An American Editor

July 2, 2015

Worth Noting: Fowler’s 4th Is Here

I know that many of my colleagues swear by Fowler’s Modern English Usage, 3rd edition. Although I own it and occasionally use it, the number 1 usage book for American English is Garner’s Modern American Usage, Third Edition.

But, as of this past June 1, Garner’s has some new competition — the updated fourth edition of Fowler: Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage edited by Jeremy Butterfield, or Fowler’s 4th.

I received my copy yesterday, so I am not yet ready to give an opinion, but I plan to use it each time I use my Garner’s 3rd. One of the things I like about Garner’s, which is lacking in Fowler’s 4th, is the “Language-Change Index,” which gives me a clue as to how usage is trending.

Both books are published by Oxford, so I suspect a new edition of Garner’s may be in process.

For those of you who are like me and “collect” usage guides, it is interesting not only to compare entries in current versions of the guides, but also to look at past editions and see how usage has evolved.

In any event, it is important for professional editors to remember that these are guides. Their opinion should weigh in your decision-making process, but should not dictate your decision. See, for example, “Editors & “Professional” Resources: A Questionable Reliance” and “The Makings of an Unprofessional Editor” for additional discussion.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

July 1, 2015

Thinking Fiction: Fiction Editors’ Resource Kit (Part II)

by Carolyn Haley

In Part I of this essay, I list the reference books in my resource kit for editing fiction. Part II discusses the balance of the resource kit: software,­ a luxury unknown to editors of an earlier era; specialty resources that help editors address story structure and verify details across diverse subjects; and links to editorial groups and information for professional development and support.

Software

Three applications form the core of my quality-control tools: Editor’s ToolKit, EditTools, and PerfectIt. Followers of this blog will recognize these names because they are mentioned often here, and their designers are part of the American Editor tribe. I learned of the tools through this association and now depend on them for fine-tuning the mechanical side of an editing job and checking my own work.

Editor’s ToolKit contains an assortment of consistency checkers, search/replace aids, converters, fixers, and macros. These program add-ins are available individually, as well. I most often use FileCleaner as a preflight tool to tidy up manuscript elements such as double spaces, incorrect dashes, and the like. Starting with a clean manuscript helps me see content with less distraction, thereby making editing time more focused and efficient.

Also for preflight, I use EditTools, which is a collection of macros designed to save time and money while improving accuracy. Although initially intended for medical and academic editing, it can be customized to serve fiction. I use the Never Spell Word feature, for instance, to build a list of terms I frequently misread (led vs. lead, woman vs. women, form vs. from, etc.), which the application flags in the manuscript. I can then pick them off as I go or review the manuscript for just these highlighted words, either way reducing my error rate. The package includes other useful tools ranging from deleting unused styles (thank you!) to removing all highlighting to changing case to inserting queries and doing a wildcard find and replace.

At the end of a job, I run PerfectIt. This is a consistency checker, constantly being updated and refined, that catches tricky details like hyphenated compounds, inconsistent capitalizations, and spelling deviations. It is easily customizable for which tasks it performs and alternative style sheet criteria, in variants of English (U.S., U.K., Canadian).

The Editor’s ToolKit/EditTools/PerfectIt software suite offers more capability than I have yet plumbed the depths of. Even barely scratching the surface, I have found each profoundly helpful and time-saving. The trio combined is affordable to people on tight budgets (offered here as a set as Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate) and pays for itself promptly by making one more accurate and efficient, which leads to happy clients, which leads to more and better work.

Most of the suite’s tools are macros in some form or other, bundled into easy-to-use packages. The nature of fiction, however, is its unpredictable variability, so there’s always something new that it would be useful to have a macro for if you don’t want to create them yourself. Many such situations are covered by Paul Beverley in his publicly available macro collection, Computer Tools for Editors. The book includes the actual macro steps, which editors can copy and install. Of these, I use ProperNounAlyse to form the basis of my style sheet before starting an edit, because it identifies place and people names, variant spellings thereof, unusual terms, and common terms with capitalization changes (e.g., Captain, which might appear in the manuscript as a both a direct address [cap] and a generic [lower case], thus reminding me to include it on the style sheet). It also picks up any words capped at the beginning of a sentence, so some manual grooming is required.

To use any of these tools effectively, one must have a solid grasp of one’s editing software, which for most of us is Microsoft Word. Almost every manuscript presents a fresh problem to solve, or pushes one to master a trick one stumbled through the first time it arose. So I keep within reach a quartet of my colleagues’ foundation works: Jack Lyon’s Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals and Macro Cookbook, Hilary Powers’ Making Word Work for You, and Geoff Hart’s Effective Onscreen Editing. Between them I’ve learned to operate Word at a higher level, including searches that find missing, inverted, and straight quotation marks and apostrophes, and missing or incorrect punctuation inside quotes — a boon for dialogue-heavy novels. Links to these books can be found at The Editorium.

Word contains its own spelling checker (and grammar checker, too, which I ignore). I run spellcheck last thing before delivering a manuscript; and for all its quirks and inadequacies, it always finds something that saves me from professional embarrassment. I’m prone to missing errors like “the the” and “assesssment” which most other tools don’t catch. Someday, I hope, one of the macro gurus will find a way to catch duplicate phrases like “in the in the,” which I’m prone to overlooking, too.

Specialty References

There’s no anticipating what facts or figures will need to be verified in a novel, so the best plan is to have a broad library in your office, including at least one encyclopedia set, as well as to find reliable, accurate sites on the Internet. The novels I work on routinely need checking in weights and measures; biblical references; guns and ammunition; vehicles (including boats and aircraft); people and place names and historical events, so I’m forever collecting resources to cover these. A sampling: Convert-me.com for weights and measures, Gun Grammar and Gun Digest for firearm info, Bible Hub for access to different versions of the Bible, The Rand McNally Encyclopedia of Military Aircraft, along with the Jane’s recognition guides, plus Merriam-Webster’s Biographical Dictionary and Geographical Dictionary.

As a general source for you-never-know-what, there’s Project Gutenberg, which offers downloadable public domain works of literature and reference. For names and data about consumer products, I head to the manufacturer’s website. Wikipedia is also a convenient starting point for diverse lookups.

Writing Craft How-To’s

Editors do not have to be writers themselves, and indeed many prefer not to be. But novel editors need to be conversant in the lingo of storycraft, and to be able to recommend educational aids to their authors. I point many to Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer for its nuts-and-bolts approach to constructing a novel; along with Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card. This book is part of the Writers’ Digest Elements of Fiction Writing series, which covers primary components of novel writing (such as dialogue, plot, scene, and structure) one at a time. The series is one of several that have come and gone over time, including the Howdunit Series for mysteries and thrillers. I refer to Armed and Dangerous: A Writer’s Guide to Weapons and Deadly Doses: A Writer’s Guide to Poisons and hope eventually to have the complete set in my library.

Genre-specific websites like those for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America and Romance Writers of America also offer how-to information, although in the latter case you have to join to gain access to the writing resources.

Groups/Lists/Forums/Conferences

An invaluable resource is the hive mind formed by the editorial community. I learned about most of my tools there, along with tricks and techniques; and I learn something new every day from staying in contact. The groups I interact with most are Copyediting-L, Project Wombat (formerly Stumpers), and the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) (must be a member). These are populated with editors, writers, proofreaders, indexers, designers, and reference librarians happy to share their knowledge and who enjoy chasing down answers to obscure or difficult questions. They also provide “virtual water-cooler” company for editors working solo from home.

Many editors from these organizations are also active on Facebook (for instance, Editors’ Association of Earth. Questions pertaining to fiction editing are often discussed here. One colleague active on almost all platforms is Katharine O’Moore-Klopf, who maintains The Copyeditor’s Knowledge Base on her website. I’ve found multiple resources there, along with a rich selection of others yet to be explored.

Finally, a terrific way to learn how to work more efficiently in general and edit fiction in particular is to interact with peers in person. For that, editors gather in annual conferences hosted by the American Copy Editors Society, Editors’ Association of Canada, and Communication Central. These organizations offer classes, seminars, and webinars, as well, as does the EFA.

This lengthy list forms a drop in the proverbial bucket of what’s available to aid in fiction editing. Since every editor has their favorites, and most of us shift around as we find better or more-relevant tools, please share your own favorites through the comments feature of this blog, along with a reason why it is among your favorites.

Carolyn Haley lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1977, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at 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.

Related An American Editor Essays:

 

June 29, 2015

Lyonizing Word: The Easy Way, Not So Easy

by Jack Lyon

After publishing my last article, Lyonizing Word: We Can Do This the Easy Way, or . . ., Rich Adin, An American Editor, wrote:

As written, your wildcard find and replace reduces four names to three if “et al:” is the ending characteristic. How do you write it so that it can handle any number of names, say up to seven?

Good question, and a nice challenge for a wildcard search. Let’s say we have citations with strings of names like this:

Lyon J, Adin R, Carter TO, Jackson TT, Doe J, Smith K, Winger W, et al: blah blah blah

That’s seven names, but let’s see if we can make a wildcard string that will find any number of names and cut them down to three. My first impression is that this might be difficult or even impossible. But let’s try the following wildcard string:

([!^013]@, ){3}([!^013]@, ){1,}(et al:)

Here’s what that means:

Find any character except a carriage return: [!^013]
repeated any number of times: @
followed by a comma
followed by a space
and enclosed in parentheses to form a “group.”
Do that three times in a row: {3}
Find using the same group: ([!^013]@, )
if it occurs once or more (as indicated by the comma): {1,}
followed by “et al:” in parentheses to form a group.

There’s just one problem: It doesn’t work. And that’s how it often is with wildcards — sometimes you have to fiddle around to get the result you want; trial and error are key. So let’s see if we can find just three instances of text using our group:

([!^013]@, ){3}

That doesn’t work either. What in the world is going on here? Let’s try using the group three times in a row:

([!^013]@, )([!^013]@, )([!^013]@, )

That does work. So why not this?

([!^013]@, ){3}

Could it be that {3} doesn’t apply to the wildcard pattern ([!^013]@, ) itself but to the first instance of text that pattern finds? In other words, would that wildcard string  find the first three names in a citation like the following?

Lyon J, Lyon J, Lyon J, Lyon J, Lyon J, Lyon J, Lyon J, et al: blah blah blah

Sure enough, that works! So we’ve just learned something new about wildcard searches. For clarity, I’ll restate it here:

Specifying how many times to find something (using {3}, for example) doesn’t apply to the wildcard pattern it follows but to the first instance of text that pattern finds.

Unfortunately, that means we need to work out a different approach to our original problem. How about this?

([!^013]@, [!^013]@, [!^013]@, )([!^013]@, ){1,}(et al:)

Here’s what that means:

Find any character except a carriage return: [!^013]
repeated any number of times: @
followed by a comma
followed by a space
repeated three times
and enclosed in parentheses to form a “group.”
Find using the same group: ([!^013]@, )
if it occurs once or more (as indicated by the comma): {1,}
followed by “et al:” in parentheses to form a group.

But no, that doesn’t work either! Why not? Oh, yeah, because of that {1,}. As we discovered earlier:

Specifying how many times to find something (using {3}, for example) doesn’t apply to the wildcard pattern it follows but to the first instance of text that pattern finds.

Well, okay, then. We’ll stop using numbers (such as {1,}) to specify how many times a pattern should be repeated (at least for our current purposes). Let’s try this instead:

([!^013]@, [!^013]@, [!^013]@, )[!^013]@(et al:)

Here’s what that means:

Find any characters except a carriage return: [!^013]
repeated any number of times: @
followed by a comma
followed by a space
repeated three times
and enclosed in parentheses to form a “group.”
Then find any character except a carriage return: [!^013]
repeated any number of times: @
followed by “et al:” in parentheses to form a group.

Well, son of a gun; that actually works. So now we can use the following in the “Replace With” box:

\1\2

Here’s what that means:

Replace everything that was found
with the text represented by group 1: \1
followed by the text represented by group 2: \2

Group 1, you’ll remember, was this:

([!^013]@, [!^013]@, [!^013]@, )

It finds the first three names in our citations. And group 2 was this:

(et al:)

It finds the end of our citations.

And so, finally, we’ve succeeded in fulfilling Rich’s original request:

As written, your wildcard find and replace reduces four names to three if “et al:” is the ending characteristic. How do you write it so that it can handle any number of names, say up to seven?

Sometimes the easy way isn’t so easy. Nevertheless, it’s almost always worth pursuing. In Rich’s case, it reduced his editing time from hours (removing extraneous names by hand) to minutes (removing the names with a wildcard find and replace). It also gave Rich a wildcard search that he can save in his fabulous EditTools software for use with future projects. And it provided a deeper and clearer understanding of how to use wildcard searches.

After all these years of editing, wildcard searching is the tool I rely on the most. I encourage you to invest the time needed to learn to use this tool, which will repay your efforts many times over. A good place to start is my free paper “Advanced Find and Replace in Microsoft Word.”

I hope you’ll also watch for my forthcoming Wildcard Cookbook for Microsoft Word. I’m still trying to find more real-life examples for the book, so if you have some particularly sticky problems that might be solved using a wildcard search, I hope you’ll send them my way. Maybe I can save you some work and at the same time figure out solutions that will help others in the future. Thanks for your help!

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


 

Looking for a Deal?

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

June 24, 2015

The Proofreader’s Corner: Using StyleWriter4 Professional as a Proofreading Tool

by Louise Harnby

This month I’d like to share my experiences with StyleWriter4 Professional, a piece of software I purchased some months ago. I use this as a proofreading tool, though that’s not solely what the developers designed it for.

It complements the work I do with my eyes, increasing (1) the efficiency with which I work and (2) the quality of my output. Efficiency increases keep me happy because I can do certain tasks more quickly, thus improving my hourly rate; improvements in output quality keep my clients happy because they want as high a “hit” rate as possible.

What is StyleWriter4?

Essentially, StyleWriter4 is software that aims to help users with proofreading, editing, and plain-English writing. It comes in three versions:

  • Starter: the “cut-down” edition for those on a budget. It concentrates on plain-English proofreading and editing, searching the text, line by line, for long sentences, passive voice, and potential spelling errors. Style categories can be selected that enable the writer or editor to amend complex words, overwriting, abstract phrases or foreign words.
  • Standard: All the features of the Starter edition with additional functions to aid written communication, including identification of “high glue” and “high bog” sentences. (“High glue” sentences contain words that hold a sentence together, for example, prepositions, conjunctions, and pronouns. “High bog” sentences contain words that detract from a comfortable reading experience.) There are options for customization such as the ability to create categories for words or phrases that you want to ban or suggest.
  • Professional: All the features from Starter and Standard, plus the Editor’s List. This includes lists of all full words (alphabetically sorted), word frequency, spelling (unknown, questionable, or unusual words), bog (specialist words or words that may detract from readability), wordy (including passive verbs and word phrases), jargon (including abbreviations and jargon words), and pep (unusual or interesting words, and names).

A caveat on this proofreader’s usage

I bought StyleWriter4 because I wanted quick and easy access to the information in the Editor’s List – that, and nothing more. It’s important that I emphasize this straight away.

I’m not an editor, so I’m not in the business of worrying about passive voice, sentence length, overwriting, or overall style. Even though the Professional Edition enables me to use the tools to make amendments in relation to these issues, I’m not interested in them (because that’s not what my clients are paying me for) and I haven’t used the functions. I therefore can’t comment on the degree to which the software is effective in its claims to address these issues effectively.

So, what’s so great about the Editor’s List?

Why I use the Editor’s List

Sometimes we see what we want to see rather than what’s actually on the page. Being an experienced and professionally trained proofreader doesn’t make me immune to this problem. Rather, my experience and my professional training have made me alert to it.  That’s why I always generate a word list to flag up potential inconsistencies that my weary eyes might have passed over. Such a list allows me to make sure I check spelling errors (e.g., poofreader), consistency issues (e.g., Francois and François), context-dependent errors (e.g., behaviour and behavior). Not every issue will need to be attended to, but it will need to be checked. This is where the Editor’s List comes to the fore.

Running StyleWriter4 Professional on a Word document quickly and cleanly generates lists of words that I can use to spot potential problems I want to check, prior to reading the text line by line with my eyes. Generating word lists is all about spotting possible serious snags (e.g., inconsistent spelling of character or cited-author names) before the in-context proofreading starts. Looking through such lists gives me piece of mind and allows me, later, to focus my attention on context and layout.

Step-by-step summary

The following is a step-by-step summary of how I generate the information I need from the Editor’s List:

  1. Create a Word document. If I’ve been contracted to work directly in Word by my client, I’m good to go. If I have a PDF, I copy the text from the PDF proof and paste it into a Word file. (I choose not to use Acrobat’s built-in conversion tool because I’ve found it leads to problems with text flow, and I have to devote even more time to fixing these before I run any Word-based tools, such as macros. However, this is a personal choice.) I remove unnecessary word breaks from the document by using Word’s Find and Replace tool (find “-^p” then “- ^p” then “ -^p”); always leave the replace box blank. You may have a macro that does this for you more efficiently.
  2. Go to the Add-Ins tab and click on the StyleWriter icon. (Click on images to enlarge them.)
Word Menu with StyleWriter

Word Menu with StyleWriter

  1. Click on the arrow next to the Editor’s List icon: that’s the little picture of the chap wearing Men-in-Black shades!
StyleWriter Menu

StyleWriter Menu

  1. Select the list you want to look at. The lists I usually focus on are “All” (which includes the following separate lists of interest to me: “All words” and “Odds and ends”); and “Spelling” (which includes the following separate lists of interest to me: “Unknown words,” “Questionable words,” and “Unusual words”).

In the image below, I’ve highlighted the tabs of interest as they appear in the Editor’s List window, and the option at the bottom of the window to order the chosen word lists alphabetically or by frequency.

Editor's List Sample

Editor’s List Sample

I then scroll through the lists at my leisure, checking any problems I detect. In the image above, I’ve highlighted an inconsistent spelling issue that I’d need to check (behaviour/behaviour) in order to identify whether there is an error in the text. If I was working for a client directly in Word, I could use the “Trace in Text View” button highlighted at the bottom of the window. If I was working on hardcopy or PDF, I’d search for the problem in the PDF and then mark up on paper or on screen, as per the client’s wishes.

Why not use TextSTAT?

I used to use TextSTAT for creation of word lists for my proofreading work. I loved this software. I still love it! See “Revisiting an old favorite: TextSTAT, word lists, and the proofreader,” for more information about how I’ve used this tool in an almost identical way.

And TextSTAT is free, whereas StyleWriter4 Professional costs US$190 (or £123).

So, before buying, I decided to do a cost­-to-benefit analysis. If I was going to spend over a hundred quid on software, I needed to know how quickly I would get a return on my investment. I compared how long it took me to work through all the little bits and necessary to generate full-word and spelling lists using TextSTAT and StyleWriter4 Professional.

With StyleWriter, the process is a one-stop shop. I open and run the software in the Word file. I then click on Editor’s List and choose what I want to look at.

With TextSTAT, things are more fiddly. I have to upload the Word document, create full-word list, export the list into Excel, copy the Excel version into Word, alphabetize and check. Then I run a separate macro to generate possible list of potential spelling errors.

Using StyleWriter4 Professional saved me only five minutes for a 150,000-word file. However, when it comes to productivity in editorial work, marginal gains always count.

  • Cost: £123 (US$190)
  • Value of five minutes of my time based on my average hourly rate 2014/15 financial year = £3.34 (US$5.19) per job
  • On average, I do five large proofreading jobs a month = 5 × £3.34 (US$5.19) = £16.70 (US$25.95)
  • £123 (US$190)/£16.70 (US$25.95) = just over 7 months to pay for itself
  • I decided to buy StyleWriter4 Professional purely for the Editor’s List and haven’t regretted it. The choice for me was about the speed of the functionality, and its fit with my particular business model.

Considerations before you buy

Use the trial version before you buy. The website currently doesn’t indicate which version is available for download. It’s therefore worth emailing the developers to check which edition you’ll be experimenting with. If you’re a proofreader like me, and are considering the software primarily to access the Editor’s List, you’ll need to trial the Professional version.

View the video demos on the StyleWriter4 website, so you can see how the various features work.

Cost – it’s not free. If you are using alternative free software (such as TextSTAT) to generate checkable full-word and spelling lists, do your own cost-to-benefit analysis so that you can work out whether and when you will earn a return on your investment. You’ll need to know the value you place on X minutes of your time in order to do this. You may recoup your investment in a shorter or longer period of time than me because there are differences in our hourly rates, our fee structures, the services we offer, the speed at which we use alternative software, how many separate jobs we do per month, the word count in the files, and so on.

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

June 22, 2015

Thinking Fiction: Fiction Editors’ Resource Kit (Part I)

by Carolyn Haley

Folks like me, who are copy and line editors, spend much of their billable time checking manuscript details for accuracy and consistency. The tasks are the same whether editing fiction or nonfiction; however, novels present a colorful and sometimes bizarre mix of language and subject irregularities that require an editor to have a big library.

But if I owned all the books needed, my house would collapse under the library’s weight! So I take advantage of the Internet to augment my print references. It lets me keep them to a manageable number while eliminating the travel to city and university libraries that once was vital. Although it takes time to determine which websites are accurate and reliable, I’ve been able to build a suite of online bookmarks for regular consultation and search for items unique to a story.

The two combined make a powerful toolkit. Here are the resources I have compiled for working on novels. The list is a work in process, illustrating the scope and specifics that equip an editor to operate in this field.

Books

Many core reference books now come in both print and electronic form. I acquired several of mine before a nonpaper option came along, so I stick with them. But I’ve learned that using the electronic form can be faster, such as when looking up words in the dictionary — which I might do several hundred times for a given project. The difference between manual and electronic lookup may only be seconds, but seconds add up to minutes then hours, which can influence whether one breaks even, makes a profit, or takes a loss on a job.

Dictionaries

The American English dictionary used by most traditional fiction publishers is Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (MW), followed by The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (AHD). I keep The Concise Oxford English Dictionary and Fowler’s Modern English Usage as launch points when working with British English, along with lesser-known texts such as British/American Language Dictionary and British English A to Zed. Canada and Australia have their own version of the language, so I’ve acquired the Canadian Oxford Dictionary and Editing Canadian English. I’ve not yet had to work with Australian English, but toward that eventuality I’ve bookmarked the online Australian English Glossary from A to Zed.

I work mainly with American English, so I stick with MW for consistency’s sake. And I’ll adhere to first spelling with any words that have variants, unless the author shows a strong preference (leapt vs. leaped seems to be popular). The majority of authors I work with are willing to have their spelling corrected without query; thus I only deviate from MW when I need to crosscheck something. Then I’ll sample the online AHD and/or Dictionary.com, The Free Dictionary, and the Urban Dictionary. This last is particularly helpful with contemporary novels. For vintage terms, I’ll check vintage MW and do a Google search for other sources.

When it comes to foreign words, I rely mostly on the Internet, because no language has appeared often enough in my clients’ novels to justify overloading my bookshelves. But being monolingual, I must check every non-English word, if only to know whether to italicize it or if accent marks are used correctly. Many foreign words and phrases have been absorbed into American English and are listed in MW. If not, I’ll check a dictionary of the language in question if I own it, or go online, or both. While at it, I confirm the word’s definition, because I add all foreign terms and their meanings to my style sheet. I need to skip around between online translators; they vary in thoroughness and reliability and I’ve not yet settled on one as a standard (suggestions welcome).

Same with slang and idiom, which appear frequently in novels. Google is really helpful here, as are the dictionaries mentioned above and others dedicated to idiom and slang. On the grand scale, there’s the Dictionary of American Regional English (aka “the DARE”) — five volumes in print plus an online version by subscription, all heftily priced. Investment in the DARE parallels that in the Oxford English Dictionary, which is available in book and print and sometimes through one’s local library.

Style Guides

As with dictionaries, there are multiple style guide options, and some publishers or authors will specify their preference. The generally accepted standard for fiction is The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), now up to the 16th edition. Some editors supplement it with Words into Type (WIT), but that hasn’t been updated since 1974. CMS comes as a big, fat tome or CMS online by subscription. WIT exists in book form only, stopping at the 3rd edition, though there seems to be a phantom 4th floating around online whose existence I can’t verify.

Numerous other style guides are out there, but I have yet to need them for novels. Still, it’s good to have as many in your library as you can get ahold of, both to track down details not offered in CMS/WIT, or to resolve contradictory issues, or to be able to say “yes” to a job that requires something nonstandard.

Publishers hiring freelancers to copy/line edit usually state their style guide preference. They also tend to have a house style, which takes priority over any “official” industry style guide when they conflict. Independent authors often don’t know or care about style guides, leaving editors free to select their own. If an author specifies a preference, however, you of course accommodate it unless there’s a good reason not to.

Grammar/Usage Guides

A host of options here, too. I’ve recently added Garner’s Modern American Usage to expand upon the grammar/usage sections of CMS and WIT. For quick online lookups, I’ve done well with Grammar Girl and posting queries on editorial lists and forums.

Most often I need to check phrases that include prepositions, so I use CMS’s and WIT’s sections pertaining thereto plus a quick check of online preposition lists (e.g., The English Club) when I just need to confirm which prepositions to capitalize in chapter names or publication titles.

These books will get you through the language aspect of editing most novels. The rest of the job involves story structure and quality control. Part II of this essay discusses editorial software, writing-craft resources, and continuing education. For now, please share any reference books I’ve missed that you use to make editing fiction easier, more accurate, and thorough.

Carolyn Haley lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1977, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at 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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June 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 17, 2015

I Can Say It Better

A constant question among professional editors is “What is the editor’s role?” There are lots of aspects to this question, but one that has recently made the rounds is this:

Is it the editor’s role to say it better if how it is already said is understandable, clear, accurate, not misleading — that is, imperfect but…?

I have pondered this question many times over my 31 years as a professional editor, yet it has come home to roost once again in recent weeks. Editors have been asking on different forums whether something the author has written (said) can be rewritten (resaid) in a better way. Sometimes it is clear that a restating would be greatly beneficial; other times I wonder why resay what the author has already adequately said.

What the author has written may not be the best way to say something but if we accept that clarity is the key editing job, then the second best way to say something, if it is the author’s way, should be sufficient. Too many editors believe they must make changes to justify their fee, and that is wrong. Have you never come across a chapter that is sufficiently well written as to need no editing? I have and in those cases I send the author a note saying how well written the chapter is and that I saw no sense in substituting my word choice for her word choice when her choice did the job.

This will, to some editors, fall under the rubric of “do no harm.” But it isn’t harm about which we are speaking. Rather, it is seeing an adequate choice that could be made better but still not so memorable that it will be repeated decades later by an adoring public (the “Ask not what your country…” and the “I have a dream…” type of alterations where the mundane becomes the unforgettable) and deciding to leave it as is.

The idea that “I can say it better” and should do so for the client is a flawed notion of our skills and our role as editor. First, whether I can really say it better is opinion; how can we objectively determine that our clear statement is better than the author’s clear statement? Except for ego, we cannot. This balancing is different when what the author has written is confused or difficult to understand or causes a reader to pause and wonder what he just read means. But in the instance where the reader does understand what the author has written and doesn’t pause to ponder meaning, there is no justification for the editor to rewrite.

When we believe that we can say it better and should do so, we change our relationship with the author. We proclaim ourselves the arbiter of correctness, yet we debate amongst ourselves word choice and correctness. It is similar to how we view style guides (see What Do Editors Forget Most Often? and Editors & “Professional” Resources: A Questionable Reliance). We tend to put them on a pedestal and forget that they are collections of opinion and suggestion, not necessarily the best way to do something. And that is the key to answering the question of whether we should say it better. If it isn’t clear-cut that our way is much superior to the author’s way, then we are just substituting one opinion for another opinion. We tend to value our opinion more than the author’s because — it is our opinion.

A difference between a professional editor and an unprofessional editor is knowing when to substitute one opinion for another opinion. It is the ability to recognize levels of clarity (not all clarity is equal) and determining whether the clarity of the author’s writing is sufficient or if it needs a boost. Too often editors misread the balance and decide that “I can say it better!”

Not too long ago I was asked to reedit a book originally edited by someone else. The author was very unhappy and the publisher wanted to determine whether the original editor’s edits were necessary, if they were necessary were they an improvement over the author’s original, and whether the editor missed important edits by focusing too much on text the editor thought “I can say it better” and rewrote.

It was an interesting experience. The reasons for the author’s displeasure did not take long to become evident. In rare instances, the editor wisely made changes; in most instances, the editor misinterpreted the balance — the author’s original text may not have been memorable (but then neither was the editor’s contribution), but there was no mistaking what the author was saying. There was no stopping and pondering.

What the editor clearly sought was perfection (a very elusive goal); what the editor “created” did not come close to that holy grail. It was not that the editor did a “terrible” job, it was that the editor failed to improve the author’s writing, failed to bring greater clarity to the writing, and failed to understand the editor’s role and appreciate its limitations. In other words, the editor thought her opinion as to how best to make a point was in fact how best to make a point, when it wasn’t any better than the author’s opinion.

Most interesting was what the editor — in my opinion — failed to rewrite. There were several instances where she should have said “I can say it better” and done so, but didn’t. Yet we fall back to the big bugaboo: Why is my opinion any more valuable or accurate than her opinion? I do not know if my alternatives were truly better than the author’s — I certainly think they were — but I do know it was problematic to leave the author’s writing as it was because of the difficulty in determining what he meant. (For a discussion of clarity, see Editing for Clarity.)

Professional editors are able to draw that line between improving and not improving writing and not cross it often. Just because we can say it better does not mean we should. The editing a professional editor does needs to balance against the author’s voice; only when the balance tilts toward improvement should we upset it.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 10, 2015

The Ethics of Distaste

It must be the season for distaste. On a couple of forums someone has asked about backing out of an editing job because they discovered that they dislike (choose one or more) the author’s religious views, the subject matter of the project (e.g., erotica, anti-something the editor likes, abortion, devil worship), the political views expressed in the manuscript, and so on. Surprisingly, for the first time in my lengthy career someone applied for an editing position and outlined a list of projects they would not work on as part of their application.

I do not think editors must take on anything that crosses their threshold. If a project offends your sense of morality, saying no is a kindness to both you and the client. Yet there is a but to that blanket statement. I do not think the rules are the same when you have agreed to undertake the project, have started editing, and only as you get into the project discover that the project makes you squeamish.

Let’s begin with endorsements. That you have edited a project does not mean you endorse the author or the author’s point of view. Editing a medical text that includes a chapter on euthanasia does not mean you believe or endorse the view that those who are dying should be helped to speed the process. Similarly, just because you edit a book on investing in Zimbabwe does not mean you support Robert Mugabe or because you edit a book on Catholicism that you endorse the Catholic Church over all other religious institutions.

I am an editor. I am hired because of my skill with language. My clients do not ask — and if they did ask, I would not answer — what my religious or political beliefs are. On the other hand, there is nothing illegitimate in a client saying upfront that he would like an active member of the Catholic Church to edit his book about Catholic ritual because such an editor is likely to better understand the content. In such a case, my answer would simply be that I am not the right editor for that book.

Because I am hired for language skills, I should be able to edit anything. Content is not the king, coherence is the king and that does not mean I need to endorse the views of the author; it does mean that I must have the skill to determine whether since and because can by used synonymously in the particular book.

It seems as if I am ignoring the repugnant and saying that an editor must accept repugnant projects. To the contrary, I am saying that before you agree to edit a project, you should freely turn away any project that impinges your sense of right and wrong, insists that you help someone who you would classify as a societal cockroach, demands that you set aside any sense of civilization and embrace barbarity, requires that you deal with language that you used to get your mouth washed with soap for repeating. The key is before you begin editing, you can reject a project for any reason, including because you are a hater of ______ (fill-in the blank with your own discrimination beliefs).

The difficulty arises after you have accepted the project and started editing, especially if you have spent a significant amount of time editing the project. At this juncture, I think your obligations and options have changed. You can no longer make that unilateral decision to not edit; now you need to discuss the project with the client.

At minimum you owe your client an explanation as to why you want to give up on the project. I do not think it is enough to say that “I find the material morally reprehensible.” I think you owe the client a more detailed and nuanced explanation. You need to detail how your distaste affects your editing and how this does the client a disservice. Whether you are entitled to compensation for the work you have already done is also on the table. (Suppose the project is a $5,000 project and the client has already paid you $3,000. Is the client entitled to a refund? Should you offer one?)

Because you want to terminate a client’s business expectation, you probably should have another, equally capable editor already lined up and willing to takeover. I think it is wrong for editor at this stage to simply bow out and not have found or offered to help find a replacement editor. (Let me add a caveat to this: I am speaking of instances where the subject matter is the problem, not the client. If the problem is the client himself and not the subject matter, I do not think you are obligated to find another editor; if the problem is both the client and the subject matter, you need to try to determine whether your distaste for the client is because of a distaste for the subject matter of whether the distaste for the client stands on its own merits. If it is because of the subject matter, then you should find another editor; if it is the client on the client’s own merits, then you should not help find another editor. By the way, all of this presupposes that the client is amenable to releasing your from your agreement to edit his project.

Assuming the client is willing to free you, then it is my belief that you should refund any monies paid you by the client. As we all know, each editor is like her own island; switching editors midstream often means that the new editor starts from the beginning. Consequently, it strikes me that the ethical thing to do is refund payments you have received.

What if the client is unwilling to release you? Now the pot boils over because we are back to the question of whether the problem is the client or the subject matter or both. If the client is otherwise fine and the problem really lies with the subject matter, then I think the editor is obligated to continue editing as agreed. However, in this instance, I would ask the client to acknowledge that he has been asked to release you because you are repulsed by the subject matter, that as a result of his insistence that you continue you will do so as best you can but that you have advised the client that an editor who is not repulsed by the subject matter is likely to do a better editing job. Editing subject matter that is distasteful is difficult but not impossible. I have done it and I am sure many of you have too.

What is impossible, however, is to continue working with a client who you find offensive, ogreish. In this instance it may be unethical to continue editing the project if there is a chance that your dislike of the client will encourage you to make editorial choices that harm the project. In this instance, I would stand my ground and insist on terminating the agreement (and refund any payments I had received).

The difficult situation is where the client and the subject matter may be distasteful. As noted earlier, it is necessary to decide why the client is distasteful. Is it because the client himself is distasteful or because the subject matter encourages you to view the client as distasteful. If because the client is distasteful, then stand your ground; if it is the subject matter that is influencing your opinion, then continue to edit.

If you have strong views about what you are willing to edit and not willing to edit, state what you will do and won’t do on your website or in your initial contact with a potential client. Make clear, for example, that you will not edit books that approve of _________ or disapprove of ________ (fill in the blanks). Be upfront. But remember that once you have agreed to edit a project, it is unethical to unilaterally decide to stop just because you now find the subject matter or the client’s approach to the subject matter distasteful. With ethics, there is no such thing as no fault divorce.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 3, 2015

Going, Going, Gone…

Recently, what many consider a very mediocre Picasso painting sold at art auction for $179 million, setting a new record for a single painting. In the art market, bidding raises the price and reflects perceived marketplace value, at least to a degree. Contrast this to the editorial market in which bidding lowers the price, reflecting perceived marketplace value.

In both markets there is a glut of “artists”/“editors” but a dearth of “collectible”/“quality” “artists”/“editors.” Yet each market responds differently. Therein lies the tale of perception: a Picasso is considered valuable regardless of its quality simply because it is a Picasso; the quality adds to the value, but the “painted by Picasso” establishes that the price it will command will be higher, not lower. In contrast, editing is viewed as the “anyone can do it” skill and thus not worth much.

What perplexes me about the editorial market is that there is one at all. In the case of collectible art, there are two markets: the auction market and the retail market. In the retail market, if a painting is deemed worth collecting, then the artist’s price (or something close to it) is paid; if the painting is not considered collectible, it is ignored — it is not purchased because someone says “Well, people need to have this painting.”

In the editorial market, the service is thought necessary to have but only at the lowest possible price. Better to have someone wholly unskilled in editing edit a manuscript than to have the manuscript professionally edited at a higher price. The logic eludes me.

I was always taught that if it is worth doing, then it is worth doing well; if it is not worth doing well, then it is not worth doing. That concept contravenes the philosophy of the editorial market, which can be summed up as: editing is worth doing only if it is done very inexpensively. Editors have failed to justify their value in the marketplace.

Books are the primary means of communicating complex ideas from person to person, generation to generation. Even politicians who rely on visual communication to spread their message among voters write books to explain their thoughts and background in detail. A “sound bite” is important but the foundation of civilization is the written word. More information is communicated in one day in writing than is communicated in one year in movie form. Yet editors are less valued than actors.

With our reliance on written communication, I would think that editors could command prices that better reflect their skills, but that is not how the market works. It is clear that the primary factor in deciding whether to hire an editor is price, not skill and not need.

Discussions with colleagues about pricing usually ends with the lament that the price we can charge a client today is the same price we were able to charge that client in 1995. Factor in inflation and you soon discover that editors are being paid less today than they were paid in 1995 but that the work we are expected to do for that pay has increased. At minimum, if our services were valued, we would have kept up with inflation.

Interestingly, this flatlining of fees seems to apply across the board; that is, it doesn’t appear to make a difference whether the client is an individual or corporation. I suspect that a good part of the reason for this is the ease of entry into the profession, which has led to a significant increase in the number of minimally qualified editors who are willing to work for ever lower amounts.

I began this essay by comparing editorial bidding to art bidding. There is a significant difference between the two that needs mentioning: When you bid on an artwork, you see the finished artwork in all its glory or lack of glory — the point is that the bidder gets precisely what she sees. In contrast, the user of editorial services contracts for those services in the hope (expectation) that what he will receive after completion of editing equals what he hoped (expected) in terms of skill level.

The rejoinder that editors make is “I can/will provide a sample edit.” Unfortunately, sample edits are not all that editors say they are and they do not consider the likelihood that the recipient of the sample may not really be capable of judging the quality of the editing. The problem is that editing is fluid. The art world often can agree on a painting’s quality, even if its value is the subject of a war of words. Even those of us whose knowledge of art is minimal can agree, for example, that Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is an outstanding painting or that Michaelangelo’s David is a magnificent sculpture.

Editing is different. How do we judge whether it is good editing or bad editing or indifferent editing to use since when because is meant or use about when approximate is meant or when the serial comma is omitted? How do we determine in advance that editor A will catch all misspellings but not all cliches whereas editor B may catch fewer misspellings but has the ability to turn uninspired prose into memorable prose consistently?

The sample edit makes certain assumptions, five of which are: First, that the material chosen for the sample is the best material to demonstrate the editor’s editing skills. Second, that the person reviewing the editor’s work is knowledgeable enough to know whether the editor has improved or not improved the sample. Third, the editor is actually demonstrating the skill set that the reviewer seeks to test or that the reviewer is seeking to test a skill set that is actually appropriate for the type of editing being performed. Fourth, that both the reviewer and the editor define the editor’s role similarly. (How many times have you been hired to do a copyedit but what is really wanted is a developmental edit?) Fifth, that the sample is, in fact, representative of the problems the editor can expect to encounter and address should she get the editing job. Sample editing makes additional assumptions about the editor, about the reviewer, and about the project, but the foregoing five assumptions illustrate the problem and why sample editing is not always an indicator of the quality of the services an editor will provide.

This is the conundrum editors have faced for decades: How do we get clients to recognize in advance the true value of the services we will have rendered when editing is complete? What is your solution?

Richard Adin, An American Editor

May 27, 2015

Lyonizing Word: We Can Do This the Easy Way, or . . .

We Can Do This the Easy Way,
or We Can Do This the Hard Way

by Jack Lyon

American Editor Rich Adin called me recently with a puzzle. He was editing a list of citations that looked like this:

Lyon J, Adin R, Poole L, Brenner E, et al: blah blah blah.

But his client wanted the citations to look like this:

Lyon J, Adin R, Poole L, et al: blah blah blah.

In other words, many of the citations included one author name too many; the client wanted a limit of three rather than four. And there were hundreds of citations. Rich really didn’t want to remove the superfluous names by hand; it would have taken hours to do, and hours are money. And so, Rich queried, “Is there a way to remove the fourth name automatically?”

There’s nearly always a way. Rich had already tried using a wildcard search, but without success. Microsoft Word kept telling him, “The Find What pattern contains a Pattern Match expression which is too complex.”

The Too-Complex Find What

I’m not sure what wildcard search Rich tried to use, but it might have looked like this:

Find what:

([A-Z][a-z]@ [A-Z], )([A-Z][a-z]@ [A-Z], )([A-Z][a-z]@ [A-Z], )([A-Z][a-z]@ [A-Z], )(et al:)

Replace with:

\1\2\3\5

That’s definitely too complex for Word to handle. Here’s what it means:

Find a capital letter ([A-Z])
followed by a lowercase letter ([a-z])
repeated any number of times (@)
followed by a space
followed by a capital letter ([A-Z])
followed by a comma
followed by a space
with all of that in parentheses to form a “group.”

All of that is repeated three more times, then followed by “et al:” in parentheses to form a group.

The “Replace with” string tells Word to replace what it finds with the contents of groups 1, 2, 3, and 5 — in other words, with the first three names followed by “et al:”.

What’s the Handle?

If Word could handle it, that should work. But Word can’t handle it, so we’ll need to simplify. So we ask ourselves, “What, besides letters, do all of the names have in common?” In other words, “What’s the handle? What can we grab onto?” Well, that’s easy — each name is followed by a comma and a space. That’s our handle!

(For more on this, please see my article “What’s Your Handle?” (2003) at the Editorium Update.)

The Find That Works

The handle means we can simplify our wildcard search string to something like this:

Find what:

([!^013]@, [!^013]@, [!^013]@, )[!^013]@, (et al:)

Replace with:

\1\2

Here’s what that means:

Find any characters except a carriage return ([!^013])
repeated any number of times (@)
followed by a comma
followed by a space
with all of that repeated three times
and enclosed in parentheses to form a “group.”
Then it’s repeated one more time, ungrouped
and followed by “et al:” in parentheses to form a group.

The “Replace with” string tells Word to replace what it finds with the contents of groups 1 and 2 — in other words, with the first three names (group 1) followed by “et al:” (group 2). The fourth name is simply ignored.

To Group or Not to Group Using Parens

Rich ran the new find and replace, then replied, “Thanks, Jack, that works like a charm. Why isn’t the second ‘group’ grouped, that is, in parentheses? I thought that was necessary.”

I replied, “No, it’s not necessary. You group only the items that you want to reference (by \1, \2, etc.) in the ‘Replace with’ box. You could group the other item, in which case you would use ‘\1\3’ in the ‘Replace with’ box. But there’s no need to do so.”

Note that this method of finding the names offers another advantage. Not only will it find names that look like this:

Lyon J,

it will also find names that look like this:

Lyon JM,

or even this:

Lyon JMQ

It will even find names like this:

Thaler-Carter Ruth,

or this:

Harrison G.B.H.,

In fact, it will find anything (except a carriage return) followed by a comma and a space.

Why the Carriage Return?

“Why,” you may be wondering, “specify anything but a carriage return? Why not specify letters instead?” Well, we could have done that, using something like this:

Find what:

([A-z ]@, [A-z ]@, [A-z ]@, )[A-z ]@, (et al:)

Replace with:

\1\2

That means:

any capital or lowercase letter or space ([A-z ])
repeated any number of times (@)
followed by a comma
followed by a space
And so on.

Such a wildcard string would find names like this:

Lyon J,

but not this:

Thaler-Carter R,

Yes, we could add a hyphen to our string, but then we start to wonder about other characters we might need to include, and then things get complicated again. And besides, it’s true that we don’t want to include carriage returns in our search, so it makes sense to exclude them. If we tried to simplify too far, we might use this:

Find what:

(*, *, *, )*, (et al:)

Replace with:

\1\2

The problem with using the asterisk wildcard (*) is that it finds any character any number of times, including tabs, spaces, carriage returns, and everything else you can think of. Sometimes that’s useful, but more often it just leads to confusion. We want to keep things simple but not too simple.

Why Wildcard

To return to our original problem: Rich could have removed all those extra names one at a time, by hand, which is doing it the hard way and eats into the profit line — remember that time is money. Microsoft Word includes powerful tools for doing things the easy way, so why not learn them and use them? If you’ve read this far, you’re doing that, so congratulations.

If you’d like to learn more about how to use wildcard searches, you can download my free paper “Advanced Find and Replace in Microsoft Word.” Working through the paper requires some thought and effort, but the payoff is huge.

Coming Soon

I hope you’ll watch for my forthcoming Wildcard Cookbook for Microsoft Word. I’m still trying to find more real-life examples for the book, so if you have some particularly sticky problems that might be solved using a wildcard search, I hope you’ll send them my way. Maybe I can save you some work and at the same time figure out solutions that will help others in the future. Thanks for your help!

For EditTools Users

If you are a user of EditTools, you can manually create the find and replace strings in the Wildcard Find & Replace macro and then save the macro for future use. However, to do so you need to enter the Find string slightly differently:

Find Field #1: [!^013]@, [!^013]@, [!^013]@,
Find Field #2: [!^013]@,
Find Field #3: et al:

Note that you omit the parens for grouping because EditTools automatically inserts them, which means that you break the string into its group components. (IMPORTANT: Be sure to include in Find Fields 1 and 2 the ending space, i.e., the space following the final comma, which is not visible above.)

Because EditTools treats each of the three fields as a group, your Replace string is:

Replace Field #1: \1
Replace Field #2: \3

After manually entering the information in each of the fields, click Add to WFR Dataset and save this macro for future use. Next time you need it, just click Retrieve from WFR Dataset, retrieve this string, and run it. That is one of the advantages to using EditTools’ Wildcard Find & Replace — you can write a wildcard macro once and reuse it as many times as you need without having to recreate the macro each time.

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

Looking for a Deal?

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

 

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