Archive for the ‘Teaching Editing’ Category

This morning I turned in my first draft of my pristine 157-page thesis for my MFA program. Pushed send, felt a sense of accomplishment, opened the document back up just, you know, for pride’s sake, and found this phrase: “This is a book to tell help writers understand the publishing process . . .” Really? “Tell help”? On page 1? Right there. In my thesis about . . . editing?

Let’s just say, humble pie isn’t very tasty.


So to help myself feel better and remember that yes, indeed, I can edit and know a lot about it, here are 10 tips to help you with your own self-editing process, 10 things copy editors hate.

(1) Writers who press the space bar twice after the ending punctuation between sentences. 

See it?   Annoying isn’t it?   Because that is a no-no.

If you learned to type on a typewriter, you were taught to put a double space after your punctuation and between sentences. On a typewriter, every letter and punctuation mark and even space took up the same amount of space. So to clearly see the sentences and make a page readable, double spacing was needed.

But now our word processing software has typefaces that create proportional spacing, so that extra space is not needed. So stop doing it.

(2) Writers who quote sources and then don’t give me the source.

Lazy—and problematic. Same goes for Bible verses and no references or Bible version. (Please, thou shalt not do this.)

If you’re quoting a source, give it to me exactly. If it’s a book, tell me the author, title, publisher, date of publication, and page number. If it’s a magazine or journal, I need the title, the issue date, the article title, the author, the page number. If it’s on the Web, at least give me a hyperlink so I can find it and confirm all the needed information. If you’re quoting from the Bible or other religious text, give me all of the information I need, and make sure you’re quoting correctly.

(3) Writers who consistently use passive voice.

“The book was being written by a writer who wanted people to be inspired by it.” (Ugh.)

It’s lazy writing. You can spot passive voice if you find that you’re using a form of a “to be” verb over and over. In the above sentence, the “was being” and the “to be” are clues. If you change it up, you’ll find that you can use much more descriptive verbs: “The writer labored over the thesis, hoping that her words would inspire other writers.”

(4) Writers who add needless words.

“The writer wrote the sum of ten pages on each day of the seven-day weeks of the semester.” (Annoying.)

C’mon people. We’re way past the days when we were trying to stretch our writing to fill up the number of pages our English teacher required in our essay about The Great Gatsby. No more padding sentences. Good writing is succinct and to the point. Find the best verb, the best noun. Avoid adverbs. “The writer wrote ten pages every week during the semester.”

(5) Writers who dangle their modifiers.

“Sitting in a pile on the desk, the book writer looked at her manuscript.”

You have a dangling modifier if your modifier is not right next to the word being modified. In the sentence above, it sounds like the book writer is “sitting in a pile on the desk,” not the manuscript itself (although this could actually be true, depending on the book writer’s state of mind). These sentences sound right until you really look at them: “I saw the dead deer driving down the country road,” should be “While driving down the country road, I saw a dead deer.”

(6) Writers who don’t use the dictionary.

“I sat stationery as I wrote my letter on stationary.”

In the sentence above, the “stationary” words need to not be stationary; they need to be switched because they’re incorrect. If you’re unsure, look it up. If you’re even a tiny bit not sure, look it up.

(7) Writers who don’t understand commas.

Commas, put in the wrong places, are, and always, will be, annoying. (Yes, annoying.)

Commas are difficult, so don’t lose sleep over them. A copy editor lives and breathes commas and will make sure that your final piece has them placed correctly. But do your best. Check a grammar book or read a few articles online about commas to at least give you some groundwork.

(8) Writers who use random fonts and font sizes that change all over the place.

To impress whoever you’re submitting your manuscript to, follow the basic rules of submission: Times New Roman font, 12 point, one-inch margins, double spacing between lines. You can get away with a different font for your chapter titles, and you can bold or italicize where necessary, but other than that, stay clean and clear.

(9) Writers who write sentences that don’t have parallel elements, are mixed up, and because they are confusing.

Rereading your writing aloud to yourself can help you spot this one. It happens often when you’ve done some revising, so you need to go back and revise your revision to smooth it out and make sure your elements are parallel. “Writers who write sentences that don’t have parallel elements, are mixed up, and are confusing.”

(10) Writers whose subject /verb agreement aren’t correct.

This is a huge one. If I had a nickel for every time I fixed this. . . . Anyway, again, this error often gets introduced in the revision process where you’ve gone back and changed tenses or changed the number of subjects which then affects every other part of the sentence. So go back and read carefully to catch all of these: “Writers whose subject/verb agreement isn’t correct.”

But one thing I DO know . . . I always expect to find a random typo, no matter how carefully the manuscript has been self-edited. After a while, we just can’t see the forest for our own trees. After all, that’s what gives people like me job security.

I won’t stress (too much) about my typo on page 1. I’m sure there are more lurking in those pages. It’s funny but no matter how many years I put into this job, perfection still eludes me.

What’s the worst typo you’ve seen–in your own or in printed works?

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All of our majors in the Professional Writing department at Taylor University are required to do 160 hours of practicum experience. They do a variety of things, often based on a secondary interest–as long as they’re doing writing. One of my greatest privileges is to help them secure these practicums (sometimes they find their own; sometimes I mine my contacts to help them), to read their journal entries sent to me during the course of the practicum, and then to read their final reflection papers. If it’s possible, I try to visit them on site and talk to their supervisors.

Here are a few excerpts from this past spring and summer from a few of my students as they reflected on what they learned during the course of getting real-world experience. This young lady worked at a mission organization:

 In general, as I’ve been thinking about my internship experience so far, I think it’s been a pretty good fit. It’s allowed me to apply my skills as a writer and editor and refine them. I’ve been able to practice writing with an organization’s tone, and learning how to be creative within the confines of that tone. It’s given me opportunities to practice my interviewing skills, which I’m most excited about and have enjoyed best, I think. . . . I think will prove to be a good primer as I seek a job with a magazine or house within the next five years.

This person worked with a magazine:internship

I got to edit another article this week. One interesting thing that I learned when editing this is a little bit about the relationship between the writer and the editor. When I was sent this article to edit, [the publisher] told me that this writer was a really good writer, but she always turned her articles in late, too long, and with lots of mistakes. He said that he always spends the most time editing this author’s articles. I thought it was interesting, though, that he still really likes working with this author because she provides good content. So for this article I got some experience correcting many mistakes for formatting, grammar, and AP style. I also had to cut about 600 words. And since it was a scientific article, I had to make it easy enough for the common person to understand. It was a really fun challenge.

This young lady worked remotely for a publisher, reviewing, editing, and copyediting manuscripts:

Before starting this internship, copyediting was the only form of editing I felt really good at. However, in the past 10 weeks I’ve discovered I’m capable of evaluating, rewriting, proofreading, and more. My future editing career is by no means limited to just copyediting. Admittedly, after several weeks of doing everything but copyediting, it was great to go back to it. Copyediting is definitely the area I’m the most skilled at, as well as the area I most enjoy, which I’ve found is equally important.

On the last day of my internship, I sent my supervisor an email asking for advice about finding a job in publishing, skills I could improve on, etc. [She said], “Honestly, I think you have great editorial instincts. You’ve been well trained and you’re just a natural editor. One thing you could do is broaden your reading. Southern fiction, for example. I noticed there were  regional or generational things you didn’t know, which is normal because you’re young. You will learn about these things, but reading different types of literature and popular fiction will acquaint you with the ways that people from different regions, and countries, think and talk. But that’s about the only thing I can think of. I told Linda that you are among my two best interns ever. I hired the other one. I’m pretty sure you’ll get a job.”

And this young man worked at a local company doing more technical writing:

I spent my first full week at [company] reading and editing [their] training materials. The pace and dual nature of this work was a great fit for me, allowing me to work and learn simultaneously, and gather information for what would become the [company’s] Style. I became familiar with the software, terms, and procedures surrounding this product and made note of no fewer than 100 changes—from typos to phrasing—to the training material to make the brand more professional and consistent. . . .

Even though my title is Technical Writing Intern, I have actually done more editing than writing, which has honed my attention to detail. Through the different types of work I have completed so far, I have realized that I enjoy several aspects of editing fundamentally. Of the things editing requires of me, internalization and careful reading are two things I enjoy more than anything else.

I love it when my students get to hone the skills I’ve taught them and begin to find their callings!

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So I’m writing a book. Yes indeed. A couple actually. One is for my MFA program; the other is for a small publisher. Both are about editing–one more in a memoir-esque fashion, the other more like a textbook, something I want to use in my future editing classes.

In the process of putting together my proposal, I needed to check out books similar to mine. As I ordered books online and checked them out from the local library, I fell in love with some of them–the voice, the humor, the helps, the advice, the exercises. So I thought I’d pass along to you some of my favorites. If you want to learn about editing or want to work more on being your own self-editor, you might check into some of these excellent resources. The great thing about reading books about editing is that you really get a double-whammy–you are also studying how to be a better writer, the kind of writer editors dream about!


dumCopyediting & Proofreading for Dummies, Suzanne Gilad. Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2007.

I’ve used this book in my editing class since 2010 when I first began teaching. The book does an excellent job of being very introductory, has exercises for practice, and incorporates vocabulary. It’s also the only book I could find that gives a clear delineation between copyediting and proofreading. It includes practice exercises, proofreading marks, and publishing vocabulary.



Stein on WritingStein on Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies, Sol Stein. St. Martin’s Press, 1995.

I wrote more about this book in this post, so you can check it out there. Suffice it to say that this is one of those books that really will help you ask the right questions as you work on your own writing. He also offers advice to both fiction and nonfiction writers.




artfulThe Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself, Susan Bell. W. W. Norton & Company, 2007.

Bell takes on the topic of editing yourself (and, by extension, others). She covers what she calls Macro-Editing and Micro-Editing. I love that she uses several pages working from information in Scott Berg’s book about Maxwell Perkins to discuss the editing process—and how Fitzgerald edited The Great Gatsby from Perkins’s advice. In between are testimonies from various authors about their editors. She discusses the history of editing–which is quite fascinating.




thanksThanks, But This Isn’t for Us: A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is Being RejectedJessica Page Morrell. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2009. 

Morrell talks about her experience as a developmental editor, includes chapters that focus on the various elements of good writing (plot, suspense, characterization, stories, etc.), and teaches with anecdotes and examples. Her focus is on helping writers write better so that they can avoid getting rejected for the most common reasons that manuscripts get rejected.




companionThe Editor’s Companion: An Indispensable Guide to Editing Books, Magazines, Online Publications, and More. Steve Dunham. Writer’s Digest Books, 2014.

If you’re interested in more than just book editing, this one is a great resource. Dunham includes a level of content editing, copyediting, and proofreading. There are chapters on “Editing for Content,” “Editing for Focus,” “Editing for Precise Language,” “Editing for Grammar,” “Typography,” and some tips about word usage, words that are often misused, etc. He includes some checklists and examples. There is information about magazines, online publications, “and more.”


forestThe Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers, Betsy Lerner, Putnam, 2010.

I also wrote about this one in a blog post. Lerner describes some general types of writers and then peeks behind the editor’s desk and into the publishing world. If you want an idea of what goes on in the editing world at a publishing house, this is a great book.







on writing wellOn Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, William Zinsser, Harper Perennial, 2016.

No list of books would be complete without this little gem. If you often write nonfiction, this little guide offers everything you need to “write well.” We lost Zinsser in 2015, but his legacy lives on. I wrote more about this book in this post.






Of course, every copy editor should have style manuals (Chicago Manual of Style or an AP Style Guide). I’m sure I’m missing a few. If you’re an editor or interested in editing, what books have you read that you’ve found most helpful?

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One thing (among many) that I love about our Professional Writing program at Taylor University is that the students get such a thorough and well-rounded education in the world of publishing.

Here’s what I mean: After the students in my “Manuscript to Book: How It Happens” class finished their copyediting passes on their manuscripts (which included style tags, along with general language and punctuation cleanup), they then took those manuscripts to the layout and design lab.

As part of the Professional Writing major, students are required to take classes in “Digital IMG-20160426-00896Tools: Photoshop” and “Digital Tools: InDesign.” This makes them quadruple threats for any job in publishing because they know what it means to work with the words, but they also know what goes on in the design and typesetting phase where the books are created from the manuscript.

So each took one of the styled manuscripts, flowed it onto a template, and typeset a book. For three class periods we met in the layout and design lab and they worked on the manuscripts–deciding on fonts, chapter starts (recto only or recto/verso), leading, kerning, watching for widows and orphans (those random single words or lines at the top or bottom of a page), placing folios and running heads, and generally working to lay out a pleasing book within the page count target.

After they completed laying out the typeset pages, the teams chose one to turn into a PDF, and the PDF then moved on to the next team to do the proofreading pass.

In proofreading, the students work with the PDF tools to mark errors that either were IMG-20160426-00895missed in the copyediting phase or showed up in typesetting. They first do a visual check of all the pages — looking that the margins are even, that the folios and running heads are placed correctly, that everything looks right. Only then do they go back and begin to read every letter on every page.

After a few days of this proofreading practice, we met together, looked at the PDFs on the screen, and talked about what they had noted as errors.

Again, this is one of the phases that takes a different kind of skill. At this point, no one wants the proofreader’s opinion of the book or the arc of the story. And really the proofreader should not be revising sentences. Instead, he or she should really only fix true errors (which can, indeed, happen at the sentence level; for instance, if there’s a dangling modifier, the proofreader should fix it).

IMG-20160426-00898Proofreaders need to enjoy the hunt – searching for and correcting errors. It takes a special “eye” to do this, one that can be trained with practice. (I recall many years ago when I was doing freelance proofreading on galleys, the editor at the publishing house would often say, “I can’t believe you found those errors!” I took this as a compliment.)

As our “final exam,” the students went back to the styletagged manuscripts and learned how to create ebooks.

So there we have it. My students took manuscripts and turned them into books. Now they know how it happens! They felt that actually working through the steps as would happen in a real publishing house had been extremely valuable in the learning process.

I think so, too!




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So here we go! Manuscripts have come back from our authors. A few of them worked on some of the suggested changes and sent us revised manuscripts. A couple of others are taking our revision suggestions to heart but going to hold off until they have more time to dig in and make the editorial changes. In either case, we’re moving on with unrevised or revised manuscripts, sending them to a new group to copyedit.


What exactly happens at this phase?

Generally the big questions have been answered, the big problems have been solved. Issues of plot arc or plot lines or characterization or dialog or setting have been queried and revised. The manuscript comes back to the editors for a final check and then moves on to this next phase. So right now, my intrepid editors need to put on their copyediting hats and think differently. They have received the manuscripts from the editing groups and have uploaded them to Google docs so they can copyedit as a team, making and seeing one another’s comments.

The copyeditors now dive in and read carefully. They move in closer, looking at paragraphs and sentences and words choices and punctuation. They look for general readability. They fact check where necessary. They look for consistency issues. They smooth out rough sentences.

They have a little over two weeks for this process, and this morning they did the math (yes, math!) to figure out how many hours this will take them (number of pages x how many minutes it takes to copyedit each page divided by sixty to give them the number of hours). They then also created some benchmark dates for working through the pages and meeting the deadline.

It’s a different level of work. Some people find that they like the big picture editing more than copyediting. Others find that they really like being able to dig in and work at the sentence and readability level. Some had difficulty keeping themselves from doing that in the editing phase! But we have to separate these out because the processes are different, ask different questions, and take different ways of looking at the manuscript at hand.

It’s a lot of reading, a lot of work. But they’re on it! And I couldn’t be prouder!


“Brace Yourselves, Copyediting has begun” image courtesy of Google,  http://memegenerator.net/instance/62720415
“Let the copyediting flow through you” image courtesy of Google, http://bit.ly/1UWtq00

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At the end of last month I posted about a class that I created here in our Professional Writing department called “From Manuscript to Book: How It Happens.” I explained that my hardy group of thirteen students would be working their way through five manuscripts — first as editors, then as copyeditors, finally as proofreaders.

So we’re about a month into the class and they are nearing their deadline for the content editing portion of the project. At the beginning of class, each group took their manuscripts, divided them up across the class periods, and figured out how much they needed to read before each class to be ready to discuss. They have a lot of steps to perform, but getting on schedule for reading and editing (and staying on schedule) is one of the first and most important parts of the process. Here’s how the entire flow looks for us for this semester:

We have deadlines throughout the semester to ensure that all five books make it through the entire process.

We have deadlines throughout the semester to ensure that all five books make it through the entire process.

The second week of classes, the authors came to class and talked with their editors. It was very helpful for the editors to understand the background of the projects, what the author is trying to accomplish, and just to even put a face behind the writing.

The students come to class and, for the first half hour, talk about the next section of material they read. They’re looking at plot pacing and characterization and dialog and flow and asking questions of one another. I hear snippets such as, “Does anyone understand why the character did that?” “Yeah, I’m not sure that this makes sense.” “This character is supposed to act one way but seems to act another way in some spots. Is she supposed to be bipolar?” “This was so good I couldn’t stop reading! I had to force myself to put it down and do my other homework!”

And sometimes, they end up in laughing fits because, well, it’s difficult and tiring work and they need to relax. (I totally get that.)

Last week, a wonderful fiction editor from Tyndale House, Sarah Mason Rische, skyped with us about her process in fiction editing. The students were able to ask her questions about how to handle certain issues that they came across in their manuscripts. She was a great encouragement to them. So wonderful to hear from a true professional who lives this process every day.

Here are my students wrapping up the editing phase (and feeling darn proud of themselves, as I am of them!):

These guys had two separate manuscripts from separate authors, so they've had to change gears halfway through.

These guys had two separate manuscripts from separate authors, so they’ve had to change gears halfway through.


The group in front had a 500-page beast that they've been taming. The ladies in the back had two books by the same author.

The group in front had a 500-page beast that they’ve been taming. The ladies in the back had two books by the same author.


So here we are now preparing to write our letters to our authors with our editorial feedback. It’s a lot of work to condense the advice into a readable and encouraging letter while still helping the author clearly see areas that can make the manuscript stronger. The letters and manuscripts with comments will go back to our intrepid authors and we’ll give them a few weeks to make revisions.

In the meantime, the next phase is understanding book budgeting, how the numbers work, and what the publishing board needs to consider in order to make sure that the book can make money. We’ve got an Excel doc to run our numbers, and we’ve got a template of information to fill out. Each group is creating a presentation for their book (in the cases of where they have two books they’ve been editing, they’re choosing one) and will put together a proposal for the pub board with information about the project, the author, the budget, the competition, and the start of a marketing plan.

In preparing a document for the designers (the layout and design class is going to work with us on creating some book covers), they will need to give information such as the title, subtitle, tagline, author’s name, back cover copy, and author bio. Those are the words that need to go on the cover. Then the designer needs specs such as trim size and page count (so the spine can be the right size). Then, of course, beyond that, they need a synopsis of the story, the genre (a romance will have a different look than a fantasy than a thriller), the audience (a kids’ book will have a different look than an adult book), and they need to know the time period, the setting, and some idea of what the main character looks like in case they decide to put a person on the cover — needs to look like how the character is described.

The templates my students will use to create a pub board presentation and a book cover designer presentation.

The templates my students will use to create a pub board presentation and a book cover designer presentation.

So a big portion is nearing completion, but there’s still so much more to do! So many more steps. So much to learn! Of course, that’s why we have this class! I think these guys are getting a great understanding of what it really takes to make a book. It’s tough, it’s tiring. But it’s also rewarding.

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I’ve been intensely creating syllabi for the last month. Spring semester begins February 1 and I have three classes to prep. (I never appreciated my class syllabi for my classes in college. But now that I’ve had to be creating them, wow. What a lot of work and planning!)

One class I’m particularly excited about is a new one I’m creating called “From Manuscript to Book: How It Happens.” I did a version of it during a May term at Houghton College back in 2009, but I’m refashioning it to fill a full semester. Five local authors have entrusted us with their complete manuscripts (all fiction), and my class will become a publishing company (name to be determined) that will walk these manuscripts through the entire publishing process.

My students will work in groups. Each group will receive a manuscript and they’ll first work as content editors. They’ll keyboardconsider all the things fiction editors have to — pacing and characterization and plot and dialog. We’ll Skype with a fiction editor who will talk us through her process. At the end of the first few weeks, they’ll prepare a detailed letter back to their author with advice for the manuscript. In the meantime, class periods will include a behind-the-scenes look at how a publishing company works. We’ll create schedules and budgets and P&Ls and sales projections. From this information, they’ll also begin a title information sheet.

From the title sheet and their P&Ls, they’ll prepare a sales presentation for their book to bring to the publishing board (us) that will determine if we’ll publish these books (which, of course, we will). We’ll Skype with a fiction agent who will clue us in on the types of proposals that sell. This will give my students practice in understanding the how and why of decisions in a publishing house. We’ll hear from publishing professionals currently working in the field.

When the manuscripts come back from the authors, each will go to a new group who will become the copyeditors. They’ll put the manuscript on a template, create style tags, and add front matter. Then I’ll probably have them transfer the work to a Google doc to make the copyediting process easier for group work. They’ll copyedit the manuscript and create a style sheet before preparing the manuscript for typesetting.

We’ve got a plan to meet with a layout and design class. I’ve worked it out with the instructor to include an assignment for his class that involves creating book covers for our books. My students will fill out design acquisition forms and then present the stories of their manuscripts, audience, and other information to these designers so they have the information they need to create the covers.


They will then work as teams to typeset the books and prepare final pdfs. The pdfs will then come back to our class and move to the next group that will then proofread.

Final exam? We’ll learn how to take the manuscript and create an e-book.

Will it work? I don’t know — my class will need to offer me some grace as we move through the process. The bottom line is that I hope they learn about the book publishing process, start to finish.

I will keep you posted.

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