An American Editor

November 14, 2012

The Business of Editing: Author Queries

What is the role of an editor? Aside from the usual things like correcting grammar and misspellings and making sure that sentences have ending punctuation, it is to query the author about unclear sentences, text that doesn’t flow, missing material, and myriad other nitpicky things that can change a so-so manuscript into next year’s Pulitzer Prize winner.

I’ve been editing professionally for 29 years. What I have noticed over those years is that certain author queries repeat themselves ad nauseum. I bet I’ve written “AQ: Please provide complete cite. Need to add/provide …,” a gazillion times over those years and I expect to continue writing that query in the years to come.

I have also found that clients want queries done differently. Most want them inserted as Word comments, but some want them placed inline (i.e., in the text) and in bold. What I want is to do what the client wants but as quickly and painlessly as possible. After all, the longer it takes me to write and place a query, the less money I make. Thus I use EditTools’ Insert Query macro.

I don’t often use the inline method of querying but when I do, the Insert Query macro makes it look like this:

…and according to Jones and Smith (1999), {[AQ: Reference not in reference list. Please add this reference to the list or delete it here.]} the experiment

As I noted earlier, I find that there are a lot of queries that get repeated; they are not project specific. For example, I find that I need to use this query often:

AQ: Recur/recurrence mean to happen again repeatedly; reoccur/reoccurrence mean to happen again but only once. Which do you mean here?

I also often need to use this one:

AQ: Do you mean e.g. rather than i.e.? When the items are only examples and the list is not all inclusive, e.g. is used. If the listed items are all the possibilities, then i.e. is used. If i.e. is correct, consider removing material from parens and making it a proper part of the sentence.

Imagine having to write these queries each time you want to ask the author about usage. It will take time plus you may have correct a typing error. It is much easier to have a query saved as a standard query and to call it up when needed.

My queries dataset currently has 84 “standard” queries. I don’t use all of them in every project, but these are queries that I have found that I use repeatedly over the course of time.

Authors often will write something like “Within the past decade….” I usually question such statements because most of the books I work on have a long shelf-life and the chapters themselves were written months before I see them. Thus the timeframe is uncertain. So I ask:

AQ: Using this type of time reference allows the time to shift. The shift occurs because the reference was made when you were writing the text but doesn’t allow for either editing and production time until publication or for the book’s expected several-year shelf-life. It would be better to write, for example, “since 2000” (substitute the appropriate year), so that the time reference always remains static.

As you can see, it would cost me a lot of time, and thus money, to write these types of queries with any frequency. Besides, isn’t it better to do it once? Don’t we prefer to copy and paste than to constantly rewrite?

With the Insert Query macro, I not only have the query in my dataset, but before inserting it into the document, I can modify it specifically for the matter at hand. I can either save the modified version to my dataset for future use or just use it the one time without losing the premodified version.

I’m sure you are wondering how I can quickly sort through 84 queries to find the one I want for the particular project. It isn’t as difficult as you think. First, the queries are spread over five tabs in the macro. So if I need a query that relates to a reference, I go to the Reference tab. Second, I can reorder the queries in a tab so the ones I make most use of in a particular project are always at or near the top. Third, if I do not need to modify a query all I need to do is click on it and then click Insert — a fairly fast method for inserting a query. I do not need to first open a comment dialog box; the macro does it for me when it inserts the query into the document.

Everything has to be weighed in terms of time and keystrokes. The more time and keystrokes that are involved in querying an author, the less money I make. Also important is that if I have to manually write a query like one of those above just three or four times in a manuscript, I will become frustrated. They are long, they are detailed, and they are prone to mistyping. By “standardizing” them with the Insert Query macro, I get it right every time I use the query. And it takes me no longer to create the original query than if I were opening a comment dialog box in Word and entering it there. All of the time and effort savings occur with subsequent use.

Here are a few more of my standardized author (and compositor) queries:

AQ: This is a single-author chapter. Please identify to whom “our” refers.

AQ: Please identify where by section title if within the chapter, by chapter if in another chapter.

AQ: Acronyms that are deleted from the text are either used fewer than 3 times in the text and are now spelled out in the text or do not appear in the text.

AQ: This is chapter _____. If you are referring the reader to a specific section in this chapter, please identify where by section title and whether above or below, and delete the chapter number. If you intend a different chapter, please correct the chapter number.

COMP: Please make the letter J in J-shaped sans serif.

In today’s competitive editing world, it is important to find ways to increase efficiency and productivity. Tools like the Insert Query macro are an important part of the process to increase efficiency and productivity. EditTools is designed to increase my speed, efficiency, and accuracy, thereby increasing my effective hourly rate for editing.

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