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?
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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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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?
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?
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
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!)
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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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 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, 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.
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.
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.
I’ve just finished a proofread of a collection of short stories and am looking back at the range of tools and sources I used to complete this job. It’s amazing at the amount of reference material needed to accurately check a text and here is just a summary of the tools I use, some regularly, some less so.
New Hart’s Rules
This is a style guide that gives lots of different “rules” for text. Whilst this book may be seen as aimed at non-fiction writing, there’s lots in here for the fiction writer and editor too. When to italicise, how to write times correctly and, crucially, for a recent project I worked on, the differences between American and UK English.
This guide is also packed full of information on punctuation and spelling, hyphenation and all those other niggly little things you need to find out about when editing and proofreading.
New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors
Is it “guideline” or “guide-line”? When is it “lead-in” not “lead in”? You’re “law-abiding” with a hyphen but “lawbreaking” is without. When does “illuminati” need a capital letter? When it is referring to the sixteenth-century Spanish heretics or the Bavarian secret society but not when referring to people who claim to have special knowledge.
All of these special spelling rules are, ahem, spelt out here.
New Oxford Spelling Dictionary
Sometimes, a word just doesn’t fit on a line and you have to break it over two. But, where do you do it? Do you split your jellies anywhere you like? Maybe you’ll do jell-ies, or je-llies, or jelli-es depending on where there’s space, right? Maybe you will. But this handy dictionary doesn’t just tell you how to spell words but where the best place is to break them up.
Jellies, sticking with our example, is best split as jel-lies. Useful.
Like New Hart’s Rules this gives us lots of “rules” for texts. I have more sticky tabs and notes in the margins than I care to admit and frequently turn to this in conjunction with New Hart’s Rules.
There is an excellent review of Butcher’s on the CIEP website here.
Chamber’s Guide to Grammar and Usage
It’s amazing what you can find in charity shops and this, and the next book in my list, were both found in them. This is a really clear guide on how to use words and punctuation correctly and also has a useful guide of easily confused words (affect/effect, etc.) that frequently get misused in writing.
The New Penguin Dictionary of Abbreviations
Some abbreviations are capitalised. Some are lower case. Some with points always, some without them. Abbreviations are used, frequently, by those who know what they mean but for the reader, is it clear? Do those abbreviations need expanding and explaining? This, another charity shop find, has been invaluable when expert authors get a little TLA-heavy!
(TLA = Three Letter Acronym)
These are the books that practically live on my desk they get used so often. But, as an editor and proofreader, I will use a variety of other tools. These include:
Oxford Reference website
This is a great website for searching through all of the Oxford Reference’s library. In the past, I’ve had to use a range of books, from A Dictionary of Buddhism to the Oxford Dictionary of Dance. And, of course, a number of the different English language dictionaries published by Oxford.
All this is included in my local library subscription, so it is well worth checking to see if your library also subscribes. There’s lots to be discovered on Oxford Reference and I’m waiting for the day to use the A-Z of Plastic Surgery!
Barons Court tube station and Baron’s Court Road. Looks wrong, doesn’t it? Spelling and punctuation should be consistent but not in this case. And it’s not just London that randomly uses punctuation, lots of places around the world need to be spelt carefully and accurately and a good, old-fashioned map, tube map or atlas is invaluable when checking.
Chicago Manual of Style
Like New Hart’s Rules and Butcher’s Copy-editing, the Chicago Manual of Style website contains rules and conventions, more specifically aimed at US readers but useful nonetheless.
Specialist manuals and texts
Recently, whilst proofreading a text all about flying, I needed to turn to specialist books in that field. Fortunately, I am also a pilot so know where to get the information but if it had been about sailing or trains, I would be down a research black hole very quickly! There’s so many ways to be sure that what you’re writing is correct and accurate, that it is all to easy to get lost in research and forget what you’re meant to be finding out.
I hope that gives you some idea about what editors and proofreaders are doing when they are reading your words.
And, of course, when all of this doesn’t give us an answer, we’ll ask each other! Someone’s bound to know the answer.
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June is known as Pride Month. But this year is different. With all the strict measures in place about gatherings, the famous Pride Parades are off. So, instead, I am giving a virtual parade of LGBTQ+ books!
Books with LGBTQ+ themes are so important. It’s through stories that we learn about people who are different to us. It’s through stories that we connect to other people, find their struggles and their desires.
Here’s a mix of some well-known books and independently published books for you to try this Pride month!
Disclaimer: These are not books I have worked on. I take no credit for any editorial input on any of these titles. Some information has been provided by the authors.
Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman
No LGBTQ+ book blog would be complete without this amazing title. Set in rural Italy, an American student comes to stay with Elio’s family. Soon, Oliver and Elio find passions stirring in this sensitive and sensual novel.
The must read novel. Although the film isn’t bad either! The sequal, Find Me, is next on my reading list, but, boy, does it have a lot to live up to!
Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
A very American coming of age book, cleverly told through the use of emails. When one high school student ‘Blue’ comes out online, Simon feels the need to come out too. But, things don’t go smoothly in this tale.
Again, also now a film and one that is certainly worth a watch. And the sequel, Leah On The Off Beat is pretty good too, although not as god as Simon.
A quintessentially British tale of a, not quite forbidden but certainly not embraced, romance. Set in the 1980s, with characters that are at home in public schools and gentleman’s clubs, it is very different to the coming of age tale of Albertalli’s!
This novel follows Lara as she moves to a new city and comes to terms with her desire for another woman: a seductive bartender with a supernatural secret. The seven managers at the Cardinal are sexy, sinful, and some might even say Deadly.
Dakota tries to end his life—only to be saved by his friend Terrell, who then drags him into a world of magic, where powerful people are pulling the planet into war. Dakota soon finds himself in over his head with love, with family, with fighting for their lives.
Dati Amon wants to be free from his satyr master and he hates his job-hunting human children who display demon balefire. Every hunt has been successful, except one. A thwarted attempt ended up as a promise to spare the child of a white witch, an indiscretion Dati hopes Master never discovers.
Yuzuko and her girlfriend have been chosen to take part in a brutal reality TV show where ten pairs fight a thousand robots and each other for a chance to become a billionaire. Amongst the mix of contestants are her online friends who she considers family. As she plays the game, secrets of her ‘perfect’ family are unleashed.
James Martin is a teacher, a powerful Psychic, and an alcoholic. He used to work for the Center for Magical Research and Development, a facility that houses people who can’t control their supernatural abilities, but left after one of his students was killed, turning to vodka to soothe his emotional pain. The problem is he still has one year left on his contract.
Oranges traverses in linked short stories the life of Michael, a gay man from the Midwest who must find his own confusing path to adulthood after personal loss. Coming to terms with his sexuality against the backdrop of AIDS, Oranges is about the never-ending search for connection, validation, intimacy and, above all, love.
Taldra guides her world and loves her twin gay sons, Telius and Argen. Both twins help their mother battle alien shapeshifters. Admiral Nil, another of Valchondria’s protectors, holds deep grudges and dark secrets that might pose an even greater threat.
Love hurts and James Harper has the scars to prove it. Six years after the end of a deadly, toxic relationship, James is content in life. Enter Aiden Cross. Now James must decide if he is willing to settle for content or risk further pain for a chance at happiness.
How many gay men end up marrying women? We don’t know for sure, but we do know they contribute to a sizeable proportion of the gay population. For gay men who have married a woman, the idea that they are alone in this respect is far from the truth.
Where are the gay legends and stories of the past? Where do we look to find them? Why have societies differed so in their acceptance or not of homosexuality through the ages? Why against all odds do homosexuals exist? This Forbidden Fruit uncovers the myths and answers these and many other questions about male homosexuality.
Michael Langan’s novel uses works by the painter Paul Cézanne to weave together multiple stories from around the world about fathers and sons, lovers and boyfriends, closeted pop icons and filmstars, and the lasting effects of trauma. This highly affecting debut asks, Can art ever save us? Can love?
“Summer Dreams” is an authentic story of the transgender community and illustrates the wide range of trans people’s experiences, the problems, prejudices and fears that they face (and some of their own prejudices) — and the fact that being trans is just one facet of their lives. It was inspired by a true incident when the author was about nineteen.
The story of growing up as a RAF Brat; concealing a secret for years finally accepting what I was and doing something about it – and life after transition. Being the first openly trans employee in the Probation Service and working for LGBT rights for staff and offenders.
An online diary I kept between 1997 and 1999, My thoughts over that period when I started by identifying as transvestite but began to wonder if I was actually transsexual and if I would eventually need to transition permanently. Plus some short stories and anecdotes.
Based on my training workshops and my personal experiences supporting other trans individuals. It is intended to be easy to read keeping jargon to a minimum and explaining terms in simple language. The information is laid out in logical sections — with a comprehensive contents section to find relevant details easily.
Noema Voclain’s life was turned upside down when she list her father and her mother remarried. She had to make a decision – a decisioon that took her on the most dangerous adventure of a lifetime, and also into the arms of Agent William Lam
As we approach the end of yet another month in lockdown, albeit partial now, I am beginning to wonder when to end this lockdown blog. Afterall, this was meant to be about editing, proofreading and writing!
When we entered lockdown, we did so suddenly, immediately. We went to bed one night, knowing that the next day everything would be different. As days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, we got used to it.
We got used queuing to get into the supermarkets. We got used to watching bad connections on TV programmes. We got used to not seeing our friends and families in the ways we used to. We got used to daily updates from Downing Street.
We complied, mostly, with the new regime. We followed the rules and kept our distance. We felt guilty about going outside, having to justify our every move.
Now, we find ourselves in a state in between lockdown and open. Slowly, sector by sector, the world is opening up. We already have garden centres opening. Tomorrow, car showrooms and open-air markets will begin trading again. Some schools will open for more children and then, in a few weeks, some more “non-essential” shops will open for business.
We will get used to an everchanging normality. Sometimes open, sometimes locked down.
There will be inquiries, inquests, scrutiny and constant monitoring. There will be memorials, many memorials as many people have succumbed to the horrid effects of Covid-19. There will be lessons to be learnt. And not just for politicians and healthcare leaders. For all of us. Let’s hope that this has taught us how to be a singular human race. As a viral pandemic tore through boarders, we have learnt there’s more that brings us together than separates us, even if we are physically separated.
Unlike the moment we arrived in lockdown, there will be no grand reopening. No one, significant moment of unlock.
Therefore, I have taken the decision to stop these daily updates. Instead, I will be using this space to talk about what I had intended to: writing, editing and proofreading. It has been a record of time within a strict lockdown, a period that I hope I never have to experience again.
Daily writing has been a useful exercise. It’s given me a discipline in these uncertain times, when routine was essential but difficult to find. I would recommend setting time aside daily to write, whether you are a writer or not: it’s incredibly soothing and a great way to keep your mind healthy. I can see why it is used in mental health treatments.
I look forward to returning to a complete normal but know that may be some way off. For now, I will say goodbye to a daily lockdown blog. Thank you for reading and for being part of this record of history.
I’ve been very busy recently, lots of editing and proofreading going on. It proves that people, regardless of what is going on in the world around them still turn to stories.
So, and prompted by a discussion on the CIEP forums, I have dusted off a piece of flash fiction I wrote a while ago. And, being the sort of person I am, here is a story about my favourite piece of punctuation.
A story in exactly 100 words – and a few interrobangs!
“What’s this‽” the teacher cried. “This mark upon your page‽”
“Please, sir, you don’t know‽” I replied. “I believed you would‽”
“What is this eccentric mark‽”
“I thought you taught English language‽” I shouldn’t have applied such a mocking example of the rhetorical, but how could I not‽”
“Don’t be impertinent, you know who I am‽” His face reddening.
“But sir, you must know It’s the rare interrobang, Punctuation merging the exclamation and question marks. For use to end rhetorical questions. Didn’t you know‽”
“Congratulations boy, I knew all along. Were you not able to distinguish my own rhetorical questioning‽”
This evening marks the last of the nationwide ‘claps for carers’. A moment when, at eight o’clock, people were encouraged to applaud the country’s healthcare workers for all their efforts during the pandemic.
But, I wonder, who was this really aimed at? Why are prepared, for example, to criticise the NHS, almost on an annual basis, when waiting lists lengthen and queues in accident and emergency departments start rising but then to immediately forget that criticism in a heartbeat?
What would be a better way of thanking those who turned up, when the rest of us were confined to our homes?
Better pay and conditions for all public sector workers
Proper training courses that are completely funded by the state
All the necessary equipment, ready to be used by those who need it
Lessons learnt and people held to account for poor decisions
We will, inevitably, have some memorials and way of national remembrance: we are good at that in this country. But, if we really want to honour those who, and I hate the terminology of war, fought on the front lines, we need to do something that means, if we ever find ourselves in this situation again, those lives lost were not in vein.