New Project: The Folklore Historian, Volume 29

My most recently completed editorial project isn’t technically a Looseleaf project—I’m the temporary managing editor for this one, not a freelancer, exactly—but I wanted to share it anyway. The last project was a novel, but this one was a scholarly journal focusing historical approaches to folklore (or folklore in a historical perspective). I present volume 29 of The Folklore Historian, a member of the American Folklore Society’s family of publications.

Cover of The Folklore Historian, volume 29

I didn’t do all the work on this issue. I took over at the beginning of the semester, so I proofread the final text, managed final revisions with the authors, laid the journal out in InDesign, designed the cover, and took the files to and checked the proofs from the press.

2013 Editorial Availability, September–December

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m hard at work on my master’s degree. Once I have it, I will be an even more awesome choice for all your editorial needs. In the meantime, I have a very limited schedule for new projects. Currently I’ve got a pair of large, long-term projects, and between them and a few minor projects, I am booked through the end of the year.

However, if you have projects in the works for which you’ll want an editor, but do not need an editor until next year, feel free to contact me and preschedule. I’ll be in my degree program until June of next year, so until then the schedule will be tight. The earlier we touch bases, the better the chances that I’ll be able to work with you to help you reach your audience with clarity, credibility, and style.

A Brief Update

Brigham Young University Logo

I apologize for the lack of free editorial advice, delightful book reviews, and other bookish content available here in recent months. Obviously the past eight-ish months have not been prime time for my blogging. Book reviews are sparse, because at the moment I’m pursuing my master’s degree at Brigham Young University, so I spend a lot of time reading books that have been published for a while (although the oldest I’ve read for this degree only dates back to the very end of the 1600s), so there are a few hundred years’ worth of people to tell you if it’s any good or not. All my analytical brain cells that could write other sorts of posts are directed toward my seminar papers, my thesis, and the paying projects I’m still plugging away at.

If you miss my blogging, take it up with this face.

I also spend a lot of time tending to the newest member of my family, my now ten-month-old son. I’m quite proud of him: he runs around the apartment, voluntarily submerges his face in swimming pools, and spends a good chunk of every day bringing me books from his bookshelf. (Maybe I should start writing reviews of his books, since they tend to be the most recently published books I read these days.)

Anyway, updates shall be sparse. I’m going to be documenting some parts of my thought process and research as I go about writing my master’s thesis, which is about internet narratives on the broad scale, fairy tales on the internet more specifically, and a few examples of internet fairy tales in the most particular. Most of the updates on what my Thesis Neurons are up to will be on my new Tumblr blog: Internet Narrative. If I have spare time to construct blog posts that are particularly useful to writers or readers (I have a few outlines for posts that have been sitting around for eight months), I’ll be putting them here. I’ll also be posting Looseleaf news, like notable newly published projects, my availability, and such. However, these will be few and far between (especially since I’m taking on fewer projects while getting my degree).

So stay tuned to the things that most interest you. Maybe when this whole “master’s degree” thing blows over I’ll be able to get back to regular blogging. I miss it.

Looseleaf Proofreading

This week I’m going to look at each of Looseleaf’s editorial services and tell you what they are, when you need them, and some tricks you can use to do some editing yourself before you hire it out. Today is proofreading day.

What Is Proofreading?

Proofreading is a lot like copyediting, which I talked about yesterday, but with a few important differences. It’s still nuts-and-bolts editing, but it’s more restrained than copyediting. Proofreading is supposed to be the last thing that happens before a book is released (except fixing the errors found in proofreading, of course). This means that sometimes a proofreader will allow text through that isn’t ideal, but isn’t exactly wrong either. When I proofread I look for errors and inconsistencies that the author would change if he or she saw them, not for things I think should change. If it won’t make the author look like an idiot, at this point, it’s probably okay.

Proofreading also tackles an aspect copyediting leaves alone: formatting. Because I proofread on the final version of a manuscript, I make sure the final version looks the way it is supposed to. If there are font changes, I point them out for the typesetter; if there are words that are hyphenated in an unhelpful way, I suggest a different line break. I point out lines that are too spaced out, too cramped, or too short to stand on their own. I make sure page breaks happen at good points in the text and that there are no distracting patterns in the word spaces. (If you’re savvy to typesetting lingo, proofreaders look for bad breaks, widows, orphans, rivers, word stacks, and more.)

Proofreading is important for both print books and ebooks. Ebook formatting can get botched during creation or during conversion from one file format (e.g., .doc, .pdf, .indd) to another (e.g., .epub, .mobi, .amz), and it’s important to proofread the final version as it will be seen by your reader.

When Does a Manuscript Need Proofreading?

As you’ve probably gathered from my description of proofreading, it’s the very last thing you do. Proofreading should be done on manuscripts that have already been copyedited and that are deemed ready to be released. If you don’t have your manuscript in the final version for print or electronic distribution, proofreading isn’t for you yet. This can be an important distinction when you’re hiring someone. Most editors will be able to figure out if you’ve asked for proofreading when you actually wanted copyediting, but knowing the difference will help you search for the right editor.

How Can You Do Some Proofreading Yourself?

As with copyediting, I don’t recommend proofreading for yourself. That isn’t to say you’re incapable of catching the types of errors proofreaders focus on, but rather that when it comes to your own work it’s not advisable to rely on yourself. If someone has seen your manuscript before (unless it was a very different version), they’re probably the wrong person for your proofreading. I won’t proofread manuscripts I’ve already worked on; instead I choose one of my stellar editor friends, have them proofread it, and then review their work to make sure it’s in line with what the author and I have discussed in previous edits. This ensures that the author is getting the best editing possible. If I’m new to a manuscript, that means I’m the right person for the job. When it comes to your manuscript, you’ve seen it too many times to be qualified.

So instead of telling you how to proofread, I’m going to give you some tips on preparing to hand your manuscript over to a proofreader, whether you’re paying them or not. The best piece of advice I can give you is to make a style sheet. A style sheet gives your proofreader a map for how things should be, and it cuts down on the time a proofreader spends asking you questions. Here are a few things that should be in your style sheet:

  • How you spell and capitalize characters’ names, place-names, theories, principles, and objects unique to your manuscript. (It’s also helpful to write out any acronyms you use.)
  • What style guide you use for your citations (Chicago, APA, MLA, etc.).
  • What color your characters’ eyes, hair, skin, etc. are. (Other personal details that need to be consistent—like age—are also very helpful.)
  • Any facts that are particularly pertinent to making sure everything makes sense chronologically.
  • Your stance on any ambiguous language issues you feel strongly about (e.g., who / whom). This also includes any unique spellings you have that deviate from dictionary standards (e.g., writing lifewriting as one word instead of two).

If you have a style sheet with your opinions and needs for the manuscript on it, you’ll have one extremely happy proofreader, which is almost as good as proofreading for yourself.

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Looseleaf Copyediting

This week I’m going to look at each of Looseleaf’s editorial services and tell you what they are, when you need them, and some tricks you can use to do some editing yourself before you hire it out. Today is copyediting day.

Clean CopyeditingWhat Is Copyediting?

Copyediting is a nuts-and-bolts type of editing that focuses on grammar, spelling, punctuation, style, and consistency. When I copyedit I polish your work. I make sure your character’s eyes stay the same color throughout the book and that you capitalize words or phrases the same way from beginning to end; I make sure you get the I’s before the E’s (except when you shouldn’t) and that your pronouns agree in number and gender with whatever they’re standing in for. Copyediting is, essentially, what most people think of when they think of editing. It’s cleanup.

Sometimes copyediting isn’t necessarily a right-or-wrong type of thing.* There are a lot of language scenarios in which you have more than one option. For example, you might be using whom in a grammatically correct way and un-dangling your prepositions (“Willis needed to figure out to whom he should send the package”), but that might not suit your character voice or the tone of your book (and maybe “Willis needed to figure out who to send the package to” would be better). When I’m copyediting, it’s my job to make sure you stay consistent in your language choices and that they align with the message you’re trying to portray. (If you’re writing something scholarly, that means I’ll scour your citations and make sure they’re correct down to the spacing between the periods, because it’s important to your credibility.)

Copyediting goes a long way to increase your credibility, and nothing will hobble your street cred faster than a misspelled word, misplaced modifier, or missing quotation mark. Copyediting gives your work polish.

When Does a Manuscript Need Copyediting?

A manuscript needs copyediting after the content of the manuscript is completely satisfactory. (If you copyedit before your final revision, the copyediting becomes a little superfluous because your final changes are going to effect your wording, which means you’ll need to do the copyediting again.) When you’re sure your story, study, or article says everything you want it to say in the way you want to say it, you need copyediting to make sure all your words, phrases, and facts flow. Copyediting comes after you’ve deemed your work “done” and you’re ready for final touches.

How Can You Do Some Copyediting Yourself?

Copyediting is a hard thing to do for yourself, mostly because by the time you’re copyediting you’ve seen your manuscript too many times to count. It’s also hard because you know what you meant to say, so you might not be able to see that you didn’t actually say what you meant to. However, there are a few things you can do to help yourself.

  • Change the form of your manuscript before you edit it (print it out, put it in a different font, etc.) The more you can defamiliarize yourself with the text, the better you’ll be able to edit it.
  • Use electronic tools to search for a phrase and make sure it appears the same way throughout your manuscript.
  • Keep a sharp eye out for errors you know you’re prone to.
  • Be wary of homophones (words that sound like each other but mean different things): your / you’re, their / they’re / there, lead (metal) / led (past-tense of to lead), etc.
  • Read your manuscript backwards. This helps you see when you’re missing words in common phrases that you might not see otherwise.
  • Read your manuscript out loud.
  • Look things up. Use a solid online dictionary (like Merriam-Webster) or other resource. It also wouldn’t hurt to have a reference book or two on hand if you know how to use them (i.e., a usage dictionary or a style guide like the Chicago Manual of Style).

Overall, I don’t recommend doing your copyediting yourself, though it may be a good idea to have a friend or two look over the manuscript before you hire a copyeditor. The further someone is from your manuscript, the better they’ll be at catching little mistakes.

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* As an example, copyeditors don’t even agree on what to call themselves. Sometimes they’re copy editors instead of copyeditors.

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Looseleaf Substantive Editing

This week I’m going to look at each of Looseleaf’s editorial services and tell you what they are, when you need them, and some tricks you can use to do some editing yourself before you hire it out. Today is substantive editing day.

Railway TrackWhat Is Substantive Editing?

Substantive editing is also called line editing. That’s because for a substantive edit I go through a manuscript line by line and consider how each line could be better. This means it’s a lot more sentence- and word-based that developmental editing, but it’s still focusing on how the manuscript works as a whole. It can go as big as reordering paragraphs and as fine as tweaking a word to sustain your tone. When I do a substantive edit, I look at how the little pieces work together to strengthen your plot or argument, your character development, your theme, your structure, and your ability to reach your audience.

Substantive editing with me often involves some ghostwriting. By that I don’t mean that I insert sentences you have to include. What I mean is that sometimes the suggestions I make in a substantive edit are best communicated through examples. If you need a transition between two paragraphs, I may write one. Then I’ll leave a comment explaining why I did what I did and asking you to look over the change. I may pull a sentence from the end of a paragraph and put it somewhere else, but I’ll want you to make sure I didn’t change the meaning from what you intended.

This means that substantive editing involves a lot of tweaking, reordering, and decision-making from the author—which means that even though a substantive edit may involve grammar-related changes, it can’t stand in for a true copyedit. By the time the edit is done you’ll have changed a lot of text, and any time you make lots of changes you need to go back and make sure the details of those changes are clear and consistent.

When Does a Manuscript Need Substantive Editing?

Your manuscript needs a substantive edit when you think your story or argument is solid, but you want help with the details. A substantive edit won’t overhaul chapters, scenes, and arcs the way a developmental edit will; it will make sure every line is serving the structure you’ve already set up and keeping your ideas on track. So if you’re satisfied with your setup, but you want something more in-depth than an error-hunt (i.e., a copyedit), you should be looking for a substantive editor.

How Can You Do Some Substantive Editing Yourself?

Before you can do a substantive edit, it’s important that you have a concrete vision for your book. If you aren’t sure whether you want a dark tone or a darkly humorous one, you’re going to have trouble doing the fine-tuning the book needs (some of you won’t have any trouble with this, but some discovery writers may need to think about it). After you feel that you understand your structure, you can ask yourself questions. The more you do on your own before hiring an editor, the more that editor’s feedback will help your writing, because the editor won’t be telling you things you already knew.

  • Does this line communicate my purpose to my audience?
  • Would this sentence be more effective earlier or later?
  • Does this word suit the tone/character/viewpoint? Is there a better word?
  • Does this dialogue match the character’s purpose in the book?
  • Does this sentence contribute to my argument, or is it distracting from my main point?
  • Is this action consistent with the character I’ve created? Is it stereotypical or cliché?
  • Is this bit of dialogue didactic or stilted?
  • Does this transition show the logical progression of the plot or argument? Does it leave a gap the reader has to bridge? How can I transition better?
  • Does this element of the book support or erode my theme?

Some of these questions are similar to those you ask in a developmental edit. The difference is that in a substantive edit you’re focusing on smaller things—smaller errors and smaller opportunities. These small things are the ones that take your manuscript from being good to being excellent.

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Looseleaf Developmental Editing

This week I’m going to look at each of Looseleaf’s editorial services and tell you what they are, when you need them, and some tricks you can use to do some editing yourself before you hire it out. Today is developmental editing day.

Editing ScaffoldingWhat Is Developmental Editing?

Developmental editing is also called story editing, book editing, or book doctoring. It’s large-scale editing in which I make sure your book doesn’t have any lapses in logic, character consistency, plot plausibility, argument rationality, or tone. It means digging into the meat of your manuscript and finding where it can be better. Maybe you can get more tension out of a character relationship or you can make a stronger point by refuting an opponent’s argument. I make sure that scenes and sections are happening in the most effective order; that characters’ dialogue is organic, engaging, and consistent; and that the choices you’re making as a writer are the most effective for communicating with your audience.

Essentially, a developmental edit looks at the same things as a manuscript evaluation, except after I grasp the overarching idea of your story, I dig into each chapter, scene, and paragraph and comment on how to make each one more effective for the whole. I do very little on the sentence level unless something is repeatedly problematic (i.e., a character always uses words in a weird way or there’s a consistent tendency to grammatically obscure your point).

Developmental editing normally requires multiple passes. Because the fixes I recommend are larger, sometimes a change will either introduce new problems or uncover smaller issues that were hidden by the larger one. After you make your changes, it’s a good idea to run it past me again.

When Does a Manuscript Need Developmental Editing?

A manuscript needs developmental editing if you’ve received a lot of feedback that says something about the manuscript “just isn’t working,” and you want help making it work. Often copyediting and substantive editing will not help a story or argument that isn’t working on a larger level.

Developmental editing is also a good idea if you’ve gotten manuscript evaluation–type feedback and you want help applying it throughout your manuscript. If you want to work closely with someone who knows your work and understands your goals while you’re developing your story, initiate an editorial relationship and dig in.

How Can Authors Developmentally Edit Their Own Work?

Hiring a developmental editor is a big commitment: this type of editing tends to be the most expensive and it usually involves more passes than other editing types. So before hiring an objective eye, you may decide to use your own first so the editor you hire isn’t telling you things you could have figured out yourself. Here are some questions to ask yourself while you’re editing:

  • Does this section/scene/chapter communicate my purpose to my audience?
  • Would this paragraph/section/scene/chapter be more effective earlier or later? What would I gain from a change?
  • How can I communicate this character’s personality better?
  • Does this scene or section do double duty? (For example: In a narrative, is the scene showing character as well as moving the plot? In instructive nonfiction, is this section communicating new ideas and reinforcing what readers should take away from the book?) How could it be made to do double duty?
  • Is this scene/section/chapter consistent with the tone of the book? (A humorous chapter could be great on its own, but farce in the middle of a tragic book may ruin the book’s effect on a reader.)
  • Is this action consistent with the character I’ve created? Is it stereotypical or cliché?
  • Is this bit of dialogue didactic or stilted?
  • Is this a logical progression of the plot or argument?
  • Does this element of the book support or erode my theme?

Many of these questions are hard to answer on your own because you will be close to your manuscript and might be blind to the problems. But the better your manuscript is when you hand it over to an editor, the more useful the editor’s feedback will be.

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Looseleaf Manuscript Evaluations & Critiques

This week I’m going to look at each of Looseleaf’s editorial services and tell you what they are, when you need them, and some tricks you can use to do some editing yourself before you hire it out. I’ll post about one service a day, in the order a manuscript typically undergoes them in a full publishing process. That means today is manuscript evaluation day.

What Is a Manuscript Evaluation?

Manuscript Critique ScalesWhen I evaluate a manuscript, I read the whole thing in as few sittings as I can manage—usually I’ll have it done in one to two days once I start (that is, if the rest of my schedule is clear and the book is under 100,000 words). This allows me to look at how the book functions as a whole: the plot arcs, the character arcs, the promises the writer made at the beginning, whether or not those promises paid off in the end, etc. I look at repetitive quirks the writing has (do you always use –ing phrases?), consistency in the dialogue, and anything else I can think of.

I do not edit grammar (though if there is a grammatical error the author consistently makes I’ll make a note of it), I don’t consider whether single sentences might be better placed differently, and I don’t tighten the wording. All that is for later, more fine-tuned editing. Manuscript evaluations are for grasping the big picture and making judgment calls about it.

When I’m done reading and making notes to myself, I write up a multi-paged letter (the length depends on the length and quality of the manuscript I’m evaluating) in which I respond with things that work well, things that don’t, recommendations, and cautions about where you need to be careful about the fixes you employ.

When Does a Manuscript Need an Evaluation?

There are three times when you might want a manuscript evaluation: early, late, and in a special case.

Early. If you’ve finished your manuscript and you’re about to dig in and do heavy revisions, you might want a manuscript evaluation to give you some guidance. A manuscript evaluation will point out the things you should keep and the things that need tweaking, so that editor letter can come in handy as a road map for getting started.

Late. If you’ve been querying and submitting and people are asking for your partial or full manuscript, but ultimately they’re passing, you might consider a manuscript evaluation to figure out why. Sometimes you won’t get detailed feedback from the people you’re querying; you will get it from me. This can help you hone a manuscript and get it past a brick wall.

Special Case. If you have something specific you want to do with your manuscript, but you’re not sure how, a manuscript evaluation can again give you the road map. Maybe you need to cut a substantial amount from your manuscript but you’re too close to the work to see what can and should be cut. Maybe you’re trying to popularize a scholarly work for a general audience and you’re not sure if what you’re doing is effective. Whatever the special case may be, announce that purpose in your request for a manuscript evaluation and I can focus on that purpose in your editor letter.

How Can Authors Evaluate Their Own Manuscripts?

If you’re early in your revision process, you may choose to evaluate your manuscript yourself or use free alpha or beta readers. When you’re doing evaluations, keep a few questions present in your mind:

  • Who is your audience? Are you communicating to that audience?
  • What insights are you communicating? Do you communicate them well?
  • Does your tone change a lot over the course of the manuscript, or in unpleasantly unexpected ways?
  • Are your characters flat stereotypes or fleshed-out people? Are they consistent and competent? Are their arcs believable?
  • Is the dialogue didactic or stilted? Does it feel organic and unique to each character?
  • If you’re writing informative nonfiction, is the takeaway explicitly linked to what you’re saying, and is it apparent what you want the reader to take away? (This is also relevant to fiction and creative nonfiction, but subtlety is more advised in those genres.)
  • Are there any sentence constructions or errors that are repeatedly problematic?
  • Are there any lapses in logic or plot holes?
  • What is your theme? Is the theme present throughout? Is that theme useful to your target audience?

More questions will likely apply to your manuscript, and you’ll have things you want to ask yourself throughout based on your individual story or purpose. But these basics can get you started in the right direction. As always, the more objective you or your beta reader can be, the closer you’ll come to an editorial opinion.

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The Looseleaf Editorial Philosophy

Looseleaf Freelance EditingEvery writer works differently—there are a lot of similarities between many writers, but no two work the same way or come up with the same end products. Similarly, every editor works a little differently. Even when it comes to copyediting, different editors do things differently. When you, as a writer, are looking for a freelance editor to help you with your work, it’s important that you find one that fits you.

In the spirit of giving you all the information you need, allow me to give you a rundown of the Looseleaf editorial philosophy. There are three main principles: editors exist to help writers be better writers, words need to communicate to and capture a reader, and books belong to their writers.

Editors Exist to Help Writers Be Better Writers

There are some services out there that exist to help make books better. However, Looseleaf isn’t about taking a manuscript and making it into an awesome book. It’s about working with a writer on a manuscript to help make that writer a better writer. The manuscript will become a better book as a result, have no doubt about that, but my primary focus as an editor is to help writers do what they want to do, only better.

This means that when it comes to changes bigger than commas or colons, I’ll be writing comments to you, the author, so you can understand why I thought a change was necessary and why what I did fixes the issue. I’ll expect that if you don’t understand my comment (or if I made a change you don’t understand because I forgot to comment on it) you’ll ask me to explain myself. I expect to be available for questions during and after an edit.

If you want to hand your manuscript over, have it polished, primped, primed, and packaged into perfection by someone else, Looseleaf may not be for you. Make no mistake: I’ll be digging in and doing as much tinkering, tweaking, and fixing as I can to make your vision a reality. As it says on the Looseleaf home page, “We’ll help you achieve the clarity, credibility, and style you need to reach your audience.” But my primary goal will be to help you be better, not just your book.

Words Need to Communicate to and Capture a Reader

Looseleaf editing is very reader-centric. If there’s something you like to do in your writing that isn’t strictly correct but will still communicate and carry your credibility to a reader, I’m not going to touch it. If it’s something that will make a reader think you don’t know what you’re doing, or that will force the reader to read your words more than once to understand them, I’m going to recommend a change.

This means that many “rules” are flexible. For a hyper-formal, scholarly audience, I might recommend that you don’t split your infinitives (i.e., “to boldly go” would be changed to “to go boldly”); in a young adult novel, I won’t touch your slang unless it’s so heavy I think it will make your book sound dated in two or three years, or that you won’t be able to get any crossover audiences with it. I will always be considering your reader, not just the rule book.

Books Belong to their Writers

Some writers fear editors: this minority considers editors to be a group of people who meddle with a creative individual’s work and take it away from the creative source and beauty it originally had. However, I subscribe to the mentality described by legendary editor Maxwell Perkins:

I believe the writer … should always be the final judge. I have always held to that position and have sometimes seen books hurt thereby, but at least as often helped. The book belongs to the author.

Everything I do to or suggest for a manuscript exists to help you and the reader communicate more effectively. You have ideas you want to communicate; your reader wants to engage with and receive those ideas. I will make suggestions and explain the reasoning behind them; I’ll tell you why they should be made. But the final decisions always belong to you. Because you’re the one with something to say; I’m just here to help you let that idea loose.

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