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
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
Proofreading

Get your ebook ready for self-publishing

Are you thinking about self-publishing or distributing your work yourself as an ebook?

If so, you need to make sure you engage an editor who understands the ebook conversion process. They can help make sure your work is correctly formatted to avoid errors in the final digital file. But there is a lot that you can do yourself beforehand to make the process easy and pain-free. Here are a few tips to help you create professional-looking ebooks!

person reading an ebook

Something to bear in mind …

An ebook is a different beast from a traditionally printed book. If you use an e-reader yourself, you’ll know that you can change the text size, the margins, and even the font on the display. When you’re getting a book ready for print, all these things are crucial. You may be working with a typesetter or spending hours getting everything ‘just so’ in Word or InDesign. But if the reader can change the appearance themselves, how does that affect the way you need to format your work? Is it a waste of time to focus on the appearance of the text on the page?

If you’re having your book printed as well as producing an ebook, it’s definitely not a waste of time. You’ll still need a print-ready file that looks just as you want it to. However, you’ll need a separate copy of the file ready to format for ebook, because the requirements are different.

Keep it simple

When formatting an ebook, less is more. Almost all the formatting is stripped out during conversion, so there’s no point doing anything fancy. By keeping everything as simple as possible, you reduce the risk of introducing anything that will be too distracting to the reader. After all, you want them to focus on what you’ve written, not on what it looks like.

To make things easier for yourself, switch on the ‘Show nonprinting characters’ option – click the button that looks like this:

non-printing characters key

 

 

This displays the formatting marks, showing all the formatting you’ve used – spaces, line breaks, paragraph breaks, tabs, page breaks, the works. This makes it easier to see what you’ve done and will help you to strip out extraneous formatting.

Spaces

Remove rogue spaces from the beginnings and ends of paragraphs. This can be a tedious job, but it’s worth it, because extra spaces often stand out on an e-reader.

Full stops

Don’t use double spaces after full stops. You can use the ‘Find and replace’ tool to remove them. You might have been taught to use them at school, but in an ebook they make the text look gappy and unprofessional, and professional typesetters don’t use them. In some cases, a double space even converts to no space at all, resulting in words that are run together.

If you’re a heavy-handed typist you might also want to check for the odd accidental triple space – they have been known to occur!

Hyphens & line breaks

Turn hyphenation off and don’t force line breaks. Even if you don’t like where a line breaks, remember that if the reader changes the font size, the line breaks will shift anyway. If you add a hyphen manually, there’s a danger that it will end up stuck in the middle of a line at random, looking like a mistake. Similarly, don’t try to correct widows and orphans.

Page numbers

Don’t include page numbers – ebook files don’t have universal page numbers, but some devices will allocate page numbers depending on the reader’s settings. E-reader devices usually tell the reader how far along in the book they are – e. g. ‘Page x out of y’ or ‘43% completed’. This also means that page numbers in your table of contents will be irrelevant.

Paragraphs

Decide whether you’re going to use block or run-on paragraphs and stick with the same format throughout. Block paragraphs have a line space between them, while run-on paragraphs don’t have any line space between them but have the first line indented instead. If you use run-on paragraphs, remember not to indent the first paragraph of each chapter or section.

And don’t use the tab key to indent your paragraphs – use the ‘First line indent’ tool on Word’s ribbon.

Chapters

When you want to start a new chapter, insert a page break. Don’t just keep hitting Enter until a new page appears! Use the ‘Show nonprinting characters’ option to help you get rid of extra paragraph returns at the beginning and end of each chapter.

Rather than formatting each chapter heading manually, use Word’s styles function to set a heading style and apply it to each one. Which brings me neatly on to …

Styles

Use Word’s Styles palette to organise your chapter headings, subheadings, body text etc. If you don’t know how to use this, or any other tools within Word, there’s a wealth of information online, and it’ll be well worth your while to learn how it works because it will save you a lot of formatting headaches. Before you submit your manuscript, check that you’ve applied the relevant style to each part of your text.

Out of the ordinary

If you want to use ‘fancy’ formatting – such as headers, footers, borders, special fonts, coloured text, multi-column layouts, lots of illustrations or tables etc. – you might want to consider opting for a fixed layout ebook rather than a reflowable epub.

Certain elements, like decorative drop caps or special chapter/section dividers, can be inserted as images, but if there are a lot of them, you’re better off getting some professional help with the conversion to make sure you get the result you’re after. You can certainly include images in ePub and MOBI files, but some ereaders display them in grayscale, so make sure that your images work in grayscale as well as in colour.

Use the style guide

This final tip might sound blindingly obvious, but it can make the difference between getting your ebook accepted or rejected by stores: if you’re submitting your document to a site that has a style guide, use it! Sometimes it can look complicated, but take the time to work through it and you will reap the rewards later.

It’s time to get your book proofread!

Hopefully you will have started the marketing for your book while you were still tidying up the early drafts. If not, you’ll need to build in some lead-in time while you generate a bit of hype. But that’s a post for another day! I’ll assume you’ve got that side of things covered and all you’ve got left to do is get your book proofread to make sure there are no stray apostrophes or references to the ‘pubic domain’. 

If you’ve followed the steps above, your proofreader will have less work to do – saving them time and saving you money!

Good luck!

Categories
Proofreading

How to proofread your own work

‘Proofread your own work?’ I hear you say. ‘But that’s ridiculous! You proofreaders are always telling us it’s impossible!’ And it is impossible to proofread your own work to the same standard as a trained and impartial professional. But if you use common sense and a keen eye, you can get your manuscript to a good standard before it hits the copy-editor’s or proofreader’s desk – and hopefully save yourself a few spondoolies! Here are my tips on how to go about it.

  • Read your work out loud. This is the single most important thing you can do when trying to polish your own writing. Don’t worry about sounding ridiculous. Shut the door. Wait until everyone has gone out if you have to. And, most importantly, take your time about it. Reading a piece out loud will show up a multitude of sins. If you slow down and really look at what you’re reading, it should help you to spot any missing little words. You may spot other errors as well.
  • Read each line backwards. That’s the next step. Invest in some ink and paper and print out your manuscript so that you can hold a piece of card under each line, just like when you were learning to read at school. Most of my proofreading is done on screen, but I still find it easier to see mistakes in a printed passage. If you can afford it, do it. Read each line backwards, a word at a time.

person proofreading sitting at desk with papers
A Lesser-Spotted English Proofreader in its native habitat.

Those are my two top tips – a couple of basic principles, if you like. Here are some pitfalls to watch out for.

  • Run a search for ‘pubic’. You won’t regret it. (Unless you’re actually writing about genitals, of course, in which case you’ll probably find yourself typing ‘public’ by accident.) If you mention martial arts at all, you might also want to search for ‘marital’.
  • Consistency is key. You may have noticed that apostrophes and quotation marks can be curly or straight depending on which font is used. Make sure all yours are consistent. Even if you’re sure you’ve applied the same font throughout, you might be surprised. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a manuscript where the odd ‘odd’ apostrophe hasn’t crept in.
  • Pay special attention to the letters f, i, l and t, especially when they crop up close together. Check that ls aren’t is and is aren’t ts, or vice versa. Check that double letters aren’t triple.

There are also a few simple things you can do to make it much easier to format your book for print or digital distribution.

  • Please don’t use double spaces. Not after full stops; not anywhere. It takes seconds to run a ‘find and replace’. Watch out for triple spaces if you’re a heavy-handed typist!
  • Get rid of spaces at the ends of paragraphs. I know the feeling only too well – you’re typing away and your thumb automatically adds a space at the end of the sentence. But you don’t need one at the end of a paragraph.
  • Use Word’s ‘Styles’ function. If you don’t know what it is or how to use it, there are plenty of tutorials out there. Take some time to figure it out and your copy-editor will thank you for it.

I could add a lot more, but that’s enough to be going on with! Remember the three golden rules: 

  • read it out loud,
  • read it backwards, and
  • take your time!
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 …)

Categories
Copyediting Proofreading

Who needs a proofreader or copy-editor?

When I’m talking to people about what I do, they tend to assume that I work with authors and that the bulk of my work is on novels. I love copy-editing fiction, and I particularly enjoy working directly with self-publishing authors, but there are many other groups of people who need the services of a proofreader or copy-editor. It’s not just about books – any piece of writing, no matter how short, might need some attention!

misspelled public schools sign
Proofreader’s law: the bigger the font, the harder it is to spot a mistake.*

 

You expect well-known brands to get ‘simple’ things like spelling and grammar right. If they don’t, it undermines the customer’s trust in the brand. This also applies to small companies, but you’re more likely to cut them some slack – you might trust Greg down the road to repair ‘all kinds of car’s’, but you want Mercedes to pay the same detailed attention to their grammar as you hope they do to your car!

Very large companies probably employ a team of proofreaders and copy-editors to make sure anything that goes out to the public with their name on it is correct. As a freelancer, I’m more likely to work with small- to medium-sized businesses. If you need a way to stand out from your competitors and give yourself the edge, making sure your spelling and grammar is perfect is one way of winning over customers who are sitting on the fence.

Proofreading and copy-editing that I do for businesses includes:

  • Adverts for print and online. It’s particularly embarrassing if something is spelled wrong in an advert, and they often cost a lot of money.
  • Leaflets and other hard copy promotional material – often given out at trade shows or with purchases. No one wants to be left with 500 misspelled t-shirts …
  • Brochures. Something glossy and well-designed is often intended for clients who want to part with their spondoolies.
  • Recruitment materials. High-calibre applicants want to feel as though they’ll fit right in.
  • Legal documents. I can’t advise on legalities, but I can make sure spellings are correct!
  • Social media updates. They can be seen by tens of thousands of people. Even if a company doesn’t have a big following, something embarrassing can go viral in the blink of an eye.
  • Letters. Yes, they are still sent occasionally! An eloquent letter on thick paper, embossed with a crest, thanking Greg for his tip-top repair to the Prime Minister’s Mercedes would fall a bit flat if it was addressed to ‘Grge’. ‘Impossible!’ I hear you say. Hmm, just ask any Louise how often they’ve been a ‘Lousie’ …
  • Blog posts. They are really important when it comes to driving traffic to websites, so most businesses will have a regularly-updated blog or news section. Perhaps one person writes all the content; perhaps they use several members of staff or guest bloggers with different areas of expertise; whatever the approach, everyone wants their blog to look professional.
  • Web pages. A shop window to the world. An error-free website can give one company the edge over the competition just by virtue of making them look slicker and more detail-oriented.
  • Reports. They could be annual reports or reports about a specific project. They might be aimed at shareholders, sponsors or the general public.

These points don’t just apply to businesses that sell products or services. Not-for-profit companies and charities produce all of the things listed above, and they want to project a professional image to sponsors, donors and the public as well as the people they help.

As well as work for businesses, I also proofread and copy-edit for:

  • Publishing houses. Many of them employ freelancers – sometimes through an agency – rather than in-house editors and proofreaders.
  • Students and academics. If someone’s academic work is being published by a traditional publishing company, it will usually come to me via the publisher or an agency, but some academics want to self-publish, and students are often allowed to use a proofreader on their theses provided the content is original.
  • Self-publishing authors. My favourite group of people to work with. They might have written fiction or non-fiction; thanks to my contact with authors I’ve read some amazing books on a wide variety of topics and across a range of genres.

I hope this has given you a bit more insight into the life of a proofreader and copy-editor. As you can see, it’s about a lot more than just reading books. If you know someone you think might benefit from any of these services, please send them my way and I will make their copy ship-shape!

*Image courtesy of Mascola.

Categories
Copyediting Proofreading

Proofreading & copy-editing: what’s the difference?

person proofreading and marking up textI advertise proofreading and copy-editing services and I try to be clear about exactly what you get for your money with each service. I don’t want to bore potential clients to death before they’ve got half-way down the page, though! If you’re not sure about the difference between proofreading and copy-editing and you’d like to know more, read on …

A key point is that proofreading is the final stage your manuscript will go through after typesetting and before the final print run. The purpose of proofreading is to polish and perfect a hard copy book before it goes to print. A good proofreader should try to keep changes to a minimum because it costs money for the typesetter to make amendments at this stage.

An ebook doesn’t get typeset in the same manner as a printed book. On an e-reader, the reader can choose various aspects of the text’s appearance, such as font, font size, line spacing, margins etc., so there’s no point in laying out these elements with precision. Of course, ebooks still need to be checked for errors, so even if you’re only releasing your book in digital format you might still want the services of a proofreader.

A proofreader looks at spelling, grammar, punctuation, layout and consistency. They’ll also check that your work has been typeset correctly – that page numbers and page headings are all present and correct, that illustrations and captions correspond, that styles are consistent, and that the table of contents is correct. They will check everything, including front and back matter such as the copyright page, dedication, bibliography etc. See the Society for Editors & Proofreaders website for a full explanation of what a proofreader does (and doesn’t do).

Copy-editing happens at an earlier stage, before typesetting. After copy-editing the author will probably want to make a number of changes. This may result in a few errors – usually minor – being introduced, so, no matter how good the copy-editor was, there might still be a few typos or bloopers in the finished product. That’s why it’s also a good idea to get a proofread done after typesetting, but if your budget is limited you might prefer to take a risk – particularly if your work is destined to be ‘ebook only’, without so many formatting elements to consider.

Copy-editing is concerned with getting your work ready for typesetting. A copy-editor will make sure your work is accurate and fit-for-purpose. As well as looking at spelling, punctuation and grammar, they’ll also look at style, consistency, wording, legal issues and technical design elements related to the typesetting process. If your work contains illustrations, graphs and tables these will also be covered. They should flag up doubtful facts for your attention and may query anything that looks ‘wrong’ or which is hard to understand.

A copy-editor does look at some ‘big picture’ issues such as plot holes and structure, but they won’t do the job of a developmental or structural editor. If a piece of work requires extensive rewriting, it’s too early to be using the services of a copy-editor, because much of their work will be undone during the rewriting process or they may have wasted time working on sections which are later removed. The Society for Editors and Proofreaders has an excellent and thorough explanation of copy-editing on its website.

If you would like more information or a quotation for copy-editing or proofreading, please do not hesitate to contact me.