An American Editor

July 1, 2015

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

by Carolyn Haley

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

Software

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specialty References

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

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

Writing Craft How-To’s

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

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

Groups/Lists/Forums/Conferences

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

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

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

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

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

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April 14, 2014

Getting More from PerfectIt: Style Sheets

Successful editors make use of tools that are designed to make editing faster, easier, more accurate, and more profitable. Three such tools are PerfectIt, EditTools, and Editor’s Toolkit Plus. These tools were discussed previously in the three-part series The 3 Stages of Copyediting: I — The Processing Stage,  II — The Copyediting Stage, and III — The Proofing Stage. That series was published in August 2010. Since then new versions of PerfectIt and EditTools have been released.

In this guest article, Daniel Heuman, creator of PerfectIt, explains how to create and use custom stylesheets in PerfectIt. For those of you who do not have PerfectIt, you can download a 30-day free trial so you can try PerfectIt and the stylesheet feature discussed here.

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Getting More from PerfectIt: Style Sheets

by Daniel Heuman

PerfectIt saves time when you’re copyediting. It finds difficult-to-locate errors like inconsistent hyphenation and words that appear with initial capitals in one location, but in lowercase elsewhere. If you work with large documents, it’s a small investment that increases the quality of your work and gives you assurance that your documents are the best they can be. However, most PerfectIt users don’t take advantage of all of its features. This article is about how you can get more from the product without spending a penny extra.

PerfectIt is designed to be easy to use. You won’t need to read any manuals or make frantic calls to your tech support wizard wondering why it won’t install. The interface is so simple that you’ll be locating potential consistency mistakes in seconds. But because it’s easy, most users don’t realize that PerfectIt is not just a consistency checker. With a little bit of customization, PerfectIt can be used to check any organization’s house style. Even better, PerfectIt can be customized to store multiple house styles, so you can use it to check a different style sheet for each client that you work with.

The best way to start building a style sheet is to make use of one of our existing PerfectIt style sheets. These are free from our website. Available styles are US, UK, and Canadian spelling, as well as European Union, United Nations, and World Health Organization style sheets. A style sheet for Australian preferences is coming soon. The styles are available at this link at Intelligent Editing.

To start using one of the style sheets, save them to your hard disk. Then import the files into PerfectIt (click PerfectIt’s “Customize” menu, choose “Advanced” and then ”Import”). Then select the file that you just downloaded. When PerfectIt starts, you’ll see a dropdown list and you can choose the style sheet that you want from there. Now your version of PerfectIt checks those preferences as well as checking for consistency. For example, if you chose the US spelling sheet, it will automatically locate all instances of the word “colour” and suggest “color.” The US spelling sheet has more than 800 words programmed into it already (as well as all the variations of “IZE” such as “organize” instead of “organise”).

And you don’t have to stop there. Now that you’ve downloaded a style sheet, you can also customize it. For example, if you’re working for a client that prefers US spelling, but also wants the word “Secretary General” to appear in capitals, you can add that preference to the style sheet. There are two ways to do that:

  • You can wait for the inconsistency to come up as you work with PerfectIt. Then click the “Customize” menu and choose “Always prefer Secretary General”
  • You can add it to the current style manually by clicking “Customize,” then choosing “Advanced” then click the “Edit” button next to “Phrases that PerfectIt always finds” and add the item there.

It’s important to remember that a PerfectIt style sheet can’t include everything within an organization’s house style. PerfectIt is not a replacement for human editing, and a style sheet is not a replacement for reading the style guide. In fact, a PerfectIt style sheet includes just a small section of any style guide. The settings you can customize it for are:

  • Preferred spelling: for example, is the preference “adviser” or “advisor”, “aesthetic” or “esthetic”?
  • Preferred hyphenation: for example, “co-operation” or “cooperation”?
  • Phrases to consider: a test that can be adapted for any words/phrases that should not be misused, for example, “native”.
  • Abbreviations in two forms: for example, “Nasa” or “NASA”?
  • Phrases in capitals: for example, “euros” or “Euros”.
  • List capitalization (lowercase or uppercase).
  • List punctuation (full stops, semi-colons, or no punctuation).
  • Hyphenation of fractions and numbers: for example, “one-third” or “one third”.
  • Hyphenation of compass directions: for example, “north-east” or “northeast”.
  • Choice of letters or digits for numbers in sentences (split by number range).
  • Use of full stops in titles: for example, “Mr.” or “Mr”.
  • Preference between “ISE” and “IZE”, and “YSE” and “YZE” endings

There’s also an option to accompany each preference with a style note/reminder so that you won’t forget any important exceptions to the rules that you add. For example, if you add a preference for “baby boom” instead of “baby-boom”, you might add the style note, “Unless the use is adjectival.” If you’re working in editorial consultancy and want to prepare a PerfectIt style sheet for a customer, that option is especially important. PerfectIt relies on human judgment, so you should use the style note option to make sure that end-users are aware of all possible exceptions.

All of these options are built into PerfectIt and are free to use. And the learning time involved will quickly pay for itself. If you’re not the kind of person who likes to experiment with advanced settings, you can get detailed help with the entire process, and step by step instructions from our user guides. Alternatively, you can get help and advice from users sharing tips in PerfectIt’s new LinkedIn group.

Daniel Heuman is the Managing Director of Intelligent Editing and the designer of PerfectIt. PerfectIt launched in 2009 and is now used by more than a thousand professional editors around the world, including more than 250 members of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. It’s available separately or as part of the Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate.

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Note: PerfectIt and EditTools are Windows-only programs. Editor’s Toolkit Plus will work on both Windows and Mac OS systems.

Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate is a package of the latest versions of PerfectIt, EditTools, and Editor’s Toolkit Plus at a significant savings.

Do you use PerfectIt and/or EditTools and/or Editor’s Toolkit Plus? If so, please share your experience and suggestions in comments to this article.

September 2, 2011

Worth Noting: EditTools v4 Patch Released

If you read my article regarding the release of EditTools version 4 with the new Wildcard Find & Replace macro (Macro Power: Wildcard Find & Replace) and either upgraded your EditTools, or purchased EditTools, or simply decided to give EditTools a trial run, it is important that you go to the wordsnSync downloads page and download and install the latest release, version 4.0.06.

You can tell what version of EditTools you are running by clicking About. It should read Build: 4.0.06.

Unfortunately, a couple of minor bugs and one major bug creeped into EditTools between the final beta and the release. (I’m always amazed at how bug creep works with software!) The 4.0.06 patch release fixes these bugs and adds a new feature to the Journal Manager. Now you can easily search your journal dataset.

If you are an editor and haven’t tried EditTools, you should give it a try. It is one of the tools in an editor’s armory that can increase efficiency and accuracy. I created the set of macros to help me in my editing, and I know from my own experience that these macros save a lot of valuable time.

EditTools is discussed in The 3 Stages of Copyediting: II — The Copyediting Stage. It is available at a discounted price as part of the Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate macro package, which includes PerfectIt from Intelligent Editing (see The 3 Stages of Copyediting: III — The Proofing Stage) and Editor’s Toolkit Plus from The Editorium (see The 3 Stages of Copyediting: I — The Processing Stage). More information about Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate is available at wordsnSync.

April 13, 2010

In Editing, It’s the Little Things That Count

The “little things” has multiple meaning in editing. It means such things as consistency, correct spelling, correct grammar. It also means those numerous, repetitive tasks that take only a second or two but which add up to a significant amount of time. In today’s conversation, I want to address — or at least begin addressing — the latter meaning.

Every editor knows that time is truly money. The longer it takes to accomplish a task, the less money the editor earns. Because of this, many editors prefer to charge an hourly rate. The problems with an hourly rate are several: First, if your hourly rate is $25, whether you work 1 hour or 100 hours, the most you will earn is $25 an hour. Second, most clients have a budget, a maximum they are willing to pay for a project. If the client estimates that the editing should take 100 hours, the client’s budget is for that 100 hours and it is difficult to get a client to pay more than the budgeted amount. Thus your work is constrained by the need to not exceed the client’s budget.

Other editors prefer to work on either a per-page or project fee basis. Here the effective hourly rate (i.e., the total $ charged ÷ the total number of hours worked) fluctuates. If the project is a 1,000-manuscript page project and the per-page rate is $5, the client knows that the cost will be $5,000, regardless of whether the editor takes 200 or 75 hours to complete the editing. But there is an incentive on the part of the editor to be more efficient because the editor’s effective hourly rate can be high or low depending on the editor’s efficiency. If that project takes 200 hours, the effective hourly rate is $25; but if the editor finishes the project in 75 hours, the effective hourly rate is $66.67. The flip side, of course, is that if the project takes 300 hours to edit, the effective hourly rate is $16.67.

Consequently, the per-page and project fee systems encourage editor efficiency whereas the hourly system discourages it.

How do editors become more efficient? That is always a hot topic in editor discussion groups and has many answers. There are some things that cannot be made more efficient. For example, deciding whether a sentence makes sense cannot be automated. On the other hand, there are lots of tools available to an editor to increase efficiency, some free, some costly, and some between free and costly.

Before taking the plunge into tools and software (which I’ll save for another day), I know some convincing needs to take place. Consider this example: U.S. versus United States. There are times when one is appropriate and the other is not, just as there are times when it could be either way except that the author or client has set a preferred usage.

In the U.S., one U.S. senator can prevent ninety-nine colleagues from discussing legislation that benefits the U.S. as a whole.

Under usual circumstances, most of us would change U.S. to United States as follows:

In the United States, one U.S. senator can prevent ninety-nine colleagues from discussing legislation that benefits the United States as a whole.

How do you make this correction now? Most likely you use your mouse or keyboard to select U.S. and then type United States. How long does it take to do this twice? Time it for yourself, but be sure to start with your hands in your normal editing position when you are reading the manuscript and time from the moment of discovery.

Granted this takes but a few seconds, but how many of those seconds does it take to add up to a significant amount of time over the course of editing a manuscript. And remember that there are lots of these types of changes that have to be made. Can this correction, and similar corrections, be made more efficiently? Yes, with the right tools and knowhow.

Think about the efficiency of editing on paper as opposed to editing on a computer. I remember the “hard copy” days and how difficult it was to keep track of all the changes that needed to be made. And what a problem it was if you discovered 50 pages into a manuscript that “RJ Applewood” should have been “RJ Applewind”  and “PJ Applewood” should have been PJ Aplewood.” Good luck finding all the incorrect instances. How much easier online editing has made the process.

Not only has the computer made the process easier, especially for the little things, but it has enabled development of tools that are designed specifically for or can be adapted to editing that will speed up the routine things editors need to do and improve accuracy. They won’t make a poor editor a good editor, but they can help turn a good editor into a much better editor. I’ll discuss some of the tools I use in another article.

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