July 13, 2012, 12:01 am
Today Lucy Ferriss and I continue a conversation we started on Wednesday about why copy editors do the things they do.
Lucy: What is with the love of italics? Again, this peeve applies mostly to the personal essay or fiction. If the internal monologue or remembered bit of conversation is clearly designated as such, I prefer to keep it in roman. All that italic makes me feel as though people are either whispering or shouting. I see increasing amounts of italic for imagined conversations, what a character wishes he’d said, and so on. Is this a new guideline? Or is it more often something you see authors doing, rather than editors?
Carol: In my experience, it’s more authors than editors. Editors are taught to avoid the use of italics, both for emphasis (a sign of hack writing) and for text (which is hard on the eye). But authors love italics! I’m constantly removing italics…
July 5, 2012, 12:01 am
Photo: Martin Thomas
Even after a well-written and well-prepared book has made it past an acquiring editor and through peer review, there is plenty for a manuscript editor to do.
I’ve written perhaps too much already about the trials of editing footnotes and bibliographies, so this time I’ll set those parts of the manuscript aside. Here are the issues my colleagues and I spend the most time on in the main text, in reverse order of how much labor they require.
10. Spacing. Although unwanted spaces are surely the most pervasive blemish, I spend little time fixing them, because my cleanup macro does it for me. In one go, the macro eliminates thousands of spaces before and after hard returns and dashes, spaces between paragraphs, double spaces after a period, and line spaces at the ends of chapters….
June 26, 2012, 12:01 am
Recently my brother let me ride with him for a week of long-haul trucking in his 18-wheeler. Who hasn’t ever wanted to do that? It’s been a dream of mine from the time I was little and was thrilled by The Big Red Pajama Wagon, by Mary Elting, in which pretty much nothing happens but which thrilled me anyway.
A week in which nothing happens is the trucker’s goal, it turns out. And Tom is a relative novice, having taken up trucking a few months ago after 20 years of teaching high-school math. He’s learned that a great week is when you don’t back over a street light, pick up the wrong load, or nearly flatten a sports car that brakes in front of your 50,000 pounds doing 60 mph.
When I embarked on the trip, Lingua Franca’s editor suggested I pay attention to words and phrases peculiar to trucking. What I found, however, was that the only way for me to learn anything was to…
June 22, 2012, 12:01 am
As far back as the early 1990s, I thought that any school curriculum lacking instruction in typing was shortsighted. Had I been asked to jettison cursive writing to make room for keyboarding, however, I would have been surprised and doubtful. But today that is exactly what has happened in many elementary-school classrooms. Already, we hear, there are high-school and college students who when asked to read memos in longhand might as well be asked to read Linear B.
In future, I imagine families scanning Grandma’s love letters into translation software. Calligraphied wedding invitations will have to be mailed inside typed envelopes. Deciphering handwriting will become a required graduate course for future English scholars.
Even for those of us raised on the Palmer method, handwriting can be hard to read. I have one elderly aunt whose Christmas-letter scrawl might as well be in…
June 13, 2012, 12:01 am
Roberto Bolano, "The Savage Detectives," cover by Rodrigo Corral
In a recent post about the timing of cover design in the publication process, I mentioned a colleague’s comment that typographic covers have the potential to wow just as much as those that feature a photograph or other illustrative art. To learn more, I put some questions to some design and marketing professionals.
When is a book cover given the typographic treatment? Is it a second-class choice?
“Definitely not, from a marketing point of view,” says Levi Stahl, promotions director at the University of Chicago Press. “Sometimes a typographic cover is simply the best way to present the book: If you’ve got a great title that clearly conveys the book’s subject, sometimes it’s better not to distract from that with an image….
June 4, 2012, 12:01 am
Photo by Manuel Bahamondez H
When an academic book manuscript is under contract and comes to my department for copy-editing, it undergoes an initial review by the assistant managing editor (yours truly) before assignment. If I find any major problems, I send the manuscript back to the acquiring editor, who returns it to the author for what is probably not the first round of revision but is hopefully* the last.
Things have to be pretty awful for that to happen. After all, copy editors expect to do a lot of cleaning up; it’s our job to sort out problems, both written (renumbering figures, correcting totals in table columns, realphabetizing bibliographies, editing notes to a consistent style, conforming tables of contents to the actual contents) and electronic (removing formats, combining or separating …
May 23, 2012, 12:01 am
My walk to work takes me down a charming 1890s street that is under constant renewal, and over the years I’ve enjoyed watching the restoration of several frame cottages and a couple of large Victorian beauties. Yesterday I stopped to watch some workers tear off a roof, and I wondered why it was being done several months into the rehab instead of at the beginning. Does that mean water was leaking all this time into the new interior? Maybe someone can enlighten me.
In any case, it reminded me of a question I get from nearly every writer early in the process of publishing a book, sometimes before the manuscript is even edited: When will I see the book cover?
The answer is always disappointing: “Much later.”
There are reasons why a book’s cover design comes late in the publication schedule. First, designers know from experience that a book cover’s central visual…
May 14, 2012, 12:01 am
Photo by Hans Gerhard Meier
If after reading Parts 1 and 2 of this series you’ve decided that a computer isn’t competent to index your book and that hiring a professional isn’t an option, and if you’ve never written an index before, you might appreciate some advice. Here are some answers to questions I frequently hear from writers contemplating the DIY solution.
Q. How elaborate an index should I make?
A. Browse through the book and put yourself in the place of a reader or teacher or student and imagine what kinds of things you might want to locate. Consider on a sliding scale where the book falls between a one-time read and a reference book, and provide less or more detail accordingly.
Q. I have never done an index before. I am becoming worried about how difficult, complicated, and time-…
May 9, 2012, 8:28 pm
Photo by Philip Dean
Last week when I listed various reasons why you should not allow a computer to write the index for your monograph, I failed to mention one: That is, you might want to do it yourself because it’s potentially a lot of fun.
I say “potentially” because it is also potentially infuriating, but never mind that for now. Today we’re all about fun.
Many readers are unaware of the mischief book indexers get up to, because few of us read through indexes from beginning to end. Rather, we dip in, skim to what we want, and wing back to the text. So the odds of landing on a prank entry are not high to begin with, and often rogue entries are cleverly placed where you aren’t likely to look. Would you look under “stupid pet tricks” in a book about artificial intelligence?*
May 1, 2012, 12:01 am
Photo courtesy Calsidyrose.
In short, no.
Back-of-the-book indexing is much misunderstood, which I know from having to argue at cocktail parties that it cannot be done adequately, let alone well, by a computer. (Yes, unfortunately, that’s what passes for cocktail-party banter in my neighborhood.)
Of course I understand how computers can scan and tag and sort, and I understand that in many ways they are more accurate and reliable than humans, and thank god for that. Computers can write lists and outlines and concordances, and they can keep track of page numbers. But for a useful and intelligent book index, you need a thinking human.
An index, after all, is not a list or an outline or a concordance. In its highest incarnation, it is more like a map or tree showing the looping and scattered…