I Will Not Join in the Snooty Trashing of Self-Published Books; Here’s Why

9 September 2015

From Foreword Reviews:

The self-published book—despite its surge in respectability of late—is still derided, with snoots in the air, as “vanity press” by self-important literary critics. On a recent New York Times Book Review podcast, editor Pamela Paul proudly asserted that they don’t even read them. After all, who has time to go through all those so-called books? The assumption is that no legitimate publisher would touch it, so the author had to go it alone.

So, indulge me a little and let me take you back to my very first editing assignment. I was fifteen years old and my grandfather, a former Hungarian refugee from the Holocaust, was writing his life story. I was “the writer” in a family of doctors, so he came to me for this project, asking me to fix his broken English. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of his book. It was 1918, and he and his brother were hiding in wine casks in a courtyard in Paks, Hungary, while the townspeople went on an anti-Jewish rampage. My grandfather, six years old, looking out through cork holes in his makeshift hiding place, witnessed this:

“The mob was busy and loud. Every business was looted, homes ransacked and fires burning at will. … The women were beaten, their clothes ripped off, the men’s beards were plucked and given twenty-five lashes on the street, as the enraged mob looked on and enjoyed all the atrocities. … As the night came, the street was filled with drunks and looters singing hate songs which sometimes were mixed with the cry and pleading for mercy of the Jewish population. As we looked out from our peephole, we recognized some of our neighbors as they went by with their loot, and we fell asleep. Our sleep was short-lived, when we heard an enormously loud crash. The mob reached our house, broke through the steel shutters and rampaged the house, and as we looked out from our hiding place, across the street, the little Jewish-owned grocery store was in flames.”

My grandpa’s book recalls his childhood as a Jew in Hungary, his escape—with my grandmother and my father, then four years old—from Europe to make a new life in America. I am nearly fifty years old, and for American Jews of my generation, my grandpa’s story is both an ordinary one—for it was mirrored in the experiences of grandparents of many American Jews who grew up in the safety of ’60s and ’70s America—and an extraordinary one, because it described a lost world that took on mythic proportions in my imagination, of a life filled with danger and split-second decisions that could mean living or dying.

It was a heavy editing assignment for me as a teenager who only had some vague idea that I wanted to be a writer. What I did not tell my grandpa was that I kept much of his original wording in the book. I cannot imagine reading my grandfather’s book in anything other than his broken, Hungarian-accented English.

Later, after it was completed, my grandpa showed me a letter he received from a literary agent. She wrote that while his story of escape from the Holocaust had potential, there needed to be some sex in it if she were to sell it to any publisher. My teenage brain tried to wrap around this thought. Some agent behind a desk somewhere in New York was telling my grandfather, the most honest man I knew, a man who lived enough adventure for many lives, that his life story was not worth telling if he did not invent some sex scenes.

Link to the rest at Foreword Reviews and thanks to Judith for the tip.

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Copyediting or Proofreading? Getting the Most for Your Editing Dollar

13 May 2015

From The Book Designer:

As a self-publishing author, it’s next to impossible to manage all aspects of publishing a book by yourself. Inevitably, you’ll need to seek help with at least some stages of the process. And there’s a bevy of providers out there, eager to offer their assistance.

. . . .

Joanna Penn again warns authors to “do their due diligence” when seeking help with self-publishing. These comments are as true for editing as for any other author service.

How can authors know what they’re getting? Bottom line: if you’re paying someone to help you, that transaction must be transparent. You need to know exactly what the editor will do and what it will cost. In short, all the terms must be spelled out plainly.

Lately, most authors who contact us are requesting a quote for proofreading. And we could simply provide a quote for proofreading, but that wouldn’t be transparent. Why? Because when we look at the manuscript they’ve sent, it’s clear that the manuscript doesn’t need proofreading—it needs copyediting.

. . . .

The easiest way to remember the difference between copyediting and proofreading is to consider when they occur in the editing process. Proofreading is the final stage of editing. It occurs after your book has been formatted for print or digital distribution—after you get it back from your formatter or book designer. Proofreading occurs when your book is in its final form—in the environment in which your reader will read it.

For print books, proofreading will occur on a PDF. For an ebook, the proofreader will view your book as an epub or mobi file—on a Kindle, perhaps—and keep a list of any changes that need to be made in the master file. Any corrections that the proofreader suggests will need to be addressed by your formatter or designer. If you’re the formatter or designer, you’ll be the one making the corrections.

The proofreader will also look for errors that have been introduced during the formatting and design process. That’s right! Every time someone touches your book manuscript for any reason, the possibility of introducing errors exists. So the fewer changes you have to make at the proofreading stage, the better.

. . . .

When an author submits a manuscript to us for “proofreading,” this is the first question we ask: “Has your book been copyedited?” If it hasn’t, the process can become costly for the author.

Here’s why: editors generally copyedit a manuscript using a variety of automated copyediting tools. These tools not only help editors to be more accurate in hunting down errors, they also help them to be more efficient during the copyediting process. If an editor charges by the hour, you will want her to use the tools that will make the process more efficient, as this will be less of a drain on your book budget.

Most automated tools only work with Microsoft Word—the editor’s tool of choice. It follows, then, that the bulk of corrections should occur when your book manuscript has not yet been formatted as a PDF, epub, or mobi.

Further, copyediting can involve recasting and reordering sentences for clarity, a task you most definitely want to avoid when your book has been formatted or laid out.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

Self-Publishing Boom Boosts Freelance Editing Services

6 May 2015

From NPR:

For awhile it probably seemed to some friends and family that Rebecca Faith Heyman had pursued an expensive degree at NYU without any intention of actually using it. She did her undergraduate and graduate degrees there, both in English, and while many of her classmates secured internships at the big publishers and magazines, Heyman spent her summers working service jobs in hotels and restaurants. “When I got out of school I wasn’t really sure what to do,” she told me recently. “I had started teaching yoga, which is not, as you can imagine, terribly lucrative.”

But despite forgoing the traditional publishing route, Heyman had always held an interest in book editing, and what with her advanced degrees in English she thought she could give it a try. So in 2007, right around the time of the Amazon Kindle’s debut, she signed up for a couple online freelance marketplaces, the kind where potential clients post jobs on which freelance editors bid. At first, many of the jobs she took on were for simple proofreading, but when she began offering tentative feedback on the editorial structure of a manuscript she was surprised to find a receptive audience.

“I would say things like, ‘Hey, I noticed there’s this big continuity error, and you might want to go back and fix it,’” Heyman said. “I wasn’t really being paid to do that, I would just let them know.”

. . . .

“People really responded to the feedback and asked for more,” she said. “And I said, ‘Well gee, I guess my literary taste has value.’”

Over the next few years, from about 2007 to 2009, Heyman put herself through a crash course in freelancing — she learned how to be client-facing, price her services, and use her education and literature background to provide editorial suggestions.

This commitment to building out her freelancing career paid off as self-publishing swiftly crossed over into the mainstream. A recent analysis by Bowker of ISBNs, the identification numbers assigned to most books, found that the “ISBNs associated with self-published books climbed 437% between 2008 and 2013.” According to the Author Earnings Report, an analysis of the 120,000 bestselling e-books on Amazon that’s released quarterly by bestselling author Hugh Howey, “in mid-year 2014, indie-published authors as a cohort began taking home the lion’s share (40%) of all e-book author earnings generated on Amazon.com while authors published by all of the Big Five publishers combined slipped into second place at 35%.”

. . . .

How big is this growing market? Exact data is hard to come by, but a recent paper published in Learned Publishing found that up to 59 percent of self-published authors have at some point used an editor.

“There is evidence to suggest a growing awareness among self-publishing authors that professional editing is an essential component for increasing the chance that their work will sell,” the authors wrote.

Link to the rest at NPR

‘They,’ the Singular Pronoun, Gets Popular

16 April 2015

From The Wall Street Journal:

Copy editors might seem like stick-in-the-mud traditionalists when it comes to language change, but when I attended the American Copy Editors Society’s annual conference in Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago, I found growing acceptance of a usage that has long been disparaged as downright ungrammatical: treating “they” as a singular pronoun.

According to standard grammar, “they” and its related forms can only agree with plural antecedents. But English sorely lacks a gender-neutral singular third-person pronoun, and “they” has for centuries been pressed into service for that purpose, much to the grammarians’ chagrin. Now, it seems, those who have held the line against singular “they” may be easing their stance.

“They” most often turns singular in common usage when its antecedent is considered generic, not referring to a single known person. Nearly everyone would find that they can stomach the “they” in this very sentence, agreeing with “nearly everyone.”

Things get trickier when the antecedent of “they” more clearly refers to one person. Areader of this column may not like what they see in this sentence, for instance.

Still, there is no question that “they” is more idiomatic than clunky alternatives that include both genders, as in “he or she,” “he/she” or “(s)he.” All of those seek to replace “he” as a generic pronoun, which has been fading ever since the move toward nonsexist language in the 1970s.

. . . .

In Sweden, similar debates have led to increasing acceptance of the pronoun “hen,” which has been proposed since the 1960s as a gender-neutral alternative to “han” (“he”) and “hon” (“she”). The efforts of those pushing for “hen” will pay off next week, when it’s included among 13,000 new words in the Swedish Academy’s official dictionary.

Lind to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

The Makings of an Unprofessional Editor

2 April 2015

From An American Editor:

I like to think that all of my colleagues are professionals. I take pride in my editing career and in my skills as an editor. Thus, when confronted with editorial rigidity, I shudder and think “there goes an unprofessional editor.”

What brings this to mind are posts in another forum in which a “professional” editor declared that using a comma before “and” (as in a serial [Oxford] comma) is always wrong and that the very first thing the editor does is search for those commas to delete them. Another editor stated that she refuses to work with authors who are unwilling to accept as gospel her punctuation decisions, including removal of that pesky comma.

If you ask editors with opinions such as these the basis for their position, it usually boils down to “that’s the rule and rules are rules, made to be adhered to, not broken!” Grammatical rigidity is not, in my book, the sign of a professional editor.

. . . .

There are many problems with inflexible editors, that is, editors who apply rules so rigidly it is hard to understand what the role of the editor is. Inflexible editors are like computer macros — they see something that fits the pattern and assume that they have the cure. Professional editors use tracking because we know that someone else (usually the author) may well have a different opinion and want to undo the changes we made.

Unprofessional editors are a problem for professional editors because they inspire their clients to complain loudly in public forums about poor editing and how much better it would have been had the client self-edited. They are a problem because they tend to cheapen the value of editing.

More importantly, unprofessional editors loudly proclaim what they are doing and thus influence other editors. There is nothing more heartbreaking as an editor to see another editor emulate an unprofessional editor, thinking that is the correct path to take.

. . . .

When I speak with these editors, I often ask if they understand how the “rules” came into being, what they represent, and how evolving language requires flexibility. I find that I am always disappointed in the responses. If I ask which rule book they are following, and then ask why they are not following a different rule book, the response is usually one that asks “Are you crazy? Everyone knows that the book I follow isthe book to follow!”

Link to the rest at An American Editor

Six Things I Learned While Writing My First Book

23 March 2015

From Lifehacker:

Writing a book will almost kill you. By the end, you’ll be exhausted, brain dead, and filled with a bubbling sense of anxiety. I recently finished up my first book, and here are a few takeaways from the ordeal that can be applied to pretty much any large scale project.

. . . .

Books are complicated things. It doesn’t matter if it’s a technical manual, non-fiction, or fiction, keeping track of everything requires a lot of effort, which is exactly why special software exists for helping you do that.

After trying out a bunch of different software, I settled on Ulysses (though Scrivener is excellentas well, as is Evernote) to get everything organized. Ulysses has an excellent exporter system where you can define how the formatting works, so it can easily be turned into a Word document with the specific formatting options a publisher needs (and they always want a specific format, regardless of the type of book).

. . . .

Of course, it doesn’t really matter what tool you use, but pick something before you start and stick with it. Be prepared for your notes, outlines, and everything else to become a cluttered, unreadable mess if you don’t create a system for dealing with them ahead of time.

. . . .

A schedule is great, but be prepared for everything you’re doing to take considerably longer than you think it will. This is especially the case at the beginning before you get into the flow of writing.

In my case, this was mostly about formatting. Learning what a formatting a publisher wants and digging through their style guide every other paragraph seriously slows you down. Until you get the hang of it, everything will take twice as long as it should.

Since my book’s a collection of Raspberry Pi projects, it also meant I had to actually make everything in the book, troubleshoot problems, and get projects working properly before I wrote anything. I didn’t think about this in my initial planning phase, and quickly realized that I wasn’t giving myself enough time. I had to redo my schedule completely to accommodate this.

. . . .

There’s a common adage with fiction that you should prepare to “kill your darlings”. It’s about deleting sentences or words you love for the greater good of your work. But it’s bigger than that. In reality, be prepared to kill off full paragraphs and chapters—I cut massive parts out before sending it off for editing.

And that’s just your own editing—your editor will cut even more. As I started getting notes back from my editor, I quickly realized how I couldn’t take any of those edits personally. Obviously a book about a Raspberry Pi is different than a work of fiction here, but the same basic premise remains: you will be ruthlessly edited. Accept it. I was so caught up in writing this book, I often wrote in a weird, privatized little language that was clearly a result of working too hard. By the end, I became the Raspberry Pi: small, low powered, and a bit closed off from the rest of the world. The later chapters made no sense, and the notes sent back to me are best summed up as, “what are you saying here?!”

Link to the rest at Lifehacker and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Prior to reading this post, PG hadn’t heard of Raspberry Pi. If you’re like PG, here’s a link: Raspberry Pi.

The Princess Author Syndrome

25 February 2015

From author and editor Judith Briles via The Book Designer:

In front of me was a new fiction manuscript. I had read the first three chapters to get a feel for the book beforehand. It needed editing, but so do all books to some degree. The opening chapter had legs and moved me to the next, always a good sign.

Could it move to the editing stage? My recommendation was to make it so at the joint meeting with the author and editor in my offices who had already done a pre-screening of the manuscript and felt that it was ready to start formal editing.

The author was shocked that I could make that decision without reading all 100,000 words of his masterpiece. Those of us who do content editing can tell quickly if we have a mess on our hands or something that needs what I call tweaking. It can be time consuming, but not massive re-writes. I didn’t see the need in front of me, again recommending that the book be moved to a full edit and proceeded to talk game plan and book strategy with him.

What evolved was something else; something that started my internal author alarms positioning for warning, warning.

My warning signal was buzzing … warning, warning … in front of me was a Princess Author.

Princess Authors have no gender. They want others to inundate them with words of praise about their books (or selves) … crave to be told that their words melt like butter on hot bread and that everyone will rush to buy the book … and believe that presence on social media and marketing is for others … never them. Their books never stink.

In other words, Princess Authors want to be “kept” … thinking/believing that there is no work involved after a book is written.

. . . .

To avoid drifting into the Princess Author Syndrome, authors today must be as proactive as any have even been. It’s a competitive world out there—a book-eat-book world.

To avoid being sucked into the Princess Author Syndrome, today’s author quickly learns: if author and book success is to be, it is clearly up to me.

. . . .

My time is not free. As he got out his checkbook to pay my fee for the two-hour consult, I told him to stop and keep his money. I wasn’t going to work with him to develop all of the above and more. He wanted to be taken care of; to be told that his words were golden; and that the world would knock down bookstore doors to get copies of his book. It was not going to happen.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer and thanks to James for the tip.

Here’s a link to Judith Briles’ books

The Perils of Purple Prose

1 February 2015

From author and editor C.S. Lakin via Live Write Thrive:

What do you want people to experience when they read your novel? Do you want them to marvel at your fabulous writing skills? Are you hoping they’ll be impressed by your outstanding grasp of grammar? Perhaps you want to dazzle them with your exceptional vocabulary?

Or do you want them to experience a story?

Truth is, often times, you can either impress people with your prose or you can tell them a story, but you can’t do both. So many of my editing clients’ manuscripts are riddled with prose so filled with flowery language that the meaning is lost. I find myself offering the same advice over and over, my take on Nike’s slogan: Just say it.

Throw Away Your Thesaurus

Okay, don’t throw it away, but hide it in the far corner of a cabinet. Focus not on how to impress your reader but on what your character actually sounds like. Are you writing from the point of view of a thirteen-year-old girl? Get in her head. (I know it’s scary in there, but do it anyway.) Is your character a middle-aged insurance salesman? His voice is going to sound much different from that of a young mom, or a soldier, or a New York City taxi driver. What kinds of words does your character use in daily life? Does he speak in long, complex sentences, or does he have a more straightforward style? Is he funny? Snarky? Bitter? Maybe you have one of each in your novel—excellent.

But I bet, in real life, none of them speaks in purple prose.

. . . .

So taking into account the character, the genre, the circumstances, and the author’s purpose for the scene, the rewritten passage [in the original post] conveys language that should better appeal to readers and make them want to read more. In the After segment, you can hear the character’s voice. Your paragraphs should sound like your characters’ voices and reflect your writing style. Personality on the page—that’s what you’re looking for.

And nobody loves a smarty-pants.

Link to the rest at Live Write Thrive

Here’s a link to C.S. Lakin’s books

In Defense of Editing

18 January 2015

From author Sarah Hoyt via PJ Media:

I think it’s because indie publishing is so new that it’s getting infusions of new blood all the time, so that, like Young Adult literature it needs to repeat itself because no matter how often you’ve said it, it’s always brand new for a significant number of newly-interested people.

So for those who are newcomers to the field, I will explain editing once again.

First of all, the first editing, that must happen, is your own.  Yes, you’ll sometimes hear of writers who publish their first drafts.  If their books are worth spit one of two things is happening: either they are lying (not necessarily on purpose.  What I consider first draft has undergone significant editing because I back-edit while writing, even though I know I shouldn’t), or they are so experienced that the writing is almost flawless outright.

Even so, I guarantee no one publishes first drafts without copy-editing. What is copyediting?

This is where you go in and fix words and punctuation.  Most of the time it means catching typos your spellchecker won’t catch. “Ours” for “hours,” for instance.  Ears for years. But it also means catching the “word of the day” (everyone has one.  Some days you repeat a word without noticing.  Could be something simple like “extraordinary,” or a really odd one like “counterproductive.” But your brain becomes enamored of the word and goes to it by preference if even remotely applicable.  When you’re copy-editing, you’ll find these patches, and you should fix them.

So copy-editing is the minimum level of editing you should have done.  You can do it, but if you do it you have to find a way to break the eye-glaze that comes with editing your own stuff.  Reading aloud or reading backward work for some people.  [Like me. Nothing better for technical writing.–Charlie] I can’t do reading aloud, because my training was in poetry, and I become obsessed by the sound of the words, and edit in such a way that the books read artificial, as though you should be declaiming.

. . . .

Next level up from copy-editing, sometimes included in it but often not, is “Continuity and fact-checking editing.”  This is where your copyeditor verifies that Henry the VIII really did have six wives.  Or that your character only has two arms in that action scene, not seven.  Good ones go further than that and will verify minutia in your books.  My favorite editor whom I used for my indie novel once got up on my case because I had the wrong kind of taper in an Elizabethan tavern scene.  He’s expensive and worth every penny. (And the publishing houses are bad at this, particularly for historical, because their copyeditors think they should do this and lack the ability.  This is how I had a copy editor tell me to capitalize Terra Firma because it was a country.)

For this, expect to pay more like $40 for 10k words.

. . . .

The highest level of editing is structural editing and it is almost book doctoring. The line between the two blurs. Here the editor will tell you that your story lacks a climax. That you need to rewrite the ending.  That your male character should be female to enhance the impact of chapter 27.

Most of the time my advice on that level of editing is “don’t. Just don’t.”

. . . .

Make sure the editor works in your genre/subgenre. As with covers, if they don’t, they’re likely to give you something that won’t work at all. For instance, having a Romance editor do SF or vice versa will mess up the book.

Link to the rest at PJ Media and thanks to Jaye for the tip.

Here’s a link to Sarah Hoyt’s books

Low-cost ebook conversions enabled massive growth of the market, but there were many errors

10 December 2014

From Publishing Perspectives:

Publishers have converted a huge number of their books into ebooks over the past few years.

For these converted books, most publishers think, “we’re done.” I think they should be thinking, “we’re just getting started.”

That’s the way it is with a 1.0 release of software, and I think publishers should view ebooks as software.

Let’s back up a bit. Why did publishers convert at all? Here are some possible reasons.

  1. They believed that ebooks would be profitable, especially since low-quality conversion was so cheap.
  2. They were skeptical that ebooks would be profitable, but low-quality conversion was so cheap that it was worth hedging their bets.
  3. They feared Amazon’s reprisal against their paper sales if they failed to get on board with Kindle.

. . . .

What I want to emphasize is that low-quality conversion, because of its low cost, was a critical enabler for entry into the ebook market.

I used to rail against low-quality conversion, to whoever would listen. Then, I had a humbling realization. Publishers did exactly the right thing in opting for low-quality conversion, because it allowed them to enter a new market quickly and with low initial investment.

But I haven’t become too humble: I think they did the right thing for the wrong reason. They think they converted cheaply and now they’re done. I think they did the right thing to convert cheaply, but they should just view those conversions as version 1.0.

. . . .

Another way of putting this is that publishers need to start treating ebooks as software, since ebooks are software.

  1. Software has bugs that need to be fixed.
  2. Software needs to evolve as its environment changes.

To be fair, nothing in publishers’ previous, paper-based business would have prepared them to understand the dynamics of software.

. . . .

One might think that publishers’ quality process savvy would have ported well to the world of ebooks. Sadly, this could hardly be farther from the truth.

As far as I can tell, these time-honored quality control processes almost never happen to ebooks. This is especially puzzling in the case of bug fixes, since the ebook medium drastically lowers the cost of reporting and fixing typos.

Paper books don’t have a button allowing a reader to report a typo to the publisher. But, Kindle books might as well not have such a button, since, in my experience, publishers hardly ever act on Kindle typo reports. I made hundreds of such reports before realizing that it is virtually pointless to do so.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG says the 2.0 version of lousy ebook editions of backlist books won’t happen. Big Publishers regard ebook backlists as cash cows and you don’t put cash into cash cows.

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