An American Editor

November 4, 2015

Worth Celebrating: Carolyn Haley

Congratulations to our Thinking Fiction essayist, Carolyn Haley, for winning second place in the Contemporary Novel category in the International Digital Awards (IDA) contest sponsored by Oklahoma Romance Writers of America for her novel Into the Sunrise. For those interested, the book is available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Richard Adin, 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:

July 15, 2015

On Today’s Bookshelf (XXII)

They say summer is the time for reading. I suppose that is based on the assumption that a person has more time to read while on vacation. Personally, I do not see any difference in my reading habits or the time I spend reading for pleasure (or work, for that matter). So, my acquisition of new titles to read never ends. Here is a list of some of the hardcovers and ebooks that I am reading or acquired and added to my to-be-read pile since the last On Today’s Bookshelf post:

Nonfiction –

  • The Fall of Paris: The Siege and the Commune 1870-71 by Alistair Horne
  • Napoleon’s Poisoned Chalice: The Emperor and His Doctors on St Helena by Martin Howard
  • A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain by Marc Morris
  • The Fears of Henry IV: The Life of England’s Self-Made King by Ian Mortimer
  • The Greatest Traitor: The Life of Sir Roger Mortimer, Ruler of England: 1327-1330 by Ian Mortimer
  • The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville by Clare Mulley
  • Treacherous Women: Sex, Temptation and Betrayal by Gordon Kerr
  • Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson
  • The Queen’s Agent: Sir Francis Walsingham and the Rise of Espionage in Elizabethan England by John Cooper
  • The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism by Deborah Baker
  • The Decline and Fall of the British Empire 1781-1997 by Piers Brendon
  • Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad That Crossed an Ocean by Les Standiford
  • The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg
  • Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott
  • Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism by James W. Loewen
  • Monster by Allan Hall
  • The Friar and the Cipher: Roger Bacon and the Unsolved Mystery of the Most Unusual Manuscript in the World by Lawrence & Nancy Goldstone
  • The Man Who Would Not Be Washington: Robert E. Lee’s Civil War and His Decision That Changed American History by Jonathan Horner
  • The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones by Thomas Asbridge
  • KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps by Nikolaus Wachsmann
  • Lincoln and the Jews by Jonathan D. Sarna & Benjamin Shapell
  • The Nuns of Sant’Ambrogio: The True Story of a Convent in Scandal by Hubert Wolf

Fiction –

  • The Darkest Hour by Tony Schumacher
  • Blood Song and Tower Lord by Ryan Anthony (2 books)
  • Critical Error by Murray McDonald
  • A Maiden’s Grave by Jeffrey Deaver
  • The Defenders of Shannara: The Darkling Child by Terry Brooks
  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik
  • Dreamfever by Karen Marie Moning

Nonfiction Books I’m Thinking About –

These books I am but a keyboard away from ordering. Some are from authors I have previously read, but others are just ones that keep drawing me back.

  • The Story of Science by Susan Wise Bauer
  • The Murder of William of Norwich: The Origins of the Blood Libel in Medieval Europe by E.M. Rose
  • The Paradox of Liberation by Michael Walzer
  • Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography by Sara Lipton
  • The Last Slave Market: Dr, John Kirk and the Struggle to End the African Slave Trade by Alastair Hazell
  • Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed

What are you reading this summer?

Rich Adin, An American Editor

April 15, 2015

On Today’s Bookshelf (XXI)

My acquisition of new titles to read never ends. I keep thinking I need to stop and put the money I spend on books into my retirement account. But books have a special allure and I find nothing is as relaxing as sitting in my recliner reading a well-written and well-edited book (and nothing as frustrating as starting a poorly written or edited book :)).

Here is a list of some of the hardcovers and ebooks that I am reading or acquired and added to my to-be-read pile since the last On Today’s Bookshelf post, including some children’s books:

Nonfiction –

  • The Wandering Who: A Study of Jewish Identity Politics by Gilad Atzmo
  • Blood in the Snow, Blood on the Grass: Treachery, Torture, Murder and Massacre – France 1944 by Douglas Boyd
  • The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman
  • The Affair of the Poisons: Murder, Infanticide, and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV by Anne Somerset
  • Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion by Anne Somerset
  • Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades by Jonathan Phillips
  • The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople by Jonathan Phillips
  • The Lady in Red: An Eighteenth-Century Tale of Sex, Scandal, and Divorce by Hallie Rubenhold
  • The Fall of Paris: The Siege and the Commune 1870-71, The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916, and To Lose a Battle: France 1940 by Alistair Horne (trilogy)
  • Gandhi & Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age by Arthur Herman
  • Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Great’s Empire by Robin Waterfield
  • The Bolter by Frances Osborne
  • Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn
  • Dickens’s England: Life in Victorian Times by R.E. Pritchard
  • The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince by Jane Ridley
  • Saint-Exupéry: A Biography by Stacy Schiff
  • The Black Death in London by Barney Sloane
  • The Cradle King: The Life of James VI and I, the First Monarch of a United Great Britain by Alan Stewart
  • Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph by Jan Swafford
  • A Woman of Courage on the West Virginia Frontier: Phebe Tucker Cunningham by Robert N. Thompson
  • Jamestown Experiment: The Remarkable Story of the Enterprising Colony and the Unexpected Results That Shaped America by Tony Williams
  • American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit by Paula Uruburu
  • Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy by John Julius Norwich
  • 1913: The Year Before the Storm by Florian Illies

Fiction –

  • Twist by Dannika Dark
  • The Clockwork Dagger: A Novel by Beth Cato
  • Fatal Enquiry, Some Danger Involved, and The Black Hand by Will Thomas (3 books)
  • The Sword Dancer Series (Sword Dancer, Sword Singer, Sword Maker, Sword Breaker, Sword Born, Sword Sworn, and Sword Bound) by Jennifer Roberson (7 books)
  • Forbidden, Mortal, and Sovereign by Ted Dekker (trilogy)
  • The Legend of Eli Monpress series (The Spirit Eater, The Spirit Rebellion, The Spirit Thief, The Spirit War, and Spirit’s End) by Rachel Aaron (5 books)
  • Lady of Devices by Shelley Adina
  • Alphabet House by Jussi Adler-Olsen
  • Dead Like You and Dead Man’s Footsteps by Peter James (2 books)
  • Snow Wolf by Glenn Meade

Children’s Books –

Now that I have grandchildren, I try to keep an eye out for good books for them, both for now and for the future. A series I have been buying for them and that I highly recommend is Brad Meltzer’s “I am …” series. So far the titles are:

  • I am Albert Einstein
  • I am Rosa Parks
  • I am Amelia Earhart
  • I am Abraham Lincoln
  • I am Jackie Robinson
  • I am Lucille Ball
  • I am Helen Keller

Other children’s books that I have bought/preordered include:

  • Find King Henry’s Treasure: Touch the Art by Julie Appel & Amy Guglielmo
  • Crankee Doodle by Tom Angelberger
  • Time for a Bath by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page
  • The Princess and the Peas and Carrots by Harriet Ziefert
  • Backstage Cat by Harriet Ziefert
  • Sir Scallywag and the Golden Underpants by Giles Andreae & Korky Paul
  • The Chandeliers: The World-Famous Giraffe Family Appearing Tonight and Every Night! by Vincent X. Kirsch
  • Look! Seeing the Light in Art by Gillian Wolfe
  • This Book Is a Planetarium: And Other Extraordinary Pop-Up Contraptions by Kelli Anderson

It’s never too early to start children on the path to literacy, so building a children’s library makes sense to me. Besides, there is great joy in having a grandchild sit on my lap and “read” along with me. Just as books are an adventure for me, so books are an adventure for children. Certainly much better than staring at a TV or computer screen.

For previous listings of books I’ve acquired, see previous On Today’s Bookshelf essays.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

March 16, 2015

The Order of Things

The Order of Things

by Jack Lyon

Rich Adin and I are having a fight. I sent him a lovely article about why the parts of a book are placed in a particular order, and he sent me back the following note: “The principle you explain doesn’t really matter and doesn’t really influence the order of content; rather, that order is based on reader expectation built over centuries by publishers and printers.” The nerve of that guy!

So what principle did I explain? That the order of a book’s content is based on the fact that we start reading at the beginning and keep reading until we get to the end. In English, we read from top to bottom and left to right; we start reading at the top left of a page and we stop reading at the bottom left. And this, I argue, is what has caused books to be put together in the order we typically see. It’s the principle underlying the convention.

Consider the front matter of a book, specifically the foreword and the preface. The foreword is usually written by someone other than the author; the preface is written by the author. So it makes sense that the foreword should come before the preface, as it provides commentary on the book as a whole, including the preface. And if we start reading the author’s words at the beginning of a book but then run into a section by someone else, we’re likely to wonder what’s going on. Would you put the contents page before the title page? No, you wouldn’t, and this is more than a matter of convention; it’s based on the principle that we start reading at the beginning.

Now consider the back matter of a book, which should be in the following order:


  • Would it make sense to put the appendix after the notes? No, because some of the notes might refer to the appendix.
  • Would it make sense to put the notes after the bibliography? No, because the notes don’t refer to the bibliography; the bibliography is not part of the main text.
  • Would it make sense to put the bibliography after the index? No, because readers are used to turning to the last part of a book in order to access the index. That makes sense for ease of use, but surely the fact that the index doesn’t immediately follow chapter 1 is more than a matter of convention.

Years ago, a publisher I worked for decided to put together an edition of the Bible. The editor in charge of the index took an informal survey around the office, asking, “Should a reference to chapter and verse precede or follow a descriptive quotation?” Here’s an example of each:

Reference preceding quotation:

Matthew: 6:30, clothe you, O ye of little faith; 8:10, thy faith hath made thee whole; 9:29, According to your faith be it unto you; 15:28, great is thy faith: be it unto thee; 17:20, faith as a grain of mustard seed; 21:21, if ye have faith, and doubt not; [and so on, for more than a page].

Reference following quotation:

Matthew: clothe you, O ye of little faith, 6:30; thy faith hath made thee whole, 8:10; According to your faith be it unto you, 9:2; great is thy faith: be it unto thee, 15:28; faith as a grain of mustard seed, 17:20; if ye have faith, and doubt not, 21:21; [and so on, for more than a page].

My vote? The reference should follow the quotation. Unfortunately, I was outvoted, and the index ended up with the reference preceding the quotation, ultimately making the index almost unusable. Here’s why: Let’s say you’re looking for the verse that talks about having faith as a grain of mustard seed. You scan down through the entries until you see it:

faith as a grain of mustard seed;

Now, where does your brain expect to find the reference? Immediately after the entry. Why? Because the English language reads from top to bottom, left to right. But the index puts the reference before the entry:

17:20, faith as a grain of mustard seed;

You are now forced to read backward to find the reference of 17:20. But you’re not through yet. What book is that in? You now have to scan backward (to the previous page, in this case) until you come to the bold heading of “Matthew.” Now what was that reference again? Scan forward to “grain of mustard seed” and then backward again to “17:20.” This isn’t a matter of convention; it’s a matter of reading order.

Now let’s say you’re editing or designing a table of contents. You’re suddenly struck with the thought that it would look really cool to put the page numbers on the left of the chapter titles, like this:

1   In the Beginning
23  The Tale Continues
38  More of the Same

Resist the temptation. Readers trying to find a particular chapter will look first for its title (“The Tale Continues”) and then for its page number (23).

Keeping things in their proper order also applies to line editing. Take the following sentence: “I enjoy reading both Entrepreneur and Wired, but I prefer the former over the latter.” Many readers are capable of doing the mental gymnastics to remember which example is the former and which is the latter, but many other readers are not and will have to backtrack to figure it out. Even those who can do the mental gymnastics will have to do them, which will slow reading down and may lead to confusion. So keep things simple! Keep things in order! “I enjoy reading both Entrepreneur and Wired, but I prefer Entrepreneur.

Keeping things in their proper order isn’t an editorial cure-all, and it’s certainly nothing to be compulsive about. For example, while reading the previous sentence, you had to remember that “it’s” refers back to “Keeping things in their proper order.” There’s nothing wrong with that; this kind of interplay between pronouns and their referents happens all the time. But sometimes, when you’re faced with a difficult editorial problem, putting things in their proper order can help solve that problem. For me, it’s something that has worked well over the years to keep readers from wandering all over the road. Maybe you’ll find it useful as well.

In the end, I leave the resolution of the argument to you, Gentle Reader: Is the way books are put together merely a matter of convention? Or is the convention a result of the underlying principle of reading order? What do you think?

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 and of Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word. Both books will help you learn more about macros and how to use them.

February 11, 2015

On Today’s Bookshelf (XX)

My acquisition of new titles to read never ends. Here is a list of some of the hardcovers and ebooks that I am reading or acquired and added to my to-be-read pile since the last On Today’s Bookshelf post:

Nonfiction –

  • Lenin: A Revolutionary Life by Christopher Read
  • Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson
  • The Myth of Race: The Troubling Persistence of an Unscientific Idea by Robert Wald Sussman
  • Kafka’s Law: “The Trial” and American Criminal Justice by Robert P. Burns
  • The Roman Guide to Slave Management: A Treatise by Nobleman Marcus Sidonius Falx by Jerry Toner
  • Nixon’s Secrets: The Rise, Fall and Untold Truth about the President, Watergate, and the Pardon by Roger Stone
  • Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America by Peter Andreas
  • Reinterpreting the French Revolution: A Global-Historical Perspective by Bailey Stone
  • War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race by Edwin Black
  • The Great Turning Points of British History: The 20 Events That Made the Nation by Michael Wood
  • The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution by Francis Fukuyama
  • Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy by Francis Fukuyama
  • Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David by Lawrence Wright
  • Behind the Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments by Gina Perry
  • World Order by Henry Kissinger
  • The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry by Gary Greenberg
  • Grand Turk: Sultan Mehmet II-Conqueror of Constantinople and Master of an Empire by John Freely
  • The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World by Greg Grandin
  • Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin

Fiction –

  • The Girl of Fire and Thorns, The Crown of Embers, & The Bitter Kingdom (The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy) by Rae Carson
  • Serious Men by Manu Joseph
  • The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt
  • The Sentinel Mage by Emily Gee
  • Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
  • One Second After by William R. Forstchen
  • The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis
  • Haunted Ground by Erin Hart

I’ve been looking at my TBR piles — both print and ebook  — and wondering if I should just stop acquiring books. These piles are so large, that I’d have to read several books a day to get through them all before it’s time to greet my maker.

I know I’ve lamented that before, but I guess that is why I am an editor — a love of books and the knowledge they contain. I keep hoping that my grandchildren will want my library, but I suspect not. (They are currently too young to understand what a library is and why it is important.)

I have told my children that if they aren’t interested in my library, I want them to find a rural library that would be interested in receiving the books. The print books are nearly all pristine  — even though I have read them, they have the look and feel of new, unread books.

One thing I find interesting about a physical library, in contrast to an ebook “library,” is that the physical library acts as a visual reminder of how much information there is in the world that I have not yet explored. It also makes me admire even more some of the Renaissance people who are noted for having had the world’s knowledge at their fingertips — the Michaelangelos and Voltaires and Rousseaus and Jeffersons of past ages — something that would be very difficult, if not impossible, today. Today, we admire those who are masters of their sub-subspecialty areas.

The holiday season brought more books to my pile, including a book by my daughter, Mariah Adin, The Brooklyn Thrill-Kill Gang and the Great Comic Book Scare of the 1950s. She and her husband badgered me to put aside everything else I was reading to read her book. I eventually caved and found the book to be an interesting read. Although I was a youngster at the time, I admit I was unaware of the debate that apparently raged around me about the negative influence of comic books on young minds. The arguments made then about comic books can certainly be made today about video games.

Did your holidays bring new books to your library?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

December 3, 2014

On Today’s Bookshelf (XIX)

In only a few weeks, it will be gift-giving time again. High on my list of gifts to give and to receive are, of course, books. What I like about books is that they are educational (I always learn something) and long-lasting. When I give a book, I know that for as long as the recipient keeps the book, every time she looks at it, she will think of me.

If you are looking for ideas for books to give, the On Today’s Bookshelf series here at An American Editor can be a place to start. Besides buying books at Barnes & Noble, I also buy a lot of “remainders”, which are new books that are leftovers and overruns the publisher didn’t sell through normal retail channels and are now being sold as remainders, which translates to very steep discounts. My primary source for remainder books is Daedalus Books. The other source for books, particularly older books, are bookstores that sell used books. I generally only buy used books that are graded near fine, fine, or new; occasionally, I will buy one graded very good. As I have mentioned before, when it comes to print books, I only buy hardcovers.

As to what is on my bookshelf — and some gift ideas — here is a list of some of the hardcovers and ebooks that I am reading or acquired and added to my to-be-read pile since the last On Today’s Bookshelf post:

Nonfiction –

  • Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I by Alexander Watson
  • Klansville, U.S.A.: The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights-Era Ku Klux Klan by David Cunningham
  • The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America by Marc Levinson
  • The Paper Trail: an Unexpected History of the World’s Greatest Invention by Alexander Monro
  • The First Modern Jew: Spinoza and the History of an Image by Daniel Schwartz
  • A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza’s Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age by Steven Nadler
  • Churchill’s Empire: The World That Made Him and the World He Made by Richard Toye
  • Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election that Brought on the Civil War by Douglas R. Egerton
  • Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War by Stephen R. Platt
  • Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962 by Yang Jisheng
  • Isaac’s Army: A Story of Courage and Survival in Nazi-Occupied Poland by Matthew Brzezinski
  • The Wars of Watergate by Stanley Kutler
  • Shelley: The Pursuit by Richard Holmes
  • The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale
  • Russian Roulette by Giles Milton
  • Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower
  • The Kaiser’s Holocaust: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism by David Olusoga and Casper W. Erichsen
  • Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer by Bettina Stangneth
  • Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore
  • The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In by Hugh Kennedy
  • Young Romantics: The Shelleys, Byron, and Other Tangled Lives by Daisy Hay
  • The Courtiers: Splendor and Intrigue in the Georgian Court at Kensington Palace by Lucy Worsley
  • Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II by Kieth Lowe
  • Edith Cavell by Diana Souhami
  • Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S.C. Gwynne

Fiction –

  • The Thousand Names and The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler (2 books)
  • Magician, Magician Kings, and The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman (trilogy)
  • Personal by Lee Child
  • The Tyrant’s Law and The Widow’s House by Daniel Abraham (2 books)
  • Bye Bye Baby and Beautiful Death by Fiona McIntosh (2 books)
  • The Necromancer’s Grimoire by Annmarie Banks
  • To Kingdom Come and Some Danger Involved by Will Thomas (2 books)
  • The Path of the Sword by Remi Michaud
  • The Immortal Prince by Jennifer Fallon
  • Eye of the Red Tsar and The Beast in the Red Forest by Sam Eastland (2 books)
  • Traitor by Murray McDonald
  • A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison

Of course, if you are looking for books to give colleagues or would like someone to give you to help you with your freelancing business, you can’t do better than these books, which focus on the business aspects of the freelancing rather than on editorial skills:

Are you planning to ask for or give books this holiday season? If yes, why not share with us what books you are giving or asking for. If no, tell us why not.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 29, 2014

On Today’s Bookshelf (XVIII)

Filed under: On Books,On Today's Bookshelf,To Be Read — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
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The past week has been a very busy week. Clients have inundated me with new work that needs to be done on a short schedule, and thus at a higher-than-normal pay rate. More importantly, I have been forced to do something I loathe doing — I’ve had to turn away a fair number of projects.

I thought with the close of the week such “troubles” would end, but that was/is not to be. Two clients have informed me that I should plan on next year being a repeat of this year. Of course, there are no guarantees, but based on their prognosticating efforts, next year will be very busy again for me. (I had to prepare my financial reports for my accountant for the third quarter tax filings and I was pleased to note that business was up a little more than 50% over last year.)

Finally, the weekend came and I thought I could devote some time to preparing an essay for An American Editor. Alas, when I opened my e-mail Saturday morning, I had a request to submit a bid for editing work. The problem was/is that this work would be year-long and would range in size from 20,000 to 200,000 manuscript pages. Accompanying the request to bid were several lengthy documents that detailed the editing requirements. Combine the need to prepare the bids with my desire to enjoy my weekend, and I decided it was time for another On Today’s Bookshelf article.

These are easy substitutes for me because books are added to the list as I acquire them; I do not need to sit with a blank canvas. There will be at least one more On Today’s Bookshelf before the holidays, in case you are looking for ideas of books to buy as gifts — whether for yourself or someone else.

Here are some of the books that I have acquired and added to my to-be-read pile since the last On Today’s Bookshelf post, either in hardcover or in ebook form:

Nonfiction –

  • The Pope’s Daughter by Caroline Murphy
  • Empires of the Sea by Roger Crowley
  • “Non-Germans” under the Third Reich: The Nazi Judicial and Administrative System in Germany and Occupied Eastern Europe, with Special Regard to Occupied Poland, 1939-1945 by Diemut Majer
  • The Marcel Network: How One French Couple Saved 527 Children from the Holocaust by Fred Coleman
  • Believe and Destroy: Intellectuals in the SS War Machine by Christian Ingrao
  • The Dreyfus Affair: The Scandal That Tore France in Two by Piers Paul Read
  • The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind — and Changed the History of Free Speech in America by Thomas Healy
  • Desperate Sons: Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, John Hancock, and the Secret Bands of Radicals Who Led the Colonies to War by Les Standiford
  • Why We Fight: Congress and the Politics of World War II by Nancy Beck Young
  • A Secession Crisis Enigma by Daniel W. Crofts
  • The Wars of Reconstruction: The Brief, Violent History of America’s Most Progressive Era by Douglas R. Egerton
  • A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy by Helen Rappaport
  • The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg by Helen Rappaport
  • Daily Life During the French Revolution by James M. Anderson
  • The Psychology of Lust Murder: Paraphilia, Sexual Killing, and Serial Homicide by Catherine Purcell and Bruce A. Arrigo
  • The Mad Sculptor: The Maniac, the Model, and the Murder that Shook the Nation by Harold Schechter
  • The Secret Wife of Louis XIV: Françoise D’Aubigné, Madame de Maintenon by Veronica Buckley
  • Intelligence in War: The Value–and Limitations–of What the Military Can Learn about the Enemy by John Keegan
  • The First World War by John Keegan
  • Divine Fury: A History of Genius by Darrin M. McMahon
  • Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman by Robert L. O’Connell
  • Sun Tzu at Gettysburg: Ancient Military Wisdom in the Modern World by Bevin Alexander
  • The Grand Chorus of Complaint: Authors and the Business Ethics of American Publishing by Michael J. Everton
  • Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 by Jefferson Morley
  • Hitler’s Spy Chief: The Wilhelm Canaris Betrayal: The Intelligence Campaign Against Adolf Hitler by Richard Bassett

Fiction –

  • End Game by John Gilstrap
  • Frozen Moment by Camilla Ceder
  • Soldier of God by David Hagberg
  • Kingmaker’s Sword by Ann Marston
  • American Coven by Amy Cross
  • The Veiled Assassin by Q.V. Hunter
  • Soul of Fire by Caris McRae
  • Close Call: A Liz Carlyle Novel  by Stella Rimington
  • Property by Valerie Martin
  • Bye Bye Baby by Fiona McIntosh
  • Beautiful Death by Fiona McIntosh
  • My Real Children by Jo Walton
  • Edge of Eternity: Book Three of The Century Trilogy by Ken Follett
  • A Stranger in the Kingdom by Howard Frank Mosher

As usual, most of my acquisitions are nonfiction. What I find is that much of fiction is the same. I do not mean the presentation or the delivery, but the general pattern: boy meets girl (or girl meets boy), love ensues, they live happily ever after (replace this pattern with another appropriate pattern such as scientist stumbles on plot, tells authorities who ignore scientist’s warnings, scientist decides to save world, scientist turns out to be the new James Bond and saves world). Same theme, different characters, but essentially the same storyline. I do not mean to imply that I do not enjoy well-written fiction, because I do. This is just an explanation of why my primary interest runs to nonfiction.

Nonfiction tends to have greater diversity. There is so much of the world, of nature, of science, of history, of language, of philosophy, of many things that I have yet to discover that nonfiction can provide me with both knowledge and entertainment and keep my interest.

I suppose if I had to say what makes nonfiction books unique as a form of entertainment, it is that it always has surprises, it is not formulaic, and it is not predictable except in the sense that we already know the broad outlines (e.g., the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires ceased to exist or that the Great Depression was the bane of the 1930s).

I hope you find that On Today’s Bookshelf essays stimulate your reading interests. Please add your contributions to books by naming books you think colleagues would be interested in reading.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 8, 2014

Thinking Fiction: An Overview of the World of Fiction Copyediting

Today’s essay introduces Amy Schneider and a new monthly series, “Thinking Fiction,” to An American Editor. Amy’s focus will be on fiction editing and writing. Please welcome Amy as a new columnist for An American Editor.


An Overview of the World of Fiction Copyediting

by Amy J. Schneider

When I mention that I spend a fair amount of my professional life copyediting fiction, colleagues (especially those who have edited only nonfiction) and laypeople alike are fascinated. Wow, so you earn your living by reading romances and thrillers? Neat! Well, as with all editing there’s a bit more to it than just reading. Nonfiction editors recognize this, but they worry about getting so caught up in the story that they forget to edit judiciously. Or they worry about sullying the author’s creative work. In my contributions to An American Editor, I hope to address some of these issues and share my approach to copyediting fiction.

What Fiction Copyediting Is Not

  • If you are an aspiring or actual novelist, this is not the time or place to try to take over the telling of the story or critique the work. Your job is mechanical only. You may certainly set your writer’s or critic’s hat off to the side and glance at it from time to time as you copyedit, but do not even think about putting it on. A common saying among editors is “It’s not my book,” and this certainly applies when we are copyediting fiction.
  • This is also not the place to apply your own moral code. Unlike in most nonfiction, you may encounter naughty words, unpleasant people and actions, blasphemy, and (gasp!) sex scenes. Your job is to copyedit the narrative and dialogue in all its unsavory glory. You may certainly choose not to accept projects in genres such as erotica or violent military or paranormal thrillers — but once you do, you’re duty bound to edit the text respectfully and keep it true to itself. (Is that term for a sexual act one word or two? Decide and put it on the style sheet. Not every style sheet is one that you would show to your mother.)
  • In fiction, grammar, punctuation, syntax, style, and the like are much more fluid. Fiction authors often use words to paint a picture, create a mood, wax poetic. Characters may or may not speak grammatical English, whether in dialogue or in first-person narrative. If you are a stickler for language perfection, you must retrain your brain a bit when copyediting fiction. Mind, it’s not a free-for-all, and when copyediting for a publisher you need to balance house style against the author’s voice, but you must also be aware of when it’s okay (or even necessary) to break the rules.

Making the Transition from Nonfiction Copyediting

When I started freelancing, my bread and butter was copyediting college textbooks. Very formulaic, strong adherence to rules. So when I started editing fiction, like my nonfiction editor colleagues mentioned earlier, I worried about interfering with the story or offending the author. But really, copyediting fiction is just wearing a different hat. Instead of keeping the text 100 percent in line with the real world, it is your job to ensure that the story is internally consistent within its own world, whether real or fictional. This means checking both real-world facts (are there mountains in Wisconsin?) and fictional ones (which colors of magic stones are sentient and which are not?); errors in either case may interfere with the reader’s enjoyment of the story (keeping in mind that authors sometimes deliberately fictionalize locations and other facts for various reasons). If the book is part of a series, ideally the same copyeditor will have handled the series from book one onward to ensure continuity across the entire story arc (I’ll talk about series copyediting in a future essay). Here are some of the things you’ll handle as you copyedit:

  • General style sheet: Every book needs one, and fiction is no exception. You need to track treatment of numbers (e.g., they are usually spelled out in dialogue, but not always). You need to keep a list of abbreviations for both real and fictional entities. How is dialogue punctuated? How are we treating internal thought, telepathic dialogue, remembered speech, handwriting, text messages, and so on? These need to be noted on the general style sheet. Which terms of address are capped (Officer, Detective) and which are not (ma’am, sweetheart)? The author may choose one style or another. Or the publisher may request that the author’s style be changed. Because these choices are so fluid in fiction, you need to note them for each book.
  • Characters: Some authors keep rigorous track of their characters’ attributes — but many do not. Or they make changes but don’t catch every instance. Marcel becomes Malcolm. Julie’s eyes change color from blue to green. Greg is left-handed but wears a golf glove on his left hand (oops — most golfers wear the glove on their nondominant hand). Lee is single and an only child — so how is it that she has a niece? Back when you edited book one in the series, you noted that Claude could read ancient Greek, but now in book three he has mysteriously lost that ability. Time to query!.
  • Locations: Again, you’ll track both real and fictional locations. Cathy’s bedroom is on the second floor, and the walls are painted blue. Sticksville is 25 miles from Cityscape. The tree on the west side of the park is a magnificent oak. And so on. So when Cathy walks in the front door of her bungalow and down the hall to her green bedroom, it’s time to query.
  • Timeline and plot: The level of detail here will vary. Some authors use only vague time markers (a few days later; by spring), if any. Others are more specific, mentioning dates, days of the week, and times of day. You need to note all references to time, whether vague or not: Carlos’s birthday is next month. The Friday night knitting club meets tomorrow (in which case today had better be Thursday). The last mention of time today was nine a.m.; has the action moved along sufficiently that it can now be midnight? I use a Word table that looks like a monthly calendar page to track time-related facts, because that’s how my brain works; it also helps me follow timelines that range over weeks or years, to make sure that six weeks isn’t really three or that it’s not snowing in Minnesota in what should be July.
  • Kid gloves: The most important part of your fiction copyeditor’s uniform is your kid gloves. As I alluded to earlier, a work of fiction is the author’s creative work — the author’s baby. Often there is no clear “right” or “wrong.” Query carefully and tactfully. If wording seems awkward enough to pull the reader out of the story, suggest a revision and explain the reason, rather than making the change outright. (Remember that it’s not your book.) I use the word perhaps a lot when querying: “Perhaps substitute [word or phrase] here, [give reason]?” Couch your queries in terms of what’s best for the story or for the reader’s enjoyment.

In future essays, I’ll discuss these and other topics in more depth. I look forward to engaging with you and getting down to the nuts and bolts of editing fiction.

(For another perspective on fiction editing, see Erin Brenner’s The Practical Editor: What You Need to Know to Edit Fiction — AAE)

Amy J. Schneider (, owner of Featherschneider Editorial Services, has been a freelance copyeditor and proofreader of fiction and nonfiction books since 1995. She has shared her insights on copyediting fiction as a speaker at the Communication Central conferences, in writing for the Copyediting newsletter, and in an audioconference for Amy can be reached at LinkedIn, via Twitter, and on Facebook.

August 13, 2014

On Today’s Bookshelf (XVII)

Here is a list of some of the books that I am reading (or acquired or preordered and added to my to-be-read pile since the last On Today’s Bookshelf post) either in hardcover or in ebook form:

Nonfiction –

  • A Scream Goes Through the House: What Literature Teaches Us About Life by Arnold Weinstein
  • The Borgias and Their Enemies by Christopher Hibbert
  • The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale
  • American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee by Karen Abbott
  • Our One Common Country: Abraham Lincoln and the Hampton Roads Peace Conference of 1865 by James B. Conroy
  • A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918 by G.J. Meyer
  • Stalin’s Genocides by Norman M. Naimark
  • Plotting Hitler’s Death by Joachim Fest
  • An Artist in Treason by Ando Linklater
  • Imperial Spain 1469-1716 by J.H. Elliott
  • The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century by Jurgen Osterhammel
  • The Road to Black Ned’s Forge by Turk McCleskey
  • Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language by Steven Pinker
  • The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker
  • Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad by William Craig
  • Tears in the Darkness by Elizabeth Norman and Michael Norman
  • The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham
  • Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time by Ira Katznelson
  • The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World by Lincoln Paine
  • Blood Libel and Its Derivatives: The Scourge of Anti-Semitism by Raphael Israeli
  • Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre by Jonathan Israel
  • The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan
  • Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights 1750-1790 by Jonathan Israel
  • Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752 by Jonathan Israel
  • Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 by Jonathan Israel

Fiction –

  • The Purity of Vengeance by Jussi Adler-Olsen
  • A Foreign Country by Charles Cumming
  • Darkfire by C.J. Sansom
  • The Innocent by Ian McEwan
  • The Oracle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley
  • Final Witness by Simon Tolkien
  • Red Cell by Mark Henshaw
  • Signora Da Vinci by Robin Maxwell
  • The Devil’s Elixir by Raymond Khoury
  • HHhH by Laurent Binet
  • Limits of Power by Elizabeth Moon
  • The Street Philosopher by Matthew Plampin
  • Beautiful Assassin by Michael White
  • The Director: A Novel by David Ignatius
  • Eye for an Eye by Ben Coes
  • A Journeyman to Grief by Maureen Jennings

As you can see, much of my summer has been spent acquiring (or preordering) and reading nonfiction books.

I am particularly looking forward to reading the last three in the nonfiction list (the trilogy by Jonathan Israel). The books have been favorably commented on several times in the past few months by reviewers in reviews of Israel’s newest book, Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre, which I also purchased. Unfortunately, that book wasn’t so well reviewed and had I read the reviews before purchasing the book, I might have thought twice about buying it. But now that I own it, I will eventually read it and decide for myself.

One of the books on the list that I am currently reading is The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham. Although I have not quite finished reading the book, I can whole-heartedly recommend it. It is a fascinating look at censorship in the United States during and following World War I and how federal and state governments turned over the role of censor to private antivice groups.

Of even greater interest to me is the revelation of how Joyce was perceived by his contemporaries. Ulysses, a book I have never thought much of, was considered by many, including Sylvia Beach, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway, to name just a few, to be the greatest written work of all time. And Joyce received patronage to enable him to write. One admirer gave him what would be £1,000,000 today to sustain him as he wrote.

In many ways, Joyce was a tragic figure. Were he writing today, I doubt that he would have had the support he was given then. But it is worth reading how Ulysses was suppressed, was smuggled into the United States, and, ultimately, with the backing of Bennett Cerf, founder of Random House, was found not to be obscene. If you read just one book about books this year, this should be the book.

What are you reading? Do you have any recommendations to share?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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