Tag Archives: editing

How do experienced editors find all the mistakes?

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If you’ve come here looking for editing help, all hope is lost.

I asked the question because I’ve been going through my collection of nine ghost stories, cleaning up the typos and spelling errors. I finally sent off the corrected manuscript this afternoon.

Evil Spirit

But here’s the thing. I know for a certainty that if I read through the manuscript again, I’ll find more typos. They (various gurus) say that a writer is the last person that ought to be proofreading his or her work. They are right. We get distracted by the story and start tinkering with the dialogue or the action and forget all about looking for mistakes.

I’ve decided that experienced editors are bionic in some way or (if you’re a Star Trek fan) part of an inhuman collective called the BORG. Otherwise, they couldn’t find all the mistakes the rest of us miss. The trouble is, these people charge $100 a minute, much more than the book will probably earn. So, we proofread our own stuff and hope we don’t get dinged by a reviewer who writes, “This story was pretty good except for a shitload of errors.”

I’m not sure I want to trust a reviewer who uses the word “shitload.”

But readers trust those reviewers and once they see the book is sinking like a stone on Amazon (due to the weight of that shitload), they (the readers) start looking for more mistakes. BobsYourUncle from Champaign Illinois comments that he has never seen a green cardinal except in a bad dream. RomanceGirl from South Florida comments that the sex was unrealistic and that she ought to know. FlyingNun from Rome says the book has too many pagan references in it and that the author and all the characters are going to hell.

The whole shebang starts because somewhere in the novel, the author accidentally used “your” instead of “you’re.” Once those comments get started on Amazon, they spread to Twitter where mobs of unwashed critics slam the book even though they haven’t read it. If you’ve read the news lately, you know this can happen, especially in the YA world.

There are days when an author thanks his or her lucky stars that the grammar Nazis and the worst of the general public haven’t heard of him or her because if you miss a typo, you have a target on your back. So does your book.

Let me suggest a solution. If you learn hoodoo or Voodoo, you can hide hexes within your books. When you do this, innocent-looking descriptions and inane dialogue passages contain groups of letters that summon evil spirits who don’t like people who go on Twitter, Amazon, or GoodReads and say nasty things about books. Readers who aren’t doing anything wrong have nothing to worry about (usually).

According to a recent poll, evil spirits charge less than editors. So, when it comes to choosing whether to pay $100 a minute for an editor or mixing up some graveyard dirt and rusty nails for evil spirits, what do you think most savvy authors are going to do?

–Malcolm

 

 

 

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Hire an editor who knows what a style guide is

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As my publisher and I learned recently, college students and others who are interested in editing or proofreading novels might give you a blank stare when you ask them which style guide they prefer.

If you’re lucky, they’ll say they follow the Chicago Manual of Style (or an adaptation of it) since that’s the most prevalent one accepted by general book publishers in the United States.  When an editor looks at my work, s/he will almost always change things because–as a former journalist–I grew up using the Associated Press Stylebook which (obviously) focuses on newspapers and includes a handy section on media law.

When I was in college many years ago, we tended to use A Manual for Writers by Kate Turabian because it focused on research papers from the very formal doctoral dissertations and masters theses down to the more rudimentary papers our teachers often called “themes.” Needless to say, there was a lot of information in this about footnotes and citations and tables–not something you see in most novels or news stories. We were also encouraged to study Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.

If an English major is thinking about the future, they’re going to be aware of the fact they’ll need a practical use for their B.A. or M.A. degree. In the so-called old days, a lot of companies that had little or nothing to do with novels, nonfiction books, news, or formal research writing liked to hire people with liberal arts degrees and then train them to do the specific work the available jobs required. Those days seem to be long gone.

from The Chicago Manual of Style

from The Chicago Manual of Style

Of course, any college student is better off with a resume, and one good way of getting resume material is a college job that relates to one’s degree or, better yet, an internship. The starting point here, other than help with the college’s or department’s placement office or internship tsar (by whatever title they use), is finding out what prospective summer jobs and internships require. If one researches what proofreaders and various kinds of editors actually do, it’s quite likely the use of a style guide will come up fairly early on even if one has never heard the term before.

Chances are good, the college library, the college bookstore, and the English department itself will have a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style. A school of journalism will have a copy of the Associated Press Stylebook. Other disciplines will have copies of the specialized style guides their graduates might one day use.

Basic research is much easier today than it used to be because the Internet offers a quick and easy way to find out what we need to know about anything, including what a student needs to know before going on a job interview for a summer internship at a book publisher’s office.

When I look up proofreading online, here’s the Wikipedia information I find about how it’s done: “Before it is typeset, copy is often marked up by an editor or customer with various instructions as to typefaces, art, and layout. Often these individuals will consult a style guide of varying degrees of complexity and completeness. Such guides are usually produced in house by the staff or supplied by the customer, and should be distinguished from professional references such as The Chicago Manual of Style, the AP Stylebook, The Elements of Style, or Gregg Reference Manual. When appropriate, proofreaders may mark errors in accordance with their house guide instead of the copy when the two conflict. Where this is the case, the proofreader may justifiably be considered a copy editor.”

Those handy links will lead the prospective editorial job applicant to enough additional information about working for a publisher to suggest reading through–or even buying–a copy of the applicable style guide. Then, when the interviewer says, “We use a version of  the Chicago Manual of Style” or “Our style sheet is based on the AP Stylebook,” the hopeful English or journalism major will be ready to demonstrate that s/he knows what that is and is comfortable using it.

Frankly, I hope that if a student asks his or her English/Journalism professor or internship/placement specialist about the benefits of working for a book or newspaper publisher, the university would be ready with applicable advice about the work’s benefits and duties. That way, the student could decide whether they could learn from the experience or not and then be fully prepared for the kinds of questions the interviewer might ask.

–Malcolm

Write sloppy, then cut

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penBeginning writers often lack the confidence to write sloppy, anything-goes first drafts. Veterans will tell you these writers have an internal editor that judges every word before it reaches the page or screen.

Sometimes the internal editor looks like Mom, Dad, Reverend Johnson or Professor Smith in the English department. These people have opinions about writing, right and wrong and what you ought to do with your life. If you can hear them saying “tisk tisk” while you write your first draft, that draft is probably going to be anal.

Neither your imagination nor your flow of words needs to be restricted when you write the first draft.

It also takes confidence to cut words. Veteran writers refer to a writer’s favorite scenes and sentences as “your darlings.” These are wonderful in the wrong way. They’re funny, tragic or the best poetry you’ve ever seen. The problem? They don’t fit the story.

Many students in a creative writing or basic news reporting classes are shocked when their short stories and practice news reports come back marked with a red pen. Instructors cut unnecessary words we use in conversation but shouldn’t be using when we write.

Adverbs have a bad reputation. Adjectives are next on the list of suspects. So are weak verbs. Look at each one while you’re cutting words and see if it adds anything to the sentence.

On Facebook these days, it’s rather a fad to say “I’m totally addicted to this TV show.” The word “totally” adds nothing because addicted is addicted. Many TV news reporters didn’t get the message when they took basic reporting in college and heard the instructor say “stop using the words ‘totally destroyed.'” A destroyed condition is already total.

Saying “so totally addicted” might sound “in” on Facebook and at the local mall, but the words slow down your writing. Worse yet, they date your writing; by that I mean, once they do out of style, your story will go out of style, too.

Consider this exercise: Look for short story and creative nonfiction writing competitions with strict maximum word counts. Think of a plot or subject and then write the first draft with the idea that you’re going to have twice as many words as you need. Now cut the first draft so it fits the competition’s requirements. You’ll be amazed at how much stronger the work becomes when the unnecessary words are polished away.

Sculptors have said that creating a statue out of a block of marble is a process of taking away the unwanted stone. You’re doing this when you delete the words you don’t need.  The resulting writing sings just as the sculptor’s best work looks like stone that lives and breathes.

Your first-draft sloppiness gets all the ingredients in place. Editing smooths away everything that will get in the way of the final story.

Malcolm

LandBetweenCoverMalcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasies, folktales and paranormal short stories. His latest three-story set, “The Land Between the Rivers,” was released on Kindle September 29.

The tedious (but necessary) part of editing

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When I read an author’s work for the first time, I quickly discover his or her habits, pet phrases, favorite sentence structures, and unique approaches to dialogue or description. I also see whether or not s/he has taken a word, phrase or mannerism that was magical the first time it appeared and then reduced its impact by using it excessively throughout the rest of the novel.

For example, if the author describes war in chapter one as “an honorable horror” or sex with a main character as “wanton enchantment,” I might like the creativity of those phrases. If, as I read, I begin to see “honorable horror” or “wanton enchantment” showing up multiple times, I think, what a pity, you’ve just destroyed the impact of the right words at the right time, by using them every time.

Habit Words

Most of us are so used to the way we talk and write, we don’t always notice our own beautiful phrases and favorite words, much less those occasions when we overuse them. You’ve probably seen talk show hosts and others joking about people who can’t say anything without saying “like” and “you know” several times per paragraph. In most cases, the “like” and “you know” people don’t know how odd they sound to others because they don’t realize how often they say those words.

As writers, we’re often unaware of the special phrases in our own work that become trite through overuse by the end of an article, novel or short story, much less the everyday words we habitually rely upon so often that they become as trite as “like” and “you know.”  For one person, foods may typically be “tasty” or friends might be “dear” or one thing or another might be “memorable.”

In conversation, perhaps we can get away with our habit words. In writing, they become blemishes.This is not to say we need to eliminate them or, worse yet, use a thesaurus for a series of minor variations on them. But we do need to see how we’re using them and whether they are really serving us well when they appear frequently in our work.

Editing

A good editor will not only find your errors and inconsistencies, s/he will also find your watered down beautiful phrases and your overused habit words. For authors, the task is more difficult because we’re often focusing on scenes, chapters and plots while our distracting habits fly by unnoticed.

When we copy edit our manuscripts closely, though, pet phrases and habit words might start getting our attention. Perhaps we change them on the spot or perhaps we start making a list of words we might be overusing. Once the major elements of a work are fixed, the spelling and grammatical errors caught and the punctuation and overly complex sentence structures are fixed, it’s time to go through the manuscript again with what (for me) is a tedious by necessary part of editing.

I suggest using your word processing software’s search feature as one way to find your habit words. If you creatively wrote “an honorable horror” in page one of your book, search on the word “honorable” and see how often it appears. You may be shocked to discover you not only used “an honorable horror” multiple times in your 80,000-word book, but that you started using the word “honorable” in other combinations, i.e., “an honorable moment,” “an honorable job,” or “an honorable disposition.” Worse yet, the word combination will be coming out of the mouths of multiple characters as though they met somewhere and agreed to adopt a new pet phrase.

The search feature will also show you whether you’ve used habit words so often they’ll become a distraction to readers. One author might describe everything from people to days to dinners to experiences as “fine,” while another may use the word “dear” over an over. If the search feature tells you the word “fine” appears a hundred times in your book, you might want to go look at why that’s the case.

By the time you clean the pet phrases and habit words out of your manuscripts, I think you’ll see that your prose is not only stronger, it’s more on point in every scene and sequence of dialogue.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the contemporary fantasy novels “Sarabande.” “The Sun Singer,” and the upcoming “The Seeker.”

Zen and the Art of Editing

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“When you seek it, you cannot find it.” — Zen Proverb

When editing and revising a novel in progress, I try not to seek anything. While I sometimes jot down things to consider, I don’t make lists of characters, events, dialogue snippets or internal monologues as I ponder the latest draft of my manuscript. If I do, I suddenly can’t see the forest for the trees.

Like a hiker on an unknown trail, I try to get a sense of the place–in this case, that place is the world created by the novel. Casually, I wonder: What is going on here? Who are these people? What do they want?

If I were to look too hard for specifics, it would blind me to what is missing, what could have been said, what might have been done. In many ways, I’m reading my manuscript the way I would read another author’s novel for the first time—with as few expectations as possible.

In my Sarabande’s Journey blog, I have been writing about some of the issues, symbols, motifs, and themes that are often found in a heroine’s journey story.  While my novel in progress, Sarabande, is a heroine’s journey, I do not read my manuscript looking for those issues, symbols, motifs and themes.

First, I need to internalize all of that before I begin writing; otherwise, the novel sounds like I’m simply pasting ideas into a story say, the way somebody might randomly use words in a language they don’t know in a conversation with a native speaker. Second, I don’t intend for my fiction to be a demonstration of the heroine’s journey theme or to explore everything that has been written, say, about women in a man’s world. The novel is a story before it’s anything else.

I know before I begin writing where my character is going and why. I know how the novel will end. I try to keep everything in between loose and flexible until I begin to write. Then, I go where the story carries me. When I edit and revise a manuscript, I try not to have a destination. I want to see where I am being carried by the currents and tides of the work. Editing this way is relaxing if you don’t fret about it.

Worrying about whether one ought to be doing one thing or another thing with the story doesn’t help the work. Actually, nothing helps the work more than staying out of the way of the story as much as possible. When I put on my editing hat, I’ll “fix” a lot of things and re-do a lot of things without being heavy handed.

Does this sound chaotic? Not at all. When you’re not actively looking for a result, the novel begins to edit itself.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the recently released Bears; Where they Fought: Life in Glacier Park’s Swiftcurrent Valley, a glimpse at the dramatic history of the most beautiful place on Earth. A Natural Wonderland… Amazing Animals… Early Pioneers…Native Peoples… A Great Flood… Kinnickinnick… Adventures… The Great Northern Railway.

“Give a month at least to this precious reserve.  The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and will make you truly immortal. — John Muir, “Our National Parks,” 1901

Editing on a snowy afternoon

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Lesa Campbell photo


What a perfect afternoon for finishing the edits for the new edition of “The Sun Singer” coming soon from Vanilla Heart Publishing. The afternoon snow ensured that (a) few people would be showing up at the front door and (b) everyone would be trying to get home before a big traffic jam started rather than dialing my phone number.

After we took a few pictures and warmed up some leftover stew for dinner, I e-mailed the file to the publisher.

I haven’t heard about any traffic jams in Jackson County, but WSB radio out of Atlanta was monitoring bumper-to-bumper traffic around the Metro area as an above-average number of people left work early on a Friday afternoon. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was reporting (as of 7:30 p.m.) “Over 160 accidents reported as metro area receives 2-3 inches of snow.”

Area roads are expected to get worse as temperatures drop beneath 32 degrees in light snow.

When one is on the road, snow can be an annoyance, though I certainly got used to it during the seven years I lived on the Illinois/Wisconsin border and commuted into Chicago. But around here, the snow is some how different: we’re not used to it, we don’t have the equipment to contend with it, and we definitely aren’t driving with chains or studded snow tires.

But when one is inside, the snow tends to quiet down the world and make ones home feel even more like a sanctuary. The quiet alone makes it a good time to work on a book.

Malcolm