Hall of Shame: Check your modifiers

Today’s “Hall of Shame” headline is a variation of a mistake that I have been enduring for years and every time I see it or hear it, I cringe.

Amanda Knox’s former Italian boyfriend engaged?

We’ll ignore the fact that it’s rather silly to pose this as a question to readers and the fact the presentation smacks of tabloidism. (It’s actually from an online news site, by the way.)

When many people read this sentence, I’m sure they understand that this refers to Italian citizen Rafaelle Sollecito who was the boyfriend of Amanda Knox at the time of her arrest for murder. They are no longer boyfriend/girlfriend, so he’s now her former boyfriend.

But if you look at the quote carefully, that’s not what it actually says.

Adjectives modify the noun closest to them, as a rule This quote instead says that Rafaelle is a formerly Italian but he is still Amanda Knox’s boyfriend. Unless Rafaelle was expelled from Italy and his citizenship revoked, this headline is an error. And it’s an error that seems to run like wildfire through the press for some reason I have yet to figure out. Laziness? Reliance on a single press service and accepting their errors?

This should actually read:

Amanda Knox’s Italian former boyfriend engaged?

Check your modifiers to make sure they are in the correct place.

Bad editing is not “handcrafting”

I happened to see this statement attached to a bit of promo from a self-published author this week. The quote was included in an announcement that the author’s newest book was now available on Smashwords and it was so absolutely bizarre to see, I had to reread it several times to see if the author had, indeed, said what I thought I read.

The statement was:

Oh sure, there’s bound to be something we missed in the editing process but flaws are what sets handmade art apart from the manufactured items, right? Perfection is so overrated.



First, I disagree with the implication that well-edited works are “manufactured items”. That’s a borderline offensive statement to authors who work very hard to make their work as error-free as possible. If an author hires me as an editor to help perfect their work, is their work somehow diminished by this? They are not artists any longer? The work they toiled over, sweated over and invested in is somehow lessened by careful editing?

Second, this sort of statement, to me, says the author is taking such a casual attitude toward the work that I shouldn’t bother to buy it. It’s not taken professionally. The author is making excuses instead of trying to ensure the work is as error-free as possible. Excuses are being made, in advance, for why there are errors and trying to make it somehow cute. Maybe the author is saying that we, as readers, shouldn’t expect work to be well-edited because it should be “art”.

My issues with this are independent of whether the author is self-published or not, but most publishers do make at least a cursory attempt at editing a manuscript before they publish it. This kind of statement can be part of what gives self-published works a bad rap, though.

In this case, the author’s own words and excuses have caused this author to be on my personal Never Buy list and I don’t consider this statement one that would be made by someone who wants to be taken at all seriously.

Thanks for the warning.

Style Guides

In many aspects of life, but especially in the written word, it’s important to have a common set of rules or guidelines. These provide continuity, uniformity and clues that remove some of the burden of guesswork as something is being read.

There are layers of these rules that stack on top of each other, from rules inherent in the alphabet in use, to those that are inherent in the language in use, to those inherent in the work’s intended audience or publication. For example:

  • The alphabet in use will tend to have rules about letter formation and order.
  • The language in use will tend to have rules like the directional flow of text, punctuation usage and spelling.
  • The intended audience will tend to have rules like how terms are used, which specific terms are appropriate, and even how long a work should be.

Most of these rules are built around standardization. If everyone at least tries to do things the same way, then it will be far easier for everyone to make sense of what others do. Imagine the chaos of one person randomly deciding that they would write their newspaper with a diagonal text alignment and alternating left-to-right and right-to-left text flow. Maybe it would work for a brief time as a publicity stunt, but everyone who tried to read it would give up because it would be just too hard to make sense of it.

Read more…

A Primer on Types of Editing

When I get a request to “edit” a story, the first thing I do is clarify just what type of editing a client is looking to have performed because the range of possibilities is actually quite broad. To make things even more interesting, there’s not a true 100% standardization on the names or even tasks of particular types of editing within the publishing industry. The definitions and tasks can vary across different publishing houses, different publishing niches and even with different freelance editors.

It’s all a bit of a mess and it can be confusing for authors who are either looking for editing services or trying to figure out what the status they’ve just been sent by their editor means.

Instead of attempting some sort of World Dominance of Editing Terminology, I’ve listed below the three major editing types with a few of their alternate names and the most common tasks associated with those types of editing. This is the list I work off of and will give you a decent, if imperfect, idea of what you’re looking at when you are contracting for editing services or getting a status on editing in progress.

Read more…

Welcome – and Pardon the Dust

As you can see, this site is brand new and I’m still getting the layout and such set up.

So please be patient and I expect to start posting real information before December 1, 2011.