Great Editors: An Interview with Stephanie Rische

Continuing to sing the praises of some of the unsung heros of publishing, I bring to you today an interview with my friend Stephanie Rische, who is a senior editor at Tyndale House Publishers. Stephanie works mainly with nonfiction–so that includes memoirs, inspirational books, devotionals, Bible studies, etc. I love that fact that she loves her work so much. Below, Stephanie answers some questions I asked her about her own process of editing and how it works at Tyndale.

stephanieHow long have you been working as an editor?
I’ve been at Tyndale House for almost a dozen years now. Before I started here full time, I edited curriculum on a freelance basis. I started out as a copy editor at Tyndale, and now I’m a senior editor, working with authors at a developmental level and managing one of our nonfiction teams. I wake up every morning marveling that God would allow me to read books for a living!

You generally edit nonfiction, but do you ever cross over into fiction? In your opinion, how familiar does an editor need to be in a genre in order to edit it well?
I love to read just about anything, but I edit nonfiction (memoir, devotional books, Christian living, children’s Bible storybooks, etc.). I think the best training to be a good editor is to read good writing. Part of your job as an editor isn’t solely to work on the manuscript in front of you; it’s also to do background reading in the genre you edit in so you know what readers are expecting, what the competition is doing, and what makes your manuscript stand out.

Give us a sense of your career path. Did you always know you wanted to do this job? Did you prepare for it in college, or did other circumstances lead you where you are today?
I have always loved to read. I remember missing my bus stop in second grade because my nose was in a book. I didn’t know much about editing until later in life, but in a sense I was being prepared for it through my love of books and writing and words in general. I’m not sure if this was a direct part of my career path, but I’ve always been a noticer. I enjoy observing and exploring, whether it’s little grammar details or big ideas.

In terms of my education, I received a strong foundation in English and writing from Taylor University, and then I taught English for several years. There’s nothing that solidifies your understanding of grammar and writing techniques like having to explain it to a roomful of teenagers who would rather be dong something else!

At Tyndale House, what is the process for acquiring manuscripts, and at what point do you receive the manuscript to begin your work?
At Tyndale the manuscript comes to me after the contract has been signed. In some companies, editors acquire and do developmental editing, but here those two roles are separated. There are advantages to each approach–the consistency is helpful when those roles are combined, but I appreciate that the division here allows me to be more of a purist about the editing process–to be devoted to the content and what’s best for the manuscript without having to weigh the financial and contractual side of things.

What is your process for editing? When a new manuscript lands on your desk, what tools do you gather and then what steps do you take to go from A to Z?
First, I do a manuscript review and make a plan for editing. At that point I talk to the team that acquired the manuscript and make sure we’re all in agreement about the vision for the book as we move forward. The next step is to meet the author (usually over the phone) and let him or her know what the editing process will look like. Depending on how much work the manuscript needs, I’ll go through it two more times–once to make the big-picture, structural edits, and once more to fine-tune and make line edits. It’s a funny thing about the way the brain is wired–it’s almost impossible to do the more creative, right-brained edits at the same time as the analytical, left-brained work. When I’m finished, I’ll send it on to a copy editor, who will do the fact checking and take a close look at the grammar and spelling.

Do you generally work back and forth with the author? What are the guidelines or expectations for that process—that is, do you always have to defer to the author or how much can you, as editor, press your point?
The back-and-forth process with authors is one of my favorite parts of editing. When people find out I’m an editor, they sometimes ask, “How do you decide who wins: you or the author?” But I don’t see the author/editor relationship as an adversarial one; it’s more of a collaboration. Both parties have the same goal: to make the book the best it can be. I marvel at how often the collaborative process of editing produces a third way–a solution that’s better than what the author or the editor would have come with individually. As an editor, I have the privilege of shaping and sharpening someone’s story, and it’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly.

For my students who are learning editing and want to eventually work in a publishing house, what would you tell them is the most important skill to acquire in their preparation so they can hit the ground running when the arrive in an editorial department for an internship or a job?

  1. Read a lot, and read widely.
  2. Read critically. As you read, be aware of what’s happening under the surface. Are there parts you’re tempted to skim? If so, why? If you’re hooked, what has the author done to make that happen?
  3. Learn the basics. Even if you want to do higher-level editing, those grammatical building blocks will help you understand language in a deeper way.bird by bird

Any favorite books about editing? What has been most helpful?

Anything else you want to add?
In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King offers these words of thanks to his editor: “One rule of the road not directly stated elsewhere in this book: ‘The editor is always right.’ The corollary is that no writer will take all of his or her editor’s advice; for all have sinned and fallen short of editorial perfection. Put another way, to write is human, to edit is divine.” His words are a bit tongue in cheek, but there is some truth in the idea that editing is a divine practice. As editors, we have a high calling to take someone else’s words and be part of that mysterious process of iron sharpening iron.

 

Great Editors–Robert Loomis at Random House

My decision to use my blog to focus on the unsung heroes of publishing–the editors in the trenches–has sent me on an adventure of websites and book reading and rather intense study. But I am loving every minute of it. It’s just not all happening as quickly as my self-imposed blogging schedule might like. But I’m learning along the way about what makes great editors, and I want to pass what I’m learning along to you.

In any case, my trail led me from Maxwell Perkins (see Part 1 and Part 2 of my homage to him) to Bennett Cerf (one of the founders of Random House publishers, more about him later) to Robert Loomis, legendary editor at Random House who retired in 2011 after 54 years.

Right there. That should make him a hero.

You’ve probably not heard of him. But chances are, you’ve heard of some of the people he edited, such as Maya Angelou and William Styron (Loomis edited Sophie’s Choice, among others).

Indeed, the title of an article in The New York Times about his retirement announcement captures his essence: “Nurturer of Authors Is Closing the Book.”

The New York Times article says that upon hearing of his retirement, Maya Angelou said in an email, “Robert Loomis has been my editor since 1968. He has guided and encouraged me through 31 books. I can’t imagine trusting a manuscript in the hands of anyone else. I am not finished writing, so I cannot let him retire.”

That’s the kind of relationship great editors have with writers. The writers need those editors. They love them. They entrust their works and words to them. They know those editors make them that much better as writers. As the article title says, great editors are nurturers of writers.

In fact, from The New York Times archives is this tidbit from “Making Books; Familiarity Breeds Content“:

But while the news accounts go to the authors and editors who pop from one publishing house to another, the less celebrated but more interesting tales are those of continuity and loyalty. Sometimes they even become the stuff of literary legend.

Which brings us back to Ms. Angelou. Her editor is Robert Loomis, an executive editor at Random House, one of publishing’s hall of fame editors. “We are an item,” Ms. Angelou said. ”I would go with Bob if he left and went to a university press. He knows what I hope to achieve in all my work. I don’t know anybody as fierce, simply fierce, but he’s as tender as he’s tough.” . . .

Here’s an insight to a writer-editor relationship. Ms. Angelou said: ”He’s a nuisance. He asks these questions: ‘Why did you put a semicolon there, to give the thought some breath? Is that the word you really want?’ I’ve said to him many times you’re bullheaded, I’ll never speak to you again and then I send him night letters or telegrams telling him he’s right.

”When he finished the manuscript of my last volume he said: ‘Maya, thank you. This is great.’ In 33 years he never used that word for me. Great is good to him.”

In fact, Bennett Cerf, co-founder of Random House (did you know they were so named because they printed “random” books?), counted on the relationships his editors had with their authors to bring those authors into Random House and onto their publication lists. If Random House was able to lure an editor away from a competitor, often that editor’s authors came along.

at random

In his book, At Random: The Reminiscences of Bennett Cerf (Random House, 1977), Cerf describes great editors like this:

A good editor, I think, like a good author, has to be born with some of the necessary talents, like a good memory and some imagination. But he also needs to have acquired a fairly broad range of interests, a working knowledge of the English language and a good supply of general information–the more the better–so that he can understand what an author is trying to do and be of help to him in doing it. An editor has to have read widely enough to be able to recognize and appreciate good writing when he sees it. . . .

An editor has to be able to get along with authors–which is not always easy. When the relationship is a good one, an editor can be extremely helpful by serving as a kind of sounding board for an author’s ideas and intentions, and by making suggestions aimed at sharpening and clarifying what the author wants to say. Also, the editor can be of value in pointing out parts of a manuscript that should be cut out because they are repetitive, or dull, or unnecessary. (219)

Being a good editor means caring about books, caring about language, and being a constant learner. Being one of the greats takes perseverance, relationship-building, honesty coupled with kindness, and a big dose of nurturing.

All of that because of a deep desire to help an author write the best book possible.

Great Editors–Maxwell Perkins, My New Hero (Part 1)

So as it turns out, if it weren’t for an editor, there might not have been The Great Gatsby.

Yay for editors!

I have decided that–while it’s terrific to review books and interview authors–I’m going to go a slightly different direction in my blog in the coming weeks. I’m going to study up on some great editors from the past, and I’m going to interview some great editors of the present.

Because, well, I’m an editor. I know what it takes to work in the salt mines of editing manuscripts to make the good–the great–that much better. I know what it means to study typeset pages until your eyes cross, making sure no typos slip through because I want the author to look good. I know what it means to be in the background and let the author have the credit (as it should be).

I just want to bring some of these people out of the shadows and learn from them and, in so doing, pass along some info to you, my readers, and to the students in my editing classes.

After my last post about teaching editing, Rich Adin (who writes the blog “An American Editor“) commented, “We can teach people to be editors like me; we cannot teach people to be an editor like Maxwell Perkins. Perkins had that rare gift that made him the Michelangelo of editing.” Thanks so much for that comment, Rich, because that sent me on a quest to learn from the best.

perkinsAnd that sent me to A. Scott Berg’s book, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1978).

Seriously, I’m so excited about what I’m reading I can barely stand it.

Maxwell Perkins (1884-1947) was the editor at Charles Scribner’s and Sons for the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe. The book is filled with quotes from correspondence between Perkins and these writers and anecdotes of how he worked with them–cajoling them, encouraging them, offering insight and advice on the big picture of each manuscript, and advocating for them at the meetings of the editorial board.

Mind officially blown.

No, I will never be Max Perkins–and, no, I cannot teach anyone to be Max Perkins. The next Max Perkinses will arise from folks with that internal “gift” that is, simply put, God-given.

But I want to learn from the best and pass along to my students what they, too, can learn from the best.

And for my students out there–I tell you this all the time–you probably won’t start out as full-fledged editors. Max didn’t even study literature or writing in college (Harvard); instead, he studied economics. But his real love was words, and it was a freshman English instructor who, as Berg puts it, “certainly . . . developed Max’s editorial instincts” (32). After graduation, Max went to work writing for The New York Times as the writer who hung around all night and picked up the “suicides, fires, and other nocturnal catastrophes” (33).

His first job at Charles Scribner’s and Sons was in the advertising department where he spent four and a half years before ascending to the hallowed fifth floor–the editorial floor.

And, students, guess what he did there . . .

He was a proofreader!

For the most part, Maxwell Perkins’s duties as an editor were limited to proofreading galleys–long printed sheets, each containing the equivalent of three book pages–and to other perfunctory chores. Occasionally he was called upon to correct the grammar in a gardening book or arrange the selections in school anthologies of classic short stories and translations of Chekhov. The work demanded little creativity. (12)

But then here’s what happened. A regular Scribner author named Shane Leslie became friends with a young author from Minnesota. Leslie sent this young author’s manuscript to the editors at Scribner. It got passed from editor to editor (no one liked it) until it ended up on Perkins’s desk. While he liked it, he was forced to write to the author and decline it (the lowly proofreading editor didn’t have much sway at first). But Perkins saw something in the young man’s writing, and the rejection letter held out some hope and encouragement to the young man who went to work revising and revising and revising.

The manuscript came back much improved, and Perkins went to work doing everything he could (and it was a lot) to get Scribner’s to publish it. At one tense editorial meeting, he said, “My feeling is that a publisher’s first allegiance is to talent. And if we aren’t going to publish talent like this, it is a very serious thing” (15-16).

The young author was F. Scott Fitzgerald. The book was This Side of Paradise (Scribner’s 1920).

What about The Great Gatsby? More on that next week.

Suffice it to say, Maxwell Perkins is my new editorial hero. And I’m his newest student.

 

How to Support an Author’s New Book: 11 Ideas For You

So last week I talked about Literary Citizenship and why I love it. A key, of course, is supporting our fellow authors. In fact, that’s what it’s all about. Chuck Sambuchino offers 11 ideas for how we can support new books.

Writers In The Storm Blog

By Chuck Sambuchino

large_5595133805My Writer’s Digest coworker, Brian A. Klems, recently geared up for the release of his first book — a humorous guide for fathers called OH BOY, YOU’RE HAVING A GIRL: A DAD’S SURVIVAL GUIDE TO RAISING DAUGHTERS (Adams Media). On top of that, my coworker Robert Brewer (editor of Writer’s Market) recently got a publishing deal for a book of his poetry.

So I find myself as a cheerleader for my writing buddies — trying to do what I can to help as their 2013 release dates approach. I help in two ways: 1) I use my own experience of writing & publishing books to share advice on what they can expect and plan for; and 2) I simply do whatever little things I can that help in any way.

This last part brings up an important point: Anyone can support an author’s…

View original post 1,450 more words

Why I Love Literary Citizenship

Much is being written lately on the topic of literary citizenship. Since this was the topic of my Master’s final research paper, I thought I’d go ahead and weigh in with my two cents. (I could write 50 pages, but I already did that. Let’s see if I can condense my thoughts here into a readable blog post!)

I just happened upon this term in the last couple of years–but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. You see, I’ve worked in publishing for thirty years and went back to school with the hopes of teaching at the college level. As I sat under Cathy Day, she (thankfully) talked to her students about what’s out there in the real world–how to join the literary world, how to get published, how to organize submissions, how to handle rejection, and how to find their “tribes” once they leave the cocoon of a university writing program–everything I already knew was extremely important for writers to understand.

I was thrilled that she talked about this because too often (I feel) creative writing programs focus only on craft without giving students the tools to know what to do with their writing. Yes, I get it. You have to first be a good writer, no, an excellent writer. That’s a given. Roxane Gay puts it this way:

You’re not going to become a better writer by focusing more on getting your writing published than writing work that merits publication. You won’t become a better writer by resenting the success of others or spending most of your time indulging in conspiracy theories about publishing. Yes, sometimes the game is rigged, but mostly it is not. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the wrong things when so much information about writers and what they’re doing or could be doing is readily available via social networks, blogs, and the like.

So of course, being great writers is step one, and I don’t advise that writers let themselves get distracted by the marketing side at the expense of their product. But, after thirty years in publishing, I come at this with a different perspective, and so I maintain that students should be taught what to do with their writing. How to research the literary magazines or the online sites or the commercial magazines or the book publishers that might be interested in their kind of writing. How to write query letters. How to approach an agent. How to create a book proposal. That’s all part of learning to write.

Because, in the end, while writing can indeed be an end in itself, most of us write because we want people to read what we wrote. We want to share it.

And I’m sure it’s my years in publishing talking, but I’ve sat on the other side of the table, needing to help authors understand the importance of marketing their own books.

I know, what a pain after doing all the work of actually writing the book to have to be burdened with actually doing the marketing, too. Isn’t the publisher supposed to do that? That’s the question Becky Tuch asks and precisely why she detests literary citizenship.

But I understand the business side of publishing; it is a business after all and, if it doesn’t make money, none of us gets published. And yes, all those big-name authors get all of the marketing dollars and the rest of us are left pretty much to fend for ourselves, but there’s a reason for that as well. There’s a statistic in Christian publishing that says 9 percent of the authors sell 80 percent of the books. That means that 9 percent of writers are pretty much carrying their publishing houses. So let them have the marketing dollars! In secular publishing, the number may be similar–and we can be sure that it is indeed the big names who get taken care of. Those authors help keep their companies open, which then allows them to take a chance on little ol’ me.

But here’s the deal–literary citizenship is not to be entered into because you want to sell your books. Instead, it’s about joining Renaissance Fairethe literary world because that’s who you are. Just as you might identify with those who join the worlds of ComiCon or Renaissance Faires because you have an affinity for comics and superheroes or feathered caps and falconry, so you join the world of Words and Books as a literary citizen because that’s who you are. You join with like-minded people to talk about what you love best.

The side effect of being “neighborly” in that world (by doing what many lit cit blog posts have discussed regarding ways to be literary citizens) is that when your article or book is published, you can naturally talk about it with those who care–and who will, in turn, talk about it with others. That’s where the “marketing” part actually begins to happen.

But literary citizenship doesn’t start there. It doesn’t start with “marketing” or “selling.” It’s not all about us. It’s not all about “gimme” as in “gimme your attention–me me me” as David Ebenbach describes in his article, Literary Citizenship Does Not Mean Gimme. Instead, it’s about joining a world of word lovers–reading, appreciating, talking about, and sharing one another’s work.

So let’s not hate literary citizenship, let’s embrace it because, in essence, it’s who we are. Let’s come together in this world of Words and Books enjoying what we love most and making sure it continues for all of us for a long, long time.

 

 

The Process of Publishing: An Exercise

When I teach my editing class, I always like to begin early with an exercise. The entire class becomes a publishing company, and we walk a manuscript through the process. Since I teach my students about content editing, copyediting, and proofreading, I want them to understand where those steps fall in the process of a book going from the author to the shelves.

I usually have about 15 students in my class and I print different jobs onto index cards. They each draw a card, and we then move all the desks and sit in a circle.

First order of business, we decide on a name for our company. We usually end up with something like “Sleepy Sloth Publishing” or “Little Turtles Publishing”–for some reason the name often has an animal theme.

Then we talk through each step, and the person holding the card is to play that role and ask the questions he/she thinks would be asked in this part of the book process.

(1) Author–Whoever gets this card needs to determine what his or her book is about and give it a title. One time I had “The History of the Orange”–a nonfiction book about . . . oranges. That’s what we’ll go with for the purposes of this post. A young man gets the author card and wants to write about oranges.

 

orange

 

(2) Acquisitions Editor–As luck would have it, this author went to a writers conference where an AE (hold up your card) was looking for nonfiction books about fruit. She is thrilled that this author has come with this book proposal about the history of oranges. What does the AE ask? My AE with the card thinks a little bit–maybe an AE wants to know who the target audience is (men? women? age range?), the book’s tone (humor? tongue in cheek? reference?), and approximately how long it is (word count helps the AE consider placement and cost calculation). Let’s say this is a book targeted to adults that will be about 128 pages with a humorous tone. The AE wants to know why this author is such an expert and has such interest in oranges. The author explains that he grew up in an orange grove and has been making OJ all his life. (Sometimes an agent is in this role–I put that person at the end of my exercise, but he/she could very well be right at the start.)

I explain that all of this information is important for the AE to take back to the publishing house. Just because the AE likes it only means the book has passed the first hurdle. The AE now needs to sell the idea to the pub board (publishing board).

(3) CEO (as part of pub board)–In many houses (especially smaller ones), the CEO may be on the pub board as the keeper of the ethos of the publishing house. Does the book fit with the mission statement? Does it fit into the kind of books they do? (In Christian publishing, theological bent matters heavily when considering manuscripts.)

(4) CFO (as part of pub board)–Numbers guy. What does he ask? Will the book need any special treatments (is it going to have color pictures throughout–that will affect the cost of the printing and paper). What is the advance to the author? How many books will be in the first print run? What should be the selling price? A pro forma helps to then determine if and how the book can make money for the publishing house.

(5) Salesman (as part of pub board)–There actually may be several–the Amazon person, the big box store person, the independent bookstore person. But they all have the same question–especially with unknown authors. What kind of platform does the author have? (Author answers that he has 10,000 followers on Twitter and a blog and newsletter all about oranges with 20,000 subscribers.) The salespeople are impressed since they know that this author can get the word out about his book and get a following.

So I tell the group to assume that the book has passed this hurdle and is cleared to be published. Next will come the AE calling the author, the author rejoicing (little dance), the arrival of the contract and hopefully the advance check. Next, the author must finish the book by a particular due date.

Publish

(6) Editorial director–Once the manuscript arrives, an editorial director will set the schedule for all of the following steps in order to keep the project moving through the system in order to meet the to-printer date. (In large houses, there may be several different people doing these roles with varying titles. In small houses, there might be one person who then uses several freelancers.)

(7) Designer–The editorial director will get the designer started on interior and cover designs. These take time (and the designer has other projects as well), so getting him started now is important. What does the designer need to know? My student with the “Designer” card wonders about how big the book is (trim size and page count), whether or not there are photos and are they black/white or color, and the target audience and tone. The designer creates a template (often in InDesign) into which the typesetter will flow the Word document manuscript.

(8) Content editor–This person looks at the big picture and helps to shape the book (perhaps the author’s chapter 3 should really be chapter 1 as it is a better beginning). I discuss more about the three different types of editing in this post. After back and forth with the author, the manuscript is finalized and sent on to …

(9) Copyeditor–Again, I discuss what this means in above linked post. The copyeditor fact checks, reads for clarity, queries as needed, makes the manuscript follow house style guidelines, and generally tries to make the manuscript readable and clean.

(10) Editorial assistant–This may even be an intern–or this person may not exist at all in a small house. But the copyeditor needs someone to help with taking the copyedited manuscript and creating the front matter (title page, copyright page, Table of Contents, dedication page, etc.) and making sure the back matter pieces are in place (appendix, index, endnotes).

(11) Typesetter/Compositor–The typesetter receives the manuscript from editorial and the book’s design template from the designer and puts them together. What does he need to know? He needs to know the page count, whether all of the chapters have to start on recto (right) pages or if they can also start verso (left), what is to be in the running heads, does the book start at page 1 or are there roman numerals in the front matter? If there are photos, he’ll need to have those (in separate files such as gif or bmp) and know where to place them. He lays out the pages to avoid widows and orphans (single words or short lines standing alone at the top or bottom of a page).

(12) Proofreader–Again, I discuss this further here. The proofreader takes the pdf of the typeset pages–meaning this is exactly how the book will appear. My proofreader checks the Table of Contents and adds page numbers as they appear in the book, and then he reads every word carefully.

(13) Printer–The final completed pdf is uploaded to the printer. Hopefully the date it arrives is the same date the editorial director put on the calendar months earlier. The printer sets press time for each book, and that’s why it is so important to never be late. The printer is given the poundage of the paper (for instance, much higher weight if this book is full of color photos so the pages can handle the ink, as opposed to a straight text book).

(14) Bookstore owner–This person needs to know why she should purchase the book to sell in her store. Fortunately, she loves this publishing company, the salesman has made a compelling case, and so she orders several to sell.

(15) Agent–Because the book has become a best-seller, this agent comes knocking hoping to represent the author in his next great work–and the cycle begins again.

My students come away from this little exercise with more understanding of how what they learn to do as editors fits in to the entire process of creating a book.

 

Orange photo: By Figiu (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

6 Quick Proofreading Tips

AND . . . . today is National Proofreading Day. I will celebrate by . . . proofreading! Today I am also reposting a blog I wrote last year on March 8.

What a busy week! We had National Grammar Day on March 4, and today, March 8, is National Proofreading Day. For someone like me who lives this stuff on a daily basis, it’s downright exciting!

The day is devoted to “mistake-free writing” and projecting “a professional image with well-written documents that are 100 percent accurate.” Started by Judy Beaver at The Office Pro, this day is designated because it was her mother’s birthday—and her mother loved to correct errors.

As I noted earlier this week in my post about National Grammar Day, I’m not a total grammar geek but I do care about the correct usage of our language, and I’ve made a living for many years honing this skill. Lots of times I still CMShave to look things up in a dictionary or my Chicago Manual of Style (the style manual for much of the book publishing industry). All manuscripts go through several phases of editing, and I’ve done them all. Generally, if I do one phase on a particular manuscript, I make sure that other people do the other two phases–there’s a different focus that has to take place at each phase.

Editing—I call this the 10,000-foot view. I look at the big picture. I’m reading the fiction story and checking the plot, the pacing and flow, the characterization. In a non-fiction manuscript, I’m seeing if the organization works and makes sense. Any changes I suggest at this point are on the macro level—moving chapter 3 to become chapter 1, for instance. Or looking for that loose end in the mystery that the writer forgot to tie up (“What happened to so-and-so?”). The author makes changes (or not) based on my suggestions, and then the manuscript goes to a copyeditor.

Copyediting—This is more like the 1,000-foot view. Now that the editor has put the manuscript in good shape, if I’m in this role, I’m reading closely for sentence construction—dangling modifiers, run-ons, and inconsistencies. I fact check. I query if something doesn’t make sense, if a transition is needed, if a character’s way of speaking doesn’t sound real based on how he or she has been described by the author (“Would he really say this in this way?”).

Proofreading—This is the 10-foot view. If I’m in this role, sometimes I’m working on a manuscript, but often at this phase I’m looking at a pdf of typeset pages—which means I have to check the table of contents to make sure the titles and page numbers are correct, I check all the folios and running heads, I check the look of each page—marking widows and orphans (those random one or two words at the top of a page, or the lone line at the bottom—these just look awkward). Then I read every word. Even a clean manuscript can have random errors show up when the document is flowed into the typesetting program (a hidden tab in a Word document can suddenly rear its ugly head and space words far apart when typeset).

I love it.

Proofreading is probably my favorite. It’s that red pen mentality. I’m looking for errors only because I want the book, the author, and the publisher to put their best foot (feet?) forward.

The three types of editing take different skills. In my Editing class, I give my students practice in all of these areas, telling them that they will probably find an affinity for one and not like the others so much. But I also tell those who want to become editors that they should hone their grammar and punctuation knowledge anyway, because the copyediting and proofreading jobs are often the entry level positions in publishing companies. From there, they can move up, since often editors and acquisitions editors are hired from within, from people who have been with the company and understand the ethos there.

proofreading

As I noted in my post earlier this week, proofreading skills are vitally important, especially on the job market. To have a clean paper, I suggest the following:

(1) Don’t trust the spell check program on your computer. (Judy has some tips on her blog about this.)

(2) If you’re not absolutely sure of the spelling of a word, don’t guess. Look it up. Dictionary.com is your best friend.

(3) Go back and read your letter, paper, email, memo, whatever, aloud slowly to yourself. This will help you notice if words are missing or if a sentence runs on and on. (It’s best to do this on hard copy. Trust me, you’ll see things differently than on screen. A friend of one of my students writes about that on his blog.)

(4) Then, read it again starting from the bottom paragraph backward, a paragraph at a time. This helps you get outside your own flow and see errors you might skip over otherwise.

(5) Electronically, go back and do a search for an open parenthesis (to make sure that you always have a matching close parenthesis), an open quotation mark (to make sure you always have the appropriate closing quotation mark and to make sure any inner quotation marks are single and that they are both there). And get rid of those double spaces between sentences!

(6) Be aware of your own weaknesses. If you know you tend to write run-on sentences, watch for that in particular. If you know that possessives always mess you up, do a search for apostrophes and check each one for correct usage.

This will clear up a good number of your errors. It never hurts, however, to have someone else look over an especially important document—like a cover letter or resume or manuscript submission.

Let’s put our best foot forward—both of them!

Sniffles, Snorkels, and Shakespeare

I plopped down in the middle of the Shakespeare aisle in the library.

And I burst into tears.

Mind you, I kept my sobs silent, my mouth covered. No one could see me. This was in Range 107 and 108 on Third Floor East in the BSU library. The hundreds of floor-to-ceiling shelves of books are spaced just far enough apart to sit with legs crossed. I love this place, getting lost amongst the stacks. I love the smell and feel of real books, old books. I love that so many people at one time or another were able to hold a work in their hands and be proud to have had their words published–in this particular aisle, so many many words about the bard, Shakespeare.

The criticisms and handbooks and guides on his tragedies and comedies mocked me from the shelves. “You’ll never have time to learn everything you need to know. Just look how much has been written! Ha ha! And you think you have something to say?”

It was a tragedy that I, a grown woman, sat amongst the stacks bawling.

It was a comedy for exactly the same reason.

Please, no one come by.

I can just imagine: “There’s someone up there crying,” a concerned student reports to the circulation desk. “And she’s, like, really old. Maybe she’s, like, having a breakdown?”

I can imagine the words over the intercom system. “Clean up on Third Floor East, Range 107.” And someone will come looking for me with tissues and a concerned face and maybe a straitjacket.

“I’m all right. Really. Just a bad day. And I’m just really tired.”

I glance North and South from my spot on 3 East. Aside from the occasional student passing by, no one even seems to know I’m here having my little meltdown. I wipe my nose on my shirtsleeve (gross) and lean against the stacks. A few deep breaths.

“You can do this. Just finish this semester. You can do this.”

Snorkeling
By Nemoischia (Own work)

But it’s that little voice from college days that pushed me so hard to be perfect. Why do it if it can’t be perfect?

The doubts creep in. What am I doing here? Why am I doing this? What is the point?

A few more deep breaths. A prayer sob to the heavens.

“God, I know you want me doing this. I know beyond any doubt that you’ve walked me through this so far these last three years. I know that this is good for me in more ways than I can imagine. But I’m in over my snorkel . . .”

So God simply and quietly calms my heart and reminds me that he isn’t going to give me shallower waters; he’s instead going to provide a longer snorkel.

And maybe some swim fins.

(Photo from Wikimedia Commons [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

The Melody of Our Manuscripts

He always arrived in a rumpled brown suit and a wide, striped 1970s-style tie. He would bustle in the door of our apartment in Germany, run his stubby fingers through his mop of gray hair, say “guten Abend,” and sit down in the chair beside the piano bench.

And I duly took my place beside him on the bench.

We opened the book.

I had one piano book when I studied under Herr Mueller. Not a book for scales or a separate book to write in and draw the little notes on the staff and practice making the G-clef. I was way more advanced than that. I’d been taking piano since I could remember.

My piano book
My piano book

So when we arrived in Bonn, Germany, in my freshman year of high school, my parents set about finding a piano teacher.

And they found Herr Mueller.

I wish I knew his whole story. He had been the pianist for the some big orchestra in the United States. Thus, in his younger days, he had played in large concert halls to crowds of appreciative symphony goers. I’m sure he’d worn a tux and, when he approached the piano bench, had deftly tossed the tails behind him. He had been applauded.

And now, he sat beside a high school girl who didn’t appreciate that she was learning piano from a genius.

I ache to think of it.

We practiced from this one book–a big red book filled with music from the great composers. The cover and spine and title page are all missing, so I can’t even give the title. But when I sit down at the piano thirty years later and open the book to page 44, I can still play Beethoven’s “Adagio ‘Moonlight’ Sonata.” I can still play parts of “Fur Elise” (page 48) from memory.

When we opened to a new song that came from an opera, Herr Muller told me the story and where, in the opera, this song appeared. He told me how to play Edward Grieg’s, “Anitra’s Dance” (from Peer Gynt) based on the action at that point in the story, and he could hum every melody from the entire opera.

I think of those days now. I remember how I’d hold my breath when he leaned in close to scribble on the piano page and his bad breath floated into my nostrils. I remember how his stubby fingers flew across the keys. I remember how he loved, loved, loved the piano.

Herr Mueller's fingering notes on my piano page
Herr Mueller’s fingering notes on my piano page

If I could just take lessons from him now. These thirty years later I would cherish every word. I’d have a notebook beside me where I would write down the context of every melody he assigned just as he told it to me.

And I’d just offer him a breath mint and be done with it.

I worked hard for him. I practiced hard. I loved the piano too, for a time, even accompanying my high school chorus for a few programs.

Herr Mueller, I wish I could thank you. I’m sure you’re long gone from this world, but I thank you for your love of the piano and great music. I’m sure that some of my love for great literature comes from hearing Herr Muller tell me the great stories of the operas with unmatched passion. And the fact that I could accompany my high school chorus as they sang Bob Dylan’s, “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” was because I had pounded away at Bach and Verdi and Grieg and Tschaikowsky and Wagner.

The same is true for writers. We’re readers first for good reason. We read great literature (past and present) because it helps us with our craft. We read because we love love love the words on the pages–and we’re amazed when, like the music notes floating on the staffs, the words come together in a way that gives us goosebumps. We want to learn to make that happen in our own writing.

We’re creating a melody in our manuscripts.

I wish I had appreciated the privilege of studying under Herr Mueller. Likewise, I wish I had appreciated the time I spent reading the classics in my literature classes both in high school and college (this summer I’m rereading many of those classics that any self-respecting English major should be conversant about!).

Because now, I understand. Now I appreciate them.

Thank you, Herr Mueller.

Me at the piano with appreciative baby sister as my audience (ca. 1970).
Me at the piano with appreciative baby sister as my audience (ca. 1970).

Midwest Writers Workshop–Day 2

It’s the middle of day two of the Midwest Writers Workshop here in beautiful Muncie, Indiana.

Writers are scurrying from pitching an agent to a social media tutoring appointment to their next session from one of our amazing faculty to a manuscript makeover appointment to finding a bathroom to grabbing a snack to checking out the book table to heading to yet another session.

And that’s what it’s all about. Learning more about the craft that we all love.

We’re all here supporting one another as writers. Some with published books. Some with dreams of publishing. All with a passion for words.

That’s why I love it.

This place reeks with people who love words and writing. We’re all geeks sort of geeking out over words and how to put them together. This place reeks of geeks.

And it’s awesome.

There are lots of writers conferences, and I’m a strong proponent of all writers attending a conference for the continued training, support, and encouragement from other writers. I’m new on the planning committee for the Midwest Writers Workshop (we’re celebrating 40 years with this conference), and I’m amazed at how this team pulls together to make a great conference happen.

This year, Cathy Day and I worked together with some savvy Ball State students. Several of the students are acting as assistants for the five agents who are taking pitches, and the others are working in the social media lab giving one-on-one tutoring advice in the art of social media (websites, Twitter, Facebook pages, etc., etc.). Here’s a photo of our social media lab:

The social media lab with one-on-one tutoring about social media for writers
The social media lab with one-on-one tutoring about social media for writers

I’m sitting in the social media lab listening to the students talk about how great the attendees are, how they feel like they’ve both been able to teach something to their clients as well as learn something from them, and how they’re enjoying connecting with other writers. We’ve built in time for the students to attend a couple of workshop sessions as well.

We’re all in this writing life together.

And we’re having a perfectly awesome time.

You ought to think about attending next year!