C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

Editing tools and typo tips

Book cover (Dust jacket) for the 15th edition ...

Image via Wikipedia


When you’re checking your manuscript, use your word processor’s Spellcheck. Some editors turn up their snobby little noses at Spellcheck, but it can flag problems you might otherwise miss. Nobody’s perfect and problems will always appear once you’ve published your book (yes, in both traditional and self-published books). Don’t take every suggestion; Spellcheck isn’t always right. It’s a tool, not a panacea. You can also use Find and Replace to look for problems Spellcheck misses: its, it’s, there, their and so on. Spellcheck doesn’t replace editors and they don’t replace thinking. But you’ll catch more using it.

To the rude editor I met at the conference who said she never used Spellcheck: Yes, I’m saying that was arrogant and, just like the rest of us, you’re not nearly as smart as you think you are. Or funny. And you need to work on your social skills. (Now I’m worried that I’m projecting.)

I don’t edit blog posts obsessively, but when I’m working on a book, I have several websites up on my browser: Chicago Manual of Style, Wikipedia, and dictionary.com. I also use Autocrit for more input.

For me, yesterday was single quote day. I wrote parts of my books with Open Office, so I had to go through the manuscript and make all my single quotes curly…and curly in the right direction. I was cross-eyed and HULK ANGRY by 5 pm.

PentecostSelf-publishing guru and author of Pentecost, Joanna Penn, has a great suggestion to deal with typos: Publish your ebook first. Your readers will let you know (politely or not) about your book’s typos. Corrections to the ebook are easier than correcting your printed book. Corrections to print books are called “second editions.” Great tip! For more information from Joanna, check out this very useful interview. I loved this inspiring interview and it helped me calm down after Curly Quote Day. Well…much later, after the photo below.

Me after Curly Quote Day

Filed under: Books, DIY, Editing, Editors, getting it done, grammar, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Editing Part III: The joy of editing

The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, 3rd...

I just received the gift of a book in the mail. I had already read this book but I was very pleased to receive it. In fact, I’d gone through this particular book in meticulous detail. The author signed the title page for me and graciously thanked me for my advice. The book in hand was a bonus for editing the work.

Editing is such picky work. I zip into and out of the on-line Chicago Manual of Style a lot. I tweak here and economize there. No matter the level of the edit, the key to good editing is asking the right questions.

Here’s a sample of the sorts of questions that run through my mind as I work:

Should that be 18th Century or Eighteenth century? Should I leave a quirky passage alone to keep the author’s voice or is the joke too much of a reach? Should I suggest new elements? Does the material make more sense if it is reorganized? Does this follow logically from that? Is that assertion a fact? Is that translation correct? What design elements could I suggest to make the book pop? What elements could I suggest that would convert a browser into a buyer? Is there an opportunity missed here? What marketing strategy could I suggest to make this a book with real long-tail potential? What’s missing? (That last one can take the work to a new level.)

In short, a good editor or proofreader will question everything.

An experienced editor will pick up on what’s on the page and what’s not there that’s hurting the book.

In the end, I let it go back to the author to decide which of my suggestions to act upon. When it’s done, the author’s name is on the front cover. I always say some variation of: “She’s still your baby. She’s healthy and you’ll recognize her. She wasn’t sick but she’s feeling even better now.” The reader will never know how much or how little I did. The job is to make the author look good. (And sell more books.)

And you know what? It’s fun. I’m not gleeful about it in the way I know some editors are. When I was in journalism school and when I worked for a daily newspaper, I ran into editors who were looking for stuff so they could catch you out. It was a game for them and they acted like it was the only way they could find to feel good about themselves. When they caught something—anything—writers got snarky remarks and not just a little passive aggressive indignation. Editors like that are sad and make me tired.

I find editing fun because it’s an intellectual challenge and the collaborative process makes the book better than it otherwise would have been. Higher quality editorial work translates to more authority to the author, more sales for the current book and more sales for the author’s next book. A helpful edit can morph an experiment that didn’t quite come together into a legacy book that will delight, distract, elevate, educate, provoke, redeem and earn for years to come.

A good edit will pay for itself.

And generally? No, an unedited book doesn’t stand a chance.

Filed under: authors, Books, ebooks, Editing, Editors, grammar, publishing, self-publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Editing Tips Part 1: Story bible

my eye

Image via Wikipedia

Since I’m in heavy edit mode this week, it’s going to be all about editing all week. You asked. I give. And so:

A story bible is a document beside your manuscript where you keep track of characters’ names, ages and details. It will keep you from screwing up too much and make your revision process go faster. It’s very frustrating, for instance, to go through a 450-page manuscript looking for the hero’s little sister’s eye color page by page. It’s the equivalent of losing a productive hour to search the house for a misplaced checkbook.

Keep your story bible close so you can add to it without interrupting your writing flow. I use a yellow legal pad though if you have the document on-screen you could search it, I suppose. (A bible that is too long goes unread but is an excellent device to keep you procrastinating instead of writing and revising.)

Even if you’re less of a planner (the seat-of-the-pants writer) it helps to have some minimal plan or a story bible so you can keep track of characters and key details. It’s better than losing a character along the way. It is embarrassing to write an entire novel and think you’re done only to have one of your beta readers ask, “What happened to Mrs. Haversham? Did she survive the fall to the bottom of the stairs on page 139? And what happened to the alien prostitute who got locked in the truck?”

It’s a huge problem in self-publishing because there aren’t teams of editors and proofreaders combing manuscripts. It happens with traditional publishers, too (and will increase becaus of cutbacks.) For instance, in Lucifer’s Hammer, an astronaut is described as short, but by the end of the book he’s standing tall and commanding in the bow of a boat. In Under the Dome,  Stephen King introduces a supernatural element on the good guy’s side that is never explained and seems forgotten, as if the angels whispered in the hero’s ear and then got distracted and wandered away. (When you write a book that big, it’s easy to lose threads and drop stitches.)

As you edit, things will crop up and it will help you to add edit points to your bible. Edit points are policy issues. It saves you a lot of time, and money, to have a clean manuscript. Decide up front, are you basically going with the Chicago Manual of Style? AP Style? Canadian or American spelling? Serial commas or no?

By keeping a list, you’ll discover some idiosyncrasies will crop up and it may grow to a long list. For one instance, you might type gray when you mean to write grey. In your bible under a heading that reads Editing Points, write in bold GReY NOT GRaY!

When you think you’re done your manuscript, drag out your list of troublesome words.

Use the Search and Replace tool.

You thought you got them all.

You didn’t.

Nobody does.

Related Articles

Filed under: Books, Editing, Editors, getting it done, publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , ,

Edit Point: One another versus each other

Book cover (Dust jacket) for the 15th edition ...

Image via Wikipedia

“The pair looked at one another.”

No, they didn’t.

Editing is often intuitive. I could tell you, for instance, which usage is correct, but I couldn’t tell you why. It came up with a project and I got curious. Then I went to the Chicago Manual of Style. Here’s why for this one:

When two people are involved, the best way to write it is, “They looked at each other.” When it’s more than two people (or things, for that matter) use “one another.”

The distinction becomes clearer with things: “His eyesight was so poor that when he looked to the bowling pins standing at the end of the lane, they were just a soft white mass. Dave  couldn’t distinguish one  from another.” (That’s right.)

“Each other” in a group hits the reader’s eyes and ears wrong and they may not know why. (This is one reason reading aloud as you edit can be such a powerful trick of the trade.)

It’s not a big deal unless you’re a word nerd or getting paid to edit something. However, usually, if you write a passage that hits the reader wrong or makes them go back, there’s something quirky there that needs another look.

Filed under: Books, Editing, Editors, manuscript evaluation, publishing, rules of writing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , ,

Writers: How I edit

Visualization of the various routes through a ...

Image via Wikipedia

When I get a manuscript, I go through it carefully, of course, but there are many practicalities to keep in mind.



Most important commandment:

Make the author look good.

You want it to be correct and you want to preserve the writer’s voice and enhance the readability of the text. The author (if self-published) may wish to keep some idiosyncratic format (which is fine as long as it’s easily understood by the reader and consistent.) A publisher may have some requirements peculiar to that house. Some have preferred style guides, like the AP Style Guide or the Chicago Manual of Style or may prefer Canadian spelling to American spelling.

In the manuscript window I use the Track Changes feature in Word so the author sees every change I make, including my comments. The author then accepts or rejects each edit during the revision process.

I have some preferences, too. I avoid passive voice and too many adverbs where it’s reasonable to do so since those often indicate a weak verb choice. I strip out excess use of the comma. Commas used to be used more in text but now it’s generally accepted commas slow the reader. Semi-colons are used too much and are often used incorrectly (and almost always slow the reader.)  Gratuitous exclamation points indicate drama where there is none. Excess dialogue tags (i.e. said, replied, said, replied) can also be stripped out. Run-on sentences must be broken up. Sentence length, paragraph length and order are more evaluations to make and may conflict with formatting considerations.

(There are numerous other considerations: factual issues, narrative arc, missed opportunities, missing scenes, orphaned characters etc.,… which I’m not going to delve into in this post.)

I also have a bunch of other pages ready in the background. They are typically these:

Google, Wikipedia, Canadian and American spelling dictionaries, Chicago Manual of Style (I have the hard copy, too), Ask.com, and my email window so I can quickly jump to query the author or publisher as necessary. I’ve also used a legal dictionary and a Spanish-English dictionary. Looks like I’ve attained my childhood dream of working on the bridge of the Enterprise.

I keep a legal pad beside me to make notes (and track my time so I know I’m staying on schedule for the day.)

Editing has changed a lot. Before the Internet, there was a lot more getting up and down to run to check a reference source. Now it’s all on my pixellated desktop. I take a break every hour to do air squats (it’s a 4 Hour Body exercise I like) and the rest of the exercise comes from running back and forth from the coffee maker to the bathroom. Ah, the glamor of being a book editor.

The take away is:

Your word processing program’s spell check isn’t enough.




Related Articles

Filed under: Books, Editing, Editors, publishing, self-publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , ,

#Editors: Experience is what you get through mistakes

The Associated Press Stylebook

Image via Wikipedia

Last week a friend of mine called looking for advice about becoming an editor. She was looking for a way out of the nine to five grind wherein she could control her time, make a little money and still manage to pick her kid up from school by mid-afternoon. She was doing things she didn’t desperately want to do. She didn’t like her options, even though some of those options could be more lucrative than editing. In short, she’s in a spot many of us have been in: passion versus practicality. She has a tough choice ahead. Let’s talk about her choices, and yours.

We can’t start this discussion off without mentioning that a lot of people don’t have any choice about their employment. They’re just happy to have any kind of employment. Either by circumstance or by a lack of education or preparation, many people in a recession take what they can get. Self-fulfillment in employment is actually a pretty new idea. In the Industrial Revolution (or any time before that) the idea that you have to love your work would be considered a silly idea. However, much of the soul-crushing ennui was made acceptable by the common practice of drinking yourself near-unconscious on the job.

This woman lives in this century and has options. Should she be an editor? She already had a useful teaching background. She played it down, but as we dug into her history, she did indeed have some relevant experiences to draw upon. She also took an editing course recently and explored membership in the Editors Association of Canada (EAC.)

I told her about the meat of the work. We discussed grammar and the common mistakes people make. We talked about the various levels of engagement editors bring to text. For instance, there’s a big difference between a proofreader, a copy editor and a developmental editor. We talked about flow, judicious cutting, client consultation and the merits of the AP Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style and The Elements of Style.

And I learned something. In coaching someone else, it forced me to evaluate how I’ve been going at the editing business. I’ve had various projects on the go, but I’ve been awfully passive about it. I haven’t stepped outside my comfort zone to go after new book and website projects. For instance, much of my editing work has come about because of my writing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s been pretty much exclusive to that.

My speech writing arose from my magazine writing. My web page editing came about through my magazine writing. The memoir I’m editing came as an assignment from a friend in need. The e-books I’ve ghostwritten and edited? Same deal. The marketing materials I’ve worked up for another client came to be because I’d interviewed the president of the company for another magazine story.

There isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with these sources of work. Work is work, no matter how it finds me. But it’s a clue that I’ve been lackadaisical. I need to solicit work more actively instead of waiting for it to come to me.

I’m busy now, but independent editing is piece work. It can come fast, all at once or not at all, at least for a time. Sometimes, work falls through or gets put on hold for a long time.

And sometimes, only greater self-awareness comes through helping someone discover their own path. I’m pleased she’d thinking of joining the ranks of editors. She loves language and believes the proper use of words matter. I warned her it can be a hard journey if she’s not prepared to be a go-getter.

And now I know I need to take my own advice.

Filed under: Editing, Editors, getting it done, manuscript evaluation, rules of writing, Useful writing links, , , , , , , , ,

#Publishing Workshops: Do we really need them anymore?

An attraction of Banff National Park in the Ca...

Image via Wikipedia

Years ago, in an experience not unlike boot camp, I attended the Banff School of Fine Arts for a summer of The Banff Publishing Workshop. Each session was a grueling two weeks each, one for books and the other for magazines. I had the first of two panic attacks in my life there. And it changed my life in all sorts of ways.

Some nights, we didn’t sleep at all. The faculty flew in and while visiting hot shots were enjoying Banff National Park, we were slogging away making up book and magazine covers and planning publicity campaigns and pitches.

 If you want the pure knowledge gained, you don’t necessarily have to do a program like this (and people are fleeing traditional publishers. Publishers are not hiring.) You may want the knowledge to inform your DIY publishing operation. There are books that help in this regard. I’d begin with the AP Stylebook for the nitpicky stuff and read the Chicago Manual of Style cover to cover for a headstart. (A surprising amount of technical and editorial stuff I learned was cleverly concealed in the Chicago Manual of Style.)

Here are the three things Banff did for me (and how technology has changed everything):

1. Credibility. I was one of a few who went through the program and one of a very small number who graduated from both books and magazines. (They called us Lifers.) When I went back to Toronto with that on my resume, employers knew I was serious.

It’s much less important now to appeal to authority. Start asserting your authority through the power of your knowledge base and your actions. You can publish a cool book or a graphic novel or make a film without Daddy. You don’t have to ask anyone else’s permission now. (Just do it was a much better slogan for Nike than…whatever it is now.)

2. Contacts. Friends, professional and non-collegial, were really important at that time and a network of people are just as important as ever, but now for some different reasons. (And now you call many of them you tweeps.)

Then it was about getting a job. Now it’s about knowing people to reach out to who have information you need and who are willing to assist you. If you start up your own publishing company, you don’t have to work so hard at connecting with people. If you get out there, you’ll soon find they are coming to you. Technology makes for an entirely different narrative to your work.

3. Personal transformation. This one aspect made the entire experience of Banff worthwhile because somehow, in just four weeks, I got back something four years of journalism school pounded out of me: a sense of humour.

I used to be angry all the time. I preferred people to fear me because I mistook that for respect. I wasn’t friendly and open because I was too afraid of criticism. When you’re a hater, you think everyone else is, too. In Banff, I bounced back from the panic attack in spades with a magazine presentation and reading that blew everyone away. I learned to let go and, when I relaxed, I found I could make people laugh and I didn’t have to act like a tough guy anymore. (Testosterone poisoning is insulting, but maybe it’s appropriate in this case.) Maybe you don’t need to improve yourself like I did. Or you can achieve the same results in a yoga class or years of therapy. I don’t know. I can only say, whether you’re writing alone in a basement or out there in the cold slogging, seek out new experiences and maybe some of them will be transformative. (See post: 10 Lessons Learned from An Evening with Kevin Smith.)

Addendum: This year at a writing conference, the (now defunct) Banff Publishing Workshop came up over lunch. An old and well-respected editor who made her name at Penguin muttered that, in her day, she didn’t need to attend any such program. She achieved her status through just doing the work. Yeah. Kind of bitchy.

However, maybe the circle is now complete. Maybe you don’t need to go to some fancy publishing program and pay a whack of money for the privilege of sleepless nights and nasty remarks from visiting know-it-alls. It seems the old editor’s time has come again and, as I’ve described, the ticket to the show is simply to get up from your seat and climb on stage. In a world where we’re all authors, publishers, editors and poets, now you can.

Filed under: Books, DIY, Writing Conferences, , , , , , ,


Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

You can pick this ebook up for free today at this link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan

Join my inner circle at AllThatChazz.com

See my books, blogs, links and podcasts.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 9,130 other subscribers

Brain Spasms a la Twitter

%d bloggers like this: