Be nice to authors

Copyediting.com has a new post, “The 3 Essential Elements of Author Queries” (the elements are tone, specificity, and tact). It’s well worth reading. As an editor and author I still have room for improvement. I often edit pieces that are missing important information, but I also sometimes leave out important information myself. For example, I wrote a piece for the company newsletter about women’s history and, after referring to Clara Barton’s local connection, noted that March is also Red Cross month. The corporate communications guy politely pointed out that I never mentioned that March is women’s history month. He suggested a correction, and I give him A’s for tone, specificity, and tact.

In my book The Editor’s Companion, I quoted Liz Dexter’s post on being edited on her LibroEditing blog. Her main points:

  1. Try to build trust first of all
  2. Remain kind
  3. Understand that when the client asks a question, sometimes they just need reassurance that they’re not stupid or rubbish at writing
  4. Make sure I praise as well as criticise

I noted that I was still working on those things. I still am, though I hope I’ve gotten better. I highly recommend reading her whole post.

Steve’s Hall of Shame:* A decadent headline

p>No, 50 years is not half a decade, it’s half a century.

Or is decade going the way of decimate? A lot of people now use decimate to mean not “reduce by a tenth” but “reduce by a lot.” Does decade no longer mean “ten years” but “a lot of years”? I’m just kidding. I hope this doesn’t happen to decade. And what would half of a lot be anyway?

It reminds me of Chico Marx in The Cocoanuts explaining to Groucho why a real estate lot is too much: “Sometimes you no got enough, it’s too much, you gotta whole lot. Sometimes you got a little bit. You no think it’s enough, somebody else maybe thinks itsa too much, itsa whole lot too. Now, itsa whole lot, itsa too much, itsa too much, itsa whole lot … same thing.”

Decade, decimate, itsa whole lot, same thing.

This was in the Fredericksburg, Va., Free Lance–Star on Jan. 26, 2017.

Don’t let this happen to you: This didn’t need an editor to catch it. It just needed somebody who was paying attention.


* “Steve’s Hall of Shame” is what one writer called my collection of bloopers. I decided to keep the name.

Backing up tracked changes

Sometimes I want to see the tracked changes in Microsoft Word even when the author doesn’t. One writer has high confidence in my copy editing and wants to see only the changes that could alter the meaning from what he intended. He doesn’t want me to track my corrections of his punctuation, subject-verb agreement, or spelling.

However, sometimes I want to see those changes, especially if the document comes back revised. I may want to see where I corrected a name because I looked it up or where I made changes for consistency. Also, sometimes I do make errors in editing, and I want to go back and look at the editing and find out where I went wrong.

My solution is to work with a file that I label “markup.” It has all my tracked content changes. I save it for future reference, and then I save it with “edit” instead of “markup” in the file name. In the “edit” file, I go through and accept all the changes the author doesn’t want to see, leaving only the queries and the edits that could affect the meaning.

This method is acceptable, but if you have a better one, please post a comment and tell us about it.

What it takes to be an editor

Certainly, to be an editor, you must be good at English or whatever language you’re editing. Also, you must care. Be a perfectionist. No one else involved in publishing a document, whether it’s a blog post or a book, may be attuned to the nuances of words and punctuation. The editor may have to compromise or be overruled, but striving for excellence is essential.

Also, pay attention to the details but don’t get mired in them. John McIntyre, copy editor for the Baltimore Sun, wrote on his You Don’t Say blog that some people in publishing think that copy editors are “comma jockeys”; he pointed out that by careful attention to content, copy editors had prevented the paper from publishing libel and plagiarized writing. Be aware of the content: is it coherent and complete? Also, unless someone else is doing the fact checking, I recommend verifying anything you can. This takes time and patience, but the alternative—getting names, numbers, and titles wrong—is worse.

One choice for editors is to specialize in certain subjects. For example, Katharine O’Moore Klopf, who maintains the Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base website, is a medical editor. Adrienne Montgomerie, a major contributor to Copyediting.com, edits scientific works.

Copyediting.com has a lot of articles to assist freelancers, and Liz Dexter’s Libro Editing blog has, besides lots of helpful information for editors, a continuing series of interviews with small business owners. Her book How I Survived My First Year of Full-Time Self-Employment: Going It Alone at 40 is available at Liz Broomfield Books. I reviewed it on my website.

Slow as Manasses

In the Virginia Railway Express Ride magazine, November 2016, the chart says both “Manassas” (the correct spelling) and “Manasses.” (Maybe they meant “molasses”?)

Don’t let this happen to you: First, run a spellcheck. My copy of Microsoft Word recognizes Manassas but flags Manasses as misspelled. Second, check repeated information—and here we have the name of a city repeated twice but spelled two ways.

Who owns that photo?

Authors sometimes provide photos that they found on the Web. The photos may be in an open source (that is, publicly available) but not in the public domain (publicly owned). Photos in the public domain (just about all government photos) may be freely used, but we should still give credit.

If you work for a book or magazine publisher, you probably have an author contract specifying that the author has the right to all content submitted: the author is providing original material and has permission to use anything else submitted for publication.

If you are working for a company or nonprofit organization, your writers may be fellow employees who have only vague, and possibly wrong, ideas about photo use. They may supply photos they found online and not know where they got them. After you read these writers the riot act, letting them know that all content is protected by copyright from the time of its creation, you still may need to know where a photo came from and whether you are free to use it.

I discovered (actually, my manager showed me) that Google’s image search can look for a specific photo. Put your cursor over the little camera icon and you’ll see a popup message that says, “Search by image.” One of the choices is “Upload an image.” Choose an image from your computer and upload it, and Google will instantly give you results showing where the image, or something similar, is found online.

(If the photo the author supplied is embedded in a document, you can usually right-click on it and get an option to save the picture somewhere on your computer. Then you can upload it for the Google image search.)

I’ve used this a few times with excellent results. If an author found a photo on the web, then Google can usually find it too. Often I find that the photo has appeared on many websites, often uncredited, but a bit of clicking usually has led me to a site where the photo source is given. For example, one piece I edited recently included a photo that had appeared on someone’s blog, and the writer had credited that blog as the source of the photo. There was nothing on the blog, however, to indicate that the blog author had taken the photo. Google, however, showed that the photo had appeared on a newspaper website too, and there the photo was credited to the Associated Press. I was able to tell the author that the photo was owned by the Associated Press and could be used only after obtaining permission and paying for it.

This function in the Google image search is great for identifying the actual sources of photos that authors found and assumed were free.

Including quotations in a document

“How do I include quotations in my document? Should I change their language and spelling?” In a new post on her Libro Editing blog, Liz Dexter answers these questions. She explains “how to insert quotations into a text, including what to do if they are in a different variety of English, whether you should change the spellings of quotations and when it is acceptable to change a quotation,” to quote the summary.

She also answers the question “When can I use [sic] in a quotation?” and presents “the golden rule of including quotations in your text.”

Her blog post not only will help editors who need the rules for quotations laid out simply and briefly, it is a good piece for editors to provide to writers who may not know the rules.