An American Editor

September 25, 2017

On the Basics: “Falling Back” into a Fall Mindset

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Summer is over (sob) and real life has resumed. Well, for some of us. Freelance editorial professionals probably don’t see much difference between summer and fall/winter/spring; most of us are working almost all the time and don’t have big chunks of time off for summer vacations. Even those with children, who might take more time off in the summer than those of us without, probably still worked during those vacation days or trips.

No matter how you spent your summer, though, there may still have been a sense of time out of mind — even if it was only a memory of school days, when summer was an opportunity to escape our regular responsibilities and routines. Many of our clients take vacations, so a lot of freelance work could slow down, depending on your market or niche.

I like to think of the fall as a sort of new year. We shake off the heat and torpor of summertime and kick ourselves back into normal working mode with the help of weather that’s usually cooler and breezier, with the beginnings of fall colors adding brightness and verve to the landscape. The school year begins, which means a “new year” for young people. The Jewish high holidays officially launch a new year. I find all of this energizing and motivating.

A client recently noted that “Fall is…a great time to update, remodel, redecorate, and landscape your home.” If that’s the case for home and garden work, it’s also the case for our freelance business efforts.

As Better Homes and Gardens editor-in-chief Stephen Orr said in the October 2017 of the magazine, fall is “an exciting time with everyone back in action and plugged in after summer’s off-the-grid vacation months.…There’s something about the shorter days and cooler nights that has inspired the human imagination through the centuries…”

I even like to reverse the “fall back/spring forward” mantra for remembering how Daylight Savings’ Time works; instead, I often think of “fall forward.” No less a figure than F. Scott Fitzgerald agrees with me: “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

For me, the fall also means a flurry of annual effort as the Communication Central conference approaches. It’s always exciting to anticipate seeing colleagues and friends again at the conference, as well as meeting people who are new to the event. The conference also represents another type of new year — one of new information and knowledge that will inform the rest of the year, along with a new cycle of planning to begin once this year’s event wraps up.

The 2017 conference — the 12th annual, “Be a Better Freelancer® – Better by the Dozen” — confirmed that perspective. The combination of new and known speakers with new and known attendees generated an impressive flow of information, tips, insights, approaches, resources, and more over two days of high-impact interaction. Participants came away energized and ready to implement new ideas into their freelance business practices. I even learned a few new techy things myself, such as how to run a webinar. It was exciting!

Some of us have to reset our minds for reality pretty quickly at this time of year. Colleagues who work in the government or nonprofit sector often find the early fall to be suddenly busy. Those clients tend to have budget years that end on September 30, which creates pressure to get a lot of work done within that budget timeframe. It also means that we as freelancers have to gear up to prepare bids for projects in the new year that will begin for these sectors on October 1, creating somewhat of a pressure cooker as we juggle between meeting that September 30 deadline to complete projects under the current fiscal year and visualize what to offer for the new one.

The cooler weather also seems to have an energizing effect on clients who took summer vacations and came back to full inboxes to be cleared as soon as possible.

However you see the fall (there’s always the factor that it presages the arrival of winter and all the hassle that can involve), it’s a good time to capitalize on its vibrant colors and connotations of new opportunities by ramping up our promotional efforts. It’s a great time to contact clients you haven’t heard from or worked with for a while, especially those in government sectors, who might — as noted above — have urgent need of editorial services in a hurry. Let them know that you’re available!

This also might be a good time to brighten up your promotional materials — business cards, websites, brochures, blogs, etc. — with the warm colors of fall. You don’t have to do a wholesale overhaul or redesign, but you might want to add a little “pumpkin spice” to your materials. Thinking in such terms is a good way to refresh your marketing process without necessarily making a huge investment of time or money on major changes.

This can also be a year-round process. If you can enliven your website by adding a fall-themed piece of artwork or color to borders or type, you can keep this technique in mind for when the seasons change again. Don’t go overboard or get too cutesy with clip art, but look at ways you can make your materials pop in tune with the seasons. This could be especially useful for websites, because every change and tune-up increases your visibility in rankings or searches.

How are you “falling into fall”? What new challenges and opportunities does this season represent for your freelance activities?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, which hosts an annual conference for colleagues, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

September 18, 2017

Lyonizing Word: Corruption

by Jack Lyon

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me on his back a thousand times, and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. . . . Now get you to my lady’s chamber and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favor she must come. Make her laugh at that.

Hamlet, act 5, scene 1.

Corruption is never funny, especially when you’re on deadline and the Word document you’ve been editing starts doing not-so-funny things, such as:

  • Repeatedly renumbering pages.
  • Repeatedly rebreaking pages.
  • Showing incorrect layout and formatting.
  • Showing strange or unreadable characters.
  • Producing error messages.
  • Omitting text that should be there.
  • Displaying text that shouldn’t be there.
  • Hanging your computer.

All of these are symptoms of document corruption, which is most often caused by one or more of the following:

  • Tracked changes in documents moved from PC to Macintosh or vice versa.
  • Master documents.
  • Nested tables.
  • Automatic list numbering.
  • Automatically updated document styles.
  • Fields, especially cross-references.
  • Deleted note reference numbers (in the notes themselves, not in the main text).
  • Saving when resources are low.
  • A corrupt printer driver (Word often crashes when printing).
  • A corrupt document template, especially Normal.dotm.

Early word processors, such as WordPerfect, kept track of text and formatting as a clean, continuous string of characters and codes that looked like this:

WordPerfect Reveal Codes

When creating Word, Microsoft took a different approach, using numeric pointers to specify what was going on in a document. For example, characters 7 through 15 of paragraph 10 might be given the attribute of italic. (That’s not technically exact; I’m just trying to convey the general idea here.) The problem is, those pointers can — and sometimes do — get out of whack and end up pointing at the wrong thing. A typical Word document has thousands of these pointers, which are stored in paragraph breaks and section breaks. Pointers for the document as a whole are stored in its final paragraph break, and this is often where corruption occurs. The usual solution is to “maggie” the document (a process named for Margaret Secara from the TECHWR-L mailing list). Here’s how:

  1. Back up your document, so if something goes wrong, you’ll have something to go back to.
  2. Select all of the text in the document.
  3. Hold down SHIFT and press the left-arrow key to deselect the final paragraph mark.
  4. Copy the selected text.
  5. Create a new document.
  6. Paste the text into the new document.
  7. Use the new document rather than the old one.

That, however, may not be enough. If your document has section breaks, they too can hold corruption, which means you’ll need to maggie each section separately—selecting its text, deselecting the section break at the end, and copying and pasting the text into a new document, adding new section breaks as needed. If you have lots of sections, this will take lots of time.

A better solution might be to use a macro that will automatically maggie each section (including the final paragraph mark). Here is such a macro that I hope you’ll find useful when corruption strikes. Note that when using the macro, you should have open only one document — the one you want to maggie.

Sub AutoMaggie()

Dim s As Integer
Dim secType As Integer
Dim secCount As Integer
Dim myDoc As Document
Set myDoc = Documents(ActiveDocument.FullName)

Documents.Add DocumentType:=wdNewBlankDocument
Documents(myDoc).Activate

secCount = ActiveDocument.Sections.Count
For s = 1 To secCount - 1
    secType = ActiveDocument.Sections(s + 1).PageSetup.SectionStart
    ActiveDocument.Sections(s).Range.Select
    Selection.MoveEnd Unit:=wdCharacter, Count:=-1
    Selection.Copy
    ActiveWindow.Next.Activate
    Selection.Paste
    Selection.InsertBreak Type:=wdSectionBreakContinuous
    ActiveDocument.Sections(s + 1).PageSetup.SectionStart = secType
    myDoc.Activate
Next s

'Copy and paste final section
ActiveDocument.Sections(secCount).Range.Select
Selection.MoveEnd Unit:=wdCharacter, Count:=-1
Selection.Copy
ActiveWindow.Next.Activate
Selection.Paste

End Sub

Now let’s look at the macro to see how it works.

Sub AutoMaggie()

That first line simply gives your macro (technically a subroutine, or “Sub”) a name, which can be anything you like.

Dim s As Integer
Dim secType As Integer
Dim secCount As Integer
Dim myDoc As Document

Those four lines set up (dimension) four arbitrarily named variables, which simply hold information. (If you remember high school algebra, you were always trying to solve for the variable X.) Here, s, secType,  and secCount are defined as integers (whole numbers); myDoc is defined as a document.

Set myDoc = Documents(ActiveDocument.FullName)

That line assigns the name of your soon-to-be-maggied document to the variable myDoc.

Documents.Add DocumentType:=wdNewBlankDocument
Documents(myDoc).Activate

Those two lines create a new blank document and switch back to your original document (whose name is stored in myDoc).

secCount = ActiveDocument.Sections.Count

Here, we count the number of sections in the active document (our original) and assign the number to the variable secCount.

Now the fun starts:

For s = 1 To secCount - 1

That tells word to do whatever comes next a certain number of times, starting with the number 1 and ending with one less than the number of sections in our document. Why one less? You’ll see in a minute.

secType = ActiveDocument.Sections(s + 1).PageSetup.SectionStart

Here we get the type (continuous, next, odd, or even) of the next section (“s + 1”) and store that information in the variable secType.

ActiveDocument.Sections(s).Range.Select
Selection.MoveEnd Unit:=wdCharacter, Count:=-1
Selection.Copy

In those three lines, we select the text of the section specified by s: If s is 1, we select the first section; if 2, the second section; and so on. After selecting the section, we move the cursor one character to left so that we’re not selecting the section break (which could hold corruption). Finally, we copy our selection.

ActiveWindow.Next.Activate
Selection.Paste

Here, we switch to our new, clean document and paste the text that we copied from the section in our original document.

Selection.InsertBreak Type:=wdSectionBreakContinuous
ActiveDocument.Sections(s + 1).PageSetup.SectionStart = secType

Next, we insert a continuous section break. Oddly, the first line alone won’t do what we need, even if we specify the Type using the variable secType. We must add the second line, which needs an existing section break in order to work. It turns that break into whatever type we stored earlier in the variable secType. (It took a lot of experimenting to pin down this wretched fact.) Again, we have to add 1 to the section number (“s + 1”) because we’re inserting the breaks after the section text.

myDoc.Activate

Here, we switch back to our original document.

Next s

This is the line that has been incrementing the s variable that we specified earlier in the line “For s = 1 To secCount – 1”.

ActiveDocument.Sections(secCount).Range.Select
Selection.MoveEnd Unit:=wdCharacter, Count:=-1
Selection.Copy
ActiveWindow.Next.Activate
Selection.Paste

We select the last section in our original document, move back one character, copy the text, move to our new document, and paste.

End Sub

Finally, we end the macro.

After running the macro, you’ll be left with your original document (unchanged) and a new, unnamed document that is identical to your original but without the corruption.

That’s it! There are ways to make this macro more elegant and efficient, but, to paraphrase Blaise Pascal, I would have written a shorter macro, but I did not have the time. Nevertheless, the macro works for me; the next time you encounter corruption, I hope it works for you.

________

How to Add a Macro to Word & to the QAT

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

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

To actually use the macro:

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

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

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

Jack Lyon (editor@editorium.com) owns and operates the Editorium, which provides macros and information to help editors and publishers do mundane tasks quickly and efficiently. He is the author of Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals, Wildcard Cookbook for Microsoft Word, and of Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word. Both books will help you learn more about macros and how to use them.

September 11, 2017

Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap III

by Carolyn Haley

In Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap I and Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap II, I introduced the four stages of my editing process — preflight, formatting, editing, and cleanup — then discussed the first stage: preflight. Preflight involves document setup for the job, then mechanical tidying-up of errors and inconsistencies using editing software tools, so I can focus on content while reading the manuscript. The next stage in my process, formatting, serves the same purpose but focuses on different aspects.

Stage 2: Formatting

Aside from story content, formatting is the biggest variable among the manuscripts I edit. Whereas publisher manuscripts usually come groomed and styled so I don’t have to do anything except copyedit, indie-author manuscripts can arrive in any condition, and I usually have to clean them up in some way beyond editing the words.

Some authors have studied submission requirements to agents or publishers, and send their manuscripts to me in “industry standard” format of one-inch margins all around, double spacing, and conventional font such as Times New Roman 12 (with a few still using the now old-fashioned monospace font, Courier). Other authors present their work with a gaudy cover page, autogenerated table of contents, headers and footers, and fancy typefaces, with the text in single space or something — anything! — else. Many older authors know how to type and spell but have no word processing skills, so they use manual tabs or spaces for paragraph indents and insert extra returns for chapter breaks; other authors, lacking knowledge of conventional publishing practices, use all caps and/or bolding and/or underlining for chapter titles and emphasis.

These flourishes must be removed from the manuscript before it’s published or, in many cases, before it’s submitted to an agent or acquiring editor. Consequently, I offer preproduction formatting as one of my editorial services. I spent years as a typesetter and enjoy that kind of work. As well, it’s more efficient for me to format a manuscript than to teach someone to do it or wait while my client has someone else do it, as would be the case if I insisted on specific formatting before accepting the job. I am frequently the last (or only) person to handle a file before my client submits it anywhere, so I like to deliver it ready for its fate. In situations where the author plans to pay someone for formatting, the author gets a better deal having it done as part of editing — and I get a better paycheck for the extra work.

Where I remain inflexible is with file format, meaning, which software created the document. A few maddening, time-wasting, unprofitable experiences with Pages and OpenOffice files moved me to only accept files created in Microsoft Word. PC or Mac doesn’t matter, release version doesn’t matter, but the file must be native to Word — this is nonnegotiable! This policy is not only to avoid problems for myself, but also for the production people after me, whose layout programs are designed to play nicely with Word. The day will come when I’ll have to change my policy, but until it becomes obvious that I must adapt to demand or lose work, I’m holding firm on this requirement.

Formatting as a supplement to preflight

Formatting the manuscript myself has an additional benefit. As mentioned in Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap I, I have a blind spot to work around. Because of the way my memory functions, I can’t preread a manuscript without dulling my eye to editing it. Formatting provides a passive preview that gives me a sense of the book and lets me spot oddball elements not picked up during preflight, while keeping the story fresh to discover during editing.

I don’t use any editing software tools for formatting beyond Word’s built-in Styles features and menu. They serve for my approach, so I don’t feel compelled to change. I like to crawl through the whole document with nonprinting characters and coding showing, with Word’s Styles pane open and set to show what styles are used in the document. I may do this in Print Format view or Draft view; which view alters with circumstance and mood.

During the crawl, I look for and fix anything that wasn’t caught during preflight. There’s almost always something aberrant, and I can’t predict what it might be. The most common irregularities pertain to numbers. Examples include time indicated in different ways (e.g., 2:00 PM, 4 p.m., seven o’clock), variations in measurement (e.g., five-foot six, 5’6”, five-feet-six; or 20 miles vs. twenty miles), different styling of years (e.g., the sixties, the 60s, the 1960’s, the Sixties) or firearm terms (.45, 45-caliber, a 45; or 9mm, 9-millimeter, nine millimeter). In each case I need to choose which style to use and apply it consistently through the manuscript. Sometimes it’s a matter of correctness (e.g., changing the 60s to the ʼ60s); most times it’s a matter of whose preference to follow (mine, Chicago Manual of Style’s, or the author’s). Whatever I decide goes onto my style sheet, which contains a section specifying which types of numbers are spelled out and which are expressed in numerals, including examples of each. Attending to these types of consistency elements during formatting reduces the number of details I must notice and address during editing.

Styling

My dual aims in formatting are to make the manuscript easy for me to read and navigate, and to make it clean and consistent for future production. If the document arrives neatly put together, all I do is style the chapter heads with Heading 1, one of Word’s default styles. The Heading 1, 2, 3 (etc.) styles appear in Word’s navigation pane, enabling me to jump back and forth between chapters with a click instead of scrolling or searching.

I also make sure that chapter breaks are formed by a “hard” page break (either manually by CTRL+Enter or with “Page break before” selected when establishing the Heading 1 style), rather than any kind of section break or insertion of returns. This is to help whoever follows me in the chain. The production person, for instance, may need to do a global find/replace for some styling or layout purpose I’m not privy to. Consistency makes that task much easier, so I ensure that there’s only one return between the last paragraph of every chapter and the page break for the next, and no returns preceding the next chapter number/title.

For messier manuscripts, I’ll get in deeper, if scope of work allows. Many times I style the body text and chapter heads using Word’s defaults: Normal for text, and Heading 1 (2, 3, etc.) for chapter number/title/subtitle. This combination is a reasonably safe, generic setup for when I don’t know the book’s ultimate configuration. I modify the fonts, line spacing, and indents of these styles to suit the job, but might change them during editing for easier viewing onscreen. For example, the job may need to be delivered in Times New Roman, but I find that font hard to read, especially punctuation. My eye is more comfortable with a sans serif font, such as Calibri. By using Word’s Styles for text and headings, I can change fonts simply and swiftly, then enlarge them onscreen as needed.

With the basics done, I focus on italics, which are heavily used in fiction for emphasis and many forms of silent communication, as well as for media titles and ship names, noises, and foreign or alien words. To ensure that italics survive any font changes or cross-platform file moves during the manuscript’s progress from creation to publishing, they need to be set in a character style rather than a paragraph style. Although italics set with Word’s default tools (taskbar icon, menu commands, or keyboard combo [CTRL+i]) hold up well during most manuscript manipulations, they sometimes come undone for no apparent reason, and it’s a miserable waste of time to restore them.

I avoid this random possibility by one of two means. If the manuscript comes in clean, then I just create a character style for italics and globally find Word’s default italics and replace them with the character-style italics. Using a character style makes the italics always identifiable because even if the text doesn’t appear italic, the text that is supposed to be italic can be located by finding the text to which the character style is applied. If the manuscript is really messy and I must change something in Normal or any different style(s) the author used, I first globally find/replace the default italics to put them into color and then do whatever else I have to do (sometimes clearing all styles and restoring just the ones needed). Finally, I replace the colored italics with the character-style ones. For technical reasons I don’t understand, font color survives heavy text manipulation, whereas the default italics setting sometimes does not. By using one of these methods, I don’t lose the italicization even if I have a corrupted file to salvage or foul things up with my own mistakes.

Upon completion of formatting, I create a new copy of the manuscript and plunge in to discover its story.

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.

June 5, 2017

Lyonizing Word: You Have Options

by Jack Lyon

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

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

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

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

Select grammar and writing style options in Office 2013 and earlier

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

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

Information icon

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

Obscure Options Explained

Editing options

Use smart paragraph selection

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

Use smart cursoring

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

Prompt to update styles

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

Keep track of formatting

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

Mark formatting inconsistencies

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

Enable click and type

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

Default paragraph style

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

Show document content

Show picture placeholders

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

Picture placeholder

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

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

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

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

The field code for an index looks like this:

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

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

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

Display

Style area pane width in Draft and Outline views

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

Style area pane

Save

Prompt before saving Normal template

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

Hidden Options

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

ContextualSpeller

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

EnableMisusedWordsDictionary

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

EnableProofingToolsAdvertisement

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

Changing Options with a Macro

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

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

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

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

Line 3 ends the macro.

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

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

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

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

How to Add a Macro to Word & to the QAT

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

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

To actually use the macro:

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

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

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

Jack Lyon (editor@editorium.com) owns and operates the Editorium, which provides macros and information to help editors and publishers do mundane tasks quickly and efficiently. He is the author of Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals, Wildcard Cookbook for Microsoft Word, and of Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word. Both books will help you learn more about macros and how to use them.

May 15, 2017

Thinking Fiction: The Novel-Editing Roadmap I

by Carolyn Haley

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

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

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

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

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

The Four Stages

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

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

Stage 1: Preflight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 1, 2017

Copyediting and Line Editing Series Fiction

by Carolyn Haley

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

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

Style sheets

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

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

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

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

Single vs. batch manuscripts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Series basics

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

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

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

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

Tough spots

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

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

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

Author fatigue

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

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

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

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

February 8, 2017

Lyonizing Word: Editing by Computer

by Jack Lyon

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

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

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

AutoCrit

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

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

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

Here’s what the AutoCrit Combination Report looks like:

autocrit-combination-report

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

Grammarly

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

grammarly

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

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

Hemingway

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

hemingway

 

 

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

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

 nippershemingwayreport

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

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

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

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

You can learn more about Hemingway here.

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

Also-Rans

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

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

The Future

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

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

Jack Lyon (editor@editorium.com) owns and operates the Editorium, which provides macros and information to help editors and publishers do mundane tasks quickly and efficiently. He is the author of Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals, Wildcard Cookbook for Microsoft Word, and of Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word. Both books will help you learn more about macros and how to use them.

January 16, 2017

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

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

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

  • Change your passwords.

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

  • Update your account contacts.

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

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

  • Change copyright dates.

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

  • Budget for professional development.

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

  • Plan your promotions and marketing projects.

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

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

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

  • Update your résumé.

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

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

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

  • Review your expenses and income.

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

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

  • Improve your health.

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

  • Think about service.

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

  • Look ahead.

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

  • Start something new.

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

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

  • Become active in online discussions.

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

  • Invest in tools for your business.

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

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

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, which hosts an annual conference for colleagues, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

January 11, 2017

Thinking Fiction: What Novels Do Fiction Editors Read?

by Carolyn Haley

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

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

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

Common denominators

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading tastes

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

Series

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

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

Favored series:

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

Favored author bodies of work:

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

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

Duplicate titles

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

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

Duplicate authors

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

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

Oddballs and exceptions

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

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

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

Survey overlaps

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

Title overlaps:

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

Author overlaps:

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 9, 2017

Wise Counsel: Garner’s Modern English Usage – The App

by Daniel Sosnoski

All editors need a robust reference shelf. Depending on your interests, your selections will be tailored to your personal needs, but it’s likely you have a copy of Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, and perhaps Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. And on your shelf, consider adding Garner’s Modern English Usage (a retitling of Garner’s Modern American Usage [GMAU] as released in the fourth edition). This is now available as an app for iPhone; the Android version will be out close to the time you read this. The app version is available at Apple’s App Store for $24.99

The hardcover version of Garner’s Modern English Usage (GMEU) weighs in at 1,120 pages and 5 lbs., making it impractical to carry about with you, so having an app for phone and tablet is a convenience if you edit on the go. I work at home and at my office. Normally, my hardcopy of GMAU is at my office desk (I’ll update to the current version anon). It’s not a book I want to lug back and forth. If you like to work at coffee shops or travel frequently, there’s a good case to get the app. If you work in one setting, maybe not.

With the app, the digital index allows for rapid searching, displaying the results as you would find them in the paper text. This is a case where a digital reference book competes well with its physical version.

This type of app is also useful when you need to check a usage question but don’t have internet access. There are a number of usage guides available as apps from the iTunes store, such as the Oxford A-Z of English Usage and Practical English Usage (also available for Android at the Google Play Store), but they tend to skew toward British English.

A voice of reason

Whether you work solo as a freelancer or in-house with a team, you’ll find yourself in situations where you want the advice of a wise colleague. Perhaps you’re unsure if an expression is in the correct register, or if a word is a proper synonym of another. You can often obtain the answers you want with an online check. When you can’t, you turn to a usage guide for that voice over your shoulder.

The internet is excellent for rapid spellcheck. As a medical editor, I’m constantly looking up anatomical terms, the names of diseases, and the names of persons. The typical usage guide won’t be much help there. But for grammar and usage questions like, “different from” versus “different than,” a usage guide will walk you through the matter in detail.

If you’re familiar with the online sources that are authoritative in answering such questions, a rapid online check will resolve your question. The Chicago Manual of Style, and Grammar Girl, and The Grammarist are generally reliable for quick queries. For more problematic questions you’ll turn to your reference shelf and the books you’ve chosen will give you consistent guidance.

Laypersons — but not professional editors — can get by with Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves, or Nevile Gwynne’s Gwynne’s Grammar, as these are prescriptivist in tone, offering the reader a sharp-tongued schoolmarm who will champion (questionable) rules and exhort you to “do X, not Y.” I wouldn’t advise those texts to anyone, personally, but they’ve found a ready market. Garner, on the other hand, is a voice of reason who eschews petty prescriptivism, while offering more guidance on usage and style than the free-wheeling descriptivism of Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage.

A nudge in the right direction

It’d be nice if there were black-and-white answers to usage questions, but more often than not a measure of judgment is required. Garner’s notable innovation is his “Language Change Index,” which addresses the judgment issue. When looking at a term (especially a disputed one), he often flags it with one of the following:

1 Rejected: People normally consider innovations at this stage to be outright mistakes.

2 Widely shunned. Has spread to a significant portion of the language community, but is unacceptable in standard usage.

3 Widespread. Becoming common but still avoided in careful usage.

4 Ubiquitous. Virtually universal but still opposed on cogent grounds by a few linguistic stalwarts.

5 Fully accepted. Universally adopted except by a few eccentrics.

This is an abbreviation of how his approach allows for degrees of nuance. In the “Preface to the First Edition,” Garner mentions some of his influences, one of whom is Theodore Bernstein, author of The Careful Writer, among other books. Bernstein had an intimate familiarity with false rules, zombie rules, and the like, combatting them in his Miss Thistlebottom’s Hobgoblins.

Whether you accept Garner’s judgment regarding the status of a term is up to you. His classifications are based on a number of sources. The exemplars he presents are taken from his personal reading and those submitted to him by his network of colleagues, friends, and persons who work in linguistics. I find that his assessments are generally in accord with my own sense of the language and are trustworthy.

For example: Under “Octopus,” he notes that for the plural, “octopuses” is overwhelmingly approved in American and British English, whereas the false Latinate “octopi” is largely considered a fault, and so he relegates it to Stage 3. He likely is drawing from a corpus of citations and rendering his opinion from instances in print or using his own judgment; in no cases have I found his assessments to veer from my own observations.

The challenge for the writer, however, is that nearly everyone is raised learning the same rules, but relatively few later in life learn which can be safely discarded. Ergo, Bernstein took the approach of offering his advice in terms of, “Yes, you could get away with that, but the careful writer will hew toward safer ground.”

For example, in his entry for “data,” Garner labels it a skunked term—a word with such contention regarding whether it should be considered singular or plural that a writer is likely to miff readers on both sides of the debate. (He considers the singular mass-noun sense to be at the “ubiquitous” level 4 in his index.)

Another case would be the expression “madding crowd,” which occasionally is corrupted to “maddening crowd.” In frequency, he finds this error isn’t widespread, appearing in a 6:1 ratio in edited text, and so he positions it at index level 2: “widely shunned.”

And as Garner explains the approach he’s taking with GMEU, he clarifies that it’s directed for the general and professional writers who want to be as correct as possible, and elegant and powerful in their prose. What is often sought by those consulting a usage manual isn’t permission, but learned opinion; “Tell me what the best writers do,” the reader is asking. The usage examples Garner presents in GMEU are always taken from actual citations, so you can examine how other writers approach grammatical problems as they appear in the real world.

The good stuff

GMEU contains much more than a list of words commonly misused. Its essays are informative and include “Back-Formations,” “Clichés,” “Etymology,” and so on. These appear throughout the text where logically warranted, and can be accessed directly from a separate index. In addition to usage, there’s considerable advice about document design and layout.

For editors, he includes a list of 100 editorial comments, which you can select by entry number and in page markup indicate, for example, “See Garner GMEU, ‘Editorial Guide’ entry 15.” If you know your author has a copy of this text, this could be a timesaver. The idea being that if you have GMEU and your author has GMEU, this could work as a shorthand. I’m not sure how likely this is, but it’s offered in that regard.

Also of note is a quiz section – natural for an app-based work, with 300 questions to test your understanding of common editorial problems (warning: they’re hard). The scores reset when you close the app so you can retake the quiz.

You don’t have to work with this text long before you realize the impressive amount of research and thought that’s gone into it. Garner doesn’t make proclamations by fiat but rather offers support and citations for his opinion. And while the classics by Fowler, Bernstein, and Copperud deserve a spot on any language maven’s reference shelf, those authors are long deceased, albeit Fowler has been updated by Butterfield in Fowler’s 2015 4th edition and remains current.

Target user

If you have an interest in knowing where the battle lines in English have been drawn, a hardcopy of GMEU is a good purchase. If you work in multiple settings travel frequently and work away from your desk, the app might prove useful. Freelancers working in multiple settings, editors on assignment abroad, and people who want to access this work on the move may find this app to be the right choice whether or not they own it in hardcover.

Daniel Sosnoski is the author of Introduction to Japanese Culture and editor-in-chief of Chiropractic Economics magazine. He has been the staff editor for numerous medical associations and is the founding editor of the PubMed-indexed Journal of Clinical Lipidology. He currently belongs to the American Copy Editors Society.

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