the editor's mark

~in the passionate pursuit of literary excellence~

Archive for the month “March, 2013”

Some Basic Writing Tips

The following comes from the site Daily Writing Tips. I highly recommend subscribing to the site’s newsletter. Lots of good advice there!

10 Classes of Careless Usage

If you find yourself making any of the following types of errors, general or specific, brush up on your writing with grammar guides and usage handbooks and/or any or all of the other strategies mentioned at the end of this post.

1. Appending an s to words in which, in most usage, the letter should not be included (for example, regards, as in “in regards to”) or that, in American English, have dropped it altogether (backward). (Using the -st ending in such words as amidst and amongst is a similar sign of poor usage.)

2. Using the incorrect form of pronouns — writing, for example, “My friend and myself” instead of “My friend and I” or “That happened to she and I at the same time” rather than “That happened to her and me at the same time.” (If you don’t like the way that sentence looks, either, write, “That happened to both of us at the same time.”)

3. Using unnecessarily complicated words or phrases in favor of simpler, well-established terms: utilize instead of use, “prior to” in place of before, subsequently instead of later.

4. Using nonwords: irregardless, supposably, theirselves.

5. Using plural forms of words instead of singular ones: “a criteria,” “a phenomena.”

6. Using less when fewer is appropriate: “There are less boxes than I thought” instead of “There are fewer boxes than I thought.”

7. Using euphemisms: “He passed away last year” instead of “He died last year.”

8. Using badly in place of bad in such sentences as “He feels badly about the decision.”

9. Adding extraneous prepositions: “That’s too small of a shirt for you.”

10. Employing erroneous wording of idiomatic phrases: “for all intensive purposes” instead of “for all intents and purposes.”

So, how do you know if you’re making such mistakes? Printing this representative list out and tacking it up next to your computer is all well and good for reminding you about these ten pitfalls, but what about the hundreds of others that plague writers?

A combination of strategies is called for:

Do Your Homework
Borrow or buy some of the books listed in the post I linked to in the first paragraph, or check out the resources reviewed on this site. You needn’t read these guides cover to cover; just browse each one to determine whether its content or presentation style is appropriate for you, then, a few pages at a time, work your way through the ones that work for you.

Read Role Models
Seek out high-quality prose: leading magazines and newspapers and great literature. You don’t have to give up reading your favorite blogs or pulp fiction (some of which is/are very well written), but divide your leisure reading between the exemplary and the acceptable so that you can distinguish between the two and recognize well-constructed prose.

Go Back to School
Take a writing or editing class, whether offered as part of a university’s regular curriculum or as a continuing-education course. Whether you earned an MA in literature is irrelevant. You probably didn’t focus on the mechanics of writing during your college years, but now it’s time to do so.

Ask for Backup
Get a friend or a colleague whose writing or editing skills you respect to look over shorter pieces for you and flag grammar and usage errors. (Emphasize that you’d like them to merely call out the problems; you’ll solve them.) This strategy doesn’t work if you’ve completed a novel or a thick report, unless you can pay or trade for services, but when applied to short stories or modest work projects, it will help you develop your skills.



My Path to Copyediting

People often ask me how I got started in copyediting, so here’s my story.
     After mini-careers in marketing and elementary education, I became a stay-at-home mom. On a trip to the library one day, I came across the book Crazy Heart by Thomas Cobb (the one that became a movie with Jeff Bridges in 2009) in their used books section. I bought the book and took it home, and as I began to read it I found a piece of ivory stationery tucked between its pages. It was a letter dated April 21, 1987, to a Dave Smith from Ted Solotaroff, who, according to the letterhead, was a senior editor at Harper & Row. Apparently Mr. Smith was either a book reviewer or an author, as the letter read:

Dear Dave: 

     I’m taking the liberty of sending you an advance copy of Thomas Cobb’s CRAZY HEART, which we’re publishing in September. I hope you’ll have a chance to read a few pages and make the acquaintance of Bad Blake. If you do, I think you may well stay around for the rest of his set. 


Ted Solotaroff

     And handwritten below were the words, “You haven’t answered my letter. Some author!” For some reason, I was both curious and excited, because it seemed that in a tiny way I had entered the secret society of the publishing world.
     A few years after that, I was a member of an email discussion list and made a connection with a guy who worked for Book-of-the-Month Club. When I learned of his work there, I emailed him and asked about becoming a book reviewer for BOMC. He was happy to give me some freelance assignments, and I enjoyed the work, but of course it didn’t pay well at all. I wrote to the folks at the now defunct BOOK magazine and wrote a number of reviews for them as well and was able to represent the magazine at the Book Festival of Los Angeles in 1998 or 1999.
     Still a stay-at-home mom, and as my kids entered school, I started thinking about what I could do to keep busier and make a little money. Through research on the Internet I came across a discussion list for copyeditors called CE-L and joined up. I noticed that one of the members was the managing editor for Indiana University Press, so I wrote to her and asked if I could work on a manuscript for her, and she agreed — even though I didn’t have previous experience or formal training in copyediting. The first book I ever copyedited was Eero Tarasti’s Existential Semiotics. I had no idea what I was reading about, but I knew when to check spelling and how to correctly punctuate the text and somehow made it through. My success with that job gave me the confidence to apply to other university presses, and I soon became quite busy with one manuscript on top of another.
     I began to contact a number of other publishers, including Avalon Publishing Group. And that’s where I became even more excited about the projects I was working on. I made valuable contacts and worked with a variety of imprints, including Carroll and Graf, Thunder’s Mouth, Marlowe, and Nation Books. But eventually Avalon was purchased by Perseus Books Group,  and everything changed, as many of my contacts were replaced.
     Fortunately, some of the people who were let go have gone on to bigger and better jobs, and I still maintain contact and work with them from time to time. I also work with Perseus as well as a growing number of other publishing clients. And over the years, I’ve increasingly been so busy that I’ve had to turn down work.  So now I have luxury of picking and choosing my clients and projects, and I enjoy being in demand.
     I truly love what I do and don’t expect to retire anytime soon!


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