Alana Woods ... the Intrigue Queen

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Alana Woods on editing: Q&A

Posted by Alana Woods on June 19, 2012 at 7:00 PM Comments comments (0)

This week is the last in my editing series. You’ve left some good comments and one particular question that I answered at the time but would like to revisit.

The question was: how do I know when an edit is complete?

My answer was this: when a feeling of satisfaction settles on me. And as editors usually work to deadlines I work for the satisfaction level and deadline to coincide.

In retrospect that was an unsatisfactory and glib answer.

Yes, I do wait for that satisfaction to settle but it’s much more methodical than that. At the start of a job I identify what needs to be done. I work my way through all of those needs, compiling a style sheet along the way. It’s when I’ve addressed all of the issues and put a tick through everything on the style sheet that the satisfaction settles.

Here’s a question for you. Have I persuaded you that the editor’s life is the one for you? Or have I completely put you off it?


Alana Woods on editing: can you read and edit simultaneously?

Posted by Alana Woods on June 5, 2012 at 7:00 PM Comments comments (6)

I’ve covered a lot of ground about editing in the last weeks.

This week I put a question to you.

Can you read for enjoyment and edit a document simultaneously?

I’ll say up front that I can’t.

I either read a book for pleasure—in which case I may see errors, but I’m not looking for them. Or I have my editor’s hat on and I am looking for them.

Over the years I’ve noticed another difference. When I read for pleasure I retain much of what I read long term. When I edit I become intimately involved with the subject matter for the duration of the editing process only. I tend to forget most of what I’ve worked on within days of finishing it.

How about you?

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Alana Woods on editing: how do editors price jobs?

Posted by Alana Woods on May 30, 2012 at 9:55 PM Comments comments (0)

There's a variety of ways that editors price jobs. It can be by the word, the page, the hour or a flat fee. There may be other ways but these four are the ones I’m familiar with.

Some editors charge different rates for the different levels of edit. Some charge the same rate but because a proofread takes less time than a substantive edit the total price will be less.

The range in rates is large, for example I’ve seen hourly rates ranging from $40 to $100 and I imagine there are editors out there who charge below or above that range.

Working out the total fee for by the word is simple to calculate.

By the page and hour require a bit more thought. You need to know the equation the editor uses, for example:

  • Paper size:A4
  • Type size: 12 pt Times New Roman
  • Words per page: I’ve seen a range from 250 to 400 words, which will give you the total number of pages to be edited.

Then you need to know what level of edit is required: proofread, copy or substantive.

A per page fee will increase depending on the level of edit.

A per hour fee is the same regardless of the edit level but the number of pages per hour will vary, for example 10 pages an hour for a proofread, 6 pages for a copy edit and 3 for a substantive edit.

If you calculate things differently I’d be interested to hear what you do.

Alana Woods on editing: do you edit fiction and non-fiction differently?

Posted by Alana Woods on May 21, 2012 at 11:55 PM Comments comments (0)

For me the answer is yes and no.

I’ve done a lot of non-fiction editing over the years and I’ve found the way to approach it is objectively.

This is because content is usually not in question, just quality. The client doesn’t give a fig what you change as long as the finished product gets their message across in the most concise, simple and easy-to-read way possible and the language suits the organisation.

So, unless I find major problems that necessitate discussion with the client, I edit, rewrite and rearrange to my heart’s content and hand them back the finished document. But as I’ve said before, I track all of my changes so the client can check the changes.

I do it all on screen, going through the document twice. The first time I familiarise myself with the topic and form a view of what needs doing. The second time I get down to business.

Fiction I approach both objectively and subjectively.

Objectively for such things as spelling, punctuation and grammar when doing a proofread. Subjectively in relation to quality of writing and story development etc., because you need to be careful that anything you do doesn’t change the author’s voice. Mind you, some of the manuscripts I’ve read have needed a lot of work to bring out an author’s potential as a writer.

Whether I do a screen edit or a combination of screen and paper edit depends on the amount of work to be done. At the least I’ll go through the document on-screen twice, as I do with non-fiction. If more work is needed I’ll also go through it on paper. I can spread the pages out and it’s only my eye that needs to jump around to see what’s where and where I think things need moving to. I find that process so much easier to do on paper than on screen.

Once everything I’ve done on paper has been transferred to the electronic copy I’ll switch to Final view and go through the edited clean copy to make sure I haven’t missed anything.

Next week I’ll talk about how editors approach the pricing of jobs.


Alana Woods on editing: don't forget the client

Posted by Alana Woods on May 15, 2012 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (0)

This is week nine in my series What editors do.

And it’s on the relationship between the editor and the client (author).

A good editor will be able to decide how much editing a document needs and convey that cogently to the client.

Before beginning a job the editor should provide a written quote that details the agreed level of edit, the time it will take, delivery date and cost. If payment is to be in stages, the dates/stages and amounts need to be agreed and also detailed in the quote.

The editor should state at the outset, when first approached, if they require payment for appraising a document before providing a quote.

The client may well need help to understand what information they should be seeking. In other words, don’t stint on discussion.

A good editor works at building and keeping a good relationship with the client. They know it’s important the client believes in what they can do and trusts them to do it.

The bottom line is respecting what the client has done and then showing them how it can be improved.

If the editor finishes the job with the client asking if they’d be interested in looking at their next body of work, they’ve probably done everything right.

 Next week: is fiction edited differently to non-fiction?


Alana Woods on editing: the spellchecker

Posted by Alana Woods on May 9, 2012 at 10:10 AM Comments comments (1)

This is week eight in my series What editors do.

This week I ask you two questions. Do you use the spellchecker? Do you think it worthwhile?

I do, on both counts.

I always have it activated and keep a watch for those red wavy lines underneath a word that indicate it could be misspelt. I also check the green wavy lines because they indicate something may be amiss with grammar or punctuation.

The thing is, you can’t rely on it. Why? Because it doesn’t pick up everything, for instance homophones, those words that have the same pronunciation but different spelling and meanings e.g. phased/fazed.

But the spellchecker is a handy item in the editor’s toolbag.

If you do use it do you have the right language selected? You don’t want it set to US English if you’re working in the UK or Australia and vice versa because it will identify words that are spelt differently in those countries, e.g. authorised/authorized.

Next week the editor and client relationship.

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Alana Woods on editing: roles have blurred

Posted by Alana Woods on May 1, 2012 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (2)

This is week seven in my series What editors do.

This week is about the roles of editors, designers, artists, illustrators, typesetters and photographers.

In the days before computers when we worked on hard copy, when pasting up literally meant pasting copy and illustrations to paper—I know it’s difficult for some of you to remember back that far, you probably weren’t even a twinkle in your father’s eye—editors, designers, artists, illustrators and typesetters had clearly defined roles.

Editors edited then marked up final copy for typesetting, designers chose the look of the publication—by that I mean the layout, colour scheme etc.—typesetters followed the marked-up copy instructions to render text into its final form, and artists, illustrators and photographers provided artwork for covers and any internal illustrations.

Designers, artists and illustrators tended to work for graphic design firms that contracted out their services. Typesetters were generally employed by printers because it was the printer who rendered the pasted-up copy into final artwork. Photographers, in my experience, generally worked for themselves and were hired when needed.

Since computerisation the roles have blurred. There are no hard and fast rules about who does what.

An author can now do everything up to the printing stage and often does, especially indie authors. And as we all know, results can vary.

In the government and corporate context two people only are usually involved after the author hands a job on: the editor and the graphic designer, often working together. The editor edits the text but can also be expected to format (apply styles) a document ready for the designer.

The designer typesets, designs the look and depending on their artistic skills either produces or incorporates illustrations. They also design and produce the cover and produce final artwork which is provided to the printer.

That’s not to say everyone else has gone the way of the dodo.

Graphic designer is now a catch-all term for designers, artists, illustrators and typesetters. Graphic designers now perform all of those roles. And photographers will always be needed.

Next week the spellchecker.

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Alana Woods on editing: the editor's secret

Posted by Alana Woods on April 24, 2012 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (4)

This is week six in my series What editors do.

And this week I’m giving away a secret.

It doesn’t matter what you read about getting out a quality book all advice seems to say this: that you must have an editor go over your final copy. Not only to pick up all the typos but also because they will point out any shortcomings. I couldn’t agree more with this.

But because I know that authors like to go over their work ad nauseam whether they have an editor or not, I am going to add my tip, one that I gave you in week four on proofreading. And that is to print out your document and use a ruler when you are proofreading it.

But that’s not the editor’s secret I promised you.

The professional editor’s secret is this.

When a manuscript has been edited and typeset, in a publishing unit they will then do a one-on-one read.

That consists of one editor reading out loud from the last copy before it was typeset.

The text will mirror the text in the typeset document.

This read includes everything: capitals, paragraph breaks, widows/orphans, etc. It also includes formatting—by that I mean bold and italics, indents, justification, spacing etc.

The second editor will check the typeset document against what is being read.

They both use rulers to focus on the line being read.

Try it. In my experience you find heaps of typos.

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Alana Woods on editing: the style sheet

Posted by Alana Woods on April 17, 2012 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (6)

This is week five in my series What editors do.

In past weeks I have explained the three levels of edit: the substantive edit, the copy edit and proofreading.

When undertaking substantive and copy edits I use style sheets to keep track of everything that is happening in the document. Whether I use one when proofreading depends on the length and complexity of the document.

If style sheets were worth money, to an editor they’d be gold.

A style sheet allows you to keep track of everything stylistically within a document. This list isn’t exhaustive but it would typically include notes of:

  • preferred spelling—if a word can be spelled more than one way
  • whether initial capitals are used, for instance in publication titles
  • when italics and bolding are to be used. (Underlining is generally not used in publications; bold, italics, type size and spacing are used to highlight text)
  • what words are being hyphenated
  • acronyms—first occurrences
  • short forms—e.g. legislation
  • word contractions
  • heading levels: typeface, size, spacing, bolding etc.

Anything, in fact, that is repeated and needs to be consistent throughout the document should be noted so the editor doesn’t rely on memory.

Next week the editor’s secret.

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Alana Woods on editing: proofreading

Posted by Alana Woods on April 10, 2012 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (2)

This is week four in my series What editors do.


In weeks one to three I gave an overview of editing and explained the first two of the three levels of edit: the substantive edit and the copy edit.

Level three is proofreading.

It’s exactly what it sounds like. At this stage the editor checks for missed typographical mistakes (typos) and that there’s nothing wrong with the formatting.

Proofreads should be done after a document has been typeset and is ready to be printed. It’s the final check to make sure everything is okay.

However, as with substantive and copy edits, even at this late stage if I find something I think should be addressed I’ll let the client know.

Deadlines are always hanging over your head in publishing so if you do identify a problem at this stage the client is going to have conniptions. It’s your job to get the problem sorted so the deadline can be met.

To do a thorough proofread you should print the document out and use a ruler, checking one line at a time. A ruler keeps your attention focused.

Next week I’ll talk about style sheets.

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Alana Woods on editing: the copy edit

Posted by Alana Woods on April 3, 2012 at 7:00 PM Comments comments (4)

This is week three in my series What editors do.

Week one was an overview and week two an explanation of the highest level of edit, the substantive edit.

This week I explain the second level: the copy edit.

Generally a copy edit is to make a document readable.

It involves fixing mistakes and looking at consistency in such things as language, spelling, vocabulary, grammar, punctuation, capitals and hyphenation (hyphens, ems and en rules).

It can include checking house style, references and glossaries, tables and graphs, heading levels and applying styles to all text and generating tables of content.

Unless requested to be on the lookout for possible structural deficiencies and the need for rewriting they are not part of a copy edit. Personally, even if not requested, if I see a potential problem I’ll advise the client. If I consider them minor I’ll fix them, making a note for the client.

At this level if something is okay the rule is: Don’t fiddle with it.

Editing is generally on screen nowadays, with changes tracked so the client can see exactly what has been done.

When returning the edited document to the client I include a detailed brief of what I’ve done, elaborating on any comments I’ve made in the document itself.

Next week I explain the third level of edit, the proofread.

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Alana Woods on editing: the substantive edit

Posted by Alana Woods on March 27, 2012 at 7:00 PM Comments comments (3)

Last week I started a series What editors do and gave an overview of the editing process.

This week I explain the first of the three levels of editing: the substantive edit.

This is the most involved edit you can undertake. It’s the full box and dice. Absolutely every aspect of a document is scrutinised.

It covers structure, content, context, language, style, readability, clarity, logic, consistency, standardisation, jargon, spelling, punctuation and grammar. If I’ve missed anything in that list assume that it’s included.

Citations are checked, as is the content of tables, figures, graphs, and diagrams. Figures are tallied to make sure totals are correct. Any mentions of all of these in the text are cross-checked for consistency.

If requested it includes formatting: generating templates and applying styles to all text and generating automated tables of content.

The purpose of applying styles is twofold: firstly, inconsistencies in such things as heading levels can be identified; secondly, it considerably speeds up the design and typesetting stage as text designated with a certain style can be changed throughout the document in moments.

Clients generally request that any restructuring or rewriting be done as part of the process, but if deficiencies are major it’s advisable to discuss options with them first.

If more than one author has contributed the editor’s job is to rewrite to ensure there is only one voice. Even documents with one author can be of variable quality and style and, again, the editor’s job is to standardise, to make the document a quality product.

It pays to have an ordered approach. Attack one aspect at a time. I leave checking the page order (title, imprint, dedication etc. pages), heading levels, headers, footers and page numbering until last, and I check them separately. That way I’m not trying to remember too much at once.

Editing is generally on screen nowadays, with changes tracked so the client can see exactly what has been done.

When returning the edited document to the client I include a detailed brief of what I’ve done, elaborating on any comments I’ve made in the document itself.

Style sheets are a must and I’ll explain what they are in another post.

But next week the copy edit.

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Alana Woods on editing: What editors do

Posted by Alana Woods on March 20, 2012 at 7:00 PM Comments comments (4)

I’ve been a professional copy editor for over 30 years. For most of that time I worked in various Australian public service departments, latterly as Director of Publishing at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

I’m no longer in full-time employment—haven’t been for about eight years. Most of my time now is taken up with my own writing but I keep my editing skills honed by doing some contract work and my clientele has expanded to authors wanting their manuscripts edited.

I imagine what copy editors—generally referred to as editors—actually do may be a bit of a mystery to some. People will be familiar with the concept, of ensuring that a document is readable, but what about the nitty gritty?

There are three levels of editing—substantive, copy and proofreading—and over the next weeks I’ll explain them.

Editing on screen has changed the process. Once upon a time it was done on hard copy. In some circumstances I will do both.

Do I go over a document just once? No.

With government and corporate work I scan the entire document to familiarise myself with it and then I will start at the beginning and work my way through.

Fiction I will go through two or three times. The first is a read through on screen to become familiar with the story and identify any potential problems. I don’t edit at this stage but I will fix typos as I see them and make notes of things that need to be looked at.

If I find no major flaws I will then go through it again on screen and make the changes, including any rewriting I feel is reasonable for me to make—and any rewriting is only a suggestion to the author.

I use tracked changes so the author can see what I’ve done and reject anything they don’t agree with.

If major flaws need to be addressed I’ll print out a paper copy and work through that.

The third edit is when I input those hard copy changes. I read it again in its entirety. This is when I insert comment boxes in which I explain my concerns in relation to things I believe the author should address.

 Next week I'll explain the substantive edit.


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