Editing

‘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.

Capitalized Clues to a Glitch

1 October 2014

From The New York Times Artsbeat blog:

Advance reading copies of books – uncorrected proofs distributed to booksellers, editors and other interested parties before publication – usually contain little mistakes: stray typos, misspelled words, oddly formatted paragraphs.

But the goings-on in the uncorrected edition of the thriller “Moriarty,” coming from Harper, are most unusual.

. . . .

In the reader’s edition, some copies of which were sent to The New York Times, “Moriarty’s” narrator, an American detective named Frederick Chase, is laying out the background to the story – how Holmes and Moriarty came to be at Reichenbach Falls and what is believed to have happened next. All of a sudden he switches to capitals. “NO NEED TO COMPLICATE THINGS HERE, I THINK,” the text announces. “WHAT I’VE WRITTEN IS BROADLY TRUE.”

Can the narrator be offering some meta-commentary on his own text? At first it seems so. But then it happens again. In a spot where Chase and a Scotland Yard inspector have found an important clue that seems to be an excerpt from a previous Holmes story written by Dr. Watson, things suddenly veer off-piste again. “IT MAKES NO SENSE FOR FREDERICK CHASE TO HAVE READ THE SIGN OF FOUR,” the text declares.

There are at least six of these capitalized interjections, and sadly, they turn out to have nothing to do with anything so exciting as postmodern cleverness. They are instead Mr. Horowitz’s notes to a copy editor or, as Mr. Horowitz’s agent in London, Jonathan Lloyd, said, some “mild author reaction to some copy-editing points.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Bill for the tip.

Crowdsourced editing: e-publishing’s next frontier

29 September 2014

From The Guardian:

Publishing is an increasingly crowded field. This summer Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake became the first crowdfunded book to make it, via Unbound, on to the Booker longlist. Some publishers are crowdsourcing their slush piles: Swoon Reads, a YA imprint, lets readers vote on which manuscripts should get book deals.

Now, a publishing startup has entered a new frontier: crowdsourced editing. Advance Editions aims to “make good books better” by drawing on the wisdom, knowledge and proofreading skills of readers around the world.

An Advance Editions title is professionally edited before being soft-launched as a low-cost ebook, with the first half available to download free. Readers are then invited to suggest ways the author could improve the book, before it is finally published a few months later in ebook and print versions.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

The Proof is in the Proofreading

1 September 2014

From TPV regular JW Manus:

My biggest gripe with ebooks is a lack of proofreading.

. . . .

When I produce an ebook I have two hard and fast rules, Number One: squeaky clean text going into production. Number Two: the ebook must be proofread post-production. I charge people to proofread their ebooks for them, and a lot of clients take me up on it, but I’m more than happy for the writer to do it him/herself or hire a third party.

. . . .

Even though proofreading is essential, some would like to argue that they can skip it. They’ve already polished the manuscript to a high gloss, even had a professional editor have a crack at it, and, in some cases I’m sure, they are sick to death of that particular project and want to get on to something else. I get that. Been there. Even so, it’s part of being a publisher and it must be done.

Before I continue, let me explain what proofreading is NOT:

  • It’s not copy-editing
  • It’s not line-editing
  • It’s not editing at all

What proofreading IS:

  • Format checking
  • Typo searching
  • Error seeking

Link to the rest at JW Manus

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