solely one of containing costs. Instead, it should be one of making sure that the published product doesn’t miscommunicate; unfortunately, that is not the trend in today’s publishing. Just as publishers see a worldwide market for their books, they see a worldwide market for service providers. In some instances, that broad sight is appropriate, but not when it comes to editing for a specific cultural market.

January 23, 2012

On Words: The Conundrum of Half

Filed under: Editorial Matters,On Words — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
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I thought I’d veer off into esoterica today. I don’t know why it came to mind a couple of weeks ago, but since it came to mind, I have found myself pondering the matter. Now I’ll share it with you and get your input.

The matter at issue is the numeral designator for half. If we write 2 days, there is no question what is meant. Similarly, if we write 2.5 days, readers correctly translate that to two-and-a-half days. But is it really correct?

I suppose that it is because it has been accepted and understood as correct for decades, if not for centuries. But shouldn’t time be more accurately represented? If a day has 24 hours, then a half day has 12 hours, which means that 2.5 really means two days plus 5 hours. Yet if we were to write 2.12 days, no one would understand that means 2 days plus 12 hours or two-and-a-half days.

Time has always been treated differently from other yardsticks. Probably because time is so important in our daily lives. We have coalesced around certain conventions, correct or not, that are now the accepted methods for portraying time, especially decimally.

Consider the matter of years. we all know and accept that 6 months equals one-half year. Yet we do not write 1.6 years to represent one-and-one-half years; as with days, we write 1.5 years and we all know what is meant.

I work on nonfiction books, which has led me to occasionally wonder if an error will occur when measure shorthands aren’t correlated with the written out version; that is, how likely is it that some reader will mistake 1.5 days for 1 day 5 hours, so I should write one-and-one-half days rather than 1.5 days?

Of course, I only wonder and do not spell it out because I understand that we have accommodated our use of language so that there is no likelihood of misinterpretation. But that doesn’t move me away from wondering how this came about and why such imprecision is accepted by communities that require precision elsewhere.

Not only have we accommodated our use of language to .5 representing one-half, but this accommodation appears to be fairly universal among languages. Writing 1.5 days will not mislead a French, Italian, Slovakian, Chinese, or Malayan speaker any more than it misleads an English speaker. The convention has crossed linguistic borders (someone once said that math is a universal language, so perhaps the fault for this accommodation lies in math’s universality).

I’m not interested in trying to change the accommodation (some brick walls truly are meant to stand forever), but I am curious about how we came to universally accept and understand that 1.5 days means one-and-one-half days and not one day, five hours.

What is your theory?

December 26, 2011

Working Effectively as an Editor — New Print Resources

In recent weeks, two new publications have appeared: Cite Right, 2nd ed., by Charles Lipson (ISBN 978-0-226-48464-8), and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed (ISBN 978-0-547-04101-8).

Although I have the print versions of Scientific Style and Format (7th ed), by the Council of Science Editors; The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed); the American Psychological Association’s Publication Manual (6th ed); and the American Medical Association’s Manual of Style (10th ed) within arm’s reach at all times (plus previous editions of these books also readily available), Cite Right is a timesaver and the first place I look for a quick answer to a reference styling question.

Alas, the second edition, published by, as “proudly” noted on the front cover, “…the University of Chicago Press, publisher of the The Chicago Manual of Style” suffers from the some of the same problems that the original release of the Chicago Manual (16th ed) did: a critical resource was not carefully checked for accuracy. I’ve noted a couple of errors in Cite Right, but even with those errors, this is a valuable tool for an editor.

A professional editor would not — should not — rely on a secondary source for primary source information. Rather, the secondary source should be used to refresh one’s primary source memory information. If used in this manner, that is, you have familiarized yourself with the primary source and have access to the primary source, but use Cite Right for a quick refresher of a style question you haven’t come across recently, then Cite Right is an excellent tool — and it is reasonably priced (list price is $14; discounted price at B&N.com is $10.45). If you deal with references, and if you deal with more than one reference style manual, Cite Right should be sitting on your desk within easy reach. Among the various styles it includes are these: Chicago (Turabian), American Psychological Association (APA), American Medical Association (AMA), Council of Science Editors (CSE), American Chemical Society (ACS), Modern Language Association (MLA), and American Anthropological Association (AAA).

As pleased as I was to see a new edition of Cite Right, I was even more pleased to see a new edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. I own — and use — a lot of dictionaries. I like to compare usage, spelling, and definitions. Usually they are in agreement, but sometimes they do disagree. Also important is that coverage is not precisely identical as the editorial boards of the various dictionaries often decide differently about whether to include a “new” word.

Of all the single-volume dictionaries for American English that I use, the American Heritage Dictionary (AHD) is by far my favorite. I especially like its choice of font. As I’ve gotten older, and my eyes have gotten wearier, I increasingly appreciate the design of the AHD. Counterbalancing that, however, is the AHD’s physical dimensions and weight. Compared to the AHD, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed) is like a feather. Yet, I reach for AHD first.

A nice feature of the AHD is that for some entries it offers synonyms and usage information. That ties in nicely with my interest in word origins and usage (I do need to start writing again about usage and word histories; it has been too long since I last did so). I especially like reading divergent views about a word’s usage (which is why Bryan Garner’s Modern American Usage [3rd ed] is always nearby), because of the insight into language it can provide.

In any event, the fifth edition of AHD was published last month and it is a worthy, albeit not inexpensive (list price $60, discounted price at B&N $38.46), addition to any professional editor’s resources, even if your clients consistently prefer a different dictionary. AHD is worthwhile as a supplement that provides insight into our language, something that many of its competitors lack.

One negative I have found to being a professional editor is the constant procession of new or updated resources that I “need” in my library. I admit that I am always on the lookout for print resources that improve my editing skills and knowledge, which, hopefully, increases my value to my clients and prospective clients. But I am careful not to let these resources sidetrack me, which can easily happen. Books like Cite Right and The American Heritage Dictionary serve useful purposes, but they are not a substitute for a good grasp of editing fundamentals. That is something to keep in mind, especially if you are looking to hire a professional editor: An editor’s bookshelf can provide an insight into the editor’s skill level and interest, but is not a substitute for those skills. The resources an editor uses should complement the skills the editor has and applies.

November 2, 2011

Deciding Personhood: Words Do Matter!

The October 26, 2011 New York Times had an article about an upcoming citizens’ vote on a proposition to amend the Mississippi state constitution. The initiative would declare “a fertilized human egg to be a legal person.” Proposition 26, according to Ballotpedia, reads:

Should the term “person” be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof?

(The official ballot summary of the measure reads:

Initiative #26 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to define the word “person” or “persons”, as those terms are used in Article III of the state constitution, to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.)

I don’t want to get into an argument about the merits or demerits of this proposition, or about abortion, or about when life begins. Rather, I think we should look at the proposition with an editorial eye. If this were a sentence (i.e., Proposition 26, not the ballot summary) in a book you were editing, would the sentence pass muster?

When an editor reads a sentence or a paragraph, the editor should be reading for many measures including construction, clarity versus ambiguity, word choice, and communication. If a sentence is ambiguous, does the ambiguity promote understanding when surrounding sentences are considered? Is it ambiguous only because it is introducing a new topic that has yet to be explored? Are the words chosen meaningful both separately and in combination?

Is the construction confusing? A good example of confusing construction is the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Its meaning may well have been understood 200 years ago without discord, but today, the construction confuses the meaning and thus it needs interpretation. Is not this a failing of Proposition 26?

As written, Proposition 26 uses one vague word to define another vague word. Person is being defined by human being (I am treating human being as a single word), which is similarly vague but is wholly undefined unless we say it is being defined by person. Also undefined are moment of fertilization and cloning, both important concepts that are intended to contribute to the definition of person.

If this were a novel, perhaps the choice of wording and the sentence construction would be of less importance. But this isn’t a novel: Voters are being asked to approve a Mississippi constitution amendment that is poorly constructed and whose choice of words is ambiguous.

So, exactly what are voters being asked to approve or disapprove? If 10 voters were brought together and asked to define or explain the sentence, would we get 10 different responses? If approved by voters (which is the expected outcome even though many right-to-life groups and the Catholic Church are opposed to its passage), what, exactly, would be approved?

The danger of sentences like Proposition 26 is that you need Humpty Dumpty to interpret it: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

I think it is sentences and paragraphs constructed like this proposition that make a professional editor’s life simultaneously challenging, rewarding, and frustrating. Here’s my challenge to you:

Given the opportunity to refine Proposition 26, how would you refine it so as to minimize any ambiguities? Can it be made unambiguous? Editorially, how sound or unsound do you find this proposition?

Good luck!

August 12, 2011

Worth Noting: A Report on Overseas Outsourcing of Editorial Services

In February 2011, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) published a report on overseas outsourcing of editorial work. The report is well worth reading and keeping handy. Unfortunately, the response to the Society’s questionnaire was small. From the report:

In 2010, the SfEP asked members to report their experiences of this type of editorial outsourcing. More than 40 replied, giving us perspectives from freelance project managers, proofreaders and in-house desk editors, as well as freelance copy-editors who have seen their supply of work dry up and their income dwindle. The relevant parts of their replies are quoted and commented on in this report.

The complete report can be found here: What Price Quality? Overseas Outsourcing of Editorial Services.

July 6, 2011

On Today’s Bookshelf (IX)

It seems as if it was only yesterday (it was a month ago) when I published On Today’s Bookshelf (VIII), but there has been no stopping my book acquisitions. My recent acquisitions include:

Hardcover —

  • Roosevelt’s Purge: How FDR Fought to Change the Democratic Party by Susan Dunn
  • The African American Experience During World War II by Neil A. Wynn
  • Freedom Flyers: The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II by J. Todd Moye
  • Family of Freedom: Presidents and African Americans in the White House by Kenneth T. Walsh
  • Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage by Douglas Waller
  • The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang by John Ayto and John Simpson
  • Religious Orgy in Tennessee: A Reporter’s Account of the Scopes Monkey Trial by H.L. Mencken (this is a paperback reprint of Mencken’s newspaper reports)
  • Hitler and America by Klaus P. Fischer

Several of the hardcover books I bought at Author’s Day, which was held at the FDR Library on June 18, 2011. The authors were invited by the Library to give a speech or reading and then autograph their books. The capstone event was a conversation between the historians Michael Beschloss and James MacGregor Burns.

ebooks –

  • In Her Name: Empire; Confederation; Final Battle; First Contact; and Legend of the Sword by Michael R. Hicks (see my review of this series: On Books: In Her Name)
  • Demon Lord by T.C. Southwell
  • Through a Dark Mist by Marsha Canham
  • Sacred Secrets, A Jacoby Ives Mystery by Linda S. Prather
  • Murder on the Mind by L.L Bartlett
  • Driftnet and Deadly Code by Lin Anderson
  • Stumbling Forward by Christopher Truscott
  • A Death in Beverly Hills by David Grace
  • Bake Sale Murder by Leslie Meirer
  • Blood Count and Londongrad by Reggie Nadelson
  • Durell’s Insurrection by Rodney Mountain
  • Impeding Justice by Mel Comley
  • Maid for Mayhem by Bridget Allison
  • Pilate’s Cross by J. Alexander
  • The American Language by H.L. Mencken
  • The Blue Light Project by Timothy Taylor
  • Who Killed Emmett Till by Susan Klopfer
  • Dying for Justice, Passions of the Dead, Secrets to Die For, and Thrilled to Death by L.J. Sellers (These are books 2 to 5 in the Detective Jackson Series; the first book, The Sex Club, was listed in an early On Today’s Bookshelf — see below)
  • Enemies and Playmates by Darcia Helle
  • Henrietta the Dragon Slayer by Beth Barany
  • Hostile Witness by Rebecca Forster
  • Oathen by Jasmine Giacomio
  • The Last Aliyah by Chris Hambleton
  • Too Near the Edge by Lynn Osterkamp

Most of the ebooks were gotten free, either that being the author-set price or as a result of an author promotion using a coupon code. After reading Michael Hick’s In Her Name: Empire, I decided I liked the book well enough to purchase the other 4 available volumes of the series — Confederation, Final Battle, First Contact, and Legend of the Sword (see my review of this series: On Books: In Her Name). I purchased Christopher Truscott’s Stumbling Forward on a recommendation from author Vicki Tyley, whose books I have reviewed previously (see On Books: Murder Down Under).

L.J. Seller’s Detective Jackson Series is an excellent mystery series. When I have finished reading the recently acquired books 2 to 5, I plan to review them. However, for anyone who is looking for a 5-star mystery series, this series fits the need. Currently, the author is offering the books at a discounted price of 99¢ each (be sure to scroll down the page to the discounted price); the normal price is $3.19 each. If you like mysteries/police procedurals, you won’t go wrong buying them before I review them.

For those interested, Smashwords is having a major sale, their July Summer/Winter Sale, with authors offering their books at discount s of 25% to 100%. The sale runs through July 31, 2011. It is a good time to buy indie books and get introduced to some new authors.

April 11, 2011

On Words & eBooks: What Does It Take?

In past articles, I have spoken of the need for indie authors to use professional editors (see, e.g., On Words: Is the Correct Word Important?, Professional Editors: Publishers and Authors Need Them (Part 1), and Professional Editors: Publishers and Authors Need Them (Part 2)). Alas, there is always an excuse for not using them. A little more than a year ago, in On Words & eBooks: Give Me a Brake! I talked about the problems that readers often face when confronted with an unedited or nonprofessionally edited book. This topic has been repeatedly discussed in numerous blogs and on numerous forums — almost discussed to death.

Yet, here we go again.

A few days ago, I was looking at what new-release ebooks were available at Smashwords. I found a couple of doozies. Try this one, first: So Your Afraid of Dieing by LaVall McIvor, for which the author wants $4.99, and which the author describes as follows:

Everyone dies, what happens after we die. Is that the end of who and what we are? I have had two NDE’s and I can tell you there is more to ‘us’ than just the physical life we live on this world. I only lay out my experiences, what you believe to be true concerning an afterlife is up to you to decide.

Setting aside the “your” problem, does “dieing” mean dying as in death or dyeing as in coloring? OK, I get the gist and realize death is meant, but why should I have to guess or assume?

So I checked the sample to see if the title was an anomaly. Here is the first paragraph of the book:

Probably the single most commonality of all of us, is knowing that someday in the future this physical life will end. But what happens when we die, are we just consumed by the elements, is that the end of it? If you are a religious person, you have been ‘taught’ that if you live a good life doing no evil, you (your soul) will be rewarded with eternal life in ‘Heaven’. If you are an atheist, you may believe there is no ‘afterlife’, that when your body dies, that is the end of who and what you are. I was of the latter persuasion until I had two NDE’s (Near Death Experiences).

Then, as I was reeling from the title, the author’s description of the book, and the first paragraph, I came across A Crown of Thorns by Andrew Cook, for which the author wants $2. Cook describes his book as follows:

When the Spencer’s arrive at Millbridge, Virginia meets Rector Byrnes, beginning an emotionally charged and passionate relationship. Rev Byrnes is in a vulnerable position struggling with his wife’s inner demons, and his own loss of faith, and with no one to confide. Virginia is consumed with hatred towards God but they find comfort in each other’s weakness with dramatic consequences.

Tell me: Is the location Millbridge, Virginia or is it Virginia who arrives at Millbridge? No matter because within the first few paragraphs of the book, we find this:

The reason I am writing this is because I want to remember all my thoughts this morning, for it is remarkable to me that it should be this morning that I was again allowing myself the shameful thoughts of death, my own death in fact, while appreciating at the same time the pleasure and beauty of life. The green rolling hills that overlooked the cemetery and continued for miles, the bright blue sky as though painted that morning by an artist, devoid of cloud, the flowers dancing in the breeze celebrating the arrival of spring. It was a day to celebrate life, not to contemplate death. But perhaps I was not considering death in the physical sense. There are many types of death. This morning I once again felt as though my soul had died and I had paled once again into insignificance. If one died emotionally, what would be left? Without love people wither like flowers starved of water.

I am afraid to venture further into either book.

Tell me, what does it take to convince authors that there is a reason why professional editors exist and why they are hired to go over a manuscript before it is published? Would you willingly pay $4.99 or $2 for either ebook?

What these two ebooks vividly demonstrate is that the combination of the Internet Age and easy self-publishing — without any gatekeeping (i.e., vetting of the manuscript, which is the role agents and traditional publishers have played) — has turned everyone who wants to be an author into a published author. Yet too many of these wanna-be-published authors are unwilling to accept the responsibilities that accompany publishing, particularly the hiring of a professional editor.

Sadly, I expect both of these authors to sell copies of their ebooks. Even more sadly, I expect that those who buy their ebooks won’t (and don’t) recognize the grammar and spelling problems that are in the ebooks, nor that the ebooks have not been edited — professionally or otherwise — by someone with at least minimal competency.

Companies like Smashwords have done a great favor to both readers and wanna-be authors. They make distribution to the normal book-buying channels possible. Yet, at the same time, they fail both readers and wanna-be authors because they do no vetting of manuscripts at all. These distribution platforms do us no service when they reinforce illiteracy, which is the effect of making such drivel widely available.

I realize that we are early in the evolution of ebooks, but the time to address basic issues is now, not later when the problems become so entrenched that they are insurmountable. Although the distributors need to share in the blame for permitting this drivel to see daylight, those of us who are professional editors also have a responsibility to reach out and educate authors. In this endeavor, we are failing as evidenced by these two ebooks and by the overall decrease in grammar and spelling skills in younger generations (see The Missing Ingredient: Grammar Skills).

Professional editors need to better explain our role to authors before we have no role to play at all (see Symbiosis: The Authorial and Editorial Process).

March 14, 2011

Symbiosis: The Authorial and Editorial Process

Although not usually thought of in these terms, there is a symbiotic relationship between the authorial and the editorial processes. In many ways, it is like the relationship between a composer and librettist. How well the relationship works can determine how good the end product is.

A well-written book is analogous to Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. It begins softly, builds to a crescendo, and adds new characters and plot twists and turns (i.e., new instruments and sounds) until that climactic moment.

To bring off this well-written book successfully, not only must the author have great skills, but the editor must be skilled. To use another music analogy, consider opera. The role of the author is that of the composer; the role of the editor is that of the librettist. In the case of opera, the person credited with the opera is the composer; the librettist, although noted in an acknowledgment, is publicly forgotten. Yet what makes an opera great is the symbiotic relationship between the composer and the librettist.

Consider Léo Delibes’s opera Lakme. It happens to be one of my favorite operas. I especially love the “The Flower Duet,” sung as Lakme and her servant Mallika gather flowers, which was written by the librettists Edmond Gondinet and Philippe Gille, who are essentially unknown in the opera world. It is the combination of the music and the duet between Lakme and Mallika that makes “The Flower Duet” so extraordinary:

Just as this combination of the known (composer) and unknown (librettist) can combine to create great, memorable music, so the relationship between an author (visible) and editor (invisible) can combine to create a great book.

Unfortunately, with the changes that are occurring in publishing and with the rise of ebooks this symbiosis between author and editor is being strained to the point of near-breaking. Publishers are trying to cut production costs as finely as they can, and too many see editorial work — in the sense of editing and proofreading — as being of ephemeral value. It is no longer uncommon to hear a publisher say that readers don’t complain about poor editing, so they obviously must not notice when editing is missing.

Authors, who with the rise of ebooks are increasingly taking on the role of the publisher, take the same tack but more often emphasize the expense. One author boasted on the copyright page of his meganovel that the ebook hadn’t been copyedited because no one cared and he wasn’t going to spend the money. That might have been okay if the ebook were being given away for free, but the ebook was $8.99! (I read enough of the ebook via a sample to realize it was in desperate need of an editor, so I passed on buying it.)

The authorial and editorial processes are really a single process; different phases of a single process, but a single process nonetheless. We tend to divide the phases of manuscript preparation into separate stages and processes, but that is really more for convenience that a reflection of the reality of the process. The two processes are so intertwined that they should be inseparable and authors should not fear an editor’s input. A manuscript doesn’t become less the author’s work because of editing, but it may become more of the author’s vision as a result of editing. Consider Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald and their editor, Maxwell Perkins.

Although Perkins is considered to be perhaps the greatest editor of the 20th century, it is not Perkins who is remembered and revered (except by a few of us editors who know of him), but Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Yet both acknowledged that their books would not have been the masterpieces they were if it hadn’t been for Perkins’s contributions.

Ultimately, my point is that, like great music, great books are collaborative enterprises and when part of the collaborative team is missing, the book suffers, the author suffers, and the reader suffers. Authors need to rethink their stance when they decline to spend money to hire a professional editor, and there is a world of difference between a professional editor and a friend whose job is maintaining a computer network who thinks he/she can edit a book because they have read a lot of books. These differences have been discussed in prior articles; see, for example, The Missing Ingredient: Grammar Skills; Finding a Professional Editor: The Needle in the Haystack Problem; In the Face: eBook Errors; I Published My Book But Readers Keep Finding Errors; The WYSIWYG Conundrum: The Solid Cloud; On Words: Is the Correct Word Important?; and On Words & eBooks: Give Me a Brake! These articles are well worth reading if not previously read, and rereading if it has been a while. Because the author wants to be viewed as a skilled writer, the author needs the help of a professional editor whose skills transcend those of the neighbor who dabbles because he/she reads.

The authorial and editorial process can help a book follow the path of Lakme — from beginning to finale — in creating another memorable “Flower” duet.

December 16, 2010

A Musical Video: Learning Grammar the Easy Way

Sometimes the best way to learn grammar is to use senses other than our eyes. Consider the following videos –

for conjunctions:

for interjections:

for adjectives:

for predicates:

and for prepositions:

It would have been much easier to learn grammar had teaching videos like these been available when I was in grade school. Alas, I had to learn grammar the hard way.

Sometimes I get a manuscript that is so grammatically bad that I get tempted to embed a video like those above that gets the point across without my having to come right out and say, “Your manuscript is an insult to English!” Of course, diplomacy wins out and I neither exclaim my exclamation nor embed a video hint.

November 4, 2010

A Musical Interlude: Odes to Editors

Editors receive a lot of abuse these days and often get blamed for errors that are inflicted by others in the production chain. That is not to say that we editors aren’t often the causes of errors, either from a failure to catch the error or because we introduced the error in our zeal to demonstrate our editorial prowess.

But, as the following video demonstrates, there are some who still prize our skills:

Yet the question is whether our profession is in decline. Gus is a new entrant to our profession:

As Carmela demonstrates, we aren’t sitting still and letting the world pass us by. We constantly seek new and better ways to improve the work of our clients:

The importance of proofreading cannot be overstated. Taylor Mali illustrates the problem of editing by homonym:

Knowing how difficult things can be in the editing world, it was only a matter of time until we had our own lament:

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