An American Editor

September 23, 2015

Two Books Every Author (& Editor & Publisher) Should Read!

I won’t keep you in suspense. The two books are Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman.

I was reading Diane Johnson’s review of Go Set a Watchman (“Daddy’s Girl,” The New York Review of Books, September 24, 2015, pp. 22–26) when I realized that Harper Lee’s two novels should be read by everyone who touches — no matter how peripherally — on the editing process. The two books provide a stark contrast of the value of editing. Johnson wrote:

According to its editors and Harper Lee herself, To Kill a Mockingbird had profited from extensive editing at R.B. Lippincott by the late Tay Hohoff, who said she and Lee worked for two years on the project. (p. 22)

The result was the production of a classic that continues, 50-plus years later, to sell 1 million copies each year.

Contrast that with Go Set a Watchman, which was published as written — without editorial input. Although Watchman has sold a phenomenal number of copies, those will be one-time sales and they came about because of the high expectations readers of Mockingbird had. The consensus seems to be that Watchman is a disaster and a blight on the reputation of Mockingbird; its primary value is to demonstrate what should not be done if one values one’s writing and reputation as an author.

Authors & Wannabe Authors

Watchman was the parent from which Mockingbird was spawned. Yet it is as different from Mockingbird as night is from day. What it demonstrates, however, is how a good editor can help an author.

Too many authors on too many lists promote self-editing or no editing or friend editing. The complaint is that a good editor costs too much and there is no reason to hire one when the author can do it herself. Too many authors also say that they would like to hire an editor but editors are too expensive; they cannot afford an editor.

If you believe you really have a good story to tell and that people will buy it, then shouldn’t you figure out a way to get that editorial help? Your book will not sell like Watchman has sold because you do not have the reputation that Harper Lee has been trading on for 50 years. And it is expected that sales of Watchman will fall precipitously now that the book has been seen. What Watchman does demonstrate, however, is that the editorial investment made in Mockingbird has paid off doubly: first, by creating a phenomenal bestseller that keeps on selling, and second, by creating a reputation that allowed the author to sell drivel, which is what Watchman amounts to. Watchman would not have sold except for Lee’s reputation built on Mockingbird.

It is hard to convince authors (and readers) of the value of good editing because editing is an invisible hand — but these two books, a before and after, should clearly demonstrate what a good editor brings to the table and why authors need editors.

The two books also offer one other insight that I think authors need: They graphically demonstrate the difference between — and value of — developmental editing and copyediting, as well as the value of each. Watchman was neither developmentally edited nor copyedited; Mockingbird was both. Could you self-edit both developmental editing and copyediting?

Skilled and professional authors know that it is almost impossible to edit one’s own work because we see only what we meant to say; we cannot be objective enough to see where our work might be unclear, clunky, disorganized, or simply grammatically lacking (suffering from misspellings, wrong or missing punctuation, close-but-not-quite-right word choices, missing or doubled words, poor transitions, and more).

It is true that a very few authors have the skills to self-edit, but those are the rare authors. Most, if not all, of the most successful authors did not self-edit. Either they or their publisher hired a professional editor. As an author, you may have spent years writing your book. You know every word, every nuance, but you do not know where you are going wrong, because your book is “perfect” — you have said so.

As did Harper Lee when she originally submitted Watchman. What a difference a skilled, professional editor made for Harper Lee — and could make for authors and wannabe authors today.


Editors should read these two books to see what a skilled editor can do. This is not to suggest that you are not a skilled editor, but to suggest that rarely are we given the opportunity to see a before and after of such radical dimension as in the case of Watchman and Mockingbird.

Even more importantly, however, these books give us the opportunity to create an explanation of the value of our services. They also give us the opportunity to graphically demonstrate the differences between developmental editing and copyediting, and what each does for a manuscript. How many of us would reread Watchman or call it a classic or even want it taught in our schools? I know I struggle to envision a movie based on Watchman or caring about the characters or the storyline.

But Mockingbird remains a highly praised novel, 50 years after its publication. It is still discussed in schools and in conversations about race relations. The movie is considered a classic that is still shown. The novel still sells a million copies each year with no advertising to speak of. And all of this is because the original version, Watchman, was developmentally edited and then copyedited by professional editors to become Mockingbird.

Editors should use these books as teaching experiences for clients. They illustrate the benefit of not creating an artificial schedule and of taking the time needed to properly develop the story and to do the editing the story requires.

Editors have looked for years for a way to clearly illustrate why they are worth what they are asking and why editing is a valuable service that is ignored or avoided at an author’s and a publisher’s peril. Watchman and Mockingbird graphically demonstrate the value of editing and editors.

Publishers (& Packagers)

Today, publishing is run largely from the accounting perspective, not the art perspective. Schedules are artificially imposed without regard for the true needs of a manuscript. Editors are asked to do more of the mechanical work and less of the judgmental work; in my earliest years as an editor, for example, the emphasis was on language editing, not on applying styling codes. We did macro-level styling at most, and left micro-level styling to designers and typesetters. But in today’s editing world, the emphasis has switched 180 degrees to emphasize micro-level styling and a deemphasize language editing.

Yet Watchman and Mockingbird can provide a useful lesson for publishers, too. Sure, HarperCollins reaped a quick influx of cash with the publication of Watchman, but if I were the publisher, I would rather have the year-after-year sales of Mockingbird than the one-time sales of Watchman. Watchman will have no lasting value in the marketplace except as an illustration of what publishers used to provide authors versus what they no longer provide authors.

Today, the mantra is “how low can I go”; that is, how little can I, the publisher, spend to take a book from manuscript to bookstore? And the first services publishers squeeze are those that are deemed “invisible” — editorial services. Instead of two years of developmental editing, as was done for Mockingbird, two weeks of copyediting may be provided today (even if the book requires two months of copyediting, let alone additional months of developmental editing).

Watchman and Mockingbird, however, demonstrate the value of the editorial process. Good editing changed a book with no potential into a classic that sells 1 million copies each year and has done so for more than 50 years, with no end in sight. Whatever the editing cost for Mockingbird, it was recouped decades ago, yet keeps on giving. Quality editing is the Timex of publishing — it is the service that keeps on giving.

Publishers and packagers should read these books and use them as guides and reasons why changes to the current editorial and production methods need to be revamped and more attention and money needs to be given to editing. Editing has to be seen today as it was in the early days of publishing. Isn’t it a shame that the books that we treat as classics and must-reads, decade after decade, were nearly all published several decades or longer ago — before accounting supplanted editorial as the decision makers?

Perhaps it is time to rethink the current model. Certainly, Watchman and Mockingbird make that point.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Selected related An American Editor essays:

August 21, 2015

Worth Reading: Is Wikipedia Reliable?

Need to know whether a “fact” is really a “fact”? A lot of editors turn to Wikipedia. Is that what an editor should do?

A recent study, written by Adam Wilson and Gene Likens, regarding Wikipedia’s reliability was published August 14, 2015 in the journal PLoS ONE and is well worth reading:

Content Volatility of Scientific Topics in Wikipedia: A Cautionary Tale

I admit I rarely look at Wikipedia and have never been comfortable with crowd-sourced “research”, but I attribute that to a generational hangup. Yet perhaps there is some reason to be cautious.

What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 7, 2015

Worth Reading: MIT Claims to Have Found a “Language Universal” that Ties All Languages Together

As manipulators of language, editors have an interest in the origins and connectedness of languages. Noam Chomsky has theorized that all languages are interconnected via an “universal connector.” Proving his theory has been challenging, but MIT thinks it has done so based on a study of 37 languages.

Alas, the original article, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science U.S.A., is behind a paywall ($10 buys access for 2 days). However, Ars Technica provides a summary and if you click the DOI at the end of the article, you can read the official abstract:

MIT claims to have found a “language universal” that ties all languages together: A language universal would bring evidence to Chomsky’s controversial theories.

Has MIT made the connection? Is there an “universal connector” as Chomsky theorized? What do you think?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 19, 2015

Worth Reading: Onscreen Proofreading Tips: Reorganizing Your Stamps Palette in PDF-Xchange

If you proofread or edit on PDF, you should know about Louise Harnby’s free PDF proofreading stamps. In her latest essay on The Proofreader’s Parlour blog, Harnby describes how you can reorder the PDF stamps palette so that it better reflects your needs. Harnby’s article focuses on how to reorder the stamps palette in PDF-XChange (Acrobat doesn’t offer the same flexibility currently).

If you don’t already use her stamps, get them — they are free. If you do use them, reorganize them because, as Harnby writes,

Every second you spend scrolling to find the stamp you want adds up. Seconds become minutes, and minutes become hours. If you’re being paid per hour, and your client doesn’t have a top-line budget, it may not matter how long it takes you to do a job, nor that you’re working inefficiently. However, many clients do have a top line, and many editorial professionals are working for fixed fees. Efficiency matters. Furthermore, some of us need to attend to the way in which we use our hands, wrists and arms repetitively when working onscreen.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 7, 2015

Worth Noting: Signing Emails & Politics

I came across two things worth noting. The first is No Way to Say Goodbye: You’re Ending Your E-mails Wrong by Rebecca Greenfield. The Bloomberg BusinessWeek columnist has an interesting take on the matter. Here is the video version:

No Way to Say Goodbye

The second item deals with politics and the relationship between your profession and whether you are likely to be a Democrat (liberal) or Republican (conservative). Scroll down to the bottom to find editors.

The Link Between Political Affiliation and Profession

Richard Adin, An American Editor

March 21, 2015

Something to Think About

As long-time readers of AAE know, I like to draw attention to articles and videos that are worth reading/watching and even provoke thinking. Today’s video is about gun buying and educating the gun buyer. I do not want to get into a Second Amendment right argument; I am providing the link because I think the video is worth watching, especially as it is a different approach to the issue of educating the consumer.

Remember that you do not have to watch the video (or read the article linked to below); clicking the link is purely voluntary. For those interested, here is the video, which has gone viral:

Guns With History

I found the reaction of the New York affiliate of the National Rifle Association (NRA), The New York State Rifle and Pistol Association (NYSRPA), interesting: it demanded a criminal investigation of the video and the gun safety group States United to Prevent Gun Violence. For more information, see the Media Watch article: “NRA Affiliate Is So Scared Of This Gun Safety Video That It Wants A Criminal Investigation.”

Richard Adin, An American Editor

March 7, 2015

Worth Reading: The Value of Copyediting

Readers of An American Editor know that I believe editing enhances the value of an author’s work. I also believe that you pay more for professional, quality editing and that not everyone who claims to be an editor is (should be) an editor. I also firmly believe that there are professional editors and nonprofessional editors, and that it is professional editors who add value to an author’s writing.

Too often the response from a client or a potential client is that “readers do not care” about editing and especially do not care about whether any editing is professionally done. A study by Wayne State University Associate Professor Fred Vultee seems to draw a different conclusion. The study was previewed by Natalie Jomini Stroud in her March 3, 2015 article at the American Press Institute blog:

Study Shows the Value of Copy Editing.

Although not the original study article (“Audience Perceptions of Editing Quality” published January 6, 2015 in Digital Journalism), which is behind a paywall, Stroud’s article provides a clear summation of Vultee’s study. Of special interest is the chart comparing copyediting to no copyediting.

Other blogs that discuss Vultee’s study include Journalist’s Resource (“The value of editing in the digital age: Readers’ perceptions of article quality and professionalism“) and Craig Silverman at (“Study: Readers value extra editing, women especially“). For a PDF of Professor Vultee’s presentation on the subject to ACES in 2012, see “Readers Perceptions of Quality“.

Perhaps some of these findings will be helpful in convincing clients of the value of our services. Regardless, there is some interesting reading above and some food for deep thinking. Enjoy!

Richard Adin, An American Editor


February 20, 2015

Worth Reading: Commas and Copyediting

The newest issue of The New Yorker has a wonderful article about commas and copyediting by the magazine’s own copyeditor, Mary Norris. “Holy Writ: Learning to Love the House Style” is a must read for editors and authors. You might also want to read an earlier article by Mary Norris, “Don’t Try to Hone In On a Copy Editor.” It is another well-written insight into editing. From The Economist comes this editorial by Schumpeter: “Authorpreneurship: To Succeed These Days, Authors Must Be More Businesslike Than Ever,” which is also true of editors.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

January 16, 2015

A Good Deal (Maybe): Jet

I know many of you do not read BusinessWeek, so I thought I would bring this to your attention. This has nothing to do with editing or any editorial service; instead, it has to do with potentially good deals for us as consumers.

(Disclosure: I have nothing to do with except that I am interested in giving it a try and have signed up to be notified when it goes live.)

Everyone thinks of Amazon when it comes to low prices and great customer service. For customer service, Amazon has become the benchmark. As many of you know, I am not a fan of Amazon because of the way it conducts business with vendors and competitors, particularly in the book world, which is my business world. So I avoid buying from Amazon whenever possible; I am even willing to pay a bit more to support an Amazon competitor.

But it looks like Amazon will soon have some serious competition: I found BusinessWeek‘s cover story fascinating, and decided to put my name on‘s notification list. You should take the time to read “Amazon Bought This Man’s Company. Now He’s Coming for Them“; if you want to get quickly to “how it will work,” scroll down the article to the explanatory graphic, “How works.”

Whether it will ultimately prevail or succeed, I have no idea, but I will check out when it opens for business in March. It will especially be nice if I can get office supplies more cheaply.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

January 10, 2015

Articles Worth Reading: Inside CryptoWall 2

A bit more than a year ago, I wrote about my experience with ransomware in “Business of Editing: URLs, Authors, & Viruses.” A week later, I followed it up with “Articles Worth Reading: More on Ransomware.” And just a few weeks ago, I wrote “The Business of Editing: Playing It Safe” in which I discussed Sandboxie.

Well, here we go again.

If you have been dithering about Sandboxie or similar protection, I encourage you to read “Inside CryptoWall 2.0: Ransomware, Professional Edition” from Ars Technica. As the article notes:

The installation components of CryptoWall 2.0 are cloaked by multiple levels of encryption, with three distinct stages of installation each using a different encryption method to disguise the components installed. And like many modern pieces of malware, CryptoWall 2.0 has a virtual machine check in its code that disables the attack when the malware is installed within a virtual instance—in part to prevent security researchers from isolating and analyzing its behavior.

The VM checker code, in the first stage of CryptoWall’s dropper sequence, checks the system for running processes, searching for VMware and VirtualBox services or the Sandboxie application partitioning library. If the coast is clear, the code does some best practices-based memory handling to release memory used in the initial drop mode, then launches another dropper disguised as a Windows Explorer process.

Note that before it tries to install itself, CryptoWall searches for a running process like Sandboxie. If it finds Sandboxie (or similar software) running, it doesn’t go any further; if it doesn’t find Sandboxie running, it proceeds to the next installation step.

Since I originally bought Sandboxie, the licensing has changed. Now you can buy a lifetime license for up to 3 home computers for $49.95 or for 5 computers for $74.95. For just 1 computer, the lifetime license is $34.95. For pricing information click here. (Again, I have no connection or interest in Sandboxie other than having bought a license for my computers.)

I think the price is cheap for the protection it affords. And contrary to popular belief, your antivirus and malware programs do not protect against ransomware. Although ransomware exploits holes in the operating system, it does not attack the operating system, which is what antivirus and malware programs protect against; ransomware attacks your data files — your Word documents, your text files, your picture files, and the like — by encrypting them, not destroying them.

If you haven’t yet checked out a program like Sandboxie, I encourage you to do so.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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