An American Editor

August 31, 2018

The Value (or Not) of Beta Readers

Carolyn Haley

Many novelists enlist the aid of beta readers after completing the first draft of a book. A beta reader, according to Wikipedia, is:

  • a test reader of an unreleased work of literature or other writing (similar to beta testing in software), giving feedback with the angle of an average reader to the author about remaining issues . . . . so that an uncolored opinion of an average reader can be obtained. Usually, a beta reader will be unpaid. The feedback is used by the writer to iron out remaining overall issues with plot, pacing and consistency. The beta read also serves as a target audience test to see whether the book has the intended emotional impact and feel.

Beta readers usually precede professional editors in a novel’s path to publication; sometimes they replace professional editors for self-publishing authors on low budgets. A few professional editors offer beta reading as one of their services. I don’t, preferring to offer manuscript evaluations or developmental edits for work in its early stages.

Beta reading, in my opinion, is more subjective and freestyle than professional editing should be. I engage in it only with my writers’ group, whose members return the favor. Through long-term, piecemeal, opinionated back-and-forthing, we help each other convert our messy first drafts into manuscripts coherent enough to be professionally edited.

While beta reading can be immensely helpful to authors, it can also throw them off course or even change their progress to regress. The old adage “Too many cooks spoil the broth” might come into play. The following two cases illustrate the possible effects of multiple contradictory responses to a person’s first novel.

Case #1: Counterproductive Overload

One of my clients, whom I’ll call Henry, has been working on his book for several years. It is the first volume of a science fiction adventure series aimed at young adults, set in an alternate world with lots of action wrapped around a social injustice theme.

Henry hired me for copyediting and paid his deposit. In the weeks between scheduling the job and its start date, however, he had an unknown number of adult friends beta-read the manuscript. Their feedback knocked him from self-assurance to quivering uncertainty. He decided to postpone sending the manuscript to me so he could recast sections in response to the beta reader commentary.

Good idea, in theory. Copyediting is supposed to come at the end of a book’s development, giving it the final polish needed before sending it out the door. Henry was discovering that his story needed more development than he’d thought. His initial two-month postponement stretched into two years.

Eventually Henry finished the book to his satisfaction and delivered the manuscript. Since he didn’t want to change our original scope of work, I copyedited the novel. I thought he was still a long way from his goal of being traditionally published, but you never know, so I gave him my best effort and wished him the best of luck.

Two years later, he came back for a second copyedit of the same novel. Not only had my editing inspired him to make significant revisions, but also, while I had been editing, he’d been having another crop of people beta read the book.

Because of that response overload, Henry spent months revising in different directions. The conflicting information caused him to lose sight of his original vision and eroded his confidence. He started to wonder why he had bothered trying to write the book in the first place, and despaired of ever succeeding.

Eventually he bounced back, reaching a point of satisfaction and deciding to self-publish. That’s when he hired me for the second copyedit. But history repeated itself: During the weeks of waiting between hiring me and the job start date, he took in yet more beta reader feedback, which thrust him back into indecision. This time, he postponed copyediting for six months. (And this time, I inserted a cutoff clause into his contract, so if he bailed out again, he would forfeit his deposit.)

Luckily, I was able to fill the holes in my calendar caused by both of his postponements. It distresses me, though, to see an author get undermined and derailed by an invisible crowd of others whose opinions outweigh my professional observations, explanations, and encouragement.

This author is willing to pay twice for a service he doesn’t seem to believe has greater value than unqualified people’s feelings. He’s also willing to possibly lose a substantial amount of money if he can’t set priorities and boundaries, and hold tight to his own vision, before the time limit on his deposit runs out.

I question whether he will ever be able to own his work and find the courage to expose it to the world through publication, never mind acquire the storycraft skills to convey it. As well, the money he has already laid out would have covered a professional developmental edit. Had we done that in the first place, perhaps by now his book would be several levels farther along and he’d still be excited by its prospects. Even if I’m not the ideal editor for him, he would be making progress rather than riding a merry-go-round, trying to satisfy all readers in all things.

Maybe his time on the merry-go-round will ultimately result in a finished novel. Sometimes that happens, as it did with a member of my writers’ group.

Case #2: Productive Overload

This author, whom I’ll call Henrietta, has also spent many years on crafting her first novel. Unlike Henry, her book is a stand-alone story, set on contemporary Earth. Instead of action and adventure, it presents a deep character study written in a literary style.

Henrietta is trained in the commercial graphic arts, which gives her a seemingly infinite capacity to reformulate a concept. Like Henry, she’s new to creating personal art through words and is insecure about its validity. Also like Henry, she can’t resist the temptation to gather opinions. Thus, she’s had beta reader after beta reader, and goes through much psychological hand-wringing in trying to decide whose opinion matters, seeking to accommodate all of them in her work.

My opinion holds extra weight for her because I’m a professional editor. I provide my services gratis in this case, because in this writers’ group, we all volunteer skills in mutual support. Our personal creative works exist on spec — no guarantee any of us will publish, or earn a dime if we do — versus professional services provided under contract, where performance and delivery are part of an economic exchange. In the writers’ group, we are friends exchanging favors.

Regardless of my professional status, Henrietta routinely ignores my opinion because it disagrees with her vision. In this regard, she differs from Henry, who struggles to hold his vision at all. Her professional training enables her to weigh and measure and ultimately assimilate diverse opinions, while my professional training lets me leave her free to do it (copyeditor’s mantra: “It’s not my book, not my book . . .”). I serve instead as sounding board and devil’s advocate, with my real contribution being copyediting and proofreading.

Henrietta’s willingness to consider options kept making her book stronger — until the day came when she had incorporated too many opinions, and both the story and her writing voice began to unravel. That not only added months to her writing time, but also burned her out on the project. I invested a lot of time in pushing her to embrace her work and believe in herself.

After many more revisions, some of which brought sections of the book back to where they’d started, her manuscript was ready for submission to agents and, in my opinion, worthy of being published by a Big Five house. (I also believe that if she wants to skip the agent and submit directly to smaller publishers, she could sell the book in five minutes. If she chooses to self-publish [an option she is rejecting because she understands the huge and long-term marketing work involved], she could probably make some serious money.) But she knows what she wants and is staying her course.

Problem is, she can’t stop collecting beta reader opinions. Even as I was mechanically editing the “final” version, she continued to run every little late idea past multiple people. It took coercion to get her to send out her first query letter, after which she immediately started second-guessing how an agent would react to dialogue and scene details, and sneaking her fingers back to the keyboard. I’m hoping her future agent and house editor can manage this tendency, so the book can make it to publication.

Positive Outcomes

Most of my clients claim to use beta readers, without providing details. Occasionally they also refer to a writing class or a previous editor. A recent author mentioned using all three resources. He, like Henry, had signed up with me and paid his deposit, then suddenly postponed for two years. But when he came back, both his book and his confidence were strong. Like Henry, he’s launching a science fiction adventure series. Unlike Henry, I expect him to be a self-publishing success.

Another self-publishing client revealed that his novel, volume two of a historical fantasy, had been through developmental editing with a high-end professional I recognized. The investment showed, in that the manuscript I received for copyediting needed nothing more than token spit-and-polish.

I do not know if this client ever used beta readers. Possibly not, because unlike many authors, he has the wherewithal to spring for pros at each stage. He went through the same developmental-editor-to-copyeditor sequence when self-publishing his first volume, which came out beautifully and has been well received. I expect volume two will build his audience.

Yet another client seems to have the complete writing skill set hardwired into him. He cranks out one or two novels a year without help, and all of them are exciting, well-crafted stories ready for copyediting. He’s another self-publisher, and his sales are growing.

In general, whichever publishing path my clients choose, the newer they are to writing and publishing, the more beta readers they’re inclined to use. I believe there has to be a limit, though. As Henry and Henrietta show (and I can confirm from my own creative-writing experience), beta readers can be helpful or harmful. It’s important to restrict their numbers, and select readers who can couch their personal opinions in writerly terms. Otherwise, the author is just getting consumer reviews too soon.

Reviewing only should occur after publication, just as copyediting should only be done on a manuscript ready for submission or production. It’s tough enough for an author to weather a storm of diverse opinions once the book is finished; being hammered by that storm while still writing can impair an author’s creativity and zeal — right when those attributes are most needed to give a book its voice and vision.

Voice and vision are what make a novel unique, and, ultimately, draw the audience that defines an author’s career. Beta readers, like editors, may not be the book’s target audience no matter what their relationship to the author. They can inhibit or confuse authors by pushing them to satisfy the readers’/editors’ personal tastes. Beta readers and editors alike need to remember whose book it is, and work within the author’s frame of reference. Their collective goal should be helping authors achieve their individual goals.

Carolyn Haley, an award-winning novelist, lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1977, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at dcma@vermontel.com or through her websites, DocuMania and New Ways to See the World. Carolyn also blogs at Adventures in Zone 3 and reviews at New York Journal of Books, and has presented on editing fiction at the Communication Central conference.

August 24, 2018

Helping Clients with Version Control

Ælfwine Mischler

I am interrupting my series on indexing (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) because a distressed client last week left me thinking about how to help authors with version control.

It is hot in Cairo. Daytime temperatures have been 100° F (38° C) for weeks and many of us, myself included, do not have A/C. It makes some of us fuzzy-brained and sometimes our computers overheat. That is what happened to a client (I will call her AB) when she called me repeatedly to help her with a file.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

AB, an active woman in her mid-seventies with a PhD, was having problems for several reasons. First, she could not maintain version control. Second, she told me that as she is getting older, she is still good in her work field but gets more confused by technology. Third, her aging computer was acting up, probably as a result of overheating. (The next day, she wrote to say that it performed better after she turned it off for several hours.)

As a result of this confluence of problems, I spent two unpaid hours “hand holding” over the phone when I really wanted to work on another client’s book. AB had “lost” the file I edited and returned four months ago. I told her to find my email, redownload the file, and then save it as ED 2. She had problems doing that. I sent her a copy of the file with SECOND EDIT as a prefix to the name, but she had problems downloading it, finding the Downloads folder, and then finding the folder she wanted to put it in — because she had several folders with similar names.

I was starting to get impatient and I wanted to tell her that I was going to charge her for my time on the phone, but we had never agreed to such a thing. Did I have the right, then, to ask for it? Would I have actually been able to collect it? I could hear in her voice that she was getting more and more frustrated. She really needed someone to walk her through what should have been simple procedures. I found it difficult to believe that she really did not know how to do basic things like downloading a file and putting it into another folder. From what she was saying on the phone, it seemed that she was opening the file and copying the text of it rather than copying the file itself from its folder. Did she really not know how to do these things, or was the combination of age, heat, and computer problems overwhelming her?

I have had clients who did not understand some things, such as using Track Changes, but I can send them instructions or send them two versions of an edited file, one with tracking visible and the other with all changes accepted. This was the first time I had to attempt to walk someone through basics. Should I have done anything differently? What would you have done? I welcome your answers in the comment box.

A File by Any Other Name

AB’s biggest problem was version control. This was not the first time she had called me while looking through multiple folders or files with similar names. She had been working on translating a book for many years, and in the end, she sent me the manuscript for copyediting in two parts. Now she had multiple versions of each part and several different folders, and she could not figure out where she had put the one I had edited or which file it was.

When I edit for clients, this is my work pattern:

  • I open the original and use Save As to make a copy with “ED 1” prefixed to the filename.
  • I don’t make any changes in the original (though I might look at it) while I edit version ED 1.
  • When I return ED 1 to the client for review, I tell the client to use Save As to put “ED 2” as the prefix to the name, to work only in the ED 2 file, and to return it to me for checking.
  • I open ED 2 and use Save As to make a copy with “ED 3” added to the name instead of “ED 2.”

Another recent client (“CD”) keeps adding new material to his book — but he follows my early instructions to save the file with a higher version number. He knows that files to me should have an even-numbered version number, and I return an odd-numbered version to him. CD recently sent me ED 10, but before I could get to it, he wanted to add still more lines. I instructed him to call the newest one ED 10.2 so that we could maintain the pattern of even numbers from him and odd from me. We have not had a problem with version control with this work pattern.

AB, on the other hand, has multiple versions that she cannot distinguish from one another. When you have several files with names such as these, how do you know which is the latest?

ABnancybooktranslation_aardvarks

nancybooktranslation_aardvarks

nancy-book-translation_aardvarks_newer

nancy-aardvarksbook_most recent

Is Your Computer Drafty?

If you tend to retain older drafts of your work, you need to systemize your naming of different versions. Keep the basic filename the same — not with different names as AB did — and add a number and date to each version. (I once joked with a managing editor that she had kept the same spelling mistake in the filename of volume three of a book I was about to index, having indexed volumes one and two with the same misspelled file. She replied that the spelling mistake was the designer’s, but she retained the same filename rather than mess up the designer’s system.) You can, of course, put the version number at the end of the filename, but I find it easier if the number is at the beginning.

Once you have more than two or three drafts, ask yourself if you really need to keep the earlier versions. If you cannot bear to delete them just yet, put them into a folder marked “early drafts” or “older stuff” so you do not confuse them with more-recent versions. You can also use an option described below to hide files so you do not accidentally work in the wrong ones.

Get a Better View

I did not think to tell AB this on the day I was helping her stave off a total meltdown — with her computer problems and distress, she probably could not have absorbed it anyway — but did you know that you can change the view of the files so you can see information about them, including when they were created and/or last modified?

If you open a folder and click on the View tab, you will find options for showing the contents of the folder. Many of the people I have worked with like to use medium or large icons, which display across the screen in rows. The icon view is easier if you like to drag files into subfolders because your “target” is bigger. In this example, I have also turned on the Navigation pane on the left side, which allows you to scroll to quickly find other folders.

My own preference is usually for List — I have shown it here without the Navigation pane.

If version control is a problem for you, try the Details view, and play with the Sort by options until you find the one that is best for you.

It seems that Date Modified, Type, and Size are the default details, because these are the ones that have always appeared when I chose Details view without making any changes. I will talk about some of the options below. You can resize the columns by positioning the cursor on the barely visible line between the column names and dragging. You can also choose Size All Columns to Fit to show the most information.

If you go to the top of the folder under Current view, you will find many more options.

If you click on the triangle under Sort by, you can choose to sort your files by something other than name. Date created or Date last modified would be good choices for version control.

The Add columns menu lets you choose which details to show. Use this along with the Sort by options.

Another useful option is Show/Hide. You can select one or more items, then click on Hide selected items. The files will still be in the folder but will be invisible. This is useful for version control so you do not accidentally open and modify the wrong files. If you want to see hidden items, you can check the box next to Hidden items. Their icons will appear faded in the folder. If you no longer want to hide them, select them and click on Hide selected items, which is a toggle switch, to “unhide” them.

A Word to the Whys

If you have problems with your filenames as AB does, I hope you will now understand why it is important to maintain version control. Keep the basic filename the same and add date or version number to the filename of each new version. Delete older versions that you no longer need. If you really cannot bear to part with them, or if they contain ideas for later works, put them into another folder with a clear name or hide them from view. Play with the folder view options I have described here (and the ones I have not, such as panes) to find the options that work best for your working style.

And stay cool.

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

August 13, 2018

On the Basics — All the Backups

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter 

A recent Facebook group post from someone whose computer conked out when she was on deadline for a project reminded me of the importance of different kinds of backup. We’ve talked about backing up files, but that’s different from backing up equipment — perhaps because equipment can be so expensive, while backup systems can be free, or at least less expensive than buying an additional computer.

Because our ability to meet deadlines and keep our commitments to clients is essential to a freelancer’s business survival, it’s worth assessing what kinds of backups we need to make that happen. These suggestions might seem obvious, but should be useful reminders of practical basics for a freelance business.

The Ephemeral

First, the easy — and inexpensive — stuff. To make sure files and documents don’t disappear mid-project, open an online backup account on Dropbox, Box.com, Google Drive, or something similar so you can stash items as you go along and once you’ve finished them.

If you believe in “belts and braces” (both a belt and suspenders to hold up a pair of pants, even if just one or the other would do the job) as I do, back up to Time Machine as well as an external hard drive, disks, or any other physical backup system that you find easy to use. Backups to your backups are essential, because you never know what will continue to work and which providers will stay in business.

Make sure your essential software programs are live and licensed on every computer you have, and that you have the original disks or downloads so you can reinstall them as needed. That way, if the software goes wonky on one machine, it should still work on another, or you should be able to reinstall it on a new one (or maybe even on a friend’s loaner, temporarily). Keep in mind that many, if not most, programs can be licensed for more than one computer. Know about those options before you need them.

Oh, and save-save-save! Remember to save as you work, the more often, (usually) the better. With lengthy and complex documents, consider doing a Save As with a different filename before Word gets cranky. You’ll have several versions of the document, but that’s better than losing even a few minutes’, much less several hours’, worth of work. The client only has to see the final version, and you can ditch the interim versions once you’ve turned it in.

The Physical

The reality is that computers are not infallible. Even the most-respected brands can develop problems, and my experience — as well as what I’ve observed among colleagues — is that they will break down when we have the fewest resources in terms of money, time, contacts, and material to deal with a crisis. In budgeting to launch or maintain a freelance business, the ideal is to save, set aside, or maintain enough funds and credit so you can have at least two computers with the same software on them, just in case one of them goes south or you can’t use one of them. If you have more than one computer, you can send current files to yourself so they’re accessible on both or all machines, and you can work on them no matter which machine is handy or which one goes rogue and stops working.

I have an iMac desktop computer and a MacBook Air laptop, with the same software programs on each, so I can switch between them as needed. I also have an iPad that my brothers gave me a few years ago that I can use for e-mail and some rudimentary other programs in a pinch. I even have an old MacBook Pro that doesn’t hold a charge on its own but still works when plugged in, just in case all of the other three give up the ghost at the same time. Not that I’m a pessimist, but you never know.

I’ve usually maintained two current computers because of needing to work in different locations, either within my apartment or on the road versus at home, but the old iMac conked out recently, making the laptop even more essential to keeping my work going than usual. I was lucky enough to have funds in hand to replace it right away, but if I couldn’t have done so, I could still get my work done and meet those deadlines.

The Collegial

There’s yet one other option to develop and maintain: offsite ways to work through colleagues. In case your electricity goes out, for instance, or something other event makes it difficult or impossible to work at home for a while, have alternatives already in place.

That can mean knowing where the nearest public library is with computers you can use, a cyber café, co-working spaces, etc. It also can mean having friends who might lend you a computer or let you come over and camp out at their place to get the urgent work done.

It also can be a lifesaver to belong to a local computer users’ group. Once you’re active in one, you can usually count on other members to help with troubleshooting, equipment loans, repairs at less than what retail vendors might charge, and similar hand-holding in a crisis.

If you’ve had a software or equipment crash in mid-project, how did you handle it?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is the editor-in-chief of An American Editor and an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, and companies worldwide. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues. She can be contacted at Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com or Ruth@writerruth.com.

July 2, 2018

PerfectIt Now Offers Long-awaited Mac Version — 10 Questions Editors are Asking about PerfectIt Cloud

Daniel Heuman

This one actually goes to 11!

1. What is the fuss about?

Up until now, PerfectIt has only been available for PC users. With PerfectIt Cloud, Mac and iPad users can finally run it. That matters because PerfectIt speeds up mundane and distracting copyediting work so you can focus on substantive editing. It finds consistency errors and other difficult-to-locate errors that even the most eagle-eyed editor can sometimes miss. When time is limited (and it is always limited if editing is your business), PerfectIt gives you the assurance that you’re delivering the best text you possibly can.

2. Why would I spend money on PerfectIt when I can find every mistake that it can on my own?

Because PerfectIt will save you time and back up your skills. It’s true that every single mistake that PerfectIt finds can be found manually. You can make sure that every use of hyphenation, capitalization and italics is consistent. You can make sure every abbreviation is defined and that the definition appears on first use. You can check every list to make sure it is punctuated and capitalized consistently. You can make sure every table, box and figure is labeled in the right order. You can check that every heading is capitalized according to the same rules as every other heading at that level, or you can get software to find those mistakes faster so you can do the work that no software can do: improve the words used and the meaning communicated. That software is PerfectIt.

3. How much time does PerfectIt really save?

The time saving depends on how you edit. Editors who read through a text multiple times will find that they don’t need to read through as many times. That time saving is massive. Other editors find that they spend the same amount of time as they used to, but they deliver a better document.

4. Does PerfectIt work with fiction or nonfiction projects?

PerfectIt can be used on works of both fiction and nonfiction. It’s used on reports, proposals, articles, books, novels, briefs, memos, agreements, and more.

5. Does PerfectIt work with British, Canadian, Australian, or American English?

PerfectIt is international. It works with all of the above. It is primarily a consistency checker, so it won’t duplicate the functions of a spelling checker. Instead, it will spot inconsistencies in language — it won’t suggest that either “organize”’ or “organize” is wrong, but if they appear in the same document, it will suggest that’s probably a mistake.

PerfectIt also comes with built-in styles for UK, US, Canadian, and Australian spelling, so you can switch it to enforce preferences.

6. What do I need to run PerfectIt?

PerfectIt is intuitive and easy to use. It doesn’t require any training. You can see how it works in our demo video. To run PerfectIt Cloud, you just need a Mac, PC, or iPad with Office 2016 and an Internet connection.

7. When should I run PerfectIt?

The majority of editors run PerfectIt as a final check because it acts as a second set of eyes, finding anything that slipped by on a full read-through. Running it at the end of a project also acts as a check against the editor to make sure that no consistency mistakes are introduced during the edit (an easy but terrible mistake to make).

Some editors prefer to run PerfectIt at the beginning of an assignment. That clears up a lot of timewasting edits at the outset. It also helps the editor get a quick feel for the document, what kind of state it’s in, and what issues to look out for.

Everyone works their own way, and some editors find it’s even best to run PerfectIt both at the start and the end of a manuscript.

8. How much is it?

PerfectIt Cloud costs $70 per year. However, members of professional editing societies around the world can purchase at the discounted rate of $49 per year. Independent editors are the foundation of this business. Their feedback and support has driven the product and we hope the permanently discounted rate makes clear how important that is to us.

That price includes all upgrades and support, and it lets you run PerfectIt on multiple devices, so you can run it on both your main computer and iPad with one license.

9. I have the PC version — should I upgrade?

If your main computer is a PC and you already have PerfectIt, then we are not encouraging you to upgrade. In fact, even though PerfectIt Cloud looks a lot nicer and is easier to use, it doesn’t yet have some of the features that the PC version has. For example, it has built-in styles (such as American Legal Style), but it does not have options for customizing styles. It also doesn’t have the ability to check footnotes. We’re working to improve all of those aspects, but we are dependent on Microsoft for some changes. As a result, it will take time to give PerfectIt Cloud all of the features that the PC version has. Our first priority is PerfectIt 4 (due at the end of this year), which will bring a variety of new features to both versions.

That said, if your main computer is a Mac and you only have a Windows machine to run PerfectIt, then it is probably worth upgrading. The differences are relatively small compared to the pain of maintaining a separate computer.

10. I have to upgrade Office to use PerfectIt. Should I get the subscription or single purchase?

Get the subscription. Definitely get the subscription! Not only is it cheaper, but Office 2019 will arrive this fall. If you have the subscription, that upgrade is included.

11. It’s a first release, so is the software still buggy?

We’ve been beta testing PerfectIt Cloud for more than six months with editors from around the world, so it is tested and solid, and the number of bugs is minimal. The probability is that you won’t find any bugs at all. However, no amount of beta testing can fully prepare software for the real world, and there are a few things we still want to improve, so if you purchase before July 10, 2018, your entire first month is free while we put finishing touches on the product and eliminate the remaining bugs. To take advantage of the special offer, click this link.

Daniel Heuman is the creator of PerfectIt and the CEO and founder of Intelligent Editing. His software is used by thousands of editors around the world. Members of professional editing societies can get a 30% discount on PerfectIt here.

June 18, 2018

Book Indexes — Part 2: No Magic Wands

Ælfwine Mischler

I took up indexing several years ago when I wanted to branch out from copyediting. I have found indexing to be more intellectually challenging and, thus, a welcome change from copyediting. I do both as a freelancer, but not on one book at the same time, and enjoy the variety.

Most indexers describe what they do as mapping a book — and it is mapping — but I think of it as looking at the book from a different angle. Think of forest and trees. When I am copyediting, it is like creeping along the forest floor, looking at not just every tree but at every detail. (I have seen that name spelled two different ways; which is correct? Does that comma belong here? This verb does not match the subject, but what is the subject in this twisted sentence? Is there a better word for that?) But when I am indexing, it is like flying over the treetops, seeing a bigger picture. (Here is a section on topic X. Over there, the topic is raised again. And this topic here is related to X. There is a lot of information about this person. How should I break it up and organize it?)

Indexing is a creative process. It is said that no two indexers would produce the same index of a given book. I have software to help me organize what I put into an index, but I am the one who decides what to include and what words to use. Just as you do not open a word processing program and expect it to write a document for you, I do not open my indexing program and expect it to write an index for me. Many people seem to think that I plug the manuscript into some software and out pops the index. (There are some programs that claim to do just that, but indexers in my circles say they cannot rely on them to produce a good index.)

No, folks, writing an index is not that easy. I actually read the book, cover to cover. I sometimes wish I had a magic wand that could do it for me — “Indexify!” — but I have to read everything.

“So do you read a page and put in all the A words, then all the B words, then all the C words?” asked a friend.

“No, I put in the words and the software alphabetizes them.”

She still seemed a bit stumped.

“Do you read the whole book first?” asked a nephew.

“No, there is not enough time to do that. I have to index from the start.”

Working from a PDF file of a book’s second proofs (usually), I read the foreword, preface, and introduction to get an idea of the importance of the book, the topics covered, and the book’s organization. From the table of contents, I often index the chapter titles and section headings to form the basic structure of the index. Each chapter title becomes a main entry, and the section headings form subentries. I will then break out most of those subentries to form their own main entries as well. (See Part 1 of this series.)

I often have to change the chapter titles or section headings to make them suitable for index entries. If the book does not have section headings, I have the more-difficult task of skimming the text for verbal clues to a change of topic.

Then I go back over the chapters and pick up more details within each section. If the entry has a long page range, I look for some logical way to break it down into smaller ranges; that is, create subentries. Also, if a particular name or concept has many different locators, I look for some way to break them into subentries. I also look for related concepts and write see also cross-references.

What to call a given entry is not always obvious. If nothing comes to me quickly, I use tools within the software — color coding to remind myself to come back to it later, and hidden text with a few words about the topic. Often after reading a few more pages, the answer comes to me.

One of the things that makes indexing so mentally challenging is that I have to keep so many things in my head at one time. If I indexed concept Z as term Z′, I have to continue to keep an eye open for Z throughout the book and remember to call it Z′ and not something else — all the while doing this for concepts A, B, C, etc. My indexing software can help me to use Z′ and not something else, but it cannot help me to remember to pick it out from the book. If I later realize that I have missed some cases of Z, I can attempt to search for a word in the PDF file to find it, but in most cases, there is no exact word or phrase that will take me to Z. The words in an index are often not found in the book, which is another reason why automatic computer indexing cannot produce a good index.

Names often present challenges to me and other indexers. In school years ago, I learned to look for names in an index under the surname — Abraham Lincoln under Lincoln — but not all cultures invert names, and parts of names such as de, von, la, Abu, and Ibn can be problematic. Medieval names and names of nobility and royalty have their own conventions. The first book I indexed for hire contained the whole range of problems: ancient Egyptian, ancient Greek and Roman, medieval, and royal names; pre-modern and modern Arabic names (which follow different conventions); European names with particles; nobility titles (from various countries, no less!); and saints, too!

Fortunately, I had a very understanding managing editor who knew this was my first paid index and was willing to help me with the difficult names. Not all indexers are so fortunate in their clients. (For more information about the complexities of indexing names, see Indexing, edited by Noeline Bridge, and occasional articles in The Indexer.)

What did I have to learn in my indexing course? In addition to conventions about names, there are conventions for wording entries (for example, use plural nouns, don’t use adjectives alone, use prepositions or conjunctions at the beginning of subentries in run-in style), different ways to alphabetize (handled by the software options), and guidelines for whether to index a given item — a topic for another day. The course I took from the University of California at Berkeley Extension also required us to sample the three major indexing software programs — Macrex, Cindex, and Sky — which all do the same things but are different in their interfaces. Online courses are also available from the American Society for Indexing and the Society of Indexers.

Now I leave you so I can sail over the trees of another book.

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

June 15, 2018

A Personal Note

Filed under: Editorial Matters,On the Basics — americaneditor @ 8:22 pm

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Editor in Chief

Dear Colleagues:

I’d like to apologize for being MIA here for the past few weeks. As some of you know, my beloved Wayne-the-Wonderful died in March. (The support from family, friends and colleagues has been amazing, and a huge help.)

An influx of work helped keep me reasonably sane, but took precedence over communicating with you. Posting here may be more fun, no matter how much I enjoy my work, but paying work does come first.

I was just feeling as if I had things under control and was ready to plunge back into posting here (and in social media) on a regular basis when I had a bad fall and dislocated my elbow and tore ligaments in my arm, so I’m functioning with one hand and arm for at least a couple more weeks. It’s been surprisingly easy to edit and proofread with one hand, even if it does take longer to get anything done, but writing that way is very difficult. Luckily, most of my phones have a speaker function, so I should be able to do the interviews necessary for a couple of writing assignments, and local colleagues have offered to take dictation for the actual writing process.

At some point (soon, I hope), I’ll translate these experiences into some new tips for colleagues to add to my past posts about planning for — and coping with — emergencies. In the meantime, please forgive my lapse in communication – and check out the updated post about the deadline for the AAE discount on registration for this year’s Communication Central conference, which has been extended!

June 11, 2018

Thinking Fiction – To Specialize or Generalize?

Carolyn Haley

I am a fiction editor. I wear that label with pride because it took many years to earn it, via a long and zigzag road. I love my job and don’t ever want to do anything else.

I can’t claim to be a fiction-only editor, because I still work for long-term clients in other realms. This maintains diversity and provides security, because keeping some nonfiction clients avoids the risky business position of having all of my eggs in a single basket.

I thought I had the mix in a nice, stable balance, but then I had an experience that rocked my editorial boat and revived questions about my professional choices; questions I believed I had answered long ago.

The Curse of Complacency

Late last year, the dreaded “freelancer famine” occurred after a long-lasting feast. Several scheduled jobs were canceled or postponed, and I failed to win new projects I’d pitched for. Suddenly I was facing a shortfall right when I needed an infusion of cash. Like a blessing from the gods, though, an old client appeared who had a similar problem: The editor for a book had backed out, and other editors they’d asked to step in were unavailable. They desperately needed help in a hurry. Voilà: I was available, and we merged into a mutually satisfactory arrangement.

The project involved a book type I hadn’t handled in a long time: academic. I’d done a few similar books for this client over the course of a decade, and our track record together was excellent, so I knew I could do the job competently, even though it wasn’t my daily fare.

Wrong.

By the end of Chapter 1, I was in trouble. My fiction concentration had drawn me far enough out of nonfiction that I’d forgotten many of the conventions used both in scholarly works in general and this client’s projects in particular. I hadn’t kept good notes for past jobs so I couldn’t brush up. The procedures and macros I’ve built for novels were irrelevant for academese, including references, citations, figures, and tables. I didn’t have time to study and develop the software tools that could help me, since this was a rush job.

The only smart thing I did was inform the project editor (PE) up front that I was stale on this type of editing and might need her help. Good thing, for I wallowed and flailed all the way through. I did get the job done, and on time, but I was inefficient, made stupid mistakes, and failed to ask the right questions; the PE had to do extra work to compensate for my inadequacy. She was a dream about handling it, but I was severely embarrassed, and my self-confidence took a wallop.

Yet even before we were done, the PE asked me to do more work for the company. I can’t imagine why, given my performance. Perhaps my openness was a factor. Thankfully, her next project conflicted with a novel I’d already scheduled, so I had to decline. But more projects were in the pipeline and the editor wanted to offer them to me. I had to decide fast whether to remain open to those opportunities or close the door.

That’s what brought old questions back onto the table, starting with: Is specializing in fiction the right plan, or should I go back to being a generalist editor? Which makes better business sense?

The Pathway to Decision

There was no business sense involved at the beginning of my work life, beyond the imperative of getting a job. I did not finish college, nor did I have a professional goal. I discovered editing in general through decades of corporate document production work, along with reading and writing novels. Once I learned that copyediting in particular was a valid occupation, I gained the professional purpose I’d been lacking.

I acquired a copyediting certificate from a local college, then began incorporating copyediting into my production jobs. Through work experience and self-education, I converted my production jobs into editing positions. The companies I worked for exposed me to an enormous range of documentation and subjects, providing the foundation I needed when the surprise of downsizing came along. Then I had to acquire business sense fast, because the only way I could continue as an editor was to freelance.

Like many people who find themselves abruptly self-employed, I first worked as a contractor for former employers while slowly establishing a broader clientele. I was free to pursue my real interest — editing novels — but lacked the credentials to move directly into that sphere. Thus I began as a generalist editor, starting with business documents, then adding magazines, catalogs, textbooks, memoirs, newsletters, résumés, transcription, science journals, white papers — if it led to a paycheck, I did it. And if it didn’t pay, such as editing friends’ novels, I did it anyway for experience.

I also accepted terribly paying jobs for the early author-services companies, because this gave not only hands-on opportunity to edit novels for pay, but also exposure to the novel-publishing side of the book industry. Whatever type of work I did, I performed it capably enough that no client expressed dissatisfaction, and every one of them paid in full and on time. Eventually, after taking many editing and proofreading tests, I got onto the freelancer lists of a few fiction-publishing houses, and qualified to join editorial networks that helped channel desired work in my direction. By these accomplishments, I rated myself a success and was on the road to achieving my fiction-specialist goal.

What about School?

After several years of generalist freelancing, I proved I could earn a living as an editor. To increase my income to a more comfortable level, however, I had to upgrade my expertise. That brought up the questions: Should I go back to school? How much influence would a degree, and which degree, have on my earning potential?

Research showed that best editing rates were being offered in the technical fields where I had no experience or aptitude. Simultaneously, I saw rates offered to editors with advanced degrees in any field that were no better than what I was earning without a degree.

The editors who seemed to command the best rates had specialist knowledge in a particular area, had many more years of experience than I did, were either in conventional full-time positions or solidly established with clients who provided steady work, and/or were savvy businesspeople who knew how to market themselves. What I didn’t see was any direct correlation between educational degree and income.

I calculated the rate increase I would need to offset the cost of returning to school, for either a degree or advanced certification. When I factored in the time commitment as well, I realized I would spend more time and money on upgrading my qualifications on paper than I could earn back in an equivalent amount of time, if ever.

The other element to consider was stress. The circumstances of my personal life made adding the long-term strain of schoolwork on top of full-time professional work potentially hazardous to my health.

After weighing all of these factors, I chose to keep working and self-educating toward specializing in fiction, because the combination of editing it, writing it, reading it, reviewing it, and teaching it brought joy. I inched my rates upward, and enjoyed successful project after successful project. Even on the worst day of editing the worst novel, I could still plow through the job with a sense of challenge and satisfaction. That was not true with any other form of work.

By the time I accepted the project recounted at the start of this essay, my project proportion had settled at around 90 percent fiction, 10 percent nonfiction. My poor showing on the textbook shocked me into realizing how, in upgrading my qualifications for fiction, I had downgraded my qualifications for nonfiction. I had to do something to prevent such a professional gaffe from happening again.

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

The obvious solution to my specialize-or-generalize dilemma was to stop accepting scholarly book work. The equally obvious alternative was to learn or relearn tools, techniques, and knowledge to bring my nonfiction qualifications back up to snuff. The first option jeopardized my financial security, in that I would lose periodic income that would have to be found elsewhere, and marketing is my weakest skill. The second option jeopardized my state of mind, in that I would have to endure misery for money. I find scholarly work painfully dull and frustrating, even though I always learn something useful from it. Not only would I rather avoid such work, but I’d spent my entire pre-freelance career enduring misery for money and didn’t want to backslide to that status.

I’d learned from concentrating on fiction that the joy of doing what you love for a living is a luxury beyond price. As well, loving one’s job creates the motivational difference between a carrot and a stick. Pursuing a carrot — reward — is much easier to do, mentally, emotionally, and physically, than evading a stick — punishment. Even if you make better income because of the stick, what value is it when your life is dominated by dread, resentment, boredom, and, often, health or relationship problems? If you’re motivated to keep doing what you love, then you can find it within yourself to do what you need to do, such as marketing and self-educating, because the reward is getting to do more of what you love.

Looking at it that way resolved my dilemma. Instead of eschewing nonfiction altogether, I reexamined and affirmed my priorities: fiction first, general nonfiction second, academic and technical nonfiction last. That enabled me, in turn, to prioritize my marketing and education efforts and expenditures.

It also allowed me to keep a good client. I told the PE that I’m happy to keep working together and would brush up on the appropriate skills. She expressed willingness to help. I updated her on my current workflow, dominant focus, and average lead time for taking on new projects, so she can reasonably anticipate what to expect when projects come in for assignment. I’m also helping her find other editors to call upon in case her main roster falls short again and I’m not available for backup.

Whether it all comes together in a successful future project will depend on timing. For now, I’ve weathered a jarring wake-up call, saved a good relationship, and laid the groundwork for better. I should send that PE flowers and a thank-you note for inadvertently pushing me to make an overdue but important mid-career evaluation and course correction. Now it’s by design, instead of impulse combined with accident, that I am a specialist fiction editor. And I have a much better idea of how to apply that commitment to maintaining and growing my business.

Carolyn Haley, an award-winning novelist, lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1977, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at dcma@vermontel.com or through her websites, DocuMania and New Ways to See the World. Carolyn also blogs at Adventures in Zone 3 and reviews at New York Journal of Books, and has presented on editing fiction at the Communication Central conference.

May 21, 2018

Book Indexes — Part 1: Basic Vocabulary

Filed under: Contributor Article,Editorial Matters,indexing — americaneditor @ 9:08 am

Ælfwine Mischler

When I tell people that I am a copyeditor and indexer, they usually have some idea of what an editor is (if not specifically a copyeditor), but they ask what an indexer is. I am not alone here; most indexers have the same problem. This series is about book indexes (print and ebooks), but there are also indexes for databases, websites, archives, and journals.

An index is an alphabetized list of keywords with (usually) page numbers to guide the reader to the information in the book (whether that be a single-volume or multi-volume text). An index is usually at the back of a book, but for a multi-volume text, it may be in a separate volume.

What an index is not is a concordance. An index does not list every occurrence of every name or word in the text.

If you are an author or editor looking to hire an indexer, it helps if you are all speaking the same language. Here are some basic terms that will pop up in a conversation about your index.

Locators

Indexers use locator rather than page number. While the locators are page numbers in most books, in a multivolume work, locators are volume and page numbers. Locators might be numbered sections or paragraphs in a reference book, map and grid numbers in an atlas, or product numbers in a catalog. Locator can also refer to a range to indicate that the topic is discussed on adjacent pages; thus, 23–25 indicates that a discussion is on three pages but is one locator. A string is three or more locators for the same main entry or subentry.

Type of Index Based on Arrangement

One of the first questions an indexer will ask you is whether you want your index to be run-in or indented. This refers to how the subentries are arranged relative to the main entry.

Run-in indexes are usually found in scholarly books where a lot of details are indexed. They take up less space, but are harder to scan with the eye. Indented indexes, which are easier to scan, are usually found in trade and children’s books.

Each box contains one entry. This entry has the main entry, tomb(s), followed by 11 subentries. Each subentry is followed by one or more locators. I have labeled the string of four locators after plundering, and the page range after in Tura. The subentry Montemhet has a gloss (TT 34) that further identifies the tomb as Theban Tomb 34. In this case the gloss was given in the text by the author. Indexers occasionally add glosses where clarification is needed — for example, to differentiate between two people with the same name.

This one entry has 11 subentries and 20 locators — each page or page range is a locator. In my indexing file, there are 20 records for this one entry, one record for each locator. It is important to understand this meaning of entry because in some types of indexes, the indexer is paid by the number of entries (rather than by the more usual page count or word count). If that were the case here, I would consider the text in the illustration to be 20 entries, not one, and the client and I probably would disagree. If you are writing or commissioning an index that will be paid by the number of entries, make sure that the two parties fully understand and agree on what an entry is before work begins.

Number of Levels of Subheads

An indexer will also ask you how many levels of subheads you will allow. The publishers I work for most often allow only one level, as shown in the above example, but occasionally they allow two. Some kinds of specialized indexing require many levels of subheads. The number of levels affects how the information is organized.

Undifferentiated Locators

If there are more than a given number of locators in a string (usually five to seven), it is best to differentiate them by creating subheads. A long string of locators is next to useless for the reader. Some publishers are strict about limiting the number of locators in a string, and this must be communicated to the indexer at the beginning of the project.

Sometimes publishers do not leave an adequate number of pages for the index so there is insufficient space for subheads. This is often seen in trade books, but unfortunately it is becoming more common in scholarly books. If space is short, the indexer will have to create longer strings of undifferentiated locators.

Cross References

The two most common types of cross references in indexes are See and See also. Indexers use See cross references when there is more than one term for a concept, or more than one name for a person. These tell the readers which word to look up to find the information. In this example, readers who go to Arab Spring are told to go to Revolution of 2011, which is the term the author uses.

Indexers use See also cross references to guide the readers to other topics related to the current one. In this example, page 115 explains how the misnomer “solar boat” came to be used. Under Khufu Boat Museum, readers will find more information about the boat itself and its preservation.

See also cross references can go before or after the locators. As the author, you must communicate that preference to the indexer.

One more term to understand is double post. If there is more than one term for a concept (so that a See cross-reference would be expected for one of them) and only a very few locators for it, indexers might list the locators under both terms rather than using a See cross-reference. This is considered good practice because the reader does not have to flip from one page to another, and it might actually take less space to print the locators than the other term. In this example, the double post does, in fact, take less space than the See cross reference.

Indexers also use double posting to create multiple access points for the reader. All or some of the names and terms that are subentries in one place become their own main entries elsewhere. This is called breaking out and is good practice. In the first example in this essay, all of the subentries become main entries elsewhere. Note that plundering and restorations have their own subentries, and Tura has an additional locator that is not related to tombs and thus did not appear when Tura was a subentry under tomb(s).

If space is limited, indexers use less double posting. For example, if space were limited in this case, I would make separate entries for the tombs of Bakenrenef, Horemheb, Maja, Montemhet (TT 34), Sekhemkhet, and Thery, but not include them as subentries under tombs. I would add See also tombs of individuals under their names.

Just the Beginning

You now have some basic vocabulary so you can communicate with an indexer about your book. In other segments, I explain how we create indexes (Hint: We don’t use magic wands, and the computer does not do it for us) and what you can expect in an index.

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

April 27, 2018

Lyonizing Word: Some Favorite Features from Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2018

Jack Lyon

Making new macros with powerful features!

Bright-colored icons for all happy creatures!

Searching for typos with fresh wildcard strings!

These are a few of my favorite things.

                      (Apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein.)

The new Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2018 has a wealth of new features, but I’d like to alert you to a few of my favorites, some of which are not immediately obvious but can be enormously useful.

Title-case all headings

If I had to pick a favorite out of all the new features, it would be this one. The previous version of Editor’s ToolKit Plus made it possible to select a heading, press a key (or click the mouse), and properly title-case the selected text. For example, a heading like this one—

THE GHOST IN THE MACHINE

or this one (Word’s default)—

The Ghost In The Machine

instantly became capitalized like this—

The Ghost in the Machine

with commonly used articles, prepositions, and conjunctions lowercased. That was great as far as it went, but why not make it possible to properly title-case all of a document’s headings without having to select them? That’s what this new feature does, for any text formatted with a heading style (Heading 1, Heading 2, and so on—or your own custom heading styles).

But this feature takes things even a step further, allowing you to automatically title-case headings in the active document, all open documents, or all documents in a folder — your choice. Now, rather than painstakingly capping and lowercasing by hand, you can have this feature do it for you, in seconds rather than hours.

But wait — there’s more, as they say on TV. This feature references a list of words so it knows what to lowercase, and you can edit that list to fit your needs. Obviously you’re going to want such words as and, the, of, and an, but what about beyond? How about through? Add or remove words to meet your own editorial style.

In addition, you can add text that you want to remain in all caps: USA, NASA, AARP, and so on.

Finally, you can even specify mixed case, with words like QuarkXPress and InDesign.

In my opinion, this feature alone is worth the price of admission. It will save you many an hour of editorial drudgery.

AutoMaggie

As you almost certainly know from hard experience, sometimes Microsoft Word documents become corrupted. (The technical term for this is wonky.) The standard fix, known as a “Maggie” (for tech writer/editor Maggie Secara, who has made it widely known to colleagues, although she did not invent the technique), is to select all of a document’s text except for the final paragraph mark (which holds the corruption), copy the text, and paste the text into a new document, which should then be free of wonkiness.

That’s simple enough, but section breaks can also hold corruption, so if your document has several of those, you have to maggie each section separately. Paragraph breaks also can become corrupt, in which case they need to be replaced with shiny new ones. The AutoMaggie feature in Editor’s ToolKit Plus takes care of all this automatically.

MacroVault batch processing

If you’re fond of using macros that you’ve recorded yourself or captured online, you’ll find MacroVault a truly revolutionary feature of the new Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2018. It was included with the previous version of the program as a way to easily access the macros you use the most, including automatically set keyboard shortcuts to run those macros. Now it takes your macro use to the next level, allowing you to run any of your macros on the active document, all open documents, or all documents in a folder.

Not only that, but you can specify which parts of a document you want to use — the main text, text boxes, footnotes, endnotes, headers, footers, and comments. This brings enormous power and flexibility to your macro collection.

FileCleaner saved settings

FileCleaner has lots of new (and useful!) cleanup options — so many, in fact, that I’ve had to put each kind of option on its own tab, one for each of the following:

  • Breaks, Returns, Spaces, Tabs
  • Dashes
  • Hyphenation
  • Formatting
  • Text
  • Punctuation
  • Miscellaneous

But I think the slickest new feature in FileCleaner is the ability to save entire sets of options for future use.

Just enter a name for a set of options (for a certain client, a certain kind of manuscript, or whatever). Then click OK to clean up those options. The next time you use FileCleaner, you can activate that set of options again by clicking the drop-down arrow on the right. When you do, all of the options for that saved setting will become selected. You can save up to 20 different sets of options.

Speed!

My final favorite thing isn’t actually a feature. Instead, it’s the speed of nearly all the features in Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2018.

I originally wrote many of my programs back in the 1990s, using the clunky, old-fashioned WordBasic language. When Microsoft Word 97 was released, it featured a new language — VBA (Visual Basic for Applications), but it would also convert WordBasic macros into pseudo-VBA so the macros would continue to work in the new software. That pseudo-VBA has been the basis for my original programs ever since.

Now, in Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2018, I’ve rewritten most of the code from the ground up in native VBA. It took a long time to do that (nearly 28,000 lines of code!), but the resulting software is fast. NoteStripper, for example, used to strip notes to text by selecting, copying, and pasting each note. It worked, but if a document had lots of notes, it took a long time. Now, NoteStripper strips notes to text without selecting, copying, or pasting anything. Everything is done using the built-in text ranges of the notes and the document itself, and wow, what a difference!

For purposes of comparison, I just used NoteStripper on a document with 100 notes. The old version took 25 seconds — not bad. The new version took 2 seconds — making it more than 10 times faster than the old one. If you’re working on a big book with a short deadline, that kind of speed can make a real difference in your ability to get the job done.

In conclusion

I hope you’ll try the new Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2018 (which runs in Word 2016 on Macintosh, and in Word 2010, 2013, and 2016 on PCs), and that it will become one of your favorite things! If there are any features you particularly like, I’d love to hear what they are. If there are any features you would like to work differently, I’d love to hear about that as well.

Finally, if there are any features you think needed to be added, please let me know. I’d like to make Editor’s ToolKit Plus as useful as possible.

By the way, I continue to make improvements to the program almost daily. For that reason, if you’ve already installed Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2018, I strongly recommend that you download and install the most-recent version. You can download it here.

April 16, 2018

Romanized Arabic in English Texts — Part 7: Style Guides for Islamic Texts

Ælfwine Mischler

Much of my early editing experience was in trade books on Islamic topics. Later, I started working for a large Islamic website, where I was asked to write a style guide and eventually became the head of the copyediting unit. Recently, I heard that an Islamic institute that produces videos and podcasts wanted to move into book production and was looking for editors. A perfect match! But when they offered me a book project, I had to reply with “Yes, but . . .” followed by a list of questions for them to answer before I — or anyone — could copyedit for them.

My questions were about author guidelines — that is, a style guide.

What Is a Style Guide?

If you have ever written a research paper, thesis, company report, or book, you most likely were given a style guide to follow. A style guide is a list of preferences for how things should appear in print. It includes such things as when to write numbers as words or numerals; when to use single or double quotation marks; when to use italics; how to cite sources.

Style guides such as The Chicago Manual of Style, New Hart’s New Rules, APA, MLA, and Turabian are quite general. There are more-specialized style guides for science, music, medicine, computer science, and Christian books, etc. While I have seen author guidelines from publishers of Islamic materials, I have not seen a larger style guide for Islamic topics. It should be enough to tell authors or editors to follow Chicago or Hart’s with the addition of paragraphs addressing the style questions below (and perhaps others that arise).

Much of what I have written here is specific to Islamic books, but many items can be adapted to other special subjects. If you are writing a style guide for a publishing house, this essay presents some items you need to decide on. If you are an author, you might have guidelines from your publisher, but I raise some questions that you should consider as a writer.

Style Guides for Special Subjects

Many of the author guidelines provided by publishers who deal with Islam or the Middle East are for academic books, and they deal mostly with how (or whether) to transcribe Arabic names and terms. Pious formulae, honorifics, and common expressions in Arabic are not likely to appear in such books.

But for Muslim authors writing trade books about Islam for either Muslim or non-Muslim audiences, pious formulae, honorifics, and common Arabic expressions often appear, and style issues arise about their use.

Transcription

I have written a lot about this in parts 1 through 4 of this series. For Arabic, some of the choices to be made are whether to use diacritics and:

  • how to represent Arabic letters, especially those that have no equivalent in English (Part 1 and Part 2)
  • whether or when to show assimilation with the article al- (lam shamsiya) (Part 3)
  • how the a in al- will be dealt with when there is elision (Part 3)
  • whether or when to omit or capitalize the article, and how to alphabetize names beginning with the article (Part 4).

Part 5 and Part 6 show how to insert special characters in Word.

Keep your audience in mind when you make style decisions. If you are writing an introductory text, do you really need to use diacritics? Readers unfamiliar with Arabic will probably find diacritics off-putting and meaningless.

Names of the Deity

Will you use Allah or God? Your decision might depend on the intended audience. Allah has 99 names. If you use any of them, will you use only the transcribed Arabic, only the English translation, or both? If you are writing a style guide, standardize the translation for use in all of your publications.

Capitalization

Will you capitalize pronouns referring to Allah/God? When I was in Catholic primary school in the 1960s, we were taught to capitalize all pronouns referring to God and Jesus, but the preferred style in most circles now is to lowercase the pronouns. However, many Christian and Muslim writers prefer to capitalize the pronouns (although Muslims lowercase pronouns referring to Jesus). If you do capitalize pronouns, remember to also capitalize relative pronouns who, whom, and whose when they refer to God.

What about throne, hands, eyes, etc. when referring to Allah’s? Many Muslim writers want to capitalize them.

Citing Qur’an 

Will you cite Qur’an verses by the name of the sura or by its number? If you choose to use the name, will you transcribe it or translate it? The sura names vary from one translation to another, and some suras have more than one Arabic name, so if you choose to use the name, it is best to also provide the sura number. Standardize the names of the suras of the Qur’an across your publications.

Most Islamic publishers allow quotations only from published translations. Which translation will you use?

Honorifics and Common Expressions in Arabic

Will you include honorifics, pious formulae, and common Arabic expressions? If so, will you write them in English or transcribed Arabic?

Some examples of these and their translations (taken from the Style Guide of the Islamic Foundation and Kube Publishing) are:

  • ʿazza wa jall = Mighty and Majestic (used after Allah)
  • bismillah al-rahman al-rahim = In the name of God/Allah, most Compassionate, most Merciful
  • insha’Allah = if God/Allah wills

Ṣalawāt 

The Qur’an instructs Muslims to extend prayers for Allah’s blessing and peace (ṣalawāt) on the Prophet, but whether ṣalawāt has to be in print is another matter. Academic books outside Islamic studies do not use it.

Islamic publishers may have different styles. In academic texts within Islamic studies proper, Islamic Foundation and Kube, for example, place ṣalawāt in the foreword or introduction with a note to Muslim readers to “to assume its use elsewhere in the text.”

Ṣalawāt is more accepted in devotional texts, but publishers might restrict its use to after Muhammad, the Prophet, Messenger (of Allah/God), disallowing it in genitive constructions and after pronouns.

If you will use ṣalawāt in your book, will you write it in transcribed Arabic, translate it to English, abbreviate it (usually as pbuh for “peace be upon him” or ṣaw for the Arabic “ṣallallahu ʿalayhi wa-sallam”), or use an Arabic script glyph?

A word to the wise: If you use ṣalawāt spelled out, you are going to run up your word count. Write a code that will count as one word instead, for example [pbuh]. The copyeditor can still check whether the code is properly placed, and you can use Find and Replace at the end to change it to the form you want.

Technical Terms

Remember your audience. If you’re writing an introductory-level book, keep foreign technical terms to a minimum.

When you do introduce a technical term in the text, will you write the Arabic transcription or the English translation first? Will you put the translation in double quotation marks, single quotation marks (a common practice in linguistics), parentheses, or parentheses and quotation marks? Will you also show the Arabic script? After the initial use, will you use the Arabic term or the English translation? If the former, will you italicize the word only on the first use or on all uses? Will you put a glossary in the back of your book?

Create a list of words that have been accepted into English and that will not be treated as foreign words (that is, not written with diacritics or italics).

Conclusion

Obviously, questions about ṣalawāt are specific to Islamic books, but if you are writing about other religions or other cultures, you can adapt many of the questions about styling technical and foreign terms and expressions to your subject. Keep your audience in mind when making your decisions. Make things easy for your readers.

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

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