Categories
Help For Writers

A new chapter …

… or a whole new book.

Today is my last day working for Help For Writers Ltd. Tomorrow will be my first day as a ‘true freelancer’. In material terms, nothing much will change – certainly not overnight. I’ll carry on editing and proofreading just like I did before. But it does feel like closing a novel that has kept me gripped for years – only to be overtaken by that swooping feeling of the excitement of starting a new one.

I have to thank my colleagues at HFW for believing in me and supporting me to embark on my editing career. When I started working at the company over four years ago I didn’t realise that this was going to be my niche, but now I’m looking forward to focusing on editing and proofreading, leaving the rest of the capable staff there to explore and develop other aspects of the business more fully. If you have any needs relating to ebook conversion, distribution or cover design, drop them a line!

My plans for freelance life are modest so far – short-term goals include new business cards and flyers – but the most significant thing I aim to do is to branch out into developmental editing. I’ve touched on it in my most recent project, and I’m excited about the prospect of undertaking further training and CPD in that area. So if you have a project that you think might need dev editing and you’re brave enough to let me cut my teeth on it, I just might have a tasty discount for you!

I feel very lucky to have a job that I’m excited about every day of the week. A recent client voluntarily sent me a lovely testimonial that made me feel warm inside. She mentioned ‘energy’ and ‘verve’, qualities that I’d never given much thought to before, but I’m glad they come across to my clients, because I definitely feel the same drive each time I start a new project. I can’t wait to see what the future holds!

A whole new book and coffee

Categories
Artwork Copyediting Writing

The story via the style sheet

I’ve often looked at the style sheet I’ve created for a book I’m working on and thought that the words listed could be used as writing prompts. ‘Pick any three consecutive words and write 1,000 words based on them’, sort of thing. I even tweeted about making the executive decision that ‘asshat’ is one word but ‘fuck-head’ takes a hyphen. I think you can guess the tone of the book just from that! Shortly afterwards, I saw a discussion on Twitter about how a style sheet is a microcosm of the book as a whole. ‘How true!’ I thought.

So here you go. Some selections from recent pieces of work. I think these all give a good flavour of the piece without giving away any spoilers – and if you want to use them as writing prompts, that’s even better!

Horror:

  • shape-shifter
  • side-step
  • son of a bitch
  • soulmate
  • spread-eagled
  • street lamp
  • strigoi

Fantasy:

  • camp site
  • cannons
  • chain mail
  • crewmen

Mystery:

  • sidetracked
  • skullcap
  • smarty-pants
  • socioeconomic
  • store owner

Erotic romance/fantasy:

  • artifact
  • baobh
  • Black Fire
  • bloodcurdling
  • breadcrumbs
  • breastplate

Science fiction:

  • hide and seek
  • hlyk
  • ice cubes
  • ice-field
  • image-thought

The featured image is my latest artwork, just because I didn’t have anything else to illustrate this with and I’m trying not to use stock images. You can see more of my artwork here.

Categories
Authors Copyediting Proofreading

Vampires, history, swords

Sometimes even when I think the pieces I’m working on have no connection, I realise that they actually do. These three topics are a case in point. Vampires, history, swords – what could go together better?

I’m excited to be working on the next book by R. H. Hale. Her first title, Church Mouse: Memoir of a vampire’s servant, is one of the best contemporary vampire stories I’ve read. I like the way it follows in the gothic tradition and the author doesn’t run scared of long sentences and semicolons. Without giving too much away, the sequel is just as good!

brown bat flying

I’m also working on an edited collection of essays about teaching Shakespeare, and it’s never too late to learn. After all those years covering Shakespeare plays in GCSE and A-level English, I still didn’t know about some of the subtleties of how cue-scripts work.

And finally I’ve recently proofread an article about historical bladed weapons. I suppose you could say I’m finding my niche.

My artwork has been following a similar kind of theme, as I’m working on skulls at the moment – update coming soon!

Categories
Writing

How to improve your writing by avoiding things that I don’t like

Maybe it’s just a coincidence. You don’t see a particular mistake for years and then several examples turn up at once and you find yourself asking, ‘Is this a thing now? Why are people doing this?’ So here we go. How to improve your writing by avoiding things that I don’t like. Will it actually improve your writing? Maybe. No guarantees. Depends on context, etc. etc. etc. Try it and see!

There seems to be a trend for writers to use ‘inside’ or ‘within’ where the little word ‘in’ – or ‘into’ – would work just as well. Hence we have ‘The hero strode inside the room’ or ‘She reached within the cupboard’ or ‘He put it inside his pocket’. Try substituting ‘into’ (first two examples) or ‘in’ (last example). Doesn’t it sound cleaner and crisper? See also: ‘placed’ instead of ‘put’: for example, ‘Maria placed it inside the box’ vs ‘Maria put it into the box’. People are always placing things inside things instead of simply putting them in. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for these usages, just that it would probably improve your writing if you stopped and thought about it first to make sure that’s really the best way of saying what you want to say.

There’s another construction that’s been bugging me lately. Again, it’s not ‘an error’ per se, but it’s something you might like to think about to make sure you’re using it consciously and to maximum effect. Technically I’d call it ‘gerund vs infinitive’ – here’s an example:

‘She started walking along the path.’ Compare and contrast with: ‘She started to walk along the path.’ (walking – gerund; to walk – infinitive)

I’ve been seeing a lot of gerunds lately – the ‘ing’ form of the verb – especially in action sequences. ‘Dave started shooting …’ ‘Emma started running …’ and so on. I can totally see why people do it – it has a certain flow, and it tends to be how people talk, as well. But it can actually serve to slow down the ‘feel’ of the action where the infinitive would keep it moving along. This is the case especially where the action is interrupted or moves rapidly on. Neither construction is right or wrong, but if you keep it in mind while you’re reading through your own work, you can make an informed decision about which one you want.

Those are the most obvious things I’ve seen recently that give me an impression of laziness rather than bad grammar or mistakes. When one construction is used a lot at the expense of another which works just as well or better, it just makes me think that the author has got into a comfortable groove and hasn’t really ‘seen’ their own writing. It doesn’t make it bad writing, but if you take a look through fresh eyes and try mixing things up a little, it might give your work that extra pop and sparkle that elevates it from ‘competent’ to ‘good’ or from ‘good’ to ‘great’.

Final note: a character telling another character something is still ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’. I find ‘show, don’t tell’ rather a simplistic instruction – there’s a place for both – but don’t think you can stick something into dialogue and it suddenly becomes better. It’s particularly annoying when a character has spent a couple of paragraphs thinking about, for example, how Mr X can’t possibly be a plausible suspect because of Y and Z, and then feels compelled to repeat their thought process word-for-word to their colleague in the next chapter.

snowdrops growing in a garden
Snowdrops, just because they’re seasonal and they were conveniently there.
Categories
Personal

The post I really wanted to make

It’s about time I came clean. I hate writing blog posts.

There. I said it. I thought long and hard and I … oh, who am I kidding. I didn’t have to think hard at all to figure out that honesty is the best policy. And it doesn’t take a genius to work out that if I feel like that, there must be a whole load more people out there who feel the same. Can I come and join your tribe?

Writing blog posts is something ‘they’ say you must do in order to help your site’s SEO, boost your visibility, and attract lots of new potential customers to your site. By ‘they’, I mean marketing how-to guides and other successful editors. And they have a point. If no one knows my site is here, how are they going to find my awesome skills?

So I want writers to come to my site. Writers who need an editor and proofreader. Obviously. And what do writers want to read about? Well, how to be a better/quicker/more productive/published/successful writer, of course. So I try and write posts with that in mind. Posts that will help writers.

There’s one important flaw in this approach. Writing isn’t my best skill. I’m an editor. Now, that’s not to say that my writing is bad or that I’ve got no useful advice to offer – but it does mean that I often feel as though I’m winging it or cribbing information from elsewhere. And, while I know the world is big enough to take more than one ‘how to beat writer’s block’ article and more than one piece on ‘how to write dialogue’ … I don’t just want to rehash the same old things.

So I’ve decided to take a new approach. An honest approach. I’ve touched on this before with posts about my searches and my SfEP professional membership status, but now I want to grasp it with both hands and own it. I don’t mean posting about my personal life, soap opera style … but I’m going to be myself, and that might mean writing about things that aren’t writing, and maybe even things that aren’t editing. In this way I hope to post more often, and give you stuff to read that comes from the heart, rather than from a marketing expert’s idea of what will help my site rankings.

So here we have an irrelevant but sexy picture of a Triumph motorbike. Not connected with writing, but hey, your main character has got to have some mode of transport, right? How about it?

Triumph Tiger motorbike
An irrelevant Triumph.
Categories
SfEP

Professional SfEP membership!

I’m excited today because I’ve been accepted by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) as a Professional Member! Their standards are high, so I feel honoured to have achieved this. Who knows, one day maybe I’ll attain the lofty heights of Advanced Professional Member!

So, in the unlikely event that you had any lingering doubts about my ability to do a great job, I hope this will inspire you with confidence in my mighty copy-editing and proofreading skills. (On the other hand, you might just prefer to check out my testimonials …)

I’d better get back to work, but before I go, here’s a gratuitous shot of my desk with my congratulatory cup of tea:

my actual desk with books and cup of tea
My actual desk.

Categories
Copyediting

11 searches made by an editor

raccoon

I’ve done a post a bit like this before, but as an editor I like to stop every now and then, take stock and be grateful for all the new things I’ve learned recently as a result of online searches. This time everything is fairly innocuous and unlikely to bring an ominous knock at the door! These 11 searches were all undertaken as part of my work on two books; one fiction, one non-fiction.

  1. Ladyboys — one word or two? (It’s one.)
  2. Did Samuel Romilly oppose the slave trade? (He did indeed!)
  3. Did Jaguar make a Roadster model of their E-Type in 1974? (Yes.)
  4. Is it Wi-Fi, wi-fi, wifi or WiFi? (Wi-Fi — which is actually a trademark. Although in a work of fiction no one will probably care as long as you’re consistent.)
  5. Does Colman’s mustard take an apostrophe? (Yes.)
  6. Raccoon — one ‘c’ or two? (Usually two, but one can be acceptable in some contexts.)
  7. Does Zeinabu irene Davis really use a lower case ‘i’ for ‘irene’? (Yes.)
  8. Is ‘chile limón’ a legit potato chip flavour over in the good old US of A? (It sure is!)
  9. What are the lyrics of ‘The H1N1 Rap’ by Dr Clarke? (Enjoy …)
  10. How did Yul Brynner die? (Lung cancer.)
  11. Where were Harper & Row located back in 1964? (New York.)

Please rest assured that I do look at more than one source when fact-checking, but I’m not going to bore you with all of them!

That, dear reader, is why my head is full of bits of information that probably wouldn’t even be useful in a pub quiz, but I forget to take my vitamin D and put the bins out. Prize if you can guess which searches were for the fiction book and which for the non-fiction.

Writers, what have you been researching recently? And fellow editors, what strange facts have you learned in the course of your work?

Categories
Copyediting

Working with an editor: getting the most out of the editing process

Man and woman talking over laptop, notebook and drink

You’ve finished your draft, done a spot of proofreading of your work and followed last week’s advice on how to choose an editor. You’ve found someone you like and you’re about to embark on that scary journey: getting your book edited. You’re probably wondering how you can get the most out of working with an editor, so that’s what I’m about to tell you!

I’ll start by saying that, if you’re like most writers, the thing uppermost in your mind at this point might be how you can avoid falling out with your editor. Perhaps you’re simultaneously scared of getting your work pulled apart and nervous in case you ‘push back’ and rile your editor, ending in a big, messy fall-out over a serial comma. You’ve picked someone you like and you seem to have a good rapport with them so far, but you’re afraid that will all come crashing down when you see what they’ve done to your manuscript.

I’ve got news for you. We don’t want to fall out with you, either.

Sometimes a grammar or punctuation rule or a particular spelling is right or wrong. Sometimes it’s a matter of opinion or personal preference. If it’s the latter, we won’t make it a hill to die on. If you want ‘spelled’ instead of ‘spelt’, or ‘well-being’ with a hyphen, guess what? It’s up to you! We aren’t scary grammar nazis; we want to be nice, and we want to help you and make your book as good as it can be.

With that in mind, here are some things you can do to make the editing process easier for both of us.

1. Know what kind of editing you’re getting

By the time you’ve got to the point of engaging an editor they should have gone through this with you, but to be on the safe side, make sure you know what kind of editing you’re getting – and that it matches up with what you need. As a copy-editor, I can’t do my best job if major structural reorganisation is needed, and if you want me to re-edit your work after you’ve rewritten and added parts, I’ll have to charge you extra – and most editors will do the same (it’s in my Ts and Cs, so make sure you read the small print!).

2. Be willing to consider changes

I was going to phrase this ‘Don’t be a dick’, but on reflection that seemed a bit harsh. I can honestly say that I’ve never had an editing client who has been rude about my suggestions, comments or queries. But I’m sure they exist, and you don’t want to be That Person. It’s natural to feel a little bit defensive about your work, but try to bear in mind that your editor wants your work to read as well as possible. If something is unclear to them, it may well be unclear to your target audience too. Remember that it’s up to you whether you accept all their suggestions, so try to not feel too dismayed, but also remember that they’re professionals and have made those suggestions for a reason. If it feels as though they simply haven’t ‘got’ your tone or what you’re trying to do in your book, have a chat with them about it. They should be on your side helping you achieve your vision!

3. Brace yourself

When you first open your edited manuscript file, there will be Track Changes – or the equivalent of red pen – all over it. And I mean all over. It’ll look shocking. I might as well get that out of the way. That doesn’t mean your writing is bad. Brace yourself and grit your teeth. I can pretty much guarantee that a lot of the ‘corrections’ will be things like changing a comma into a full stop or adding a space on either side of an ellipsis. 

4. Turn ‘Simple Markup’ on

In Word, under the ‘Review’ section of the toolbar, you have the option to view ‘All Markup’ or ‘Simple Markup’. Start by viewing the document with simple markup turned on. This means that you’ll only see the editor’s comments – queries or suggestions – rather than every single edit, deletion, insertion, etc. It makes the text look a lot less scary and will help you concentrate on the important stuff. Later, if you do want to go through every tiny change, when you get to a bit that looks confusing or that you have strong feelings about, turn simple markup back on and read through the passage ‘clean’, as though you’d already accepted the editor’s suggestions. Sound alright to you now? You might be pleasantly surprised!

5. Use the opportunity to improve your writing

Look at what the editor has changed and how those changes affect the flow of the text as a whole. This may help you improve your writing for the next book – if you have one planned! 

6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

You are perfectly within your rights to ask the editor to explain their rationale for certain decisions. It doesn’t mean you’re arguing with them; it just means you’re curious. Any editor worth their salt will be happy to tell you why they’ve done what they’ve done. If they’ve changed something wholesale without consulting you, there’s a good chance it’s straight-up wrong rather than just a matter of stylistic preference. Ask and you’ll learn! 

7. Don’t ask too many questions

This sounds counterintuitive, but it’s just a shorter way of saying don’t bog the process down by questioning absolutely everything. The more you ask, the longer it will take, and you may end up getting charged extra. Got a question? Ask away! Want to go through the edit line by line with your editor? You’ve probably got too many questions. Be brave and make your own decisions about which changes you want to accept and reject. Remember: you don’t have to agree with everything your editor has suggested.

8. Use the appropriate technology

I usually work on manuscripts in Word, so I’ll refer to Track Changes here, but if you and your editor are working on a pdf document my advice applies equally to pdf markup. Use the technology available to you. Use Track Changes and Comments. Please don’t send your edits, comments or responses by email or as a separate document. You might think you’re referring to page 114, but by the time your comment gets back to the editor, they’ve continued to make changes and page 114 is now page 113 or 115, line references make no sense at all, and it takes them precious extra minutes to find the bits you’re talking about. They should have told you at the beginning of the process how they were going to present their feedback (Track Changes, Comments, pdf markup, etc.) and at this point you can ask how they’d like you to communicate yours in return.

9. Don’t be afraid to use the phone

It’s quicker than email and you might be able to get an instant answer. You can both ask lots of questions one after the other without any awkward written to-ing and fro-ing. Check first with your editor when they’re available to talk on the phone so that you don’t worry about interrupting them. And, of course, check that they’re comfortable with it – not everyone is, but if they are, you can both save yourselves time and energy!

10. Keep in touch

Let your editor know if you’re going away, have had a crisis or are going to be incommunicado for a while. That way they’re not left hanging and they can plan in order to either meet the deadline or extend it if necessary. Also, they won’t expect you to respond while you’re away or otherwise occupied. They should, of course, return the favour!

11. Write a testimonial

If you think your editor did a good job, say thank you – it’s always nice to be thanked. But you can go one better. Write a testimonial that they can use on their website or a review on their Facebook page if they have one. Ask them where they prefer to have their reviews (some people use Trustpilot or similar sites) and show your appreciation by writing one. Asking clients for testimonials can sometimes feel a bit awkward, especially if a bit of time has passed since the job was done, so we really appreciate it when you take the initiative – believe me! 

If you’re feeling particularly generous you could even credit your editor in the book. The first time an author wrote something really nice about me in the acknowledgements I actually bought the book, despite it being an academic work on a topic totally unrelated to my interests! So you never know, you might even bag yourself an extra sale.

Go for it!

Hopefully I haven’t made you overthink the whole thing. Perhaps I should come back to the one bit of advice I almost didn’t say: don’t be a dick. Most people aren’t. You probably aren’t. In which case you’ll get on with your editor and both of you will enjoy the process of getting your book into great shape!

Categories
Copyediting

Live, edit and learn

When I’m copy-editing, my job involves fact-checking. Do I know everything? Far from it! Even when I’m editing a book on a topic I’m familiar with, I still need to double- and triple-check some facts. This means that I learn a lot during the course of a job. Here’s a snapshot of some of my recent searches and a few snippets of knowledge. Hopefully, some of you will learn something new, too!

Balkan peninsula topographic map

  1. The Anemoi are wind gods in Greek mythology – Boreas, Notus, Zephyrus and Eurus (spellings may vary!).
  2. The Balkan countries are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia. Parts of Greece and Turkey are also located within the Balkan Peninsula. There is some disagreement over which countries are included in the definition.
  3. The cervical vertebrae are located in the neck. They are nowhere near the cervix!
  4. It’s surprisingly difficult to find out exactly how many times David Cameron met with François Hollande.
  5. Fenugreek is widely believed to help with lactation, although it hasn’t been conclusively proven. (I was actually breastfeeding when I discovered this, but I’ve never taken fenugreek!) Substances that increase milk supply are known as galactagogues, which sound like threatening alien lifeforms. 
  6. Frumenty is a old English dish made with grains.
  7. A Lavaliere is a type of necklace originally popularised in France. The word has also been adopted in the US to describe various ceremonies around sororities and fraternities.
  8. Strigoi are vampires‘the undead’ or a mixture of different concepts.
  9. Super-jacked cattle exist – and pigs could be next.
  10. Sympathomimetic drugs mimic the function of the sympathetic nervous system (well, duh!).

Click on the links above, store away the knowledge for future reference … and wait with anticipation to see which adverts get served to you next. You’re welcome!

Categories
Copyediting Proofreading

Why I’m not a grammar Nazi

 

You’d think that, as a copy-editor and proofreader, I’d be the archetypal grammar Nazi. And it’s true that sometimes I have to take a strict approach to the manuscripts that pass across my desk. But, contrary to popular belief, not every editor or proofreader goes around correcting grocer’s apostrophe’s. Here’s why bad spelling and grammar doesn’t bother me.

Catherine Dunn grammar Nazi
Don’t ever let me catch you putting a hyphen there again.

Rather than whetting your appetite and then working up to a denouement like a good writer should, I’ll start with the reason that’s most important to me: some people just struggle with these things through no fault of their own. Some of the brainiest people I know have dyslexia. Many more don’t have a diagnosed condition but simply find writing hard. Chances are, they’ve got strengths in another area and it’s not my place to point the finger, judge or laugh.

That by itself is, for me, a good enough reason to dial down the outrage. Being a decent human being and having a bit of empathy isn’t that hard. But there’s a couple more …

  • Sometimes I’m not very good at writing myself.

Or should that be: sometimes I, myself, am not very good at writing.

You get the idea. Doing this job, it’s important that everything I write that’s for public consumption is polished and perfect. I go over my text time and time again trying to make sure I’ve got the best possible phrasing. And that’s before I’ve combed it for typos, missing full points and other embarrassing errors. I’m sure some still slip through the net. I’m not a professional writer. If I was, I’d be writing my own books instead of editing and proofreading other people’s. I just know the rules and make sure they’re applied (or, sometimes, create my own!). So I sympathise with the writer’s struggle.

  • I’m lazy at heart.

Picking out people’s errors is work. It’s not my hobby. I enjoy what I do for a living, but everyone needs to switch off sometimes for the sake of their mental health. I’m far too lazy to get worked up about somebody’s innocent mistake. I might look for an opportunity to slip them a business card, but I’m certainly not going to waste my time getting hot under the collar.

So, writers: write away. I’m not judging you. (I can if you want, though, for the right price …)