An American Editor

June 5, 2017

Lyonizing Word: You Have Options

by Jack Lyon

Microsoft Word is packed with options, which is both a blessing and a curse. It’s great to have them, but it’s hard to know how to set them to best meet your needs. To see the options available, click File > Options. Then click the kind of option you want to see (General, Display, Proofing, and so on), using the menu bar on the left. You’ll see the associated options on the right.

“But how,” you ask, “do I know what all these options actually do?”

Detailed explanations are available from Microsoft’s website as follows:

Options Article Title
General Word Options (General)
Display Word Options (Display)
Proofing Select grammar and writing style options in Office 2016

Select grammar and writing style options in Office 2013 and earlier

Save Word Options (Save)
Language Customize language features in Word 2013 and later
Advanced Word Options (Advanced)

Unfortunately, Microsoft’s explanations of the Advanced options are not detailed. For a few of those options, you can get additional information by resting your cursor over the little “i” icon to the right (you can enlarge an image in this essay by double-clicking on the image):

Information icon

The function of many of those options is self-evident, which may be why Microsoft doesn’t provide much explanation. (Actually the Editor Options [Advanced] page at the Microsoft website does give details for many of the options, even though it’s meant for use with Outlook 2007.) Some of the options definitely need more explanation, which I’ll try to provide here for the ones that look like they might be of interest to editors. (Some that look like they might be actually aren’t.)

Obscure Options Explained

Editing options

Use smart paragraph selection

All this means is that when you select a paragraph, Word makes sure that the final paragraph mark is also selected. That’s useful if you want to retain the paragraph’s formatting and settings, but not if all you’re after is the text itself, so you’ll need to decide which option is best for you.

Use smart cursoring

If you use the mouse and scroll bar to move to a different page in your document and then press one of the arrow keys, this feature places your cursor on the page to which you’ve scrolled. I see little use for this feature and keep it turned off. But now you know what it does.

Prompt to update styles

If you directly format some text, this option tells Word to ask you if you’d like to update the text’s underlying style to match the formatting you just applied. This could be handy if you’re designing a document, but not if you’re editing one.

Keep track of formatting

This option keeps track of your formatting as you work. It’s useful if you’re cleaning up a document with inconsistent formatting (which means most manuscripts), because you can then right-click some text and then click “Select Text with Similar Formatting.” At that point, you can change or clear the formatting or apply a style to all of the chunks of text that are selected. You can also display a list of the formatting used by clicking Options on the Style pane; then select the paragraph, font, and bullet and numbering formatting you want to track.

Mark formatting inconsistencies

This option is available only if the previous one has been selected. It tells Word to mark inconsistent formatting with a wavy blue line, which may give you some guidance about which text you should right-click and change, as described in the previous paragraph.

Enable click and type

This feature allows you to click anywhere on a blank (or otherwise) page and start typing at that point (if you’re in Print Layout or Web Layout view). For editors, this seems completely useless.

Default paragraph style

By default, Word uses Normal as the default paragraph style. If you’d like to use a different style, like Body Text, you can specify that with this option. If your document is headed for InDesign after editing, your typesetter might appreciate being able to use something more meaningful than “Normal.”

Show document content

Show picture placeholders

Have you ever received a manuscript that’s supposed to include graphic images, but when you open it, the images are replaced by empty boxes, like this?

Picture placeholder

What you’re seeing is a “picture placeholder,” which exists to keep Word from slowing down as it tries to display graphic images. This rather unintuitive feature should have been named something like “Hide graphic images to improve performance,” but I’m guessing someone at Microsoft didn’t like the implication that Word ever gets bogged down. You can stop chuckling now.

Even worse, if you edit in Draft mode, you won’t see an image or a placeholder; all you’ll see is what looks like an empty paragraph. If you delete it, you’re actually deleting the image, so watch out.

Show field codes instead of their values. Microsoft Word uses fields to generate things like indexes and tables of contents. If you activate the option to show field codes, you won’t see the index or table of contents; instead, you’ll see the field that generates it. For example, the field code for a table of contents looks like this:

{ TOC \o "1-3" \h \z \u }

The field code for an index looks like this:

{ INDEX \c "2" \z "1033" }

Each of those codes includes “switches” that change the display of the generated text. Information about table of contents switches can be found in the article “Field codes: TOC (Table of Contents) field” at Microsoft’s website. Information about the index switches is found in this article, “Field codes: Index field.”

Word uses field codes for lots of things. The article “List of field codes in Word” goes into greater detail.

Display

Style area pane width in Draft and Outline views

This is a very cool feature that I use all the time. In the little box to the right of this option, enter a value — two inches (2″), say. Then switch to Draft or Outline view. When you do, you’ll see the style area pane on the left of your document, with the name of the style that’s applied to each paragraph. No more guessing! If you want the ultimate experience editing in Word, try using this feature with the Cockpit in Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2014.

Style area pane

Save

Prompt before saving Normal template

The Normal template holds Word’s styles, macros, and lots of other important stuff, so if you change any of that stuff, Word saves your changes in the template. This option allows you to choose whether or not Word does that automatically.

Hidden Options

Microsoft Word also includes some options that you can’t access through a menu, although they are accessible via macro, as discussed in the next section. Here are a few that might be useful to editors.

ContextualSpeller

The contextual speller identifies the structure of words and their location within a sentence to determine if spelling is correct. It can find errors that the standard spelling checker can’t. For example, if you type the words “superb owl” instead of “super bowl,” Word checks the context of the sentence and determines that the correct words are “super” and “bowl.” This looks like a fantastically useful feature; the problem is that it makes the change automatically as you type, so if you decide to use it, you’ll need to watch it carefully.

EnableMisusedWordsDictionary

This option looks for the following when checking for misused words during a grammar check: incorrect use of adjectives and adverbs, comparatives and superlatives, like as a conjunction, nor versus or, what versus which, who versus whom, units of measurement, conjunctions, prepositions, and pronouns.

EnableProofingToolsAdvertisement

This option tells Word to notify you when additional proofing tools are available for download.

Changing Options with a Macro

To use options like those requires a macro. For example, here’s a macro that will toggle ContextualSpeller:

Sub ToggleContextualSpeller()
   Options.ContextualSpeller = Not Options.ContextualSpeller
End Sub

Line 1 specifies the name of the macro (subroutine), which is ToggleContextualSpeller, although you could name it anything you like.

Line 2 gets the value of the ContextualSpeller option and changes it to the value that it currently is not. For example, if the ContextualSpeller option is set to True (that is, it’s active), the macro changes it to False. If the option is set to False, the macro changes it to True. Hey, it’s a toggle!

Line 3 ends the macro.

To use a different option in the macro, just change Options.ContextualSpeller to the option you want to use. For example, the following macro toggles the option for EnableMisusedWordsDictionary:

Sub ToggleEnableMisusedWordsDictionary()
   Options.EnableMisusedWordsDictionary = Not Options.Enable
       MisusedWordsDictionary
End Sub

You’ll find a complete list of Word’s options for use in macros at the Options Properties pages (for Office 2013 and newer) and Office 2010 of the Microsoft website.  If you find yourself changing a certain option a lot, you might create a toggle macro for it and then put that macro on a shortcut key for easy access. No more digging through menus!

How about you? Which options do you love? Which do you hate? I’d love to hear about the options that work best for you.

How to Add a Macro to Word & to the QAT

Here’s how to put this macro (or any other) into Microsoft Word so it will be available when you need it:

  1. Copy the text of the macro, starting with the first “Sub” and ending with the last “Sub.”
  2. Click the “View” tab on Microsoft Word’s ribbon.
  3. Click the “Macros” button.
  4. Type a name for the macro in the “Macro name” box — probably the name used after the first “Sub.”
  5. Click the “Create” button.
  6. Delete the “Sub [macro name]” and “End Sub” lines that Word created in the macro window. The macro window should now be completely empty (unless you already have other macros in there).
  7. Paste the macro text at the current insertion point.
  8. Click “File,” then “Close and Return to Microsoft Word.”

To actually use the macro:

  1. Place your cursor in your text.
  2. Click the “View” tab on Microsoft Word’s ribbon.
  3. Click the “Macros” button.
  4. Click the name of your macro to select it.
  5. Click the “Run” button. (If you wanted to delete the macro, you could press the “Delete” button instead.)

Here’s how to put the macro on Word’s QAT (Quick Access Toolbar):

  1. Locate the QAT (it’s probably on the top left of your screen either above or below Word’s Ribbon interface).
  2. Right-click the QAT.
  3. Click “Customize Quick Access Toolbar.”
  4. Under “Choose commands from:” click the dropdown list and select “Macros.”
  5. Find and select your macro in the list on the left.
  6. Click the “Add” button to add it to the QAT.
  7. Click the “OK” button to finish.

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.

May 22, 2017

Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap II

by Carolyn Haley

In Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap I, introduced my four-stage work routine — preflight, formatting, editing, and cleanup — then began a discussion of the first stage in my editing process: preflight.

Preflight’s purpose is to prepare the manuscript for reading, minimizing the number of elements my eye needs to attend to during editing. For the mechanical tasks involved, I use the following software tools:

Editoriums FileCleaner

I use FileCleaner,  which is included in Editor’s Toolkit Plus 2014, for general cleanup of extra spaces and returns, curly versus straight quotation marks and apostrophes, and the like. Once I’ve selected which elements I want the tool to address, it takes seconds to do so and I can enter the file confident that I don’t have to watch for those things.

EditToolsDelete Unused Styles

I use the Delete Unused Styles macro to remove style clutter that comes with the file. In publisher manuscripts, somebody has already addressed styling, but indie-author manuscripts are usually messy and need some housekeeping. When the incoming manuscript is really messy, I address it during the next stage, formatting.

EditTools’ Change Style Language

I use the Change Style Language macro to ensure that Word’s styles in the incoming file are set for American English, so the correct dictionary is utilized by Word’s spelling checker. (This is particularly handy with one of my regular nonfiction jobs. The files I receive for that job are provided by multiple authors and often have different language settings. Most of my fiction work comes already set in American English, but there are just enough random exceptions to make this speedy preflight step worthwhile.)

EditTools’ Never Spell Word

I use Never Spell Word (NSW) to catch typos I’m prone to overlooking, such as form/from, let’s/lets, its/it’s, hang onto/hang on to, vice/vise, woman/women, lead/led, your/you’re, quiet/quite, and many others. I add words to the list every time I recognize a repeat mistake or one I haven’t made yet but easily could.

NSW highlights every occurrence of the designated words, which forces me to look at them and choose. I can either jump from highlight to highlight on a dedicated pass through the document, or pause during the edit to accept or fix each one as it appears. I’ve tried both approaches but discovered that I have a tendency to ignore the highlighted words when absorbed in story flow. Now I dedicate a pass to examining these highlights, usually scrolling rather than jumping so the context flows by. In this way I also pick up the gist of plot and characters, gaining a passive preread that helps me spot storycraft issues to pay extra attention to during editing, such as pacing, tense changes, or multiple viewpoints, while remaining ignorant of the details so I can discover them as a reader.

EditTools’ F&R Master

F&R Master lets me find and replace up to 10 terms and characters in one background run, instead of stopping to examine each and make a decision. With F&R Master I’m looking for irregularities I can safely change globally, and my list includes both words and punctuation.

For example, American indie authors intermittently use British spellings; I, however, always adhere to American spelling according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., unless directed otherwise before the job starts. Certain British spellings crop up so often among diverse indie novels that I’ve created an F&R Master dataset for them and run it on all manuscripts. This dataset comprises words ending in -wards (e.g., towards, backwards), which I replace with their s-free American spellings (toward, backward), and the color grey, which I change to gray. The changes get called out on my style sheet.

Other British spellings appear so randomly that I’ve not yet assembled a list for them to enter into a macro. They tend to be either very obvious in the text and I deal with them when I encounter them, or they get caught later by PerfectIt or Word’s spelling checker.

At present I’m building a list of terms that might be British, and/or American archaic, and/or American alternate spellings that keep popping up in fantasy novels — e.g., leapt, dreamt, burnt — along with words I have to look up repeatedly to confirm which is contemporary American spelling, such as knelt vs. kneeled, shined vs. shone, lit vs. lighted, façade vs. facade, décor vs. decor, and their ilk. Most likely I will put these under their own tab(s) in NSW after I’ve finished gathering and organizing them so they will be flagged in the document.

The punctuation changes I do globally using F&R Master are inserting the terminal comma before too, anyway, though, either, and as well (at least one of these occurs in every manuscript), and adjusting ellipses and dash styles (which vary among manuscripts and often within a manuscript). When the author does not have a preference, or I know the manuscript will be submitted to traditional print publishers, I use ellipses with spaces before, after, and between the points, and em dashes without spaces on either end. In cases where I know the author will be self-publishing an e-book, or the author specifies a preference, I use Word’s glyph for ellipses, and en or em dashes with spaces. I’ve set up and saved the F&R Master options not only to switch from one dash or ellipses style to the other in different combinations, but also to find occurrences in dialogue where the space after an ellipses point or dash needs to be dropped before a closing quotation mark, as occurs when a character’s speech trails off or gets interrupted.

Some find/replace combinations, such as possessives for words ending in s, remain best done manually, because there are enough exceptions to make it risky to fix them globally. I always do a quick search for s’ and ‘s to make sure Travis’ dog is Travis’s dog, the 1960’s are the 1960s, and so forth; also that the author hasn’t pluralized dogs by adding an apostrophe (dog’s). During both preflight and cleanup I also search for inverted apostrophes — open single quotes — in constructions like truncated dates (the ‘60s) and dialect (I hit ‘im ‘ere).

Paul Beverley’s ProperNounAlyse

I originally used ProperNounAlyse (PNA) to lay the foundation for a style sheet, but getting the results I wanted ended up requiring so much manual labor that I’ve reduced PNA’s role in my process to a single worth-its-weight-in-gold step.

PNA builds a list of everything it recognizes as a proper noun (e.g., Chicago, Henrietta), including name pairs (e.g., John Smith). The idea of it thrilled me, because my style sheet includes every person and place name in a manuscript, and saving time in gathering those would reduce style sheet labor by half.

Unfortunately, the macro takes “proper noun” too literally, forming a list of names and any capitalized word at the beginning of a sentence. That means if you want, for example, Achilles, Adams, and Adirondacks, you have to dig through entries like About, Absolutely, Actually, and And to find them. You also get first and last names individually along with the full name (e.g., John, Smith, John Smith). Any proper noun of more than two words is likewise captured in components but doesn’t produce the needed set, such as New York City (New, York, City, New York, and York City), which reduces the macro’s utility. The list it creates also includes extraneous words, colors, and characters (see discussion and image below).

If I were macro-savvy, I could probably customize the tool to eliminate the extras, or even write my own script. But I have the same trouble understanding macros as I have understanding algebra, which is why I buy editing software tool packages designed by pros, or use free macros that other people have figured out. In the case of PNA, I don’t know how to constrain it from giving so much I don’t need; but if I let it do its thing, then manually delete the extras and organize the rest, I end up with a comprehensive list of character and place names, plus some terms that may be unique to the manuscript (e.g., Wankel [engine], Luger [pistol]), miscellaneous terms that usually need to be changed and thus included on the style sheet (e.g., OK to okay, Alright to All right), and some that might be capitalized in one context but lowercase in another (e.g., Captain, Mother, Earth).

This is great — but it takes longer to build the list and then take it apart again to place each item in the right category on my style sheet than to build my style sheet the old way, item by item as I come across each in the manuscript. For the sake of time, I reverted to the old way, and now use PNA solely to find misspelled versions of a proper noun. I still generate the list, but instead of manipulating it for the style sheet, I just delete the highlighting so I can read what’s underneath, and scan for near duplicates. Then I fix any obvious errors before editing, and query the author where needed.

The macro proved its power when I had a novel featuring a character named Philippa, whose name appeared in the story spelled different ways. I found them all hard to read, because of the multiple i’s and l’s together. The PNA-generated list helped me isolate the three wrong spellings, but this is what I had to sort through to find them (double-click on image to enlarge it):

Sample results produced by ProperNounAlyse

Since one of the most embarrassing blunders a fiction editor can make is to misspell an author’s or character’s name, I’m glad to have a tool that helps avoid making such a blunder. Even the long and convoluted means of preventing the blunder, as described above for style sheet building, is worth the effort to ensure I never make that mistake.

It’s been suggested that I approach proper noun correctness from the opposite direction, trading ProperNounAlyse for Never Spell Word. In NSW I can enter the correct form of Philippa and have it highlighted in the manuscript, leaving any alternate versions obvious because they would be unhighlighted and thus easy to identify and correct. Or, enter every variant I can think of and have them all flagged for review. This is a good idea that doesn’t work for me, for reasons that may not seem sensible to others.

But, unlike others, I happen to be a super-duper high-speed typist who’s been word processing since before Word 1.0 was a gleam in Microsoft’s eye. It’s faster and easier for me to type multiple find/replaces for the wrong spellings I see on a list (especially since PNA tells me how many of each there are) than to open EditTools and NSW, set up a dataset I’ll probably never use again, figure out what color to highlight what, and then look through the manuscript for whatever I decided to flag, assuming I can remember what I decided by the time I’m done. In the case of Philippa, I can opt to just find “phil,” which will snag them all — worth considering, since PNA won’t catch one that starts with a lowercase p.

The point is, I have to type the same words whether I enter them in a dataset or a find/replace window, with the same risk of mistyping. My eyes and hands work better with conventional find/replace, so that’s the route I take.

It’s also been suggested that I perform the preflight tasks in a different, more strategic order, to maximize their efficacy. I need to contemplate that idea more, having never considered it. I established my routine from a checklist I compiled years ago from scribbled notes that amounted to “remember to do these things before starting.” As my routine stands, no step depends on any other; they are just things I want done before beginning the edit. I’ve been experimenting with different ways to cover them and am sure I’ll eventually find the ideal one. Right now, my steps accomplish what I desire: getting the manuscript workably clean so I can read without that nagging sensation of things lurking in the shadows behind me.

Taking care of as many consistency elements as possible before editing leaves any aberrations obvious enough to spot during the read. I like to keep some challenge to my eye so it doesn’t get jaded, just as I like to keep my fingers limber so I remain a super typist. I’ve arranged my preflight tasks so that postediting cleanup problems can be identified and decided upon per occurrence; I never do a background function if I’m done going through the manuscript. A background function invites nightmares like what happened to me once in a secretarial job. A careless moment with global find/replace led to “best” becoming “bestiality” in an environmental science report!

In those days, I was lowest person on the totem pole but on salary, in an environment where mistakes were forgiven unless they cost the company huge amounts of money. Now I’m a self-employed professional editor for whom any error has a price. Astute readers will note that some of my tool choices serve the peculiarities of my mind as well as accomplish specific editorial purposes. I must accommodate both in order to deliver an excellent job that clients are happy to pay for — every time.

This rationale applies during Stage 2: Formatting, which is discussed in Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap III.

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.

May 18, 2017

Worth Noting: Be a Better Freelancer 2017 Conference

Special AAE Registration Discount for the 2017 “Be a Better Freelancer®” Conference

Registration is open and AAE subscribers benefit from a special discount for “Better by the Dozen,” Communication Central’s 12th annual “Be a Better Freelancer®” conference, September 15–16, 2017, at the Hilton Garden Inn/College Town in Rochester, NY, with a separate special session on the morning of September 17. Hosted by AAE’s “On the Basics” columnist Ruth Thaler-Carter, this event brings together an outstanding array of presenters and a delightful group of colleagues at various stages of their freelance businesses. The deadline for the special AAE discount is July 1 and hotel rooms are going fast, so be sure to take advantage of this opportunity soon!

Confirmed speakers include Karin Cather, Bevi Chagnon, April Michelle Davis, Melissa Hellman, Ally Machate, Dick Margulis, Chris Morton, and myself. The focus of the 2017 conference includes increasing earnings by increasing efficiency; adding in-demand, skilled services to your repertoire; and enhancing your visibility to potential clients, whether you’re an editor, proofreader, writer, indexer, or other editorial freelancer — and whether you are thinking about, new to, or established as a freelancer. Sessions will be skill-centered and concept-oriented. As always, the program will offer great opportunities to network with and get to know colleagues in person.

The Communication Central event has often been the only U.S. conference specifically for freelancers in publishing and editorial work and is consistently the best conference for editors.

Further details are available at Communication Central. To register, go to the Communication Central  Special AAE Offer and use the password C-C2017AAE for session and speaker information, and your special discount on registration. Here’s to seeing many of you there!

May 15, 2017

Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap I

by Carolyn Haley

I was thunderstruck when I read An American Editor’s The Business of Editing: The AAE Copyediting Roadmap I and saw the project scale he works on: 1,500 to 20,000 manuscript pages in a single project. Yikes! Translating that into word count comes to 375,000 to 5 million words. Per book.

In contrast, the novels I work on run 50,000 to 200,000 words. Only once has a manuscript come close to the low end of AAE’s projects; the common range is 70,000 to 120,000 words.

Yet for projects great or small, we different types of editors use the same skills and tools to edit our clients’ manuscripts. I need only a fraction of the electronic tools available, not having to deal with references and figures and tables and all, but as time goes by I increasingly use electronic tools. Learning from other editors’ tips, tricks, and processes helps me become more efficient and meet my business goal of doing the best-quality job in the least amount of time with the least expenditure of labor.

Tools also help compensate for a flaw in my reading skills. I’ve learned that once I’ve read something, I stop seeing individual words and punctuation if I read the material again soon after the first time. This means that reading a manuscript completely through before editing it can be counterproductive, so it’s better for me to skip that step and use tools to prevent and later catch errors and omissions. Although I find and address most everything needed during the editing pass, that single read-through isn’t good enough for a professional edit.

My mental blind spot goes away if I wait a few weeks or months between readings. However, my clientele aren’t willing to wait that long. Therefore, I concentrate my attention on where it’s needed most — editing — and use different software tools before and after editing to catch mechanical details my eyes might miss. I’ve settled on a four-stage work routine comprising preflight, formatting, editing, and cleanup. I adjust the routine according to each job’s parameters, using the full process for indie-author clients and reducing or adapting it for publisher clients, who usually provide specific instructions for a job and do some of the steps before submitting the manuscript.

The Four Stages

I work primarily with indie novelists, most of whom are first-time authors still finding their way. For these authors I offer substantive editing, often called line editing or developmental editing by other editors. Sometimes I offer a variant I call a teaching or mentoring edit. Such jobs require the detail precision of copyediting as well as heavy commentary and queries pertaining to content. To handle the dual role effectively, I need to encounter the story as a reader would, not knowing who’s who and what happens next. So I first use tools to make the manuscript clean and consistent, then I read until I stumble, edit accordingly, and continue, using tools to sweep up behind me when done.

This process serves for copyediting finished manuscripts, too. When I copyedit for publishers, there’s usually one or more people in line after me to review the book. For indie authors, however, I’m often the last eyes on novel before it goes out into the world. I counsel all clients to hire a proofreader before they release their work, but in many cases they choose not to, whether it’s because they’ve exhausted their budget on editing or just believe that editing plus their own tinkering and reviewing are adequate. I can’t control what they do after I’ve delivered the manuscript, so during the edit I cover as much ground as possible within the parameters of the job, relying on software tools to cover my back.

Stage 1: Preflight

“Preflight” is a term I picked up during my catalogue production days. Coworkers in my department and personnel at the print house used “preflight” to cover tasks specific to the phase between finishing a layout in InDesign and preparing the file for the printer. There’s also a Preflight function on a pulldown menu in InDesign. The combination embedded the term in my mind.

Now as an editor I use “preflight” for the work I perform on a Microsoft Word manuscript. Preflight in this context means preparing the file for the author’s production, which might be submission to an editor, an agent, or a contest, or releasing it through self-publishing.

My preflight involves two substages: document setup for the job, such as creating folders, working files, style sheets, and notes to myself to guide the edit; then mechanical tidying up of errors and inconsistencies. For the mechanical tasks I use a combination of editing software tools to tackle the nitpickery that would otherwise slow down the edit and distract me from the content elements no computer can address.

When a manuscript arrives, the first thing I do is make a new copy of the file and rename it to indicate it’s an edited version. The author’s original is never touched again, and always available in the event of a document or computer crash. Because Word is unpredictably quirky, and heavy use of track changes sometimes provokes problems, I keep making new, numbered copies of the file over the course of the job.

In case there’s a problem with a file I have open during a work session, I also allow Word’s automatic backup feature to run. The autobackup file is instantly available and contains the most recent edits, should I need to recover anything. At the end of the day’s work session, I copy all files used that day to a secure site provided by my ISP. That way, if my computer dies or house burns down, I can access a current version of the job from any computer anywhere with Internet access. At intervals I back up my whole system onto a removable hard drive that is stored a fire safe. I live in a rural area and have no secure or convenient location outside the house to keep spare copies.

Next I set up the style sheet for the job. If the author has provided a list of character and place names, and/or special vocabulary, I plug those in under the relevant headings. If not, then I fill the style sheet during the edit.

With my work setup in place, I move on to electronic grooming of the file. Before I learned about software editing tools, I compiled a list of things to search for and fix one at a time. As I found ways to automate some of these tasks, I began consolidating them into batches, and experimenting with alternative approaches. Some tools I find easier to learn and apply than others, which influences my choices. Once I find a tool that solves a particular problem, I add it to my kit and use it until a better way presents itself.

The smart plan would be to allot time for a compare-and-contrast of all features of all the editing tool packages available, but I have not yet invested that time. (If anyone does, I’ll eagerly buy your book!) For now I adopt tools according to need and opportunity. Electronic editing tools are similar to Word in a general sense, in that you’re given multiple ways to perform certain functions: You can use a pulldown menu, a keyboard command, assign hotkeys, or run built-in or customized macros. There is no right way; rather, there are alternative ways to accomplish the same task, to be used according to personal preference and appropriateness to the project.

Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap II will elaborate on the individual tools used in my preflight process.

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.

May 3, 2017

On the Basics: Being Businesslike

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

The other day, I met a colleague for coffee who’s a freelance writer, proofreader, and voice-over professional who has been doing well at finding and being recommended for projects, but confessed to being terrible at the business side of dealing with clients.

Many of us struggle with the business of editing (and writing, proofreading, indexing, desktop publishing; whatever editorial work anyone here might do). That struggle is one reason for Rich Adin’s book by that very title (The Business of Editing: Effective and Efficient Ways to Think, Work, and Prosper), and for this blog and the columns by its various contributors.

Some of the things we talked about inspired this column.

Setting policies and limits

Getting paid can be the hardest part of freelancing, no matter what service or skill you provide. My colleague did the smart thing with a recent project: She asked for an advance on a five-book project for a local arts institution. The plan was that she would be paid a certain amount before starting, receive a payment as she finished each book, and then receive a final payment when the last book was done.

The good news: She got the first payment. The bad news: She didn’t get it right away. Because she knew the project was on a tight deadline for publication, she felt obliged to start work based on the promise that the advance would arrive soon. Even though the first payment did show up soon after she got started and the subsequent payments did come in reasonably on schedule, she realized in hindsight that she ran a real risk of not receiving the advance and there was a constant sense of foreboding over each payment.

Version control

Another project was a great example of scope creep: Every time she turned around, the client added more to the project. Because she did not have language protecting against the ever-expanding project, she was expected to absorb the new requests without additional payment — and felt obligated to do so. She spent a lot more time on the project than she had planned and wound up only being paid what amounted to minimum wage.

Contract concerns

Many of us have had the good luck to work with clients without needing contracts, or ones who adhere to contracts to our benefit. The most frustrating part of another project for this colleague was that the client ignored almost all of the elements in the contract. Yes, they signed it, but then proceeded to violate almost every clause. She eventually asked why they had agreed to the conditions of the contract when they weren’t complying with it.

The client’s response? “We wanted you for this, and no one else.” That is, they were willing to agree to anything as long as she agreed to do the work. She was flattered — and floored.

Because she’s a self-confessed perfectionist with an “if I start something, I finish it” work ethic, she did not want to walk away despite the frustrations. She knew that she was being played, even as she basked in the sense of being wanted and supposedly the only person who could do the project. She couldn’t figure out how to stand her ground, nor could she walk away.

Reality checks

Being committed to providing excellent service can backfire. Whether it’s from a sense of perfectionism and a commitment-based work ethic, or a fear of negative consequences (not getting paid, having the client badmouth you to colleagues), remaining committed to a project when the client is behaving badly is not good business. It’s bad for the project, bad for your mental (and physical) health, and bad for your business. As hard as it is to stand up for yourself, it’s something we all have to learn to do.

Being told “We want you and only you” or “We’ll agree to anything to get you on board” feels great. Sometimes that’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship with a client who does value you and treats you with respect, but sometimes it’s bait for a situation that turns into a nightmare. The flattery can blind us to a headache-inducing client or project.

One way to handle a situation like this is to do a reality check. Some of us may really be so unusually skilled that we’re the only one — or the best one — for a given project, but most of us aren’t all that unique. We want to feel that we are, but we aren’t; except for rare circumstances, we can be replaced. Another editor might do things differently, but differently does not necessarily mean worse.

Feeling irreplaceable can interfere with all kinds of aspects of freelancing, and sometimes even with working in-house. It can blind you to the reality that a client is treating you badly and making you crazy, and that it would be better for your business and yourself to either reset the boundaries or walk away.

Getting help

One strategy that my beleaguered colleague and I discussed implementing has two aspects: (a) keeping a contract template at hand that includes language regarding both a fee advance or deposit and protection against scope creep, so you don’t have to reinvent the contract with every new client, and (b) using your website to state such a policy.

Possible language could be:

“An advance/deposit representing 50% or the first X hours of the project is required with a new project. Depending on the length and scope of the project, interim payments may be required. The finished project will be provided once full payment is in hand.”

And:

“Any requests for work beyond the scope of this agreement/contract will be charged on an hourly basis in addition to the original fee, and will not be provided or performed without such additional payment.”

Not all clients will go along with such a policy, but it could be a lifesaver, especially with an individual author or a graduate student. While most such clients can be trusted to pay as agreed, some either never intend to pay for editorial services or do not budget sufficiently to pay the tab. When they see the final amount in your invoice, they panic, go into sticker shock — and disappear. This can especially be a concern with students, because when they hand in that paper and get that degree, they’re gone, and you might not be able to reach them to chase down your payment.

If you require an advance and establish interim payments for a lengthy project, you protect yourself against not getting paid (or at least against not getting paid in full), and you also help the client. Most people find it easier to pay a couple hundred dollars at a time over a few weeks to months than a couple thousand all at once when the project is done.

Establishing your policy

I hadn’t thought of this until that coffee date, but establishing your business policy for payments and scope creep and posting it at your website is worth considering. Doing so could head off problem clients who could become nightmares of uncontrolled project morphing and payment hassles, no matter how appealing the project might seem on the surface. However, merely posting it at your website is not enough to make the terms part of the work agreement.

It is important that specific policies — regardless of what they address — be included in written contracts and, because many of us do not work under formal contracts, in your e-mail exchanges with the client. At a minimum, your correspondence should include a statement such as:

“Additional terms governing our work relationship are available at ________ and are made an explicit part of our agreement by incorporation by reference.”

(Caution: Do not make supplementary terms available only on social media like Facebook. Not everyone participates. Be sure that wherever they are posted, they are universally accessible without a client having to “join” some third party.)

Finally, having colleagues to lean on and consult can be a lifesaver in establishing good business practices. Even just meeting over coffee to bewail the trials and tribulations of a problem client or project can provide useful insights from someone who has been there and done that.

For more insights

A number of other essays at An American Editor relate to this one and are worth reading for additional insights on the business of editing, including (for additional essays, be sure to search the An American Editor archives):

 

Rich Adin’s book (with Jack Lyon and myself), The Business of Editing: Effective and Efficient Ways to Think, Work, and Prosper, provides additional practical insights on this important topic.

The key is to remember that being the world’s best editor is not enough for a profitable career; you must be a good businessperson as well!

How have you handled payment, scope creep, and other business concerns? How have you found supportive colleagues, either online or in real life?

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 a regular contributor to An American Editor.

April 5, 2017

Lyonizing Word: Microsoft Word’s Built-in Grammar Checker

by Jack Lyon

In my last missive, Lyonizing Word: Editing by Computer, I discussed some of the grammar checkers that seem to be popping up like mushrooms online. But I neglected to discuss Microsoft Word’s built-in grammar checker. Is it any good? And might it be of use to professional editors? Let’s find out.

First, I recommend that you set Word’s grammar checker to mark grammar errors in your document rather than “running” the grammar checker as a separate process. That way, you can spot and fix the errors as you read, making changes as necessary. Here’s how:

  1. Click File > Options > Proofing.
  2. Under “When correcting spelling and grammar in Word,” check the box labeled “Mark grammar errors as you type.”
  3. Click the “OK” button.

Mark Errors

Now you should see grammar errors flagged in various ways:

Flagged Errors

The double blue underlines indicate possible problems with grammar, spacing, or punctuation.

The dark red dots indicate possible problems with what Microsoft calls “More,” which includes:

  • Clarity and conciseness.
  • Inclusive language.
  • Vocabulary choice.
  • Formal language.
  • Punctuation conventions.

The wavy red underlines indicate possible spelling errors.

For all of these I say “possible” because Word may get things wrong; you can’t blindly accept its recommendations. But they do give you something to consider, including things you might otherwise overlook.

To see and select Word’s recommendations, right-click the flagged text, which will give you a menu like this:

Menu

The grammar checker also flags many things that editors would be better off fixing with Word’s Find and Replace feature or FileCleaner in Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2014. If something can be fixed automatically, there’s no need to have Word check it and flag it; to do so would just mean more work, because you’d have to consider and manually change each flagged item. Examples include checking for punctuation marks preceded by a space, opening parentheses followed by a space, and double spaces between words and sentences. All such corrections can and should be automated.

Grammar Options

What, then, should you have Word’s grammar checker check? Anything that you think would be easy to overlook while editing. Here are the options that seem most useful to me:

Punctuation

Semicolon Use

Targets the use of a semicolon instead of a comma in two related but independent clauses that are not joined by a coordinating conjunction such as “and” or “but.”

  • Example: They don’t have a discussion board, the website isn’t big enough for one yet.
  • Correction: They don’t have a discussion board; the website isn’t big enough for one yet.

Comma Use

Targets a missing comma in front of an independent clause if the sentence begins with the conjunction “if.”

  • Example: If you’re like me you’ve already seen this movie.
  • Correction: If you’re like me, you’ve already seen this movie.

Comma after Introductory Phrases

Targets a missing comma after short introductory phrases such as “however” or “for example” before an independent clause that follows.

  • Example: First of all we must make sure the power is off.
  • Correction: First of all, we must make sure the power is off .

Clarity and Conciseness

Complex words

Targets complex and abstract words, and suggests using a simpler word to present a clear message and a more approachable tone.

  • Example: The magnitude of the problem is far beyond the scope of humanitarian aid.
  • Correction: The size of the problem is far beyond the scope of humanitarian aid.

Jargon

Targets jargon, technical terminology, or abbreviations that may confuse some readers.

  • Example: The company hired a well-known headhunting firm.
  • Correction: The company hired a well-known recruiting firm.

Nominalizations

Targets phrases relying on nouns that need extra words to introduce them and suggests using a single verb instead of nouns.

  • Example: The trade union is holding negotiations with the employers.
  • Correction: The trade union is negotiating with the employers.

Wordiness

Targets redundant and needless words.

  • Example: Her backpack was large in size.
  • Correction: Her backpack was large.

Words Expressing Uncertainty

Targets words that express uncertainty or lessen the impact of a statement.

  • Example: They largely decorated the kitchen with old bottles.
  • Correction: They decorated the kitchen with old bottles.

Inclusive Language

Gender-Specific Language

Targets gendered language which may be perceived as excluding, dismissive, or stereotyping.

  • Example: We need more policemen to maintain public safety.
  • Correction: We need more police officers to maintain public safety.

Vocabulary Choice

Clichés

Targets overused and predictable words or phrases and suggests to replace them with an alternative phrase.

  • Example: Institutions seem caught between a rock and a hard place.
  • Correction: Institutions seem caught in a difficult situation.

Formal Language

Contractions

Targets contractions (e.g., let’s, we’ve, can’t), which should be avoided in formal writing.

  • Example: The animal won’t be authorized to be out of the bag during the flight.
  • Correction: The animal will not be authorized to be out of the bag during the flight.

Informal Language

Targets informal words and phrases that are more appropriate for familiar, conversational settings.

  • Example: Our lounge includes comfy massage chairs.
  • Correction: Our lounge includes comfortable massage chairs.

Slang

Targets regional expressions or slang terms that may not be understood by a general audience and should be avoided in formal writing.

  • Example: My cat barfed all over my homework last night.
  • Correction: My cat vomited all over my homework last night. [Yes, a fine example of formal writing.]

Punctuation Conventions

Oxford Comma

Targets a missing comma after the second-to-last item in a list.

  • Example: I enjoy apples, pears and oranges.
  • Correction: I enjoy apples, pears, and oranges.

Other Options

Many more options are available; you can see the whole list at Microsoft’s website.

Many of the options seemed designed to help writers whose primary language is not English; a few appear to have been dreamed up by Microsoft’s marketing department as just one more thing to include. Fortunately, you can choose the items that you think might be most useful to you. Here’s how:

  1. Click File > Options > Proofing.
  2. Under “When correcting spelling and grammar in Word,” click “Settings.”
  3. On the “Writing style” menu, select “Grammar” or “Grammar & More.”
  4. Scroll down to see all of the options available; select or clear any rules that you want the grammar checker to flag or ignore. (Note: Any changes you make here will apply to all documents that you open in Word. If you want to go back to Microsoft’s default settings, click “Reset All.”)
  5. When you’re finished, click the “OK” button.

Options

Writing Styles

Rich Adin asked, “What types of manuscripts does Microsoft’s grammar help work best with, and with what types will it only cause problems? For example, it is clear to me, based on my experience with grammar checkers, that they tend to do better with short, nontechnical documents than with long, technical documents. Writing a short essay with grammar checking on might be helpful; editing a 100-page medical chapter that is replete with acronyms, initialisms, abbreviations, measures, chemical formulas, clinical terms, and the like with grammar checking turned on is inviting problems and a great slowing of the editing process.”

Versions of Word before 2016 included various writing styles that you could select for the kind of document you were editing:

  • Casual
  • Standard
  • Formal
  • Technical
  • Custom

Of course, “Custom” was probably the most useful style, as you could select the items you wanted it to check. Unfortunately, Word 2016 includes only two writing styles:

  • Grammar & More
  • Grammar

Those are of limited help, although Microsoft claims to be working on new styles to be added in future updates.

In the meantime, I’d recommend selecting only the grammar options that you think might really be of help. Here, less is definitely more.

If, however, the idea of using a more advanced grammar checker appeals to you, you might try Grammarly’s free add-in for Microsoft Word.

Toggling the Grammar Checker

Turning the grammar checker off and on requires digging through several Word menus—it’s not easily done. So let’s solve that problem with a macro:

Sub ToggleGrammarErrors()
   Dim GrammarCheck
   GrammarCheck = Options.CheckGrammarAsYouType
   If GrammarCheck = False Then
      Options.CheckGrammarAsYouType = True
      ActiveDocument.ShowGrammaticalErrors = True
   Else
      Options.CheckGrammarAsYouType = False
      ActiveDocument.ShowGrammaticalErrors = False
   End If
   Application.ScreenRefresh
End Sub

Here’s how the macro works:

Dim GrammarCheck

That line defines (“dimensions”) a variable called “GrammarCheck.” We’ll use that variable to hold the value of the current setting (grammar checker on or off).

GrammarCheck = Options.CheckGrammarAsYouType

Here, we get the value of the current setting. If the grammar checker is on, GrammarCheck is set to “True”; if it’s off, GrammarCheck is set to “False.”

If GrammarCheck = False Then
  Options.CheckGrammarAsYouType = True
  ActiveDocument.ShowGrammaticalErrors = True
Else
  Options.CheckGrammarAsYouType = False
  ActiveDocument.ShowGrammaticalErrors = False
End If

If the value of GrammarCheck is “False” (that is, the grammar checker is off), we turn it on by setting it to “True.” We also make sure grammar errors are showing in the active document. Otherwise (“Else”), if the grammar checker is on, we turn it off by setting it to “False.” We also turn off the display of grammar errors.

Application.ScreenRefresh

Finally, we need to refresh the screen. If we don’t, we’ll be wondering why our changes didn’t take effect, when in fact they did — a small Microsoft “oops.”

Unfortunately, Microsoft has not made it possible to set individual grammar options in a macro — yet another “oops.”

How to Add the Toggle Grammar Macro to Word & to the QAT

Here’s how to put this macro (or any other) into Microsoft Word so it will be available when you need it:

  1. Copy the text of the macro, starting with the first “Sub” and ending with the last “Sub.”
  2. Click the “View” tab on Microsoft Word’s ribbon.
  3. Click the “Macros” button.
  4. Type a name for the macro in the “Macro name” box — probably the name used after the first “Sub.” For this macro, that’s “ToggleGrammarError.”
  5. Click the “Create” button.
  6. Delete the “Sub [macro name]” and “End Sub” lines that Word created in the macro window. The macro window should now be completely empty (unless you already have other macros in there).
  7. Paste the macro text at the current insertion point.
  8. Click “File,” then “Close and Return to Microsoft Word.”

To actually use the macro:

  1. Place your cursor in your document.
  2. Click the “View” tab on Microsoft Word’s ribbon.
  3. Click the “Macros” button.
  4. Click the name of your macro to select it.
  5. Click the “Run” button. (If you wanted to delete the macro, you could press the “Delete” button instead.)

Here’s how to put the macro on Word’s QAT (Quick Access Toolbar):

  1. Locate the QAT (it’s probably on the top left of your screen either above or below Word’s Ribbon interface).
  2. Right-click the QAT.
  3. Click “Customize Quick Access Toolbar.”
  4. Under “Choose commands from:” click the dropdown list and select “Macros.”
  5. Find and select your macro in the list on the left.
  6. Click the “Add” button to add it to the QAT.
  7. Click the “OK” button to finish.

What About You?

Do you use Word’s grammar checker? If so, what options do you find most useful? I’d love to hear about your experiences with this.

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.

March 1, 2017

Copyediting and Line Editing Series Fiction

by Carolyn Haley

Series fiction is a boon for everyone in the publishing chain. Authors have a ready market for their work; independent editors can get repeat work from a single client; publishers have a steady flow of sellable material; readers get their fiction appetites regularly fed.

That combination is why I favor series fiction in my editing business. For independent copyeditors and line editors who may be looking to add series fiction to their roster of services, here are the main factors to consider.

Style sheets

The most important part of editing a series is building a comprehensive style sheet. While this is also true for standalone novels, it’s crucial for series to ensure continuity and consistency between volumes. Months or years may pass between editing each volume, especially if the author is writing and sending them for editing one at a time. Also, different editors might work on different volumes. In both situations, a style sheet constitutes the series’ connective tissue.

Editors working directly with indie authors are free to design style sheets according to their own parameters meshed with the author’s needs. An excellent quartet of essays on what to include on style sheets, and why these items need to be included, was presented here by the previous Thinking Fiction contributor, Amy Schneider. See Part I: General Style, Part II: Characters, Part III: Locations, and Part IV: Timeline.

When editors subcontract to publishers, they must follow the house’s lead on style sheets. The instructions could be as simple as to include character names in alphabetical order and follow Chicago Manual of Style, or as complex as to fill in a fancy-formatted template just so, for characters, places, timeline, and special terms.

Any time editors are hired to work on a series volume later in sequence than volume 1, it’s important to confirm with the indie author or the publisher’s production coordinator whether the editor is expected to make a new style sheet for each new volume or consolidate new material into the style sheet established for the previous volume(s) so that one sheet travels with the series.

Single vs. batch manuscripts

Publisher-provided series usually come to the editor one book at a time with long intervals in between. Series from indie authors, however, may come as either single books or a multivolume batch. While one-at-a-time is most common, batches may come when an author wrote an epic and decided to break it into volumes, or planned from the start to write a trilogy but wanted to complete the whole work before editing.

It’s easier and more efficient to edit a series as a unit than as single books spread out over time, but doing them all in one shot takes a big bite out of the calendar — a downside for editors who like or need to keep a diverse cycle going, but a plus for editors who like tackling large projects. Psychologically, immersion in one world and one author’s style can become grinding without a break. On the other hand, immersion may make the editor aware of slight nuances that change a character or story from what was previously described.

Even if such immersion is desired, editors need to be careful about putting an entire series into one contract. It makes sense to do so on the surface, because in essence the job is one really big novel instead of X number of individual novels, and the style sheet is created once instead of multiple times. But over the extended period of a series job, the risk runs higher than with standalone novels that difficulties might arise, such as:

  • the editor or author might have a change of circumstance and be unable to fulfill their end of the agreement;
  • the editor might recognize too late that they underestimated the scope of work, or the author might dramatically change the scope as the series develops, forcing the contract to be renegotiated and the editor to possibly lose the balance of the project if it gets appreciably more expensive or complex;
  • one party might become dissatisfied with the other’s personality, or the material, partway through and want to bail out.

Editors who haven’t prepared for such possibilities in the contract can get trapped in a bad deal for a long time, making it wise to have a lawyer review the contract before anyone signs. If nothing else, in an all-in-one contract, the editor should make certain there’s an escape clause after each volume.

I prefer to contract for volume 1 separately, then negotiate a rate or service change for the balance of the series after its qualities are understood. That opens the door to losing the subsequent volumes because the author and I can’t agree on what needs to be adjusted, but I’m more comfortable with that risk than those associated with an all-in-one contract. Usually by the time we’re done with volume 1, we’ve established a rapport that allows successful negotiation. When in doubt, I’ll treat each volume as a standalone novel and make a deal for them individually.

Series basics

Each volume in a fiction series must be a complete story, with a beginning, middle, and end, and a character(s) struggling to resolve one or more conflicts. At the same time, each volume must advance an overarching story or theme that evolves during the series and is resolved at series end. In effect, a series author is writing two books simultaneously, for as many volumes as the series runs.

Some beginning authors believe that ending a volume on a cliffhanger will inspire readers to rush to the next volume to find out what happens. More often than not, this backfires, and frustrated readers feel cheated and may not continue with the series. The trick is to leave just enough of the overarching story unresolved in each book to draw readers onward. But the episode covered in a volume must conclude satisfactorily before the next one begins, even if the next episode opens immediately afterward in the timeline. In this regard, series novels follow the same pattern as series TV shows.

A major challenge in writing any fiction is determining how much backstory to include. The goal is to provide enough information to keep readers oriented, and the action and characters in context, without overloading the narrative with an “info dump.” In series fiction, however, the backstory not only has to be provided in the right measure to begin with, but then must be reiterated in subsequent volumes to a different degree. Ideally, readers start with volume 1 when it comes out and eagerly await the next one, and don’t need refreshers as they continue through the series. In reality, readers might discover a series at volume 4, so they must be given enough backstory to understand the basics of what’s going on, without the author having to set up the scenario all over again.

Broadly, volume 1 should establish the premise and key characters for the series, and subsequent volumes should unfold new developments and show character growth. All volumes should refer back to the first with a light touch wherever understanding the new story depends on knowledge of what came before. Some series authors open each volume with a preface covering the previous volumes, but that can get cumbersome after the second or third book and is not commonly done. Other authors may write a prequel to an existing series and provide full backstory for an established audience hungry for more detail.

Tough spots

A tricky situation is when an editor gets volume 2 from an indie author who has already self-published volume 1, and no style sheet comes with the volume 2 manuscript. This might happen if the author didn’t use a professional editor the first time, or if the author wants to switch editors and the original editor didn’t create a style sheet for the job. For the new editor to make the new volume consistent with the first, they need a copy of volume 1 as part of the job and to build extra time into the quote because every style point will need to be backtracked to create the style sheet for the book in hand and any that follow.

It helps the editor to read all volumes of the story that came before, to best understand what’s happening in the new volume — but somebody has to pay for the time it takes to do so. That somebody should be the client, not the editor, so the editor has to factor extra reading time into their quote. It’s less critical to read previous volumes when working for publishers who are on the ball with style sheets, and whose pay rate is low and schedule is tight, because the existing style sheet should have most of the information the editor needs to do the job without becoming upside-down financially. With novels by inexperienced indie authors, though, the backstory can aid an editor in doing their job well so the author will come back for more.

Sometimes what starts out as a standalone novel expands into a series. An editor might work with an indie author on the single title then be contacted later for an unexpected volume 2. Having done a detailed style sheet for the original project will pay the editor back when responding to the second opportunity. If their schedule can’t accommodate the new book, then they’ve at least made life easier for the editor who takes their place. That won’t fill the first editor’s wallet but will reflect positively on their reputation, and maybe bring back the author for volume 3 or lead to future referrals.

Author fatigue

It’s not safe to assume that editing a series will get easier with each volume. Sometimes authors get fatigued from thinking up new stories inside a fixed scenario, or bored by the whole thing, and the quality of their work may deteriorate instead of improve as they push on. Marketplace pressure also can influence an author, in that readers just want more of the same thing while the author itches to stretch in a new direction, or is obliged to turn out the next volume in less time than they need to write it well.

Most copyeditors and line editors aren’t involved in an author’s content angst, but if they’ve been working with the same indie author since volume 1, then they’ve probably established a personal relationship and care about the author’s growth and the series’ success. To help that relationship happen and help authors avoid fatigue before it starts, editors can suggest at the beginning of the series that the author plan a finite number of volumes and outline the primary plot of each one within the plot of the whole. That simple guideline can both direct the author’s energies and allow the editor to raise relevant questions during the series’ progress to help the author stay on task while being creative.

Editing series fiction can be both challenging and rewarding, especially for editors who themselves are series readers. From that habit they know how a series can thrive or pall, or vacillate in its quality, and be motivated to help authors start strong and continually improve. The bonding potential with authors adds a richness to the experience. When the business and technical sides are carefully arranged, then the creative side can bloom to mutual satisfaction and result in a series that delights the reading public and earns income for everyone in the publishing chain.

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.

February 8, 2017

Lyonizing Word: Editing by Computer

by Jack Lyon

AlphaGo is a computer program developed by Google DeepMind in London to play the board game Go, which originated in China and is far more complex than chess. In March 2016, it beat Lee Sedol, one of the world’s best professional players, in a five-game match. I was interested because I’ve been playing Go since 1980. And why should you, as an editor, be interested? Because AlphaGo was not programmed to play Go; instead, it learned to play by “watching” and playing millions of games. (The same kind of learning lies behind the recent radical improvements in Google Translate.)

Now consider what the result might be if we fed Google’s computer thousands of raw manuscripts with their edited counterparts for comparison. Could the computer learn how to edit? I suspect that it’s only a matter of time before someone tries the experiment. (Although, as the Pen Master asks, “How does it know when to delete a paragraph?”)

In the meantime (while we’re dusting off our résumés), let’s look at some of the not-so-intelligent editing apps that are popping up on the internet. Do they really work? Are they a threat to our livelihood? Or are they tools we can use to enhance our productivity?

AutoCrit

AutoCrit, aimed mainly at writers of fiction, might also be useful for editors of fiction. It claims to check dialog, writing strength, word choice, repetition, and much more. It also compares your manuscript to other works of fiction to see how yours stacks up. You can take the tour and explore the features. AutoCrit allows you to check a writing sample online but, as far as I can tell, it won’t provide a full report unless you sign up for a monthly subscription of $29.97. You can cancel at any time and receive a full refund within your first fourteen days of use.

Wanting to see what the full report includes, I signed up and then submitted a short science-fiction story, “Nippers,” that I wrote about a million years ago and which you can at The Editorium if you’re interested. AutoCrit’s analysis was interesting, but I found it a little difficult to navigate, as it discusses each area on a separate web page. AutoCrit does give you a lot of stuff to consider, including:

  • Pacing & Momentum
    • Sentence Variation
    • Pacing
    • Paragraph Variation
    • Chapter Variation
  • Dialogue
    • Dialogue Tags
    • Adverbs in Dialogue
  • Strong Writing
    • Adverbs
    • Passive Voice
    • Showing vs. Telling
    • Clichés
    • Redundancies
    • Unnecessary Filler Words
  • Word Choice
    • Initial Pronoun and Names
    • Sentence Starters
    • Generic Descriptions
    • Homonyms
    • Personal Words and Phrases
  • Repetition
    • Repeated Words
    • Repeated Uncommon Words
    • Repeated Phrases
    • Word Frequency
    • Phrase Frequency
  • Compare to [other] Fiction
    • Overused Words
    • Combination Report
  • Readability
    • Readability Statistics
    • Dale Chall Readability
    • Complex Words
    • Uncommon Words in Fiction

Here’s what the AutoCrit Combination Report looks like:

autocrit-combination-report

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a way to download a complete report all in one file.

Grammarly

Grammarly looks useful for general editing, providing a fairly thorough online analysis and even an add-in for Microsoft Word. I fed it the first paragraph of Paul Clifford, the Victorian novel by Edward Bulwer Lytton that begins, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Here are the results:

grammarly

And now, I’m impressed. After I typed the paragraph above, the Grammarly add-in informed me that Bulwer Lytton should be hyphenated: Bulwer-Lytton. And that’s right, of course, so the program is much smarter than I anticipated. On the other hand, the add-in disables Word’s Undo feature (CTRL-Z), which to me is unacceptable. Grammarly gives you a partial analysis of your text at no charge, but for “advanced issues” it requires a monthly subscription of $29.95. You can get a full refund within the first seven days of use.

I also fed it my short story “Nippers,” which purposely uses bad grammar in its first-person narration. You can see the results at The Editorium.

Hemingway

Hemingway’s website claims that “Hemingway makes your writing bold and clear. It’s like a spellchecker, but for style. It makes sure that your reader will focus on your message, not your prose.” Again, I fed it the first paragraph of Paul Clifford. Here is the result:

hemingway

 

 

When I first visited the Hemingway website, I had a hard time understanding how to use it. Fortunately, the “Help” page explains what to do: “Begin your document by clicking the ‘Write’ button. This will fade out the editing tools, transferring Hemingway into distraction-free writing mode. Here, you can work out your first draft free from our highlighting. Once you’re finished, click ‘Edit’ to transition back to editing mode. Now you can make changes with real-time Hemingway feedback. Tighten up your prose, clear the highlights, and then share your work with the masses.” The online version is free to use. The desktop app (both Mac and Windows) is $19.99. After using the app, you can save your work as a regular Word document.

For the sake of comparison, Hemingway’s analysis of “Nippers” looks like this:

 nippershemingwayreport

You’ll notice that Hemingway has color-coded the text:

  • Cyan = adverbs. I have 32, and Hemingway is recommending 17 or fewer.
  • Green = passive voice. I have just 5 uses, well below the recommended 37 or fewer.
  • Magenta = phrases that have simpler alternatives.
  • Yellow = sentences that are hard to read.
  • Red = sentences that are very hard to read.

The idea is to keep editing until all of the colors are gone. In actual practice, you won’t want to do that, unless you enjoy lots of short, choppy sentences.

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to download Hemingway’s results as a separate file, as Hemingway is designed as an online writing tool. However, the Hemingway desktop app does make this possible.

You can learn more about Hemingway here.

I think out of AutoCrit, Grammarly, and Hemingway, the one program I might consistently use is Hemingway, just because it’s simple yet offers some useful observations, although I would feel free to ignore them.

Also-Rans

I also tried Orwell and Ginger, but neither seemed to work well for me. Orwell seemed clunky and buggy, while Ginger seemed rather basic, although its ability to rephrase an awkward sentence is impressive. If you’ve seen other editing programs I’ve overlooked, please let me know.

Here is another roundup by the NY Book Editors, which includes additional editing tools. It seems everyone is trying to get in on the act.

The Future

The programs I’ve featured here are useful in their own way, but they still require the educated eye of a human editor to decide which of their suggested changes make sense—something that I don’t think will change anytime soon.

What do you think? Will computers ever be capable of editing on their own? If so, how could we turn that to our advantage as editors? And how can we take advantage of the tools that are already available? I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

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.

January 16, 2017

On the Basics: Some Ideas for a Strong Start to the New Year

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

It’s a new year, so it’s time to stop for a moment and think about everything that we should or could do to start 2017 with fresh perspectives on what we do and how we do it as editorial professionals. Here are a few ideas.

  • Change your passwords.

The beginning of a new year is a great time to refresh and revise the passwords for all your accounts — email, social media, bank accounts, credit cards, website(s), memberships, etc. It doesn’t have to be a big change; even switching one letter or number will do — if you used 2016 or 16 in last year’s passwords, change the 6 to a 7. Hacking and security are such huge issues nowadays that changing passwords on occasion is the smart thing to do to protect your identity and accounts, and the new year provides the perfect opportunity to take steps to do so. Consider putting a reminder in your calendar to make another change every quarter. You might also take steps to enhance your computer’s overall security against malware and ransomware. Search AAE’s archives for suggestions.

  • Update your account contacts.

Check in with whoever you have designated to handle your accounts —especially social media and e-mail discussion lists — should you have a crisis of some sort, to make sure they’re still willing and able to handle this for you. No one wants to think about mortality, but having someone with access to those accounts who can notify communities (including clients) of illness, injury, or death is important. If you haven’t asked a relative, friend, or colleague to do this, now is the time to give someone trustworthy your account passwords so they can act on your behalf. (It’s also a good time to update your will and healthcare proxies.)

By the way, if you ask someone to handle your accounts in the event of a crisis, make sure to provide language for them to use — don’t assume they’ll know what to say. As an example, a friend’s Facebook account status recently said, “I passed away on date X. See you on the other side.” The immediate reaction of her friends and colleagues was shock and confusion, since this isn’t how someone’s death usually appears in that arena. Some thought it was a macabre joke, others thought her account had been hacked. Since the comment appeared on a holiday, it was difficult to confirm what had happened. It turned out that she had actually died and one of her relatives thought that was an appropriate way to announce it, but those two or three days of confusion were quite upsetting.

  • Change copyright dates.

Update the copyright date on your website, client newsletter(s), and related material to 2017. It may not be mandatory, but it’s good sense in protecting what you write or produce.

  • Budget for professional development.

Start now to set aside funds every month for conference attendance, memberships, training, new tools (whether books, updates for or new software and hardware, office equipment, business cards, etc.), so you have funds on hand when an opportunity arises and don’t have to scramble to cover it. (Keep the fall Communication Central Be a Better Freelancer® conference in mind — and calendar September 15–16, 2017 — it’s a great way to meet colleagues and learn new professional “tricks.”)

  • Plan your promotions and marketing projects.

Even if you have plenty of work in hand, but especially if you don’t, use the first few weeks of the new year to set up a formal plan for promoting your business and marketing your services if you’re a freelancer, or working toward a promotion, raise, or change in assignments if you work in-house. Be prepared to meet new opportunities as they arise, rather than panicking because you haven’t thought about what you want to or where you want to go.

If promotions and marketing will require money, set something aside every month, just as you do for regular expenses or professional development.

Successful freelancers know to market their businesses constantly, because even the most reliable long-term clients can disappear in a moment. We can’t assume that any project or client will last indefinitely. We can’t even assume that high-paying clients won’t suddenly reduce their rates or the volume of work they provide to us. Companies and publications downsize, fold, are acquired, or change policies on using outside services; long-time contact people leave for new opportunities or retire. The classic Girl Scout motto “be prepared” is well worth adopting, and being prepared means doing something on a regular basis to bring in new business, or at least be visible to potential new clients in case the status quo suddenly changes.

  • Update your résumé.

Make sure your résumé reflects both your recent achievements and any new trends in design or structure. Keep it fresh and current so you can respond to requests for it immediately, so you don’t have to worry that you might have left something out or don’t appear up to date in terms of layout and content.

Even if you don’t make any changes, but especially if you do, ask a colleague to proofread it for any egregious or subtle errors that you might have overlooked, or anything worth including that you might have forgotten to add.

You don’t have to be job-searching for an up-to-date résumé to be useful. You might want it have it handy for freelance projects outside a regular job, if you’re asked to make a speech, as the basis for requesting a raise or promotion, as the starting point for an “About” page at your website, or as the foundation of a blog post about career development and progression. And, of course, for that lovely moment when a headhunter contacts you about an amazing, perfect-for-you new job that you weren’t looking for but are thrilled to be considered for. And be sure to update your LinkedIn and other bios, directory listings, and profiles.

  • Review your expenses and income.

Take some time to create a formal, written overview of your financial situation. List all regular/recurring expenses and when they occur. Ask yourself where you can cut back to build up a savings cushion or add to funding the projects mentioned above (professional development and promotions/marketing).

If you’re a freelancer, list current clients and how much income each one generates. If you work in-house, break down your salary into monthly segments. Compare the income numbers against the expense numbers to see if there’s a gap. Once you put those factors down in writing, it might be a little scary — but it’s a vital first step in getting those finances under control, reinforcing a need to generate more income, and reducing any stress you’ve been experiencing about making ends meet.

  • Improve your health.

Among the potential challenges of the new political world in the USA will be health insurance coverage, so it might be smart to start the new year with a physical exam and a commitment to eating and behaving more healthily. The fewer medical services you have to use, the better off you’ll be — both physically and financially.

  • Think about service.

A new year is also a good time to look for opportunities to support a community, cause, or organization. It can be a challenge to fit volunteering in a busy schedule, but making time to do so can be rewarding on many levels (and might even lead to new projects or jobs!). If you can’t commit to personal involvement, at least try to put some money where your social conscience is.

  • Look ahead.

Depending on your age and career status, the first month or two of the new year might be a good time to think about, and do some formal planning for, the future. Younger colleagues might want to invest some time in formal plans for how you want to progress and set some specific, achievable goals for advancing your careers. Older colleagues might want to start planning for retirement — when you’ll be ready, what you’ll want to do with your time, how much money you’ll need, where you might want to live, etc.

  • Start something new.

A new year is also a great time to try something new, whether a hobby, sport, or project. This might be the year to try blogging, either as a contributor to someone else’s or on your own. You could try getting training in a new skill that you could offer in your freelance business or as the stepping stone to a new in-house job. If you’re single and want to meet new people, consider joining a dating site or a hobby group of some sort (participating in hobby groups, a church, or a social service project could lead to editorial work!). If you’re chronically disorganized, look into hiring someone to help you try to get things sorted out — whether files or your home — so you can feel more in control and less frustrated.

Doing something new can change your perspective, cheer you up, help you meet new people, make you feel better, get you unstuck. It’s worth a try!

  • Become active in online discussions.

We often forget how important it is to let people know we exist and that we really are highly skilled. Finding ways to get that word out means we can help others achieve their literary goals. One of the best ways to get referrals is to participate in online groups — actually participate, not just lurk. Make this the year to be more than what I call a “checkbook member” of a group or organization: one who joins but never contributes anything. Post to online discussions, offer to speak, write for an organizational newsletter or blog, etc. An American Editor has its own LinkedIn group — a great place to start making your voice heard!

  • Invest in tools for your business.

Investing in your business is a good way to make your career more rewarding. Who doesn’t feel better when cash flow improves? Investing in tools to make us more productive and efficient is but another method of improving that flow. Look into the resources of the Editorium and EditTools, for starters, as well as the offerings of various professional associations.

However you use these first few weeks of 2017, here’s wishing all of our readers good health, fulfilling work, high incomes, and happy home lives. Feel free to share your plans for making the most of the new year!

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 a regular contributor to An American Editor.

January 11, 2017

Thinking Fiction: What Novels Do Fiction Editors Read?

by Carolyn Haley

In follow-up to my survey about what editors in general read for recreation (What Do Editors Read?, I invited fiction editors to share their Top 10 favorite novels, along with something about their background and experience.

Thirty-two editors responded, comprising freelancers plus one cluster of staff and contract editors for a single romance publisher. No one working for a Big 5 traditional publisher participated, giving unbalanced results. However, I wasn’t attempting a rigidly scientific survey of the total editorial population. As with my first survey, I just wanted to satisfy my curiosity about what other editors read, and to share their recommendations for our collective enjoyment. The complete list, owing to length, is posted separately from this essay on the file downloads page at wordsnSync as “What Fiction Editors Read: List of Titles”.

Note that not every responding editor answered every question in the survey; or sometimes they combined answers, or gave more or fewer titles when I asked for ten, and so forth. Thus in this essay I cannot always give “X out of 32” results for a given topic. Since I was looking for patterns rather than conducting a true statistical analysis, I took the liberty of rounding numbers up or down or otherwise generalizing in cases where deviations occurred.

Common denominators

It comes as no surprise to learn that fiction editors read a lot of fiction. What is surprising is how many novels they find time to read. While one editor reports only reading fiction for work, the rest read anywhere from two to sixty (!) novels per month for recreation. Most of them also read short fiction, poetry, blogs, magazines, news media, and nonfiction of all types.

Such heavy reading is somewhat understandable, in that almost half the responders work part time. For them, as with the two retirees, more opportunity for leisure reading is theoretically available. But we can’t draw a blanket conclusion from that, because in several cases the responders edit part time and do something else for the balance of full-time employment—and of course they have the obligations and complexities of a personal life (details of which were not addressed in the survey).

The survey asked broad questions about occupation, education, writing background, and reading habits, to see what other commonalities might exist. The primary criterion for participation was that at least two-thirds of their professional editing work be fiction. In this everyone qualified. There were no other 100% matches, though several predominant features emerged. For instance, all but one responder is female. Three-quarters of the responders are older than forty, and of these, most are in their fifties and sixties. The full age span is twenty-eight to seventy-eight.

Twenty-five responders come from the United States, five from Canada, and one each from the United Kingdom and Australia. Approximately two-thirds of the group have college degrees, of which twelve are in English or a closely related subject. Seven of the thirty-two have a certificate of some sort in editing.

In years of experience, approximately half the responders have been editing professionally for ten years or less and the other half for longer. Six have more than twenty years of experience, and one has more than forty. Most have worked in fiction the bulk of their careers, focusing on novels but also accepting novellas, short stories, and flash fiction (super-short stories), along with assorted nonfiction.

A majority of the responders work with indie authors as their main clients, with a few also working with publishers and packagers. All but one report that they offer multiple types of editing and associated services (the exception being a dedicated developmental editor). Twenty-six of the editors are writers themselves, and almost two-thirds of them have published. Only one-third, however, has published in fiction.

Reading tastes

As readers, the responding fiction editors like darn near everything, with literary, crime, and historical novels dominating. But many of the responding editors enjoy romance and young adult novels, as well as science fiction, fantasy, and eclectic other. The editors read in all formats, with almost two-thirds liking a mix of print, ebook, and audiobook compared to those who prefer print only. One editor has moved entirely away from print, preferring to get her stories via ebooks and audiobooks.

Series

Many of the editors favor series or complete bodies of work by a given author. These responses skewed the results, because among the total consolidated list of 263 novels, not all are unique titles but rather representative titles of a series, or just the series name, or “all works” by an individual. Ninety-four—just over one-third—of all editor responses mentioned part or all of a series. Frequently, responders listed single titles that are part of a series, but they didn’t list the entire series (the rest I uncovered during a title/author spelling check online). I suspect that in many of those cases the responder read all volumes in the series and simply didn’t say so.

Specifics of series titles are shown on the complete list. Below are the series names that came up, and the number of times beyond one that they were mentioned, followed by the shorter list of favorite bodies of work by a given author.

Favored series:

  • A Wrinkle in Time series (2), Madeleine L’Engle
  • Adam Dagliesh series, P. D. James
  • All Souls trilogy, Deborah Harkness
  • Amelia Peabody series, Elizabeth Peters
  • Anita Blank, Vampire Hunter series, Laurell K. Hamilton
  • Atticus Kodiak series, Greg Rucka
  • Austenland series, Shannon Hale
  • Cairo series, Naguib Mahfouz
  • Checquy Files series, Daniel O’Malley
  • Chicago Star series, Susan Elizabeth Phillips
  • Chronicles of Ixia, Maria V. Snyder
  • CIA Spies series, Linda Howard
  • Colorado Trust series, Stacey Joy Netzel
  • Cowboy-Fiancé series, Donna Michaels
  • Culture series, Iain M. Banks
  • Dempsey series, Jennifer Crusie
  • Detective Inspector Chen, Liz Williams
  • Discworld series (2), Terry Pratchett
  • Dragonriders of Pern series, Anne McCaffrey
  • Dresden Files series (2), Jim Butcher
  • Drumberley series, D. E. Stevenson
  • Ender series, Orson Scott Card
  • Fever series, Karen Marie Moning
  • Gallaghers of Ardmore series, Nora Roberts
  • Hainish Cycle series, Ursula K Le Guin
  • Haitian Revolutionary series, Madison Smartt Bell
  • Harry Potter series (4), J. K. Rowling
  • Hazelwood High series, Sharon M. Draper
  • Heartbreaker Bay series, Jill Shalvis
  • Heralds of Valdemar series (2), Mercedes Lackey
  • Hidden Wolves series, Kaje Harper
  • Immortals After Dark series, Kresley Cole
  • In Death series, J. D. Robb (Nora Roberts)
  • Irin Chronicles series, Elizabeth Hunter
  • Italy Intrigue series, Stacey Joy Netzel
  • I-Team series, Pamela Clare
  • Jack Reacher series, Lee Child
  • Juliette Chronicles, Tahereh Mafi
  • Kirsten Lavransdatter trilogy, Sigrid Undset
  • Law of Moses series, Amy Harmon
  • Leaphorn and Chee Navajo police series, Tony Hillerman
  • Life Lessons series, Kaje Harper
  • Little House series, Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Lives of the Mayfair Witches series, Anne Rice
  • Lizzy & Diesel series, Janet Evanovich
  • Logan Family Saga series, Mildred D. Taylor
  • Lord Peter Wimsey series, Dorothy L. Sayers
  • Lords of Misrule series, Andy Graham
  • Manawaka series, Margaret Laurence
  • Marrying Stone series, Pamela Morsi
  • Maze Runner series, James Dashner
  • Midnight in Austenland, Shannon Hale
  • Midwife Mystery series, Sam Thomas
  • Millennium series, Steig Larsson
  • Outlander series (3), Diana Gabaldon
  • Plainsong series, Kent Haruf
  • Regeneration series, Pat Barker
  • Riftwar series, Raymond Feist
  • Riyria Revelations series, Michael J. Sullivan
  • Shannara series, Terry Brooks
  • Silo series, Hugh Howey
  • Sinner’s Grove series, A. B. Michaels
  • Song of Ice and Fire series, George R. R. Martin
  • Species Imperative trilogy, Julie Czerneda
  • Starbridge series, Susan Howatch
  • Starcatchers series, Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
  • Stephanie Plum series, Janet Evanovich
  • Sword of Truth series, Terry Goodkind
  • The Black Dagger Brotherhood series (2), J. R. Ward
  • The Black Stallion series, Walter Farley
  • The Bourne trilogy , Robert Ludlum
  • The Bronze Horseman series, Paullina Simons
  • The Cat Who series, Lillian Jackson Braun
  • The Chalion series, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • The Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis
  • The Deed of Paksennarion series, Elizabeth Moon
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide series (2), Douglas Adams
  • The Hunger Games series (2), Suzanne Collins
  • The Lace Reader series, Brunonia Barry
  • The Lord of the Rings series (2), J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Pillars of the Earth series, Ken Follett
  • The Raven Cycle series, Maggie Stiefvater
  • The Sandman series, Neil Gaiman
  • Thessaly series, Jo Walton
  • Tillerman Cycle series (2), Cynthia Voigt
  • Vampire Chronicles series, Anne Rice
  • Vorkosigan saga, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Wolf Hall series, Hilary Mantel

Favored author bodies of work:

  • Clive Cussler
  • Harlan Coben
  • John Grisham
  • Lawrence Block
  • Lee Child
  • Nora Roberts
  • Sandra Brown (mysteries only)

Works such as J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia were sometimes listed as standalone titles and other times as series. I’ve included them under the series listing because most people who read them read all volumes.

Duplicate titles

In the main, responders mentioned individual titles. The list below shows novels mentioned by two or more responders (with the number in parentheses indicating how many more than two).

  • Beloved, Toni Morrison
  • Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee (3)
  • Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  • Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (6)
  • Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier
  • The Dispossessed, Ursula K Le Guin
  • The Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
  • The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K Le Guin
  • The Living, Annie Dillard
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Duplicate authors

Individual authors were mentioned by multiple responders in conjunction with different titles. There were instances where a responder listed different titles by the same author on their own list, and also a few cases where one responder mentioned a specific title and a second responder mentioned “all works” by the same author or a series. The list below, however, only includes authors mentioned by different responders, specifying different titles.

  • Barbara Kingsolver
  • Charles Dickens
  • Cormac McCarthy
  • C. S. Lewis
  • Daphne Du Maurier
  • Haruki Murakami
  • Jane Austen
  • Jodi Picoult
  • John Steinbeck
  • J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Linda Howard
  • Madeleine L’Engle
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Thomas Hardy
  • Toni Morrison
  • Ursula Le Guin
  • Virginia Woolf

Oddballs and exceptions

Not every responder understood the directions in the questionnaire, or else rushed through it and missed a request. For instance, I asked exclusively for novels, but two responders included memoirs and one included a nonfiction title. Although I’ve included these titles on the complete list, I do not include them in the full count.

Likewise, the request for “your favorite novelist” was commonly ignored, or people just couldn’t answer because they had so many (with one responder saying, “You’re kidding, right?”). Among those who did answer, or listed multiple authors, there was erratic correlation between favorite authors and those on the individual’s Top 10 list. Favorite authors mentioned are shown below (with the number in parentheses indicating how many times more than once their names came up).

  • Anne McCaffrey
  • Anne Rice
  • Bess Streeter Aldrich
  • Beverly Nault
  • Charles Dickens
  • Connie Willis
  • Cormac McCarthy
  • D. E. Stevenson
  • Dean Koontz
  • Diana Gabaldon (2)
  • Dick Francis
  • Donna Tartt
  • Dorothy Sayers
  • Douglas Adams
  • Drayton Mayrant
  • Eliot Baker
  • Elizabeth Cadell
  • Elizabeth Moon
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • George R. R. Martin
  • Georgette Heyer
  • Helen MacInnes
  • J. R. R. Tolkien
  • J. K. Rowling
  • James Patterson
  • Jane Austen (2)
  • Janet Evanovich
  • J. D. Ward
  • Jodi Picoult
  • Jonathan Franzen
  • Joseph C. Lincoln
  • Judy Ann Davis
  • Karen Marie Moning
  • Laurel Hamilton
  • Linda Howard
  • Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Louise Erdrich
  • Madeleine L’Engle
  • Maeve Binchy
  • Markus Zusak
  • Mary Balogh
  • Nevada Barr (2)
  • Nora Roberts (2)
  • P. D. James
  • Patricia Cornwall
  • Peter Carey
  • Peter Mayle
  • Rita Bay
  • Ruth Rendell
  • Sam Thomas
  • Sigrid Undset
  • Terry Brooks
  • Thomas Hardy
  • Tony Hillerman

Survey overlaps

While processing the fiction editors’ questionnaires, I looked for overlaps with my first survey, even though it’s an apples-and-oranges comparison. The first survey involved thirteen nonfiction-dominant editors, while this one involved thirty-two fiction-dominant editors. Nevertheless, their tastes crossed thirteen times for specific titles and seventeen times for authors (meaning, different books by the same author mentioned twice or more). Most of these titles and authors can be considered “literary” and/or “classic.”

Title overlaps:

  • The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
  • The Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis
  • Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  • The Lord of the Rings series, J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Persuasion, Jane Austen
  • Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  • The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
  • The Curse of Chalion, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
  • Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  • Discworld series, Terry Pratchett
  • The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K Le Guin

Author overlaps:

  • Jane Austen
  • Charles Dickens
  • Charlotte Brontë
  • Connie Willis
  • David Mitchell
  • Dick Francis
  • Edith Wharton
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Ian McEwan
  • John Fowles
  • J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Michael J. Sullivan
  • Sarah Waters
  • Terry Pratchett
  • Umberto Eco
  • Virginia Woolf

Conclusions

Putting it all together, I observed three superstars—Jane Austen, J. R. R. Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis—whose names came up multiple times no matter what criterion I used to view and sort the reading lists of the fiction and nonfiction editors I surveyed, separately or combined. Another standout was Terry Pratchett, whose enormous Discworld series appealed to editors of both types.

While I was not surprised to see these and many other familiar names on so many people’s lists, I was surprised to see who didn’t appear. Agatha Christie, for example. She is considered one of — if not the — top-selling novelists of all time, yet none of the fiction responders in my survey mentioned her. She did, however, appear once on the nonfiction editors’ list (also on my own list, which was appended to that essay but not counted in the results).

Among the fiction editors, there seems to be a gap between classic and contemporary works that leaves many vintage mega-sellers behind, such as Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey, Jackie Collins and Barbara Cartland, Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon, Georges Simenon and Erle Stanley Gardner, and many others, all of whom were hugely popular in their day. Also notably absent is household name Stephen King (who did, unexpectedly, appear on one nonfiction editor’s literary-biased list). But J. K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame had a strong presence, even though that series was marketed for young adults, whereas Danielle Steele, still writing prolifically with an enormous fan base, wasn’t mentioned even by the editors who gobble up romance and women’s fiction.

What I found to be significant among all the editors surveyed was how widely their tastes range. See for yourself the complete fiction editors list here: “What Fiction Editors Read: List of Titles”.

Postscript: Apparently I’m not the only one doing this type of survey. For a literary take, see “The Most Important Books of the Last Twenty Years”. A handful of titles and authors on this list overlap both my surveys.

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.

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