What It Is (posts below left; rate sheet, client list, other stuff below right)

My name is Bob Land. I am a full-time freelance editor, indexer, and proofreader. This blog is my website.

You'll find my rate sheet and client list here, as well as musings on the life of a freelancer; editing, proofreading, and indexing concerns and issues; my ongoing battles with books and production; and the occasional personal revelation.

Feel free to contact me directly with additional questions: landondemand@gmail.com.

Thanks for visiting. Leave me a comment. Come back often.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Some Advice for Authors

Four things that do not make you a better author:

1. Roman numerals. I don't think your readers will consider that your book is more worthy or that you are more scholarly if your part and chapter numbers are rendered in letters.

2. Citations in a book that doesn't need them. Don't use your exhaustive library of photocopied articles from scores or hundreds of different sources amassed over the last thirty years to impress your readers. Most of them -- unless you're writing a scholarly/academic volume or in a topic area where such documentation is the norm -- want to understand your thoughts on the subject, not look at the spines on your bookshelf. The point of most books is to educate your audience, not please your peers. [Note: This section updated based on Paisan's insightful comments, in which he brings up a most salient point that I neglected to address in the initial posting.]

3. Heavily formatted manuscripts. In my experience, a direct inverse correlation exists -- 95 percent of the time -- between the quality of your writing and the number of different fonts, colors, images, extra spaces, and instances of centered text present within the file. Very few heavily formatted manuscripts are also well written. When it leaves my desk, not only will your book read differently, but all of the time you've spent formatting it will be for naught. I change everything that's not Times 12-point double-spaced to make it so -- unless you've tried to jam so much text in a table that I have to make it smaller to make sense of it and make it appear on my screen in a usable fashion. Yes, believe it or not, I can make more sense of a manuscript that looks like it came from Microsoft Word as opposed to a nine-year-old playing in Microsoft Paint.

4. Ellipses. When you're quoting from someone else, trust that your readers are smart enough to know that another person's entire thought process did not begin and end with the few words you've cited. Also, don't introduce quotes with ellipses, as if you're building anticipation for the reader. A simple comma works.

Two things that might not make you a better author, but they'll make every editorial or production professional  looking at your work praise you:

1. Leave the design to the designers. Treat your computer like a typewriter with memory, except don't hit the Enter key at the end of every line.

2. Understand that the people working on your book after you are trying to make you look better to your readers. Editors, proofreaders, indexers, designers . . . none of these folks' names appear on the cover of your book. We are not in this for the glory or the royalties or the book tours or being known as published authors. We are not trying to insult you by making changes. Trust me, we'd all love to see perfect manuscripts that don't need a mark on them or any intervention other than putting the book into print. I'd rather be paid the same rate for easier work. Who wouldn't? But if we change something or suggest a change, it's not to gratify ourselves; it's to make your work better. We've done this before, folks. Listen to your editors. This might be the eighth book you've written. Fine. It might be the three hundredth book I've edited, not to mention the next in the thousands of books your publisher has printed. Think about it.

One other note: Pick the appropriate tense and stick with it. Unless you're a really good writer, don't attempt to write a book about past events in the present tense. Very few authors can pull this off successfully in English, although I understand it's easier in German. I just finished an absolutely delightful book in which the author managed to write quite nicely in the historical present tense. It's about as rare as a complete day off.

You can file this advice under "Trying to Turn a Foul Mood into Something Productive." I hope I've succeeded.

14 comments:

Karl said...

Good afternoon Czar,

Had a bad week?

czar said...

Sir Karl:

Thanks for asking. A bad day. I woke up and, in the face of a number of issues, was damn near suicidal by about 5:30am. My day had improved by 8am to the point that I was merely despondent, although worn out already. I went back to bed for what I thought would be an hour or so, and woke up at 11:30am after one of the most disturbing dreams I've had in recent memory, which put me back to square one. Now, twelve hours from when it all started, I'm doing pretty good.

Being human sucks. But once you embrace that, it all works out. All's well that ends.

Paisan said...

Czar, as a major consumer of non-fiction -- I prefer Richard Rhodes' term "verity" -- I must disagree with No. 2. One of the pleasures of reading it is wallowing in the Notes and the Bibliography. With some heavily covered subjects like the Civil War, it is almost mandatory. You simply don't earn cred as a writer/researcher from the community if you haven't discovered, plowed through and cited fresh material from obscure manuscripts and letters discovered at god-forsaken special collections for that perfectly illustrative and enlightening quote or reference. Checking some of the sources is as much fun as reading the book. In fact, with Civil War works, three bookmarks are required: one for the page in the text, one for the page with the most relevant map, and one for the Notes.

Karl said...

Czar,

The first thing to embrace, is that you are human and that you can't change it. From there it gets easy. Fix what you can, delegate what you can't.

Get some rest this weekend, sounds like you earned it.

czar said...

Man, am I living large, with such readers as I have.

@Paisan: With certain topics and volumes, I agree entirely. If the book is one of scholarship, and scholars and aficionados (read, giants and geniuses) are the audience -- and Civil War books such as you read are a prime example -- exhaustive documentation is a necessity.

But if the book is intended as a primer, or is for a trade audience, then the absence of such documentation is a positive, if the intent is to make the books audience-appropriate (read, marketable). I should have made the point far more clearly that I was discussing nonacademic tomes. Proof positive that editors need editors.

I won't bring up any names, but a glance at my client list reveals (ahem) some major-league scholarly publishers. They routinely publish books for a trade audience that lack all but the barest documentation; it appears in the form of mentioning the author and title in the running text, but without the trappings of academia. Oh, hell, I'll mention one name: If Oxford University Press is willing to put a reputation built on centuries of scholarship at the highest levels on the line by publishing some intellectual tomes without notes and a bibliography, I am not going to second-guess. OUP was here long before and will be here long after any czarist influence on the publishing world.

@Karl, the epitome of wisdom and experience: my idea of rest this weekend, aside from a workout with a young lady friend tomorrow morning (no, not that kind of workout), will be fixing a lengthy tome that brought up some of the issues that led to this morning's mood. The good thing is that after a number of conversations with the press's editor this afternoon, I am proceeding under much better conditions.

Blessings on you both.

Aunty Belle said...

Whoa.

I'se had editors wif' worse grouchiness, but only a few. Thang is, I think it is justified. Editin' is a near thankless task. Hope ya feel better today. That the workout worked.

As a reader I LOVE footnotes! But I have noticed that the in text references are increasing even in "academic" work. Not sure if thas' due to readability issues or a new casualness toward documentation.

moi said...

I'll toss in a qualified agreement with Paisan on point number two. I'm currently reading (for pleasure) an exhaustive history on the Comanche and am glad the author/editors decided to include notes.

Although, I will add the caveat: only historical non-fiction. Anything else, I'll agree with you.

Okay, now, spill the beans about your workout.

czar said...

@Aunty and Moi:

On the matter of documentation, I'll get more specific in another post about the type of work and the type of publisher I'm talking about, but Moi's on the right track: nonhistorical nonfiction. I don't usually like to reveal too much about a book or its publisher, but I'll get closer to the nut in a subsequent post.

@Moi: The workout? Oy. After 10 to 15 minutes of "dynamic stretching" (as opposed to "static stretching"), I glared at my friend and said, "You mean to tell me this isn't the workout?"

moi said...

Yup. If it's not a history book, I don't care about the notes. Give me a good bibliography and I'll go from there.

So, 10-15 minutes of dynamic stretching in preparation for what? Weight-lifting, running, speed skating?

Here's my take on stretching, for what it's worth:

Warming up, yes. Stretching, usually no. I only ever do it after a run or a bike workout, and only for about 5-10 minutes, and very gently and easily. Before lifting weights, I warm up my muscles by mimicking the motions I'll be doing later on with heavy weights. Don't stretch after weight-lifting, but I will maybe walk for about 5 minutes on the treadmill.

I also stay completely away from yoga and pilates and anything else that requires contortions masked as "strengthening/stretching." Never had an injury, flexibility is fine. A sports therapy massage once or twice a month is way more helpful to loosening things up.

But again, that's my body. I know people who swear by regular stretching and yoga classes. My suspicion, however, is that both aren't all that helpful to over all strength and agility, and in fact, may often do more harm than good.

czar said...

@Moi: We went from there to three sets of some type of plank thing, some type of lat pulldown on a Nautilus thing, and some modified lunge thing, and doing jumping jacks between each set. Don't ask for specifics. All I know is that it seemed like I wasn't doing very much at all, but I ended up breathing hard and my heart was racing. She explained it as you don't have to do treadmill or running or elliptical to get the heart rate up, and I can certainly attest to that.

I've always been blessed with good flexibility. It always amazed me that my sons, who weigh nothing and can run for miles when they want to, can't touch their toes.

moi said...

Sounds like she has you doing a good workout. I think flexibility has more to do with genetics than anything else. And she's right, sustained aerobics is NOT necessary to get the heart rate up and, I suspect, may even at certain levels hinder weight loss. If you get to the point with her where you want to throw up, you know you're working hard enough.

czar said...

@Moi: If flexibility has a genetic element -- and I'm quite flexible, but neither of my sons are -- that UPS guy I always wondered about in Atlanta grows more and more suspicious.

Karl said...

Good evening Czar,

First a definition: Aerobics
In 1986, Dr. Kenneth Cooper submitted the official definition to the Oxford English Dictionary. It reads, “Method of physical exercise for producing beneficial changes in the respiratory and circulatory systems by activities which require meeting a modest increase in oxygen intake and so can be maintained.”

From what you're describing you were doing aerobic exercise. Which is good. From the sound of it you're doing what is called "cross training". To confuse the muscles very the routine. It can be very good for you.

Regarding stretching: Warm up before exercise and stretch after. A common problem is: Too far, too fast. This is where a muscle that is not properly warmed up is stretched beyond its point of elasticity. Causing what is called the stretch reflex. Which is basically the muscle contracting in reaction to the stretch. This can cause micro-tears in the muscle tissue. Because the tissues were not ready for the stretch and they will be repaired with regular fiber rather than flexible fiber.(Muscle tissue) This reduces the muscles ability to stretch. I realize this is likely more than you want to read on this subject. However if you're going to start working out. A little information can help to prevent problems down the road. Might even make it so your son's can touch their toes.

czar said...

@Karl: Good evening, dear sir. Thanks for coming back.

My friend is all about confusing the muscles. Very big in her approach.

Thanks for all the other information as well.

Hope all's well in Karlville.