An American Editor

May 22, 2017

Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap II

by Carolyn Haley

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

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

Editoriums FileCleaner

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

EditToolsDelete Unused Styles

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

EditTools’ Change Style Language

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

EditTools’ Never Spell Word

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

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

EditTools’ F&R Master

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Beverley’s ProperNounAlyse

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sample results produced by ProperNounAlyse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 30, 2014

Editing for the Message or the Language?

I was reading a review of a book about Stefan Zweig, an author who is obscure today but was quite famous in Central Europe and Russia in the 1920s and 1930s when this question occurred to me: Do professional editors edit for the message or for the structure and language of a manuscript?

I realize that in the abstract the answer can be “both,” but the reason this question came to mind was because of Zweig’s history. Zweig was one of the founders of the formalist school of writing and subsequently came to be viewed as its leader.

The question I ask does have some parameters. For example, message means the politics, philosophy, or “religion” of the manuscript, whereas structure and language refer to the specifics of the manuscript. For most of us who are asked to edit on tight deadlines, I think the answer is clearly that we edit for the structure and language, not for the message. For us, the message is incidental except for how clearly and coherently it is expressed. It is because of this that we see the discussions about the ethics of turning down work on a manuscript whose message we personally abhor.

But the article on Zweig got me thinking about editing and its role. Perhaps this question best sums up my wondering: Is editing literary criticism just in another guise? If editing is literary criticism, then we need to be concerned with the message. If editing is not a form of literary criticism, then we need only be concerned with the formalism aspects of the manuscript.

Zweig’s world divided editing into formalism and symbolism. Under formalism, the concern was with repeatedly seeing and “enforcing” across manuscripts the same literary style and approach. Formalism determined that there is one way in which to present a genre and all manuscripts had to conform to that one way.

Although I am sure there will be a rush to dismiss the strictures of formalism in today’s editing, I am not convinced we can so easily dismiss formalism as a product of a bygone era that no longer has life. After all, isn’t the approach of the style manuals a formalism approach? When we ask what “Chicago” says about compound adjectives or when we are told by a client to adhere to the APA style manual, are we not practicing formalism? Maybe we are not so rigid that every plot is identical, but are we not rigid enough to require that every manuscript we edit adhere to certain predetermined rules and if it does not, we make it conform?

The formalism school goes much deeper than (perhaps) copyediting today goes. For example, formalism allows the same basic story to appear in multiple cultures at varying times using different words but the same fundamental story. In other words, the details and the evolution are the same just with different words. And formalism requires the stories to start at similar places and end in similar places, having crossed similar places and themes getting from beginning to end.

Editing as often practiced today is a search for patterning. We know that certain formulaic presentations work and others do not for today’s audiences. There are rules — express or implied — of which editors are cognizant, consciously or subconsciously, and which we apply in the guise of “improving” a manuscript, either at the request of our client or because, in the absence of client direction, we choose to “apply” a particular style.

Which leads me back to what I consider the most intriguing question: Is editing a form of literary criticism? If we get past the formalism approach and, instead, work on the message of the manuscript, there is a chance that our work as editors could rise to the level of literary criticism. I would consider that a worthy goal, especially today when literary criticism, as practiced in the early and mid twentieth century, seems to be a lost art.

A knowledgeable editor could easily be a literary critic. With the ability to call upon multiple sources as well as to discuss the more formalistic aspects of a manuscript, the editor can provide invaluable insight. Alas, that would amount to volunteer work because it is clear that few publishers and authors are willing to pay an editor for the time necessary to think about a manuscript’s message.

Today’s professional editor is much different than the professional editor of 30 years ago, when I first entered editing, and certainly much different than the editor of the 1950s. When I began editing, one of the things I was asked to do was to give a critique of the manuscript. The critique was to be emphasize any structural issues and, more importantly, any message issues. Was the message coherent? Was it understandable? Was it sustainable? How did it fit, if it fit at all, with similar topic manuscripts?

The in-house staff asked me what books I was reading (in those days, my to-be-read pile was never more than two or three books) and I often was given a manuscript that fell into the broad field of what I was reading. The publisher wanted to know whether the manuscript was carving out its own place in the field or simply mimicking what was already there. If it was mimicking, did it do a better job of communicating?

What was wanted was literary criticism, which made editing exciting and intellectually stimulating (and provided a great excuse to buy books for my library). Unfortunately, it was not financially rewarding.

Today, most clients, if not all clients, want and expect the formalism approach to their manuscripts. For the most part, editing lacks the literary criticism component. I do not expect to see a revival of the literary criticism approach to editing.

Today, I think, most professional editors edit for the structure and language of a manuscript, not the message. This is what clients want and also reflects the skills and mindset of many editors. Fewer and fewer editors have been exposed to or educated in literary criticism; the description of editing has changed over the decades.

What is most fascinating to me is that 100 years after the rise of the formalism approach of Stefan Zweig’s era we are participating in its rebirth. Whether this is good or bad remains to be seen; that it is what the market wants seems obvious.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 18, 2013

Medievalist or Futurist?

Discussions with colleagues are always interesting. We come from such different places to reach a similar point — that of being a professional editor. But I do note that we tend to divide into two primary camps, which I call Medievalist and Futurist.

When I began my editing career in 1984, both editors and clients were focused on a fair wage for superb work. Clients wanted and expected quality, and clients expected to pay a fair wage to achieve that quality. That balance was important because clients viewed editing as both necessary and positive for their reputation.

Not too gradually, things changed. Small (relatively speaking), family owned publishers who took pride in their product went through generational changes in family managers. The newer generation hadn’t built the publisher; they were taking over an already established publisher. Their educational background differed greatly from that of the prior generation, and the focus changed.

Ultimately, what happened, as we all know, is that once proud, standalone publishers were bought by larger international conglomerates. The focus shifted from fair wages and high quality to editing being a necessary evil that simply cost money. The result was depression of wages and demands for more work; quality took a backseat to pricing.

This change moved swiftly through the industry with the parallel rise of the Internet and the globalization of services.

When I began my editing career nearly all manuscripts were edited on paper. (I can proudly say I was a pioneer in the shift to electronic editing. After the first few months of dealing with paper editing, I pressed clients to let me edit electronically, and by the end of my first year, I was refusing nonelectronic editing work.) What this meant was that services were done “locally,” which meant, generally, within the country, although there were several major publishers who insisted you be close enough to stop by their office to pickup and deliver the paper manuscripts (for which effort they did not pay transport time or costs).

Globalization brought a change from local to worldwide. The change was slow, but the tide was unstoppable. Even faced with this, many of my colleagues clung to the idea that editing was not a business but a craft and as a craft, the primary concern remained quality. If the client paid you pennies, you still gave dollars worth of editing. I viewed the matter as being if paid pennies, you gave pennies worth of editing. Arguments raged back and forth about this, but I was in the minority, and losing side, of the argument in terms of changing the views of my colleagues.

Time passed and the tide continued to flow outward and eastward. Eventually we reached the situation we are in today, where the number one matter of importance to a client is cost, the number two is speed, and in a distant third place is quality. It is not that clients do not want quality, it is that they prize cost and speed above quality, and as we all know, you can have two of the three but not all three.

Also, today, it is not unusual for the editor to be hired by a third-party, the packager who has won the contract to provide editorial and production services, but who has to use a hybrid system: offshore for the production component, onshore for the editorial component. In many cases, these packagers’ primary source of income is from production so they are willing to bid a low editorial price in the package bid, which means a low fee to the freelance editor.

Facing that, one would think the view that “even if the client pays you pennies, you still give dollars worth of editing” would have dissipated, but it hasn’t. Not only hasn’t it dissipated, but I think an increasing number of editors are touting it. I call this attitude the Medievalist approach to the business of editing because it is an approach that views editing as a craft and not as a business. In contrast, the Futurist is constantly reevaluating his business, trying to squeeze more efficiencies and more profit out of the editorial work. The Futurist looks toward tomorrows down the road and takes the view that “if the client pays you pennies, you give pennies worth of editing” — the Futurist looks for that balance between craft and business that the Medievalist does not, because the Medievalist says editing is a business, but really means it is a craft and she is an artisan, not a business person.

This conflict is particularly acute among American editors and is one reason why there is no strong national organization for professional editors: editors cannot agree on whether we are business people first or artisans first. (I know some American editors will point to the EFA [Editorial Freelancers Association] as a “strong” national group, but it isn’t; at best it is a national social group. It serves a function, just not the function that editors most need in today’s global marketplace.)

I think the Medievalists have a point when they focus on quality and its importance. After all, we professional editors should not let pass through our hands sloppily edited manuscripts. On the one hand, there are minimal levels of quality that every edited manuscript should meet. On the other hand, Medievalists go too far when they say we should worry less about the mismatch between price and quality, even if it means that we provide Rolls Royce services for Yugo prices. (Interestingly, it is rare to have a discussion of the third leg, speed, with Medievalists.)

Ultimately, I think the next generations of editors will increasingly adopt the Futurist approach as our economy continues to see growth in the freelance marketplace and contraction in in-house staff, combined with depression of prices. The trend toward outsourcing continues, and professional editors will be able to compete only by adopting a more business-like view of editing.

We need to remember and enforce with our clients that of the three key editing virtues — low price, fast speed, high quality — they can have any two, but not all three. We need to remember ourselves that, on any given project, we can only provide two of the three.

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: