Finally, a Style Guide That's -- Fun?

"This is the only style and usage guide we know of that is also meant for browsing," say the editors. "Several of the chapter introductions provide a historical setting for the topic at hand, with the purpose of giving the reader a setting for the rules and guidelines that follow. To lighten the text, we interjected more than 140 sidebars containing interesting facts, lore, history, and tips on the art and craft of writing and publishing. We hope readers will enjoy taking a break now and then from rules and explanations as much as we did."

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Two Heads are Better than One

The Value of Editing for the Self-Published Author
These days, writing a book doesn’t seem so out of reach as it once did. Writing a GOOD book is another story…

Everybody’s Doin’ It

Thanks to the desktop publishing boom, and better, more affordable computers and software, writing and self-publishing a book keeps getting easier to do. About 120,000 titles are published annually in the U.S., and about 90,000 of them come from independents -- a great majority of whom are self-publishers. You may have heard about the survey that Michigan-based custom book publisher Jenkins Group Inc. conducted in 2002, that found 81% of Americans feel they should write a book

Yes, DO write those books, folks, but please: DON’T publish them until your manuscript has been worked on by a professional and competent editor! We owe it to ourselves, our readers, our fellow writers, and the world of independent publishers to create quality, worthwhile literature, and not bring down the already-threatened reputation of the small press book.

Shoddy editing is a major reason the Print-on-Demand and E-book segments of the industry became objects of derision among critics and booksellers, and it continues to hinder these books’ success in the marketplace. Self-publishing in general has always had a reputation for poor editorial quality – a dark hole in reviewers’ and buyers’ perceptions that the industry is continually trying to climb out of.

The Right Tool for the Job

Leah Nicholson is Text Layout Editor in the production department at Jenkins Group, where she works with many independent and first-time authors. She often has to convince clients that their A+ in high school English doesn’t qualify them to edit their books themselves.

“Book editing is a very complex process that requires training and skill,” Nicholson says. “My editors go through the books at least ten times, reading the book and looking for different types of mistakes on each read-through. These kinds of errors won’t surface with just one quick read.”

Jenkins Group also has the talent pool to be able to hire the best editor for the job, one who is an expert in the subject matter at hand -- another good reason the author shouldn’t edit his or her own work or scrimp on editing services.

“We have editors who work in very specialized fields such as medicine, history, science and business,” said Nicholson. “This way our clients get both a fresh set of eyes to evaluate the work, and also some valuable feedback from a person who is knowledgeable about the subject matter of the book.”

”To make their work editor-ready, authors should learn and practice the basic rules of proofreading and editing, and make their manuscripts that much easier to handle. Bruce Ross-Larson, author of Edit Yourself: A Manual for Everyone Who Works with Words (W.W. Norton 1995), walks authors through what editors use to “ink up” a manuscript. Some of the key elements to look for:

· FAT - What things can you get rid of?
· A BETTER WORD - Is there a better word to use?
· PRONOUN REFERENCE - Does your pronoun reference agree?
· SHORTER SENTENCES - Can you say it in fewer words?
· ACTIVE VOICE - Are you using active voice?
· CONSISTENCY - Is your writing, grammar, content and style consistent?

Ross-Larson also recommends creating a style sheet for each manuscript you write and photocopy it for anyone who will be reviewing your manuscript. This will help your reviewers to remain consistent with you while editing your manuscript. A popular reference for style sheets is The New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage (see sidebar).

Don’t Do-It-Yourself

As the author you will often overlook mistakes in your own work, because you are too close to it to be objective. Your brain will fill in what it thinks should be there and pass right over omissions and typos. Take the time to have your manuscript critiqued by other writers and experts -- not just family and friends – and then have the manuscript professionally edited.

First, choose the proper editor for your topic and style. It is vital to find an editor you can count on for candid feedback and establish a good working relationship with. Next, LISTEN and LEARN. Many authors say they’ve learned more from working with a good editor than they did during numerous writing courses and workshops. Finally, step away from your ego and take the editor’s advice. Be flexible about making changes. Use the author/editor partnership and achieve the synergy that two talented people can generate. A Productive Author/Editor Relationship

Bill Vann is a first-time novelist who became concerned when his thriller, Retired, was nearing completion. “A friend of mine looked at my manuscript, and said ‘10,000 guys sitting on barstools say they’re going to write a novel. You’ve written it, but now you’ve got do better than this. Put it away for awhile, write something else, and then go back and take another look.’”

“I was pretty crushed,” remembers Vann. “I did put it away, and got it out after three months. I worked on it some more, but began to realize what I really needed was a fresh set of eyes to look it over and make recommendations. That’s when Bob Robbins at Jenkins Group told me about the option of a professional manuscript critique.”

Robbins works with fiction authors, many of them first-time novelists who, because they are self-publishing, need to arrange for editing services. He often recommends that authors consider having a professional critique done by the editor Jenkins Group assigns to the project. The critique is a 5-10 page document giving the author frank, constructive feedback about problems with plot, character development, dialogue, point-of-view and the like. In Bill Vann’s case, the manuscript went to editor Patricia Staten, who wrote a critique that would re-energize the author and propel the project to completion.

“I learned more about writing in those eight pages than I’d learned in all the classes I’d taken and the books I’d read,” says Vann. “In my case, the encouragement she gave me was vital, and let me believe in myself and my book again. She gave me a professional, unbiased opinion, and great advice about problems and omissions that only someone on the outside could see. She also gave me the kick in the butt I needed to work harder and make the book better. Looking back, the critique was invaluable, and I can’t imagine finishing my book without it.”

Yes, writing is a solitary profession, and many authors choose to self-publish precisely because they want to maintain control of their words. But, the old saying that “two heads are better than one” applies to writing and publishing very well. Don’t succumb to the temptation that so many rookie authors have, and rush a book to completion before it is truly ready for human consumption. You owe that to yourself, your fellow authors, and, of course, your mother.

Make your mother proud. Make your book the best it can be by understanding and utilizing good editing techniques and services.

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Here is a basic “menu” of the levels of editing available to independent authors:

Manuscript critique is especially helpful for first-time authors who may not have “found their voice” or still need the fresh set of eyes an experienced editor can use to find structural flaws with plots, characters and point-of-view. This is the kind of advice that can detect and solve major problems, help fill in missing pieces, and sometimes save a project from disaster.

Content editing involves strengthening the structural flow and character development of the story. It includes honing grammar and dialogue, with special attention to organization and development. The redlined (recommended changes) manuscript is returned to the client for review and approval before changes are made to the electronic file.

Line editing involves checking the manuscript for spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors and sentence structure. The manuscript is gone over word-by-word, line-by-line, and the “fine-tuning” is done.

Proofreading involves reviewing the book both before and after the designer has laid out the text prior to printing. Proofreaders check to ensure the headers/footers, page numbers, organization of the parts of the book, footnotes, illustrations, photographs, index, and copyright information are correct. They look at type to see that proper word division and text flow throughout.

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For more information about editing and turning your manuscript into a trade-quality book, visit the Jenkins Group website www.bookpublishing.com or call 1-800-706-4636.


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