by Carolyn Haley
In Part I of this essay, I list the reference books in my resource kit for editing fiction. Part II discusses the balance of the resource kit: software, a luxury unknown to editors of an earlier era; specialty resources that help editors address story structure and verify details across diverse subjects; and links to editorial groups and information for professional development and support.
Three applications form the core of my quality-control tools: Editor’s ToolKit, EditTools, and PerfectIt. Followers of this blog will recognize these names because they are mentioned often here, and their designers are part of the American Editor tribe. I learned of the tools through this association and now depend on them for fine-tuning the mechanical side of an editing job and checking my own work.
Editor’s ToolKit contains an assortment of consistency checkers, search/replace aids, converters, fixers, and macros. These program add-ins are available individually, as well. I most often use FileCleaner as a preflight tool to tidy up manuscript elements such as double spaces, incorrect dashes, and the like. Starting with a clean manuscript helps me see content with less distraction, thereby making editing time more focused and efficient.
Also for preflight, I use EditTools, which is a collection of macros designed to save time and money while improving accuracy. Although initially intended for medical and academic editing, it can be customized to serve fiction. I use the Never Spell Word feature, for instance, to build a list of terms I frequently misread (led vs. lead, woman vs. women, form vs. from, etc.), which the application flags in the manuscript. I can then pick them off as I go or review the manuscript for just these highlighted words, either way reducing my error rate. The package includes other useful tools ranging from deleting unused styles (thank you!) to removing all highlighting to changing case to inserting queries and doing a wildcard find and replace.
At the end of a job, I run PerfectIt. This is a consistency checker, constantly being updated and refined, that catches tricky details like hyphenated compounds, inconsistent capitalizations, and spelling deviations. It is easily customizable for which tasks it performs and alternative style sheet criteria, in variants of English (U.S., U.K., Canadian).
The Editor’s ToolKit/EditTools/PerfectIt software suite offers more capability than I have yet plumbed the depths of. Even barely scratching the surface, I have found each profoundly helpful and time-saving. The trio combined is affordable to people on tight budgets (offered here as a set as Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate) and pays for itself promptly by making one more accurate and efficient, which leads to happy clients, which leads to more and better work.
Most of the suite’s tools are macros in some form or other, bundled into easy-to-use packages. The nature of fiction, however, is its unpredictable variability, so there’s always something new that it would be useful to have a macro for if you don’t want to create them yourself. Many such situations are covered by Paul Beverley in his publicly available macro collection, Computer Tools for Editors. The book includes the actual macro steps, which editors can copy and install. Of these, I use ProperNounAlyse to form the basis of my style sheet before starting an edit, because it identifies place and people names, variant spellings thereof, unusual terms, and common terms with capitalization changes (e.g., Captain, which might appear in the manuscript as a both a direct address [cap] and a generic [lower case], thus reminding me to include it on the style sheet). It also picks up any words capped at the beginning of a sentence, so some manual grooming is required.
To use any of these tools effectively, one must have a solid grasp of one’s editing software, which for most of us is Microsoft Word. Almost every manuscript presents a fresh problem to solve, or pushes one to master a trick one stumbled through the first time it arose. So I keep within reach a quartet of my colleagues’ foundation works: Jack Lyon’s Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals and Macro Cookbook, Hilary Powers’ Making Word Work for You, and Geoff Hart’s Effective Onscreen Editing. Between them I’ve learned to operate Word at a higher level, including searches that find missing, inverted, and straight quotation marks and apostrophes, and missing or incorrect punctuation inside quotes — a boon for dialogue-heavy novels. Links to these books can be found at The Editorium.
Word contains its own spelling checker (and grammar checker, too, which I ignore). I run spellcheck last thing before delivering a manuscript; and for all its quirks and inadequacies, it always finds something that saves me from professional embarrassment. I’m prone to missing errors like “the the” and “assesssment” which most other tools don’t catch. Someday, I hope, one of the macro gurus will find a way to catch duplicate phrases like “in the in the,” which I’m prone to overlooking, too.
There’s no anticipating what facts or figures will need to be verified in a novel, so the best plan is to have a broad library in your office, including at least one encyclopedia set, as well as to find reliable, accurate sites on the Internet. The novels I work on routinely need checking in weights and measures; biblical references; guns and ammunition; vehicles (including boats and aircraft); people and place names and historical events, so I’m forever collecting resources to cover these. A sampling: Convert-me.com for weights and measures, Gun Grammar and Gun Digest for firearm info, Bible Hub for access to different versions of the Bible, The Rand McNally Encyclopedia of Military Aircraft, along with the Jane’s recognition guides, plus Merriam-Webster’s Biographical Dictionary and Geographical Dictionary.
As a general source for you-never-know-what, there’s Project Gutenberg, which offers downloadable public domain works of literature and reference. For names and data about consumer products, I head to the manufacturer’s website. Wikipedia is also a convenient starting point for diverse lookups.
Writing Craft How-To’s
Editors do not have to be writers themselves, and indeed many prefer not to be. But novel editors need to be conversant in the lingo of storycraft, and to be able to recommend educational aids to their authors. I point many to Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer for its nuts-and-bolts approach to constructing a novel; along with Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card. This book is part of the Writers’ Digest Elements of Fiction Writing series, which covers primary components of novel writing (such as dialogue, plot, scene, and structure) one at a time. The series is one of several that have come and gone over time, including the Howdunit Series for mysteries and thrillers. I refer to Armed and Dangerous: A Writer’s Guide to Weapons and Deadly Doses: A Writer’s Guide to Poisons and hope eventually to have the complete set in my library.
Genre-specific websites like those for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America and Romance Writers of America also offer how-to information, although in the latter case you have to join to gain access to the writing resources.
An invaluable resource is the hive mind formed by the editorial community. I learned about most of my tools there, along with tricks and techniques; and I learn something new every day from staying in contact. The groups I interact with most are Copyediting-L, Project Wombat (formerly Stumpers), and the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) (must be a member). These are populated with editors, writers, proofreaders, indexers, designers, and reference librarians happy to share their knowledge and who enjoy chasing down answers to obscure or difficult questions. They also provide “virtual water-cooler” company for editors working solo from home.
Many editors from these organizations are also active on Facebook (for instance, Editors’ Association of Earth. Questions pertaining to fiction editing are often discussed here. One colleague active on almost all platforms is Katharine O’Moore-Klopf, who maintains The Copyeditor’s Knowledge Base on her website. I’ve found multiple resources there, along with a rich selection of others yet to be explored.
Finally, a terrific way to learn how to work more efficiently in general and edit fiction in particular is to interact with peers in person. For that, editors gather in annual conferences hosted by the American Copy Editors Society, Editors’ Association of Canada, and Communication Central. These organizations offer classes, seminars, and webinars, as well, as does the EFA.
This lengthy list forms a drop in the proverbial bucket of what’s available to aid in fiction editing. Since every editor has their favorites, and most of us shift around as we find better or more-relevant tools, please share your own favorites through the comments feature of this blog, along with a reason why it is among your favorites.
Carolyn Haley lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1977, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through her websites, DocuMania and New Ways to See the World. Carolyn also blogs at Adventures in Zone 3 and reviews at New York Journal of Books.
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