An American Editor

February 29, 2016

Lyonizing Word: Taming Styles in Microsoft Word

by Jack Lyon

Microsoft Word includes a powerful feature for marking the various levels of a manuscript (such as headings, block quotations, poetry, and so on). That feature is styles, which are valuable for many reasons, including:

  • They make it possible to reformat a whole document simply by redefining styles or applying a different template using those styles.
  • They make it possible to find and replace only text using a certain style. For example, you might want to find source citations by searching for parentheses in text styled as block quotations.
  • They make it possible to generate a table of contents based on specified styles.

So styles are very useful. The problem is that Microsoft Word, in its usual “helpful” way, tries to manage which styles are available, in which document, and how those styles can be accessed. Finally growing tired of this nonsense, I decided to take the matter firmly in hand by writing this article.

My first gripe is that Word decides which styles to show in the Styles area of the Home ribbon, which decision seems to be based on nothing that makes any sense. Right now, it’s showing the following:

Quick Style Gallery

Quick Style Gallery

Of the styles available, I use Normal and Heading 1. But Strong? Subtle Emphasis? Intense Emphasis? Who makes this stuff up? Not an actual writer or editor, that’s for sure. So the first thing to do is get rid of the icons for the styles I never use:

  1. Right-click the icon (such as that for Strong).
  2. Click “Remove from Quick Style Gallery” (which, evidently is what the Styles area is called).
Remove from Quick Style Gallery

Remove from Quick Style Gallery

Now, the question is, when I restart Word or create a new document, does the Strong icon come back? Let’s find out. (Now restarting Word.)

Ha! It’s gone! But what happens if I create a new document? (Now creating a new document.)

Shoot, Strong is back again. So we can conclude that removing a style from the Quick Style Gallery applies only to the document in which we remove the style.

I could get rid of Strong and then save what I’ve done as a Quick Style Set:

Save as Quick Style Set

Save as Quick Style Set

But I’d like to get rid of Strong once and for all. How can I do that?

Well, I’ll start by showing Word’s task pane (by clicking the little arrow at the bottom right of the Styles area):

Word's task pane

Word’s task pane

Now I should be able to click the drop-down arrow next to Strong and delete it, right? Nope. Word won’t let me. How annoying!

Delete Strong

Delete Strong

Well, then, where does the Strong style live? In Word’s Normal.dotm template, of course. Can I get rid of it there? I open the folder where the template lives, which on my computer is here:


Then I open the Normal.dotm template. Now can I delete the Strong style?

No, I can’t; same problem as before. Word really, really, really wants to keep its built-in styles — which is why they’re called “built-in,” I guess. So my only recourse is to (1) set how the style will be displayed and then (2) tell Word which styles to display. Here’s how:

  1. Open the Normal.dotm template, which is where your default styles are stored.
  2. Under Style Pane Options (the blue “Options” link at the bottom of the task pane), set “Styles to Show” as “Recommended.” Select “New documents based on this template.”
Show styles as recommended

Show styles as recommended

  1. Under Manage Styles (the third button at the bottom of the task pane), set all styles to “Hide” or “Hide until used” except those you want to show. (Even now, Word won’t let you hide everything.) Select “New documents based on this template.”
Hide Strong

Hide Strong

  1. Make any other adjustments you’d like, such as the order in which the styles will appear in the task pane.
  2. Save and close the Normal.dotm template.

After you’ve done that, every time you start Word or create a new document, you’ll get only the styles you want to see. I think. I hope. Maybe.

How about you? Do you have any helpful hints about how to tame Word’s styles? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

Jack Lyon ( owns and operates the Editorium, which provides macros and information to help editors and publishers do mundane tasks quickly and efficiently. He is the author of Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals, Wildcard Cookbook for Microsoft Word, and of Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word. Both books will help you learn more about macros and how to use them.


February 24, 2016

Cooking & Baking With An American Editor II

Filed under: Cooking & Baking with AAE,Pies — Rich Adin @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , , ,

I like a slice of a fruit and berry pie with my lunch. I used to buy the pies but never really found a store-bought pie that was satisfactory. They were always “gelatiny.” I like to bake, but always thought that pie baking would be difficult and time consuming; I like to take the easy road when it comes to cooking and baking.

To meet my needs, I had to find a better way. The result is the following recipe.

Fruit & Berry Pie

Preparation takes but a few minutes and you don’t need great baking skills to be successful with this recipe. This makes a nice 9-inch pie.

I. Ingredients

The recipe uses the following ingredients:

  • 3 10- to 12-ounce bags of frozen fruit and/or berries completely defrosted and at room temperature (see comments below for suggestions regarding the fruit/berries); do not use fresh fruit with this recipe
  • 1 package of prepared pie crusts (2 crusts — a top and bottom — are usually found in a package) at room temperature
  • ¾ to 1 cup of sugar (depends on your taste and the fruit/berries used; I like the pies to be less sweet and so rarely ever use more than ¾ cup)
  • ¼ teaspoon of salt
  • 4½ tablespoons of instant tapioca (do not use pearl-style; something like Minute Tapioca® works best)

That’s all the ingredients.

II. Choosing the Fruit & Berries

Before going further, let’s discuss the fruit and berry mixture. You can go wild here. You can use an already prepared berry mix, which usually has a mix of raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries (or similar combination), or you can create your own mix or you can use just a single fruit or berry type (e.g., only raspberries).

I happen not to be a fan of raspberries, so I try to avoid them. Carolyn, however, loves raspberries, so when she wants, I make a raspberry pie for her. I prefer black cherries, so I often mix black cherries with other fruits and berries. Some of the combinations I have made and have enjoyed are these (numbers indicate the number of bags used):

  • peach (1), pineapple (1), and blueberry (1)
  • peach (1), pineapple (1), and black cherry (1)
  • blueberry (2) and pineapple (1)
  • blueberry (3)
  • pineapple (3)
  • strawberry (1), blueberry (1), and black cherry (1)
  • black cherry (3)
  • peach (1) and black cherry (2)
  • strawberry (1), blueberry (1), and peach (1)
  • strawberry (1) and peach (2)
  • black cherry (2) and pineapple (1)

Experiment with different combinations. Some you will like better than others, but all should be good.

III. Preparing the Filling

  1. Pour all the fruit, including all the liquid in the bags, into a single bowl and mix with a spoon.
  2. In a separate small bowl mix the sugar, salt, and tapioca.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients of Step 2 with the fruit of Step 1. Be sure to mix thoroughly.
  4. Let the fruit mixture of Step 3 sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes (I usually let it sit for 60 to 90 minutes). Stir the mixture a few times. I usually stir the mix every 15 to 20 minutes.

IV. Preparing the Pie Crust

The recipe makes a generous 9-inch pie. Use a 9-inch pie tin or plate; I like a glass pie plate but I have also used the aluminum pie tins you can buy at the grocery. If you use a disposable pie tin, I have found the nonstick ones work best.

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. While the oven is reaching temperature, take 1 of the pie crusts and carefully unroll it while holding it in the air. If you lay it down, it may well tear or fall apart when you try to pick it up.
  3. Once it is unrolled, lay it in the pie plate/tin. Try to lay it so that a roughly equal amount of the crust folds over the entire rim of the pie plate. This is difficult to do so don’t worry too much as long as the crust is covering the bottom and sides of the pie plate.
  4. Gently press the crust into the ridge where the side and the bottom of the pie plate meet.
  5. Take a fork and prick the pie crust numerous times over the bottom and the side.
  6. IF YOU HAVE pie weights, place them on the bottom crust and when the oven reaches temperature, put the pie plate in the oven for about 3 minutes to cook the bottom crust a little bit. IF YOU DO NOT have pie weights, skip this step.

V. Adding the Filling and the Top Crust

Now it is time to get the pie ready for baking.

  1. Give the fruit mixture one final stir and then spoon the fruit  and some of the liquid into the pie plate. You want to create a mound that is higher in the center than at the edge. Do not make it level because there will be more fruit and liquid than the crust can hold and liquid will boil over. Mounding helps prevent the boiling over. DO NOT include 100% of the liquid in the fruit mix bowl; DO include all of the fruit pieces. You know when there is enough liquid included when you can see the liquid near the top of the rim of the pie plate.
  2. When done adding the fruit mixture, unroll the second pie crust. Like the first, do not lay it down. When it is unrolled, lay it over the top if the pie. Try to get an even amount of the crust over the entire rim. This is difficult and close is good enough as long as the entire pie is covered.
  3. Now you need to fold the edges of the top and bottom crusts together. It is best to fold the bottom over the top and toward the pie. Pinch the crusts together to make a sealed edge. I use the flat edge (side) of a butter knife to help me lift the edge of the bottom crust away from the pie plate. You may not make the neatest edge, but that doesn’t matter — the taste will still be great!
  4. Once the edges of the two crusts are folded together, take a fork and pierce the top crust in numerous places. Make a pattern of some type, if you wish, because these pricks will be visible when the pie is baked. Be sure to pierce the top crust through to the filling. These pricks act as steam vents and help prevent the liquid in the filling from boiling over (and causing a mess).

The pie is now ready for baking.

VI. The Final Steps

  1. When the oven reaches temperature and the pie is ready for baking, place the pie plate on a baking sheet covered in aluminum foil (preferably the nonstick type). It is much easier to throw away aluminum foil than to clean the oven in the event of boilover. This I know from experience.
  2. Place the pie in the oven and set the timer for 45 minutes.
  3. At the 45-minute mark, take a look at the pie. The crust should be a golden brown. If it is, the pie is done; if it is not, give it another 5 minutes, but no more. Be sure to look at the edge where the top and bottom crusts were brought together. You don’t want it to burn. If the edge is already well done (not burned), take the pie out — don’t add any time. If the edge is brown but not close to burning, you can add the additional 5 minutes but keep an eye on the baking pie.
  4. Let the pie cool before cutting and serving.

That’s it. There seems like a lot of work to do, but there really isn’t. I tried to cover every detail for those who have little to no experience making and baking pies. The actual active time is less than 15 minutes; most of the time is waiting.

VII. The End

I make these pies regularly. When company is coming to dinner, I make a couple of pies so that they have a choice (and I have leftovers). If no company is coming, I generally make a pie once a week so that I have fresh pie to enjoy. At the holidays, I will make several pies for dessert and a couple of pies that guests can take home.

I am able to do this because this is the easiest recipe for making a fruit and berry pie.

I occasionally like to add Chambord to the fruit mix. I drain some of the liquid from the fruit and replace it with some Chambord, usually 2 to 3 tablespoons, but sometimes less; it depends on how much of the Chambord flavor I want.

If you try the recipe and use a different fruit or fruit combination and like it, let us know. In the meantime, enjoy!

Richard Adin, An American Editor


February 22, 2016

On the Basics: The Issue of Availability

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

One of the issues that all freelancers often have to deal with is availability to clients, both prospective and current. Not that we aren’t available as needed, for the most part, but that clients may have unrealistic expectations about our availability, and we may struggle with how to maintain both reasonable work hours and good client relations.

A recent Facebook group comment mentioned a client who was upset because an editor did not respond to 12 e-mail messages a day — during a holiday week. I’ve seen similar, although not quite as drastic, anecdotes from other colleagues, and I’ve had a couple of demanding clients, too — people who would call late in the evening or during the weekend even after being asked not to do so, or would get upset if their e-mail messages weren’t returned moments after being sent.

When you work in-house, you have to keep the hours that the business requires of you. Some of us have or have had unreasonably demanding bosses or work environments, and have seen the assumed flexibility of freelancing as an escape from such situations.

I’ve been there myself. As a community organizer for a local nonprofit, I had to go to evening meetings and weekend events fairly often, although we did get compensatory time off. As a reporter for a weekly newspaper, I expected to cover events in the evenings and on the weekends and holidays, but I didn’t bargain for being stuck at the office until 2 or 3 a.m. on press nights; I put up with it because that was part of the job, and we were all in the same boat. As the communications manager for a small trade association, I was expected to show up at 7:30 a.m. for monthly staff meetings over breakfast at a place near the office — and pay for my meals — when the usual starting time was 8:30 a.m., and we still had to stay at the office until 5 p.m. on those days.

Lawyers are routinely expected to put in long hours, and their support staff often are subjected to demands that go well beyond 5 p.m. or Monday to Friday; I do proofreading for a law firm where the information-processing center is staffed through midnight seven days a week. Medical staff often have to work ridiculous shifts, especially as interns and residents.

Many freelancers do work at all kinds of hours; setting my own hours has always been one of the major benefits of freelancing. The problem kicks in with clients who assume that freelancers are available to them at any and all hours, on any and all days, regardless of time zones, weekends, holidays, and personal preferences or issues. This tends to happen more with independent authors than with businesses, but it can occur with companies when in-house contacts are disorganized or under pressure to get things done.

There’s a difference between working “at any hour” and “working all hours,” and it’s vital that freelancers establish that difference. As long as we meet deadlines we’ve accepted, when we work and for how long at a time is up to us. When clients can expect us to be available, for work or for contact, is also up to us.

Both to establish yourself as a businessperson and a professional, and to save your sanity, it’s essential to set and at least appear to stick to standard work hours. That can mean:

  • Posting your “office hours” at your website and/or telling new clients when you can be reached early in the relationship;
  • Not answering phone calls and work-related e-mail messages before, say, 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m. your time;
  • Telling an intrusive client that such calls or messages aren’t acceptable and won’t be answered outside those hours; and
  • Sticking to what you tell people.

One way to explain this to a client who keeps calling or e-mailing outside your established business hours is simply that “I run a business, and I keep business hours. I’ll get back to you within 24 hours of a call or message during the week. Over the weekend or a holiday, it might be 48 hours.” Another is to say something like, “I need to focus on your project to do my best work for you, and I can’t keep that focus if I’m continually getting phone calls or e-mail messages that interrupt me when I’m trying to work. The more you do this, the longer it will take me to get your project done, which means it might cost you more money — and it might affect the quality of my work.”

Be prepared, though: Expectations about our availability can be disruptive enough that we have to end some client relationships. I recently had an author who wanted my phone number and wanted to know what I consider odd and irrelevant personal details about me: my hobbies, whether I was married, even what I like to eat! She said these personal details were more important to her than my professional skills and experience. I envisioned constant interruptions to my work for her and other clients. (That she didn’t notice my phone number at my website was a warning sign of another type.) When I said I preferred to keep business interactions on a professional basis, she went ballistic. This was a client I didn’t mind losing.

Another aspect of availability is when there’s an impending health issue of some sort — a baby on the way, a scheduled surgery, a trip to look after an ailing relative — or an upcoming vacation or conference trip.

In the regular workplace, you handle most of these events by asking a supervisor or human resources department for the necessary time off and checking with office mates to make sure someone can cover your work. Alerting freelance clients to such “absences” is trickier, because there’s always the worry that letting a client know you won’t be available for a while could mean losing that client.

I’m a believer in letting clients know that something major is coming up, but that (a) I expect to be available as needed soon after and (b) I have backup in case the situation lasts longer than planned. By now, I’ve had enough experience with keeping my freelance business going to know that I can continue working or get back to work fairly quickly in almost any situation — the bad (major surgery, postsurgical complications, parent’s death, spouse’s major surgery and lengthy recovery, other parent’s long-term caregiving and eventual death, broken limb) — or the good (vacation weeks, conference trips). Freelancers with children will have other kinds of demands to balance with their work.

Because it’s simple common sense to expect that these kinds of issues are going to arise, both scheduled and unexpected, it’s equally good sense to plan for how to let clients know about availability and communication for those moments. As with so many other aspects of life, and business life in particular, being prepared will make it easier to cope with importunate clients who call and send messages at inappropriate times, and with good clients who need reassurance that we’ll be available as needed to get their projects done, come what may.

Sometimes we have to manage not just the work, but the personalities and expectations of clients, especially those who haven’t worked with editors and other editorial professionals before. Clients don’t have to know that we’re working at 3 a.m. or during the weekend, or that we’ve put in 10 straight hours on a given project. They do have to learn that they can’t expect us to be available at or for those hours and beyond. When we work is up to us; so is when we can be interrupted or contacted about that work.

The point is to establish availability boundaries and stick to them.

How have you handled clients with unreasonable demands for contact and availability?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

February 17, 2016

EditTools & My Editing Process: Part III

Part I introduced the preediting steps (Steps 1 to 3). Part II discussed the remaining two preediting steps (Steps 4 and 5) and then discussed the first editing step (Step 6) in my editing process, which is editing the references. Part III finishes the editing process with Step 7, which focuses on editing the main text.

Step 7: Editing the Text

I use a three-monitor desktop system for editing. When I edit the text, I have the primary document open on the first monitor, the online stylesheet open on the middle monitor, and other needed documents, such as the references, open on the right-hand monitor. I also have open several of the EditTools tools I use while editing (see below for an example), such as Bookmarks, Click List, Reference # Order Check (if the references are numbered rather than name–date style), and Toggle Specialty Manager. Once I start adding author queries using the Insert Query macro, I may add Comment Editor to the open tools mix.

Sample of EditTools Macros

Sample of EditTools Macros

I keep these tools open on the desktop because I use them often. Bookmarks are both navigational aids and tracking aids. The Reference # Order Check provides a way to track reference callouts and renumbering them if renumbering is required. Click List provides a quick-and-easy method for inserting text or symbols. Toggle Specialty Manager lets me add to the active Toggle list new project-specific terms that I encounter while editing.

As I edit, I know that decisions will need to be made. For example, should I let an acronym stand or should I replace it with its spelled-out version? If the client has a rule governing usage, I need to be able to apply it. So, for example, when I come across travel risk management (TRM), I run the ESCR (Enhanced Search, Count, & Replace) macro, shown below, to determine how many times in the document the phrase travel risk management appears and how many times TRM appears.

ESCR looks for these variations (I can add additional ones)

ESCR macro

ESCR macro

and provides this report

ESCR Report

ESCR Report

Using the report screen, I can make changes to the text. For example, in the above report, travel risk management appears 10 additional times in the document. I can also see that the acronym TRM is often used. Consequently, for consistency, assuming that TRM is acceptable to the client, I need to change travel risk management to TRM. Thus I type TRM in fields #1 and #2 and I check the highlight box (#3) next to TRM. I also leave TRM3 as it is, because that is different from TRM and needs to be defined and searched for separately. Clicking OK then lets the macro change all 11 instances of travel risk management to TRM with tracking on. The macro also yellow highlights the 37 instances of TRM. As I edit the document now, when I see the yellow-highlighted TRM, I know that it has already been defined earlier in the chapter and that the decision was made to use the acronym rather than the phrase. Had the report come back saying there were only two instances of TRM, then the decision might have been to use the spelled-out version instead of the acronym.

If travel risk management (TRM) is not in my Word Specialty dataset, I add it (I also add it to the online stylesheet if it is not already there), using the Acronym/Phrase entry system (shown below).

Toggle Word Acronym/Phrase entry system

Toggle Word Acronym/Phrase entry system

In the future, if I come across an instance of TRM that needs to be spelled out, I can click Toggle Word and choose from among several options, as shown here:

Toggle Word Choice Menu

Toggle Word Choice Menu

If I need to query the author or make a comment to the compositor, I use Insert Query (see below). With Insert Query, I can call upon a previously written query that I have saved, or create a brand-new query, which I can save, or not, to the dataset for future reuse.

Insert Query

Insert Query

If I want to alter a query for any reason, or even if I want to delete a query — whether it is located 20 pages ago or where I currently am — I use Comment Editor, shown here:

Comment Editor

Comment Editor

Comment Editor lists all of the queries I have inserted in the document (#1). There is no limit to the number of queries Comment Editor will list. One of the nice things about Comment Editor is that I do not need to go to the page where the query is located to edit it. I select the query that I want to edit and the complete text of the query appears in the Text box (#2), where I can edit or completely rewrite it. If I want to go to the query in the manuscript, I can click Go To Comment (#3). That will take me to the query’s location. To return to where I was in the document, I click Return to Before (the name is odd but it refers to the bookmark that was inserted). I can also delete a query by selecting it and clicking Delete (#4). With Comment Editor I do not need to spend time trying to locate the query I want to modify, going to it, and then returning to where I was in the document.

As I indicated earlier, I use the Bookmarks macro as a way to track figures, tables, and text boxes. I also use it to mark items I need to return to for some reason. Unlike Word’s Bookmark feature, EditTools’ Bookmarks lets you use descriptive language. That helps greatly when, for example, you want to bookmark a sentence to recheck. With EditTools’ Bookmarks you could insert “Recheck this sentence – has TRM been mentioned?”, as shown here:



I use the Bookmarks renaming function for tracking. If Figure 1 has been called out in the text and I have edited the figure and its caption, I rename the bookmark. I select the bookmark and click Rename (#1), which brings up the renaming dialog shown here:

Bookmarks Renaming Dialog

Bookmarks Renaming Dialog

The renaming dialog tells me which bookmark I am renaming (#1). Because I have selected certain items to be the defaults (#2 and #3), the new name automatically appears in the To field (#4). I could choose a different prefix or suffix, add new ones, change the defaults, and even choose None (meaning either no prefix or no suffix is to be used). If the default is what I want, I click OK and the change is made, as shown below, but the bookmark remains in the same location.

After Renaming

After Renaming

When I am done editing the document, I bring the reference file back into the main document using Word’s Insert File feature. I then run one last EditTools macro, Remove All Highlighting, which is found in the Other menu on the Highlight menu, as shown here:

Remove All Highlighting

Remove All Highlighting

Running that macro will remove all the highlighting I have added during editing. It has no effect on Track Changes, just on the highlighting. If I need to keep certain highlighting, I instead run the Choose Highlighting To Remove macro. When I run that macro, it searches through the document to determine what highlighting colors are used in the document and lists them, as shown here:

Choose Highlighting to Remove

Choose Highlighting to Remove

I select the colors I want removed and click OK.

That’s pretty much the process I follow and the way I use many of the EditTools macros. I haven’t mentioned several macros, because they are not part of my usual editing process. I do use them, just not with the frequency of those described above. Under the right circumstances, these other EditTools macros can be very useful.

If you are a user of EditTools, share your experience with EditTools and tell us which macros you use and when you use them.

Richard Adin, An American Editor


Looking for a Deal?

You can buy EditTools in a package with PerfectIt and Editor’s Toolkit Plus 2014 at a special savings of $78 off the price if bought individually. To purchase the package at the special deal price, click Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate.

February 15, 2016

EditTools & My Editing Process: Part II

Part I introduced the preediting steps (Steps 1 to 3). Part II discusses the remaining two preediting steps (Steps 4 and 5) and then discusses the first editing step (Step 6) in my editing process, which is editing the references.

Step 4: Moving the References

Most of the projects I work on have extensive reference lists. Sometimes a chapter will have a relatively short reference list of 50 or so, but most are at least 100 references, and sometimes are more than 1,000 references.

After the preliminary steps and before running Never Spell Word (Step 5), I move the reference list to its own file. I do this for several reasons. First, some of the macros that I use during editing can affect the references, creating undo work for me. Moving the references to their own file avoids this problem.

Second, I like to edit with Spell Check on. However, Spell Check sees many author names and foreign spellings in journal names and article titles as misspellings. That wouldn’t matter except that it often leads to the message that Spell Check can’t be used because there are too many spelling errors and so Word will turn off Spell Check — for the entire document. By moving the references to their own file, I almost always avoid that particular problem. (Yes, I am aware that I could turn off Spell Check just for the references — for example, by modifying the styles used in the references, which is what many editors do — but I like Spell Check to be on even for the references.)

Third, I want to be able to run my Journals macro unimpeded and as quickly as I can. The more material the Journals macro has to run through, the longer it takes to complete.

Fourth, I want to be able to run Wildcard Find & Replace on the references without having the macro also affect other parts of the document.

And fifth, moving the references to their own file makes it easier to check text reference callouts against the references because I can have both the primary document and the references open concurrently and on different monitors.

I do not edit the references in this step; I simply move them to their own file.

Step 5: Project-Specific Never Spell Word

The next preedit step is to create my project-specific Never Spell Word (NSW) dataset, which is shown below. Every project has its own NSW dataset (#13). The only time I use a previously created dataset is when I have edited a previous edition of the book. I assume that word usage decisions made in previous editions will continue in the current edition. This is generally reinforced when the client also sends me a copy of the stylesheet I prepared for the prior edition (or tells me to use it, knowing I have it available on my website). I do, however, go through the NSW dataset to make sure there are no changes that need to be made as a result of changes in the applicable style guide or in other pertinent guidelines (e.g., changing over-the-counter and OTC to nonprescription).

Never Spell Word dataset

Never Spell Word dataset

If I cannot use a previously created NSW dataset, I create a new one using the Never Spell Word Manager shown above. Note that when I speak of the NSW dataset, I am really speaking about the one tab in the Manager — the Never Spell Words tab (circled). Although the other tabs are part of the NSW macro, they are not project specific as I use them; however, they can be project specific, as each tab can have multiple datasets, and the tabs also can be renamed.

In the example NSW, the dataset has 70 items (#15). These items were specifically mentioned by the client or the author(s) (e.g., changing blood smear to blood film, or bone marrow to marrow) (#14), or things I noticed that will need changing (e.g., changing Acronyms and Abbreviations that appear in this chapter include: to Acronyms and Abbreviations:) (#14). As I edit and discover more items that should be added, I add them through this Manager.

The NSW macro has multiple tabs, some of which may not be relevant to the current project. Running the NSW macro brings up the NSW Selector, shown below. Here I choose which tabs to run. The default is Run All, but if I need to run only the NSW and Commonly Misspelled Words tabs for the particular project, I check those two and click OK and only those two parts of the macro will run.

Never Spell Word Selector

Never Spell Word Selector

After the NSW macro is run, it is time to begin editing.

Editing Steps

Step 6: The References

My first task is to edit the references that I moved to their own file in Step 4. I deal with the references before editing the text so I can determine whether there are “a,b,c” references (e.g., 57a, 57b) or if the references are listed alphabetically even though numbered. This is important to know for setting up the Reference # Order Check macro, found on the References menu and shown below, for tracking callout order and for renumbering if needed.

Reference # Order Check

Reference # Order Check

After I set up the Reference # Order Check macro, it is time to look at the references and see if the author followed the required style. Occasionally an author does; usually, however, the author-applied or -created style is all over the place. So the next macro I run is Wildcard Find & Replace (WFR) (shown below) and the appropriate scripts I created using WFR. The scripts focus on specific problems, such as author names and order-of-cite information (e.g., year first or last).

Wildcard Find & Replace Scripts

Wildcard Find & Replace & WFR Scripts

The scripts cure a lot of problems, but not all of them. Following the scripts, I run the Journals macro. Depending on which dataset I use, running the Journals macro may well fix nearly all of the journal names.

After running the Journals macro, I go through the references one by one, looking for remaining problems that need fixing, such as completing incomplete citations. If I come across a journal that was not in the Journals dataset, which I know because it is not color coded, I verify the journal’s name. I also go to the Journals Manager enhanced screen, shown below, so I can add the journal to multiple datasets concurrently.

Journals Manager Enhanced Screen

Journals Manager Enhanced Screen

Once I have finished editing the references, it is time to begin editing the main text (Step 7), which is the subject of Part III.

Richard Adin, An American Editor


Looking for a Deal?

You can buy EditTools in a package with PerfectIt and Editor’s Toolkit Plus 2014 at a special savings of $78 off the price if bought individually. To purchase the package at the special deal price, click Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate.

February 10, 2016

EditTools & My Editing Process: Part I

I have been asked to describe how EditTools fits in the editing process. I have avoided doing so because each editor works differently and the way I edit suits me but may not suit someone else. However, I have been asked that again as part of a question about EditTools, and I have decided that perhaps the time has come to explain how I use EditTools in my editing process.

Usually the manuscripts I edit — all nonfiction, with a majority being STEM (science, technology, engineering, and medicine) — come to me in groups of a few chapters. Occasionally I will receive the entire book, but even then it is usually divided into chapter files. When the book is given to me as a single file, I divide it into chapter files.

I know some editors prefer to work with a single file that represents the whole book. I do not, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the books I usually work on are much too long to effectively edit as a single file — sometimes a single chapter runs more than 400 manuscript pages. In addition, Word is not the most stable of programs, and the larger the file (and the more that goes on in the file), the more likely it is that Word will crash — and keep on crashing. More important, however, is that by working on chapter-size files, I can add to my EditTools datasets and have those additions applied in future chapters. Without reading every word, I cannot know in advance every decision that I need to make.

Before-Editing Steps

Step 1: Delete Unused Styles

I receive basically two types of files: ones that the authors designed and ones that the clients have manipulated before sending them to me (in my work, authors are not my clients). Sometimes I need to apply a template to the file. In the case of the author-designed file or a file to which I need to apply a template, the first thing I do is run the Delete Unused Styles macro (#1) shown here:

Delete Unused Styles

Delete Unused Styles

By running this macro, I eliminate many (not all) of the author-created styles that aren’t used in the document and narrow the number of styles that I need to deal with.

Step 2: Cleanup & Style Language

After that, I run the Cleanup macro (#2). The Cleanup macro has its own Manager (shown below), which lets me set what I want cleaned up (#3). It also lets me link to a Specialty file (#4) for additional cleanup that is specific to the project (or type of project) I am working on. The Manager lets me set the order of the cleanup by moving the items around, although I don’t bother — instead I run the macro twice. The main field shows me what will be done (#5). And, as is true of all EditTools datasets, I can save my cleanup profile (#6). What that means is that I can create custom cleanups based on client or type of project or any other criterion and recall them as needed.

Cleanup macro

Cleanup macro

As part of this step, I also run the Change Style Language macro, which is found under Other on the Other menu, as shown here.

process 2 A

Change Style Language

I run the macro to make sure that the language used is uniformly U.S. English and to make sure Spell Check is on. Authors tend to use multiple languages and sometimes turn off Spell Check. The macro gives me the option to choose any Word-supported language and to turn Spell Check on or off, as shown here:

process 2 B

Choosing the Spell Check Language

After I have made my choices, I click Update and the macro will update the document’s styles.

This is also the step where I run the Superscript Me macro, which is found on the References menu, as shown here:

Superscript Me

Superscript Me

Superscript Me lets me change how reference numbers appear in the text. For example, if the author has the numbers in square brackets (e.g., [122]) when they should be superscript without the brackets, I can quickly make the change throughout the document by running this macro. The macro also lets me choose how the numbers are to appear in relation to punctuation; the choices are between the AMA and the Chicago options, as shown here:

Setting Superscript Me's Options

Setting Superscript Me’s Options

(Tip: If the numbers are correctly superscripted but incorrectly placed in relation to punctuation, select None and the correct style type, then run the macro. The numbers will remain superscript, but the style will be corrected. This will also clear out any spaces in superscripted numbers following a comma [e.g., superscripted 132, 134 will become superscripted 132,134].)

Step 3A: Coding & Styling

After the Cleanup step, I code or style the document. In the “olden” days, I applied the codes or styles as I edited, but with EditTools, it is easier and quicker to apply them before editing begins. I may change some during editing (e.g., change a numbered list to a bulleted list), but nearly all remain as originally coded/styled.

Most of the projects I work on require me to either add coding or apply client template styles to the text. If it is codes, I use the Code Inserter Manager; if it is styles, I use the Style Inserter Manager. Consequently, creating the Inserter dataset for the project is next on my to-do list. Because clients tend to use the same styles and codes, I generally open an existing dataset and just make necessary changes, such as in the way a head is to appear (e.g., title case bold, all capitals, or sentence case italic). Here is a Code Inserter Manager dataset:

Code Inserter Manager dataset

Code Inserter Manager dataset

Note that the sample is the 9th edition of a book (#7). I took the project-specific Code Inserter dataset for the 8th edition of this book and copied it for the 9th edition, and then made whatever changes were required, such as in head casing (#8) or options (#9) or code to be used (#10). Within a few minutes, I was set to begin coding.

The same is true with the Style Inserter, shown below. Often a client uses standard designs rather than creating a new design for each book. The client tells me the standard design to use for the project and I open the style dataset (#7) for that design. Again, I may need to make some adjustments (#8, #9, #10), but once I have created the basic dataset, I can reuse it repeatedly (#7). The Style Inserter Manager is very similar to the Code Inserter Manager.

Style Inserter Manager dataset

Style Inserter Manager dataset

Step 3B: Bookmarks

At the same time that I open the Inserter (Step 3A), I open the Bookmarks macro, shown below. (In cases where I do not have to code/style, this is the only portion of Step 3 that I do.) I always add two bookmarks — refs, which is required by the NSW macro, and editing paused here, which is my generic bookmark for when I pause in editing for some reason (arrows & #11) — to every manuscript. In addition, as I code/style, I insert a bookmark at each table (e.g., Table 01, Table 02, etc.) and figure (e.g., Fig 01, Fig 02, etc.), and at any other item, such as boxed text, that I may need to find again. I use the bookmarks as a way to track what tables and figures have been called out in text and edited. They also provide an easy way to get from my current location to where the table or figure is located, and back again. After I edit a figure, for example, Fig 01, I change its bookmark name to x Fig 01 edited. The x causes the bookmark to move to the end of the list and edited tells me that it has been edited. This makes it easy to catch a missed text callout as well as to get to and from a figure, table, or other bookmarked text.



Part II continues the preediting steps (Steps 4 and 5) and introduces the first editing step (Step 6), which is editing the references. Part III discusses the final step (Step 7), editing the text.

Richard Adin, An American Editor


Looking for a Deal?

You can buy EditTools in a package with PerfectIt and Editor’s Toolkit Plus 2014 at a special savings of $78 off the price if bought individually. To purchase the package at the special deal price, click Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate.

February 8, 2016

The Proofreader’s Corner: Untangling Proofreading

by Louise Harnby

I retrained as a proofreader in 2005. For more than a decade beforehand I’d worked in a professional publishing environment, specifically in the marketing department of two mainstream academic publishing houses with an international presence. I knew exactly what proofreading was, and what it wasn’t — or I thought I did.

Only a few months into professional practice, my understanding of the skillset I’d chosen to specialize in was challenged. To this day, it is still being repeatedly challenged.

Publishers’ expectations of what a proofread entails match my training and in-house experience, but students, schools, charities, businesses, and beginner-novelists seem to have very different ideas. The term proofreading, far from being straightforward, now appears rather more complicated. Indeed, how one defines proofreading isn’t determined by what one actually does, but rather by whom one talks to.

Industry definitions — what a proofreader does

National editorial societies tend towards offering definitions of proofreading that accord with publishers’ expectations. This is not surprising given that publishers provide thousands of professional proofreaders with regular work. So, if I want to be fit to proofread for this client type, I need to understand what this client type’s expectations are, and I expect any professional body representing me to provide guidance that reflects industry-recognized best practice.

Below are excerpts from several national editorial societies’ online definitions of professional proofreading.

  • Editors’ Association of Canada (Canada): “Reading proofs of edited manuscripts. Galley proofing may include incorporating and/or exercising discretion on author’s alterations; flagging locations of art and page references; verifying computer codes. Page proofing may include checking adherence to mock-up (rough paste-up), accuracy of running heads, folios and changes made to type in mock-up, checking page breaks and location of art, and inserting page numbers to table of contents and cross-references if necessary” (EAC, “Definitions of Editorial Skills”).
  • Society for Editors and Proofreaders (UK): “After material has been copy-edited, the publisher sends it to a designer or typesetter. Their work is then displayed or printed, and that is the proof — proof that it is ready for publication. Proofreading is the quality check and tidy-up. However, some clients expect more than that. Many proofreaders find they spot more errors on paper than on screen, but proofs may be read and marked in either medium. Proofreading is now often ‘blind’ — the proof is read on its own merits, without seeing the edited version. A proofreader looks for consistency in usage and presentation, and accuracy in text, images and layout, but cannot be responsible for the author’s or copy-editor’s work” (SfEP, “What is proofreading?”).
  • Editorial Freelancers Association (USA): “Comparing the latest stage of text with the preceding stage, marking discrepancies in text, and, when appropriate, checking for problems in page makeup, layout, color separation, or type. Proofreading may also include one or more of the following: checking proof against typesetting specifications; querying or correcting errors or inconsistencies that may have escaped an editor or writer; reading for typographical errors or for sense without reading against copy; verifying links in online publications” (EFA, “Proofreading”).
  • Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders & Indexers (Ireland): “The proofreader reads page proofs after edited copy comes back from the typesetter or desk-top designer. The proofreader’s job is to make sure that text, illustrations, captions, headings, etc., are properly placed and complete; to check that design specifications have been followed; to check running heads; to ensure that captions and legends match artwork; to ensure that pagination matches the Contents list; to check end-of-line breaks; to proofread preliminary pages and end matter (e.g., the index if there is one); to fix incontestable errors of spelling, punctuation and grammar that have slipped through the net during copy-editing; and to query inconsistencies” (AFEPI, “What do proofreaders, editors and indexers do?”).

These excerpts reflect very well the tasks required by the publishers and project-management agencies that procure my proofreading services. The emphasis is on the expectation that the proofreader will not be amending raw text, but will be annotating proof pages, post design, either in print or in digital format, usually using industry-recognized markup language.

When it comes to working for publishers, the notion of proofreading is not tangled. Things start to get a little messy, however, when we branch out into the wider world.

Nonpublishing clients —
what a proofreader might do

Some national editorial societies recognize that definitions of proofreading start to tangle when the proofreader’s client base extends beyond the publishing industry. See the SfEP, “What is proof-editing?,” for a brief but useful introduction to how a proofreader may be asked to work with raw text and intervene in a way that the publishing industry would define as light copy-editing (or another skillset).

Below are some excerpts of requests from nonpublishing clients that I’ve received. I’ve tweaked these so that the original request is masked. The point is to give you a flavour of how some nonpublishing clients interpret “proofreading.”

  • Proofreading letters: “Please provide me with a quotation to proofread a 150,000-word book in MS Word. The text is not always grammatical because of the way the letters were written, and I would like such instances to be left as is. I am looking for nonsensical errors etc. and general comments on layout and structure and sequencing.”
  • Proofreading a novella: “Would you be kind enough to advise me of the cost of proofreading my science-fiction novella (32,000 words)? I can provide the file in Word format. English is my second language. I need attention to spelling and grammar, and altering any words that don’t sound quite right to an English speaker’s ear. I’d also like it formatted so that I can upload it to Amazon.”
  • Proofreading a Master’s dissertation: “I urgently need the first draft of my dissertation to be proofread. I need it styled in British English and would like it cut down if possible.”
  • Proofreading a website: “A new section of our site needs proofreading, approximately 15–20 pages totalling 5,000 words. We would provide you with access to the site and then you can simply go through each page and edit it directly.”

Of note here is that all of the above clients want the proofreader to edit the raw text directly. However, they also require a range of other tasks that, traditionally, fall well outside the proofreader’s remit — structural decisions, rewriting, text reduction, and layout and text styling. And, in the final case, the proofreader would be required to directly amend the text within a content management system.

In fact, there’s nothing wrong at all with the proofreader carrying out these tasks as long as the proofreader feels competent to do so, and as long as the client and the proofreader have a mutual understanding of what can/can’t or will/won’t be done as part of the project. The point is, rather, that these tasks would be far less likely to be requested in a proofreading brief from a publisher. This is the tangled world of proofreading.

“But that’s not proofreading”

I do accept that the extra-proofreading requirements identified above — amending raw text, taking structural decisions, rewriting, reducing the amount of content, layout and text styling tasks, and working directly in content management systems — are certainly not what most of us would consider proofreading. However, as business owners, we’re required to communicate with our clients in a way that makes them believe we can solve their problems.

If I want to take on a proofreading commission that also involves styling the text in the Word file of an indie author’s book so that it’s ready for upload to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program, and I have the skill to do this, I’m not going to engage the client in a discussion over semantics. If I want the job, and I can do the job, I’ll quote for the job.

If the client wants to call it proofreading, we’ll call it proofreading. In the nonpublishing world, definitions of proofreading are tangled, but I know this. What’s important is not that I quibble over the definition, but that I unpick the client’s request so that we are both clear about what is required.

Marketing your proofreading business
in a way that clients understand

There’s a reason I don’t call myself a proof-editor, even though that’s exactly what I do for many independent authors for whom I work. It’s because they won’t find me. When I look at the analytics data for my website, I see that the word that most people have typed into their search engine, prior to landing on my website, is “proofreader.”

Definitions of proofreading may appear tangled to those of us within the editorial and publishing industries, but, to many nonpublishing types, things are rather less messy! You want the spelling, punctuation, and grammar sorted out? Call a proofreader. You want Kindle-ready formatting? Ask a proofreader. Is English your second language? A proofreader can tackle that for you. Is the bibliography in your thesis a disaster? A proofreader is just the ticket.

Actually, sometimes we can help and sometimes we can’t. How far any proofreader is prepared to step outside of traditional publishing-industry definitions of proofreading will depend on the proofreader’s preferences, skills, experience, and level of confidence. But that doesn’t mean the proofreader has to stop calling herself a proofreader, especially if calling herself a proofreader is what makes her discoverable to her clients.

Summing up

If you want to be a proofreader, don’t assume there’s only one set of client expectations about what you will or won’t do, or what proofreading is or isn’t. In an international marketplace made up of numerous different clients with widely varying problems, you’ll always be required to spot spelling errors and incorrect punctuation. But there’s a raft of other tasks that you could be asked to undertake, too. Whether you accept the challenge will depend on what you are prepared and able to do, not what you call yourself.

Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.

February 3, 2016

Cooking & Baking with An American Editor I

I thought I might do something different and add a bit of variety (and spice :)) to An American Editor by adding the occasional cooking and baking column. After all, even editors need to eat and deserve to eat well.

I like to cook and bake. At one time in my youth I thought of going to culinary school, but that meant I would have to become a night person. I was dissuaded after I experienced working the midnight (third) shift as a short-order (diner) cook during college. I quickly learned that I really am an early morning person, not a night person.

I never lost my interest in cooking and baking, and for years Carolyn and I argued over who was going to do the dinner cooking or the cooking for guests. Now, instead of arguing, we share the cooking based on our personal interests. We still occasionally argue over who is going to bake dessert, but for the most part we have settled into a division of labor based on the type of dessert.

Recently we had guests for dinner and the question was what to make as the main dish. It had to be something that would appeal to everyone, which meant that it couldn’t be pork or beef or fish, leaving chicken, if we wanted a meat dish as the main course.

We settled on chicken, which led to the next question: How would we prepare it? Meat dishes are my job (Carolyn is more interested in vegetable dishes) and so I thought about it and decided to make chicken with cheese and olives. It is a quick-and-easy recipe that is easily modifiable depending on your preferences. The following recipe will serve at least four adults (the number of servings depends on the amount of chicken and whether you want seconds available; I like to always have seconds available, so a recipe that is designed for more than four becomes a recipe for four) and takes about 45 minutes total (that’s preparation and cooking).

Note that the recipe has two parts. The first part is the basic recipe; the second part gives some suggestions for variations.

Chicken with Cream Cheese & Olives

I. Basic Recipe


  • 1 teaspoon flavorful extra-virgin olive oil (or butter; do not use margarine)
  • 1 2.25-ounce can of sliced black olives, roughly chopped
  • 1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened (leave at room temperature for a couple of hours)
  • 1 cup of finely chopped parsley (including leaves and stems) (NOTE: If you are  a parsley lover like me, you can add more parsley to the recipe. I often like to have some extra chopped parsley that I can sprinkle over the finished chicken just before serving. Sometimes I put a small bowl of chopped parsley on the table so guests can add more if they want.)
  • 6 to 8 skinless and boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1 cup sugar (light brown sugar is preferred)
  • ½ cup Dijon or other dark, strong mustard
  • 1 to 2 cups (start with 1 but you may need to have more available) of roughly chopped nuts (walnuts, pistachios, or cashews, or some mix of these; pistachios are particularly nice)


  1. Preheat the oven to 450° F (230°C).
  2. Prepare an oven pan for the chicken. I use a baking sheet with low sides on which I put no-stick aluminum foil (no-stick side up). You can do that or use a regular baking dish. I find using the no-stick aluminum foil greatly eases cleanup.
  3. Finely chop the parsley, including stems. Much of the flavor that parsley has can be found in the stems, so no need to waste them.
  4. Chop the olive slices roughly.
  5. Chop the nuts roughly and put in a bowl large enough that the chicken can be rolled in them.
  6. In a separate bowl (one large enough to dip the chicken in), mix the sugar and mustard. Mix until smooth.
  7. Pound the chicken breasts until they are “flat” and approximately ¼-inch thick. I put the breast in plastic wrap when pounding; some people prefer putting the breast between pieces of wax paper. I find that wax paper shreds too easily, so I prefer the plastic wrap. I often find that the pounded breasts are too large, so I cut them in half after the pounding.
  8. In a skillet on medium-low heat add the olive oil (or butter). When heated, add the olives and parsley and mix/stir constantly for about a minute.
  9. Reduce the heat to Low and add the cream cheese. Stir constantly until melted and well mixed with the parsley and olives.
  10. Remove from heat when well-mixed and melted.
  11. Take 1 pounded chicken breast and lay it flat. On half of the breast spread the cream cheese-parsley-olive mixture. Then roll up the breast. (I sometimes find that I can’t really roll it up, so folding it works, too. Just fold the half without the mix over the half with the mix.) Take the rolled/folded breast and dip it into the sugar-mustard mix so the breast is covered. CAUTION:  If the cream cheese mix is leaking out, do not dip the breast in the sugar-mustard mix; instead, spoon the sugar-mustard mix over the breast and spread it with your fingers or a spatula to make sure the whole breast is covered. Then roll the breast in the nut mix.
  12. Repeat step 11 for all of the breasts.
  13. With the breasts in the pan, I find I usually have leftover sugar-mustard mix. I usually take a spoon and drizzle some of the sugar-mustard mix over the breasts in the pan. Not too much, just a little.
  14. Bake the chicken breasts for 15 to 20 minutes. The time depends on how thick the breasts are. Just be sure that the chicken is cooked — no pink juices flowing.
  15. Serve fresh from the oven.

II. Variations

One of the things I like about this recipe is that it is easy to modify and create a different taste. What follow are some options.

  1. Add a layer of Swiss cheese to the half of the chicken breast on which you will put the cream cheese-parsley-olive mixture in Step 11. The addition of the Swiss cheese makes for an interesting flavor combination.
  2. Add some turkey bacon. This would be Step 5a. Cook some turkey bacon (1 strip of bacon per chicken breast) in a separate fry pan on medium heat. Do not let it get overcooked/overcrispy in the pan. When cooked, place on paper towel to absorb the excess fat and to crisp. When all the bacon is cooked and “dried,” roughly chop the slices so that you have crumbles. Set it aside until Step 8. Add half the bacon to the olives and parsley in Step 8 and blend the parsley-olive-bacon mix with the cream cheese in Step 9. The rest of the bacon should be put in a small bowl and placed on the table so people who want more bacon flavor can add additional bacon. Whatever bacon is left over can be used with other meals or frozen for future use.
  3. Like spicy foods? There are a couple of options. (a) Add ½ teaspoon of Tabasco or other hot sauce to the parsley-olive mix in Step 8. If not spicy enough, add more Tabasco to taste. Or (b) add 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes to the parsley-olive mix in Step 8. If not spicy enough, add more red pepper to taste. Or (c) add some hot pepper, like jalapeño, to the parsley-olive mix in Step 8. Use 1 small jalapeño pepper finely chopped.
  4. Use different olives than the black olives. Avoid very salty olives.
  5. Use several types of olives.
  6. Add 1 teaspoon of dried mint (be sure to crush the mint to get the most flavor) and 1 teaspoon of dried dill weed to the parsley-olive mix in Step 8.
  7. Add 1 tablespoon of Chambord liqueur to Step 9. The Chambord adds a nice raspberry touch.
  8. Add a small amount of a flavorful cheese, such as blue cheese or French feta (Greek feta is too salty), to the mix in Step 9. You want to add just enough to give a hint of the other cheese flavor, not to replace the cream cheese.
  9. Combine two or more of the above variations.

Leftover chicken reheats well in the microwave. As is true of most recipes, the dish is best when first made, but a dish that is still enjoyable, like this one, when reheated is a treasure.

I hope you enjoy the recipe. It is easy to make, so give it a try.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

February 1, 2016

Thinking Fiction: First-Novel Flubs and Follies

by Carolyn Haley

Novice authors, despite the uniqueness of their backgrounds and visions, share certain writing characteristics. For instance, almost all the first novels I see contain a beginning, a middle, and an end, with some form of plot and character change. These basics seem to come by instinct, probably because novel writers tend to be novel readers and absorb the essence of story structure from reading polished examples. Whereas some beginners invest in learning storycraft, others express themselves first and analyze later, discovering from beta readers or editors where they need to refine their skills. Even so, their drafts emerge with the core elements in place.

Many novice authors reveal in their “finished” manuscripts that they have a lot yet to learn about narrative technique. But there’s nothing worrisome about that. It’s natural during the creation phase for people to write for themselves, often composing by ear until the text sounds good, without considering how it might read to someone else. Sometimes they’ll go the other way and overthink things, being too conscious of “writing a book,” and writing so stiffly and formally that their style interferes with telling the story. Later, when self-editing, they are too close to the work to recognize potential problems for readers. Because the author reads what the author expects, the story’s flaws often don’t show up until someone else reads the manuscript. (See also the following An American Editor essays: The WYSIWYG Conundrum: The Solid Cloud; Two Books Every Author (& Editor & Publisher) Should Read!, and The Commandments: Thou Shall Use a Professional Editor for additional perspectives.)

A baker’s dozen

The twelve most common beginner-novelist craft problems I see are listed below (see “The Top Twelve”). A thirteenth stands out from the rest and deserves special mention: the failure to write chronologically. By this I do not mean sequence in time, but rather sequence of stimulation–response in a character’s mind and behavior. Writing expert Dwight V. Swain calls this a motivation–reaction unit: a “cause and effect applied to people. Cause becomes motivating stimulus…effect, character reaction.”

Motivation–reaction units form the steps that compel a reader through a story. The units build each scene and relationship, advancing plot and suspense. The idea seems obvious, yet I often see reaction happening before the action that triggers it, such as Jane screaming before John enters the room wielding a knife. Incomplete motivation–reaction units also manifest in dialogue, with unresponded-to declarations, suggestions, or invitations, and in scenes, where something starts without finishing, either described or implied. The effect resembles missing punctuation, the way unclosed parentheses and quotation marks or dropped periods at ends of sentences leaves thoughts dangling and readers confused.

Swain describes the motivation–reaction unit and associated building blocks in his masterwork, Techniques of the Selling Writer. It is the best resource for storycraft I have seen, and I recommend it to all fiction writers and editors.

The top twelve

Just about every beginner’s novel contains one or more of the following flubs and follies. The list does not include typos or errors in spelling or punctuation, because those are universal. Most writers recognize they’re not perfect and willingly accept tidying-up editing. Where they tend to be blind to their own work is in the more advanced or subtle elements of storycraft and style.

Here are the dozen, in no particular order:

  1. Tense misuse. The narrative flip-flops between present and past tense, or incorrectly uses a tense, especially past perfect (e.g., The hiking group grew to ten by the time it left the lodge vs. The hiking group had grown to ten by the time it left the lodge).
  2. Author intrusion. The narrative voice breaks because the author has inserted a personal opinion without channeling it through a character’s perspective, or has characters give information through dialogue that real people wouldn’t speak naturally. The latter has been dubbed the “As you know, Bob” syndrome, referring to conversations like, “As you know, Bob, we were born two years apart in Milwaukee and went to the same school.”
  3. Passive sentence construction. Mainly overusing the verb “to be.” For instance, It was a sunny day and there were birds singing in the trees can be revised to use verbs that make the sentence more vivid: Sunshine poured from the sky and birds twittered in the trees.
  4. Verisimilitude glitches. Situations that are implausible or impossible, such as travel between places that should take hours but in the story take minutes; small-ammo firearms making huge-ammo firearms noises; characters seeing perfectly in the dark. (For more on this, see my An American Editor essay, Thinking Fiction: Verisimilitude.)
  5. Dialogue tags. Identifying who is speaking and how. Some authors name every speaker every time, always using he said and she said and starting a new paragraph for every line of speech. Others drop tags altogether and let the reader guess who is talking. Others seek alternatives to he said/she said, such as he coughed or she sighed, while some use adverbs to set the mood (he said laughingly or she said angrily). Whichever tag style the author favors can be overused to the point of irritating the reader.
  6. Attribute tags. Character identifiers that help readers keep track of people and places. Some authors don’t give visual cues in their narratives, relying totally on readers remembering who’s who by the characters’ names. This is problematic on its own; doubly so when characters are similarly named: Alice, Amy, Adam are hard on the reader’s eye, and hard on comprehension if the reader is not informed that one A-character has red hair, another is an old woman with a limp, a third is a man with a mustache.
  7. False suspense. Withholding information in the belief it creates curiosity and intrigue. That can be true for plot, but it backfires in scene setting or story setup. Suspense should make readers turn the page wanting to know what’s going to happen next, not force them to scratch their heads wondering what’s going on.
  8. Choreography missteps. A variant of false suspense; that is, placing characters in a scene then forgetting to account for their movements. For instance, someone who walks in may never walk out, or leaves the scene while readers think he’s still a player and expect him to do something.
  9. Pronoun confusion. Another variation of who’s-doing-what. They watched the monitors for hours. They were new and reliable, but some of them were older and temperamental so they had to be careful. Which “they” pertains to the watchers and which to the machines?
  10. Clunky sentence structure. Some authors write too uniformly: John drove down the street. He turned into his driveway. He got out of the car. Others are so precise and grammatically correct that their sentences meander on and lose focus, or sound dated to the modern ear. First-time novelists who come to fiction writing from a nonfiction or academic background often eschew contractions, making for stilted-sounding dialogue (“I am going to the store, where she is working today from nine a.m. to five p.m.” vs. “I’m going to the store — she’s working nine to five today”).
  11. Info dump. Commonly happens in the first chapter as backstory leading up to the current story, but it can occur anywhere. The symptom is too much information being provided that either breaks story flow or isn’t needed to advance plot or character development, inviting readers to skip ahead. Sometimes the information is extraneous and can be cut; more often it just needs to be divvied up and spread through the narrative.
  12. Assumptions and allusions. Authors might assume that every reader will know what they’re talking about, whether it’s a classical or biblical reference, or names of modern products and entertainers, or terms and mores of a particular time. If narrative context doesn’t make the reference clear, then readers’ attention will be broken by the effort of wondering, or backing up to see if they understood things right.

Editorial response

In many cases, writing flubs can be fixed with simple revisions at the line editing or copyediting stage. Comprehensive problems should be addressed at the developmental level, or at least in a non-editing manuscript critique. Whether the editor or author performs the suggested revisions depends on the situation and scope of work. Authors in general are open to content changes if they are accompanied by comments explaining the change, or suggesting ways to make the change. Earnest novices who want to improve their skills study edits closely and learn from every revision.

All authors receive edits better if they’re conveyed in a mix of craft language and gentle terms like flubs, tweaks, and bloopers. Authors are as much works-in-process as their novels; even the most seasoned pros acknowledge that they never stop learning. Editors who define problems and demonstrate solutions make the editing process an informative team effort instead of an expert-to-dummy intimidating experience. New authors especially appreciate knowing that their inadequacies are commonly shared, and they just need tools and techniques to master. For many of them, an edited manuscript is the only instruction they get on how to craft a novel. Just like in the movie Field of Dreams — “if you build it, he will come” — give novice authors knowledge and respect, and their books will grow and bloom.

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 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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