Here’s a cool trick for checking an author’s usage manuscript-wide, using Navigator search plus wildcards in Word 2010. If you need to analyse the language of a manuscript to make style decisions — when you’re setting up a style sheet, for example — and you want to check a quick list rather than tallying up instances of each variant, this is for you.
Tag Archives: Editing well
In a post last month, I promised regular editing prompts to use in your own practice. Here’s the first one for 2013 – enjoy!
‘Do no harm’ is the first rule of copy editing, just as it is for other helpful professions (and even lifesaving ones, though editors don’t generally fall into that category). Let’s look at the idea in a bit more detail.
Skin deep, it sounds quite simple: if you always intend to edit well, your changes should generally improve the text. And starting intentions are good. But how do you check yourself to make sure that you really aren’t harming the material you’re working on? I’d love to hear your ideas on this, too, by the way: comments welcome!
1. Learn to love a good style sheet
Ever tried to complete a book-length edit without diligently using a style sheet? (I hope not for your sake!) Style sheets are great. Yes, they take a while to set up and you have to come back to your sheet often while you’re working, until you feel you could see each entry with your eyes closed. But if you don’t use one – whether it’s in a simple Word document or a project notebook – you will be inconsistent in a project of any length. And leaving inconsistencies in a manuscript – or, worse, introducing new ones – is the first harm on my little list, because getting rid of them is about as core a task as you can get in copy editing.
There are lots of style sheets out there, if you don’t have a regular one or want to switch to a tried-and-tested format. Here’s a sample – as thorough as you’d probably expect – from Cambridge University Press, which sets out many of the areas that should be included. (Remember to add a word list, too, though.)
2. Read first, and read as you travel
I’m always tempted to get straight down to line editing on a new project (because that’s the exciting part!) so I try to remind myself to read the material right through at leisure before I do. If I have a tight deadline then I read as much as possible, as slowly as I can – in a book manuscript, at least 2 or 3 chapters – and then clean-read every chapter, at a walking pace, right before I start the line edit. That way, I’ve checked that there isn’t a major stylistic or structural oddity lurking somewhere in the manuscript, and any anomalies or notable elements are fresh in my mind as I get to work.
I also start to populate the style sheet with any words or styles that stand out to me during the read-through, so that I can be thinking about any unusual ones by the time I’m ready to get to the line edit.
3. Get familiar with your subject and context
Unless you’re a specialist in a particular field, you’ll probably come across terms that aren’t familiar to you from a range of different subject areas. For example, I edit Finance and Economics books, but I’m not a trained economist, so I need to be open to expanding my knowledge of technical terms each and every time I pick up a new project.
As this quiz from The Subversive Copyeditor demonstrates, specialist terms can be curly and challenge what you think of as regular usage – Subversive gives the example of the verb ‘to lager’. Add them to your style sheet if you don’t think they’ll stick in your mind.
4. Send kind and constructive author queries
A harsh comment is quick to write but lingers in the mind of the person who reads it, especially an author. So, editors can all too easily harm authors’ confidence and attitudes, remembering that authors often have a strong personal commitment to their writing and that they’re as vulnerable as anyone else to criticism. Here’s an excellent advisory piece by Beth Vogt about on author-on-author feedback, and her approach works well for editors too.
My recommendation? Always check your marginal comments and author queries before they go out, and edit yourself to ensure you’re use constructive and supportive language that can’t be misconstrued.
5. Analyse and understand your first-pass edit
If you’re a good editor, why would you want to undo your own work? Related to the last point, and in the spirit of ‘editor, edit thyself’, I’m going to put the case for post-edit analysis. The task of seeing your own patterns and habits is just as difficult for editors as it is for authors. Going back though your mark-up can make the difference between a moderately good edit and a sparkling one, because you’re giving yourself the opportunity to fix up any inconsistent or otherwise misfiring changes you made on your initial pass.
I’m not talking about questioning everything you’ve done from scratch, here, but rather, taking a step back and thinking critically about whether what you’ve done stands as firmly as it should. Some editors try not to revisit a page they’ve edited – based on the idea that doing so slows the pace unnecessarily – but, for me, there’s value in viewing your changes one more time with a beady eye. In my own work, I treat my initial changes the same way as I do any other text – open to change until I’m satisfied – and, if time allows, I like to revisit after the materials have breathed for a couple of days. So, an intensive critical appraisal of how your first pass went can help to avoid doing harm.
What do you reckon? Is ‘do no harm’ an editing prompt you use in your own work? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Image © Aprescindere | Dreamstime.com
Until last week, I had a flimsy yellow post-it note stuck to my desk, and on it the following words appeared:
You LIE down on the sofa. You LAY the book down on the table.
I wrote this little reminder to myself earlier this year while I was preparing for October’s IPEd accreditation exam – my main professional development activity for the year, getting my editing practice back into shape after several years of being comfortably in the groove of my own editoral habits. That simple note, scrawled in my southpaw handwriting in a quiet moment, provided a daily reminder of a tiny area of my editing knowledge that had never quite clicked into automatic.
And you know what? Although the post-it lost its stickiness and has gone to the great recycling bin in the sky, what it said remains very much in my mind. I can even see my handwriting looping the “l” of “LIE” and “LAY”, as it tends to do. The thought is there whenever I need it.
It’s a minor example of an “editing prompt”: a small-scale but powerful tool, if you like, an editor’s equivalent to the writer’s creative prompt.
Your editing prompt is the small voice that asks “I wonder why that word always escapes me?” or observes “I really must remember to check why I think this is the right expression in that context.” How often do you write down that thought, to return to it and check that the knowledge or approach it draws on is falling into place, slowly but surely? I’ll fess up first: I don’t write my prompts down often enough.
Here’s my idea: turn that thought into an editing prompt. Remind yourself of its importance while you’re making coffee. Keep a little note on your desktop for whenever you glance that way. You may well find the prompt quietly settles into your editorial repertoire before you’ve even noticed.
So let’s give this a try. I’m going to suggest an editing prompt every couple of weeks, here at the blog. Each prompt will be a quick and simple affirmation, something aspirational and practical, all at once. Think of it as the equivalent of that scribbled post-it prompt, shared among editorial friends.
Are you up for it? If so, let me know what editing affirmations you like to keep around you when you’re working. If you’re any good at aphorisms (I’m not), feel free to send me your pithy suggestions and I’ll round them up in a future post. It doesn’t matter how corny, as long as they work for you.
I’ll leave you with my own current editing prompt, which has grown from my awareness that I don’t always challenge myself enough to help authors feel listened to, understood, and appreciated, because I’m usually trying to bully persuade them to do stuff for me on time. Here it is:
Author care is just as important as author management.
Until next time, happy editing and publishing.
Editor friends sometimes ask me ‘How come you’re brave enough to blog about editing?’ It’s a good question. Blogging about editing involves putting yourself out there, expressing an opinion, accepting that others may not agree. It also demands creative thinking about the work, which is something I love doing even after 10+ years in the profession. There is always so much more to find out about, adopt, and develop in your practice.
So, my view is that blogging about editing is great because, in a small way, it contributes to the big-picture conversation about the contribution editors make to publishing in Australia and overseas. PublishEd Adelaide is my way of communicating about what editing means to me – and I hope the questions I ask here may get others thinking about what it means to them, too.
So, here’s a quick question for you: how are you communicating with others about editing?
Great editorial communication, happy clients
Maybe you’re great at talking with prospective clients about what editing involves, or you have converted a reluctant author into a champion of the editing process. Good for you! You’re helping to make editing a practical reality for the people who provide our bread-and-butter work. Editing can be a scary, or at least an opaque, process for many authors, until it’s explained or demonstrated well.
Little kindnesses that make a difference
Perhaps you connect with your community through pro bono or paid work for organisations you care about, or edit the work of friends, family, and others. You’re a generous sort, I can see. The individual contributions that editors make in their personal time can help people who, perhaps, don’t deal every day with material that needs editing, but still need high-quality material that stands up to detailed reading. This is communication in the sense of one-on-one, locally meaningful conversations about editing — and those individual conversations count for a lot.
Writing about your experiences
Finally, maybe you’re like me: you love to write about editing, and want to encourage people to think deeply about what it is editors do. Blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, and of course writing more formally about editing are all contributions to the growing profile of editors around Australia. Let’s go ahead and demystify the process all we can, and let others know that editing isn’t an obscure art: it’s a discipline and a way – actually, ways – of thinking about writing. And let’s talk to each other about where we think the profession is heading; how editors can contribute even more in the future.
All of these are great ways to spread the word about what editors do, and why editing is so important. There are no doubt many other ways to do it – and I’d love to hear how you choose to communicate with others about your work.
Until next time, happy editing and publishing.
With more than 1000 blogs in the competition, and loads of fantastic ‘Words and Writing’ sites in the same category as PublishEd, I wasn’t at all sure how my small-but-growing blog would fare. After all (if you’ll forgive me for borrowing from two of my significant life experiences) I’ve been writing for slightly less time than it takes to have a baby and slightly more time than it takes to graduate from probation in a publishing house. All I know is that I love writing about editing and publishing and I’m glad to have the chance to reach more editing-minded readers through this great competition.
I’m honoured (a lot) and nervous (in a good way) to be in the company of the fantastic blogs which have also made the short list. And I just had to look up ‘short list’ in Macquarie. (It would be bad to get the spelling wrong on such an august occasion, right?)
If you want to get an immediate hit of wordy inspiration, I highly recommend you check out some of the other blogs in the competition, which you can do at the ‘Finalists’ page on the competition website. You can follow the news from the comp at #bestblogs2012, and I’m tweeting about what’s happening too (@katymcdevitt).
Thanks for your support and visits and I’ll update you when I know more…
If you want to be a successful editor, at some point you’ll be working with authors. There’s no getting around it. The ability to manage that creative but often highly complex relationship is one of the essential skills editors need. It’s right up there with being able to wield a red pen or work in Word. Yet working with authors is one of the most challenging aspects of editing practice.
I find this in my own work and am always keen to improve my collaborative skills. So, when I learnt that Barbara Sjoholm’s An Editor’s Guide to Working with Authors has just come out on Kindle I snapped it up. An Editor’s Guide draws on 18 years of editing wisdom developed at Seattle-based Author-Editor Clinic, which Sjoholm runs (alongside a very active writing life). The clinic supports practising developmental editors, and guides authors on their writing too. Members of the Author-Editor Clinic also contribute to a blog, The Editor’s POV, which backs up and builds on the approaches Sjoholm advocates in An Editor’s Guide.
A reflective but practical resource
I’m not a fan of Kindle for all editorial resources; I wouldn’t use a dictionary or A-Z type of reference on one, for example. But An Editor’s Guide to Working with Authors is great as an ebook, because it’s designed to be read and absorbed, not consulted like a reference. Take it with you on your next long train journey, and spend time with the materials. Its approach is reflective, encouraging editors to think more deeply about how they work with authors. Possibly, a step-by-step guide could get you started. But Sjoholm’s book demonstrates the strengths of taking time to reflect on, understand, and above all practice (and practice, and practice…) ‘the art of editing writers in ways that [are] productive and respectful’. She trusts you to draw what you need from her advice, and above all wants you to bring awareness to your daily work.
So it’s not a straightforward how-to book. But it is practical. There are core documents at the heart of Sjoholm’s approach, each with a clearly defined purpose and each contributing to constructive and well-founded communication. There’s the author questionnaire, graphs and tables (if you like them), and above all, the editor’s detailed letter to the author.
Taking time to read
There are also recommended approaches for editing fiction and creative non-fiction, from the first reading onwards. Here, Sjoholm recommends taking time to just read. It sounds so simple, but it’s deceptively hard to do. Absorb and reflect on what you’re reading, sure. But don’t copy edit. This is fabulous advice if, like me, you tend to rush the first reading to get on with the meaty, hands-on editing part. Or if you are tempted to jump straight into editing punctuation, grammar, and so on. Here’s a taster from the book:
If you read your manuscript as quickly as is comfortable, without taking many notes until you reach the end, you’re more likely to gain a general impression of the manuscript as a whole. [...]
Try to approach the manuscript as freshly as you can, without preconceptions, and try to engage your emotions. [...]
I generally leave the project to simmer for a few days if I can, before picking the pages up again with a more focused plan of attack.
Since I tend to edit pretty quickly, this is like a wise colleague telling me: it’s OK to slow down. Don’t think about the detail yet. Stop the technical, copy-editorial part of your brain, while you absorb what’s happening in the whole scene.
It’s not easy… but it gets easier with practice
Sjoholm writes warmly and well, which makes the book a more pleasant read than many serious editing resources. This is someone who is comfortable in her editing practice and doesn’t need to shout ‘this is the best way to do it!’ At times, the result of her gracious and articulate style is that what she’s saying sounds deceptively easy. I kept pausing to think, ‘Hang on, I’m sure I already do that’ (and then realising, ‘Oh no, I probably don’t). For example, she advocates that editors ‘practice neutral, less personal language’. What she means is simple on paper but tough in practice: don’t use emotive adjectives (like ‘weak’ or ‘poor’), don’t couch your explanations in personal opinion (like ‘I feel that…’, ‘I really don’t like…’). Be engaged but detach yourself from emotion. These are tricky things to do consistently – that’s why Sjoholm also encourages you to be mindful in each project you do.
Critical skills for developmental editors
For me, the critical skill Sjoholm discusses in the book – and this is something that isn’t often touched on – is how important it is that editors learn to self-edit. We know that it’s great when authors can do that, but for an editor? That’s a great thought. Analyse your own language – with red pen in hand – before you send anything to an author. Your self-editing mark-up could include ‘Q’ for queries, ‘O’ for opinions, ‘S’ for suggestions, and ‘I’ for imperatives. Spot all the places where you’ve hidden ideas for major rewrites inside lists of otherwise small-scale queries. Sjoholm recommends editors use the subjunctive (‘if you’d like to…’) not the imperative (‘you must…’). She likes to think about her recommendations from an author’s perspective – how will he or she read them? Good advice.
An Editor’s Guide also reminds me that a major part of editing isn’t about reading or writing at all. It’s about listening. What Sjoholm calls ‘the art of listening to what the author needs, wants, and hopes for from you.’ The editor may not have the power to publish an author, but he or she holds in trust an important part of the author’s dreams for the book. By the way, there’s a great section at the end of the book about how to handle author expectations about their publishing plans.
The most important things, handled lightly
The real strength of An Editor’s Guide is that it gently underlines key concepts and approaches that may work for you in practice. For example, Sjoholm comes back often to the importance of using evidence to back up your thinking, encouraging editors to think about the information they need to back up editorial recommendations. This takes us in interesting directions since evidence can come from all sorts of places (even from emotions – but not directly).
Strategic approaches to communication are subtly introduced, too. I believe that it’s important to explain editorial points of view (see my earlier post in the archive) and I agree with Sjoholm’s view that editors have work to do in educating and guiding authors over time, not just fixing what’s in front of them. So, I like statements like these a lot:
Stopping to explain your reasoning to an author may seem tedious, but it also may pay off—for both of you. [...]
Part of what we do as editors is educate authors about what editors do.
An Editor’s Guide to Working with Authors grounds all its practical tips – and I haven’t even mentioned its coverage of onscreen techniques – in the same thoughtful and engaged but rational approach. And above all, Sjoholm carries right through the author–editor relationship a sense of what she calls ‘sincere respect’ for what authors are trying to do when they write. That is what makes for an honest and constructive working partnership. I love that the book draws on something that simple, something that speaks to values rather than skills. And that’s why this book is so much more useful than a how-to guide.
I’ll leave you with one last thought from An Editor’s Guide: ‘As editors we bring our whole selves to the task of reading and responding to another’s creative production.’
Now, that’s a beautiful thing!
Look out for a fresh new post here at PublishEd Adelaide next week. Until then, happy editing and publishing.
I just got back from a Saturday afternoon grammar workshop for editors, hosted by the Society of Editors (SA) and led by the impressive Dr Margaret Cargill of the University of Adelaide. Yes I know, Saturday. But I’m dedicated like that.
Margaret provided a lot of handy grammar tips (grammatical tips?) and it was pretty engaging stuff. And, of course, any room full of editing types will always find topics to talk about, whether it’s the art and science of comma placement or the pitfalls of trying to convince a client they’re wrong when they ‘just know they’re right’. We all know that grammar provides the good bones for writing, and we can all think of workable strategies for talking clients through grammatical issues, even if we don’t always win the argument – sorry, productive discussion.
But what are we really aiming for when we talk about an ‘unimpeachable knowledge of grammar’? Is it practical or even possible to aim for this most hallowed of editing benchmarks when the contexts we’re publishing content in are changing the language we use and the ways we use it? Is there an approaching ‘apostrophe catastrophe’ as one Adelaide op piece stated last week? I’d say definitely not to that last question – and, probably, what’s an apostrophe catastrophe when it’s at home? – but as an editor, I also have a vested interest in grammatical standards being upheld, even if the standards change beyond all recognition.
For my part, when I want grammar inspiration (sorry: grammatical, grammatical) my guilty pleasure is Kingsley Amis’s The King’s English. I’ve kept a copy with me since I was a student, and back then, it was pretty much my only reading on grammar. I find that, although he may have been a dinosaur in some ways, Kingsley’s last book still provides lots of good arguments for/against uses and abuses of language, and he certainly knows how to use an apostrophe. But more than that, he makes me smile even when he’s indulging his inner grammar dictator. I like that he somehow seems to know that it’s his last chance to get his word in. He gives unrestricted vent to all his (sometimes petty, sometimes well founded) peeves about words, phrases, the media… The internet would have blown his mind, if he had stuck around to do much worrying about it.
In my working life, I know all too well the core references that I need to check if I want ‘the rules’. I can usually pull out the evidence I need to demonstrate to a client or author why what I’m suggesting will fix the problem I’ve spotted. And that does the job just fine. But what I need is an inspiring resource that tells me why I should care as much as I do about what people do with their words – and, with all due respect to Kingsley, I think I’m about ready for a new inspiration.
If you’d like to recommend a resource that you use to help get your head around grammar or tricky word problems, I’d welcome reading suggestions.
Wow, so this is what my blog looks like. Hello. I’m Katy, and I’m starting a blog about publishing and editing.
Who am I writing for, and what am I talking about?
Well, I think I’m writing mainly for friends who are interested in perspectives on publishing in Adelaide, Australia, and/or the UK. But who are they? Well, possibly people who, like me, see their love of publishing and editing as sometimes a big blessing and sometimes a major curse. You know how it goes: you quite like it that you are the one that spots the sign that says TOMATOS, but you also really wish that it said TOMATOES in the first place because that would be so much neater. So there will be a bit on that theme: the ups and downs of working with words.
But, more constructively, I’d also like to share some stories about the people I think are doing interesting things in publishing, in my local area and further afield, and who make me want to be a bit more like them. We’ll see…
Who am I?
I’m essentially a publishing person who decided to celebrate a decade in the business by writing a little blog. Back in 2001, I sidestepped from the academic research path into publishing, and I never looked back. My background is in academic and educational publishing, and I’ve worked in several different fields, at university presses and for-profit publishers, and (more recently) for myself.
Today, I’m an in-house editor for a public sector body, so I’m setting about acquiring some serious eduspeak (sorry about that), and my grasp of obscure acronyms is growing firmer every day. But what I really thrive on is hearing about new publishing innovations and projects, whether that means large-scale projects led by companies and organisations, or perspectives of individuals with specialist experience of some kind. And, of course, I’m always buzzing with ideas for my future life in publishing.
What I’d like to share…
I’m planning to write about publishing themes pretty broadly. Things that I find cool or exciting about the business, issues I have personal experience of, and developments I’d like to know more about. Hm, that really is broad. So, I’ll also try to focus, at least sometimes, on the theme of working as an editor and publishing person in the city I live in. That’s Adelaide – a small but perfectly rounded state capital on the south coast of Australia. You might find some comparisons between publishing Aussie-style and UK-style here, too.
In the end, I will feel good if I can help friends to reflect, maybe with a wry smile, on their own editorial blessings/curses: what they love about words, what inspires them in their practice. Because we all know there will always be just as many ‘TOMATOS’ as ‘TOMATOES’ in the world. But that’s why we need people who see the difference, right?