Contact MeEmail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: 562 628-9688
When I’m in editing mode I not only live in my own Thinkery and turn into a left-brain nerd, but I also get majorly into the books I’m working on. I find myself waking up at three in the morning with notes to myself. Send an email to Ricky about grand guignol. Send a note to John about his spelling guide and mention that I've decided everyone should talk like Noel Coward. Send notes to several authors that nowadays we use only one space after a period, not two or three. Convince the pagan detective guy that the word is spelled "frantically," not "franticly." Send a note to Elli in England--author of my fifth Ph.D. thesis in a row for graduate students at Lancaster University--about differences between academic discourse and regular ("gooder") English. Send a note to Ron explaining that if he "literally bombed his graduate students with questions," then his classroom was probably flooded with blood and body parts.
You know what I need? An automatic link from my brain to my computer. I don’t get out of bed at three in the morning. Well, I did a couple of times. Once was to format my poem, “ There Is a Web of Women." The other time was to list six or seven of the spells I was writing for the 2013 Llewellyn Spell-a-Day almanac. Why is it that the minute I lie down these ideas start popping into my head? It's always been that way. I’ve trained myself to remember most of the ideas that sleet through my head, and if I forget one, then it probably wasn’t worth remembering. Or it’ll come back. I have no doubt that I’ll be getting three a.m. ideas when I’m editing your book. I’m also forever recommending interesting books to my authors, either for further research or because I just think they’ll enjoy them. I'll do this for you, too.
Even when I don’t agree with what some of my authors are writing (I once edited a Libertarian anti-university screed), I support their right to write their book. We live in a nation where the First Amendment is still in effect.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion …
or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press....
Unless you’re promoting treason, that is, you can write just about any book you want to write, and I’ll help you write it more clearly in more accessible language and with proper logical or narrative flow. I’ll help you write a book that makes sense.
The 250 projects I’ve worked on are mostly fiction and nonfiction written by authors who go to small, vanity, or on-demand presses. I’ve also edited screenplays, children's books, academic discourse (textbooks and doctoral and master's theses), web site text, and even some poetry. What are you writing? I can help you write “gooder English.” (That’s the phrase I invented for engineers who were writing user-hostile computer manuals. I’d just pat the guys on the knee and say, “I can help you make that make sense.”)
When I edit, one thing you pay me for is to keep track of things for you. Pesky details. I keep track of your characters’ names, what they’re wearing, if they actually came into the room before they start speaking. Because I have a very good education, I usually know if an event is historically accurate or plausible. If a novel is set in Bethlehem in the Roman colony of Judea during the week when Jesus was born, for example, the owners of the inn where there was no room would not have been a nice friendly German couple, nor would there have been a Hungarian witch in those Judean hills. Likewise, there were no debutantes in the Ice Age or even in medieval courts. People didn't waltz in pairs in ancient times (that came in the 19th century). It's highly unlikely that anyone in Scotland was reading Plato during the Dark Ages. I am forever looking up dates and the proper spelling of famous names and correcting historical, cultural, and geographical references. The French Revolution did not occur in the 17th century. The Pyramids of Egypt are north of the equator. A character in a novel is highly unlikely to make a gift of fifty percent of the stock of General Motors to another character. Successful female executives do not generally spend all their time mooning over some guy they met on the beach. (Well, maybe they do, but not if they want to continue being successful. It depends on where your plot is going.) I've even been known to take my Bibles (yes, plural) off the shelf and double-check chapter and verse, not only the accuracy of the citations but also what Jesus or a prophet actually said.
Thanks also to my education, if you’re writing nonfiction I can follow logical arguments and see where they’re going. I can spot leaps of logic, holes in arguments, unsafe generalizations, and unsupported conclusions. I often highlight jargon and cliches, which are drone writing and thought substitutes. I’ll often write MEANING? after a sentence or paragraph I don't understand and then write down two or three guesses. Sometimes I guess right, but I want the author--you--to get it right. Sometimes I ask provoking questions, sometimes I ask you to do more research. You can accept the changes I make or not, but this is the kind of work you’re paying me to do.
What all this means is that I have a pretty finely tuned BS meter. When I come to a sentence that’s nearly incomprehensible or see that an argument is going into indefensible territory, I’ll call your attention to it and ask for clarification.
Of course, occasionally I get a book that’s beyond my help, like the book written “in praise of women as goddesses” that turned into soft porn centered around the author's masculine prowess. (He said women could not resist him. I did resist him.) I did my best for the guy, but the second or third time I had to explain who Aphrodite really was, he gave up. Another author quit when I kept pointing out that the title of the book had nothing to do with what she was writing about. When an author from southern India wrote that men often marry women who are their intellectual inferiors, I pointed out that female American readers might object to his sexism. He fired me. Yeah. It happens.More recently, I tried to correct an author's teenager's style of speech. The kid talked like a character from Guys and Dolls who had gone to college. The author wrote back that the kid was based on him and, yeah, he really talked like that, and he didn't want me to edit any more of his book. He sent me a copy of the republished book--and there were some of my changes. I wish him luck.
But you’re paying me to help you avoid foolish writing.
The authors I’ve worked with live around the U.S. and around the world, and for many of the latter, English is their second language. The first thing I do with my foreign authors is ask who their target reader is. Is it the American reader? Do they want their book to be written in idiomatic American English or do they want to retain their foreign accent? If the setting is in the U.S., do they want it to be accurate? The author from Algeria who now lives in Los Angeles had the geography in his novel down pat, but another author who set a book in New York City had never been there, so I was able to help her when her directions got a bit skewed. Because immigration from Latin America is a major issue in the U.S., I wish everyone could learn as much about the historical conflicts between Mexico and the U.S. as I did when I edited an enormous biography of Benito Juarez written by a Mexican scholar. I’ve edited two books for a retired engineer who lives in the Islamic Republic of Iran. (We don’t talk politics.) I've recently edited a fascinating memoir by a Japanese solo violinist who has had experiences with the others (people from other worlds) all her life. Now she's looking for a literary agent. Her written English is not good, and I told her that agents and publishers judge anything she writes--even emails. So I also help her by editing her emails and letters to agents. I edited a dozen brief technical proposals (physics applications in medical research) for a scientist from Azerbaijan now teaching at a local university. Yes, I've worked with a lot of very interesting people. They're all smart and they all have something worthwhile to say.
As I edit, I am fairly conservative about our language and believe that we should respect its history and construction. That is, if there's already a word that works, it may not be necessary to make up a new one. Some years ago, for example, I campaigned on a listserv against the word "gaialog." Using this stupid word instead of "dialog" to indicate women talking made me crazy. (If "gaialog" meant anything, which it doesn't, it might mean "earth speaking.") If you want to be speak sexistically, I told them, try "gynelog." (There—I've just made up two new words in a row. Don't tell me to be consistent. There are few hobgoblins in my mind.)
I get real fussbudgetty about etymology, too. We cannot just invent cognates. “Sphere” and “spirit” are not related. “Omphalos” and the meditational sound OM are not related. We should not verbize nouns. (I hate “liase.” "Calendarize"? I don't think so.) Nor should we nominalize or adjectivize verbs ("bottom line" a project? No, no, no. You can't say that.) unless they're gerunds or participles. Nor will I let you sink into cliches. I can help you write a book that doesn’t sound like it was written by a jargon machine.
That’s why I frequently discuss vocabulary with the authors whose books I’m editing. Punctuation, too. I punctuate your dialogue correctly and give each speaker a new paragraph. I make subjects and verbs agree. I add transitions. I frequently ask what an orphan "this" refers to and point out that it properly refers to the last noun, but that just doesn't make sense. What does it really mean?. In dialogue, nonstandard or unusual English is permissible, but sometimes I need to work on making it consistent and intelligible. Just listen to people. We talk in sentence fragments. We use slang and dialect. If you want your dialogue to sound real, then it probably isn’t English-teacher-approved English. But your readers have to be able to read it without having to stop and stumble through each sentence. I’ll help you with realistic dialogue.
As far as I'm concerned, the only major sin an author can commit is making a reader have to stop, go back, and read a sentence (or a paragraph) again ... not because it's beautifully written but because it's incomprehensible. Our writing must be accessible. I can't say this often enough. Our readers don't live in our heads with us. We need to write so they understand what's on the page.
When I see the same kind of usage error over and over again, I’m likely to insert a mini-tutorial on, say, what a Tom Swiftie is or what a comma splice error is or what the difference between active and passive voice in verbs is. I point out that pronouns replace (and have to refer to) nouns. I often cite Rules 11 and 17 from The Elements of Style. When I edit your book, I’ll give you mini-tutorials about the errors you consistently make and tell you how to correct them in the future. Hopefully in the next chapter you send me. But if you don’t, I’ll still happily make the corrections for you.
I’ve also been known to issue gooder-English fatwas. I’ve told several authors they can’t ever use points of ellipsis (…) again in their whole lives. I told one that he can’t ever use another semicolon and another that she’s already used up her lifetime supply of the word “grab” in all its variants, another that she can't ever write "snap" again. I deleted “by the same token” every time this meaningless phrase occurred in a book written by a lawyer. I believe that no matter how abstruse or philosophical the topic of your nonfiction book is, no matter what country the characters in your novel live in, your novel must be accessible to your target readers. Like I just said, our readers don’t live in our heads with us. We need to write clearly enough that what we have in our minds shows on the page.
Another important point. Just because English has the largest vocabulary of any language on the planet, do we need to use every synonym we can find in the thesaurus just because we think we remember that our sixth-grade teacher told us not to keeping using the same word? That’s nonsense. No word is absolutely identical in meaning to another. “Think” is not the quite the same as “cogitate” is not the quite the same as “ponder” is not the quite the same as “opine.” The thesaurus can be a valuable tool, but some naïve authors seem to think that fancier words are better. Besides, if our writing gets too fancy, our readers will just start laughing. And don’t even get me started on overwrought adverbs. Sigh … end of rant. I’ll try to help you avoid the unintentional humor that dipping too often into the thesaurus leads to.
One suggestion I often make to authors writing nonfiction is that they create and work from an outline. It’s a lot easier to get where you want to go if you have a road map. For authors writing novels and having trouble with dialogue, I often suggest that they go sit in the mall and listen to how real people talk. Not the exact words, but how people put words and phrases together. The rhythms of their sentences. As I learned myself as I was writing Secret Lives, if you have a lot of characters, make a list! Write their names, how old they are, where they live, what they do ... anything in the back story that helps you keep track of them. Which will help your reader keep track and keep you from changing a character's name in the middle of chapter 6. Or forget who's talking to whom.
I’ll never forget the memoir of a young black man who lived in New Jersey. He was a gang member by age twelve--it was the only way he could avoid being beaten up in school every day--and he became too familiar with drugs and guns. His life was saved by his mother and grandfather, who drove him to North Carolina and enrolled him in college. Another one I won't forget is the memoir by another young (white) man named David who still lives in a federal prison because he robbed banks to support his drug habit. I suggested to his mother, who was my primary contact, that she add an afterword expressing her love for her son, who has cleaned up his act. (Aha--I've just heard from David's mother. His book has been published. Take a look.) I'll likewise never forget a couple of the science fiction novels I edited. One was about a metaphysical bomb that changed history. Sort of. The author's speculations were fascinating, and I'd love to see that book turned into a movie. I also loved a political murder mystery by an author whose politics just happen to agree with mine.
Are you ready to write your book? Do you need an editor? Let me be your editor. Send a query to me at email@example.com. I’ll get back to you right away, probably the same day. We can get started right away, too.