All the Voices in the Room: Thoughts on The Bookseller’s First Author Day

YOUAREHERE2 Last spring I asked self- and traditionally published authors, Couldn’t you at least talk to each other? Because in spite of the fact that they have more in common than not, and that they stand to learn a great deal from each other, they seem to be camped in two solitudes, sometimes wearing their route to publication like a badge.

What if there were a space where a conversation between them could take place?

Well, now there is. And in introducing The Bookseller’s inaugural Author Day, Porter Anderson put it this way: “The time has come for the people of publishing to stop, sit together, and begin to understand what’s happening to the creative corps.”

Indeed. I was privileged to attend this event on November 30 in London. It was an intense and fascinating program—a full day of speakers and panels, brilliantly choreographed by Porter Anderson, who seemed to be everywhere at once. So there was much to take in. Here’s the Author Day program, and here’s some coverage.

First off, it was wonderful to be in a roomful of book people—publishing industry people and authors of both persuasions. They do have a common goal, after all—to keep books in our field of vision, both as cultural artifacts and as sources of immense pleasure. More than once it was pointed out that as entertainment, books have lots of competition these days. So way to go, Team Reading!

This collection of players from different parts of the business, though, reinforced the understanding many have that the industry is fractured. We already know this. But it was hearing the different voices in one room that deepened my impression of the various parties as silos, or unconnected pieces, some seeming to be discovering each other for the first time.

Here are just a few examples of what stood out in the rapid exchange of often disparate ideas:

  • Literary agent Andrew Lownie foresees traditional publishing producing just 10 percent of books in the future.
  • Harry Bingham’s author survey found that authors value the editorial input they get from their publishers and despite complaints, wouldn’t leave their publisher. And that even though we might assume that book people are also word people, publishers apparently cannot communicate well with their authors.
  • For technologist Emma Barnes, it’s the tools, the tools, the tools, that will make both authors and publishers more productive, efficient and accountable. The tools will also help them communicate better. But who will take the time to learn them? (And I’m sure some were wondering, “what do you mean by tools?”)
  • And after hearing all of this, we heard from a longtime traditionally published author who can’t decipher her (semi-annual) royalty statement. I hope she (and her publisher) heard the part about trade accounting for only 10 percent in the future, and the importance of learning the tools.

The point isn’t that these voices contradict each other, or that anyone is wrong. I believe that everything we heard at Author Day is true, and that each voice is a piece of the picture we’re all trying to focus on. But these bits are flying past us at a pace that has us gasping—you reach to snag an idea before it gets away and miss three more in the process.

Technology is driving change in every industry on the planet. We’re exhausted by trying to keep up, and I heard this in the room too. Decision fatigue, the learning curve, frustrations with the process—these are issues both authors and publishers are facing. We’re in transition, and everyone’s at a different place on the trajectory. Would it help to affix on it a You Are Here label as a kind of progress report?

Author Day provided a place to begin connecting the dots, to turn the silos into networks. I was so pleased to be part of it.

Copyediting: “It’s Not Rocket Surgery”


by Carla Douglas and CK MacLeod
@CarlaJDouglas @CKMacleodwriter

This post appeared first at The Book Designer on July 23, 2015.

In this space a couple of months ago we distinguished copyediting from proofreading. Knowing the difference can help authors identify the kind of editing they need and understand just what an editor might be doing to their manuscript.

In response, one author commented that copyediting is not that hard—that there’s no “rocket surgery” involved, and that self-pubs can and do manage all aspects of self-publishing themselves. Indeed they do. But if copyediting isn’t rocket surgery, then what is it? Maybe we need to clarify this, too. Could you copyedit your own book? How do the pros do it? There could be more going on than you realize, and in more ways than one.

What is Copyediting?

Copyediting isn’t one thing. It’s a process that incorporates many tasks and requires various skills. We’ve talked about copyediting before: it’s the sentence-level and second-last stage of the editing process, where a marked-up manuscript can look like a crime scene. Copyeditors work to the principles of correctness, consistency, accuracy and completeness, and communication (Editors Canada website). They make corrections to

  • grammar, spelling, punctuation and style
  • word usage, sentence and paragraph structure
  • voice, tone, appropriateness of language to audience

They also watch for consistency and plausibility of story, time, and place, and will alert an author if something’s amiss. Copyeditors perform these tasks, and more, to ensure a smooth reading experience with the fewest reader distractions. They also want to ensure that your meaning is crystal clear. The last thing you want is for readers to misunderstand what you’ve said. Something as subtle as tone can make a reader think you mean the opposite of what you intended. It is very difficult to assess your own work from this objective distance.

Most copyeditors have a system—a first-then-next approach to tasks—which usually begins with manuscript cleanup. Copyeditors also use a style guide and a detailed style sheet to stay organized. If you’re thinking about a DIY copyedit, keep this in mind: copyediting means putting a lot of balls in the air, and these tools help you stay in control.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Here’s another author’s take on copyediting:

“Getting copyedited is like going to the doctor and finding out that you have some disease you’ve never heard of.” (Mo Daviau, Every Anxious Wave)

Ha! So perhaps the medical analogy stands up. After all, copyeditors do perform diagnostics, create and apply a treatment plan, and they also consider and review outcomes. So do doctors.

But this author puts her finger on something else copyeditors have observed: that often, writers don’t know what they don’t know—about style, grammar, punctuation, consistency, tone, and more. “You mean there’s a way I’m supposed to write numbers in fiction?” they ask. Yup—but you can’t correct an inconsistency that you didn’t know was there.

Editing Tools to the Rescue

We’ve written before about editing tools and how they can also be useful to writers in the self-editing process. These tools can make you aware of what you don’t know. And there are some brilliant digital tools for identifying errors and inconsistencies in the mechanics of punctuation and style. PerfectIt Pro, for example, will spot quotation marks you’ve forgotten to close, absent serial commas, numbers written out that should appear as numerals, spelling and capitalization inconsistencies, and much more. It will also guide you through the manuscript as you make corrections.

Some wonderful tools for identifying language issues in a manuscript are available, too. Have a look at the table in our post last month: the Hemingway app is especially good at identifying sentences that are too long or complex, and it will also flag your (over)use of adverbs, adjectives and the passive voice.

Similarly, self-editing macros can identify many of the same issues as Hemingway, but macros can also be customized and expanded to suit your own writing quirks. What these language tools won’t do, however, is offer solutions—because technically, what the macros point out aren’t errors. The macros identify some of your writing habits, and it’s up to you to recognize what might need improving. In other words, you need to know something about the issue the tool is pointing to, and then decide if or how to change it.

Where the Hazards Lie

If you are going to run into difficulty while copyediting your own book, it will most likely be in identifying, diagnosing and correcting language issues—usage, mixed or mangled metaphors, faulty parallelisms, awkward and poorly structured sentences, and so on. What’s more, you might not realize you’re in trouble until after your book is published. We are seldom aware of our own blind spots.

You need to have a hunch that something’s wrong before you’ll do the extra work of looking it up to confirm if the word you’ve chosen is accurate. Here’s an example:

Do you flaunt the law or flout the law?

The confusables macro can identify possible usage errors—but only if at least one of the frequently confused words is in your macro. How can you know if the word you might fumble is not in the macro you’re using?

Google ngram viewer is also a helpful tool both for checking that you have the right word and for confirming how and when it was used. Look what happens when we enter flaunt the law and flout the law into the search box:


The red line shows that flout is the right word in this case, but the blue line shows that a significant number of writers get this wrong. Ngram is also good at pointing out miswording and popular usage in phrases: Thin edge of the wedge or thin end of the wedge? Do you stanch the bleeding or staunch the bleeding? Try it and see for yourself. You’re also able to sort for British or American usage in your search, which is helpful if you’re writing to a specific audience.

Where to Get Help

Rarely does a copyeditor begin a project without first establishing which style guide to consult. The style guide sets the standards for how to handle the many details that go into a finished book and give your writing polish: punctuation, quotations and dialogue, numbers, abbreviations, and on and on. A style guide can be as brief as 10 pages, or it could be more than 1000 (that’d be you, Chicago Manual of Style). Our forthcoming book, You’ve Got Style: Copyediting for Self-Publishing Authors, is a scant 80 pages, and covers the least you need to know about copyediting. Watch for it in August!

DIY Copyediting

Would you take on the job of copyediting your own book? Could you diagnose and treat the problem areas in your manuscript? There’s no reason not to try. With a style guide, a few willing beta readers and a cache of editing tools, you’ll improve your chances of producing a distraction-free book that stands up to reader scrutiny.

Measuring Success

How many errors will readers tolerate before they bail on your book? Most editors agree that correcting 95 percent of errors is the industry standard for professional editors. The message? No book is error-free. When asked how many errors they could tolerate in a finished book, one editor replied: “Zero! Because finding a single error can turn a reader into a proofreader!” Enough said.

We hear a lot now about the “good enough” book. What does that mean for readers and what does it mean for authors? One thing is certain: if you’re an author, you’d better know what it means for readers.Understanding what’s involved in copyediting can bring you closer to delivering a satisfying experience to your reader.

Image by Steve Jurvetson


Wanted: How to Find Your Best Editor


by Carla Douglas and C.K. Macleod

@CarlaJDouglas @CKMacleodWriter

This post appeared first at on January 28, 2015.


This past winter, New York Times bestselling author Tim Ferriss (The 4-Hour Work Week) put out a call for a managing editor. Curious, we decided to see what kind of editorial help he was looking for, to determine if there might be lessons for self-pubs everywhere. After all, this is a guy who has figured out a few things about publishing.

So, what did Ferris do? He created a questionnaire that would help him find the best editor for his writing projects. In studying his questionnaire, we learned that a well-designed editor questionnaire requires the author to be clear on a few important points.

1. Know what kind of writing you need help with.

What motivated Ferriss to create a questionnaire? We’re willing to bet that he created it out of a practical need to meet a personal writing goal.

Ferriss has content that wasn’t included in his previous books, and he’s looking for a way to repurpose that content on his popular blog, which gets between 1.5 and 2 million readers per month. Michael Ellsberg, author of the Tim Ferriss Effect, suggests that blogs with large readerships can sometimes encourage more book sales for indie authors than traditional media outlets. Because Ferriss’ blog is one of his best book marketing tools, it makes sense for him to seek out an editor to help him manage it.

Tip: Set your writing goals with your book marketing plans in mind. Determine what kind of writing you’d like an editor to help you with, and then find an editor who has experience with that kind of writing.

2. Decide which tasks you’d like your editor to perform.

Ferriss is clear about the kinds of tasks he wants his editor to perform. What he may not realize is that he is asking for a

  • project manager (blog, podcast, social media platforms and other content)
  • social media coordinator (setting up interviews with celebrities, sourcing guest posts and podcast guests)
  • writer/content creator for upcoming book and video projects
  • ghostwriter or developmental editor for his newsletter
  • marketer (managing SEO, improving traffic)
  • stylistic editor
  • copyeditor
  • proofreader

Although Ferriss doesn’t explicitly ask for applicants with copyediting and proofreading skills, it’s implicit in his request that the successful candidate will manage other writers and the work they produce (he’s looking for a managing editor). Content quality will be an important aspect of management, and attention to copyediting and proofreading details ensures a good reader experience.

If you’ve been following our posts on this blog, you’ll know that Ferriss has hit on all four levels of editing in his questionnaire and job description (in addition to tasks that fall under the social media coordinator/ marketer umbrella — but we’ll focus on the editing tasks here).

While some editors do have experience with each kind of editing, they usually don’t perform all levels for one project. Why? If you’re doing a developmental edit on a piece of writing, at some point you’ll find that you’re no longer able to be objective because you’ll be editing your own writing. (Even editors need editors!) If timelines allow an editor to set a writing project aside for a “rest,” and if proofreading tools are part of an editor’s arsenal, then this problem is surmountable.

Tip: As much as you’d like your editor to be all things (and as much as an editor might wish to be all things), it might not be a reasonable expectation. List three essential tasks that you’ll require your editor to do. That will help you to pinpoint what kind of editor you’ll need.

Editors: More and more, editing can include a lot of nontraditional skills. Pay attention to what indie authors are asking for, and see if you can leverage your social media and tech skills.

3. Jot down a list of skills you’re looking for.

Once you’re clear on the tasks your ideal editor will do for you, think about the skills associated with those tasks.

Ferriss appears to be looking for an editor

  • who can manage multiple projects
  • with developmental editing skills
  • with strong writing skills
  • who can work to firm deadlines
  • who is familiar with WordPress
  • who has strong interpersonal skills

What skills are you looking for in your ideal editor? Take a few minutes to draft a list.

Tip: Use this list of skills to shape the job description of your ideal editor.

4. Find a way to assess an editor’s skills.

Publishing companies create tasks to assess an editor’s skills. Editors are often asked to complete a copyediting or proofreading test to be considered for an editing project. Ferriss assesses his ideal editor’s skills with his questionnaire. For example, he asks:

Please add links to the 2–3 most popular articles/posts you’ve written or edited (unique views or social shares). Include any key stats you can share.

Here, Ferriss’ request for writing samples indicates he’s looking for an editor with strong writing skills. Note, too, that social media is also important to Ferriss’ writing goals, so social shares serve as data that will help him assess an editor’s ability to get his writing in front of readers.

Ferris also asks, “what software or method do you prefer for organizing editorial calendars?” This is a smart question because it will help him find an editor with project management experience. There’s an added benefit, too: he’ll collect a whole list of tools used for successful project management. Even if he doesn’t hire an editor at the end of this process, he will have gathered valuable information. (By the way, we use Trello, Google Docs, and Google Sheets for writing project management. Feel free to add your favourite project management tools in the comments below).

Tip: Draft a list of questions that will encourage an editor to demonstrate or offer proof of an acquired skill. Also, consider what the responses to your questionnaire might teach you!

5. Set the tone for your working relationship.

Ferriss’ approach to finding an editor suggests it will be a wild and wonderful ride. He’s clear on his immovables (deadlines), but writes the job description in a humorous and casual way. This isn’t the job for every editor, but it could be a dream job for the right editor.

Written communication is the ideal medium for establishing the tone of a working relationship. After all, Ferriss’ editor will be working remotely—possibly on another continent—and much of their contact will likely be in writing. Ferriss needs to know if he and his editor are “reading” each other accurately.

We can’t overstate the importance of developing a good relationship—which begins with clear communication—with your editor. State clearly what you’ll expect and encourage candidates to do the same. Communication foul-ups can be costly, and heading these off at the pass can help ensure that both you and your editor are confident you’re working towards the same goals.

Tip: Be yourself. We’re not the first to note that the process of finding the right editor is a bit like online dating. If you have a corny sense of humor or you keep to a nocturnal schedule and expect replies to your email messages at three in the morning, don’t try to hide it. You have a better chance of finding the right person if you’re transparent from the start.

Why It’s Worth the Trouble

It does seem like a lot of trouble, doesn’t it—all this assessing, evaluating, clarifying, and finally communicating your requirements as you search for an editor. But consider the possible consequences if you don’t do your homework before handing your book to a stranger.

You are in a sense the project manager for your book or writing project, and it’s best you know everyone’s job description—including your own—from the start. Gathering and organizing this information will most certainly mean a better end product, and you can use it as a checklist for evaluating what kind of editing your project needs. Even if you never use it as a job ad per se, creating it will make you think about your writing more objectively and bring you closer to your writing goals.

Did Tim Ferriss find the editor of his dreams? Time will tell. You now know how to find yours.

Image by John Morton

Self Pubs and Trad Pubs: Couldn’t You At Least Talk To Each Other?

Venn diagramby Carla Douglas @CarlaJDouglas

Three things:

1. A conversation about self-publishing I had a year ago with a traditionally published author and poet who spoke of a colleague—an accomplished trad pub novelist.

Me: If she has rights to her backlist, she could self-publish.
Author: [Congenial but resolute. This goes without saying. It’s not a possibility. The very idea is absurd.] I don’t think she would ever consider self-publishing.

Takeaway: For some traditionally published authors, the self-pub door is shut tight. They don’t show even a glimmer of curiosity about the self-publishing process, which aspects of it might be worth learning, or what its rewards might be.

2. A second conversation about self-publishing a month ago, with the same author who is now, via a formal writing program, completing a novel under the guidance and mentorship of the same trad pubbed novelist.

Me: Is this work happening online?
Author: [tone is wry] No. I’d describe it more like “doorknob-to-doorknob.”
Me: Really?
Author: Yes. I leave a chapter hanging on her doorknob. She marks it up and comments, and leaves it at my house.
Me: [barely masked disbelief] On paper?
Author: [amused] Yes. A bit unconventional, maybe. But the work is getting done. I’m happy with the progress we’re making.
Me: Do you realize how funny that is?

Takeaway: Digital publishing and self-publishing naturally have a common trajectory. It’s easy sometimes to tie them too closely together, so that indie authors are associated with digital and traditionally published authors with print.

My experience demonstrates why this stereotype might persist. Doorknob-to-doorknob file transfer is maybe only a step or two ahead of carrier pigeon. Or owl. I’m curious about what kinds of digital writing and editing tools traditionally published authors are using, but there’s a dearth of available info on this. At the same time, digital production can’t guarantee quality writing.

3. Jane Friedman and Harry Bingham’s #AuthorSay survey for traditionally published authors. Its goal is “to see how traditionally published authors are feeling about the choices now available.” Some enlightening comments have already been published at The Bookseller in response, among them that just 25 percent are open to the possibility of self-publishing, and that “authors are more committed to their agent than to their publisher.”

Takeaway: Ah. So it’s not just local. Yes, my sample is minuscule, but look! It points to a wider trend. In a Venn diagram of traditional and self-publishing, there’s only a small region of overlap. I thought things might be farther along by now.


I live in a bubble. I’ve assumed all writers are exploring digital tools for writing, editing, collaboration and production. I’ve been wrong about this, but to what extent, I’m not sure. Because it looks like others are living in bubbles, too.

Trad pubs and self-pubs need to talk to each other. If they did, they’d realize they could benefit from knowledge the other side is hanging onto.

Just because you’re traditionally published doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from self-pubs. Marketing and promotion, for example. Social media. Digital tools like Scrivener for organizing a WIP.

Just because you’re digital doesn’t mean you’re efficient. Keying or dictating a book into a smartphone isn’t efficient. Neither is running spellcheck instead of hiring a copyeditor.

Just because you’re indie doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from traditionally published authors. The care they’ll take to produce a meticulous manuscript, for example. This may be because they have more years of writing behind them, or they’ve taken the time to internalize (and observe) the conventions of writing, or that their manuscripts have been through more drafts and are therefore more polished. Probably a combination of all three.

Self-publishing isn’t a dirty word. Just because you’re traditionally published doesn’t mean you can’t learn all there is to know about self-publishing, just in case. Being informed can be its own reward—doesn’t mean you have to do it.

What do you think? Is there any common ground between traditionally published and self-publishing authors? And what might they learn from each other?

Image by daveconrey

3 Ways to a Better Book With Macros


by Carla Douglas

What’s a macro?

Simply put, a macro is a set of instructions for your word processor—a short computer program that automatically performs repetitive tasks. You can run macros using Microsoft Word or WPS Writer (pro version), and Google Docs now features a lite version of the macro editors love, PerfectIt. Macros are easy to use and customize to your specific needs. Learn how to use a macro and try one out here.

Why should I use macros?

Macros can  help you quickly accomplish the most fiddly task—or series of tasks—saving you time and improving your efficiency. Use them during the revision process for a multitude of functions, from alerting you to errors to significant text clean-up. In this post, I’ll show you how to use three different macros: one to help you spot bad writing habits, one to identify potentially embarrassing errors, and one to polish your final draft.

Needless Words Macro

We all have writing tics. Sometimes we use words as filler—they clutter our writing without carrying information or advancing the narrative, and most often these offenders are adverbs and adjectives. Removing them won’t change the meaning of your prose, but it will make your writing more clear and direct. You’ll find the NeedlessWords macro here.

NeedlessWords2Excerpt from 5 Reasons Readers Will Bail On a Book

Looking at the highlighted words, it’s easy to identify those that need to be zapped: almost and just qualify what follows and delay the point the writer is trying to make. Get rid of them. Also, have a closer look at the highlighted words that remain. Maybe there’s a more concise word you could substitute.

Tip: The NeedlessWords macro doesn’t do the thinking for you. It flags the offenders, but it’s up to you to decide if the word in question is grammatically necessary, if it could be replaced with a better word, or if it should be removed. Over time, using this macro will help you improve your writing by alerting you to the words you overuse. But don’t be too eager to hit delete—these little words can add the rhythm and tone that make your voice unique.

Confusables Macro

Foreword or forward? Sight, site or cite? Vice or vise? Are you certain of their different meanings and confident you got the right one as you hastily pounded out your first draft? Don’t worry: there’s a macro for that. The Confusables macro hunts down and highlights all instances of potentially confusable words. Later, you can review each instance word by word to ensure you haven’t made an embarrassing error. After all, you wouldn’t want your novel going out into the world while your hero was prostated with grief, would you?

Tip: The Confusables macro is a good vocabulary-building tool. It makes you think more carefully about language and writing—provided you take the time to look up definitions. This macro (and most macros) can be customized with your own word lists, too.

PerfectIt Consistency Checker

Everyone should use PerfectIt—free software that checks for consistency in

  • capitalization (Government or government?)
  • hyphenation (after-school or after school?)
  • preferred spelling (colour or color?)
  • abbreviations (UNICEF or Unicef?)
  • numbers (5 students or five students?)

Try the consistency checker free as a Google docs add-on or with Office 2013. Like an extra set of eyes on your manuscript, the consistency checker alerts you to errors that otherwise might go unnoticed and it provides an extra coat of polish on your writing.

Like all tools, those I’ve described here require active participation by their users if they’re going to be effective. They won’t improve your writing—but with time and practice, the feedback they provide can help you become a better writer.

What Does Editing Look Like? Behind the (Crime) Scene at the Editor’s Screen

Crime Scene
Image by Carlos Martinez


by Corina Koch MacLeod and Carla Douglas
@CKmacleodwriter @CarlaJDouglas

In a previous post we described the four levels of editing, emphasizing the order in which they should most often take place: attend to the developmental issues first—a clear story and structure if it’s fiction, a logical and meaningful sequence of chapters if it’s nonfiction—before addressing clarity and flow, word choice, grammar and punctuation.

Editing, in Practice

This order makes sense for the purposes of explanation, but the truth is, when an editor sits down to work on your manuscript, the picture might be slightly different. Developmental editing, for instance, is most often suited to nonfiction works. Sure, if you’re a novelist and ask for guidance from a developmental editor early in the process, he can certainly help you with the big-picture elements. In cases like these, advice would probably come in the form of a chat or an editorial letter.

Most editors who work with self-pubs, though, will tell you that by the time they see a fiction manuscript, the author has either worked out the developmental issues or is married to the book as it is, and no major changes will be considered. Much of the time, a manuscript comes to an editor with a request for copyediting. In practice, however, the editor could be doing a bit of everything.

What Editing Looks Like

With three and possibly four levels of editing taking place at the same time, what does editing look like? The truth? As Corina has pointed out, sometimes it looks like a crime scene. And indeed, if it’s your work that’s been bound and gagged and has perhaps even disappeared—without a trace—you’ll swear it’s been murdered.

Don’t panic. In the following sections, we’ll show you examples of each kind of editing—to ease your mind and to help you see that behind the scene, your editor is working away, methodically and nonviolently, towards your mutual goal of a better book.

Big-Picture Editing (Developmental Edit)

Beginning with an Outline

When writing a nonfiction book, structure matters. Your editor may ask you, “What is your book about?” Think this over carefully and hone your answer until you can express it in one sentence. Practise that sentence on friends and family or try it out on social media. Next, your editor will help you hammer out a table of contents that includes topics related to that sentence, and finally, you’ll arrange those topics in a logical order.

Below is a screenshot from Idea to Ebook: How to Write a Quality Book Fast. This book is about how to publish a book, from beginning to end, in the most efficient manner possible. The screenshot below lists the main topics (in Scrivener’s Binder) that were sketched out based on that sentence, before the book was written:

Image 1

The second screenshot (in Word’s Navigation Pane) is the final list of chapters in their final order. You’ll noticed a few minor changes in the final version. That’s fine—outlines evolve. Even if an outline changes slightly, it’ll help you to stick to what your book is about.

Image 2

Tip: Many authors write in Scrivener. You can use Scrivener’s Binder to create a chapter outline, which then allows you to move chapters around easily. If you write in Word, you can get Word to Behave like Scrivener. Don’t have Word? Try WPS Writer (free). You can get it to behave like Scrivener, too.

Creating an Outline From a Finished Manuscript

But what if you’ve submitted a finished book and your editor identifies issues with structure that have yet to be addressed? These can be handled in a couple of ways. If the reshuffling is minor, your editor will use comments in the margins (see comments in the Sentence-Level section, below) to suggest which sections should go where, or she’ll move the section with track changes turned on (see the screenshot in the Paragraph-Level section below).

If large sections of text have to be moved around, the appearance in track changes can be overwhelming for the author. In cases like these, editors will sometimes make the changes and ask the author to compare the new version to the old. Or, if the author and editor are working in Word, the editor may show the author how to use the Final view in the Review pane.

Image 3

The Final view hides track changes, so the author can see what the document will look like if the changes are accepted.

If a lot of reshuffling is required, your editor may ask you to create a post-mortem outline from your existing content. Your editor will then help you sort the contents of that outline into an order that makes sense. The final step involves moving around sections of your book to match the outline.

What About Fiction?

Fiction writers, particularly of genre fiction, are not off the hook when it comes to big-picture edits. Some big-picture editing can happen later in the process. It might become clear, for example, that an important scene needs to appear sooner in the novel, or that a sub-plot needs to wind itself more consistently through the book.

Tip: Editors often use Word to edit manuscripts. This article explains why.

Paragraph-Level Edit (Stylistic/Structural Edit)

Paragraph-level edits involve reordering sentences within paragraphs. Editors will use track changes to show that something has been moved.The green text and strikeouts in the screenshot below (in Word) indicate that a sentence has been moved from one location to another. A bit of a mess, isn’t it?

Image 4

Tip: If you’re overwhelmed by the changes you see, switching to the Final view in Word’s Review pane helps reduce the visual noise.

Image 5

Sentence-Level Edit (Copyedit)

Sentence-level edits address grammar, punctuation, clarity, and style issues. Can you see some of these issues addressed in the screenshot below?

Image 6

An editor will mark any issues using track changes. Often something is marked because it’s incorrect, or it doesn’t follow style rules or accepted publishing conventions. Keep in mind that an editor won’t make changes he can’t defend, so don’t be afraid to ask about anything you’re unsure of. Also remember that your editor is often your first reader, so if a sentence or section is unclear, you’ll want to know about it.

It’s wise to heed any changes your editor has made with track changes. Comments are generally reserved for explanations and suggestions.

Tip: Pay attention to the comments your editor makes, too. These comments often present opportunities for learning something new that you can apply to your next book.

  • Opinion or Fact?Sometimes an editor will suggest a change that’s in line with good writing practice. Paying attention to these suggestions can help you become a better writer. Often, though, it’s easy to dismiss an editor’s suggestions as opinion rather than fact, which means you might miss an opportunity to improve your craft.An editor can tell you what your writing quirks are (we all have them), but sometimes it’s more helpful to show you. At Beyond Paper, we like to usewriting macros to help writers see their writing quirks (show, don’t tell). These writing macros are easy enough for writers to use on their own, too. The screenshot below highlights● needless words (blue)
    ● ly words, or adverbs, which may indicate telling instead of showing (green)
    ● additional telling words, which may suggest that you need to do more showing (pink)Image 7Tip: Macros are easy to use! This 20-minute macro course will show you how to use the kind of macros that can help you to improve your writing.

Word-Level Edit (Proofread)

Proofreading is the last stage of editing, meant to catch anything that has slipped past copyediting. It’s a last look at your book in its final environment, after it’s typeset for print or formatted for e-reading. Keep in mind that proofreading addresses more than just typos—it also addresses formatting issues.

Here is what proofreading looks like on a manuscript that has been formatted for print:

Image 8

Proofreaders proofread books headed for print in software like Adobe XI. They use proofreading stamps—a kind of shorthand—to indicate changes that need to be made. A proofreading glossary can help you interpret some of the symbols.

You can proofread an ebook file, too, but that’s a topic for another time.

Tip: Consider some of the tools that editors use for proofreading. Writers and beta readers can use them, too.

Closing the Case

As you can see, there’s a lot going on in the background during an edit, and communicating corrections, changes, and suggestions to authors involves a dizzying array of mark-ups and comments. While proofreading tends to happen on its own at the end of the process, the remaining three editing levels can occur simultaneously.

If your manuscript comes back from your editor looking like a crime scene, don’t despair. Take a deep breath, carefully consider your editor’s comments and suggested changes, and you’ll be taking down that yellow tape in no time.


5 Ways an Editor Is like a Dentist

by Carla Douglas and Corina Koch MacLeod
@CarlaJDouglas  @CKmacleodwriter

This post first appeared on August 6, 2014, at

scary dentist
Image by Soxophone Player

Most of us look on a trip to the dentist with a mixture of guilt and dread: we know we need it, but it’s going to hurt. The sight of the needles, the sound of the drill and the thought of the final bill are enough to induce hyperventilation. Sadly, we’ve observed that some writers perceive editors the same way.

Don’t editors also probe and poke a little too deeply and strike a nerve when you least expect it? And don’t they tell you to rein in your head-hopping POV and avoid adverbs, just as a dentist will caution you about the perils of red wine and too much candy?

Now, we know that dentists provide essential and worthwhile services, and so do editors. They’re necessary, but they aren’t always pleasant. Just for fun, here are a few more ways an editor is like a dentist, along with some tips for getting the most out of an editing experience.

1. When needed, a dentist will refer you to a specialist. There are specialties in editing, too. Do you need your teeth straightened? Then you should see an orthodontist. But if your manuscript needs straightening? Ah—there’s an editorial equivalent: a structural editor. For cleaning and polishing? A dental hygienist…or a copyeditor and proofreader. Need a new set of teeth entirely? See a denturist…or perhaps you need a ghostwriter. The list goes on.

Ideally, when you choose an editor for a project, you’ll want someone who is familiar with your genre and with the kind of editing your book needs. Each kind of editing requires a special skill set. Most editors develop specialty subject areas and genres, and many will have an educational background that matches your requirements. The key is to conduct a thorough search for someone who has the experience and knowledge you’re looking for.

Tip: Look for an editor who has experience with the kind of book you’re writing and the kind of editing you need. Consult editors’ profiles at professional editing organizations for this information:

  • Editorial Freelancers Association
  • Editors’ Association of Canada
  • Institute for Professional Editors (Australia)
  • Society for Editors and Proofreaders

You can also ask authors whose books you admire to share the names of their editors. Improve your chances of getting the best editor for your book by selecting authors who write books in the same genre.

2. Dental work can be expensive, and so can editing. And for both, you can get a quote up front about exactly what work needs to be done and how much it will cost. Sometimes, though, in performing a service, a dentist will discover an underlying problem that will add to the total bill. That can be true for editing, too.

Tip: To prevent any surprises, ask your editor to tell you right away if she uncovers something in your manuscript that could cost you time or money later. The problem, once identified, might be something you can address on your own or with your editor’s help, early in the editing process.

3. Dentists perform extractions, and so do editors. In both cases, it can be painful, but it needn’t be. A good dentist will only extract a tooth when it’s absolutely necessary. She’ll offer and administer anesthetic and pain medication, and the result will be a healthier mouth. An editor may suggest that you cut out areas of text that are not working for the project as a whole. As painful as this may be, paring down almost always improves a book.*

For example, if there are many instances of telling instead of showing in your story—something that will most definitely cause readers to zone out—wouldn’t you want to know about it? It doesn’t feel great when an editor points this out, and getting that news will likely require some rewrites on your part. Dealing with the problem now may prevent you from wondering why your book isn’t selling later. Keep in mind, too, that a good editor will deliver news in a respectful and constructive way, with steps you can take to fix the problem.

Tip:  Be brave: ask your editor what’s not working in your story. The answer might mean more work for you, but it could also mean a better book. Remember, an editor reads with the reader in mind, but he also wants to help you to write your best book.

*You should probably not count on your editor for pain medication, although she might buy you a nice bottle of red when your manuscript is published. Don’t tell your dentist.

4. In dentistry and in editing, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Having regular check-ups and following your dentist’s advice about brushing and flossing can save you discomfort and money later on. You can say the same thing about editing. Here’s what an editor can do for you if you check in early—even before you begin your first draft. An editor can

  • help you structure your novel or nonfiction book, preventing hours of rewrites later
  • suggest other ways of presenting information that will be more accessible to the reader (nonfiction)
  • help you create a sample chapter (template) that you can pattern the rest of your chapters after
  • highlight quirks in your writing (we all have quirks), which, once identified, are easy enough for you to fix on your own
  • suggest resources that will help you improve your writing
Tip:  If you’re not sure what kind of editing you need, ask for a mini-manuscript evaluation. An editor can do an assessment of 50 pages of your writing that will tell you what you can do to improve your book, without the expense of a complete edit.
Dental Tools 1
Image by CircaSassy

5. Dentists have an abundance of tools at their disposal, and so do editors. If you walked into a dentist’s office and saw these  in your dentist’s toolkit, you’d probably turn and run. To stay current, dentists regularly invest in the best equipment and tools, and they also invest the time needed to learn to use them effectively.

Editors, too, invest time and money in tools and training. An editor’s toolkit, while just as varied as a dentist’s, is hopefully much less threatening. It’s possible to edit a manuscript without tools, but editing tools can make all the difference, as they help editors complete editing projects more quickly, accurately, and efficiently.

Tip: Writers can learn to use some of the tools that editors use. Some tools, like writing and editing macros, are free, and involve a willingness to try something new and a small amount of time (see this 20-minute macro course for a an effective tool that won’t take too much time to learn). Others will require some study and will cost money. All the editing tools automate tasks and can help you to improve the quality of your book.

Finally, there’s one important way an editor is not like a dentist: Your dentist will never encourage you to work collaboratively with him. He will never say, “Hey, why don’t I freeze your mouth, then I’ll give you the pliers and you can pull out that pesky tooth yourself. I’ll be right here if you need help.”

But an editor might. Hiring an editor doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. At least, at Beyond Paper, we don’t think so. We think editing can be a collaborative process between the author and editor.

Sure, you can hire an editor to fix your writing for you—which is traditionally what authors have done—but this option often costs more than a self-publishing author is willing or able to pay. When presented with the potential costs, self-publishing authors opt out of editing entirely, not realizing that there is another workable and affordable option.

Consider approaching editing in a new way: participate in the editing process by asking your editor to point out what needs to be fixed, and then do some of the fixing yourself with your editor’s guidance, if you like. If you’re willing to do some of the heavy lifting, this approach to editing can save you money on editing costs, and you’ll also gain valuable insights into your writing that you can apply to your next book.

Tip: Editors often know a great deal about how to make writing better, so don’t be afraid to tap into that knowledge and, in the process, acquire some of it yourself.

We’re fairly sure that we don’t need to convince you of the value of going to the dentist. Similarly, if money weren’t an issue, we think more self-publishing authors would avail themselves of editing services.

Bestselling books usually go through an editorial process that helps to create the best possible reading experience, and you’d probably like to provide your readers with a similar experience. If you’ve suspected that working with an editor may be more pain than you’re willing to endure, try suggesting a collaborative approach to editing. And don’t forget to floss.

Where Are the Self-Pubs in Educational Publishing?

by Carla Douglas @CarlaJDouglas

image by Libby Levi

It’s no secret that change comes slowly to education—it’s a big ship, and for so many reasons, it can’t change course as quickly as most of us think it should.

But education, at least in the K–12 stream, is embracing digital—from e-textbooks to tablets to blended and online learning, digital is making its presence known. The large, traditional educational publishers are certainly present, having introduced digital components to textbooks (iClickers, for example), online testing, e-textbooks and more.

And you don’t have to look far to see that there’s a mad scramble to be innovative. Startups are elbowing in with learning apps and other tech solutions for curriculum design and delivery. The digital dynamic is well represented. But the self-publishing revolution that accompanied the digital disruption of the wider publishing industry doesn’t appear to have hit education yet.

Where Are the Self-Pubs?

Well, I think they’re where they’ve always been: in the classroom, hiding in plain view. They’re here, but they haven’t yet embraced the idea that the education ship can and should change direction.

Teachers have always been self-pubs. Remember the Ditto machine? For generations, it was the instrument of content production. Teachers ran off math sheets, language arts readings and questions, review units, chapter summaries, tests and exams—anything that might be called a consumable. Much of the content they created themselves.

The Sharing Economy

Teachers are resourceful, and in public education there is often an air of scarcity and a perceived need for frugality. Teaching exemplifies the sharing economy—busy teachers trade their custom-made resources amongst each other to meet their local curriculum needs and to keep the classroom machine humming along. (Sometimes they share a little too generously: as creators of educational resources, we know that the photocopier has never been our friend.)

What does this have to do with the self-pub revolution? Teachers are already performing that role, to a degree, by doing what they’ve always done. They’re creating content—original or patched together from various sources—and distributing it to colleagues at little or no cost. Course textbooks selected and prescribed by school and board administrators provide the bulk of the curriculum, but locally developed materials supply the rest, and sometimes this is a large gap to fill.

Educational Self-Publishing?

But K–12 teachers haven’t yet embraced the indie model. For one thing, they’re distributing their content to a narrow base without considering wider opportunities. I get this—the life of a classroom teacher is hectic and demanding, and sometimes just looking beyond the next period is a challenge, let alone casting one’s eye to the horizon. But whether they are suppliers of content or consumers, teachers don’t yet seem ready to upset the apple cart.

Time for Disruption?

Is anyone prepared to interfere with what’s going on up the food chain in traditional publishing? Yes, there are small independent publishers that contribute handsomely to the curriculum resources pot. But they seem to have agreed—tacitly or not—to play by all the old rules. Not just by observing traditional pricing strategies, but also by following the terms for discounts, purchasing, shipping, billing, and so on, that harken back to the old model.

It’s like there are two worlds: the industrious hives of activity in schools and classrooms, which are carrying on much as they always have, and the established traditional educational publishers who continue to occupy their share of the turf.

There’s room for disruption here. We plan to be part of it.

Image by Libby Levi

Our Route to Self-Publishing: 3 Moments That Mattered Most

by Carla Douglas (@CarlaJDouglas)

Image by Jun
Image by Jun

Isn’t hindsight wonderful? If you’re willing to look back, you’ll find a map of not just where you’ve been, but also your wrong turns along the way. Better still, hindsight reveals those gilded moments when you made all the right moves, launching yourself in a new direction.

Over the past 12 years, we’ve made plenty of both. Here are three of the most significant moves we’ve made, to date. They’ve been pivotal, and have pointed us in the direction we’re now taking now with self-publishing.

1. We redesigned our first book.

We’ve always had a dual audience: the 15-year-olds who have to write a standardized high-stakes literacy test and the teachers who are tasked with preparing them for it. This move required us to shift our focus from teacher to student, but always with an eye on how teachers were using our books.

Changing our resource from a comprehensive teacher guide to a consumable workbook that students could use for self-directed study was the right move, and the incentive came from our publisher who, after all, had a direct link to teachers and schools. She was both listening to what teachers said and watching for trends. We subsequently revised and reissued this resource four times, and it remains our top seller.

2. We published an ebook.

Don't Panic 2.0: On-the-Go Practice for the OSSLT
Don’t Panic 2.0: On-the-Go Practice for the OSSLT

In 2012, almost ten years in, the ebook and self-publishing revolution was well underway. The market had slowly become saturated with similar resources and our sales continued the decline they’d begun in 2008. By now, social media was all we needed to track trends ourselves. Messages from our publisher—our link to our market and audience—were vague and intermittent: There’s an election around the corner. Budgets are very tight right now.  

With little to risk, we updated our most current workbook with new content, had it formatted, and put it up on Smashwords. Creating an app was also a possibility at the time. But this was 2012, and creating something that complex would have required working with programmers and designers priced beyond our budget.

Publishing the ebook was the right next move. Although we didn’t sell a lot of copies—we realize now that it wasn’t the best format for the skills we are teaching—it moved us forward in countless other ways.

For one thing, it prompted us to create our own website and social media presence, providing a place where we could interact with our audience first-hand. And this is where the real work began, researching trends in ebook production, how digital technology was being used elsewhere, sales, marketing and promotions—all the things we’d been relying on our publisher to take care of.

Education is notoriously slow to adapt to change. This worked in our favour, though, because when teachers were ready to dip a toe into digital, we were already there.

3. We created an interactive digital resource that uses free, widely available tools. It mimics beautifully the best features of our print book, but it enhances literacy development in ways that print just can’t.

What’s more, this happened almost by accident. We were attending an editing conference in 2013 when a teacher contacted us through our website. Describing herself as not especially “tech savvy,” the teacher explained that she thought she wanted a bulk order of ebooks—something students could download to a computer, complete their work, and re-upload to a teacher.

Our ebook wasn’t designed to do that, but Corina recognized right away that an interactive PDF, coupled with Adobe Reader XI’s Read Out Loud feature would offer students the options they needed. A back-and-forth exchange with the teacher, further adaptations to our student workbook, and voilà: a pilot of our new resource the following winter at this teacher’s school.

Yesterday we sold our first interactive resource from our website—and don’t think for a minute that getting there was easy or fun. But here we are, as a result, we think, of our readiness to listen to our audience, to be aware of trends in education and digital technology, and to recognize an opportunity when it presents itself.

Why We’re Choosing Self-Publishing Now

by Carla Douglas (@CarlaJDouglas)

Image by DieselDemon
Image by DieselDemon

For 12 years, we’ve been successfully writing educational resources and publishing them with an independent press. We’ve had a good run, producing eight titles, and our relationship with our publisher for the most part has been positive and warm. This fall, however, we’ve made a sharp turn. We’ve taken the publication process back, and we’re doing almost all of it ourselves.

Here’s a bit of background. Corina and I met on the job in 2001, writing and editing curriculum for the Ontario Ministry of Education. Around this time the Ministry piloted a province-wide literacy test—a requirement for high school graduation—that 40 percent of students failed.

Corina was certain that something was wrong with the test—how questions were worded, how students interpreted instructions. We scoured the Ministry website for anything we could find about the test and how it was designed, then we wrote our own guide that teachers could use to help their struggling students over this hurdle.

We wrote and revised several drafts in MS Word, and through some digging, Corina found a guy who offered her a password protected copy of his very helpful formatting guide, From Word to Print. (Thank you Jim Hamilton of Green Harbor Publications—the generosity of the self-pub community was evident even then.)

Then we needed a publisher. The test would be administered again in October. We sent out queries, and we generated some interest—first from a small educational publisher with an excellent reputation for teacher resources, who told us our book was “too niche.” Yes—a resource to guide 100,000-plus students through a high-stakes test each year was considered niche.

We also shopped our book to a major Canadian educational publisher who 1) wanted exclusivity for 60 days, 2) said that if accepted, the book would be published in 12-18 months, and 3) told us that author royalties were 6 percent.

We were pretty sure we could do better, and on the Friday afternoon before the Labour Day weekend, I searched once more, and sent a query off to a little educational press I’d never heard of. The publisher replied by phone the next day at noon, and she was eager to act on this quickly. She offered us a generous (for the time) royalty rate of 26 percent, and by the end of September 2002, we had books in teachers’ hands.

By the time we began sending out queries, we had a good product—professionally written and edited, print-ready, with a clearly defined audience and identified need. As authors, we’d done our part. But it was finding this particular publisher that was key.

She was a perfect fit. It’s a stretch to say that we chose her—we found her, and she chose us. She was always on the edge—not a traditional publisher at all, and she offered much more— something similar, really, to supported self-publishing:

Agile, nimble publishing, always with an eye on the horizon. We knew there was an immediate need to get a resource like ours into the hands of teachers. The test was brand new, and we were the first responders. Our publisher also recognized this, and had the experience with printing, marketing and distribution and a relationship with school boards and teachers to make it happen quickly.

A collaborative approach, including control over our work and retention of our rights. Collaborating with a publisher is a sure sign that that publisher is non-traditional. Over the years we created new resources in response to trends our publisher identified by listening to what teachers were telling her. Similarly, she could get behind most of our ideas for new resources, always with the marketing savvy and reach into the schools that we were lacking.

Generous royalties. For the time. Yes, we shared 26 percent (a rate later reduced to 20 percent when printing and shipping costs increased). But the only interest we had from a large traditional publisher offered a measly 6 percent, so 3 percent each.

Why, then, are we choosing now to take back our titles and self-publish?

For many of the same reasons we chose our independent publisher 12 years ago, except that times have changed (in case you haven’t noticed). For one thing, we are more experienced and confident. For instance, if a publisher were to tell us now that our yearly renewable market of over 100,000 students is a niche, we would not need to stifle that snort of disbelief.

Many of the functions our publisher performed can now be automated or handled electronically. Social media has made reach into schools much easier (if still a bit tricky) and truly, it’s been hard to watch 80 percent of revenues from our books drift past the window while we’ve held on (barely) to a paltry 20 percent. It took us a while to fully realize this, but when we did, there was no turning back.

Beyond the obvious efficiencies that digital makes possible, a couple of principles are guiding our decisions.

Educational resources should be digital—for ease and speed of delivery, and for the ability to update and customize content quickly. Why should schools wait a year or more for the most current resource? Why should they pay for shipping? Students have been ready for digital for some time. Teachers, too, are stepping forward to make this request on their students’ behalf. Digital also takes consumption out of play. Most of our resources are consumable workbooks, and making these digital reduces a huge amount of paper waste. But not until recently have the format and tools that best support literacy activities been made widely available.

Print is the anchor dragging behind our boat. For students who require a print format or schools that aren’t adequately equipped with computers, we are happy to make a printable download available—and the delivery is digital. But as long as we actively promote and offer a print book alongside our digital interactive workbook, we’ll be standing in our own way. So we’ve stopped. Pedagogically, the digital tools available to teachers and students using our interactive resource are far superior to anything available in print.

A couple of years ago we published an ebook, and last year, in response to a request from a teacher, we created and piloted our interactive workbook. Teachers have responded with interest and a bit of caution. But they like our books—which are tried and true, after all—and so teachers are willing to give them a try.

During this process, though, it became increasingly clear that our publisher would never give up print. She had stopped resembling a self-pub and seemed now to have more in common with traditional publishers, trying to wring the last nickel from a format that no longer best serves its audience.