Category Archives: Editing

The Complete Writer: Working with a Professional Editor *FREE READ*

Chapter 10
Working with a Professional Editor

The Complete Writer:
The Ultimate Guide to Writing, Publishing, and Leading the Writer’s Life

An experienced editor knows language and knows how to produce a publishable work. Professional editors also know the requirements of the various style manuals that govern publication in various disciplines and marketplaces: they know how a manuscript must be prepared before it can be published. They know how to operate the software to create the desired final product.

Most editors work with a specific constituency. There are, for example, technical editors, business editors, medical editors, science editors, and the like. They know the style and content requirements of certain types of publications, such as scholarly journals, popular periodicals, trade books, or textbooks.

Some editors will do a degree of writing coaching, if that’s what’s desired. Before hiring someone to advise on your approach to your subject and your content, be sure to check the person’s qualifications. This is a different skill from preparing a manuscript for print or e-publication. Ask for references; then get in touch and ask how the project went and what was its outcome. You might try googling the proposed editor, too, to see whether any comments about his or her performance appear online.

Most editors work in Microsoft Word, and so your manuscript should be submitted in .doc or .docx format.

Corrections, deletions, or additions are done in Word’s “track changes” function. Queries or brief explanations are added in marginal “comments” balloons. The result, if it’s heavily edited, looks something like figure 1:

The editor should also provide a version in which all edits have been “accepted,” so you can see what the final version would look like and see the comments only, without the confusing bric-a-brac. Alternatively, when Word’s “track changes” function is on, you should see a drop-down menu titled “Show.” To hide all the static, unclick everything in that menu except “comments.” Then you will see edited copy with only the comments visible. After you’ve read and made a decision about each comment or query, you can delete it by clicking the X in the upper right-hand corner of the comment balloon.

A “clean” edited version of the example above, then, would look like figure 2:

Copyeditors are also intimately familiar with the specific style manuals required by specific publishers, such as Chicago, Oxford, American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, Council of Science Editors, and the like. References, tables, graphs, and a number of other details must be formatted correctly according to the manual that the publisher specifies. Formatted in APA style, a typical edited version of a reference list, for example, might end up looking like figure 3:

Most authors prefer writing to filling their heads with worries about ditzy details like these. Therein lies the value of a hired professional editor.

The Complete Writer: Revising with Reader Feedback

The Complete Writer:
The Ultimate Guide to Writing, Publishing, and Leading the Writer’s Life

Chapter 9
Revising with Reader Feedback

Many professional and would-be professional authors work with a beta reader: a nonprofessional reader who agrees to review and comment on a work, for little or no pay. Ideally, the beta reader should represent a fairly typical member of the work’s audience: she or he should share cultural values, interests, and socioeconomic status with the kind of people who could be expected to read the story or book.

One advantage of using a beta-reader or friend—as opposed to an editor or a teacher—is that you can control the amount of feedback you get and when you get it. If you have plenty of time and you have the temperament for it, recruiting someone to read and comment on your work early on can be very useful; it also provides you with comments during several stages of the process, as you work through your thinking on a subject.

You don’t have to restrict yourself to one reader—Peter Elbow recommends two or even three people. It’s important to bear in mind, though, that you may have to coach your reader by asking very specific questions, and sometimes by interrupting him or her at set points in the reading and asking for certain responses as they proceed. This is time-consuming.

Who can these readers be? Some people would never allow their spouses to read their work; others would never let anyone other than a spouse read an early draft.

A writer’s workshop can be a source of beta readers—people who are committed to writing have enough interest in the process to enjoy reading and replying to you.

If you take writing courses, classmates may be helpful, since they allegedly understand an assignment; if you find willing readers in a college course, make friends now and don’t lose track of these folks! Adult children, if they’re far enough beyond adolescence to see you as a human being, may be helpful. And you might consider trusted friends, co-workers, or brothers and sisters, assuming the subject doesn’t treat certain issues in a way that might blindside or hurt them.

Parents are a lot like spouses—too close to you, and you have to keep on living with them.

Whomever you select, the advantage of talking the story over with someone else is that it gives you an opportunity to re-envision the subject and its treatment in a new light—to see it through someone else’s eyes.

Your needs, your temperament, and the time available to you determine how much feedback you will seek:

Minimal feedback: At the very least, get some help in eliminating errors in grammar and usage from a final draft that needs to be very polished.

A little feedback: You don’t have much time, or for whatever reason you don’t need a thorough critique You ask the reader to look for spelling, grammar, and usage errors, and for any awkward or unclear sentences. Though you don’t want to involve yourself in ornate discussions, you’d like to know if there are any places where you sound like an idiot. You get one round of feedback at the end, and that’s it. In spite of this determination, you can still benefit:

This kind of feedback can help you revise clumsy language or language, restructure ideas, clarify or explain points; change tone of voice; insert transitions or introductions to help retain the reader’s attention.

Medium feedback: You don’t want to rethink your whole position, but you’re willing to consider major revisions of structure and strategy. You take the opportunity to understand what is confusing or bothersome to a reader and revise accordingly.

Lots of feedback: Everything is open for discussion, from start to finish.

Decide how much of this process you want to buy into.

Working with a reader who is a friend and not, like a teacher or editor, an imagined “adversary,” can build confidence and clarity, and help you cut through the abstraction.

Elbow describes two kinds of reader feedback: what he calls “criterion-based” and “reader-based.” Let’s review the high points of these

Criterion-based response

This is the schoolmarm stuff: basic qualities of content, organization, language, and usage. Solicit comments in these four basic categories:

  1. The content of the writing: Ask the reader about quality of the ideas, the perceptions, and the point of view. Is your basic idea or insight valid? Do you support your point by logical reasoning and valid argument? Does the reader feel your support includes evidence and examples, and are you’re really making good points ?
  2. The organization. Ask about the work’s unity, whether the parts are arranged in a coherent or logical way, whether the beginning, middle, and end hold together, and whether paragraphs seem coherent and logical.
  3. Effectiveness of the language: Ask whether the sentences are clear and readable, and whether the word usage seems correct. Does it sound like correct English?
  4. The correctness and appropriateness of the usage: How are the grammar, usage, spelling, typing, and style?

Reader-based response

In Elbow’s world, eliciting a response to writing boils down to three basic questions designed to test how your words affect the person who reads them:

  • What happened to you, moment by moment, as you were reading the writing?
  • Summarize the writing: what does it say or what happened in it?
  • Make some images for the writing and the transaction it creates with readers.

It’s important to know what is going on inside the reader’s mind and heart. Some people have enough insight to recognize and articulate their reactions as they read a work. But many people find it difficult to describe what’s going on in their minds as they’re reading.

So, you need to elicit these reactions by careful questioning. To find out what was happening to the reader, ask him or her to read just a couple of paragraphs. Elbow posits these questions:

  • What was happening as you read the opening passages?
  • What words struck you most?
  • What impression did you get of the writer?

Have the person continue reading, maybe marking the manuscript with notes or lines. Half or three-quarters of the way through the piece, ask again what is happening with the reader, with questions like these:

  • Please narrate your response to everything in detail, even if it seems irrelevant.
  • Has your attitude has changed since you began reading—for example, were with the writer at the start and now opposed? Why?
  • Please point out passages that you liked and ones you didn’t understand or resisted.
  • What do you think will happen next?

After the reader has finished the document, again ask what is happening:

  • What is your reaction?
  • What seems the most important thing about the piece?
  • How would you describe the ending—is it abrupt, warm? unnoticeable? other?
  • What aspects of the reader does the piece bring out—a contemplative side? curiosity? helpfulness? other?

Finally, ask the person to reflect on the piece and talk about its implications. If you can, get the person to read it again and report the differences between what happens on the second and the first reading.

Ask the person to give a very quick, informal summary, and then to summarize what she thinks the writer is trying to say but not quite succeeding. A reader’s summary of the writing gives you a lot of insight into how well your meaning is understood.

A third useful exercise is to ask the reader to devise some images for the writing and for the way it affects him or her. Don’t push the person too hard to explain or interpret the imagery; take it instead as a clue to the direction and effect of the writing.

A variety of questions can elicit this kind of response. Ask the person what other writing it reminds you of—what forms of writing: film? departmental memo? journal entry? love letter? Ask the person how someone else might respond to it—how would his mother like it, or some mutual acquaintance. How does the person view the relationship between writer and reader—familiar? distant? reading from a stage? shaking his fist? Is the writing trying to do something to the reader, like beat her over the head or trick her or make her like the writer? Ask the reader to describe the tone or voice—is it intimate, shouting, jokey, tense, other? Try asking the person to describe the writing in terms of other media—does the camera move in, fade back, create foreground or background, other? Draw a picture of what you see or think.

Working with a beta reader has a number of advantages:

  1. Because you have to give the reader time to think about the copy, it forces you to start on the work well in advance of the deadline.
  2. It makes you slow down and think about your work carefully before you consider it “finished.”
  3. It lets you see how well your message is understood by a real reader.
  4. It allows you to think of your work as open to change.
  5. It gives you new insights.

The Complete Writer: 6 Steps in Revising & Editing *FREE READ*

The Complete Writer is a work in progress, published a chapter or two at a time here at Plain & Simple Press. To read all the chapters online so far, go to the Complete Writer page. You can buy a copy of the whole book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.

To follow the progress online, click on the little orange icon beside the P&S Press feed, over there in the right-hand sidebar. ⇒ ⇒ ⇒

The Complete Writer:
The Ultimate Guide to Writing, Publishing, and Leading the Writer’s Life

Chapter 7
Steps to Revising and Polishing

In my universe, revising consists of a half-dozen steps. It goes like this:

1. Reflection

Now go away. Do something else. If possible, let the material sit for a day or so. If that’s not possible, go to lunch or get a cup of coffee and, for a short period, let it be. You need some transition between the process of putting words on paper and the process of thinking about those words.

If your work is coherent enough to present to another person, this is a good time to ask someone you trust—preferably not a spouse, unless it’s a very unusual spouse—to read and comment on it. More to come, in the next chapter, about how to get the most useful responses from a reader.

2. Returning to the Draft

At every step along the revision road, you need to listen to the prose. Reread what you have written. Preferably, read it aloud. If you are going to have someone else read it and comment, you may want them to read it here, or you may want to wait until you have done a preliminary revision—when the work is a little closer to presentable.

At this point, consider two things: what you have left out, and what you can get rid of. In other words, at this stage there are two kinds of revision you can do: revising by adding and revising by cutting.

3. Revising by Adding

As an editor and writing teacher, I’ve found that beginning writers, in particular, tend not to say enough. We tend to be abstract, to leave out specific details.

Have you said the forest was full of trees? What kind of trees were they? What did they look like? Were they leafed out? Were the leaves green or frosted orange and red? Were they young trees or old? Crowded so they blocked out all the sun from the forest floor, or logged out so that no two trees were close enough to string a hammock between them? What did they smell like? How did they feel? Who was there to see them? How did those people respond to them? When did this happen? What time of day? What time of year? What time of life? Where exactly was this forest? How high, how low? How far from civilization? Why were you there? Why are you telling us this? How did you get there? How do you expect to get out of there?

One way to get at these details is to ask yourself the classic journalist’s questions: who what when where why and how. The answers to those questions will usually contain the specifics you need to fill in the details that paint a vivid, accurate picture in the reader’s mind. You want to use language and details that allow the reader to visualize exactly what you’re talking about.

We’ve looked at Hayakawa’s abstraction ladder as a way of thinking about how writers clarify ideas in their readers’ minds. You should make a practice of running up and down the abstraction ladder—be sure to bring your reader as far down to earth as possible, particularly when you must explain a difficult or new concept.

So, one phase of revising is to look at your work and ask yourself what details you can add. Remember, though, that the details need to be significant. They really need to add to the reader’s understanding, and not to fill space with puffery or irrelevant chatter. They need to be relevant and meaningful. If you sense that the copy lacks solid content, go back to the library or Google to find some concrete, credible facts.

Usually, though, you can give examples that illustrate an assertion you’ve made. Ask yourself, too: Can you show how some abstract principle or procedure you’re explaining applies to the life of a real human being? Have you used the most specific term for the thing you’re talking about? Have you said how it looks? How it feels? How it smells? How it sounds? How it matters? Go through your work and add to clarify, as needed.

3.a. Digression! On the all-important verbs

One way is to produce more concrete, less abstract copy is by using strong verbs and nouns.

First, as we’ve seen in chapter 1, a good writer uses verbs that show action and that carry a lot of meaning. Often one word will do the job of two or three words. Consider a young woman who is perambulating, at her leisure, across a college campus. Your first impulse might be to say:

She walked slowly across the campus.

That’s all very nice, and…plain vanilla. It doesn’t tell us enough.

What single word means “walk slowly”? When a group of thirty people brainstorm for answers to this question, we find terms like these:

Notice the vivid difference between “she ambled across the campus” and “she trudged across the campus.” These more specific terms not only give us a clearer picture of how the subject looked as she proceeded, they even give us a clue to her state of mind. This is what is meant by the rule to use strong action verbs.

While we’re talking about verbs, let’s mention four principles remember about verb use:

1. Let your verbs and nouns carry the weight of your meaning. Many people are fond of hiding their verbs in long, wordy constructions:

Be simple: simplify

Use simplicity: simplify

As a teenager, I was barely cognizant of the Vietnam War: As a teenager, I barely knew about the Vietnam War.

2. Look for hidden verbs. Whenever you see a long wordy construction that appears where a verb should stand in the sentence, look for a single verb that will take its place. Chapter 1 describes this concept. Review it and keep it in mind while revising.

3. Avoid the passive voice. If you don’t recall the discussion in Chapter 1 or didn’t understand it, look up it up on Google.

4. Use action verbs, not verbs of being, whenever possible. Avoid, too, those verbose constructions like “there is and there are,” or “it is x that blah blah”

There are many hard-working adults enrolled at the Great Desert University.Many hard-working adults have enrolled at the Great Desert University.

Many hard-working adults attend the Great Desert University.

It was Oliver Boxankle who wrote our textbook.

Oliver Boxankle wrote our textbook.

When you’re adding details—and when you’re revising the material you’ve already put on paper—use these principles to strengthen your prose.

4. Revising by Cutting

You’d be amazed at how much immaterial stuff people put into their writing. One cause of this: the teacher or professor who asks you to write three pages or five pages or ten pages on whatever subject. What do you do when you’re assigned to write a ten-page report and you only come up with eight? Naturally, you pad, pad, pad! This trains you to fill space with inconsequential material, irrelevant remarks, and the like.

So—the first thing to do is get rid of that stuff. If necessary go back to the library or the Internet and find some material that is relevant.

Another source of unnecessary verbiage is redundancy. In conversation, we routinely repeat ourselves. But in writing, that’s unnecessary. Look over the entire piece and notice whether you’ve said the same thing twice. Often, writers will make a remark in the opening that gets repeated deeper in the story. Get rid of it. Sometimes a writer may introduce a quotation by writing, for example, Oliver Boxankle says things are tough all over. In the next sentence, Boxankle is quoted saying, “Things are getting very rough for everyone these days.” Let quotation carry the content, if you’re going to use it, and delete the redundant comment about it.

Some material may not be strictly relevant to the subject. Ask yourself: does the reader really need to know this?

You do not have to unload everything you know about a subject onto the reader. Indeed, you should not. Ideally, you should know a great deal more than you let on. In most instances, a piece of nonfiction will contain about a third of what the writer has learned in doing research on the subject.

Even in a piece of fiction: if you have fully visualized your characters, you have imagined each person’s childhood and the lives of his or her parents and the things that have molded the personality. But you don’t recite all this background to the reader: you simply show the fully thought-through character in action. Many of the character’s actions will be predicated on what you know of his or her background, but you don’t have to detail all the ancient history on paper.

Share with the reader what she needs to know, and stop at that. Do not unload a lot of irrelevant material that doesn’t help the person to understand your message.

On the sentence level, you can cut a surprising number of words. One way to do this is to change passive verbs to the active voice. Look for verbose constructions—search for hidden verbs, for example, and get rid of those “there is/it is” structures. Cut adverbs. You rarely need an -ly verb—let it stand only if you really need it. Words like “very,” “quite,” and “rather,” which modify adjectives and other adverbs, can almost always go. And often you can cut adjectives, too. If an adjective doesn’t add much to the message, get rid of it.

One final fillip at this stage of revision: be sure you have the facts correct. If you’ve shot from the hip, look up the basis of your assertions in an encyclopedia, in a source at the library, or on Google Scholar. If you’ve used numbers, be sure they add up. Once, in writing about a hike through Aravaipa Canyon, I said, “The terrain has three types of paving: loose, polished river rocks in dry floodplain; loose, polished, slimy river rocks underwater; ankle-deep mud with the lubricating power of axle grease; and ankle-deep sand.” Add these up: 1) loose polished river rocks; 2) loose, polished slimy river rocks; 3) ankle-deep mud; 4) ankle-deep sand . . .

If you’ve said there are 4,831,244 people in Zambia and 4,910,003 people in the Congo for a total of 9,741,247 people, get out your calculator and double-check. If you’ve claimed that you can drive across Arizona from Prescott to Kingman on State Route 89A, look at the map to be sure you have it right. If you’ve remarked that the Pilgrims brought three copies of the King James Bible over to Plymouth Rock, be sure the King James Bible was in print when the Pilgrims crossed the ocean blue.

5. Reconsideration

Now is an ideal time to get someone else to review your magnum opus, especially if it’s a book or a research document to be published in an academic journal. Chapter 9 describes some strategies for eliciting useful responses from volunteer readers, sometimes called “beta readers.” However, for short, informal pieces, that’s not always feasible. In the absence of a reader, you’ll need to give yourself some intelligent feedback.

Remember, the essence of professionalism is willingness to change and revise what you’ve written. Your words are not your babies. They are not graven in stone with a diamond stylus. Even after they go to print, they are not necessarily set into the collective consciousness for all eternity—indeed, they most likely are on their way to the recycling plant.

Don’t be shy or vain about recasting and revising your stuff, or even about throwing some of it out. After you’ve revised by cutting or adding, as appropriate, it’s again time to set the material aside and let it cool off. Go away. Do something else. Go to the state fair. Watch a baseball game. Have dinner. Deflect your consciousness in some way from the intense activity of focusing on the piece.

Come back to it later. Print out a hard copy—most people find it easier to recognize flaws in copy that’s on paper than in copy that’s on screen.

Now read it aloud. Listen to it. How does it sound? Does it sound like English? Is it coherent? Does it contain any redundancies or repetitiousness? Is it verbose? Does it paint a clear, concrete picture of what you’re trying to say? Is the point clear—if you were reading this for the first time, would you understand why its author thinks the material is important?

Look at its organization. Is it logical? Can the reader follow the argument from one point to another without getting lost? Have you left anything out? Have you left the reader with an opportunity to say, “Hey! What about this?” If so, fix it. Have you been fair?

Does the piece have an effective beginning and an effective ending? Is the material in between interesting and coherent? Does it carry the reader along?

Have you said anything inane? Out with it! Have you made a broad generalization that cannot be supported by facts? If so, either get rid of it or support it.

Are there any organizational redundancies? Have you said anything more than once? If so, tighten.

6. Editing for Grammar, Spelling, Style, and Syntax

The final step is to clean up the surface errors. Be sure it sounds like English and that you have written in the tightest possible style. Then run the spell-checker.

After that, proofread with the brain! This is a crucial step. Do not leave it out! Your brain is smarter than the computer, no matter what Bill Gates says. You can bet you’ll find something the computer missed in the final read-through.


The Complete Writer: Stages of Revising & Editing *FREE READ*

The Complete Writer is a work in progress, published a chapter or two at a time here at Plain & Simple Press. To read all the chapters online so far, go to the Complete Writer page. You can buy a copy of the whole book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.

To follow the progress online, click on the little orange icon beside the P&S Press feed, over there in the right-hand sidebar. ⇒ ⇒ ⇒

The Complete Writer:
The Ultimate Guide to Writing, Publishing, and Leading the Writer’s Life

Chapter 6
The Importance of Revising and Editing

Reviewing, revising, editing, and polishing your work form a huge part of the process of writing. In fact, revision and editing are key to successful writing. A glance at the steps in the writing process reveals the large part revision plays. Everything above the §§§ section break §§§ represents the initial drafting. Everything below it represents the steps successful writers take to produce good copy.

Fact and content gathering

  • May entail research, interviewing, exploring, observing, remembering, thinking, reflecting, imagining

Considering the facts

  • Checking your facts for accuracy
  • Organizing them, listing or placing them in some reasonably logical order
  • Considering the audience, debating what is of interest or importance to readers
  • Reflecting on the tone, organization, language appropriate to audience and subject


  • Organizing
  • Putting the material into words

§§§ Cooling-off Time §§§

  • Rereading the document
  • May involve discussion with an advisor or editor; may be interior discussion
  • Taking notes, marginal notations, etc.
  • You may want to do a “quick revision” here and then have a trustworthy reader review and comment on the draft at this point.


Returning to the draft: Revising

  • Rewriting the material with the reconsideration and discussion in mind.
  • Reorganizing
  • Recasting language to make it more understandable, more appropriate, or more engaging
  • Adding material
  • Deleting material
  • Fact-checking

Reconsideration and discussion II

  • Reviewing the draft again
  • Discussing it with a trusted reader, if you have not already done so
  • Revising the organization and making changes suggested by reader

Returning to the draft: Revising

  • Rereading and listening to the composition
  • Incorporating new ideas from discussion, reflection
  • Polishing language, style, organization
  • Editing
  • Polishing, getting grammar, spelling, punctuation right
  • Sometimes minor reorganizing

As you can see, gathering or inventing material for the content and drafting the basic composition amounts to about half—at the most—of the whole job of writing. In other words, at least half and often more than half of the job involves revision and polishing!

Most people find it easier and more workable to separate the revision and editing processes, since they require two different kinds of thinking. Let’s start with revising, then. I will share with you some of my techniques, and then I’ll offer some ideas described by Peter Elbow in his book, Writing with Power.¹ If you are seriously interested in writing, you should read this work.

¹Peter Elbow, Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Coming up: Six Steps to Revising and Polishing

Happy New Year! 2018

Been too quiet in these parts. When my nose hasn’t been on the grindstone, the hours have been consumed in lassitude.

Great word, eh? Trans.: Too darned lazy to wiggle.

Yesterday I finished edits and returned another of those wonderful Chinese math papers. This particular set of authors has been popping like a panful of Orville Redenbacher’s! They churn out a new paper every time you turn around.

And you can’t accuse them of dwelling in the Ivory Tower. This latest magnum opus? Tracking and predicting the spread of influenza epidemics. Damned if they haven’t come up with a method that works.

LOL! I should have majored in math. These things are great fun, sort of like fiddling with some kind of online puzzle-game, complete with its own arcane language.

Unfortunately, back in the day girls were not invited to study math and science…but, as I was told, you’d make a great secretary.

The two large indexes that were promised have not been forthcoming. Too bad: we could’ve used the income. But on the other hand, I must allow to feeling relieved that, for a change, we did not get a freaking MOUNTAIN of ditzy, mind-numbing work to complete on a December 31 deadline.

That does tend to put a damper on the holidays…

Has any progress been made on the noveloid in hand?

Well, yeah. A little. Some in writing, most of it inside the noggin. Our heroine Ella now has a plot to deal with, complete with two life-threatening complications. I have yet to figure out how she’s going to resolve the second one. But she’s coming along.

Here she is, finally meeting a man she’s noticed in the past and admired silently from a distance.

After her shift one evening she wandered over to the lounge where the great arm of the galaxy sparkled through the clear domed roof. She’d missed the chow line’s last full meal of the “day,” but she could get a hearty snack at the lounge’s food bar. If she wanted an alcoholic drink, which she did, she’d have to pay for it from the pennies she was given for consistent good work, but that was fine. She had quite a few such pennies.

Plenty of other workers were sitting around, taking in the slack. Formless music and relaxed chatter filled the air. Stars like sand scattered across black velvet glittered overhead. She sat at one of the small bars intended for singles or small groups, nursing the remains of a bowl of stew and a mug of dark ale. Tired, she wasn’t ready to go to bed but neither did she feel like socializing. She just wanted to eat and sit quietly for awhile.

No such luck.

She felt him come up to her before he pulled out the chair next to her and sat down.

“Hello, babe,” he said.

She looked at him, surprised. “Hello there, butch,” she replied. “Do I know you?” She did, of course – everybody knew who he was. Everybody knew who everyone was: the colony* was like a small town.

“Well, we haven’t had a formal introduction. Your name is Eliyeh’llya, right?” He spoke Samdi with a smooth NorthCity accent. “They call you Ella here.”

“Mm hmm,” she gave him a vague smile and an assenting nod.

“My name is Lo’hkeh jai-degh Inzed Mafesth. ‘Lohkeh’ to the overseers.”

“I’ve heard the name,” she allowed. “Good to meet you, brother.”

Handsome fellow, this one. Sandy hair spread a golden late-afternoon shadow across his sturdy jaws, his green-flecked brown eyes framed with black lashes under dark brows. He wore a red gem in his ear-stud. Whether it was real or not, she could not tell, though she assumed it was glass.

She wondered at this. The blacksuits took away every piece of jewelry or decoration on a newly convicted felon, especially the ear stud that marked a Samdi** man’s coming of age. Once in service, he could buy another one – if he managed to earn enough…if his owner agreed to it.

So…sure, he bought himself a stud. But did they – the overseers, the management here – know what the red jewel signified?

Depended on the shade of red, o’course. His had some deep orange overtones: imitation garnet, she figured. That would make him…what? A midlevel boss in the Syndicate’s transport and communication business. Way over her head, that much was for sure.

But why would they let him make a statement like that, about his past life? They must not know, she thought. The blacksuits and the overseers were always dumber than you expect, Teryd used to say. Once again, he was right.

“Would you like another drink?” he offered.

She would. Careful, she thought…take it slow. “Thanks,” she said. “But I’m pretty beat and it’s getting late – don’t think I should.”

“Next time, then.” He smiled and leaned back in the chair, displaying a finely muscled torso.

“All right.” She returned the smile, trying not to look over-eager.

“So, Ella. You’re pretty well settled in by now, no? You’ve been in-colony for awhile.

“Yeah… I’ve kind of lost track of time, without real days or months.”

“Mm hmm. It’s been a year or so, give or take. Samdi time, that is. How are you getting on? Service suiting you all right?”

“It’s good enough,” she said. “I’m getting used to it. They treat me pretty well.”

“Yeah, they do. If they like you.”

She made no attempt to answer this odd remark.

“The work’s decent. The bed is warm. The food’s edible. What more could you want?”

He laughed. “What more?” He raised his mug to her.

He continued, after a swallow of beer. “I understand you were a lieutenant in the Tullsta Band. Back on Samdela.”

“Well, yes. I worked for the Zaïn. For B’jadaram.”

“Mm hmm.”

“How did you find that out?” she asked. One’s past life, as she had been firmly instructed, was to be left in the past: dead and buried. Never mentioned again.

“I know a guy who knows things.”

“Nobody has any secrets, hm?”

He smiled and allowed as to how that was so. After some small talk, he said, “I’m going up to Takrai in a couple of days. Would you like to come along?”

The mining colony was at Takrai, and Ella had also heard there were some exotic extra-planetary geological features near there. “Sure,” she said. “If we do some sight-seeing, too?”

“Absolutely. That’s the whole idea.”

“I’ll have to get time off from my boss. And I guess I’d need to clear it with my overseer, too.”

“Don’t worry about that—I’ll arrange it. Ask Vighdi for a pass tomorrow – wait till after mid-day. I’ll meet you here first thing, next day after tomorrow.”

He had noticed her.

*They live and work on the largest of Varnis’s two moons. They are both convicted felons, sentenced to lifetime slavery.

**They’re Samdi — natives of Samdela, an urbanized world largely dominated by criminal syndicates.

So it goes. Slowly. Very slowly.

What about 2018? Do I  have any goals?

I guess…

Develop a new business line: writing grant proposals. I do have some experience along those lines — quite a lot of it, matter of fact. The idea is to help develop proposals for nonprofit organizations.

This will require some work. Unfortunately I’ve developed an allergy to that, so…

The alternative is to continue puttering along with the novel, which mimics work but which is…not.

Find a writer’s group, I guess, that’s closer to where I live. The group I belong to, which I’m very fond of, is based in a suburb that’s halfway to Yuma. And over the past few months I’ve developed quite an aversion to driving around lovely Phoenix, an activity that gets more and more unpleasant as the roads get more and more crowded and drivers get more and more hostile.

So I’m hoping I can find a group that meets in town, but on an evening other than the one occupied by choir rehearsal. Which I ain’t givin’ up for nothin’ nohow.

Another potential goal: Consider putting one or more of the existing bookoids out through CreateSpace, which apparently can give you better distribution options than I have now. Admittedly, I haven’t worked very hard at marketing, an activity I profoundly dislike. I’m not convinced using CreateSpace would help much, but apparently it’s linked with Amazon, which would make it easier to distribute and sell print copies.

Looking into that. Eventually.

And speaking of distributing but not selling: I’m seriously considering using a blogsite to distribute the next little fantasy book. Gratis. Read it who may. And bully for them.

The God’s truth is, I just don’t want to work that hard anymore. Now that I have a new(ish) car that probably will not crap out in the middle of the desert, I’d like to spend a great deal more time making road trips around the Southwest. Maybe go back to the Utah Shakespeare Festival, which is a great deal of fun. Down to Tucson for some of the excellent cultural events that occur there. Back to Santa Fe, the retirement venue of my dreams.

If only.

Editing Jamboree!

Finally got through two very difficult jobs, both math papers, both the products of erudite Chinese authors. One is a pretty interesting study of the ways air pollution flows around a highly urbanized area of China, shifting along the roads from city to city. The other: a very technical piece comparing four strategies for predicting the likelihood, by genetic analysis, of endometrial cancer.

It’s been a quiet summer of loafing, but now that September is y-cumin’ in, the academics are flocking back to their universities, and with them comes the imperative to publish or perish. So they’re sending new stuff my way.

The math stuff is particularly arcane, rife with Greek letters (often in subscript position) and the mathematicians’ own peculiar jargon. It’s hard to stay focused on it, because it really is, basically, a kind of mental exercise whose applicability to the real world is difficult to discern. Sometimes, one suspects, it has no more applicability to reality than do angels dancing on the head of a pin.

But I will say…it sure is better than reading freshman comp papers! 😀

Meanwhile, progress on creative work goes very, very slow. I find myself dreaming up scenes while driving or ironing or mopping floors, but when it comes down to…oh, you know…actually writing the stuff down? Well, not so much.

Plus lately I’ve had a social life, something I hardly know what to do with. Yesterday a group of friends coalesced over here, partying most of the day. We cooked up plans for a couple of girls’ day trips, which sounds like fun. Choir starts this Wednesday, and I see we have another potluck next weekend.

And a painter has been here, wrestling (in the ungodly heat!) with the job of repainting the Funny Farm’s exterior. As part of the job, he also agreed to lay on another coat of the gray I applied over an orange-colored interior wall, with surprisingly modest success. Mine, that is — not his. In under two hours, the guy had it looking gorgeous.

The inside of the house now looks very nice, and the outside is shaping up handsomely. So soon I will have to decide whether to stay here and brave the onslaught of derelict vagrants that have been transported into our neighborhood on the new light rail train, which goes up the main drag just to the west of us, or to sell for as much as I can extract and then take the money and run as far away from Bum Central as I can get.

My house is paid off, and you may be sure I do NOT want to take on another mortgage in my dotage. Because my pleasant little neighborhood serves as a buffer zone between a much fancier enclave to the east of us and a crime-ridden slum on the west of said main drag, prices here are depressed just enough that there’s no way in hell I could get a comparable home on a comparable lot in the area where I wish to live…not without putting myself in hock up to my schnozz.

That leaves, really, very few choices. One is Sun City: a ghetto for old folks. The other is Fountain Hills, a development on the far side of Scottsdale, pushing toward the road to Payson.

Both of them are very far away from my friends, my son, and all my social activities. And truth to tell I really don’t want to start my life all over again. So this situation has become something of a distraction.

Once the house tune-up is done, I’ll probably ask a friend who’s a Realtor if she thinks she can find me a place to live that I wouldn’t hate at a price that will not put me in hock.

But god…how I resent it!


Back on Varnis, the world with two moons and one empress of the known universe, our hero (one of them) is getting settled in his new position.

After three weeks on the job, Chad was looking forward to the day off he would earn after a double-moon of good service and acceptable behavior. It would be great fun, he imagined, to tell his mother and the Old Man all about life at a Great One’s estate. Particularly this great one: the Kai Suhuru himself. And his daughter. The daughter of the late Kaïna Djietti DelaMona, possibly the most exalted Kaïna in the entire ch’Molendi dynasty. He could still barely believe he’d landed in any such otherworldly service.

Things were going pretty well, so he thought.

Merren had kept Chad at his side during the first couple of weeks — for what felt like every living, breathing moment. They manned the Kai’s guard station together through cycles of swing shifts, stood guard together at the entrance gate, waited table together, and invariably worked out, practiced fighting, practiced shooting, and studied surveillance and intelligence reports together.

Eventually Merren had posted him at the station outside Rysha’s suite, where he could be watched from the far end of the third-floor hallway, and let him stand a few watches with other guys on the guard team. Pretty soon, he expected, he would get his own assignments, free of eyes over his shoulder.

Rysha — the Kaïna — seemed not to mind him so much, after all.

If she did, she had suppressed her ire.


Computer: Read Me My Story!

UPDATES: Un-fucking-BELIEVABLY, Apple dorked up access this wonderful feature in updates to its operating system. In OS 10.11.4 (El Capitan), you have to go to system preferences > dictation and speech. (Note how conveniently this is different from the earlier process.) Once there, click on “text to speech.” To get the Mac to read the highlighted passage in your Word document, FIRST you have to find the “speak selected text when the key is pressed” choice in “Text to speech.” If you click on this, it should show the default keyboard command, Option+Escape. It will not run this automatically. Even though the command appears to be a default, you have to proactively SELECT it to make it work. Once you’ve done that, your Mac probably will read a selected passage in Word aloud for you.



I, Reader...

I, Reader…

Here’s something fun, kinda silly, and useful: If you have an Apple computer, you can make your Mac read copy from Word out loud.

It is a hoot. You get a half-dozen choices of “voices”:  three female and three male. They all sound equally robotic. But surprisingly, they get most of the pronunciation right, they interpret the punctuation correctly, and the result is clear and easy to understand. And — here’s the thing! — listening to some”one” else read your copy aloud helps you to catch typos and glitches that you miss when you proof your own stuff. Even when you read your own stuff aloud, that gold standard of DIY copyediting.

I tried this out on a passage from an abstruse scholarly paper emanated by one of my clients. These things start out difficult to read because they’re about as exciting as watching a tree stump disintegrate. Then the task is complicated by the fact that my clients are native speakers of languages other than English. This author, for example, is in India….

Academic paper

There are also studies that compare Indian and foreign firms. Valuation of R&D is higher in India when compared to the US or Europe, and it is much higher for Indian firms than foreign firms invested in India, although the difference is smaller in science-based industries (Chadha & Oriani, 2010). Although average R&D levels have decreased, evidence is presented of rationalization and more efficiency of R&D spending, which rises faster with firm size and is directed toward assimilation of technology imports and toward support of exports (Kumar & Aggarwal, 2005). Both studies (Chadha & Oriani, 2010; Kumar & Aggarwal, 2005) also highlight the different profile of R&D pursued by Indian firms and subsidiaries of foreign multinational enterprises. These studies indicate a need to investigate the specific approaches adopted by Indian firms as opposed to foreign subsidiaries to improve returns on R&D investments.

Ah,  yes… another eye-glazing review of the literature. But note that our robot reader has no problem pronouncing Indian names — indeed, “he” does better with those than “he” does with an Italian name. And multisyllabic words are no problem.

Here, when we hear the copy read aloud, we quickly recognize that the word “when” in the second sentence isn’t quite right — possibly “as” would work better, because he’s not talking about something happening in response to an event or a trigger. Then we see that Author uses the word “although” twice in a short span, almost back-to-back: one of those needs to be fixed. These are small things we can massage to make the English sound more idiomatic.

Having plowed through 10,000 words of this and sent the thing back to the client, I decided to try Robo-Reader on my own golden words. Here’s what happens when the thing is applied to the rawest of rough drafts:

Draft fiction narrative

When they reached the corner Merren had specified, they climbed out of the car. Merren led Chadzar to a narrow alley. The buildings’ walls blocked most of the sunlight into the tunnel-like walkway. “You say there’s a restaurant here?” Chad asked after they’d gone a few hundred feet through the gloom.

“Right up that way.”

“I don’t see any sign.”

“This place doesn’t need a sign.”

He stopped in front of a small, unmarked entrance and pushed the door open. It led into a narrow entryway and a flight of uncarpeted steps. Merren took the steps up to the landing two at a time, followed more tentatively by the Michaian. Again they came to an undistinguished door, and again Merren walked through it as though it belonged to him.

Light poured through the opening into the dark hallway. The sound of voices came with it. Inside, groups of men and women sat around long, narrow, tables. A few children played here and there or loafed with the adults, some of whom were eating, some chatting, some betting over games of budil or cards or tiny multicolored twirling tops. The windowless room was brightly lit with glow-panels that covered all four walls. A few decorative lights graced the ceiling. The scent of roasting meat and aromatic vegetables perfumed the air.

“Hey-hey!” a voice called out across the room “Here’s the Bear!” A broad smile crossed Merren’s face and he delivered a mock salute. The decibel level rose briefly as others greeted him with “Bear!” “Come on over here!” “We’ve got a seat for you, brother…” and “Who’s the new boyfriend?” A lithe brown woman bearing a large bowl of steaming food sidled up to Merren, murmured “Bear-Bear,” and hugged him with her free arm. He kissed her on the lips, eliciting a cheer from the audience.

Not bad, for a robot, eh? He kind of sounds like a character in a computer game. But he gets most of the pronunciation right — even of invented words and names — and about 95% of the time even the intonation is pretty good. In translation from the machine reading into QuickTime, our robot guy affects a whistley lisp that’s kind of annoying here but that doesn’t appear in a Mac reading before it’s recorded in QT.

Our robot reader picked up a typo that I missed over many readings and attempts to revise: the unneeded and unwanted comma between “narrow” and “tables.” And another effect of allowing the machine to read the copy while I follow along: lo! It highlights the fact that I used the word “narrow” three times in 219 words.

I have no idea whether this will work on a PC. On a Mac, though, go to System Preferences > System > Speech to bring up the program.

Interestingly, because QuickTime (the program I used to make these recordings) will pick up any sounds in the room, you could in theory add your own comments and reminders to a recording of a passage — for a writer, this could be handy. It also would be very helpful if you’re teaching writing to visually impaired or severely dyslexic students. Dang! Wish I’d thought of this when I was at the community college!

It’s kind of fun to hear some”one” read your emanations. But it also may be a powerful revision tool.

Writing? Get to Know a Style Manual

How to choose the right style manual for your writing.Even if you hire a professional editor before self-publishing or sending your manuscript to an agent or publisher, you need to get to know the style manual that applies to your type of writing.

The standards are The Chicago Manual of Style, the American Psychological Association Style Manual, the Associated Press Stylebook, and Modern Language Association style, outlined in the MLA Handbook. There are also specialized style manuals for the sciences and the professions, among them the American Medical Association Manual of Style; The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation and the Association of Legal Writing Directors Citation Manual; and the Council of Science Editors’ Scientific Style and Format. There are others.

Each of these serves a different purpose and a different market. Chicago, for example, is the standard for the book publishing industry. Almost all publishers of fiction and nonfiction follow Chicago style. APA (American Psychological Association) is used by writers in business, education, psychology, and the social sciences and is the standard for scholarly journals in those disciplines. MLA style is used almost exclusively by journals in literature and languages; most college students learn to use it because research writing is taught in freshman composition courses, which are always based in English departments and taught by English faculty. AP (Associated Press) style is used by newspapers, magazines, and public relations professionals. And obviously, AMA, Bluebook, and CSE style are used by doctors, lawyers, and scientists.

They’re all different from each other!

For that reason, the MLA style you learned in college will not suffice for the book you hope to self-publish. Nor will it do for a manuscript to be submitted to a traditional publisher, since typesetting is now foisted on the author: your book will be typeset from the manuscript you submitted, and so your copy will need to be correctly formatted, no matter who publishes it.

Get it wrong, and you’ll look like an amateur.

Consider a passage describing research done by the eminent Professor Boxankle. APA style would format first the narrative passage and then the reference to its source (in the “References” section) like this:


In Chicago style (author–date system), the same passage with its source information would look like this:


And Chicago’s notes-and-bibliography system would elicit these:


And that, let me re-emphasize, is from just two of the many manuals in use.

Yes, there’s software to help you with this task. But it’s strictly garbage-in, garbage-out: if you don’t know what to enter in the program, it won’t produce accurately formatted documentation.

Few authors come to know these manuals in exquisite detail—research and writing are quite enough to take up one’s time and attention. That’s why authors and publishers hire copyeditors.

However, it’s wise to have at least a working knowledge of the manual your publisher wants you to use. First, obviously an acquisitions editor will be more impressed by a manuscript that looks reasonably clean.

Second and less obvious is that a sincere effort at formatting your work according to the desired style can save you money. That’s so even if you don’t get the result 100% right, because editors set their rates to account for the difficulty of the job.

Some editors charge by the hour. Clearly, a job that takes six hours because the editor has to reformat all the citation and documentation will cost you more than a job that takes four.

Others charge a page rate based on the editor’s estimate of the copy’s difficulty. This is especially true if English is your second language, since the challenge of editing ESL copy varies wildly according to the author’s facility with the target language. My rates, for example, range from $4.50 to $15 per page. If the client asks for an hourly rate (some business executives are more familiar with this), it will range upwards of $40 an hour—depending on how complex and demanding the job will be.

So, even though you needn’t be an expert in every style manual on the market, it’s in your interest to build a working acquaintance with the manual your publisher uses. If you’re self-publishing, get a current edition of the Chicago Manual and use it.

The Copyeditor’s Desk works with businesses, nonprofits, professional practices, scholars, and select self-publishing authors to produce the best for their clients and customers. For information, please get in touch through our contact page.

Every Writer Needs An Editor

Feast or Famine in the Editing Biz

My  friend and neighbor Carol is an accountant with a pretty solid small practice. Every year she faces several frantic weeks of nonstop work. Sometimes it’s hard for a writer & editor to appreciate the hectic stress of the annual tax-season ritual, because most of the time our work is self-inflicted. Lately, though, I’ve come to grasp something of her experience.

For the past several weeks, I’ve been working 14-hour days, seven days a week on editing and indexing projects. It has been “feast or famine” elevated to the nth power. Two of my heaviest-hitting writers are in-house. One will be back in the country in a week or so and wants to take his 385-page book to press. Now. The other dropped 60 chapters on me, and then rhapsodized about his plans for the next book.

Just as these projects were beginning to coalesce, a new academic client showed up at the door with a handsomely paying indexing project.

Well. I wasn’t about to turn that guy down, you can be sure of that. So I took on the index in addition to the sprawling international memoir and the never-ending story.

Meanwhile, another Chinese Ph.D. student emitted a cry for help. This author’s dissertation director remarked that her English was “appalling” (it’s not that bad, for crying out loud!) and apparently threw several other brickbats at her. So we’ve gone through her first three chapters, trying to render them into English and still preserve her meaning. Political science cum communications studies at “the Princeton of the Pacific Rim.”

The result was, to put it mildly, a killer. I shipped off the last of these things on Friday and have been comatose all weekend.

HowEVER! Despite the pain this tsunami of work engendered, it also engendered three months’ worth of projected revenues: almost enough to cover the losses I’ve accrued a-sailin’ the Amazon.

If I could get this kind of work coming in steadily — say, two such projects a month — it would more than meet my annual goals. It would handily replace the adjunct income, in a fraction of the number of hours required to earn that much through teaching.

The question is…how? How to get paying work to come in at a steady pace? Weeks — sometimes months — go by with no significant projects in house, and then it all comes cascading down on your head. To get it done on deadline, you have to farm stuff out to the underlings, meaning you don’t earn what you need to live on.

I think (hope) the answer is more and better networking. I need to meet more of the kind of people who send me the kind of work I want. More people referring jobs my way should mean fewer long, dry spells.

So late last week I joined the American Society for Indexing, a venerable group if ever there were one. They have a list of indexers for hire, which is good…and even better, they have special interest groups (SIGs! Remember those from AOL days?) where people apparently get to know each other virtually and that also have their own, more specialized referral lists. Tomorrow (with any luck), I’ll begin trying to build a little presence there.

And I also joined the Author’s Guild, which has a variety of services and blandishments to attract passers-by. I’ll see what I can do about making myself apparent there.

I’d like to pick up more indexing work. At $4 to $6 per indexable page, an index is not a bad gig. It’s surely no more eye-glazing than reading freshman comp papers, and the pay is one helluva lot better. This last book, a collection of essays on the Anglo-Saxon visual imagination, was actually very interesting. Who knew the Ango-Saxons got up to so much? It was a far more cosmopolitan culture (at least, it was among the privileged classes) than I’d realized.

Anyway. Indexing. Editing. More, but less. Less at a time, that is.

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