Editing on the Fly

It never fails. Because I write, everyone assumes I am a walking encyclopedia of grammar know-how. A spelling bee know-it-all. All day long it’s “allyah, how do you spell this” and “allyah, how do you spell that.” “allyah, should I use a colon here, or would an em-dash be better?” Okay, that’s not actually what they say: 1) I write under a pen name, and 2) they certainly know how to spell “this” and “that.” For God sake, I hope so.

The point is, I don’t have a computer chip in my head. I’m not a flowing font of information. Sometimes, my brain gets tired. There’s a lot of useless information that I carry up there, and I don’t have time to edit on the fly, sifting through all that garbage to find the one thing that someone needs on the spot when there’s an easier solution: look it up. And yes, it sucks because it takes time and effort, but what’s the alternative? Crappy copy? I don’t think so.

So use your resources, online or in print, and rely on your own brain instead of running to your “allyah equivalent.” Trust me, she, or he, will thank you some day.

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There’s Nothing Like a 500-Point Type Typo

Some things never get old.

This an excellent example of why you should always proof your work. Granted, the word is technically correct, so I can understand how this mistake might have been made. Read the next paragraph to discover just where this little typo is.

The shuttle’s name is not “Endeavor,” but “Endeavour;” its British spelling reflects the fact that the ship is named after the HM Bark Endeavour, a 10-gun Royal Navy bark commanded by Lieutenant James Cook on his first voyage of discovery to Australia and New Zealand in 1769-1771.

So this is just your basic typo … printed in about 500-point type. Embarrassing, right?

Endeavor vs. Endeavour

Endeavor vs. Endeavour

I think USA Today may have said it best with their headline: “Houston, We Have a Typo.”

There Blog Isn’t Their Anymore – What?

More in the way of the most common mistakes writers make: there versus their.

Not quite sure why this one trips up so many people; I assume it’s due more to a typo than actual error. And like most grammar errors I’ve blogged about earlier in allyah’s INKWELL, this one won’t be caught by spellchecker but by your keen eye. Proof your work. Read it out loud. Check to see if it makes sense.

And now for the grammar lesson:

“There” is used to refer to a place, as in “yo, let’s go there.” “There” is also used as a pronoun, as in “there is always hope.”

“Their” is a plural possessive pronoun, as in “their blog rocks” or “their opinions are right on target.” When using “their” always take the “that’s ours” test. Are you talking about more than one person? Do they possess something? If you can answer yes to both questions, “their” is what you should be using; not “there.”

And that concludes today’s lesson.

Can a Computer Replace the Skills of an Editor?

At my last job, I was asked point-blank why in this day and age of advanced technology and general access to computers would any company need the services of an editor? I was, for lack of a better word, dumbfounded.

First, why would anyone ask a fellow employee to justify whether his or her position were truly necessary? Second, who could possibly think that a computer could do the job of an editor? Yes, computers can do some pretty wonderful things for writers and non-writers alike. They can spot basic grammar problems and even suggest corrections, find spelling errors, and on occasion spot places where a word may be missed. Not exactly foolproof. But they can’t rewrite poorly written copy, find garbled grammar, and fix word usage problems.

Case in point: The following sentence has a number of problems that your computer won’t identify but will make you look less than stellar. Would you rather rely on your laptop or the eagle eye of an editor?

Thomas ran form the back of the filed and caught the flier but he dropped it when he tipped.

Horrible sentence. I’m embarrassed to even use it as an example. Poorly written — spellchecker doesn’t care. Transposed letters — the words are correct (form, filed, flier, tripped) even though they don’t make sense in this sentence; spellchecker doesn’t care about that either. Missing comma — missed by spellchecker. These are the types of errors you will find in countless documents every day because we as a society have come to rely on spellchecker far too much.

So do you think companies need the services of editors, copyeditors, or proofreaders? I think the example above sufficiently answers that question.

Billionaire Writer Declines Editorial Help

I recently came across this entry on the blog of Dragonfly Editorial making the case of why all writers, no matter how great they are, need great editors to tighten and improve their work. See if you agree:

“Matthew Baldwin at Defective Yeti has apparently been reading my mind. He recently wrote about his dismay that J.K. Rowling’s fourth and fifth books in the Harry Potter series, The Goblet of Fire and The Order of the Phoenix, appeared to have received little to no editing. As Baldwin puts it, the two books: … were released at the height of [Rowling’s] popularity, and it was clear that no one dared edit The Sacred Word of Potter; as the result, the books were long, rambling, unfocused, and boring.

I’d stop short of saying the books were boring; however, I found it painful to find bloated narrative diluting what had previously been clean, lively writing — a sure sign that Ms. Rowling had succumbed to the same famous-author-no-longer-needs-an-editor syndrome that had taken down Anne Rice.

I found myself wishing that when Ms. Rowling had turned in her manuscript, a tough but kindly gentleman editor had sat down with her and said (in a British accent, of course): “See here, J.K., this is a lovely first draft, but you’ve got to cut it by at least a third. Go back to the basics, darling! Ask yourself sentence by sentence, can this be tighter? Can this be cut? Can this go away completely?”

No matter how good a writer is, no matter how brilliant the words, copy must be edited to make it clean, clear, and concise. There simply is no question about it. And writers who are offended by this step in the process are probably in the wrong profession.

The High Price of Cutting Corners

Some things have to be learned the hard way. But, if you’re a publisher, this is a case of “you should have known better.”

In 2008, Princeton University Press recalled 4,000 copies of Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore’s Eastern District, by Peter Moskos, published May 1. It was the entire initial press run, all 4,000 copies. It was discovered that the book was riddled with more than 90 spelling and grammar errors among its 245 pages. Hmm. How could this have happened? After all, this is Princeton University Press. Reputable. Respectable. Dependable.

And evidently, caught cutting corners.

Writers write stories. Editors edit stories. But copyeditors fix mistakes. And if publishers get cheap, the end product suffers and readers pay the price. The press pulled every copy of the book, corrected it, reprinted it, and redistributed it to stores at a considerable cost, but the price of releasing the book to the public with so many errors would have been even more. This entire situation could have been averted simply by paying the wages required by experienced copyeditors to get the job done right the first time.

It simply comes down to money. “According the Peter Dougherty, the press’s director, the manuscript had been given to an inexperienced copyeditor who failed to do the job properly.”

This isn’t a surprise to most of us who work as freelancers in the publishing industry. Publishers have been getting away with paying freelance copyeditors and proofreaders below scale for years, sometimes as lows as the teens or twenties at best. Experienced copyeditors simply won’t work for that kind of pay, and it shouldn’t be any surprise when a publisher pays a copyeditor that kind of rate that they get what they pay for: a plethora of mistakes.

Note to publishers: your end users deserve the best product possible. That’s what they are paying for; that’s what they expect. And it’s your name on the product, so why wouldn’t you want it to be perfect? Pay your staff to make sure it is. Copyediting counts.