From Manuscript to Book: As It Happened (Typesetting and Proofreading Phase)

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!

 

 

 

Is It Possible to Teach Editing?

I’m working on my syllabi for my fall classes. It’s always an interesting challenge.

I like to use a white board--I can erase easily!
I like to use a white board–I can erase easily!

Today I’m working on the syllabus for my Editing class for the sixth time. The first time I taught it, it was a marathon course (in a “special topics” category) where I had four Saturdays across the semester to get it all in. The next two times I taught it, it was a once-a-week evening class. Then, the next two times, it was a twice-a-week class. And now, for the first time, it’s a three-times-a-week class, with each class a mere fifty minutes.

So as I laid out the skeleton of the syllabus yesterday with all of the dates (taking into account holidays), what started out as four classes is now thirty-nine classes.

A part of me loves that. It feels like I have so much more opportunity to teach everything that is so important to editing.

But it’s also always a huge challenge. Editing is difficult to teach. In fact, some would maintain that it can’t be taught at all. In his post titled, “Is Editing Teachable?” Rich Adin says this:

Editing …. is a craft, a skill. It is more than knowing an adjective from an adverb, a noun from a pronoun. It is more than being able to construct and deconstruct a sentence or a paragraph. We know that grammar and spelling are things that can be taught. Computers can be “taught” these tasks, even if they perform them rigidly and are unable to distinguish between “rain,”  “rein,” and “reign” in context. But editing has an air of unteachability about it.

True there are “editing” courses. But what is it that they teach? They teach the mechanics; they have to because it is not possible to teach one to be a good or great editor. If it were possible, there would be more great editors and fewer average editors.

Editing is art with words. Every artist knows how to mix colors and how to apply paint to canvas, but few artists master the craft of art. Every generation produces a handful of Vermeers and Rembrandts and Gauguins; every generation would produce millions of them if the trick to their artistry could be taught.

Editing is similar. There are many very good editors; there are few elite editors. Editing is a skill that can be nurtured and developed but which cannot be taught.

Well, that just takes the wind out of my sails . . . but I have to partially agree. Editing is a skill, a craft, indeed it’s “art with words.” It’s a way of putting together a manuscript that takes it from ho-hum to grabbing you and holding you in page-turning mode (which is why, by the way, great editors need to be good writers and voracious readers).

While many in the comments section of the above blog post opined about how editing can or can’t be taught, here’s what I try to do differently. I try to help my students find their “sweet spot.”

Here’s what I mean. Through the course of the class, I expose them to the three main types of editing and I let them know that these are very different skills. When we get to the end of the class, inevitably some have said they really like the big-picture editing, but proofreading–not so much. Others hated proofreading because they couldn’t, at that point, make any (or many) changes to the typeset pages; they preferred copyediting where there was still opportunity to improve the sentences. One or two may go out of my class realizing that they hate editing, it’s not in their “genes” (as one comment on that blog put it)–and that’s a good thing. College should be helping you sort out what you like and don’t like, where you’re gifted and where you’re not.

So can it be taught? I’d like to think it can–at least, what I teach are the basics that help my students find that sweet spot, that hot button, that then sends them on their own trajectories. If they love it, they’ll work to further develop that skill on their own.

After all, the great elite editors all started somewhere. I’m hoping a few of them start out in my class.

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!

It’s National Grammar Day!

In honor of National Grammar Day, I am reposting my blog on this date from last year. Why? Because I’m busy grading papers for correct grammar–that’s why!

 

Today, March 4, is National Grammar Day.

Are you celebrating? Well, are you?

I am celebrating by finding other celebrants–people I want to add to my tribe because they care about this stuff as much as I do.

I have to confess to being a bit of a grammar geek–although not nearly at the level of Mignon Fogarty aka Grammar Girl. I know some things, but I may not know why I know them or the rule behind them. That comes from thirty years of proofreading, following publisher style sheets, painstakingly reading typeset pages and marking pdfs until my eyes blur.

I love my red pen.

Redpen

You see, I value perfection. (Oh my, I sure hope there aren’t any errors in this post when I’m finished . . . ). I’ve started grad school to learn more about teaching writing and discovered in my theory classes, much to my chagrin, that teaching grammar works against creativity and that college instructors try to steer clear in favor of the big picture, the creativity, the thought processes. I believe all of that is vital, of course. What’s the point of writing if you can’t make a clear argument or create a document that flows? But I also believe that the best argument in the world will get ignored if the writing is fraught with errors. Why do I want to take the time to read your article and consider your opinion if you can’t take the time to make sure to spell correctly and use proper punctuation?

It matters.

So I love National Grammar Day. (It’s on March 4th because apparently that’s the only date that forms a sentence, “March forth.”) I love when I find others in my tribe who care as much as I do about grammar and punctuation and a well-written sentence (they won’t be dangling any modifers in front of me, no sir!).

For one of my classes, I did a little research project. I hypothesized that writing instructors need to teach their students to proofread. We help them a lot at the contextual and sentence level in their writing, but we probably say, “And be sure to proofread your paper before turning it in,” without explaining what proofreading really involves. I think we do them a disservice. There is indeed a place for focusing on perfection. (More about this on Friday, March 8, National Proofreading Day . . . oh my, busy week!)

Take, for example, business writing. I start filling in for the instructor of a Writing for Business class this week for the rest of the semester (the regular instructor is out for shoulder surgery and rehab). I’m reading the textbooks and finding constant statements about the importance of perfection. In fact, one book quotes a website that keeps a collection of “cover letters from hell“–cringe-worthy letters sent to them by folks hoping for a job, like the person who wrote that he/she was an English major good at grammar–and then misspelled it as “grammer.” The website then states,

Elements of Style

A word to the wise: An error-free letter is now so freakin’ rare that the minimal care required to send a letter with zero defects, combined with a few crisply written simple declarative sentences, will, alone, guarantee a respectful reading of a resume. Maybe even secure an interview. Doesn’t anybody read Strunk and White in school any more? If you haven’t, get a copy of The Elements of Style, so you can follow it all your days.

Exactly.

Now all those theorists have a point. Do your writing and don’t worry a bit about your grammar. Get your ideas down. Tell your story. Make your point. Do the best writing you can do.

But before you send the query letter, turn in that article, or send in that manuscript, do me a favor.

Make sure it’s perfect.

Now realize that if you have your own little stylistic “tics” (you want to Capitalize Certain Words for Emphasis, or do random italics), then just let your proofreader know. You can be “incorrect” if it’s part of your style. Create a style sheet that tells your proofreader this is how you want it–then he/she will make sure that you’re consistent, along with looking for any errors you may have missed.

As citizens of the literary world, let’s protect our craft, always doing our best to deliver the best quality.

And if you feel that your proofreading skills leave something to be desired, hire a professional proofreader (or get someone you trust who really knows the craft) to go over everything before you submit the story or mail the letter. Believe it or not, there are people who thrive on helping your writing be perfect. In fact, even if you are good at it, it’s difficult to proofread your own work. It’s that whole “seeing the forest for the trees” thing.

(One little additional note: I’m talking at the professional level here. Please don’t refuse to drop me a note for fear of making errors. I truly do want to keep my friends. My point is that when we’re doing professional writing, we need to be professionals. The rest of the time, my red pen is safely in the drawer.)

So celebrate National Grammar Day with me! Grammar is the toolbox of our trade. Let’s keep those tools sharp!

Punctuation? It Can Be Fun. . . . Seriously!

Did you see what I did there . . . in the title? Used lots of punctuation?

Trying to add a little humor to what appears to be an overwhelming next few months. One final semester where I play two main roles–I’m a student and I’m a teacher.

As a student, I am working to finish my master’s degree in December. I’m taking a class in research where I can finally officially learn how to navigate all of the electronic sources online. I learned a little along the way to get through some of my other courses, but I’m thrilled to get some real training (my last big research paper would have been written on an electric typewriter after doing research in the card catalog).

My second class is on Shakespeare, and here’s my reading pile for this class:

shakespeare

AND, I’m finishing my research paper where I’m working to prove the importance of Literary Citizenship in university creative writing programs.

Then, I’m also teaching my Editing class at Taylor U. This is the first time I’ve had the class twice a week, so that meant revamping my syllabus. There’s so much I want to teach . . . and I soon found myself frustrated trying to lay out all of the pieces in logical order to fill all the class periods. I kept crossing out and erasing on my notepad, and then I remembered that we had a whiteboard in our basement. I pulled it out from behind some boxes, located dry erase pens and an eraser, and set about writing up my syllabus. Here’s what it looked like:

White board 1

Green for class activities, red for papers that need to be prepped and photocopied, black for homework and notes to myself. Basically we’re doing content editing in September, copyediting in October, and proofreading in November.

So the middle of October we work on proofreader marks (which certainly come in handy in copyediting), and they get a chance to learn about the Chicago Manual of Style and house style guides (I know–this is beyond exciting for you).

white board 2

And I show them this clip of “phonetic punctuation” by the amazing Victor Borge, a pianist who was also a comedian. We lost him in 2000, but his brilliance lives on.

You see, punctuation can be fun! And that’s just what I hope I can teach my students!

(Now if only Victor had done something on library research . . . )

Teaching Editing–A Little Grammar Goes a Long Way

I’ve still got my editing cap on this week. After my tiny proofreading tantrum a couple of weeks ago and completing those two jobs for the client–who now has books way more clean than they were before–I now turn to other editing endeavors.

Namely, revising my syllabus for my editing class over at Taylor U. This year the class will be twice a week instead of once a week, which has meant major revisions to the syllabus. And since this is the fourth time teaching this class, I’m getting a good feel for what works and what doesn’t.

Over the course of the semester, I want my students to try the three main forms of editing: content editing, copyediting, and proofreading–spending roughly a month on each. (Most of them come to class not understanding the differences between these roles, the different points in the book-making process when they happen, and the different skills required to do each job well. I describe the different roles in this blog post.)

I also try to give them “real world” experience. When we edit, I obtain a real manuscript from someone who willingly allows students to give feedback. When we proofread, I show them real pages that I’ve had to work on (“This really did almost go to print, guys, until I helped save it!”).

proofreading

The one difficult part is helping them realize the tools they need to sharpen in their editing toolbox–namely, grammar. When I have mentioned that part of the syllabus in previous classes, there is an ever-so-slight collective groan. Then I assure them of two things: (1) we aren’t diagramming sentences, we’re just reviewing what they probably already know instinctively or helping them be sure of things they don’t know, and (2) I will give them candy. (It’s amazing what joy mini-candy bars bring when I toss them out for getting the correct answer. And the big bags are always available in October before Halloween when I usually hit this part of the syllabus. It’s a little Pavlovian, I admit. . . .)

The students are already pretty sharp, but I still need to at least show them the rules behind some general punctuation issues. I key in on:

  • quotations marks (single vs. double–and punctuation in and around)
  • parentheses and brackets (and punctuation in and around)
  • commas, colons, semi-colons
  • hyphens, en-dashes, em-dashes
  • capitalizations

Then, I give them copyediting practice on:

  • discerning active vs. passive voice
  • omitting needless words
  • making items parallel
  • using correct tenses
  • using correct modifiers
  • smoothing awkward sentences

I’m digging through some resources in order to create some good worksheet practice for each of these categories. While I train them to work on screen, I also teach them proofreading symbols and have them do some copyediting on hard copy as well.

So you copy editors and proofreaders out there–what are the most common errors you see? Pet peeves? What do I need to make sure my budding editors have in their toolboxes before they head out into the publishing world?