An American Editor

July 6, 2016

Thinking Fiction: The Subjectivity of Editing IV, Part II

by Carolyn Haley

Part I of this essay described the results of my survey of nine independent editors, which asked for their individual definitions of copyediting. First I evaluated the definitions in general terms, then I looked at the first three descriptions from the perspective of a hypothetical indie author, John Q. Novelist. Part II looks at the remaining six descriptions through the eyes of different hypothetical author, Henrietta Nonfiction Writer (HNW).

A view through the nonfiction lens

HNW works in the insurance industry. For decades she has written employee manuals and other in-house materials for a megacorporation, and even wrote the company newsletter for a while, so she knows how to craft clear sentences for different audiences. That pays the bills, but her real passion is American history, in which she took a master’s degree.

She’s not sure there’s a market for her book — a collection of true stories about white women captured by Indians in the Revolutionary War period — or whether she’ll publish it traditionally or on her own, but she does know that it needs to be clean and accurate, if only for her own pride. She’s written a dissertation and read many technical journals, so she understands the complexities of references and bibliographies. Also, she knows there are different kinds of editors, and a copyeditor will best serve the housecleaning needs of her manuscript.

She likes the detailed definition of copyediting that John Q. Novelist passed on to her, and files it for future reference. First she wants to do her own search for editors, which pulls up these:

Editor #4 (25 years, scholarly, U.K.)

Copy-editing is revising… an article, a book, a chapter in a book, etc., to eliminate errors of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and usage; to ensure consistency in abbreviations, capitalization, spellings, etc.; and, where required, to make the contents conform to the requirements of the intended channel (print, web, electronic, etc). [The text] may also contain illustrations, tables, footnotes, references, etc., in which case the copy-editor is required to check such adjuncts to text as well. Generally, copy-editorial changes are made at the sentence level (that is, copy-editing rarely involves changing the sequence of sentences). Language editing is the next higher level, at which the copy-editor may do some rewriting to make the text more concise and clearer, whereas proofreading is the next lower level.

This suits HNW just fine, and she feels the editor will grasp what she’s after. She’s a little uncertain about working with someone in another country, though, so makes a note to ask about the differences between U.S. and U.K. English when she sends her inquiry to the editor.

The next candidate impresses her with their specificity:

Editor #5 (5 years, business, U.S.)

Copyediting is being the best and first objective reader of a written work and making changes to ensure writing is clear, consistent, and in compliance with a specific writing style or style manual and with accepted usage of the target language.… [S]pecific tasks include:

  • Querying the author when a sentence doesn’t make sense.
  • Checking that the correct formatting codes have been applied.
  • Applying formatting codes to text with missing or incorrect codes.
  • Checking the accuracy of cross-references and citations.
  • Checking the spelling of names and accuracy of easily verifiable facts.
  • Ensuring writing complies with a specific style manual and dictionary.
  • Ensuring writing conforms to the grammar and punctuation of Standard English, except when I can discern a good reason for unconventional sentence structure or punctuation.
  • Asking the author to OK a deletion, rewording, or relocation of more than one consecutive sentence.
  • Ensuring the author consistently formats and spells terms that aren’t in the specified style manual or dictionary and creating a style sheet to document my and the author’s decisions regarding such terms.
  • Ensuring numbers that are supposed add up to a specified sum add up to it and ensuring that numbered lists are written in order without skipping numbers.
  • Suggesting wording changes in headings that don’t reflect their content well.
  • Ensuring correct characters are inserted for dashes, mathematical symbols, names in foreign languages, and so on.
  • Ensuring artwork is clearly visible, referred to in the text beforehand, and reproduced with permission.
  • Ensuring tables are easy to read.
  • Suggesting titles for untitled tables and figures.
  • Communicating changes to the author and others who must work with the [manuscript] with electronic markup.

This covers everything HNW can think of, and she particularly likes the inclusion of production-oriented elements. She hadn’t thought about all the technical steps between writing and publishing. This editor seems to assume that every manuscript they work on will be published, which makes her feel more confident. She wants to work with another professional to bring her project to fruition.

In contrast, the next candidate unsettles her because of their informal tone and imprecision:

Editor #6 (4 years, scholarly, U.S.)

I view [copyediting] as readying a piece for publication.… first, ensuring that the copy meets all the style guidelines, and second, that the copy is as good as it can be. I do subdivide the various tasks somewhat on my website since I work with academic authors… and invite them (for example) to do the reference formatting themselves, but if somebody sent me an article and said “unlimited budget, copyedit this” I’d get it completely ready to go: line edits…, style guide compliance, cross-checking, consistency checking, clarity/coherence fixes, reference formatting, etc.… I don’t think it includes fact-checking… research … rearranging the piece’s organization (although many of them need that, and if I notice it I make a comment to that effect…).

It’s not the tone that puts HNW off as much as the mention of being “invited” to format her own references. That’s something she wants to pay another person to do. Although she was careful in compiling her references, and is pretty sure she has them all listed in correct scholarly style, the labor of double checking and using Word for special formatting is beyond her ability and patience. That’s why she set aside a hefty chunk of money for professional editing, which she can afford because of her solid career. But she knows someone on a tight budget who might like this cost-reducing option, so she forwards the link and moves on.

Editor #7 (50 years, nonfiction/scholarly, U.S.)

Copyediting is whatever the client says it is for a given job. This holds whether the client is a traditional publisher, a packager, an indie publisher, or a private client regardless of whether the definition consists of the client’s detailed specifications or reflects my education of and negotiation with the client.

Golly, thinks HNW, this one is a chameleon! On one hand, she realizes, the door is wide open for a customized experience. For writers like her who know their strengths and weaknesses, the idea of negotiating a personalized edit holds appeal. On the other hand, HNW wants someone with a stronger sense of who they are and what they offer so there’s a standard she can wrap her head around. If she’s going to pay for a professional service, she wants the professional to know something she doesn’t, to justify her expense. Having to lead an editor through an editing job doesn’t inspire confidence.

Editor #8 (35 years, academic/business, U.S.)

Copy editing is performed on a near-final draft of a manuscript that has gone through developmental or line editing. Copy editing entails reviewing spelling, grammar, usage, and punctuation; checking facts, abbreviations, trademarks, and references to figures and tables; ensuring consistency in spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, and numbers; and flagging ambiguous or unclear wording. Copy editing can involve smoothing transitions, changing passive to active voice, and breaking up long sentences or paragraphs (which can cross the border into line editing).

This description is the concise version of what HNW seeks. Her only misgiving comes from the fact that her manuscript, though near-final, has not gone through developmental or line editing. She’s taken care of that herself, having acquired the necessary skills from her own scholastic and business experience. Thus she’s unsure the editor will take her seriously. Still, she adds this editor to her list of people to contact.

The final editor offers something she hasn’t seen before. After noting the elements she’s looking for…

Editor #9 (30 years, legal/textbooks, U.S.)

  1. Preparing a manuscript for publication: cleaning extra tabs and spaces, applying style tags, and the like.
  2. Reviewing and correcting a manuscript for grammar, spelling, punctuation, logic, consistency, and house style.
  3. Styling notes/citations, often including finding missing info.…

HNW finds something very important to her:

What copyediting is not: rewriting to suit my own personal style; imposing “what sounds better to me.”… In my books, maintaining author’s voice is rarely a huge consideration…, but still, you have to have a reason to make a change.

This paragraph relieves an anxiety HNW didn’t know she had. Owing to her experience, she hadn’t considered the possibility that her work might be rewritten. Seeing this editor’s assurance about voice preservation makes her wonder what the other candidates’ policy might be on the matter. She needs to review their presentations in this light and look for others who mention it. For now, she puts this editor at the top of her list, even though the subject of her book might not be within the editor’s purview. It’s close enough to a textbook that they have a basis for conversation.

Embracing subjectivity

I’m certain that every author would perceive each editor’s description from a different viewpoint. For example, I would go for Editor #2 (see Thinking Fiction: Subjectivity in Editing IV, Part I) because their description is detailed enough to tell me what I want to know, succinct enough to not belabor any points, and conveys experience in my target publishing arena. Another author might favor lots of details, as presented by Editors #3 and #5, or something loose and simple, like Editor #1’s one-liner: “correction of errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and basic facts/continuity.”

The great thing about working in such a subjectivity-oriented industry like publishing is that there’s something for everyone, as much in the author–editor equation as in the books–audience equation. The goal in both is to match the right parties with each other. So the smart strategy for independent editors in a business lacking uniform role and task definitions and performance standards is to cater to subjectivity: define themselves, their services, and their approach for the publishers and authors they best serve. That reduces wasted time and incompatible clients — and the headaches that go with them — leaving energy to enjoy successful projects and build satisfying careers.

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

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

September 29, 2014

On Today’s Bookshelf (XVIII)

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

July 23, 2012

eBook vs. pBook: Imaginative Discovery

Before anyone jumps to an unwarranted conclusion, let me say upfront that I really like ebooks for reading fiction (but not for nonfiction) and that given my personal preference, I would read fiction almost solely in ebook form. However, …

I have been observing the reading habits of a young child of a friend, sometimes getting a closeup view while babysitting. What I have noticed is that he seems to interact more with pbooks than ebooks. I have been thinking about that for several months now and I think the reason is what I call imaginative discovery.

The ebooks give him animation, which he does find entertaining. But I think he finds the animation to be similar to how I find a movie: great entertainment but it is someone else’s imagination that shapes the scene, not mine. I especially noticed this with the Lord of the Rings movies. Peter Jackson did a great job imagining the story, and although I enjoyed the movies greatly, I also remember commenting to my son how this scene and that scene were not how I imagined them when I was reading the book. With the Lord of the Rings movies, Peter Jackson did all the imagining for me; I had to exercise no creativity at all.

When my friend’s toddler reads a pbook, he often flips back-and-forth, or even folds over pages so that he can see two illustrations simultaneously. Sometimes he takes crayons and colors black-and-white illustrations or adds another head to a character or changes the colors used. Occasionally, he adds to the illustration additional characters or images. He interacts freely with the pbook and lets his imagination be his guide. He either seems to find that difficult to do with an ebook or is not motivated to interact with the ebook in a similar way.

It is this interaction that I call  imaginative discovery. I think imaginative discovery is a very important component of reading, especially for those who are just beginning the lifetime adventure that reading can bring about. When adults watch a movie or play a video game, they tend to become absorbed into whatever action is occurring before them. They do not independently discover new things or use their imagination. They follow the creator’s storyline.

In contrast, when an adult reads a novel — whether ebook or pbook — the adult uses his or her imagination to fill in what is missing, whether it be dialogue or visualization of the scene or how a character looks. But adults do so from a lifetime of experience. As we grow from childhood to adulthood our sensory experiences grow and we are increasingly able to imagine that first kiss, or how a teenager feels when bullied, or how slimy a frog’s skin is. Because we have built these experiences, it really doesn’t matter whether the book we are reading is a pbook or an ebook — we bring these experiences to both. Thus our preference for an ebook over a pbook is really guided by other factors, such as cost, ease of reading, ability to carry hundreds of books simultaneously without back-breaking strain, and the like.

But the young child doesn’t have that lifetime of experience to bring to the reading experience. He (or she) is only beginning on the road to building the tools needed for imaginative discovery. Thus the tactile capabilities of a pbook may be more important than all of the enhancements that an ebook can bring.

Even for an adult, an ebook can be a failure. Consider these two books: Esther’s Children: A Portrait of Iranian Jews (2002) edited by Houman Sarshar (ISBN 0827607512) and Five Hundred Years of Book Design (2001) by Alan Bartram (ISBN 0300090587). Each of these books relies heavily on visuals; that is, the illustrations — their detail and their color — are important to the tale being told. In neither case would reading the book on a Kindle or a Nook be what I would consider a quality experience. Not that they couldn’t be read on such a device; just that the experience would not be as fulfilling as when read in pbook form. The books are really designed for the pbook experience.

Just as those books are really designed for the pbook experience, I am increasingly convinced that the reading experience for beginning readers should be a pbook experience rather than an ebook experience. The reason is not because ebooks cannot be excellent children’s books, but because they are not able to give the emerging imagination the ability to imaginatively discover. The enhanced ebook’s experiences of such things as alternative endings or the ability to choose a different outfit for a character make for a wonderful tale, but limit the child’s creativity to a set of predetermined (by an adult) choices, when, instead, the child should be encouraged to design his or her own creations.

The pbook for children encourages a child to start with what is in front of him or her and to then rename, redo, recast, reshape the story as they see fit. Should they want to rename a character from Oscar to Annafrannabumpkin, the child can with a pbook; with an ebook, they are limited by whatever the programmer has opted to include. It is easy to add a second horn to a unicorn and call it a duocorn in a pbook; not so easy with an ebook that doesn’t have the option already built-in.

eBooks have a place in the scheme of reading, but I do not think they are yet ready to replace pbooks as the source of reading material for children, simply because of the limitations inherent in ebook creation that stifle the imaginative discovery that is essential to the mental growth of children. When it comes to reading, what to read and how to read it (i.e., ebook or pbook) should always be based on what is best for the reader, and in the case of children, on how well imaginative discovery is promoted.

June 6, 2012

The eBook Effect: Buying and Reading More

I have been reading ebooks for only a few years, yet there has been a steady shift in both how I read books (a shift away from pbooks toward ebooks) and the number of books I buy and read (I buy and read more books than when I was buying just pbooks) since I entered the world of ebooks.

Recently, I started a trilogy by indie author Joseph Lallo, The Book of Deacon. As was true for many of the ebooks I have bought and read, the first book in the trilogy, also called The Book of Deacon, was free. And like other books that I have enjoyed, I have purchased the subsequent books in the series, The Great Convergence and The Battle of Verril. I do not intend to review the books in this article, other than to say that this is a 4-star epic fantasy series, well worth trying.

I mention the trilogy, because it got me thinking about my reading habits and about numbers. The first book in the trilogy, I “bought” at Smashwords. I read it on my Nook Tablet, and when I came to the last page, immediately went online via the Tablet to the B&N ebookstore and purchased book 2. Book 3 was purchased the same way. What surprised me was that my Nook library, after purchasing The Battle of Verril, had 186 ebooks in it — and I have had my Nook Tablet for only two months! I wondered, how many ebooks have I purchased over the years?

From just three ebookstores — Smashwords, B&N, and Sony — I have purchased 722 ebooks (again, “purchase” includes ebooks gotten for free and ebooks that I have paid for). Add in the ebooks I purchased at Kobo, Baen, and several other ebookstores, the quantity rises above 900; add in ebooks obtained from places like Feedbooks and MobileRead, and the number climbs above 1,100.

I haven’t yet read all of the ebooks I purchased, but I am working away at the backlog, even as I increase the backlog by buying more ebooks. Since receiving my first Sony Reader as a holiday gift in December 2007 (the Sony 505), both my buying and reading habits have gradually, but dramatically, changed.

Before ebooks, I rarely bought indie-authored books. I also rarely bought novels. Nearly all my book purchases (at least 90%) were nonfiction, mainly biography, history, critical thinking, language, ethics, philosophy, and religion. I never cared much for the self-help books; I always felt that the only real self-help going on was the author helping him-/herself to my money. Books that I did buy either caught my eye on the bookshelf at a local bookstore, were reviewed in the New York Review of Books, The Atlantic, Smithsonian, The Economist, American Heritage, or other magazine to which I subscribed, or advertised in one of the magazines to which I subscribed. But the two primary sources for finding pbooks to buy were browsing the local bookstore and the New York Review of Books, including ads in the Review.

I didn’t buy indie-authored books because the authors were unknown and the books were expensive, especially as I only bought hardcover pbooks. Yet I did buy a lot of pbooks, rarely fewer than 125 pbooks a year (not including the pbooks my wife bought).

The advent of ebooks caused my reading and buying habits to shift. In the beginning of my personal ebook era, I continued to buy a large number of hardcover pbooks supplemented with a few ebooks. In the beginning, I was neither ready nor willing to simply move completely away from pbooks (which is still true). Nor was I ready nor willing to shift my focus from known authors and nonfiction to indie authors and fiction (which is no longer true). But as each month passed and I became more enamored with reading on my Sony Reader, I began to explore ebooks and with that exploration, came indie-authored fiction ebooks.

I am still unwilling to buy indie-authored nonfiction ebooks. I look at nonfiction books as both entertainment and sources of knowledge. Consequently, an author’s reputation and background remain important, and I still look to my magazines for guidance. However, where previously I rarely bought fiction and what fiction I did buy was not indie-authored, today I buy hundreds of indie-authored fiction ebooks. With the exception of perhaps a dozen nonfiction ebooks that I have purchased over the years (I bought the pbook first then decided to also buy the ebook version) and a handful of well-known fiction authors’ novels, every one of the more than 1,100 ebooks I have purchased are indie-authored fiction.

eBooks have had another impact on my reading in addition to the number and type of ebook purchases I make: I am reading more books than ever. Prior to ebooks, I would read 1 to 1.5 hardcover nonfiction pbooks each week (on average) over the course of a year. (I find that it takes me longer to read a nonfiction book than to read a fiction book; I tend to linger over facts and try to absorb them, whereas I consider fiction books to be generally a read-once-then-giveaway books.) Over my 4.5-year history with ebooks, the number of nonfiction pbooks that I purchase each year has steadily declined and it is taking me longer to read a nonfiction pbook, whereas the number of fiction ebooks I purchase has steadily increased and I read them faster than ever; I now read an average of two to three fiction ebooks a week — again, nearly all indie authored — in addition to my nonfiction reading.

Alas, not all is rosy in indie-authored ebookland. Sometimes I have to discard (delete) a goodly number of indie-authored ebooks before I find one that I think is worth reading from “cover-to-cover.” It is this experience that causes me to be unwilling to pay for the first ebook I read by an indie author. As those of you who are regular readers of An American Editor know, once I find an indie author who I think writes well, I am willing to pay for all of their ebooks that interest me. Indie authors that I have discovered and whose books I think are worth reading and buying include Rebecca Forster, Shayne Parkinson, Vicki Tyley, Michael Hicks, and L.J. Sellers. But finding these worthwhile authors is the difficult part, and ebooks have made the finding more difficult than ever.

The problem of ebooks, as the number of ebooks I have purchased attests, is that there are so many of them, which makes it hard to weed among them. I’ve lamented before that there is no gatekeeper for fiction ebooks. As poor as the gatekeeper system might be, it at least has the virtue of doing some preliminary weeding. True, sometimes gatekeepers do not distinguish between the wheat and the chaff, but at least with gatekeeping there would be some reduction in the number of ebooks that a reader would have to wade through to find the worthwhile indie-authored book. Under the current system, readers need to apply their own filters and hope for the best.

The ebook effect has altered the reading world by making more indie-authored books available to consumers, making gatekeeping a relic of the past, and making price a more important part of the reading-purchasing equation. eBooks change how readers relate to books. Whether ultimately this is for the better or not, remains to be seen.

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