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Editing Skills for Do-It-Yourselfers or Those with Editors
by Carolyn Howard Johnson
As a freelance editor of fiction, memoir, and poetry as well as the author of the HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers including the winningest book in the series The Frugal Editor, I know that I can give an author a better price on my editing service when they submit a “clean” manuscript.
As a writer who has published every which way, I know that tricks like the ones in this article (mostly excerpted from that book) help authors produce more professional hardcover or print copies no matter what platform an author chooses. To put a fine point on it, authors benefit when they know some of the things editors look for whether they work with an editor they are or with with an editor assigned to them by a big five publisher.
In fact, great editing (along with a knack for marketing skills) can help them convince an agent or publisher “this project” is the one they should invest in. MSNBC brands themselves internationally with the quotation, “the more you know.” That motto applies to authors, even when it comes to something they think they can turn over for someone else to do! That includes choices that however closely they abide by general publishing rules are annoying for editors as outlined in a chapter in The Frugal Editor that covers gatekeepers’ pet peeves exclusively.
The “bad breaks” in this article are but one no-no authors can learn to spot easily in manuscripts and galleys. Once we’re aware of them, they announce themselves loud and clear and while an author goes about fixing them, they’ll begin to see other, smaller boo-boos, too. So here how to spot what editors and formatters call bad breaks:
Bad Break #1
The easiest bad break to recognize is called a widow. That where the last line of a paragraph appears all by its little lonely self on the next page.
Bad Break #2
Orphans are also easily recognized. It’s just that many authors haven’t learned to see how they can be confusing for readers (and offensive to editors and formatters). When a paragraph, title, subhead title or new section begins on one page and gets left dangling there. That leaves them with incomplete knowledge about what it coming next and—at its worst—that might lead to misunderstanding everything that comes after. At best it may be annoying for a reader who might be forced to go back to the preceding page to get a full understanding.
Bad Break #3
A hyphenated word at the end of line that appears as the very last thing a reader sees on any given page. It might interrupt the forward thought or the pacing of the manuscript for the reader.
Bad Break #4
A word that breaks incorrectly at the end of a line may be the fault of poor typesetting or of the program when the writer has it set to autocorrect. Check your dictionary when an authors must break a word when they’re publishing on their own, it’s best to check a dictionary. Even professional typesetters live in terror of this one. We don’t break words anywhere but between syllables. Great publishers and editors also don’t break a long word after the very first syllable or just before the last one.
Bad Break #5
We also don’t break a name (use a hyphen) after an initial in a name. A name like “J. R. Turner” gets left intact even if avoiding the break screws with spacing a tad. To avoid that, typesetters may use wider spacing elsewhere in a paragraph or an editor may suggest wording that helps avoid it. You may have seen wide spacing in your newspaper. Long links may cause similar problems.
You’ll find many other tips on “Avoiding Humiliation and Ensuring Success” (which happens to be the subtitle for second edition of The Frugal Editor. It is now published by Modern History Press with more keywords in the title—another topic I tackle in its updated third edition.The Frugal Editor is available on Amazon as an e-book, paperback, and hardcover.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers and the many classes she taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. The books in her HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers have won multiple awards.
That series includes The Frugal Book Promoter and The Frugal Editor which won awards from USA Book News, Readers’ Views Literary Award, the marketing award from Next Generation Indie Books and others including the coveted Irwin award. How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically launched to rave reviews from Jim Cox, Editor-in-Chief of Midwest Book Reviews and others: He says, my newest in the series “How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically and other books in [Carolyn’s] series could well serve as textbooks for a college Writing/Publishing curriculum.”
Howard-Johnson is the recipient of the California Legislature’s Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community’s Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly’s list of “Fourteen San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen” and was given her community’s Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts.
How I love sneaking a few formatting tricks into my “The Frugal Editor.” Both editing and formatting know-how can make such a big difference in the finished product–so much so it’s not wise to depend on the publisher (no matter who that is) to catch all the details.