editing

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Call me old-school but I love my printer. See, a lot of what I do is editing book manuscripts for clients. And yes, I KNOW it can be done with Word’s “Track Changes” feature. But have you ever tried to review edits that are of the comma, period, and semi-colon variety? It’s really hard to see what it was and what it’s changing to. Plus, if you’ve already USED the feature for other edits (like removing sections or asking the author clarifying questions) the grammar, spelling, punctuation edits get completely buried in the fray.

So I print it all. Double spaced but single sided. Then I get my red pen and a pot of tea and go to town. When I’m done, I scan in the pages and email the .pdf to my client. That way she can really SEE the changes and not be lost in the “Track Changes” multi-colored mess.
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You’re reading a blog or newsletter. The author is making great points, teaching you something, you’re getting a lot out of it. And then you realize the author has made a BIG mistake in the writing. Maybe it’s something misspelled, or a wrong word, or even a tricky bit of grammar that can alter the meaning. What do you do?

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So here’s my advice when YOU’RE reaching out to someone about a mistake:

1. Keep it private.
We’re all human and have egos and pride. An email is private and allows the author to save face.

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As part of what I do as a publisher, I also offer editing services. And while having an editor is completely invaluable there are things that the writer needs to do to get the most from an editor’s services.

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1. Know your bad habits

If you read my writing, you’ll see that I have my own little habits. One of which is using a word all in caps to give it EMPHASIS. And while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s more common to either display the word in bold or italic. Another bad habit I have is the over-use of ellipses, especially where they aren’t needed. (Or parenthetical phrases!)

So recognize your bad habits and then keep an eye out for them. Are you using them properly? Is it the best way to convey emphasis?

I’m not saying that you have to stop using your idiosyncrasies in your writing but you do need to know when to drop them in favor of a more consistent form.

2. Buy a style manual and use it

When I was in college, a writing professor told me I had no clue how to use a comma. I whole-heartedly disagreed with her but agreed to get a grammar cheat sheet use to make life easier. Turns out, she was mostly right. There were a lot of times where I was using a comma that didn’t really call for it. But there were other times where I inserted a comma to break a thought or phrase into pieces. (I was studying poetry so I had much more leeway.)

But don’t just assume that you remember all the grammar rules from elementary school. To this day, I still double check usage when I’m not sure.

3. Read your work as if you were a total beginner (to your topic)

I write a lot of non-fiction. Specifically in the outdoor recreation genre. And I always thought I was pretty good at defining all the terms and not using too much jargon. Until a self-proclaimed city boy read over my manuscript about camping and asked me what pot-water was.

The word was potable. And I made the mistake of assuming that my audience already knew what I was talking about: drinking water.

Now, after I write something, especially if it’s highly technical but written for beginners, I go back to make sure that if I knew NOTHING I could still understand it.

4. Ask yourself “Does this [section, chapter, paragraph] move the story forward?”

By story I don’t necessarily mean fiction, although it could!

When I first started reading indie fiction, I quickly came to the realization that at LEAST 30% of every book I read could be cut out and the work would be stronger for it. There were too many scenes that did nothing to advance the plot but it was clear that the author was terrified of the DELETE key.

Don’t be that author! Review each section with a critical eye and ask yourself if it REALLY needs to be there. Are you being pedantic? Did you just explain that and now you’re going over it again? Does the reader really need to know this information? IF this were a fiction story, would your reader get bored?

5. Use strong verbs

Frankly, I didn’t really GET verbs until I was studying Spanish. And then a whole new world opened up with the power of action words!

Here’s a tricky verb in English: to be. Most people don’t really even understand it as a verb.

It’s the “is, was, am, are, were” verb. And it can be very dangerous. For example: “I would be interested in the job.” is the “weak” form of “I am interested in the job.” The first example is boring and the second is more interesting.

The passive voice sneaks up on us as writers! Watch for it and beware.

(I’m not going to get unto my Passive Voice Soapbox here. Just use strong verbs!)

6. Cut the “extra” words

I know I use the word “that” too much. It’s probably how I talk although I haven’t paid that much attention. Other “extra” words include:

  • That
  • Just
  • Very
  • Really
  • Some
  • Also

And while you’re cutting, also chop out the adverbs. Most of them aren’t needed and the redundant ones make even unsophisticated readers wince. For example: shout loudly. When’s the last time you heard a not-loud shout? Your adverb should give us a quality that isn’t already implied by the verb itself.

7. Don’t expect perfection

Nobody can perfectly self-edit. End of story. But you need to know when it’s time to pass the work along to somebody else. My “rough” draft that goes to my editor has been through at least four or five revisions first.

a.   Grammar, spelling, punctuation
b.   Am I being clear (when writing for beginners)
c.   Fact-checking anything I may have “assumed” when I was first writing
d.   Read aloud for flow, missing words, choppy sentences

Once you’ve done everything you can do, it’s time to get a second set of eyes onto the page. But be sure you define what they’ll be doing for you. Back to my example of the camping book: I had one editor who ONLY looked for things that didn’t make sense to a beginner and for facts that might be wrong. I had a second editor take a look at grammar, spelling, and punctuation. A third editor looked at flow and to make sure all the chapters were in the section that made the most sense.

But NONE of those people saw the work before I had worked it over several times myself!

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I’m in the last stages of publishing a highly-technical manuscript for a client. As part of my standardization, I have to make sure that the way the author expresses units of measure is not only consistent but also verify that it should be expressed as a singular or plural unit of measure.

Before this project, I honestly didn’t give much thought to the difference between “2 feet” and “2-foot” or “10 inches” and “10-inch.”

Here’s a down & dirty way to remember:

The singular, with a dash between the number and the singular form of the measurement, is used when you’re talking about a unit of measure. For example, a 10-inch section of board or a two-foot gap.

The plural is used when you’re talking about how many. For example, space the nails 10 inches apart.

The same works with metric (centimeter, meters, etc.) as well! What I discovered is that anytime I was unsure of the author’s exact meaning, I would read the sentence aloud and try it out both ways.

Exercises:

I need a twelve _____ long board.
a. foot  b. feet  c. –foot  d. –feet

Space the cups six ____ apart.
a. –inches b. inch   c. inches   d. -inch

Please hand me the six ____ stapler.
a. inch  b. –inch  c. inches  d. -inches

As part of my Assisted Self-Publishing services, I offer a round of comprehensive editing. This editing covers grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Here’s a quick grammar tip for your Saturday!

Saturday Editing Tip: Catching the “little” things

I’m in the middle of an edit on my next book. The working title is “A Beginner’s Guide to Tent Camping”. This edit is still for major issues like adding in a whole section and clarifying paragraphs. But as I do this, I’m also looking for the “little” things that can mean the difference between a professional manuscript and looking like an amateur.

See if you can spot the problems:

  • Most public campgrounds in have paths between sites to the bathrooms, trash, etc.
  • When the sun begins to sweat you’ll get a chill.
  • Fist Aid Kit
  • I recommend packing in a duffle big.
  • And never underestimate the importance of a pair of slip of shoes.

None of the sentences (or chapter headings) above have any grammatical error that will be caught by a spelling or grammar checker. It’s up to a real editor who carefully reads each sentence to find them.

So how do you spot things like this in your own writing?

  1. Read the manuscript backwards. I start with the last sentence (reading it from start to finish). And then the second to last sentence; the third to last sentence, etc. By reading the manuscript this way, I’m able to focus on one sentence at a time and my brain isn’t “assuming” it knows what will come next.
  2. I print out the entire manuscript, grab my tea and red pen and go to town. Looking at the project in a different format really causes errors to jump out at me.
  3. Read it aloud. It’s not a quick (or even entertaining) process, but hearing it can help me identify mistakes and sentences that don’t flow.

After your manuscript meets your personal editing standards, be sure to pass it along to a copy editor to go over it again. No matter how good you are at self-editing, a copy editor will find mistakes.

As part of my Assisted Self-Publishing services, I offer a round of comprehensive editing. This editing covers grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Here’s a quick grammar tip for your Saturday!

 

Affect vs. Effect

I’m sure that every English teacher everywhere has a catchy way of remembering the difference between affect & effect. But, when I was in school, it wasn’t considered “in vogue” to diagram sentences, focus on parts of speech (noun, verb, adjective, etc), and spend much time on those little nuances of grammar that I’ll use my whole life long. Like the difference between affect and effect.

It doesn’t help that the affect/effect pairing not only sound similar but don’t have meanings that are wildly dissimilar. I mean, couldn’t it  be like pear and pair? Same sound, nearly same spelling, but one’s a food!

BTW My mom taught me a trick to remember the difference. I was a third-grader and I had a bunny. Mrs. No-Name (Rabbit) liked to eat pears. She had EARS. The one she ate had EARS in it like a bunny! Whew!

The Grammar Girl website has a great tutorial on the difference between affect and effect. Go check it out.

But when I’m editing someone’s writing, sometimes I have to guess about what they’re trying to say. I wasn’t there for the thought process and I don’t want to fire off a list of questions about what they were thinking in that particular sentence and do they mean X or do they really mean Y?!

What I do is just re-read the sentence subbing in a synonym for effect or affect. Without fail, the sentence with the wrong affect/effect choice will JUMP out.

Effect Synonyms:

  • result
  • consequence
  • outcome

Affect Synonyms:

  • influence
  • impact