Friday, August 26, 2016

An accolade from the president of Gordon College

"We are deeply indebted to Betsy Stokes, our intrepid editor, who consistently improved our thinking through her wise and careful feedback."

From the acknowledgments of View from the Top.

Thanks, Dr. Lindsay!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What Services Do You Offer?

Each client has specific needs and will probably require some mix of these editing services. All services are the same hourly rate, but naturally, each added level of editing adds time to the total hours.

I edit nonfiction at all the levels described below. I edit fiction at level 1 (mechanical editing) only.

Writers on a tight budget will want to limit themselves to mechanical editing, while those serious about improving their book's content might desire more substantive editing.

Mechanical Editing (also called level-1 editing)
Mechanical editing is what most people think of when they hear "copy editing." Some people call it "proof reading" (though technically, proof reading is different). Mechanical editing includes sentence-level corrections of grammar, spelling, capitalization, punctuation, word choice, and styling per a specific style guide (such as APA, MLA, Chicago, or your university's/publisher's style sheet).

Substantive Editing (level 2)
Level-2 substantive editing moves from a sentence level to a paragraph level. Entire sentences might be rearranged to make a paragraph work better. It includes light fact-checking (such as the spelling of a famous person's name) and fixing of segues between topics. It looks lightly at the "flow" of the argument.

Substantive Editing (level 3)
This level might include paragraph-level editing of organization, meaning, and flow and document-level editing of organization, consistency, and audience-specific meaning. It can include, if desired, verification of information (proper names, dates, sources, etc.) and fact checking. It can even include writing and/or rewriting of sections that are incomplete or just not quite "coming together." I do substantive editing for nonfiction works only.

Developmental Editing
If you are a beginning writer or perhaps a great writer in one genre but inexperienced in another, you might benefit from a more developmental approach to editing. This is where I serve as somewhat of a writing coach for you, deeply investigating your text and giving in-depth feedback on how to make your writing stronger. I do developmental editing for nonfiction works only.

Design Editing
Design editing looks at the words on a page but also pays attention to color, white-space, and placement of graphics with text. Design editing is useful for book interiors, book covers, advertisements, and mixed-media presentations. I have worked with many different designers to respectfully edit their design work while still endorsing their design decisions and expertise.

A "design edit" of a book's interior checks for anything that might be irritating, distracting, or unattractive to the book's future readers. These might include having too many hyphen breaks at the end of lines (such as three or four in a row in one paragraph), having too much or too little spacing around headlines, subheads, and indented (block) quotations, unappealing page-number or running-head placement, and myriad other details. I follow a design checklist to make sure I check everything from white space around page numbers to readability in footnote font.

Book Design
The design of your book will be decided by your publisher. But if you are self-publishing, then you'll possibly want to hire a book designer, who can lay out all the "guts" of a book, including font choice, margin design, page-number placement, graphic placement, page layout, and creation of table of contents, indexes, etc. My book-design clients are provided both a PDF (ready for printing) and an InDesign file of the entire book that can be easily updated for future book editions.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Editing Can Save More than Face

I'm reading about the HeartBleed bug this morning, like a lot of people. I feel for Robin Seggelmann, a doubtlessly brilliant person prone to human error, just like the rest of us. He made a mistake, and now the poor guy is infamous.

"If everybody just keeps using [the software] and thinks somebody else will eventually take care of it, it won’t work. The more people look at it, the less likely errors like this occur." Seggelmann told Mashable via e-mail.

I thought that this was an appropriate statement for endorsing the importance of what editors do, specifically editors for scholars. I work with people every day who are equally as brilliant as Seggelmann, just in their own fields. And I fix things that they might have missed.

They didn't miss these errors because they aren't smart. They miss them because they have bigger fish to fry. They are wrestling with the realities of presiding over a university department, or achieving a PhD, or analyzing the digital equivalent of reams and reams of data.

Here's something I read just this morning (with pseudonyms in italics):

"Green people are 2.4 times more likely to kill their children than blue people."

OK, setting aside the morbid topic of child abuse, there are problems with this sentence. Is the writer saying that Greenies are 2.4 times more likely to kill their children than they are to kill Blue adults? That's not what the writer meant. Greenies are 2.4 times more likely to kill their children than Blues are to kill Green children? No. The writer was trying to say that Green people are 2.4 times more likely to kill their own children than Blue people are to kill their own children.

Really, in the context of the entire academic article, you might think that this little bit of confusion doesn't matter.

And it doesn't matter. Until Green people sue you for libel, you get quoted on the evening news, and a government official works your results into the next bill she's writing about Green-Blue relations.

Just a thought.

Brilliant people need editors too more!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Reader: Always on My Mind

When I answer my phone and I suspect it's one of my clients on the other end of the line, I answer with a cheerful, "Hello, this is Betsy." ("Go for Betsy!" seems a little casual.) This makes it easier for my clients to skip the step of "May I speak to..." and it's always helpful for someone to know exactly who is on the other end of the line. Even my voice mail greeting is a quick, simple, "This is Betsy. Sorry I missed you." [beep]. No one needs to be reminded to leave a message anymore. And no one needs to be promised that you will call him back. Callers just want to know, for whom am I leaving this message?

In our writing, this question should be one of our first considerations. When we publish, we are leaving a message for people, and we need to know who they are. That's why one of the first things I say to a new client in an initial get-to-know-you discussion is, "Tell me about the person who is going to read this."

Why is it important to keep a reader in mind as you move along in your writing process?

Simply put, because everything has to be translated.

Maybe you think there's no translation going on with your writing unless it's being changed into another language. As long as you are writing in English for English-speaking readers, you might not imagine that translation is happening. Keep in mind, though, that even language itself is a translation. Our brains run on glucose, not phonics.

When you write, your ideas (thought pictures) are being translated into words (sound pictures), which will then be translated again by the reader into her own ideas. In addition, she is building on these pictures herself as she reads, translating and altering, interpreting and recomposing, as she fixes her eyes on your words and new thoughts emerge in her mind. Every new thought picture is a mixture of 1) what you were trying to translate into words, and 2) what she brought with her in her mind before she ever picked up your document. Nothing is ever purely translated. Nothing. Because we are complex creatures. If you want your writing to always be translated perfectly, you probably should take up computer programming.

So while content and syntax, yes, are the bread-and-butter of your work, always keep in mind that someone is going to be digesting that bread-and-butter.

Bread = content. Butter = syntax. Editing = yumminess.

And, to complicate things further, consider this: What is really communicated to readers is something even deeper than words and even deeper than pictures. Something even harder to measure...emotions.

Emotions like frustration are what we want to to avoid at all costs in academic and technical nonfiction. For instance, when you describe an esoteric term in simpler language, remember that your reader is building a picture in her mind. Use shorter sentences with uncomplicated subjects and predicates so she can build one part of the picture at a time. When you are explaining a concept with which you anticipate your reader will be familiar, you can use longer, more intriguing sentences. When you label a graph, don't force the reader back to the text again and again to understand your main point. If she feels like you are wasting her time, she won't be motivated to trust you in the next chapter.

Emotions like delight and pleasure, of course, should fill our writing. There's no reason not to build pleasure into the most technical of documents. Start by eliminating frustration; anticipate a reader's question, and answer it for him. If the text allows for it, answer it in such a way that he learns something interesting, perhaps even about himself, in the process. Say something respectfully self-deprecating at a surprising moment in the text. Make a connection between a drab concept and a pleasant part of everyday life. Care enough about the reader to make his reading adventuresome.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

What is Esoteric?

Let's assume that you are one of my many brilliant clients, and you are trying to present your great ideas to a public audience. One of your priorities is going to be to alter esoteric language. Also known as specialist language, it's the terms and ideas that you and your colleagues are used to throwing around but that might not be as familiar to your readers.

Here's a rule of thumb: if a word or phrase can be looked up in the dictionary and the reader can fully understand your message, then it's not too esoteric for the public audience. It might be a bit advanced or even highbrow, but it needn't necessarily be changed.

If, however, a reader needs a college degree in your subject (or even needs to Google a term and then spend thirty minutes reading about it) in order to understand your meaning, then it's too esoteric for the general public.

Please, by all means, use the word or phrase. But take a sentence or two or five to explain it in simple terms. I can help.

Monday, April 9, 2012

My First International Project

Just released: Natural Law, Economics, and the Common Good. I learned a lot while working with many different scholars from around the world to help bring together a unified, coherent text. (If you read it and see a lot of terminal punctuation outside of quotation marks and single quote marks instead of double . . . it's because it's published in the UK. Don't judge.)  :-)

It was a real honor to work with editors Samuel Gregg and Harold James, and to assist editorial director Alicia Brzycki at the Witherspoon Institute.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Recent Accolade

As Scripture might have said, "A gifted editor—who can find her? She is more precious than pearls." That's our Betsy!

—Robert P. George
McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University

Read more recommendations from past clients here.