Friday, October 30, 2009

Unraveling the Mysteries of the Editorial Process

I recently read "Your Copy Sucks: You Don't Even Know What 'Edit' Means" by T.J. Dietderich on PR Breakfast Club. It was great to see someone not only defend editing but try to explain the different jobs that can come under the editing banner. I fear, though, that the post didn't go far enough to correct misconceptions about the editing process.

Titles vs. Tasks

Part of the problem is that an editor’s title may bear no relation to her role. As fellow editor Levi Bookin points out:
Doctors and nurses both work in the field of health. There are some functions that either might perform, such as injections, but each must have a certificate relating to the individual vocation.

Editors, copy editors, and proofreaders all work in the field of preparing a manuscript for publication, but none has to provide a certificate relating to his occupation. Any may do all the work of any or all of the others.
The role does not have to match the title in publishing. What does Senior Editor mean, anyhow? It doesn’t even give a hint as to what kind of editing that person might do. It could just as easily be a video editor’s title as a text editor’s.

Another part of the problem could be the type of publisher we’re talking about. Publishing has never been limited to just books and periodicals. Advertising, research papers, company reports: they’re all published works, just not all public works. All need writers and all need some sort of editing process to prepare the document for readers. They just don’t necessarily have the same process, nor do they need to.

But these days, publishing isn’t even limited to print. If you have a blog and regularly post to it, you are a publisher (and a writer and an editor and…). The digital world offers us cheap, even free, tools to get our ideas out there for all to see. As a result, not every publisher understands traditional publishing processes and what all those roles involved.

And let’s not forget that digital publishing is challenging traditional publishers, who are responding by compressing processes and cutting corners.

A Rose Is a Rose

An editor’s title notwithstanding, what does an “editor” do?
Let's start at the top. Dietderich talks about an "editor-editor" who assigns story ideas, decides what goes into the publication, and makes big changes to a piece, like the plot structure or the overall argument. This is a developmental editor. She might called an executive editor, an editor in chief, a senior editor, an assigning editor, or even a plain old editor. The developmental editor might give a writer an assignment, particularly if the publication is a periodical. She's got an idea or an outline for an article and she assigns a writer to it. When the writer turns in his assignment, the developmental editor may want big changes, such as structure or argument, so the article better fits her original idea or the purpose for the assignment.

In book publishing, the publisher might assign a developmental editor to a project. Maybe this is the writer's second or third book in a series and he's having trouble deciding how the story should grow, what order the action should be in, or something similar. The developmental editor helps him work out those issues.

Perhaps the writer is someone with an incredible story to tell, but he's not really a writer and needs someone to help him out. He may get a deal with a publisher who assigns him an editor. Or he may hire someone to help him with the writing process to get his story ready to shop around to publishers.

Once the writing is finished--the writer has told his story, feels the structure and argument are good, and is basically ready to hand over his labor of love to a publisher--it's time to polish the piece. There will be an editor to look at the document on the whole and section by section, another editor to look at it at the sentence level, and still another to look at it letter by letter. Not all publishers or media take such care with copy, and not everyone is aware of all these levels.

If your copy is fortunate enough to be in a process that takes such care, your copy will go to a substantive, or line, editor next. Again, titles abound and usually have nothing to do with job function: senior editor, editor, associate editor, and so on. However they are labeled, substantive editors look at the organization of the whole piece, structure, transitions (between chapters, sections, paragraphs, etc.), redundancies, jargon, sexist language, awkward constructions, excessive use of passive voice, wordiness, logic, tone, and so on. Substantive editors do not choose what goes into a publication.

The copy editor takes on the document next. She's looking at sentence order and structure, sentence and paragraph length (particularly if the piece is to be published online), grammar, word usage, punctuation, spelling, style, and anything else she's been asked to watch out for.

If the editorial process doesn't include a separate fact-checking phase, the copy editor must fact-check as well. The list varies but generally includes names, addresses, phone numbers, URLs, dates, other numbers, and basic facts (e.g., President Obama is the 44th president of the US). Plenty of print publishers still hire copy editors, though this is an area hit hard by economic downturns and the digital revolution. When you need to cut back on something, you tend to skimp on the quality. And copy editors ensure quality.

Proofreaders are the end of the line, and they make sure the finished project is correct. Exactly how they do that depends on the type of proofreading they do. Traditional proofreading compares "dead copy" against "live copy," that is they compare the last approved version of the piece against the new version and ensure they match and all changes have been incorporated. Editorial proofreading skips the dead copy part. The proofreader must read--and correct--("cold-read") the latest version (hopefully the version that will actually publish but not always) of a document. She corrects spelling, grammar, punctuation, and style.

If the Shoe Fits

As in Dietderich’s post, these are simplified definitions. Really, we're talking about two different things here: tasks and titles. I've seen plenty of companies advertise for a "proofreader"--and offer a proofreader's salary--for a copy editor's job. I saw one ad the other day that wanted the right person to be both copy editor and proofreader and still get the job done perfectly. Yet any good editor knows the best rule is "the more eyes, the better."

It's easy to miss an error in a piece you've read two or three times already. Your brain knows what comes next and your eye will skim the sentence, allowing your brain to remember rather than see. Only, your brain remembered what it was supposed to see rather than what it actually saw. Memory is funny that way. And the longer the list of possible errors is, the more opportunities to miss something.

I've also seen plenty of jobs that want the copy editor to be a writer as well. Again, these are two different skills sets. Not that you can't do both, but you shouldn’t do both on the same piece. And of course, they're paying copy editor wages, not writer wages, which are higher. Employers can slap any title they please on a job. Hey, I was ClickZ's Copy Chief & Associate Editor, yet I had no copy editors under me and I still can't tell you what "associate editor" was supposed to mean for my employer because other associate editors in the company did not do the same job I did.

In the end, the key isn't the job title; it's the tasks to be performed. When clients hire me to edit for them, I don't get hung up on titles (though I do define them on my site). Instead, I talk to them about what kind of things they want fixed. Spelling and punctuation? Check. Grammar? Check. Usage and style? Check. How about paragraph structure, transitions, awkward constructions, etc.? The list goes on until we’ve defined the job.

Every publisher's and writer's needs are different. It makes sense to know what the different levels of editing are, what the editor can do to help the copy, and what the editor's skill set is. Then, no matter what the role is called, you know what to expect from your editor. True, the jargon can weigh you down (you’ll keep reading this blog to learn more, right?). Also true, the editorial process will likely keep getting compressed (if so, I want to be called Super Editor)and even change as digital publishing continues to develop. Knowing what your editor's role is, rather than her title, will help you know what to expect from her.

Just don't ask what a subeditor is.


A reader responded to this blog post elsewhere, adding these editing roles:
  • Acquisitions editor: This position is usually found within publishing houses. The editor will seek out books to publish and edit them into something usable.
  • Anonymous reviewer: Found in academic circles, this person reviews a manuscript from a technical perspective. She will suggest improvements to the author.
What other editing roles do you know of?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Weekly Vocab Builder

Missed one of last week's vocabulary words on Twitter? Here they are again:
  • Levelize: to even out; to make level. (Honestly, just use level.)
  • Sweet spot: colloquially, the coming together of just the right events or criteria.
  • Sea change: a massive change.
  • Metanoia: a change of one's core spiritualism.
  • Peep culture: a culture of posting one's life online and following others' lives online.
Try to use one in a sentence and leave it in the comments!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Style Watch: Is It E-Mail or Email?

More than once during my tenure at ClickZ, I was asked to review style preferences on digital terms, most recently e-mail, Web, Internet, and home page.

These terms are new enough that their spellings are in flux. Should e-mail have a hyphen? If you have more than one e-mail, do you have e-mails? Should we cap Web and Internet? What about related terms, like Webmaster and Web page? And is home page one word or two? (If you're paying attention, you can figure out most of my style decisions from this paragraph.)

The key here is that, for now at least, these terms have more than one acceptable spelling. One hopes (at least I do) that these terms will settle down into one spelling, making writers' and editors' lives easier. Maybe it'll even happen in my lifetime. But I'm not holding my breath; dictionaries still list both catalog and catalogue.

So how does one go about deciding on a specific spelling? Do you follow the dictionary? And which dictionary is that anyway? Dictionaries don't always agree on things, even on a preferred spelling or if one spelling is truly preferred over another (more on dictionaries and how they work another time). What does your style guide or usage manual say? How about following what others in your industry do? Or following mainstream media, if that's more appropriate? Any of these resources might be the way to go (you do have these resources, right? If not, see my post on writers' resources.) ClickZ had a set style based on the Chicago Manual of Style and  The American Heritage Dictionary. But neither of these were industry-specific. There are many marketing organizations and they don't necessarily agree on style -- if they even notice it.

What's a style maven to do?

In the end, I decided to get the 50,000 feet view and make a decision based on that. I approached all the terms the same way, so let me outline just one: e-mail. Important to note: when I look at whether e-mail was used as a mass noun ("I receive so much e-mail!") or a countable noun ("I receive so many e-mails!"), I mostly ignored the hyphen question.


I started with the dictionaries. Our house dictionary (the one we defer to most often) was The American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edition, and I weighted its opinion more. Here's what I found:
American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed., 2000): e-mail, e-mail (pl)
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed., 2003): e-mail, e-mail (pl)
Cambridge Dictionary of American English (2007): e-mail, e-mail (pl.)
Oxford American Dictionary (2005): email, emails
Webopedia: e-mail, also email; e-mail (pl)
Marketing email or e-mail; email (pl)
Free Online Dictionary of Computing: e-mail

Says the FODC, "The form 'email' is also common, but is less suggestive of the correct pronunciation and derivation than 'e-mail'. The word is used as a noun for the concept ('Isn't e-mail great?', 'Are you on e-mail?'), a collection of (unread) messages ('I spent all night reading my e-mail'), and as a verb meaning 'to send (something in) an e-mail message' ('I'll e-mail you (my report)'). The use of 'an e-mail' as a count noun for an e-mail message, and plural 'e-mails', is now (2000) also well established despite the fact that 'mail' is definitely a mass noun.

Style Guides and Usage Manuals

Next, I checked various style guides and usage manuals. Again, I gave preference to our house style guide, The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition. But no one guide aligns perfectly with every publication, so I felt the need to check out some others:
Chicago Manual of Style (15th ed., 2003): e-mail, e-mails
From CMS's FAQ page: "A. 'E-mail' and 'mail' aren’t exactly parallel in usage. We don’t say 'I received six mail today.' We say 'letters' or 'pieces of mail.' Since 'e-mail messages' is a few syllables longer than we generally tolerate in computerspeak, the coinage of 'e-mails' seems to perform a useful function. As for language going downhill, we prefer to believe that it is constantly evolving to meet our needs. (Otherwise, we would have to be grumpy all the time.)"
Wired Magazine: email, emails
Garner's Modern American Usage (2nd ed., 2003): e-mail, e-mails
Associated Press Stylebook (2009): e-mail, e-mails
From AP's "Ask the Editor" section: "A. We're holding the line on those spellings. E-mail is the first choice of Webster's [AP's house dictionary] and preferred by many newspapers. E-mail is consistent with other hyphenated, electronic age terms such as e-book, e-commerce, e-shopping and e-business."

Industry Organizations

So far, e-mail was in the lead, preferred not just by our house style guide and dictionary, but also by other word authorities -- all of which have language professionals behind them. What about industry professionals? What do those who may not give a dash for proper language, those whose goal is to sell something to someone, think? Rarely did I come across an organization that preached one form over another (the Email Experience Council being the notable exception; it's quite vocal about its style and I took it under strong advisement). I surfed around these organizations' sites to see what they practiced. Unfortunately, these organizations weren't always consistent. (Hey, if any of you professional organizations out there would like someone to make your site and your copy consistent, you know where to find me.) Here's what I found:
E-mail vs. email
Mass vs. Countable
Email Experience Council
Direct Marketing Association
inconsistent, but email more popular
American Association of Advertising Agencies
inconsistent, but e-mail more popular
inconsistent, but e-mail used more as a mass noun
Association of National Advertisers
inconsistent, but email more popular
inconsistent, but e-mail used more as a mass noun
Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization
inconsistent, but e-mail more popular
inconsistent, but emails more popular
Word Of Mouth Marketing Association
inconsistent, but email more popular
inconsistent, but emails more popular
Interactive Advertising Bureau
inconsistent, but email more popular
inconsistent, but e-mail used more as a mass noun
While the professional organizations were inconsistent (and often had unedited copy), email won over e-mail and email as a countable noun took the lead. Still, they were inconsistent (except the EEC) and copy didn't appear to be edited. Whenever I saw e-mail, was that an intentional decision? Did anyone even notice?

Search Engine Results

Finally, I checked search engine results. I checked news results (mostly edited content), general results (mostly unedited content), and blog results (again, mostly unedited content). I admit, I gave more weight to edited content, as someone gave some thought to spelling and style. I also had to compare emails against e-mails, as I couldn't think of how to tell when email or e-mail was used in the plural other than to read everything, and that just didn't seem practical.

Google News
Google Blog Search
1.6 billion
5.6 million
22.5 million
2.7 billion
2.5 million
1.3 million
239.1 million
49.9 million
97.4 million
9.6 million
I found the results interesting. In unedited copy, email was the hands-down winner, though e-mails trumped emails in the plural department. In edited news copy, e-mail and emails were more common. Even editors are inconsistent, I guess.


In the end, I went with e-mail and e-mails. More authorities and edited copy preferred them (sorry, EEC). I suspect, however, that one of these days language mavens will have to capitulate to language speakers who don't give a darn about "proper spelling" and allow email and emails to reign.

As I said earlier, I used much the same method for the other terms. I went with Web and capitalizing it in all its varied forms; Internet; and home page for much the same reasons I went with e-mail and e-mails. My choices may not work for you. Heck, they may not work for ClickZ's new style maven. They are a matter of style (at least for now), and style can be subjective. But if you have to choose one form over another, this system may be the way to decide on your style. Or you could just follow your style manual. Or your dictionary. Or your.... You get the idea.

If you'd like more information on why I chose the spellings I did with the other terms or on my method in general, drop me a line or leave a comment below.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Weekly Vocab Builder

I slacked a little last week on my vocabulary words, but I hope their unusualness makes up for it. Here's what you might have missed:
  • titivate: to make something neater or more beautiful.
  • rakish: fashionable. Also, disreputable.
  • petrichor: the smell of rain on dry ground.
If you're hungry for more words, check out some of my favorite resources:
And, of course, if you follow me on Twitter, you'll get a Vocab Builder every weekday.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Weekly Vocab Builder

Improve your vocabulary, improve your writing. This week's list:

  • Halcyon: a mythical figure. Also, calm, peaceful. Also, well see the link. This word has a lot of meanings.
  • Choral: a worship song.
  • Sesquipedalian: a long word. Also, someone who likes to use long words. And more. Click the link.
  • Raffish: stylish; being fashionable. It makes me think of its synonym rakish, which additionally means being disreputable, wanton.
  • Syllabication: breaking down a word into syllables.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Writing Tip: Five Resources Every Writer Needs

A small section of my reference library.


Dictionaries go beyond telling you how to spell word correctly and what a word means. They also give you word history, syllabication (a fifty-cent word for how it breaks into syllables), labels (offensive, slang, obsolete), and more. Here are some popular dictionaries:
  • Merriam-Webster Unabridged: A good unabridged dictionary will list far more words than a collegiate dictionary will. MW's dictionaries tend to be more conservative, meaning its lexicographers want more evidence of a word's stability before they add it to their dictionaries. You can subscribe to MWU online for a modest fee.
  • American Heritage Dictionary: By far my favorite dictionary. AHD tends to add newer words at a quicker rate and it offers excellent usage notes. The notes tend to be descriptive, meaning they describe the issue and differing opinions but don't dictate a solution. You can look up entries in AHD for free on Yahoo, get the dictionary on CD (beware: I had to give up my CD version when I switched to the 64-bit version of Vista; though I give Houghton Mifflin credit: when I reported to them I could no longer use the CD, they sent me an updated version for free. It will work for the 32-bit version of Vista, just not my less-popular 64-bit), or buy the paper version.
  • Webster's New World College Dictionary: The Associated Press's official dictionary. If you strictly follow AP style, this is the dictionary for you.
  • Word Spy and World Wide Words: These sites are good for very new terms. The men behind the scenes are serious about words and go to great lengths to define them.

Also check out industry-specific dictionaries and glossaries. Online, look for ones that have been edited by professionals. Webopedia is good for Internet-related terms. There's an editorial staff behind it that ensures definitions are accurate. (Disclosure: I used to work for Webopedia's parent corporation, though I never worked with the Webopedia folks.)


Sometimes you just need a synonym -- or an antonym. A good thesaurus can help you out. Here are three I use:
  • A free resource.
  • Visual Thesaurus: A neat concept, where you can see the relationship between words as distance. You can subscribe online or purchase the CD. (Again, my CD wouldn't work with my 64-bit Vista.)
  • Roget's International Thesaurus: The granddaddy of thesauri (or thesauruses, if you prefer Anglicized plurals). This is the one your English teacher probably taught you to use. She was right: the current version has more than 330,000 words and phrases.
  • The Gregg Reference Manual: The is a great reference for business style and offers a healthy section on grammar.

Style Guide

A style is meant to provide some consistency among a publisher's content. It should be invisible rather than distracting. Which style guide you follow depends on what you're writing about and who you are writing for.

Usage/Grammar Guide

You'll need at least one good guide on usage and/or grammar for when you run into sticky situations. Some are written in easy-to-understand English, others take a more comprehensive approach. Choose one that fits your style:

Writing Advice

What are your favorite resources? What else do you, as a writer, need? Let me know in the comments below!

(And, yes, I earn a few pennies if you use click on an Amazon link and buy a book. Support your local editor and click!)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Weekly Vocab Builder

Missed some of last week's vocabulary via Twitter? Here's the roundup. Use one or more in a sentence in the comments section!

Web scraping:

Be sure to check out more words on Wordie and follow me on Twitter to get the word of the day.

Friday, October 2, 2009

It's a Shame to Waste a Good Recession

Today is my last day with ClickZ, a site I've worked for for nine years. I joined just before the dot-bomb and have weathered the ups and downs. I still like what ClickZ has to offer; its writers are the best and the information is top shelf. Really, if you want to be a better digital marketer, you need to read this site daily. Trouble is, I want to do more. I want to share what I've learned about marketing and writing with others. So I'm taking the plunge: quitting my day job and putting my efforts into my fledgling editing business.

But is this really the time to be quitting my job and putting more time into a small venture?

In a word, yes.

"This is the best time to start," says zenhabits. "This is a time when job security is low, so risks are actually lower. This is a time to be lean, which is the best idea for starting a business. This is the time when others are quitting -- so you’ll have more room to succeed."

I read today's title in an article that encouraged entrepreneurial ventures, and thought: "Yes!" (I actually thought, "Can I really do this? Is this my 'walk on the moon?" I had been toying with the idea and had been listing to a lot of Great Big Sea, but I digress.)

This certainly is a "good" recession. Budgets are still being cut, and those without jobs are having a hard time finding new ones. And I do hate waste. So I'm jumping in with both feet. I'll be working my editorial freelance business, Right Touch Editing, full time. I'll be offer all levels of editing, plus editorial training for your staff, on site or online, to lessen your need for editorial help in the long term.

Here, I'll offer you writing and editing advice to help you improve your copy and get the results from it you desire. You've already seen some of it: vocabulary builders, quick tips, quizzes, and resources. I can even help you find vendors in other publishing areas, such as designers and publishers.

So stick around. Add this blog to your RSS feed or follow me on Twitter so you don't miss a single post. Now's the best time to improve your own skills, and I can help you do that. It'd be a shame to waste a good recession.