An American Editor

August 24, 2022

Thinking Fiction: An Open Letter to the Fiction Publishing Industry

Dear authors, editors, publishers, and readers:

I think we can all agree that novels exist for entertainment, enlightenment, and education — ideally in balanced combination.

Authors, your job is to create those stories. Take your vision — whatever it might be — and write it out with all your heart and soul, in the best language you can compose.

Editors, your job is to help authors refine their vision and language so their stories are clearly and easily comprehensible to the people who want to read them.

Publishers, your job is to convert authors’ visions into consumable products aimed at the people most likely to be receptive to the content and appreciate it. (For authors who self-publish, the idea is the same.) Then help get the word out.

Readers, your job is to seek out the kinds of novels you enjoy reading, expanding your tastes and horizons now and then — and support the people who provide the works by purchasing and/or reviewing and/or referring their stories to other readers and influencers.

The one thing that none of you can rightfully do is stop anyone from expressing themselves and putting out their work to the public, nor stop any reader from selecting what they want to read. No book banning or burning. None of you are the thought police.

Here’s how it works instead.

Authors, who usually are readers first, don’t have to read or write about what doesn’t interest or compel them. Their best efforts arise from what does interest and compel them, usually resulting in their most powerful stories. Such stories might prove to be controversial, which can make or break a book’s sales or even an author’s career. If an author isn’t willing to accept that possibility, then they should not release the book.

Independent editors are under no obligation to work on manuscripts that don’t interest them, or that offend or repel them. Their business goal should be connecting with authors who are producing materials that do interest and excite them. If they see an incompatible book coming or receive one (whether unsolicited or discussed beforehand), then they should decline it. If they make the wrong call and end up with a project that upsets them, then they should get out of it by whatever means. Having contracts with escape clauses helps with handling this aspect of the project or interaction.

The problem is different for staff editors at publishing houses: To keep their jobs, they might have to work on material that upsets them. In such cases, they must act according to their principles. That means either sucking up and dealing with the upsetting book, or waving good-bye to their employer.

Publishers can reject manuscripts that don’t support their business or editorial positions. There is no moral obligation for them to publish everything.

Readers have the option of not buying a book that doesn’t work for them, and to close it midstride if they realize it’s the wrong story for them. They can also publicly diss or not recommend any book they feel is unworthy, just as they can praise and promote one they admire.

Designers have a role to play in this equation, too, by helping authors and publishers produce covers and descriptions that convey to readers what lies within. Done properly, this eliminates the need for “trigger warnings,” which in turn eliminates catering to political trends.

Everybody in the chain from first idea to product-in-hand has a responsibility toward the story content. Art — a broad umbrella that covers fiction — exists for people to view and respond to. It reflects the myriad qualities of the world, like it or not. Just because we disagree with an author’s work of fiction or find it uncomfortable doesn’t make it wrong or something to burn/ban or declare unpublishable.

It boils down to free choice in response to free speech in a free world. Unless the country you live in has a totalitarian regime, then writing, editing, publishing, and reading fall within the “to each their own” philosophy, letting us savor the vast and wonderful choice of creative works out there across the globe.

“Thinking Fiction“ columnist Carolyn Haley is an award-winning novelist who 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 three novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1997 and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She also reviews for the New York Journal of Books, and has presented about editing fiction at Communication Central conferences. She can be reached at dcma@vermontel.net or through DocuMania.

August 23, 2020

On the Basics: New resources for freelancers

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

I’m breaking precedent with a Sunday post to share some professional good news: The updated edition of my “Freelancing 101” booklet for the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA), featuring new input from EFA Publications chairperson Robin Martin, and the updated new edition of the EFA’s “Resumés for Freelancers” booklet, which I’ve co-authored with original author Sheila Buff, are among the new publications available at the EFA’s new bookstore:
https://shop.aer.io/editorial_freelancers_association_bookstore

Robin deserves a huge round of applause for herding cats (um, authors) and – even more challenging – organizing the new bookstore.

I hope our subscribers find these publications useful. They were a lot of fun to produce and should be – if I say so myself – excellent resources for various aspects of a freelance editorial (not just editing) business.

March 4, 2019

Lazy Writing, Part 2 — Something to Combat, but Sometimes Appreciate

By Carolyn Haley

For Part 1 of this article, go to https://americaneditor.wordpress.com/2019/02/15/thinking-fiction-lazy-writing-part-1-something-to-combat-but-sometimes-appreciate/

Extra padding

Sometimes lazy writing involves using more words than needed. Characters give a sigh or give a wink instead of just sighing or winking. They make their way somewhere instead of walking, driving, climbing, wending, etc. They have a feeling of dread about something instead of dreading it, or haven’t seen someone for a while instead of for hours, days, weeks, months, or years. Readers soon get tired of such lazy usage and yearn for some brevity and specificity.

The same effect occurs with over-creativity, by which I mean referring to a character in too many ways. Joe might be a short guy with black hair who is also a police officer in Chicago. As paragraphs about his action go by, he’s referred to as Joe, the short man, the black-haired fighter, the cop, and the Chicagoan. In trying to avoid repetition, the author ends up confusing the reader by introducing too many variables. This tends to happen in action novels, where a character is lightly sketched at first appearance and never developed to the point of being easily recognizable later. Such variability again makes the reader have to work hard to keep track of who’s who.

Loose ends

The most common lazy writing I encounter is false suspense, although this is a result less of laziness than ignorance. It usually occurs in a first novel, when the author doesn’t yet understand the difference between suspense that generates the “What happens next?” question and suspense that generates the “What’s going on?” question.

I recently challenged a client about why he kept starting new chapters in new places and times without telling us who was talking or where/when they were. That information came several paragraphs or even pages into the chapter. He said he liked dropping readers straight into the action. That’s fine if readers can follow the logic leap. If not, it’s a head-scratcher that is certain to leave readers impatient and confused.

Lazy writing occurs also in matters of verisimilitude. When writers get carried away with the excitement of their story and don’t later verify facts and logistics, it falls on the editor to burst their balloon by pointing out that a scene can’t happen the way it’s described.

Most such bloopers are easy fixes, such as adjusting the scene to account for moonlight (or lack of), or whether it’s possible to maneuver with bodies lying around underfoot, or how a specified gun type might behave, or accounting for vehicles left crashed in the middle of the road when the hero then zooms down said road unimpeded. Sometimes a technical blooper might require a major recast of scene or even storyline; but, thankfully for both writers and editors, bloopers usually are of the “duh” type, such as cigarettes lit but never put out (or smoked in 30 seconds or 30 minutes), or the consequences of a major wound (people who don’t bleed, or continue running around when they’ve had a lung shot out), and the like. Fixing those items doesn’t require revising the whole book.

The subjectivity factor

The laziest of lazy writing, in my passionate opinion, is the cliffhanger, be it the ending of a scene, a chapter, or an entire book. I acknowledge that this can be a matter of taste, and I struggle with determining whether that’s truly the case or if the story is hurting itself by using that device. How to respond to cliffhangers is, perhaps, the most difficult decision I must make as an editor. Do I let it go, or flag it as a criticism or item for discussion? As a recreational reader on my own time, cliffhangers inspire me to simply toss a book over my shoulder, but as a professional editor, I can’t do that.

Cliffhangers strike me as a cheap shot, as manipulative, as author intrusion into a story. They occur most often in series novels, used as an attempt to bribe readers into reading the next book. I consider cliffhanging a lazy technique because, as a reader, I want resolution. I am willing to keep turning pages if the author keeps the suspense and interest mounting, but I don’t need to be compelled to continue by force. I want closure of the individual volume’s story with promise of more to come, not major components left dangling to provoke me into reading the next book.

As with almost everything relating to writing and editing novels, subjectivity is a big factor. My job as an editor is to inform an author about any spot where other readers might bark their shins. It’s up to the author to decide whether those places are things they want to think about and change.

If the author chooses to let an issue stand, I’m fine with that. I care only that they make an informed choice. The marketplace will decide whether it’s the right choice. Most of us know that you can’t please everyone, and the author’s goal is to connect with the audience who wants to read their stuff. My job as an editor is to help them achieve that end.

The editor’s role

It’s a rare editor who doesn’t encounter lazy writing during their career. Those who work with indie authors, especially new ones, encounter it often. Tolerance for editing lazy writing should be considered when deciding what kind of editorial work to do for a living. That tolerance level also an important component of structuring contracts — defining exactly what the editor is going to do to the client’s manuscript is essential to a good working relationship.

If you have the heart and soul of a developmental editor, and you find clients willing to pay the cost, then you can dive into someone’s early work and help them avoid symptoms of lazy writing. This not only gives you job satisfaction, but also helps line and copy editors down the road, who might not be developmentally inclined and have a harder time sorting out the material, defining the boundaries of their work, and helping their clients.

Line and copy editors do sometimes have to deal with un-developmentally-edited texts, because their clients are unwilling or unable to pay for the higher level of edit that would catch and help the author fix instances of lazy writing. In all cases, no matter what level of editing is involved, editors have to define terms and expectations carefully in the work they propose to provide. Copy editors are generally limited to making comments and queries instead of rephrasing, and both editor and author might end up tearing their hair out if the “edited” manuscript is overloaded with changes and queries attacking the text when that’s not part of the agreed-upon scope of work. A client expecting the mechanical focus of copyediting might not be open to the heavy hits on their prose by an editor who recognizes lazy writing and tries to improve it, while a client expecting deep involvement in their prose might feel cheated if all they get are mechanical edits.

Appreciating the lazy …

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate lazy writing. It forces me to concentrate on a story and think hard about the details, get engrossed in the characters, take the author seriously. Addressing the questions that lazy writing triggers and talking with the author about them brings out the best of our relationship, letting us blend the artistic and analytical elements that bring out the best of the work. Ultimately, we all — author, editor, and the story itself — end up more muscular and vibrant. How can that not result in a better book?

Carolyn Haley, an award-winning novelist, 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 dcma@vermontel.com 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, and has presented on editing fiction at the Communication Central conference.

February 15, 2019

Thinking Fiction: Lazy Writing, Part 1 — Something to Combat, but Sometimes Appreciate

By Carolyn Haley

Many of us write lazily when composing our letters, reports, and books. It’s easier to turn ideas into words when we’re relaxed and nothing inhibits the flow. Creative writing, especially, benefits from the author “letting ’er rip.” That liquid, unstriving state of mind best releases the emotions and imagery needed for a story, but to bring that story to fulfillment through publishing requires being balanced by a disciplined state of mind to finish the job.

Laziness in writing, therefore, has both a positive and negative aspect.

The positive aspect of laziness is a glowing, happy state, such as what accompanies a Sunday afternoon with no obligations, when one can kick back and enjoy a rare opportunity to read, walk, talk, travel, party, eat — whatever brings satisfaction, allowing one to be at ease. In positive laziness, thoughts can flow in an absence of tension. As it pertains to writing, a certain amount of psychic laziness brings inspiration, productivity, and joy.

The negative aspect of laziness is unwillingness to do what has to be done. There might be good reasons for it in someone’s personal situation, but laziness and the oft-resultant procrastination rarely combine into a happy outcome when writing a book that the author desires to publish.

Negative laziness in writing translates into “not enough thought or revision,” resulting in a work that’s put out into the world unpolished. In most cases, a lazily written book will not be acquired by an agent or editor (in traditional publishing). If a lazy novel is self-published, readers won’t buy it or finish it or recommend it to their friends. Worse, they will give it bad reviews.

It’s normal for an author to be unable to self-revise and eliminate the symptoms of negative lazy writing. Revising and polishing one’s work can be like looking in a mirror: You know what you’re going to see, and that image of yourself is imprinted in your mind, making it hard to see anything else. A similar self-blindness occurs in reading one’s own writing. It’s tremendously hard to view it through someone else’s eyes — which is why authors use beta readers and hire editors.

This essay, then, is aimed more at editors than writers, although both can benefit from knowing what symptoms to watch for.

Distinctions in laziness

In the novels I edit, positive laziness shows itself in zesty, imaginative plots and colorful characters, while negative laziness shows itself in flat characters and dull, redundant, and/or unclear prose.

This negative quality I dub “lazy prose” because it gives the impression of incompleteness, as if the sentences were written without planning or examination. That usually occurs in the first or second draft, when the author is still mapping out the story and perhaps struggling to flesh it out. At that point, there’s no negative laziness involved. But if no effort follows to refine the text, then I mentally flag the book as lazy.

There’s also a version of lazy prose that reflects egotism. Sometimes authors believe that all they have to do is type out their thoughts, and every reader will share their vision and understand all their characters’ motivations, actions, and emotions. Unfortunately, more often than not, the information a reader needs to enjoy this sharing and understanding isn’t in the manuscript.

Here are some examples of how lazy prose leaves a book unpolished.

Vague adjectives

The most common lazy word I see is large. I’m tempted to call that word the universal adjective because it crops up so often!

For instance: A large man enters a large building through a large door into a large room with a large fireplace. Or, a large army is led by a large man on a large horse wielding a large sword.

Okay, I exaggerate: I’ve never seen large used more than twice in one sentence, but I have seen it used 10 times in one chapter and several dozen times in one novel. It’s a perfectly good adjective, but when it becomes the author’s pet descriptor throughout a story, and I’m trying to form mental images as I follow the characters through their adventures, then the word’s inadequacy becomes apparent.

In the author’s mind, a large man might be a tall one, a fat one, or a big hairy one. In the reader’s mind, without any other information, it’s hard to visualize the person if all we’re given is large. Let’s say the author introduces a character as a menace to the protagonist, such as when a sleuth is confronted by an enforcer for the criminal he’s tracking down. Just saying the enforcer is large draws no picture, and the threat intended by this person’s appearance fails to impress.

Expanding the description to draw a more-precise picture requires adding words (e.g., built like a bull with no neck), which might be problematic in action stories or scenes where spareness keeps the pace moving. In such cases, a single adjective must serve. Just upticking large to beefy improves the image. A thesaurus adds options: stout, heavy, thickset, stocky, chunky, brawny, husky, burly, strapping, hulking, elephantine, herculean, humongous — at least 10 others.

Usually a brief elaboration, such as an enforcer built like a bull, or a door twice as tall as a man, will do the job. It can be argued that twice as tall as a man is just as vague as large, because man isn’t defined; however, most people have an idea of the general size of adult male humans, so describing something as twice that size has more meaning than just large.

One of my clients, in response to my requests to be more specific when he repeatedly used large, said he wanted to leave the reader free to visualize the person/place/thing in their own way. That’s a fair position, and in many genres an appropriate style. I share this author’s (and many others’) dislike of too much description and will always encourage lean prose over verbose prose. At the same time, I believe it’s possible to omit too much information and leave readers struggling to follow the story or understand the characters.

Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”

I’ll second that, and add that one precise adjective can draw a sharper, more-evocative picture than a vague one like large.

Editor’s note: Part 2 will be posted on March 15.

Carolyn Haley, an award-winning novelist, 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 dcma@vermontel.com 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, and has presented on editing fiction at the Communication Central conference.

November 21, 2018

On the Basics — Lessons from a Major Life Change

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

As some of you know, I recently decided to make a major life change and relocate from my hometown of Rochester, NY, to St. Louis, MO, where I lived many years ago. The process has been exciting, unpredictable and even a little scary, but well worth all the hassle involved with any move, especially one halfway across country rather than across town. Some aspects have offered insights connected to the idea of editing and being in business as an editor that I thought our subscribers might enjoy.

Own your life

This move was inspired by a combination of factors. I found that I couldn’t handle staying where my husband and I had been together — I kept expecting him to be there in our apartment, or around an aisle at the grocery store, and it was painful. The experience and impact of loss is different for everyone; some people prefer to stay where they were happy with a spouse or partner, but it wasn’t working for me.

Within a few months of losing Wayne-the-Wonderful, I fell and tore up my arm, and couldn’t drive for almost three months. Because I lived in a residential neighborhood with no amenities in walking distance, that meant having to ask friends or pay for transport for everything — groceries, doctors’ appointments, entertainment, meetings. It was beyond frustrating. A walkable neighborhood became a priority.

A change of ownership and management for our apartment building, of which the less said, the better, was the third strike. It was time.

A “field trip” back to St. Louis proved that old friendships and professional connections were still in good shape. Before I even started to look at rental places, I fell over an amazing opportunity to do something I’ve never done before — buy a place to live. All kinds of things seemed to line up as signs that this was meant to be, and here I am, back in the Gateway City, where things are both familiar and new.

Edit your life

The biggest lesson of this process has been that it’s time for any and all of us to edit our lives! That is, most — if not all — of us have too much stuff, whether it’s personal possessions or work-related items; probably both. In trying to pack for this big move, I found myself assessing what to keep, what to donate and what to pitch on a scale unlike any other time I’ve moved.

I probably kept a lot of personal belongings that I could dispense with (and I expect to do further clearing out once I’m more settled in), but those were harder to deal with than the work stuff. In that realm, it was surprisingly easy to decide that I really don’t need two or more paper copies of my published work, and that resulted in emptying out two entire four-drawer file cabinets! I have a portfolio for every year that I’ve been working in publishing or communications, so I have a copy of everything I’ve written, edited or proofread, and one should suffice for both my own desire to have a record of my professional life and any client’s need for back copies of projects.

It also occurred to me that I don’t have to keep 5¼” floppy disks, 3.5” diskettes, Zip disks or Syquest disk versions of work from 10, 20 or more years ago. Clients do occasionally ask for old projects, but rarely anything that old — and if someone asks now, I can recreate a version through photocopying or scanning. I pitched what seemed like a ton of old disks — not without some trepidation, but also with a feeling of relief, of being unchained from so much stuff.

I also cleared a two-drawer file cabinet of handwritten notes from probably a couple hundred interviews for articles that have been published without any requests to clarify or verify information. From now on, I’ll keep notes for no more than a year after a piece is published. Anyone with complaints or questions going back farther than that will have to trust my reputation for accuracy.

I went through several drawers-worth of old files and records, clearing out anything I thought was pointless to keep now. I did keep business records going farther back than required, but as minimally as felt comfortable. Several boxes of paper, off to the shredder (and the boxes made available for packing!).

As I continue unpacking and organizing in my new home, I strongly urge colleagues to pretend you have to move next week or at most next month, and use that scenario to start sorting and editing your belongings to see what you can do without. Clothes you haven’t worn in a year or longer; dry and canned goods, medications, hygiene products, etc., that are past their expiration dates or not being used — trash the expired ones and donate the ones that someone else could benefit from; anything in a storage closet, basement, attic or junk room; and old work files that no one is ever going to ask you about again or equipment that you aren’t ever going to use. (I’m not even sure why I keep all those old portfolios, much less albums of personal photos going back even farther; it’s not as if I’m famous enough for anyone to need them to write my definitive biography!)

Be prepared

Any move can mean disruption of some, if not all, business systems. A new location, even in town, can mean new phone numbers (not an issue if you rely solely on a cell- or smartphone, of course), Internet access, bank accounts, mailing information and related aspects of both daily and business life. If you can take a break from work to focus on the move, so much the better, but most of us don’t have that luxury.

As I’ve said in other contexts, having an e-mail address based on a domain name makes it easy to relocate without losing touch with clients and colleagues, because any change in your service provider is invisible to your contacts. It doesn’t matter what company I use for Ruth@writerruth.com; I never have to tell anyone a new e-ddress because it doesn’t change, even if my actual provider does. (The same is probably true for national servers like Gmail, Yahoo, etc., but those don’t relay your brand and business identity in the same way as a domain-based e-ddress.)

Then again, actual Internet access can still be problematic. As I write this, my ATT service is having serious personality issues, and the technician is finding it challenging to resolve them. That’s a function of being in an older building, and a unit whose previous owner apparently did not use the Internet. I’ve had to warn a couple of regular clients that my access to e-mail might be spotty for a few days, and to call me (yikes — actually talking clients on the phone!) for anything urgent.

Before the move, I made a point of looking for, and luckily found, alternatives to my home system. There’s a public library about three blocks from my new place, as well as a wealth of nearby coffee shops and other neighborhood joints with WiFi service. My goal of being in a walkable neighborhood is proving to be a definite plus.

Most of the other aspects of the move have been easy to manage — opening a new bank account and redirecting direct deposits or debits, updating website contact information, forwarding mail, etc. It helped to have a financial cushion for the myriad unexpected aspects of both the move and the change from renting to owning; it seems as if something new, and potentially costly, pops up every other day. (Ah, yes — the joys of homeownership! Everything you’ve heard is true.)

It also helped to be reasonably up to date, and even ahead of deadline, on current projects so changes in scheduling everything from the movers’ arrival date to delivery of remaining furnishings (my big pieces will have to come into the apartment by crane through a window, because the elevator and stairwell are too small to accommodate them!) to wonky Internet access don’t turn into major problems. I highly recommend working ahead of deadlines at any time, but especially before and the first few weeks after a move.

The benefits of editing your life

An “edited” life is likely to be a better-organized, more-manageable, less-stressful life. I’m not advocating dispensing with any and all elements that make your surroundings fun and personalized (yes, all the purple bears came with me to St. Louis); just assessing what you don’t need, don’t use and don’t want to deal with if you have to move — or someone has to manage a move for you.

Moving to a new place can be exciting, and doing so with as little excess baggage as possible is liberating. Like editing a thorny document, editing my belongings is a cathartic and freeing experience. Every emptied drawer, every donated item, every bag of trash — it was as if I was getting lighter and lighter. It felt great!

The process continues — I continue to find more things that I can do without and I’m not sure why I kept. We do reach a point, at least in editing a life for a move, where it’s easier to just bring or keep everything and worry about it later. The problem becomes, of course, that it’s also easier to keep all that stuff (assuming you have space for it) than to continue sorting and culling; editing out what we don’t use or need.

There may not be an exact parallel to editing a document, but there certainly is one to editing your business life. And every unsorted box, pile or file drawer is something to do in-between projects, during a snowstorm or at any other point of life when time hangs idle.

I’m sure that other lessons or advice will occur to me in the coming weeks, but for now, I’m going to take advantage of being offline for a while (I hope a short while) to unpack another box or two. Wish me luck!

What lessons have colleagues learned from needing or wanting to make a big life change like a move?

January 29, 2018

Signs that an Editor Might Not Be a Pro

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Today’s aspiring authors have a lot more resources for getting their work into readers’ hands than ever before, but often have little experience in the publishing world. That can make authors vulnerable to people who call themselves editors — whether of books or of other projects — but are not truly skilled or experienced in that realm.

Since I’m a writer as well as an editor and proofreader, I often think about editing matters from the author’s or client’s perspective. For subscribers to An American Editor who are writers, here are signs that an editor might not be a pro, so you know not to use the same person for your next book, or you might not want to hire an editor you are considering working with. You might even want to find someone to redo an already-published book so it does better in future sales.

For subscribers who are editors, these might be areas to consider when wondering why you aren’t getting as much work as you’d like, haven’t gotten repeat assignments from past clients, or are just starting out in the field. They also might serve as talking points when you want to explain to a potential client or employer why you’re the best pick — or at least an appropriate one — for their editing work.

As colleague Katherine Hinkebein Pickett has said, “Due diligence is essential to finding a qualified, reputable editor. When you know what to look for, you can hire your editor with confidence.” Equally, when we know what prospective clients might look for when choosing an editor, editors can power up their responses more effectively.

Authors don’t have to be experts in language and usage to notice some problems that could indicate work by an unprofessional editor, such as:

  • Every word in every title or chapter heading starts with a capital letter, including a/an, and, the, of, etc. (I see this a lot in online material, but that doesn’t make it right.)
  • Commas, periods, and closing parentheses are outside the quote marks (in projects using U.S. English).
  • There are commas before opening parentheses.
  • Basic spelling errors jump out at you or have been noticed by readers.
  • Punctuation is inconsistent or missing.
  • References/citations are all in different sequences or styles.

To head off such problems with your next book, or a new edition of the current one, here are some red flags to keep in mind. These also can function as suggestions for how editors can position their businesses better.

  • A prospective editor has no website, no testimonials at a website, no professional memberships, no LinkedIn profile/account, no formal training, no apparent experience, and/or no references.

A professional editor will probably have a website that outlines his or her training and experience, such as coursework from a respected publications program, in-house work, or a freelance track record. It should include testimonials from employers, colleagues, and/or clients attesting to the editor’s skills and approach, and references that prospective clients can contact (or a link to reach the editor to receive contact info for references).

The editor should belong to an organization such as the American Copy Editors Society, Council of Science Editors, National Association of Independent Writers and Editors, Society for Technical Communication, Editorial Freelancers Association, Society for Editors and Proofreaders (UK), Editors Canada, etc. Since groups like the American Medical Writers Association, Society for Professional Journalists, and National Association of Science Writers all have freelance sections and members who are editors, membership in them is also a good sign that someone is a professional.

Belonging to the Copyediting-L e-mail list and Editors Association of Earth (EAE) Facebook group also would be useful indicators of an editor’s professionalism and commitment to staying on top of trends in language in general and editing in particular.

Training could include having earned certificates from respected editing programs. Experience would, of course, include working in-house for a publisher, publication, or organization, or with individual authors. An editor who writes about the crafting of editing in his or her own blog, has published a book about editing, or is a regular and respected contributor to the editing-related works of others and lists or groups is also likely to be someone with experience and skills.

  • An editor hasn’t asked what style manual/guide you use or the editor should use, or hasn’t told you which one s/he will use for your project. There are several standard guides for using language and formatting documents. The Chicago Manual of Style, Associated Press Stylebook, American Psychological Association Publication Manual, and Government Printing Office Style Manual are the leading resources, with many more available for specific professions and industries. A professional editor is familiar with at least one of these and lets prospective clients know that’s the case, which should reassure authors who might be concerned about consistency and accuracy in their documents.

Identifying the dictionary that an editor uses is also helpful to clients. Spellcheck, as most of us know, is not sufficient, but even if it were, some clients have to be convinced by an authority other than the editor that a given word has been spelled correctly.

  • The editor’s only credential is a degree in English or a career as an English teacher. While knowing English is a plus (a strong grasp of grammar is essential for an editor), there’s a difference between what’s involved with teaching English and knowing how to edit. Simply having taught English or earned an academic degree in English is not enough to understand the importance and use of style manuals, publishing standards and conventions, and other aspects of editing.
  • An editor’s pricing is very low. That might be great for your budget, but is likely to be terrible for the quality of the editing. Someone whose rates are super-low is probably either new to editing or inexperienced, untrained, minimally skilled, and/or only editing as a hobby, rather than seriously committed to editing as a business and profession, with training and experience to match. From the editor’s perspective, lowballing your rates can make you look as if you’re new to the field, unsure of your skills, or desperate for work. If we don’t value ourselves, our clients won’t value us, either!
  • There are typos — misspellings, grammar and punctuation errors, etc. — in the editor’s e-mail messages, résumé, and/or website. An e-mail or word-processing program will highlight some of these issues for authors who are not sure of what is right or wrong. Some authors might not recognize such issues in communications from an editor, but they often are egregious enough for an amateur author to notice.
  • The editor promises 100% perfection or guarantees agent placement, a publisher, and/or bestseller status for your book. It probably would be easier to pitch an edited manuscript to an agent or sell it to a publisher, but having the manuscript edited is not a guarantee of getting published or selling lots of copies.
  • The editor claims to rely on spellcheck, online programs like Grammarly, and other tools to ensure perfection. Not only is perfection unlikely, as noted above, but it takes more than a mechanical software program to ensure high quality in editing. An editor who uses PerfectIt, the various tools at editorium.com, and EditTools from wordsnsync demonstrates a commitment to knowing about and using appropriate, respected resources to contribute to a better result, but doesn’t say those resources are all it takes to provide excellence in editing. The human brain and eyes are still essential to the process, which means experience and training are still vitally important to professionalism and providing high-quality service.

What have colleagues here encountered as examples of poor-quality editing, and how have you positioned your experience and skills to convince clients to hire you for editing projects?

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, which hosts an annual conference for colleagues, and the new editor-in-chief of An American Editor.

January 4, 2018

Worth Noting: Building the American Republic

The University of Chicago Press has published two new books on the history of America. I admit I haven’t yet read the books, so I can’t say for sure that they will be the history books of the year or even the month, but the authors are well-respected historians and the press is a well-respected press, so there is high expectation.

What makes these two books particularly noteworthy absent review or my having read them is that they are being made available as free ebooks, in addition to being available at a price in print.

The ebooks, Building the American Republic, Volume 1: A Narrative History to 1877 by  Harry L. Watson and Building the American Republic, Volume 2: A Narrative History from 1877 by Janet Dailey are available for free download from your favorite ebookstore or from the University of Chicago Press at this link:

Building the American Republic

One can never know enough about the past, the present, or the future, and reading well-researched and well-written history helps expand knowledge about the past.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

October 16, 2017

Lyonizing Word: Workflow for Writing

by Jack Lyon

I do a lot of writing, and over the years I’ve investigated many a tool that’s supposed to help with that process. The most prominent of these, of course, is the bloated but powerful Microsoft Word. With my various add-ins at the Editorium, it can be a terrific editing tool. But for writing, something else is needed. Why? Because (as with most word processors) writing in Word is like scribbling on a scroll. Access to text is sequential rather than random (as I explained in my essay, “Changing Formats: From Scroll to Codex to eBooks”, although if you’ve used Word’s built-in heading styles, it’s possible to jump to those headings using the navigation window.

Rather than scrolling (or jumping) around a long, long document, I prefer to write in bits and pieces and then combine selected bits and pieces into a single document ready for editing. It’s possible to do this (kind of) in Scrivener using its “corkboard” feature (on both Mac and PC). Unfortunately, like Word, Scrivener strikes me as clunky, uncooperative, and overly complex.

Notebox Disorganizer

I’ve tried nearly every writing program out there, and the best solution I’ve found is the idiosyncratic and free Notebox Disorganizer from the Squirrel Technologist. (Sorry, Windows only — but please keep reading, as the other tools I’ll be discussing here work on Macintosh or Linux as well as Windows, and they’re well worth having.)

Notebox Disorganizer is a sort of spreadsheet for writers. It looks like this:

Notebook Disorganizer

The top part of the screen consists of boxes divided among rows and columns. Each box represents a separate document (although all of the documents are in the same file). We can move the cursor to the box we want to use and press ENTER. The cursor jumps to the document at the bottom, and we’re ready to write. To return to the boxes, we hit the ESCAPE key.

With Notebox Disorganizer, we can see the entire structure of our book laid out in a grid. Here, the book is broken up into parts that include the various chapters, but we could just as easily have each column be a chapter, and the boxes in that column be scenes. For nonfiction, each column could be a chapter, and the boxes could be sections of the chapter.

We can move boxes and columns around as needed. If we realize that scene 4 in chapter 2 should really be in chapter 8, we can cut the box and then paste it where it belongs. If we see that scene 4 should actually be scene 5, we can move it down. The program offers lots of flexibility. If you’d like to see the Notebox Disorganizer file in which I wrote this article, you can download it from the Editorium’s website.

(Note: The source code for Notebox Disorganizer is in the public domain and can be downloaded from the Squirrel Technologist website. So if you’re interested in customizing the program or incorporating its ideas into something else, the developer, Forrest Leeson, encourages you to do so.)

Markdown Syntax

Out of the box, Notebox Disorganizer uses Rich Text Format (.rtf) which means we can apply various fonts in various sizes and colors. Unfortunately, that encourages us to apply various fonts in various sizes and colors, when what is really needed is a proper document structure: headings need to be identified as headings, block quotes as block quotes, and so on. Directly applied formatting, no matter how beautiful, won’t supply that. To make that happen (and to keep writing rather than fussing with formatting), we can do two things:

  1. Change Notebox Disorganizer’s preferences (under Tools > Set Preferences > Misc > Forbid Formatted Text) so that it uses plain text only — no formatting allowed.
  2. Use Markdown syntax to specify (rather than apply) formatting — for example, use *asterisks* to indicate italic. Heading levels are specified with cross-hatches: # Heading 1, ## Heading 2, ### Heading 3, and so on. A complete reference for Markdown syntax (which is intuitive, human readable, and platform and program agnostic) is available as a downloadable PDF or online from GitHub.

Making a Manuscript

After we’ve written the various sections that make up chapters, it’s time to combine the text in all those boxes into a single document. To do that, we add boxes to the program’s “outbox” by selecting them and then pressing the spacebar. The result looks like this:

Outbox

If there are certain boxes we don’t want to include (research notes, for example), we just don’t include them in the outbox. After we’ve finished with our selection, we click File > Export the Outbox and give the document a name. Under “Files of type,” we select “Text.” Then we click OK, and the text is exported as a single text file, with Markup codes intact.

Turning Markdown into Formatting

Now that our document is finished, we need to turn it into a Word document. Why? Because that’s what publishers seem to want, unfortunately. But because it’s properly structured and marked up, we can just as easily turn it into a web page, a PDF, or just about anything else using the marvelous and (again) free Pandoc. (Pandoc works on Mac, Windows, or Linux.)

Pandoc is a tool that every writer and editor should have, as it can turn almost any document format into almost any other document format, which is something you might need to do sometime. For that reason, I’m going to ask you to try an experiment with me. It’s not hard, and I think you’ll like the results. Do this, in this order:

  1. Download and install Pandoc.
  2. Download and install Typora. (Typora, too, works on Mac, Windows, or Linux. Click the little arrow at the bottom of the home page; then click Download on the upper right.) Typora is an editing and rendering program for Markdown.

Have you finished installing? Great, then download from the Editorium website the Markdown document I created after writing this article. Put it on your desktop and then double-click it to open it in Typora.

Beautiful, no? Nice formatting and proper document structure. Just for fun, try some of the alternative CSS themes (click Theme) — or open the file in a plain old text editor to see the Markdown codes.

You can actually use Typora on its own to write just about anything (note the document outline on the left). As soon as you type something (using Markdown syntax), Typora renders it into an appropriate format. But we need a Word document, right? Well, one of the beautiful things about Typora is that it works automatically with Pandoc, so we can easily export our document as a Word file. To see this in action, click File > Export > Word (.docx). Now open the Word file (same folder and name as your Markdown document) and marvel at the result — a nicely formatted and structured document that any editor would be pleased to work on and any designer would be happy to import into InDesign. Please take a moment to contemplate how revolutionary that actually is.

Authors and Styles and Fonts, Oh My!

Now, if we could just get authors to write using Markdown, what a wonderful world it would be! Here’s why:

As you’ve seen, editors can easily convert a Markdown document into a Word document for editing, with all of Word’s tools at their disposal. The Markdown codes will be appropriately converted into Microsoft Word paragraph styles, with no extraneous formatting or messed-up footnotes to be cleaned up. Wouldn’t that be nice!

But what about authors? Why should they work in Markdown when they could just as easily work in Word? The reasons are many:

  1. They can’t just as easily work in Word. In fact, most authors have no clue about how to properly do so. Word makes it easy for authors to mess up a document almost beyond belief, with inconsistent and meaningless formatting, document corruption, fouled-up footnotes, incorrect AutoCorrect “corrections,” and on and on and on. Editors are left to clean up all that stuff.
  2. Microsoft Word is expensive — $149.99 for Office Home & Student 2016 (but doesn’t include newer versions as they’re released); if you go with Office 365 Personal (which does include new versions), you’re looking at $69 per year; for Office 365 Home, $99 per year. And those years add up.
  3. Markdown is intuitive — easy to learn, read, and use.
  4. Authors can create or read Markdown documents in any text editor or word processor (even Word) on any platform — Mac, Windows, Linux, Android, iPhone, whatever, without problems of compatibility.
  5. Markdown documents can easily be converted into all kinds of properly structured and formatted documents, including Word, XML, HTML, LaTeX, and PDF — true single-source publishing.
  6. Markdown documents will be readable and usable as long as text files are readable and usable — which is to say, forever.
  7. As Markdown documents are nothing but text, they’re small, taking up very little room on a hard drive or thumb drive, and they’re easy to send by email. In fact, you can use Markdown to write email.
  8. Perhaps most important, Markdown allows authors to simply write, without worrying about formatting and other complexities, thus increasing their productivity — which is something that benefits everyone.
  9. If you can persuade your authors to write with Markdown, the benefits should be great for all concerned. Well, for all except Microsoft:

Imagine there’s no Redmond;
It’s easy if you try.
No styles or wonky footnotes—
Something easy on the eye.
Imagine all the people
Writing stuff in peace! (No “helpful” automatic formatting, AutoCorrect, etc.)
You may say I’m a dreamer,
But I’m not the only one. (There are lots of Markdown editing and rendering programs out there.)
Just try to write with Markdown,
And you’ll see it can be done!

(Apologies to John Lennon.)

Jack Lyon (editor@editorium.com) 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.

September 11, 2017

Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap III

by Carolyn Haley

In Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap I and Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap II, I introduced the four stages of my editing process — preflight, formatting, editing, and cleanup — then discussed the first stage: preflight. Preflight involves document setup for the job, then mechanical tidying-up of errors and inconsistencies using editing software tools, so I can focus on content while reading the manuscript. The next stage in my process, formatting, serves the same purpose but focuses on different aspects.

Stage 2: Formatting

Aside from story content, formatting is the biggest variable among the manuscripts I edit. Whereas publisher manuscripts usually come groomed and styled so I don’t have to do anything except copyedit, indie-author manuscripts can arrive in any condition, and I usually have to clean them up in some way beyond editing the words.

Some authors have studied submission requirements to agents or publishers, and send their manuscripts to me in “industry standard” format of one-inch margins all around, double spacing, and conventional font such as Times New Roman 12 (with a few still using the now old-fashioned monospace font, Courier). Other authors present their work with a gaudy cover page, autogenerated table of contents, headers and footers, and fancy typefaces, with the text in single space or something — anything! — else. Many older authors know how to type and spell but have no word processing skills, so they use manual tabs or spaces for paragraph indents and insert extra returns for chapter breaks; other authors, lacking knowledge of conventional publishing practices, use all caps and/or bolding and/or underlining for chapter titles and emphasis.

These flourishes must be removed from the manuscript before it’s published or, in many cases, before it’s submitted to an agent or acquiring editor. Consequently, I offer preproduction formatting as one of my editorial services. I spent years as a typesetter and enjoy that kind of work. As well, it’s more efficient for me to format a manuscript than to teach someone to do it or wait while my client has someone else do it, as would be the case if I insisted on specific formatting before accepting the job. I am frequently the last (or only) person to handle a file before my client submits it anywhere, so I like to deliver it ready for its fate. In situations where the author plans to pay someone for formatting, the author gets a better deal having it done as part of editing — and I get a better paycheck for the extra work.

Where I remain inflexible is with file format, meaning, which software created the document. A few maddening, time-wasting, unprofitable experiences with Pages and OpenOffice files moved me to only accept files created in Microsoft Word. PC or Mac doesn’t matter, release version doesn’t matter, but the file must be native to Word — this is nonnegotiable! This policy is not only to avoid problems for myself, but also for the production people after me, whose layout programs are designed to play nicely with Word. The day will come when I’ll have to change my policy, but until it becomes obvious that I must adapt to demand or lose work, I’m holding firm on this requirement.

Formatting as a supplement to preflight

Formatting the manuscript myself has an additional benefit. As mentioned in Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap I, I have a blind spot to work around. Because of the way my memory functions, I can’t preread a manuscript without dulling my eye to editing it. Formatting provides a passive preview that gives me a sense of the book and lets me spot oddball elements not picked up during preflight, while keeping the story fresh to discover during editing.

I don’t use any editing software tools for formatting beyond Word’s built-in Styles features and menu. They serve for my approach, so I don’t feel compelled to change. I like to crawl through the whole document with nonprinting characters and coding showing, with Word’s Styles pane open and set to show what styles are used in the document. I may do this in Print Format view or Draft view; which view alters with circumstance and mood.

During the crawl, I look for and fix anything that wasn’t caught during preflight. There’s almost always something aberrant, and I can’t predict what it might be. The most common irregularities pertain to numbers. Examples include time indicated in different ways (e.g., 2:00 PM, 4 p.m., seven o’clock), variations in measurement (e.g., five-foot six, 5’6”, five-feet-six; or 20 miles vs. twenty miles), different styling of years (e.g., the sixties, the 60s, the 1960’s, the Sixties) or firearm terms (.45, 45-caliber, a 45; or 9mm, 9-millimeter, nine millimeter). In each case I need to choose which style to use and apply it consistently through the manuscript. Sometimes it’s a matter of correctness (e.g., changing the 60s to the ʼ60s); most times it’s a matter of whose preference to follow (mine, Chicago Manual of Style’s, or the author’s). Whatever I decide goes onto my style sheet, which contains a section specifying which types of numbers are spelled out and which are expressed in numerals, including examples of each. Attending to these types of consistency elements during formatting reduces the number of details I must notice and address during editing.

Styling

My dual aims in formatting are to make the manuscript easy for me to read and navigate, and to make it clean and consistent for future production. If the document arrives neatly put together, all I do is style the chapter heads with Heading 1, one of Word’s default styles. The Heading 1, 2, 3 (etc.) styles appear in Word’s navigation pane, enabling me to jump back and forth between chapters with a click instead of scrolling or searching.

I also make sure that chapter breaks are formed by a “hard” page break (either manually by CTRL+Enter or with “Page break before” selected when establishing the Heading 1 style), rather than any kind of section break or insertion of returns. This is to help whoever follows me in the chain. The production person, for instance, may need to do a global find/replace for some styling or layout purpose I’m not privy to. Consistency makes that task much easier, so I ensure that there’s only one return between the last paragraph of every chapter and the page break for the next, and no returns preceding the next chapter number/title.

For messier manuscripts, I’ll get in deeper, if scope of work allows. Many times I style the body text and chapter heads using Word’s defaults: Normal for text, and Heading 1 (2, 3, etc.) for chapter number/title/subtitle. This combination is a reasonably safe, generic setup for when I don’t know the book’s ultimate configuration. I modify the fonts, line spacing, and indents of these styles to suit the job, but might change them during editing for easier viewing onscreen. For example, the job may need to be delivered in Times New Roman, but I find that font hard to read, especially punctuation. My eye is more comfortable with a sans serif font, such as Calibri. By using Word’s Styles for text and headings, I can change fonts simply and swiftly, then enlarge them onscreen as needed.

With the basics done, I focus on italics, which are heavily used in fiction for emphasis and many forms of silent communication, as well as for media titles and ship names, noises, and foreign or alien words. To ensure that italics survive any font changes or cross-platform file moves during the manuscript’s progress from creation to publishing, they need to be set in a character style rather than a paragraph style. Although italics set with Word’s default tools (taskbar icon, menu commands, or keyboard combo [CTRL+i]) hold up well during most manuscript manipulations, they sometimes come undone for no apparent reason, and it’s a miserable waste of time to restore them.

I avoid this random possibility by one of two means. If the manuscript comes in clean, then I just create a character style for italics and globally find Word’s default italics and replace them with the character-style italics. Using a character style makes the italics always identifiable because even if the text doesn’t appear italic, the text that is supposed to be italic can be located by finding the text to which the character style is applied. If the manuscript is really messy and I must change something in Normal or any different style(s) the author used, I first globally find/replace the default italics to put them into color and then do whatever else I have to do (sometimes clearing all styles and restoring just the ones needed). Finally, I replace the colored italics with the character-style ones. For technical reasons I don’t understand, font color survives heavy text manipulation, whereas the default italics setting sometimes does not. By using one of these methods, I don’t lose the italicization even if I have a corrupted file to salvage or foul things up with my own mistakes.

Upon completion of formatting, I create a new copy of the manuscript and plunge in to discover its story.

Carolyn Haley, an award-winning novelist, 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 dcma@vermontel.com 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.

July 31, 2017

From the Archives: Two Books Every Author (& Editor & Publisher) Should Read!

(The following essay was originally published on
 An American Editor on September 23, 2015.)

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

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

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