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Patricia Boyd
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And the M-W editors Peter Sokolowski, Kory Stamper, and Emily Brewster also offer great fun and insight on Twitter. But as a freelancer, I take much comfort in the Chicago Manual forum. Since I have no editor coworkers sitting next to me in an office, these folks provide the next best thing. (You do have to pay for a year's worth of online use of the manual, however, to join the forum. But the easy access to the manual is so helpful, and I deduct the fee as a valid business expense. What's more, the fee automatically screens out the not-so-serious types from the forum.)
A friend copyediting a novel for a self-publishing author told him that since the story was set in the 1950s, the protagonist would not have pulled out a cell phone in the bar. "Just stick to spelling and grammar," he told her. Some people truly fail to understand our function (or cannot take criticism!).
Wise words, as usual, Carol! I'm still not sure why publishing houses don't handle their (noncomplex) books as a single file, rather than, say, twelve files. But anyway, I always first make a master file for my own use for the books I copyedit. Then, using the "Style" function in Word, I usually quickly apply a heading style to all the heads as they are. That is, what appear to be A-heads get "Head 1" style, B-heads get "Head 2" style, and so on. Then in the "View" tab, I check the "Show Navigation Pane" box. Voila! You have a godlike view of how the entire manuscript is organized (or not organized). This view is much better than the Outline view, as it shows relationships between headings, and you can navigate easily throughout the entire book by clicking on the headings shown in the pane. I find this step well worth the minutes it takes up front. It makes inconsistent or illogical headings much more apparent and helps me see overall tendencies or problems in the book.
Toggle Commented Nov 13, 2012 on Going Up? Plan Ahead at Writer, Editor, Helper
I don't know, Anita. What if the author always uses his or her initials only? A style guide that says always use the first name seems pretty rigid to me, anyway. Change J. D. Salinger? T. S. Elliot? But I guess if looked up the author name and found both the spelled-out version and initials for various publications, I would spell out the first name in the bibliog. Regarding state names, etc.: Many authors omit the place of publishing when preparing their manuscripts, and many of my clients still want this information. doesn't include it. But thank goodness, the Library of Congress Online Catalog does.
Well said, Carol! I love your "What should she do? ... Make up a name? Delete that source? Change all 437 author names to initials only?" You crack me up! Anyway, perhaps viewing style manuals' prescriptions as guidelines and not as rules would help. After all, we Americans don't have an Académie française. You're right, Jonathan, in that notes and bibliographies are the main "problem" for rule-followers. As you say, a focus on the real function of references would help editors make the right decisions on styling problems. As I learned when doing scientific research, the more you know, the less dogmatic you become.
Thanks especially for example number 1. Still, I don't eliminate these pedestrian quotes when I'm told to copyedit a book lightly and when the author is resistant to changes. But when I become queen of the world, I will not allow quotes like these. Also, I will not allow any preface to contain the word "journey." Thank you. I feel better now.
For real, that South Side sentence? That's hilarious! And Maurianne, yours is pretty funny, too! By the way, is there another term besides dangler for the Grafton sentence? Vague antecedent? I can often recognize errors or awkwardness, but since I'm not an English major, I don't always know the term for the problem.
OMG, Carol, you've nailed it to a tee (and to a tree)! Or should I say, "Reading your humorous letter full of danglers, you really made me laugh"? Here are my two most memorable dangling incidents as a copyeditor: 1. Once, I reworded something like "Driving around the tight curve, my McFlurry spilled on my lap" to "As we drove around the tight curve, my McFlurry spilled on my lap" to avoid the dangler. Told the author why I made the change. He nixed the rewording and inserted "While" at the beginning of the sentence to "fix" the dangler! He did this for a good number of his bad danglers. 2. On another book, I had reworded a bad dangler in the very first paragraph of the manuscript. The author had approved the change, and I sent the cleaned-up manuscript back to the publisher for typesetting. I happened across the printed book sometime later. There, in the first paragraph, was a new dangler, very similar to the one I had originally reworded: "Being tall, muscular, and strong, many people seem afraid of me." [Details changed, but structure and idea the same.] Unfortunately, my name is in the acknowledgments as copyeditor.
I have been guilty of TMAQs (too many author queries). Not that long ago, I thought I was being preemptive by citing a CMOS rule for a change that I was making repeatedly in a manuscript. I got a note back from the author saying something like "Fine with the changes, but spare me the lecture." I still cringe when I think about it. Live and learn. On the other hand, some authors (often first-timers) seem thrilled to see lots of comments on their manuscript, equating comments with attention. These authors are the exception, though. I agree on avoiding the repetitive comments, which are so easy with today's technology. One query at first occurrence, and then do the global search and replace later. And let the author know that you'll fix globally. If it's not a specific, easily searchable term in question, I might highlight the various phrases or underline them for ease in finding later.
Years ago, I created just such a macro (though my toggling keystrokes are Alt + V + A). But this doesn't seem to work when you are in a notes pane (I almost typed "pain"--Freudian slip?). I have to move my mouse back onto regular text and use my macro then. Now that really is a pain! Anyone have any suggestions? Endnotes is where I really want to toggle back and forth with ease.
The older I get, the more forgiving I am with unskilled writers. But I do find that when I reassure the author that if he or she doesn't like my changes, the original can easily and cheerfully be restored, I get better responses. (Though in truth, I do grumble to myself about stets, but I have resignedly written an "undo" keyboard macro so that the task isn't too reprehensible for me.) I too always go back through my comments, many of which get deleted or modified. Sometimes, I'm just so taken with a sentence or two that I want just to write a non-editorial comment (such as a compliment or my own observation that backs up the author's point). Most of the time in these situations, though, I refrain, or relegate this to the author letter. I know what you mean about sometimes having a hard time finding something to compliment in the author letter. But being a mother does help. Remember how we'd encourage our nonathletic kids after a soccer game? "You really ran hard [albeit away from the ball]!" I make similar comments: "Your passion for milky spore grub control really shines through in this manuscript!"
Same way that cats squeeze through tight railing slats. And cats have bones; insects don't!
Toggle Commented Jul 8, 2011 on Questions for Me? at Writer, Editor, Helper
Valerie--The obsessive in me feels compelled to mention that CMOS, 16th ed., section 6.120, did have an answer to my question-in-a-question question (otherwise known as QIQQ). I just happened to see it now. It suggests using just one of the marks unless they're different or the meaning is unclear. So I guess it's just What do you say when someone asks, "Can I help you?"
Ah, Valerie, a person after my own heart. I, too, wondered about the question-in-a-question situation. As a matter of fact, I posted it on the Chicago Manual of Style forum (; if you're a member of the forum, go to Punctuation, and search for "Double question mark"). Although the other forum contributors to my question disagreed, I felt that it should be ?"? I also agree that there's no need for the comma in Mike's example, but maybe that's just because I'm used to American punctuation rather than British.
Whoever wrote the comment "phrasal verbs like 'to sign-up,'" thanks for the laugh! "Please clean-up this report, and follow-up with a phone call." Aargh! It's such a waste of perfectly good hyphens. If people who write like this continue to proliferate, we'll be looking under Account Deleted's bed for extra hyphens. But I do remember how my father, born in 1916, would write the old-fashioned "to-day" and "to-morrow" in his handwritten letters to me, and I wonder if today's "e-mail" will look as quaint as his "to-days" and "to-morrows."
I like 'em. Not pages and pages, but a page's worth, I find interesting in a nosy sort of way. Especially when I've finished a good book and I'm not yet ready to say good-bye to the author.
So glad to hear that I'm not the only silent mispronouncer! Muh-LANE-ee definitely sounds more Southern. Regarding me-LAN-choly, I think that four-syllable words are often mispronounced, or have two acceptable pronunciations, anyway: Cuh-RIB-ee-in, Care-ib-EE-in; ther-MOM-eter, thermo-MEE-ter. And Nicole, doesn't the recommendation to use a comma wherever you'd naturally pause in the spoken word make sense? That is, unless you are William Shatner.
Patricia Boyd added a favorite at Writer, Editor, Helper
Feb 16, 2011
One of the links you listed has "eggcorns," for a word or phrase of similar sound for the correct one. A common one in our local Pennysaver is "For sale: rod iron table and chairs." Similar, but a tad different is this: How about a term for when you silently mispronounce a word when reading and don't connect it with the spoken word? Usually, you find out your error when you develop a close relationship and your partner says, "Huh?" when you mispronounce. My bad was "Tucson," which I silently read "Tucksin" in novels and which I assumed was a different city from "Tooson" I heard in the news. A friend's word was "voila!" which he silently pronounced "viola" (the musical instrument) in books and figured was a different term when he heard "Voila!" on TV.
OK, here's my plug. After reading "The Subversive Copyeditor," I modified my approach to authors and have had much more luck with them than I've had before. Used to be, authors would be happy with my catches of outright errors but sometimes seemed pretty resistant to any tightening-up of run-on sentences or suggestions for clarity. (Both such types of edits would have been requested by my publisher clients.) I'm not sure exactly how I've done it, but I think I just focus a little more on assuring authors that this is their baby and that they should feel completely free to stet or modify a suggestion. So thanks, Carol, as you have really helped me improve my professional skills by encouraging to me see the big picture. I'm not the Word Police or Grammar Patrol; I'm an editor helping a writer get something across to a reader and helping publishers and authors sell books.
What about editing a friend or relative's job cover letter so that it shines? What if he or she gets the job? Some folks have felt that this might be an unfair advantage. I say, this shows that the applicant knows how to improve writing on an important document. Thoughts?
Most of my publishers use separate files for chapters; one dear publisher puts them all into one big file. I have had no problems (now that I have a new computer) editing the big file. And Carol is right; all the cleanup goes much faster. The bigger question is, Why not encourage the publishers (and their contractors like copyeditors and typesetters) to work with one big file? But for those who want separate files, I always, at the start of a project, create a master file containing all the files. I actually color-code each chapter with a background according to the rainbow. Red = ch. 1; orange = ch. 2, yellow = ch. 3, etc. That way, when I'm globally searching, I can easily see what chapter a term is located. By the way, after I reach the end of the rainbow (are you following me on this, Dorothy?), I start again, only adding borders: red in a single border = ch 7, orange in a single border = ch 8, etc. It takes about 10 minutes, but it's way worth the time!
Most ask me, "So you make sure things are spelled correctly and correct the grammar?" Oh, that it were this easy! I've usually tried to justify my profession by explaining the details of what I do. But yours is a far, far better suggestion: just switch topics quickly and ask what they do! The only things I judge are memos from my kids' teachers and principals. Errors in these letters made me cringe. These folks are teaching our children? Sorry, so if you're a teacher, yes, you'd better watch your grammar around me!
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Aug 2, 2010