An American Editor

June 29, 2016

Thinking Fiction: The Subjectivity of Editing IV, Part I

by Carolyn Haley

As the final step in my exploration of subjectivity in editing, I conducted another experiment. The first experiment was to see what would happen when editors were asked to edit sample text with no direction beyond “Copyedit according to your own understanding of what copyediting means.” Seven professional editors volunteered, and their edits showed a range of approaches from light touching to heavy recasting. I discussed the results in Thinking Fiction: The Subjectivity of Editing I, II, and III.

The second experiment took the opposite position, and asked a different set of independent editors for their specific definitions of copyediting. Nine volunteered. Their replies follow, continuing into Part II of this essay. Part I begins with an evaluation of their definitions filtered through my direct experience as an independent editor and author.

To give the editors’ responses some context, I requested data from each person, such as years of professional editing experience, clientele base, area of concentration, approximate percentage of business comprising copyediting, country of residence, variant of English used, and a sampling of editing-related software tools and reference resources. I also invited clarification of what copyediting isn’t.

As I expected, the respondents’ descriptions ranged from simple to complex. But all revolved around the common denominator I had hoped to see: a focus on the mechanical aspects of editing — spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, continuity, consistency.

The mechanical focus suggests that any author seeking copyediting can have the work done by any copyeditor. But as the nine descriptions show, there are variations in style and approach that make finding a good fit between author and editor more than just a spelling-and-punctuation game.

Elements to consider

For an author or publisher seeking to hire an independent copyeditor, the first line of distinction is the logical one of whether they edit fiction or nonfiction or both. Another selection criterion might be language bias — meaning, for writers in English, whether an editor works in American, British, Canadian, Australian, or some other variant of the tongue, or handles translated material, or works with people for whom English is a second language.

Authors and publishers might also consider an editor’s area of specialty and style of approach. These are, in my experience, the most common “match” criteria. Novelists often seek editors with experience in their genre. Nonfiction writers often seek editors knowledgeable about the topic of their book. Subject aside, authors divide in personality type. One author might want an editor who is superfocused on details and formal language, whereas another author might want an editor who is open to creative interpretation and won’t micromanage the author’s prose. The possible author–editor matchmaking combinations are myriad.

Some authors and publishers want to know about an editor’s toolkit. In my survey, all nine editors reported that they use only MS Word for electronic editing, with one editor still working primarily on hardcopy. Six editors use a mix of editorial software tools (e.g., EditTools, Editor’s Toolkit 2014, PerfectIt, macros) to enhance their accuracy and consistency. Everyone’s reference resources correlate with the publishing area they serve.

In the area I serve (mainly independent and especially first-time novelists), the topic of reference works rarely comes up. The authors seem to assume I’m working within universal and arcane parameters known to the publishing industry and will apply those “rules” to their work. Few authors are aware that there are different dictionaries and different style guides, and they don’t appear to care as long as the editing is consistent and editorial explanations make sense. My clients expect me to know what to do; that’s what they’re paying me for. Consequently, I don’t advertise my constantly growing reference library beyond a short statement on my website. I do, however, list on my style sheet for the project the reference works I consulted for the job. On the two occasions a client has shown interest, we’ve discussed and agreed to which reference works to employ.

Things are different when I work for publishers. The project editor specifies which dictionary and style guide the house adheres to, and often defines the copyediting tasks they expect me to cover. I duly comply.

In my survey, all the American editors named Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition (MW11) as their primary dictionary (except one who didn’t answer that question), with the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., as alternate. All the Americans also named the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed., as their general style/language guide, with some editors mentioning the AP [Associated Press] Stylebook, the AMA [American Medical Association] Manual of Style, and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. The sole British and handful of American-British editors listed one or more of the Oxford and Hart dictionaries and style guides. Individuals then included a sampling of other works pertinent to their specialty. The fiction-only editors listed fewer reference works than the nonfiction editors.

The fiction-only editors were also less detailed in their copyediting descriptions than the nonfiction-only editors. Whether this represents a valid pattern can only be determined by a survey on a much larger scale. What matters here is that each editor gives potential clients a snapshot of their approach and personality. The information helps authors and publishers swiftly narrow down a wide field to a short list of candidates for their jobs.

Whether a given editor is a good editor, or the right editor, can only be determined through follow-up actions between author and editor: their dialogue, a sample edit, and, ultimately, the project itself. But editors who offer a profile help themselves and compatible prospective clients find each other, while reducing the risk of surprises that could negatively affect a project or relationship.

Nine definitions of the same thing

What follows is the survey respondents’ actual text, verbatim save for some condensing. It answers only the question, “How do you define copyediting?” I’ve included each editor’s years of experience, specialty, and English variant for context.

These descriptions, however, only have meaning when matched against an author’s expectations and desires. The number of possible combinations seems endless, so for this essay I’ve created a hypothetical scenario that views the editors’ descriptions from the perspective of a fiction and a nonfiction author, each independent and unpublished. The nine volunteer editors’ descriptions that I received through private solicitation are assumed for the scenario to be material on professional editors’ websites found through a Google search.

A view through the fiction lens

The editor-shopping fiction writer John Q. Novelist (JQN) is a software engineer and zealous science fiction/fantasy reader who has written his own sword-and-sorcery epic and thinks it’s ready for editing. His family and friends have told him the story is wonderful, and he dreams of great reviews and cash flow, especially if he expands the book into a series. All he wants from an editor is to correct his spelling and punctuation errors, point out any content goofs he’s unaware of, and help prepare his manuscript for publication.

Somebody in his writing group put a name to what he’s looking for: copyediting. So he uses that as a keyword in his online searches. He knows there are different kinds of editing but doesn’t fully understand the fine points of distinction between them. Since he’s researching a task, he doesn’t think to add “fiction” or “novels” to his keywords, so his search on “copyediting” returns an enormous list of websites and articles. The first three editors who offer a definition of copyediting are these:

Editor #1 (18 years, mostly fiction, U.S.)

[Copyediting is t]he correction of errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and basic facts/continuity.

Perfect, thinks JQN. He can send this person his manuscript for tidying up, then be on his way to fame and fortune. But Editor #2 offers more details, so, curious, he reads on.

Editor #2 (5 years, fiction, U.S./U.K.)

Copyediting is targeted at fixing elements of sentences, addressing correctness rather than artfulness of expression. Copyediting focuses on elements such as detail and description consistency (making sure the hero’s eyes stay the same color throughout, a house doesn’t grow an extra bedroom, if a character is standing on page 10 they aren’t said to be rising from a chair on page 11, etc.), grammar, correct word usage (such as die vs. dye), punctuation, adherence to a style guide or a publisher’s house style, fact-checking minor details such as business names and historic dates, formatting elements like text messages and letters, flagging potential copyright and legal issues, and more. The editor will make nearly all of the changes within the manuscript, not the writer.

Even better, JQN thinks. Exactly what he needs. This person must know what they’re doing. But, good grief, look at how long the next one is! What more could be involved?

Editor #3 (10 years, nonfiction, U.S./U.K./Can.)

I [derived these definitions]… from the Bay Area Editors Forum.… At all levels of copyediting… the copyeditor corrects errors, queries the author about conflicting statements, requests advice when the means of resolving a problem is unclear, and prepares a style sheet. The copyeditor may also incorporate the author’s replies to queries; this work is known as cleanup editing.

Light Copyediting (baseline editing)

  • Correcting faulty spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
  • Correcting incorrect usage (such as can for may).
  • Checking specific cross-references (for example, “As Table 14-6 shows…”).
  • Ensuring consistency in spelling, hyphenation, numerals, fonts, and capitalization.
  • Checking for proper sequencing (such as alphabetical order) in lists and other displayed material.
  • Recording the first references to figures, tables, and other display elements.

A light copyedit does not involve interventions such as smoothing transitions or changing heads or text to ensure parallel structure. The editor checks content only to detect spots where copy is missing. A light copyedit may include typemarking.

Medium Copyediting

  • Performing all tasks for light copyediting.
  • Changing text and headings to achieve parallel structure.
  • Flagging inappropriate figures of speech.
  • Ensuring that key terms are handled consistently and that vocabulary lists and the index contain all the terms that meet criteria specified by the publisher.
  • Ensuring that previews, summaries, and end-of-chapter questions reflect content.
  • Enforcing consistent style and tone in a multi-author manuscript.
  • Changing passive voice to active voice, if requested.
  • Flagging ambiguous or incorrect statements.
  • Typemarking the manuscript.

Heavy Copyediting (substantive editing)

  • Performing all tasks for medium copyediting.
  • Eliminating wordiness, triteness, and inappropriate jargon.
  • Smoothing transitions and moving sentences to improve readability.
  • Assigning new levels to heads to achieve logical structure.
  • Suggesting — and sometimes implementing — additions and deletions, noting them at the sentence and paragraph level.

The key differences between heavy and medium copyedits are the levels of judgment and rewriting involved. In a heavy copyedit, the editor improves the flow of text rather than simply ensuring correct usage and grammar; may suggest recasts rather than simply flagging problems; and may enforce a uniform level, tone, and focus as specified by the publisher or developmental editor.

Wow! That covers everything JQN could possibly want, and breaks it into clusters with different price tags. JQN now starts thinking about cost-benefit ratio and how far his budget will stretch. He’s sad that he can’t spring for heavy editing, it sounds so helpful, but at least he knows what his dollar will buy for light and medium. But wait — in rereading the page to evaluate his best choice, he notices what he missed on first scan. This editor only handles nonfiction. Drat! So he refines his search terms in hopes of finding a fiction editor offering the same level of detail and clarity.

Part II of this essay covers a nonfiction author’s response to the remaining six volunteer editors’ descriptions of copyediting, followed by a summary of the subjectivity studies.

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.

December 9, 2015

On Today’s Bookshelf (XXIII)

It’s the holiday season again and time to be thinking about gifts for family, friends, even clients. What could be a better or more appropriate gift from an editor than a book?

I have three books in particular to recommend: The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip and Carol Zaleski; SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard; and The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff. As I write this essay, I have completed The Fellowship and am nearly done with the other two.

From reading The Fellowship, I finally discovered why Lewis and Tolkien (especially) were such great fantasy writers, something I will never be. The change in education, especially what is taught at the university level, from their school days to mine is dramatic. They were literate in Greek and Latin and well grounded in mythology, especially Norse mythology, and religion. The strengths, weaknesses, and meandering paths that the lives of Lewis, Tolkien, Barfield, and Williams took are fascinating.

SPQR (which stands for “The Senate and People of Rome”) is a well-presented, fascinating look at one of the foundations of Western civilization — ancient Rome. I thought I had a pretty good grasp of that history for a nonhistorian, but I was constantly surprised at what Mary Beard had to teach me and at how off-track my education of 50 years ago in this area was. If you want to understand and learn about one of the foundational pillars of Western civilization without being hampered by dense annotated academic writing, then SPQR is the place to start. (If you prefer a broader world view in survey style, then the best bet would be The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome by Susan Wise Bauer, which can be followed by her books, The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade and The History of the Renaissance World: From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Conquest of Constantinople. All three of Bauer’s books are excellent.)

Americans are fascinated by the Salem witch trials. The story has been told many different ways — in novels, histories, plays — and I have read several variations on the theme. I originally didn’t think there was room for yet another telling, but I was wrong. Schiff’s The Witches is one of the best nonfiction histories I have read on the invasion of Puritan Salem by the Devil through his witch emissaries. The Witches is a well-crafted story of this American moment.

Aside from those three recommendations, my acquisition of new titles to read never ends. Here is a list of some of the hardcovers and ebooks that I am reading or acquired and added to my to-be-read pile since the last On Today’s Bookshelf essay:

Nonfiction –

  • Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation by John Ferling
  • Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR’s Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors by James D. Hornfischer
  • The Story of England by Michael Wood
  • Caligula: A Biography by Aloys Winterling
  • The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language by Melvyn Bragg
  • Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English by John McWhorter
  • Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
  • Christina, Queen of Sweden: The Restless Life of a European Eccentric by Veronica Buckley
  • The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson
  • Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors: Faith, Power, and Violence in the Age of Crusade and Jihad by Brian A. Catlos
  • The Return of George Washington: 1783-1789 by Edward J, Larson
  • For Fear of an Elective King: George Washington and the Presidential Title Controversy of 1789 by Kathleen Bartoloni-Tuazon
  • Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion by Harold Holzer
  • It’s Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Cliches by Orin Hargraves
  • The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution by Francis Fukuyama (volume 1 of 2)
  • Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy by Francis Fukuyama (volume 2 of 2)
  • Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David by Lawrence Wright
  • The Reign of Arthur: From History to Legend by Christopher Gidlow
  • Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler by Antony Sutton
  • The Killing Compartments: The Mentality of Mass Murder by Abram de Swaan
  • Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed
  • Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 by Stephen E. Ambrose
  • The British Execution: 1500-1964 by Stephen Banks
  • The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide by Gary J. Bass
  • Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62 by Frank Dikötter
  • Ada’s Algorithm: How Lord Byron’s Daughter Ada Lovelace Launched the Digital Age by James Essinger
  • A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico by Amy Greenberg
  • Young Romantics: The Shelleys, Byron, and Other Tangled Lives by Daisy Hay

Fiction –

  • The Lincoln Myth by Steve Berry
  • Archive 17 by Sam Eastland
  • The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen
  • Pines, Wayward, and The Last Town by Blake Crouch (3 books)
  • The Book of the Maidservant by Rebecca Barnhouse
  • The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin
  • Island Madness by Tim Binding
  • Black Fly Season and By the Time You Read This by Giles Blunt
  • The Hidden Man by David Ellis
  • Hell’s Foundations Quiver and The Sword of the South by David Weber
  • A Call to Arms by David Weber, Timothy Zahn, and  Thomas Pope

For those of you who have young children or grandchildren, there are three educational toys I recommend for gift giving or for having around the house: Kids First Amusement Park Engineer Kit, Kids First Automobile Engineer Kit, and Kids First Aircraft Engineer Kit. These are designed for ages 3+ years (Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in the toys or the toys’ manufacturer.)

We bought these kits to have as projects for us and our granddaughters to do together when they visit. Each kit comes with a storybook. As you read the story to the child, the child is presented with instructions to build, for example, an airplane, to help the children in the story get to their next destination, where they will need to build yet another airplane (or automobile or amusement ride).

The Aircraft and Automobile kits each build 10 models; the Amusement Park kit builds 20 models. These are great teaching toys. And, because storage is important, each comes in a plastic storage container.

For additional book suggestions, take another look at past On Today’s Bookshelf essays.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 9, 2015

Thinking Fiction: Mastering Subjectivity

by Carolyn Haley

An earlier essay on this blog, “The Ethics of Distaste,” focused on the professional aspects of editing distasteful material. The following essay supplements the ethics discussion by focusing on a manuscript editor’s emotional challenge that may occur behind the scenes. Although this essay’s context is fiction, some of its ideas and techniques apply, as well, to nonfiction editing.

The Personal Dilemma of Distaste

What makes a novel distasteful to you personally could be anything: incoherent writing, a repellent subject, plots or characters so ludicrous or undeveloped that the book is painful to read — all or none of the above. Even if you handle the business side of a distasteful novel with impeccable professionalism, there remains the head–heart strife that comes from getting stuck with something you should turn down but can’t afford to, or ethically back out of once committed. That stress, unmanaged, can undermine the quality of your editing, which, in turn, could lead to client payment problems for independent editors, employment repercussions for staff editors, or reputation damage for both. The stress might possibly damage your health, too, from fighting against yourself internally.

What to Do?

When burdened with a distasteful novel, you as editor must make mental and emotional adjustments to deal with it successfully. The first step is to rationalize what the book really is, and the second is to take time for some do-it-yourself training and therapy.

Rationalization

Novel writing is an art form: a literary art, like poetry, scripts, or short stories; a sister art to painting, sculpture, music, dance, and theater. People compelled to create art have different mindsets than those who evaluate their work. Creative compulsion is often inarticulate, driven by emotion. A novel’s purpose is to create an emotional experience for readers through story (as compared to nonfiction, whose purpose is to inform).

A fiction editor’s role is to help authors express their vision as coherently as possible to the audience most inclined to value it. Developmental editors have the best opportunity to untangle gnarly books and make them shine, but line editors and copy editors enter the process after content decisions have been made. They can only address mechanical elements and make a lot of queries. All editing tasks are much easier to embrace when you fathom the subjectivity of art, and remember that a fiction editor’s job is to help actualize art in the form of a novel.

Distasteful novels will keep many of us employed for years to come. Today we are seeing a growing number of authors who don’t write well and never will. Although almost everyone in the industrialized nations can read and write, they’re not all being trained in basic composition or required to study classic literature. Fewer and fewer take courses in creative writing or have workplace mentors disciplining their prose. Yet more and more have the tools and freedom to easily express themselves, adding to the distasteful-novel parade through editors’ hands.

Self-training/-therapy

If your tolerance for distasteful novels has worn thin, or your art appreciation has gone stale, then it’s time to reprogram your emotional response. That starts with physically altering your perspective.

For example, step outside literature and walk through an art museum, a gallery, or an arts-and-crafts fair. Look at every piece and assess how you feel about it, what you’re willing to spend money on. Surely you will pass by most of the offerings then stop when something catches your eye or heart. You’ll note that most pieces are produced with mediocre to extraordinary skill, and reveal an astonishing range of imagination.

You’ll see people cheerfully buying paintings you wouldn’t dream of hanging on your walls, while those you consider masterpieces are left behind. At the same time, you may be tempted by something to blow your budget on and enjoy in your own home for the rest of your life.

Try the same exercise in the other arts. Attend, in any combination, a play, a ballet, a Broadway show, a child’s musical recital, a rock concert, a symphony, a folk festival, an open mic session at a coffee house poetry night. Alternatively, close your eyes and select a DVD off the shelf from three or more categories and periods, then play them back to back. What’s your reaction to each?

Perhaps watch a TV show such as NBC’s The Voice, which is a singing competition that parallels a novelist’s apprenticeship from raw talent to star performer. The show displays what an artist goes through to become competent and accepted, and how helpless they are against other people’s tastes and opinions— or boosted along by them.

Then visit a bookstore. Allow yourself to be amazed by the total number of volumes on the shelves. Wander through each fiction section and peruse a few titles, observing how different each is from the next in subject and style, and how widely they range in quality. Watch what people bring to the cash register, and count how often their choices differ from yours.

Then go back to the distasteful novel on your desk.

New Eyes

The book hasn’t changed; it may still be off-putting gobbledygook. But you’ve been colorfully reminded that it wasn’t written for you, and your job is to help it along its path to reaching others. Now you can see it as a project begging for a stronger application of craft; a story struggling to get free; an object needing refinement. Now you can roll up your sleeves and tackle its language with all your skill. When the process is over, the result will be a better novel. Maybe it will even be great.

Maybe not, but what happens after you deliver the manuscript is outside your control. Although your soul may agonize over the book’s imperfections, your professional duty is to deliver what you were hired to do. As part of that, you’re obliged to establish mutual understanding of expectations with your client or employer so all parties, especially the author, are pleased with your contribution. Bottom line: Your job is to improve the book within employment parameters, not to guarantee its publication or success.

The onus for that falls on other parties. A book’s fate depends on how far an author is willing or able to go in upgrading their work, combined with where and how they choose to expose it. Success or failure depends on the following, singly or in combination:

  • an acquiring editor’s taste in novels or directive to find what the house seeks for publication;
  • an agent’s sense of what is likely to sell within the categories they serve, and who they try to place the work with;
  • a contest judge’s pile of manuscripts, time available to review them, and mood of the day;
  • the self-publishing venue a book is released through;
  • any marketing and promotion done for the book, and reviews it receives;
  • ultimately, readers’ moods, tastes, and where they shop.

These all fall beyond the scope of work for editors who handle manuscripts prior to submission. Ironically, a book’s success may come down to how well an editor managed the project: how enthusiastically she greeted the story, how seriously she took it, how supportive she was to the author, how lightly or heavily she touched the text, how conscious she was of reader viewpoint.

Options

If you can’t unplug your subjectivity, and your desire to influence what enters the marketplace still burns, then reorient your career. Acquisitions and managing editors have the power to accept or reject, as do literary agents. Developmental editors have much more hands-on opportunity to direct a manuscript’s course than do line and copy editors. Alternatively, you can volunteer to judge writing contests in your free time, or become a book reviewer so you can publicly proclaim your opinion.

Regardless, increase your exposure to all the arts so you can better appreciate their variety and impact on other people’s lives. Then support what you think deserves success by spending your own dollars on it. Earn your next dollars by welcoming each manuscript as a challenge to your own creativity; a puzzle, perhaps, to solve within tight rules. Approaching editing distasteful novels this way eases frustration and revives the joy and marvel of being paid to read stories.

Accepting and Moving On

By accepting the editorial bottom line — improving the work within employment parameters — we can free ourselves from the downside of distasteful novels. The upside comes from regarding our job as helping literary artists achieve their dreams and touch other lives through their creative work. Even novels we consider distasteful may go on to great sales and acclaim, win awards, snag lucrative movie deals. They may build the foundation for long and prolific writing careers. We can help that happen by cultivating a pro-author, art-loving attitude.

The key is to remember that all novelists have to start somewhere, and each is at a different point on a journey. Understanding that our personal taste must sometimes be put aside releases us to edit darn near any fiction manuscript and help authors advance toward their goals.

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.

April 15, 2015

On Today’s Bookshelf (XXI)

My acquisition of new titles to read never ends. I keep thinking I need to stop and put the money I spend on books into my retirement account. But books have a special allure and I find nothing is as relaxing as sitting in my recliner reading a well-written and well-edited book (and nothing as frustrating as starting a poorly written or edited book :)).

Here is a list of some of the hardcovers and ebooks that I am reading or acquired and added to my to-be-read pile since the last On Today’s Bookshelf post, including some children’s books:

Nonfiction –

  • The Wandering Who: A Study of Jewish Identity Politics by Gilad Atzmo
  • Blood in the Snow, Blood on the Grass: Treachery, Torture, Murder and Massacre – France 1944 by Douglas Boyd
  • The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman
  • The Affair of the Poisons: Murder, Infanticide, and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV by Anne Somerset
  • Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion by Anne Somerset
  • Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades by Jonathan Phillips
  • The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople by Jonathan Phillips
  • The Lady in Red: An Eighteenth-Century Tale of Sex, Scandal, and Divorce by Hallie Rubenhold
  • The Fall of Paris: The Siege and the Commune 1870-71, The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916, and To Lose a Battle: France 1940 by Alistair Horne (trilogy)
  • Gandhi & Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age by Arthur Herman
  • Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Great’s Empire by Robin Waterfield
  • The Bolter by Frances Osborne
  • Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn
  • Dickens’s England: Life in Victorian Times by R.E. Pritchard
  • The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince by Jane Ridley
  • Saint-Exupéry: A Biography by Stacy Schiff
  • The Black Death in London by Barney Sloane
  • The Cradle King: The Life of James VI and I, the First Monarch of a United Great Britain by Alan Stewart
  • Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph by Jan Swafford
  • A Woman of Courage on the West Virginia Frontier: Phebe Tucker Cunningham by Robert N. Thompson
  • Jamestown Experiment: The Remarkable Story of the Enterprising Colony and the Unexpected Results That Shaped America by Tony Williams
  • American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit by Paula Uruburu
  • Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy by John Julius Norwich
  • 1913: The Year Before the Storm by Florian Illies

Fiction –

  • Twist by Dannika Dark
  • The Clockwork Dagger: A Novel by Beth Cato
  • Fatal Enquiry, Some Danger Involved, and The Black Hand by Will Thomas (3 books)
  • The Sword Dancer Series (Sword Dancer, Sword Singer, Sword Maker, Sword Breaker, Sword Born, Sword Sworn, and Sword Bound) by Jennifer Roberson (7 books)
  • Forbidden, Mortal, and Sovereign by Ted Dekker (trilogy)
  • The Legend of Eli Monpress series (The Spirit Eater, The Spirit Rebellion, The Spirit Thief, The Spirit War, and Spirit’s End) by Rachel Aaron (5 books)
  • Lady of Devices by Shelley Adina
  • Alphabet House by Jussi Adler-Olsen
  • Dead Like You and Dead Man’s Footsteps by Peter James (2 books)
  • Snow Wolf by Glenn Meade

Children’s Books –

Now that I have grandchildren, I try to keep an eye out for good books for them, both for now and for the future. A series I have been buying for them and that I highly recommend is Brad Meltzer’s “I am …” series. So far the titles are:

  • I am Albert Einstein
  • I am Rosa Parks
  • I am Amelia Earhart
  • I am Abraham Lincoln
  • I am Jackie Robinson
  • I am Lucille Ball
  • I am Helen Keller

Other children’s books that I have bought/preordered include:

  • Find King Henry’s Treasure: Touch the Art by Julie Appel & Amy Guglielmo
  • Crankee Doodle by Tom Angelberger
  • Time for a Bath by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page
  • The Princess and the Peas and Carrots by Harriet Ziefert
  • Backstage Cat by Harriet Ziefert
  • Sir Scallywag and the Golden Underpants by Giles Andreae & Korky Paul
  • The Chandeliers: The World-Famous Giraffe Family Appearing Tonight and Every Night! by Vincent X. Kirsch
  • Look! Seeing the Light in Art by Gillian Wolfe
  • This Book Is a Planetarium: And Other Extraordinary Pop-Up Contraptions by Kelli Anderson

It’s never too early to start children on the path to literacy, so building a children’s library makes sense to me. Besides, there is great joy in having a grandchild sit on my lap and “read” along with me. Just as books are an adventure for me, so books are an adventure for children. Certainly much better than staring at a TV or computer screen.

For previous listings of books I’ve acquired, see previous On Today’s Bookshelf essays.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

February 16, 2015

Thinking Fiction: The Style Sheets — Part II: Characters

The Style Sheets — Part II: Characters

by Amy J. Schneider

This month I continue my discussion of the style sheets I keep and the details that go into them. Let’s talk about tracking character attributes.

The Devil Is in the Details

When I receive a style sheet for a previous book by the same author, whether a standalone title or one in the same series, it usually includes a character list. And by “a character list,” I mean just that: a tidy alphabetical list of character names, often last name first, first name last. We copyeditors love to make alphabetical lists. But for ensuring continuity both in attributes of individual characters and in the relationships between them, such a list isn’t very useful.

For example, suppose that in Chapter 1, James is described as being a vegetarian, but in Chapter 18 he orders a Big Mac for lunch. Or suppose that Angela is an only child in Chapter 3, but in Chapter 6 she gets a call from her sister. I don’t know that my memory is good enough to recall a detail from so far back. And often such details are mentioned in the barest passing, and so they are easy to overlook. That’s what the style sheet is for. Any detail that could possibly be contradicted later on goes on the style sheet. Examples follow shortly.

In addition, I find it extremely helpful to group characters not alphabetically, but by their relationships to each other. Family members, coworker groups, the neighbors, the guys down at the pub, the bad guys: these are examples of how you might group characters. Sometimes you may not be sure where to put a character. That’s okay; just start them in their own group for now and later it may become clear. The advantage of grouping like this is that it helps you spot name changes (the bartender was Andy, but suddenly he’s become Randy), missing or extra people (there are supposed to be five Murphy brothers, but six are named), and so on.

Remember to track nonhuman characters too. I enclose animal names in quotes (“Max” — Susan’s cat; black fur, left front paw and tip of tail are white). Make note of unnamed animals too; make sure that the neighbors’ black lab doesn’t turn into a border collie. In fantasy and science fiction, you may encounter “characters” that are sentient objects such as weapons and other magical items (think of the elven blade “Sting” from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings), as well as fictional deities, spirits, and so forth. On the style sheet they go.

Details to Track

So, what kinds of details should you track? As I stated earlier, anything that could possibly be contradicted later. (And as you come across such items, later, check against your previous entries on the style sheet to ensure that they are still accurate; if not, you know that you need to flag or query.) The following are only a few examples:

  • Physical descriptions: hair color/length/qualities, eye/skin color, facial descriptions (straight nose, thick eyebrows, high cheekbones), body build (muscle bound, lanky), blood type, clothing size, glasses, disabilities, vocal quality (pitch, accent)
  • Life status: age/birthday (age 27; her birthday was last May; the baby will be born next fall), relationships (her mother died of cancer when she was twelve; he has been divorced twice), employment, schooling, abilities (I once met a character who could speak a foreign language, but had mysteriously lost that ability later on), nicknames, habits (vegetarian, doesn’t drink), accents, pet phrases, personal history (inherited $6 million from his grandmother)
  • Right/left: scars, injuries, tattoos, and so on
  • Phone numbers, e-mail addresses, Twitter handles (query the author to ensure that these are not in use by real people)
  • “Negative” attributes: can’t swim, is afraid of dogs, has never seen the ocean
  • Relative descriptions: Rodrigo towers over Lancelot; Evan is two years older than Shane

Assuming you are editing in Word, it’s easy to copy relevant descriptive phrases out of the manuscript and plop them into the style sheet, for ease of searching later if you need to refer back to earlier text. I condense the copied text to save a little space by changing spelled-out numbers to digits and editing down to the essential key words (e.g., “her auburn hair cascaded down her back, and fluffy bangs accentuated her ocean-blue eyes” would become “auburn hair down her back, bangs, blue eyes”; “died six days before her eighty-fifth birthday” would become “died 6 days before her 85th birthday”). The idea is to take out information that’s non-essential to the style sheet (you might copy a full paragraph just to grab a few informational phrases). Another point to remember: in hard-copy days, we noted the page number for details, but with electronic editing, page layouts can shift, so use the chapter number instead. You can always use search to find the exact text you’re looking for.

I Found a Contradiction; Now What?

Oops. Nancy is blonde in Chapter 4 but brunette in Chapter 27. Michael’s eyes keep changing color from blue to green to blue again. Tonya’s parents died when she was a baby, but also threw her out of the house when she was sixteen. What to do?

Remember that it’s the author’s story, so if any major rewriting or plot adjustment is required, it’s up to the author to do so. However, you can certainly help by making suggestions.

  • If it’s a minor detail that’s not critical to the plot, and only a few instances are different (suppose Nancy’s hair is described as blonde twelve times and brown twice), it’s safe to simply change the brown hair back to blonde and write a query alerting the author to the change.
  • If Michael’s eyes are blue six times and green seven times, then you need to write a query that lets the author know about the discrepancy and ask the author to decide which way to go.
  • Let’s say that the fact that Tonya is an orphan is important to the plot, but so is the fact that she had to fend for herself at a young age. That’s not something that a copyeditor can fix. But you might suggest that the author have Tonya raised by an aunt and uncle, and they are the ones who threw her out.
  • You may find a character-related plot hole that has no obvious solution. The best you can do then is outline the problems and ask the author if he or she can see a way to solve them. After that, it’s in the author’s hands — and the author may decide to just live with it. (I’ve seen that happen.) But you’ve done your due diligence.

Because fiction is by nature made up, there’s no real-world reference for its internal factual information — so keeping a detailed style sheet with as much information as possible about the characters (and other elements) is enormously helpful for catching inconsistencies.  In the next article, I’ll talk about tracking information about locations and buildings, which involves much the same approach as I’ve discussed here.

Amy J. Schneider (amy@featherschneider.com), owner of Featherschneider Editorial Services, has been a freelance copyeditor and proofreader of fiction and nonfiction books since 1995. She has shared her insights on copyediting fiction as a speaker at the Communication Central conferences, in writing for the Copyediting newsletter, and in an audioconference for Copyediting.com. Amy can be reached at LinkedIn, via Twitter, and on Facebook.

Related An American Editor essays:

September 29, 2014

On Today’s Bookshelf (XVIII)

Filed under: On Books,On Today's Bookshelf,To Be Read — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

The past week has been a very busy week. Clients have inundated me with new work that needs to be done on a short schedule, and thus at a higher-than-normal pay rate. More importantly, I have been forced to do something I loathe doing — I’ve had to turn away a fair number of projects.

I thought with the close of the week such “troubles” would end, but that was/is not to be. Two clients have informed me that I should plan on next year being a repeat of this year. Of course, there are no guarantees, but based on their prognosticating efforts, next year will be very busy again for me. (I had to prepare my financial reports for my accountant for the third quarter tax filings and I was pleased to note that business was up a little more than 50% over last year.)

Finally, the weekend came and I thought I could devote some time to preparing an essay for An American Editor. Alas, when I opened my e-mail Saturday morning, I had a request to submit a bid for editing work. The problem was/is that this work would be year-long and would range in size from 20,000 to 200,000 manuscript pages. Accompanying the request to bid were several lengthy documents that detailed the editing requirements. Combine the need to prepare the bids with my desire to enjoy my weekend, and I decided it was time for another On Today’s Bookshelf article.

These are easy substitutes for me because books are added to the list as I acquire them; I do not need to sit with a blank canvas. There will be at least one more On Today’s Bookshelf before the holidays, in case you are looking for ideas of books to buy as gifts — whether for yourself or someone else.

Here are some of the books that I have acquired and added to my to-be-read pile since the last On Today’s Bookshelf post, either in hardcover or in ebook form:

Nonfiction –

  • The Pope’s Daughter by Caroline Murphy
  • Empires of the Sea by Roger Crowley
  • “Non-Germans” under the Third Reich: The Nazi Judicial and Administrative System in Germany and Occupied Eastern Europe, with Special Regard to Occupied Poland, 1939-1945 by Diemut Majer
  • The Marcel Network: How One French Couple Saved 527 Children from the Holocaust by Fred Coleman
  • Believe and Destroy: Intellectuals in the SS War Machine by Christian Ingrao
  • The Dreyfus Affair: The Scandal That Tore France in Two by Piers Paul Read
  • The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind — and Changed the History of Free Speech in America by Thomas Healy
  • Desperate Sons: Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, John Hancock, and the Secret Bands of Radicals Who Led the Colonies to War by Les Standiford
  • Why We Fight: Congress and the Politics of World War II by Nancy Beck Young
  • A Secession Crisis Enigma by Daniel W. Crofts
  • The Wars of Reconstruction: The Brief, Violent History of America’s Most Progressive Era by Douglas R. Egerton
  • A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy by Helen Rappaport
  • The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg by Helen Rappaport
  • Daily Life During the French Revolution by James M. Anderson
  • The Psychology of Lust Murder: Paraphilia, Sexual Killing, and Serial Homicide by Catherine Purcell and Bruce A. Arrigo
  • The Mad Sculptor: The Maniac, the Model, and the Murder that Shook the Nation by Harold Schechter
  • The Secret Wife of Louis XIV: Françoise D’Aubigné, Madame de Maintenon by Veronica Buckley
  • Intelligence in War: The Value–and Limitations–of What the Military Can Learn about the Enemy by John Keegan
  • The First World War by John Keegan
  • Divine Fury: A History of Genius by Darrin M. McMahon
  • Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman by Robert L. O’Connell
  • Sun Tzu at Gettysburg: Ancient Military Wisdom in the Modern World by Bevin Alexander
  • The Grand Chorus of Complaint: Authors and the Business Ethics of American Publishing by Michael J. Everton
  • Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 by Jefferson Morley
  • Hitler’s Spy Chief: The Wilhelm Canaris Betrayal: The Intelligence Campaign Against Adolf Hitler by Richard Bassett

Fiction –

  • End Game by John Gilstrap
  • Frozen Moment by Camilla Ceder
  • Soldier of God by David Hagberg
  • Kingmaker’s Sword by Ann Marston
  • American Coven by Amy Cross
  • The Veiled Assassin by Q.V. Hunter
  • Soul of Fire by Caris McRae
  • Close Call: A Liz Carlyle Novel  by Stella Rimington
  • Property by Valerie Martin
  • Bye Bye Baby by Fiona McIntosh
  • Beautiful Death by Fiona McIntosh
  • My Real Children by Jo Walton
  • Edge of Eternity: Book Three of The Century Trilogy by Ken Follett
  • A Stranger in the Kingdom by Howard Frank Mosher

As usual, most of my acquisitions are nonfiction. What I find is that much of fiction is the same. I do not mean the presentation or the delivery, but the general pattern: boy meets girl (or girl meets boy), love ensues, they live happily ever after (replace this pattern with another appropriate pattern such as scientist stumbles on plot, tells authorities who ignore scientist’s warnings, scientist decides to save world, scientist turns out to be the new James Bond and saves world). Same theme, different characters, but essentially the same storyline. I do not mean to imply that I do not enjoy well-written fiction, because I do. This is just an explanation of why my primary interest runs to nonfiction.

Nonfiction tends to have greater diversity. There is so much of the world, of nature, of science, of history, of language, of philosophy, of many things that I have yet to discover that nonfiction can provide me with both knowledge and entertainment and keep my interest.

I suppose if I had to say what makes nonfiction books unique as a form of entertainment, it is that it always has surprises, it is not formulaic, and it is not predictable except in the sense that we already know the broad outlines (e.g., the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires ceased to exist or that the Great Depression was the bane of the 1930s).

I hope you find that On Today’s Bookshelf essays stimulate your reading interests. Please add your contributions to books by naming books you think colleagues would be interested in reading.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 25, 2014

On Today’s Bookshelf (XVI)

It hasn’t been very long since my last On Today’s Bookshelf (XV) was published, just two months. But it seems that I have had the (mis)fortune (depending on one’s perspective) to discover a lot of books that interest me. And so I have been spending money acquiring yet more books for my ever-growing to-be-read pile. Fortunately, many of them are in ebook form, although if I read a nonfiction book in ebook form and find I really enjoy it, I tend to buy a hardcover version for my library. (It would be so much better for me if publishers bundled the ebook with hardcover version for just a few dollars more than the hardcover alone. I’d always buy the bundle.)

I admit that I get a great deal of pleasure from sitting in my library and looking at the hardcovers on the shelves, remembering the books as my eyes slide over the spines. As much as I like the convenience of ebooks, ebooks fail to evoke in me the sensory pleasure (or the memories) that print books bring forth. Scrolling through a list of ebooks just doesn’t provide the same degree of pleasure I get from sitting in my library surrounded by print books.

Books are the armchair way to experience the world in which we live. Few of us have the resources, whether it be financial or time or something else, to spend years traveling our world and participating in discovery. Consequently, we rely on others to do the legwork and to share their experiences and gained knowledge. Books are a guilt-free addiction. Editing fills part of my craving; the rest of my craving is fulfilled by the books I acquire and read. Alas, there isn’t enough time to sate that craving and so I keep on acquiring.

Here is a list of some of the books that I am reading (or have acquired and added to my to-be-read pile in the two months since On Today’s Bookshelf XV was published) either in hardcover or in ebook form. I have already started On Today’s Bookshelf XVII.

Nonfiction –

  • Eyewitness to Genocide: The Operation Reinhard Death Camp Trials, 1955-1966 by Michael S. Bryant
  • Confronting the Good Death: Nazi Euthanasia on Trial, 1945-1953 by Michael S. Bryant
  • Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity by Prue Shaw
  • A Scrap of Paper: Breaking and Making International Law during the Great War by Isabel V. Hull
  • Triangle: The Fire That Changed America by David Von Drehle
  • Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen
  • The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum
  • What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa by David E. Murphy
  • Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre
  • God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World by Cullen Murphy
  • 1858: Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and the War They Failed to See by Bruce Chadwick
  • Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda by Romeo Dallaire
  • Thomas Cromwell: The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Minister by Robert Hutchinson
  • House of Treason: The Rise & Fall of a Tudor Dynasty by Robert Hutchinson
  • The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers by Richard McGregor
  • Thomas Cromwell: Servant to Henry VIII by David Loades
  • Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force by John L. Allen
  • Vienna 1814 by David King
  • The Destructive War by Charles Royster
  • The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women’s Suffrage Movement, 1848-1898 by Lisa Tetrault
  • The Embrace of Unreason: France, 1914-1940 by Frederick Brown
  • How Could This Happen: Explaining the Holocaust by Dan McMillan
  • Heretic Queen: Queen Elizabeth and the Wars of Religion by Susan Ronald
  • Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics by Terry Golway
  • 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline
  • The Last Alchemist, Iain McCalman

Fiction –

  • The Inventor’s Secret by Andrea Cremer
  • Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson
  • The Dark Citadel Trilogy (3 books): The Dark Citadel, The Free Kingdoms, and The Golden Griffin by Michael Wallace
  • The Mapmaker’s Daughter by Laurel Corona
  • Paris by Edward Rutherford
  • The Legend of Oescienne: The Awakening (Book 3) by Jenna Elizabeth Johnson (I previously bought and read book 1: The Finding and book 2: The Beginning)
  • Last Rituals (Thóra Gudmundsdóttir Series #1) by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
  • Power Down by Ben Coes
  • The Soul Forge by Andrew Lashway
  • The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent
  • Blood Money by David Ignatius
  • Stone Cold by Joel Goldman
  • Natchez Burning by Greg Iles
  • The Increment by David Ignatius
  • In the Hall of the Dragon King by Stephen Lawhead
  • Agency Rules by Khalid Muhammed
  • The Scavenger’s Daughters by Kay Bratt
  • Promise of Blood and The Crimson Campaign (Books 1 & 2 of the Powder Mage Trilogy) by Brian McClellan
  • The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman
  • Mirror Sight (Book 5 of the Green Rider series) by Kristen Britain
  • The Tattered Sword and The Huntsman’s Amulet (Books 1 & 2 of The Society of the Sword series) by Duncan Hamilton
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • The Night Birds by Thomas Maltman

As you can see from the lists, nonfiction and fiction are about equal. Interestingly, for the past 6 or so months, the majority of my reading has been fiction, which should have meant that fiction would greatly outnumber nonfiction. But I know that it won’t be long before I return to nonfiction to the near exclusion of fiction. More importantly, most of the nonfiction I acquire in hardcover, whereas the fiction is largely acquired in ebook format.

A goodly number of the nonfiction books I acquired I discovered from reviews or ads in the New York Review of Books. One of the things I like about the NYRB is that the book reviews almost always not only discuss the book being reviewed, but other books relevant to an understanding of the subject matter. Thus the reviews act as leads for me to acquire other, older books.

Am I the only editor whose TBR pile keeps growing and who cannot stop buying books? What are you reading/stockpiling? I know I ask that question with regularity, but it would be nice if more of you listed books you are buying/reading in the comments — it would expose the rest of us to books and authors we haven’t read.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

April 23, 2014

On Today’s Bookshelf (XV)

Here is a list of some of the books that I am reading (or acquired and added to my to-be-read pile since the last On Today’s Bookshelf post) either in hardcover or in ebook form:

Nonfiction –

  • Harry Truman and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Robert Shogan
  • The Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish History, 70-1492 by Maristella Posttiani & Zvi Eckstein
  • Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
  • The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election by Zachary Karabell
  • The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision by Henry Kamen
  • Ghettostad: Lodz and the Making of a Nazi City by Gordon J. Horwitz
  • Eichmann’s Jews: The Jewish Administration of Holocaust Vienna, 1938-1945 by Doron Rabinovici
  • The Decline and Fall of the British Empire 1781-1997 by Piers Brendan
  • The History of the Renaissance World by Susan Wise Bauer
  • The Heavens are Empty: Discovering the Lost Town of Trochenbrod by Avrom Bendavid-Val
  • Understanding the Book of Mormon by Grant Hardy
  • Would You Kill the Fat Man? The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us About Right and Wrong by David Edmonds
  • A World Without Jews: The Nazi Imagination From Persecution to Genocide by Alon Confino
  • Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition by David Nirenberg
  • The Internal Enemy: Slavery and the War in Virginia 1772-1832 by Alan Taylor
  • Glorious Misadventures: Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America by Owen Matthews
  • An Idea Whose time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by Todd S. Purdum
  • The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words 1000 BC-1492 AD by Simon Schama
  • The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America by Gerald Horne
  • Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson
  • Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
  • Sisters: The Lives of America’s Suffragists by Jean H. Baker
  • The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today by Kevin Bales
  • Red Mutiny: Eleven Fateful Days on the Battleship Potemkin by Neal Bascomb
  • Wilson by Scott A. Berg
  • Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte by Carol Berkin
  • Lucrezia Borgia by Sarah Bradford
  • The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
  • To Kill Rasputin : The Life and Death of Gregori Rasputin by Andrew Cook
  • The Wars of Reconstruction: The Brief, Violent History of America’s Most Progressive Era by Douglas R. Egerton
  • The Borgias and Their Enemies: 1431-1519 by Christopher Hibbert
  • Voting for Hitler and Stalin: Elections under 20th Century Dictatorships edited by Ralph Jessen & Hedwig Richter
  • Social Democratic America by Lane Kenworthy
  • Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris by David King
  • The Tigress of Forli: Renaissance Italy’s Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de’ Medici by Elizabeth Lev
  • Russian Roulette: How British Spies Thwarted Lenin’s Plot for Global Revolution by Giles Milton
  • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Fiction –

  • Blood Land by R.S. Guthrie
  • Cauldron of Ghosts by David Weber & Eric Flint
  • Rex Regis by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
  • Like a Mighty Army by David Weber
  • The One-Eyed Man by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
  • Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb
  • Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
  • One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus
  • The Complete Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson (a 10-book omnibus)
  • The Bat by Jo Nesbo
  • The Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemisin
  • Death Is Not the End by Ian Rankin
  • The Ludwig Conspiracy by Oliver Potzsch
  • The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch
  • The Dark Monk by Oliver Potzsch
  • Freeman by Leonard Pitts
  • The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett
  • The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen L. Carter
  • Witch Wraith by Terry Brooks
  • Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini

I acquired most of the nonfiction books in hardcover and most of the fiction books in ebook.

Alas, I wish I could say that the above list represents all of the books I have added to my library since the last listing, but it doesn’t. I calculated that if I retired today and read four books every week, I would need more than 30 years to read all of the books I have acquired. Fortunately, most of the books are in ebook form (I have acquired more fiction than nonfiction) and I am trying to restrain my purchases.

I have found this to be the primary negative to my being an editor — I never seem to have enough books on hand, always want more, and spend much more than I should on books. On the other hand, editing provides me with a sufficient income to support my book addiction.

I admit that feeding my book addiction was less costly before ebooks. The ease of storage of ebooks encourages me to acquire books for future reading that I wouldn’t acquire if I had to acquire them in print form; in the latter case, I would wait until I had reduced my to-be-read pile significantly.

I also note that once I started acquiring ebooks, I also increased my hardcover acquisitions. My son claims (tongue in cheek) he will be able to have a comfortable retirement just from the sale of my library.

What books have you acquired in recent months that you would recommend being added to the TBR pile?

October 7, 2013

On Today’s Bookshelf (XIV)

Filed under: On Today's Bookshelf,To Be Read — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , ,

I spend my working hours editing books and then spend my pleasure hours reading more books rather than watching TV. I can’t recall the last time I turned on the TV (except to watch a rented video). What follows is a list of some of the books that I am reading (or acquired since the last On Today’s Bookshelf post) either in hardcover or in ebook form:

Nonfiction –

  • Harry Truman and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Robert Shogan
  • A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War by Amanda Foreman
  • The History of the Renaissance World: From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Conquest of Constantinople by Susan Wise Bauer (I already own and have read the first 2 volumes in this outstanding history: The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome and The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade, as noted in prior On Today’s Bookshelf posts)
  • The Tribunal: Responses to John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid edited by John Stauffer and Zoe Trodd
  • Glorious Misadventures: Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America by Owen Matthews
  • The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 2: The Complete and Authoritative Edition by Mark Twain, edited by Harriet Elinor Smith and Benjamin Griffin (I already own and have read volume 1)
  • Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott
  • Iron Curtain by Anne Applebaum
  • Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson
  • Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
  • Stalingrad by Antony Beevor
  • The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership by Yehuda Avner
  • Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell
  • The Last Tsar by Donald Crawford
  • Thomas Becket by John Guy
  • Hiding Edith by Kathy Kacer
  • The Girl Who Loved Camellias: The Life and Legend of Marie Duplessis by Julie Kavanagh
  • A Monarchy Transformed by Mark Kishlansky
  • The Mitford Girls by Mary S. Lovell
  • Shooting Victoria by Paul Thomas Murphy
  • Those Angry Days by Lynne Olson
  • The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter
  • Nixonland by Rick Perlstein
  • The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain by Paul Preston
  • Six Women of Salem by Marilynne Roach
  • The Last Greatest Magician in the World by Jim Steinmeyer
  • Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel by Andrew Graham-Dixon

Fiction –

  • Blood Land by R.S. Guthrie
  • Shadowborn by Moira Katson
  • Ascendancy by Jennifer Vale
  • Witch Wraith by Terry Brooks
  • Two Fronts: The War that Came Early by Harry Turtledove
  • Treecat Wars by David Weber
  • Shadowborn, Shadowforged, & Shadow’s End by Moira Katson (trilogy)
  • The Song of Eloh Saga by Megg Jensen (7 books combined in a single omnibus)
  • The Dream Thief by Shana Abe
  • Something Blue by Emma Jameson
  • Venice by Peter Ackroyd
  • The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin
  • Devil’s Garden by Ace Atkins
  • The Algebraist by Ian Banks
  • Bone Thief by Jefferson Bass
  • The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
  • Bridge of Dreams and Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop
  • Killing Rain by Barry Eisler
  • First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde
  • American Assassin by Vince Flynn
  • Seventy-Seven Clocks by Christopher Fowler
  • The Apostates Tale by Margaret Frazer
  • Haunted Ground by Erin Hart
  • Chosen, Exalted, Stained, and Stolen by Ella James (4 books)
  • The Iron Legends by Julie Kagawa
  • The Devil’s Star by Jo Nesbo
  • A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny
  • Resurrection Men by Ian Rankin
  • The Chair by James Rubart
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

As you can see, I have no shortage of reading material. As I have noted before, my to-be-read pile keeps growing at a pace faster than I can read books. Perhaps if I ever retire I will have enough reading time to read faster than I acquire.

What is most interesting to me is not how many books I read but how many I start and never finish. Being an editor has its downsides. For example, I get frustrated by books that wander, or where the same character has 14 names (and counting), or the bad editing sticks out like a beacon, or the author has a lot to say but lacks even minimal storytelling techniques. (Note I have not mentioned those books that frustrate because of poor grammar and English, which is a category unto itself.)

The holiday season is soon upon us and I need to begin to put together a wish list of hardcover books I am interested in. Have you given thought to what books you will ask for this holiday season? How is your to-be-read pile growing/declining?

August 29, 2012

The Business of Editing: Evaluating a Manuscript

One of the most difficult tasks an editor has is the evaluation of a manuscript to determine how much time it will take to edit the manuscript, and thus how to charge for the work. There are multiple ways of doing this, some of which are dependent on who the client is (i.e., a publishing company or an individual author).

For most editors, it is the author-client whose manuscript is the most difficult to evaluate.

As I have noted in previous posts, most recently in The Business of Editing: Language Pet Peeves II, different rules apply to fiction and to nonfiction, particularly in regard to use of precise language. When I evaluate an author’s manuscript, I keep the differences in mind.

I know that an author who hires me to edit his or her manuscript wants the best possible job for the lowest possible price, with an emphasis on lowest. Yet this same author often makes my job more difficult than it has to be by not carefully preparing either the manuscript or the materials that should accompany it (see, e.g., The Business of Editing: What an Author Should Give an Editor) and by not knowing precisely what type of edit the author wants me to perform (see, e.g., Editor, Editor, Everywhere an Editor). This is compounded by the result of my evaluation of the manuscript itself.

The very first thing I do is determine the true number of manuscript pages. It is not unusual for an author to tell me the manuscript is 150 pages when in reality it is closer to 400. Authors should remember that manuscript pages are not the equivalent of printed pages.

The second thing I do is search the manuscript for the use of certain terms, including due to, since, about, and over. These terms are very often misused in nonfiction, less so in fiction, but getting a count tells me how “lazy” with language the author has been. The higher the count, the lazier the author has likely (this is not always true and it does depend on other factors) been grammatically, which means it will take more time to edit the manuscript.

The third thing I do, but only with nonfiction, is check the references. Are the citations consistent in style or does each reference have its own style? Are the references complete or incomplete? Inconsistent styling of the references by the author and incomplete references are another sign of a lazy author. That’s okay, professional editors have lots of experience fixing references, but doing so is very time-consuming and runs up the cost. It is less expensive to fix references that are consistent in style, even if the style is incorrect, than if there is little to no consistency.

The fourth thing I do is check for consistent spelling of names and terms. Again, what I am looking for is laziness (or sloppiness) because the less consistent spelling is, the more time-consuming the project will be.

Fifth, I search for common homophone errors (e.g., where/were; your/you’re; there/their; too/to/two; here/hear; bear/bare; forth/fourth; principal/principle). When I find a lot of this type of error, I know that time will be needed. It is also a clue that the author may have a great story to tell but needs a lot of help with fundamental grammar.

Finally, I skim the manuscript to see if I can get a clue as to how much effort the author put into the manuscript’s preparation. Some manuscripts demonstrate that the author has self-edited and revised several times, making for a more polished, even though imperfect, manuscript; with other manuscripts, it is clear that the author sat at the computer and pounded out a manuscript without going back through it more than once.

This skim is also a way to get a handle on the author’s language skills. I expect the manuscript from an author for whom English is a second language to have more issues than the manuscript from an author whose first language is English, but that is not always true. I am looking for what I call grammar patterns, which are author idiosyncracies that are grammatically incorrect but done consistently and repeatedly throughout the manuscript.

With the above information in hand, I have a pretty good idea about how difficult the edit will be. Some factors weigh more heavily than others when trying to figure out how much editing time will be needed, and thus how much to charge, but it is also true that some of the problems could have been fixed by the author before sending the manuscript for editing.

If an author has provided the correct information with the manuscript (again, see The Business of Editing: What an Author Should Give an Editor), it will reduce the time needed for editing. If the information is not supplied by the author, it will take me time to assemble the information, time that has to be paid for by the author. Similarly, the type of edit that the author wants (again, see Editor, Editor, Everywhere an Editor) influences the cost.

There is no way to determine precisely how long it will take to edit a manuscript. The best any editor can do is guesstimate based on prior experience, but experienced editors are fairly accurate with their guesstimates. The quandary for the editor is whether to accept a flat fee or an hourly fee.

Whether to accept a flat fee or an hourly fee requires one more evaluation: an evaluation of the author. That is, how much author contact and back-and-forth between the author and editor is likely to be required by the author? Personal contact tends to eat up a lot of time and interrupt the editing process. Some authors require more contact than do other authors.

Some contact and back-and-forth is necessary and expected. How much becomes excessive is hard to know in advance. But in a professional relationship, which is what the relationship between the author and the editor should be, some trust on the part of each party that the other is doing his or her job competently is important and necessary.

The bottom line is that both an author’s manuscript and the author need to be evaluated by the editor to determine an appropriate fee. Once the editor has determined what an appropriate fee would be, it is up to the author to decide whether he or she wants to hire the editor.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,869 other followers

%d bloggers like this: