How old are you?

Rude! You should never ask that question!

But, are you the oldest in the room? Or the eldest? What’s the difference?

This is one of those easily confusable words that frequently gets misused in speech and in writing.

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Continue reading “How old are you?”

Telling tall tales

This is something that gets me each time I come across it. I don’t know why, but I must look it up each time I come across this in a manuscript.

They’re six foot. No, they’re six-feet. Or are they six foot tall? Six-foot-tall?

Continue reading “Telling tall tales”

Well, aren’t you dashing!

Well, I’m sure you’ve put your best frock on for this blog post but I’m not here to compliment you!

Instead, we’re going to look at all the different dashes and lines on your page, what the differences are and when you might use them.

Continue reading “Well, aren’t you dashing!”

A fine line: between style and correctness

My job is frequently portrayed as being about pedantry. The correct use of the comma, the correct use of subject, verb agreement, the correct spellings.

It’s true, there are some rules: sentences and proper nouns always begin with a capital letter; some words are always spelt the same way each time.

But that’s not always the case.

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There are times, when the rules need to be broken. A sentence without a subject would attract a pedant’s eye at fifty paces but if the narrative calls for it, if the author’s voice demands it, then there is no reason to correct it.

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And that skill, of finely balancing “correctness” with “style” is important for a fiction editor. Yes, your old grammar master might have demanded that certain words come in a certain order but why? Is the meaning clear? If so, why bother changing it?

I was inspired to write this post after completing a free sample edit for an author. As in the example above, rules and conventions were broken but it didn’t matter. It was that author’s voice.

It reminded me of another, hugely successful book: Normal People by Sally Rooney. I read this a few years ago but it has remained in my memory for one very simple reason: there isn’t a speech mark in sight!

The book is stuffed full of dialogue so it should be littered with quotation marks, right? Not one. And I love it. It shows that rules and conventions can easily be broken, the meaning remain clear and people can still love the book.

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And that’s the job of an editor. To understand when the rules need to be applied and when the author’s voice is more important. A sympathetic editor will recognise when that voice is more important to the book than a set of rules.

And that’s the job of an editor. To understand when the rules need to be applied and when the author’s voice is more important. A sympathetic editor will recognise when that voice is more important to the book than a set of rules.

To find out how I can best support your writing, get in touch today!

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How it works: Proofreading

The word “proofreading” is often confused with editing. See here for a post that explains the differences between editing and proofreading.

Proofreading is the very last step in the journey towards publication and works differently to editing. This is a follow up to the How it works post detailing how the editing process works.

Because proofreading is the very final stage before publication, a proofreader will not be making changes to a manuscript. The text should have been edited, the pages laid out and everything will be ready for publication. Proofreading is the final opportunity to catch the typos.

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Therefore, when I’m proofreading, I’m typically working with PDF files. This means that I cannot change any of the text. Instead, I’ll mark up the text with a series of symbols that indicate what needs to be changed in the text.

There are, of course, different symbols for different changes and you can find a table of these symbols in the New Hart’s Rules and in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook which are both invaluable for writers and editors alike.

Here’s how I, as a proofreader, approach working with a manuscript. It should give you an idea about what’s going on when you send your work off to someone.

  1. We agree a budget for the project, if it’s appropriate we’ll agree a focus for your proofread and I’ll get as many details from you as I can, including your style sheet or house style information. This is important at this stage as it gives me something to reference and check your writing against.
  2. You pay a small deposit for the proofread to commence, then send me the file or files, usually PDFs but Word documents work too.
  3. I get to work on your proofread, marking up the manuscript for corrections. For this, I’ll be using lots of tools, doing some research and tidying up the look of your manuscript.
  4. It might be that I need to ask you questions while I’m proofreading. It’s much easier for both of us if you’re aware and keep your eye on your email inbox!
  5. I’ll return the marked-up manuscript to you. There may be a separate queries list or illustrations box.
  6. You pay the remaining balance.
  7. If you have any questions, or something doesn’t make sense, feel free to email me and ask! I’m always happy to answer questions.
  8. You make changes to your manuscript and then publish it!
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Proofreading is about little changes. Perhaps a comma has been dropped or an indent forgotten about. It’s not about changing massive sections of text: that should all be done at the developmental or copyediting stages.

If you’d like more information on proofreading or editing, I’m more than happy to answer questions. Get in touch and I’ll make sure you get a personalised response.

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How it works

I know it can seem incredibly daunting when you hand over your manuscript to your editor. You’ve spent hours working away at the prose, carefully selecting each word and building a narrative to engage and entertain your readers.

What is your editor going to do? Are they going to completely rewrite your work, undo all your stylistic decisions and make it their own work? Will you lose your voice?

The simple answer is: no!

Continue reading “How it works”

Book review: Leah on the Offbeat

A YA novel by Becky Albertalli

Not quite a sequel but the events of Leah on the Offbeat happen after Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli’s first in what has become known as the Simon-verse.

We meet again the same characters from Simon as they prepare for graduation and collage. Leah features all the same love interests and fallings out that we know we will find in a coming-of-age novel but there is something lacking in this story.

Click to buy your copy.

But where Simon featured conflict from the start with action driving the plot, here it is the character of Leah and her awkwardness that seems to trip up the narrative.

Leah, not yet out as a bisexual, struggles with her feelings towards Abby in the build up to graduation. Stilted, unfinished dialogue peppers the novel, leaving the characters frustrated and the readers as awkward as Leah.

It’s odd as we first knew Leah as Simon’s best friend: she was unflappable, even after all of Simon’s exploits. But now, she seems a totally different character. True, we are now seeing things from her point of view, but to feel so different, so unsure of herself and so awkward makes it difficult to really root for her.

While it is great that we are seeing more diversity in characters and sure, bisexuality is still relatively new in YA novels, I wonder if this won’t put people off the genre and exploring more. It’s a shame as there was great potential in the story.

Leah is determined that her graduation isn’t going to become a “teen movie cliché” which is exactly what Becky Albertalli has written.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

To buy a copy of Leah on the Offbeat, click here.

Sensitivity readers: do you need one?

What is a “sensitivity reader” and how do you know if you need one? Do they provide a function outside of editing? What makes a sensitivity reader different from a beta reader?

As writers, we often have casts of characters that are vastly different from ourselves. It is important to write about a diverse population otherwise our characters just become reflections of our own experiences, identity, culture, sexuality and many other factors that could limit our writing.

However, as recent events have shown and readers are demanding more diversity in stories, how do writers deal with writing from points of view that are so vastly different from their own experience?

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Firstly, the writer must do their research. Proper research, including talking to people from the community you are writing about, is the first thing to be done. This will give the writer a clear understanding of the points of view and understanding of that community or the backgrounds of characters. Research will also give you a history: why are certain cultures portrayed that way how do you avoid unnecessary clichés?

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Research happens while you are writing. But what happens once you’ve written your novel and you’re not sure if what you’ve written may cause offence?

This is where sensitivity readers may be helpful.

A sensitivity reader, an expert reader from that background you want to find out about, who is able to tell you about any offence you may have, inadvertently, caused.

But it is a fine line to tread.

Some stories demand a racist, homophobic, transphobic or similar, character. It might be historically accurate to portray the character as holding those views. What is crucial is that it is made clear it is the character who holds those views and not the author. Carefully crafted words will make this clear to your readers and, surely, that’s what your editor is for?

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The role of the sensitivity reader is more than a little controversial. Are they just there for political correctness and do they stifle creativity and truth? If your book is edited, surely that should be enough, right?

Well, yes, an editor should be noticing language that may cause offence or could land you, as a writer, in hot water. And, what you want to say as a writer is important. If you want to portray characters as holding certain views, go ahead, say it. After all, we learn about ourselves through the characters that you write.

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You’ve decided that you want to find a sensitivity reader. You are a white, middle-class, cis-gendered, heterosexual male writer but your character is a black, working-class, trans female and you have no experience in this.

Does your sensitivity reader need to fit all of these?

Ideally, yes. But, like so much in writing and editing, it all depends. It would be very difficult, or take a huge amount of time, to find someone who fits the bill exactly.

So, consider, what is it in your writing that you think might cause offence? Taking the example above, have you got gaps in your research about the racism faced by the character but you are fairly confident you have portrayed a trans female character well because of you have interviews someone with that experience. Then you probably want to find an appropriate sensitivity reader.

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How do you do that? If you belong to a writing group, or a virtual community of writers, reaching out will be a start. Otherwise, talk to your editor: they have a lot of connections and are bound to know someone.

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It might be that you know other writers or beta readers who could also support you specifically around sensitivity and diversity issues. Rather than asking your beta readers for general feedback around the plot and construction of your novel, approach specific readers and ask them to keep your concerns in mind as they read. Sensitivity reading doesn’t require special skills, just an understanding of the issues you are raising.

Finally, remember, whether you choose to use a sensitivity reader or not, your stories should be containing a diverse cast of characters. Have the confidence to write well researched stories from perspectives other than your own, have the confidence in your editor and write characters that teach readers.

I would welcome all comments on the use of sensitivity readers. Have you used one? Are you one? Did you choose to not use one? I’d love to hear your experiences.

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Keeping it consistent

Many people believe that English is full of rules that must not be broken. They are slaves to finding the “correct” version.

Whilst many words do have “correct” versions, there are many examples of words that need choices to be made and then applied consistently. Take, for example, the word “banister”, a pretty ordinary noun and one that you wouldn’t think twice about. Right?

Wrong!

There’s nothing wrong with “banister” but, crucially, there’s nothing wrong with “bannister” either. So, which do you use? Either is absolutely fine but there is a caveat.

Your character climbs the stairs in chapter one holding on the banister. In chapter twenty-two, they cannot then climb the stairs gripping on to the bannister!

Spellings are just one example of consistency that needs to be applied to your text. There are also the other technical points, like capitalisation, word endings (like the capitalisation or capitalization!) and hyphenation that all need to be kept consistent. And, because these things are all correct they won’t be picked up by your usual spelling checker.

Likewise, punctuation should be kept consistent. There’s the constant row of the serial comma. Should it be used or not? I, as you notice from my writing here, tend not to use serial, sometimes called Oxford, commas but, if you do use them, it’s important that they are used consistently.

Other punctuation that needs to be applied consistently include quotation marks (double, single, curly or straight), colons, commas or semicolons in lists, dashes (en or em rules) and closed-up or spaced ellipses. Again, it’s unlikely that your basic computer spellcheck function will highlight these inconsistencies.

Whilst these are all minor when compared to some of the other inconsistencies that I have seen when proofreading and copyediting text. Incidentally, that sentence contains two choices that I maintain consistency on: whilst not while and copyediting not copy-editing.

A reader may not even notice a spelling change so far apart, they might not understand the intricacies of serial commas or em dashes but they will notice a plot inconsistency.

I have lost count of the number of manuscripts I have read when a character’s name has changed halfway through the story. Or perhaps, the characters hair colour changes between chapter two and chapter sixteen and hair dye wasn’t involved! The worst has to be the accidental change of gender!

Along with characters, settings need careful consideration when thinking about consistency. If you’ve already said that the room only has one door, it can’t, when you need a get out, have another door magically appear just to let your characters escape. (Okay, fantasy writers, I hear you – magic and your own world’s rules also need to be applied consistently.)

How do you do it? How do you keep your writing consistent?

Well, my advice would be to download my free style sheet, available on the resources for writers page!

But why?

It’s the easiest way to keep track of all of your stylistic decisions and ensure that you apply them throughout your manuscript. Or, if you’re writing a series of books, all of your manuscripts.

Keep track of:

  • Spelling preferences, including space for a complete A–Z spelling list
  • Abbreviations
  • Italic and roman text
  • One word, hyphenated and two-word variants
  • Words that should be capitalised and words that should be in lowercase
  • Quotation marks, ellipses and other punctuation
  • Chapters, paragraphs and other formatting rules
  • Times, dates and numbers
  • Possessives (Is it Nicholas’ or Nicholas’s?)
  • Story details, including the crucial point of view (more on that in a forthcoming blog post!)
  • Characters details
  • Settings
  • Key events in the plot

It’s important to remember that this is a working document and, if things change in your story, the style sheet needs updating to reflect this.

When I’m copyediting your piece, I’ll work with your style sheet, if you have one, or build one for you as I go. It’s really helpful if you have one already or have an idea about the rules that you are applying to the document.

Go ahead, download it now and keep your writing consistent. And, if you want any further advice or want to see an example of how I use a style sheet, please get in touch. I’m always happy to answer editing questions!

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What’s the difference?

Editing is not just about finding and correcting typos. Your editor may be able to do all sorts of things for your manuscript and for your writing: from correcting spelling and punctuation errors to plot and character development.

Some people like to refer to these as different “levels” of editing. I prefer to see them as different stages of the editing process. Your book may have all three, two or just one stage of editing. But it is important that you give it at least one round of editing to a professional editor. Another pair of eyes, especially one that has been trained to do it, is crucial for getting your words in order for your reader.

There are as many different definitions for these services as there are people who provide the services. That’s why it is important to get to know your editor and to have an idea about what you want to achieve from the editing process.

This post gives an idea about the different services that I offer but for more information you can get in touch to discuss your requirements.

Developmental editing

This is great if you have time and you want detailed input into the story. That’s not to say that your editor will rewrite your story but they can make really detailed suggestions about plot and character that you can then use in redrafting your story. Development could be focussed, such as the use of dialogue or emotion, or could be more general, such as looking at the settings, descriptions and pace.

The very nature of this type of edit means that it takes time. The editor is reading carefully and considering what is best for your story, where there are weaker points and how to overcome them.

I understand the concerns you as a writer are feeling at this point. You’ve spent hours carefully honing your manuscript and it can feel like you are not part of the process as this point. Think of it as a collaboration: we both want the best story to be told and developmental editing is the way to do it.

Copyediting

Copyediting, sometimes called line-editing, like developmental editing, works with the text of your manuscript. Now, the editor is looking for spelling, punctuation and grammar errors as well as any inconsistencies and inaccuracies.

Inconsistencies – which will be another blog post soon talking about the wonders of a style sheet – can be things like spelling inconsistencies (because some words get spelt differently but both are correct), character or plot inconsistencies (hang on a minute – didn’t he have red hair in chapter six?) or inconsistencies with formatting (we’ll drink at five o’clock then get on the 18:00 train).

The copyediting process is also really good for picking up on unclear sentences and points in your story that are difficult for the reader to follow. It could be that the point of view has switched without you noticing, this is sometimes called “head-hopping” and can be confusing for the reader. Or maybe the flow or tone changes, again causing confusion for the reader.

With good copyediting, your reader never knows. Without copyediting, the reader spots the errors immediately.

Proofreading

This is the very last stage and is the last possible chance to pick up on errors and typos. Typically, the proofread will take place on the final, formatting and designed pages of your book or e-book.

Because of this, the proofreader is not making significant changes to the text but is looking out for any last errors that have crept in during the design phase. There could be some spelling, punctuation or grammar errors to mark-up* but, hopefully, all of the text makes sense, is clear and consistent and is nearly ready for publication.

Other things that a proofread will check are things that are frequently overlooked: the running heads, the page numbers, the content page, captions in illustrations. These are usually inserted at the design phase after the manuscript has been copyediting, so it is really important that a fresh pair of eyes gets to see these elements of your book.

*You’ll see that I used “mark-up” here. Usually, proofreading is done with final pages not on raw text so rather than make changes, a proofreader will use a series of marks and symbols to show where changes need to be made.

Further reading

This fact sheet from the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (the CIEP) gives a really easy to follow guide on the differences between proofreading and copyediting.

Of course, you can always get in touch to discuss your requirements and to talk about your project. I am always happy to answer questions about editing! This is a very brief overview of the services that I can offer. If you are self-publishing or traditional publishing, your requirements may be very different, so please, find out more today and get in touch! I look forward to hearing from you.

Still not sure? Why not try for free!

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