Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Upcoming Appearances

Yours truly will be representing the 'umble freelance editor on Saturday, May 28, at the Writers' Union of Canada conference at a panel entitled "A Carnival of
Commas: Dispatches from the Grammar Wars," with Alison Gordon, Russell Smith, and moderator Doug Gibson.

Next weekend, they're shaking the comma dust off me, and we're going to wander the halls with the throngs at BookExpo.

The weekend after, I'll be speaking in defense of some of my favourite hobgoblin-fodder at the Editors' Association of Canada conference, back in Toronto.

After that, I'll be back in the punctuation pits, again, feeding unrefined prose to the processors.

The Comma Mines: Extracts and Dispatches

Once again, I'm down in the comma mines. These days, I'm pumping the raw prose through the initial processing stages.

While I'm trapped down here, ensuring a steady flow of prose and ideas through the cogs, I'll send dispatches and extracts for the amusement of any loyal readers.

Fact-checking: The Big Leagues

Fact-checking is one of my favourite editorial tasks. I'm a born arguer, hole-poker, thread-picker, and generally an argumentative, cranky person. I'm pretty pleased when I find a hero who drives away in a car that didn't go into production until three years after the date of the novel, or if I notice that a female, Victorian character has neglected to put her shoes on before lacing her corset. It seems, though that I might just be a minor-league fact-catcher. These guys sound like the big leagues.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Adventures in Parallelism

From the department of "There's a Name for That?!" comes one of my favourite editorial errors: the Floating Conjunctive Both.

Mark Liberman cites this example fom the May 15, 2005 NYT article by Ian Fisher and Laurie Goodstein, "Pope Names American to Be Guardian of Church Doctrine."

Acting both symbolically and consolidating his young rule, Benedict XVI announced today his first major public acts as pope: He named an American archbishop to be the guardian of church doctrine and he said he would speed up the process to make his popular predecessor, John Paul II, a saint.
My high school grammar teacher called this sort of thing "faulty parallelism." When my authors do it, I sigh, and move the "both" to in front of the participle—"Both acting symbolically and consolidating his young rule...." When my authors ask why I've done this, I explain that I wanted to make both parts of the sentence parallel.

Now I have another term to throw at my authors. Hooray!*

Of course, serious research into linguistic trends does not actually exist in order to provide me with jargon. The rest of the article provides a nice look at the way the usage is shifting. He notes, to my chagrin that "The pattern both DET [...] and [...] seems to be several times more common, across the board, than the pattern both DET [...] and DET [...]." So, "He had forgotten both his hat and mitts" would be more common than "He had forgotten both his hat and his mitts," even if the latter is, technically, more correct.

Best of all, even better than new jargon, though, is his conclusion about the NYT article:

I guess there's another possible explanation, besides language change in progress or a copy editor with delusions; perhaps this article, like The Dante Club, has slipped through some compositional wormhole from a parallel universe where linguistic norms are slightly different.

A compositional wormhole from a parallel universe would explain so very many things.

Pace, Greg, if you are reading this. I deploy jargon only when strictly necessary to subdue people who won't accept the simple explanation.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Untapped Markets

Penguin Books, India, is tapping into a new market.

Penguin, one of India's leading English-language book publishers, has taken what it describes as an "unprecedented" decision to print books in Hindi in a drive to reach more readers.
The firm hopes to tap the vast market of Indian book buyers who are not comfortable reading in English, while simultaneously searching for new Indian talent writing in Hindi and a range of other Indian languages.
Wow. A major untapped niche—books in a language that half a billion people speak. I'm amazed.

via Blookslut

Monday, May 02, 2005

What Was Rule #1, Again?

Several people have noticed Macmillan's new acquisitions scheme. In fact, we're kind of late in discussing it (it's been busy at the Comma Mines.)

Some folks at Making Light, are unimpressed.

Greg is unconcerned.

I don't share his nonchalance.

If it [Macmillan] decides to accept a novel for the list, terms are unnegotiable; no advance will be paid, though writers will receive 20% of royalties from sales. Macmillan will copy edit books, but if manuscripts need more detailed work, it will suggest that writers employ freelance editors. According to notes sent to authors, such editors "will charge realistic fees and this will not in itself guarantee publication". [Emphasis added.]
There's a rule in mainstream publishing, clearly articulated by James D. Macdonald: Money flows toward the author.

In some low- or no-advance publishing arrangements, it's true that money doesn't always flow toward the author
immediately. I know of one reputable, very small Canadian publisher whose advances run in the $500 range. The house offers its authors royalty rates similar to those of larger houses; it just can't afford to take the financial risk of a large advance. However, once that advance is paid, by all reports, the house is commited to the book, and the editor works closely with the author to produce the best book possible. Their print runs are tend to be small, initially, but once the book earns out its piddly little advance, the author earns a royalty on every copy, and on rights sales. Money flows toward the author.

If a publisher recommends editorial changes to a book, then the publisher should be willing to commit to the book. It is both unscrupulous and unfair to ask an unpublished author to pay a freelancer for a structural edit, with no guarantee that this will make the book publishable.

About once a month, a call comes into the Comma Mines or to my professional association from an author who has written a manuscript, and who has some vague idea that books get edited before they get published (which is indeed supposed to be the case. The poor dears are simply a bit confused about the order of operations). So they call, asking for someone who can edit their MS. If they call the Comma Mines, we tell them, gently, that if a publisher acquires the MS, the publisher's editorial staff will handle the editing. We can do an evaluation—a careful read of their book and an analysis of its strengths and weaknesses, marketability, readiness for submission to a publisher. We warn authors that we can't promise them that our evaluation will help them get published. We warn them that we may not like their book. We quote them the flat fee for the evaluation. Some go away. Some bring us a manuscript.

It takes approximately three working days to do an evaluation of a 500-page manuscript. At the end of that, the author has report that candidly evaluates the book based on the criteria that several publishers use in their evaluation forms, and a set of recommendations (none of which involve paying for further editorial services or sending the book to a PoD or vanity press). What the author does with the recommendations is their business. We have a disclaimer to the effect that this is our what we think will make the MS more publishable, but we can't guarantee that it will work--we're not publishers.

We don't edit pre-submission manuscripts. To do a good structural edit of some of the manuscripts I've seen would take me way more than three days. And I bill by the hour for that kind of work. It's going to cost a heckuva lot more than the prices that would be authors offer editors on Craigslist (the average is $200. This won't get you an evaluation, let alone an edit.)

I'm not willing to ask an author to invest that kind of time and money with no guarantee that a publishable manuscript will result from it. If a publisher acquires a book, and discovers that the author needs to work with an editor, that's another story entirely (no pun intended).
Money flows toward the author.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that Macmillan is asking these authors to shell out a lot of money*, with no guarantee that the result will see publication. That's not on. Most fiction authors cannot afford a decent structural edit. And if Macmillan is promising these authors "affordable" editors, they're either recommending cheap decent editors who are devaluing the market that I'm competing in, or they're recommending cheap editors who are cheap because they're incompetent.
Either way, they're not doing my profession any favours.

*To give you an idea, where I work the going rate for structural/substantive editing falls somewhere between $20/hr and $50/hr for trade books. A definition of editorial tasks can be found here.