stop sign against sunset

How to Know When to Stop Editing 

Every writer has heard the golden rule of writing a manuscript: write first, edit later. But when the first, second, and third drafts are done, when does the editing process actually conclude? Other than the hard deadline of sending a manuscript to print, editing can seem like a never-ending process without a real due date. But over-editing can be detrimental to your manuscript. So if you feel stuck in a rut while editing, here are a few tips to help you know when you’ve reached the end of the editing process.

Your changes are becoming smaller.

Once you’ve reached the end of your first draft and started the editing process, you’ll probably find yourself addressing plot holes and other areas that need improvement. As you continue to edit, however, there will be fewer and fewer big-picture issues that need addressing. If you find yourself mulling back and forth over a comma here and there, the wording of a specific sentence, or moving paragraphs around, it’s probably time to take a step back. If you have time, spend a few weeks thinking about your story. Plot out key points and how they tie together to form your unique narrative. Do any moments feel like a stretch or unnatural for your characters? Does that edit actually improve your manuscript, or is it just something to change? If you struggle to come up with changes you feel strongly about, you have probably reached a point where you are no longer improving your story, just making it different.

You’re editing without a second opinion.

Writing in any form is challenging, and showing your work to others is an even harder step to take. Editing can prevent your writing from getting to those who can look at it with fresh eyes and suggest changes that could help you write a stronger, more cohesive story. Remember that you know your story and your characters better than anyone, and not every suggestion has to be, or should be, followed if it doesn’t feel right. No first draft is perfect or the best your writing can be, but keeping your writing to yourself can lead to overlooking edits that may lead to a stronger story. Unless you are writing a story just for yourself, a second pair of eyes will bring forward any gaps you might have missed and allow you to polish your manuscript in exactly the right places without over-editing or focusing on minute changes.

Trust your instincts.

This may be the most challenging step of your editing journey, but you are the expert at telling your story, and only you can tell when it’s finished. If you find yourself going back time and time again to make the same changes or struggle to find anything you want to change, trust yourself to know when you’ve reached your final draft. Writing a manuscript is a huge feat, and your writing will be stronger by the end of it. Even if this is your first journey in writing, you have a stronger instinct than you might realize. Trust that you know your characters and lean into the sense of knowing when their story has reached its final iteration.

Writing may be a challenge in and of itself, but editing is another beast every writer must face. It may be scary to let your work go and say that it’s finally done, but your writing will be stronger for it. Over-editing can make a piece of writing feel overly structured and potentially limit your reader’s connection with the words on the page. While it’s easier said than done, don’t be afraid to send an imperfect draft into the world—it’s better than you think it is.

Happy editing!

hands hovering over typewriter

Tips and Tricks for Writing Memoirs

A memoir weaves together stories from the author’s life, but including every detail and event is impossible. So how do you narrow someone’s entire life to fit into one book? Here are three tips and tricks for writing and editing memoirs.

Trim the Timeline

A lifetime of unique experiences and events can make for an exciting read. When sitting down to write a memoir, many feel that they need to go from their birth all the way through the present, detailing everything that has happened from start to finish. While some memoirs do encompass the entirety of the author’s life, most should focus on particular events and periods in the author’s life.

The reality is that a book can only hold so much, and in order to build a cohesive, engaging narrative, the memoirist should trim the timeline of their life, only keeping what is truly helpful in showing their story.

But how do you determine what is worth including?

Think Thematically

A theme is an idea that runs throughout a work, such as love, friendship, overcoming adversity, etc. It’s important to decide what themes are important in telling your story because these will serve as a guide for what people, places, and events to include. Within the book itself, these themes can guide the reader in making meaning of your life experiences.

For example, if one of your themes is overcoming adversity in a creative way, then include the story of how you started a business from scratch after suddenly losing your long-time job. If loving and helping animals is an essential part of your life story, then include the story of the time you saved a baby bird from a hungry neighborhood cat and nursed it back to health.

Selecting scenes to support the book’s themes involves combing through your memories and selecting the gems that will immerse readers in your life experiences.

Mine Memories

Dig through your memories for moments that truly embody the themes you chose. An important part of making a moment stick in a reader’s mind is the prose itself, but being selective about which memories you include is also key. You may have saved countless stray puppies and sickly kittens, but which of these rescues had the biggest impact on you and your life? You may have endured many moments of adversity over the course of your life, but which ones have contributed the most to making you who you are today?

There may be many gems in your mine of memories, but the ones that sparkle and shine the brightest are the ones that readers are most likely to remember long after closing the book.

Writing a memoir can be an incredibly fulfilling and empowering experience, and editing one can be just as rewarding. Trimming the timeline, thinking thematically, and mining through memories can help the writing and editing of the memoir manuscript run smoother while making a more memorable and engaging experience for readers.

question marks on a brown background

Style Guide, Style Sheet—What’s the Difference?

One of the things I was most confused about when I first started editing with Ooligan was the difference between a style guide and a style sheet. There were a lot of times during my first term when I thought they were the same thing. With some hands-on practice—and the help of the editorial department—I soon learned that they are not the same and are actually quite different. For anyone who has been in a similar situation, here’s everything you need to know about style guides and style sheets.

Style Guides

Think of a style guide as a collection of rules and suggestions that editors use to ensure that everything follows a consistent set of guidelines. The style guide that is predominantly used in publishing is The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), although there are others such as the AP Stylebook and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA). According to the Chicago website, “The Chicago Manual of Style is the venerable, time-tested guide to style, usage, and grammar . . . It is the indispensable reference for writers, editors, proofreaders, indexers, copywriters, designers, and publishers, informing the editorial canon with sound, definitive advice.” CMOS has rules on everything: capitalization, hyphenation, the treatment of numerals, abbreviations, punctuation, and even formatting. As I like to say, there is a rule for everything, and Chicago lists every rule.

A related document that you will come across is the in-house style guide. Sometimes an individual publishing house or press will deviate from the standard style guide, and these deviations are tracked in the in-house style guide. Think of an in-house style guide as a supplement to the major style guide that is specific to the press or publishing house. For example, if your press has guidelines on hyphenating compound words that differ from the guidelines in CMOS, these will be documented in the in-house style guide. Just like the standard style guide, it is expected that anyone who edits for the press follows these guidelines. I highly recommend browsing this article from Grammar Girl for more information.

Style Sheets

Unlike style guides, style sheets are unique to each manuscript or document. While style guides serve as an overarching umbrella of guidelines for all manuscripts, style sheets outline the specifics of each manuscript, and the overall goal is to create consistency. Think of a style sheet as a reference document that is created so that anyone who works on the project can see exactly how things should be spelled, formatted, and styled. Style sheets can outline everything from the proper spelling of names/characters/places in the manuscript, how to treat numbers and hyphens, and even when to capitalize or italicize certain words or phrases. Check out this website for more information on style sheets.

Style guides and style sheets are both important documents to use when editing. Both style guides (standard and in-house) outline the style, grammar, and layout guidelines that the manuscript should follow. Editors should be familiar with both style guides and consistently apply them to the manuscript. Style sheets are just as important, and as an editor, you should always be sure that you match what is on the style sheet for the manuscript you are working on.

I hope this helps clarify the differences between style guides and style sheets! Happy editing!

Group discussion

Being Vulnerable: Sharing Your Manuscript in a Writing Workshop

For the last year or so, I have been working on a novel. Like many aspiring novelists, I have made progress in fits and starts, sometimes writing many pages in a sitting and other times not touching the manuscript for weeks at a time. Slowly and sometimes painfully, I have completed a little more than half the story.

Until a few weeks ago, I had not shared any chapters of my novel with anyone. Several people knew that I was working on a story, and I had shared the basic plot with them, but I didn’t want to share anything that I had written.

I am a big believer in the value of allowing other people to read and edit your work. Without question, every writer needs an editor. The more complex the writing, the more value a writer receives from allowing someone else to review and comment on their work. I give drafts of all my nonfiction work to my wife to read, and the final product is always better after hearing her feedback.

But there’s something about writing fiction that makes it so much harder to let others see the work in progress. I think it’s because we are much more vulnerable when writing fiction. Rejecting our story is not merely a rejection of our ideas, it’s a rejection of us as an author and as a person.

Despite my reluctance in sharing my writing, I knew that having others review my novel was a good thing, so I joined a fiction writing workshop. The workshop operates like most others in that you submit a portion of your work to the group, and the group provides feedback, both collectively and individually.

While I joined this workshop voluntarily, I still felt great trepidation about it. When the first few responses to my work were posted ahead of the group conversation, I opened the documents with nothing less than abject fear. What if they hated it? What if they laughed at me?

Much to my surprise, I was not voted out of the group. The feedback was incredibly valuable, and each person had taken the time and care to explain how they had reacted to the manuscript and what they noticed about the craft. I came away with encouragement that I was not an awful author, and I received some specific ideas for revision.

Equally valuable was the time I spent reviewing and providing feedback on the other authors’ stories. The process of carefully considering what I was reading and providing useful feedback gave me many ideas to help improve my own writing.

The author Brené Brown says, “No vulnerability, no creativity.” A writing workshop is the perfect place for writers to put this axiom into action. Giving up your writing to others—being vulnerable to their feedback—is the key to sparking the creativity that is essential to good writing.

angel dancing on a mountain top

Sanderson and His Three Editors

Have you ever wondered how an epic fantasy novel is edited?

Rhythm of War is Brandon Sanderson’s fourth entry in a planned ten-book series called the Stormlight Archive. As part of the book’s campaign, Sanderson released a YouTube video that gives an inside look at how editors take on epic fantasy.

Rhythm of War has three editors: Devi Pillai, publisher at Tor and VP at Macmillan; Peter Ahlstrom, Sanderson’s personal editorial director; and Karen Ahlstrom, Sanderson’s personal continuity editor. These three people work in tandem with the author to read and edit the five drafts it usually takes Sanderson to finish a book.

Devi, who has worked with big publishers for over twenty years, begins by reading Sanderson’s manuscript three times: first as a fan, second with note-taking, and third with an editorial letter in mind—that’s over three thousand pages for one book! A standard editorial letter follows, and Peter later compiles every piece of suggestion and delivers it to Sanderson.

Peter’s job goes beyond the traditional scope of an editor. He not only serves as a second set of eyes for the manuscript, but he also collects all the commentary from the alpha- and beta-readers. Sanderson is very specific in how the information comes to him; when it comes to Microsoft Word, he prefers not to have commentary in the left-hand margins, so Peter annotates every piece of advice into paragraphs with numeration that refers to a separate Word doc.

Part of the reason for this specific type of documentation is because Rhythm of War (and most of Sanderson’s other books) has between thirty and fifty beta readers providing commentary—a luxury that most manuscripts don’t have. Beta reading is a process that is unique to Sanderson’s team. Beta readers offer early opinions on Sanderson’s manuscripts. When Sanderson asked Devi if other authors have beta readers, she responded, “you are an exception in how you use your beta readers … I don’t think anyone has the setup that you have in terms of using a beta reader, and having the whole group, and having Peter and all of that set up so you have it as streamlined.”

Beta reading isn’t like your typical galley or ARC. Sanderson believes it’s like having a test audience, and he’s surprised more authors don’t do it. “Movies and videogames and commercials and everybody, they all show things to test audiences and get feedback before it goes live. But a lot of writers I’ve noticed don’t.” The feedback from the betas is siphoned, and Peter delivers it to Sanderson if enough people bring attention to a certain aspect of the book.

Then there’s Karen’s job. She is the wiki keeper—she keeps track of timelines, characters, descriptions (i.e. making sure Sanderson doesn’t give blue eyes to a character who had brown eyes in the previous book), etc. An entire read-through of the manuscript is dedicated to assigning Spren (the nature spirits that inhabit the world of the Stormlight Archive). With this being the fourth book in the Stormlight Archive and planning six more, there’s a lot of information to keep track of. Karen also keeps Sanderson aware of flashbacks, dates, and times (especially when multiple scenes occur on the same day). She even gives advice on Sanderson’s world-naming by clearing up pronunciation issues and ensuring there aren’t any similarities with other universes.

Rhythm of War is undoubtedly a daunting task for its editors, and maybe even more so for the author. Like any author-editor relationship, there is bound to be some push and pull when it comes to the editing process. But Sanderson notes that he trusts his editors and agrees with roughly 70 to 80 percent of the comments that come his way. The editors and his beta readers help make the books just as much as Sanderson does. Sanderson knows that when enough people say the book is not working, then they are probably right.

You can find the full discussion on Brandon Sanderson’s YouTube channel. For anyone interested in becoming an editor, this is how fantasy best sellers are made.

Interview with Brian K. Friesen

Fri, 31 Mar 2017 16:00:32 +0000

Recently, I was honored to conduct an interview with Brian K. Friesen, one of Ooligan Press’s newest authors, about his experience editing his manuscript with Team Rivers. Editing is one of the most intimidating and misunderstood areas of the publishing industry for aspiring writers, and Brian was happy to help demystify the process for those who are apprehensive or curious. His book, At the Waterline, will be available in stores in May 2017.

Hilary: Did you add any scenes to the novel during the editing phase that you ended up loving?

Brian: There are many scenes that only exist because Ooligan editors pushed me to keep exploring more, keep developing characters more, and keep being alert to underlying motivations in every interaction, in every scene.

One of my favorite added scenes is the final one in the novel. After it was written and then edited a couple dozen times, I thought it was a good possibility for the end of a section late in the book, but I still wasn’t ready to settle on one thing for the ending if something else might present itself. I kept drafting various possible endings just to make sure. I liked a lot of what I came up with, but it was opening up too many new details when the novel was already done. Cobi, one of Ooligan Press’s project managers, helped convince me that the ending was already there. So I polished it up and now that final, inevitable sentence lands just right and brings the reader right back to the beginning again. The journey of two of the main characters culminates in that final line. It comes full circle. Without somebody else’s perspective, I think I would have missed it.

There are too many new scenes to count, really. I love one toward the middle of the manuscript that introduces a young woman, Emma, in a surprising moment with a character I thought already made his grand exit from the book. But there he was showing up to speak like a proverbial Greek chorus, ushering in a shift in the narrative. It came out of left field, and it is brief yet intimate and revealing. It came very late in the editing process, and it is one of the most poignant and purposeful scenes in the whole novel for me.

To offer a little perspective, I recently did a file comparison between the final document of the manuscript and the version I first submitted to Ooligan. After all of the content we cut and all the parts we added, I noticed that roughly two-thirds of this final version is completely new content. That’s pretty amazing to me. The themes and characters are the same, but they are much more thoroughly realized.

Hilary: Did any minor characters become more important, or did any major characters become less important?

Brian: Two minor female characters ended up becoming much richer, more complex, and essential. My original draft definitely would have failed the Mako Mori test. Emma was significant only in relation to the main male character. She was a romantic reward for him after he grew the hell up. I was encouraged with each new draft to find out more about her. She now inhabits the second half of the novel as a fully realized character with a journey of her own.

Hilary: What do you feel like you have grown most on as an author?

Brian: I’ve definitely grown in my ability to accept input from others with my writing. I had no idea how inspiring the influence of other voices could be. I’m better able to trust in the instincts of readers and editors, and I have other minds to thank for pushing me to develop characters and scenes that I wouldn’t have otherwise. This may seem like pandering or preaching to the publishing choir, but I really mean it.

The largest takeaway for me is a broader understanding of editing: there are different pairs of editing glasses to wear at different stages of a writing project. I am prone to editing mostly at the sentence level and get really hung up with inner criticism. Turning off the editing mind to consciously develop or explore is often very difficult. Those editing muscles are working hard to reveal what needs improvement and what is falling flat. Some people might be able to edit as they go and are very lucid and flexible in that way. I have moments like that, but learning to be free is not a straightforward thing. You are never going to remove all the psychological and physical and economic obstacles in your path. And if you did, you might not have anything interesting to write about, anyway.

I found it liberating to place myself in the hands of the editors and readers at Ooligan Press, giving myself permission to compose new content, develop existing content, and adjust the tone of a section, knowing that a team of thoughtful, discerning editors was there to take at least some of the critical burden. They were a support rather than an obstacle or a threat. It ended up being a formative experience for me and essential to the novel. Most things are better in the context of a community. It turns out that this book is definitely one of them.

Hilary: What was the greatest challenge you faced?

Brian: The choice to turn to the writing for ten minutes here and there while also being prepared for interruptions from the people I love sometimes makes a creative existence seem impossible. It is one thing to prioritize responsibilities in your life in an abstract way, but to live them is quite another. It is not easy to be emotionally available as a husband, father, brother, and employee. There is so much to be attentive to, and I am not very good at being intellectually and emotionally present all the time. I couldn’t always spend as much time with the manuscript as I would have liked, since I try to avoid neglecting the people I love over work. My day job suffered at times, and that’s not good. It’s such a privilege to have a full-time job.

I might say that the greatest challenge during the development of this novel was good old-fashioned physical weariness. Maybe that’s not a very interesting answer. It’s like if someone asks what the hardest part of being in a marathon is and you say, “The hardest part was all the running, when I would rather lie down and go to sleep instead.” I did fall asleep a lot while writing late at night. I’d get to the end of the day and it was already late, but there was more writing to do, so I’d just stay conscious and write until I wasn’t conscious anymore. I would jerk back awake and read what I had written in a semi-unconscious state and marvel at the turns of phrase. I should start keeping a list of those sentences, now that I think of it. Or maybe I should get more sleep. That’s an unhealthy way to end the day, and I recommend it to no one. It’s less dangerous if you are writing on the couch or propped up in bed rather than sitting at a desk. That way you don’t have as far to fall. Oh, that’s terrible. Maybe you should edit out this part of the interview. Instead, just have me say, “There weren’t any challenges. I only write when I’m feeling inspired.”

Hilary: Do you have any funny stories from the time you spent working with your editors on the manuscript?

Brian: There was some back and forth about a scene where two characters meet, and I got stuck wanting the introduction to play out in a way that I thought was funny and playful. It was essentially the trope from bad romantic comedies in which the clumsy, lovestruck guy meets the girl and makes a buffoon of himself, only my scene was having the opposite effect on the readers. It’s funny to me now. I dialed back on the young man’s self-conscious, creepy interactions with the girl and turned the manuscript in again and heard back that pretty much everyone on the editing team disliked the main character in that scene. So I dialed back more and resubmitted it. “No, we still hate him,” was essentially the answer. I’m glad that they persisted. It’s a much better section now, and there’s more depth to the humor now that the section is not trying so hard to be funny.

Hilary: Which part of the novel are you most proud of now that it’s finished?

Brian: There is a section I really like that takes place around Thanksgiving. A couple of stories are woven together in that section in satisfying ways. There are two Thanksgiving meals happening at the same time, and I love how they work back and forth to capture how a holiday can play out in spite of everyone’s best intentions. There is that unique kind of intimacy and vulnerability around the holidays. In that section in the book, a handful of characters come to a potentially devastating crisis point. It had to get worse for them before it could get better. I really felt that section captured the crux where longing and disappointment could drive the narrative forward.

Hilary: If you were to start a new novel today, what would you approach differently after this experience, if anything?

Brian: I’m glad for this question, because I’m working on another novel and I’m already finding myself digging some of the same pits that I fell into the last time around, so it’s a good time to regroup and consider the possible answers to that question. I’m playing around with lots of characters who have their own stories, and I can see that I am putting off some structural commitments. I’m also treating first drafts too much like late drafts. Too much messing with the rhythm of sentences and choosing specific, significant words when I don’t even know who the characters are or what makes them tick. I’m going to throw most of this work away before I figure out what this next novel really needs from me. I’d like to limit the amount of time I spend obsessing over every single sentence every single day. It’s so easy to get lost in the weeds and mistake that for doing the important, careful work of an artist. I’d like to be able to relax my critical standards a little more at first and pace myself knowing that first drafts don’t have to be polished at the sentence level. I know large chunks can be dropped altogether, and that’s harder to do if you’ve brought all your creative and critical faculties to bear on first drafts. If you are working with clay, you are going to have to be willing to throw away those first few ashtrays and warped bowls. Anne Lamott said it much better in Bird by Bird: “You have to give yourself permission to write those ‘shitty first drafts.'”

Going forward, I would also like to be more conscious of the bigger picture and purposefully set aside time to consider the work as a whole. That might look like sketching rough outlines and adjusting as I go, throwing out the ones that aren’t working, or moving index cards around on a big piece of carpet. I’ve got a long way to go. No doubt I’ll do things the hard way!

Hilary: Is there any advice you would like to give to aspiring authors now that you’re almost published?

Brian: Run away! Take up photography instead! Watch Breaking Bad again! Find out if you are really just interested in consuming entertainment rather than producing it. There are plenty of great TV shows to consume out there, and they keep coming, don’t they? When will they make the last good TV show and be done with making things that I don’t have time to enjoy? And now there’s a series based on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. I’m eager to see it, but I’m even more interested in hearing anything and everything that Atwood has to say about it.

I’m only partly kidding about running away. The biggest thing I would say to aspiring writers is that writing is hard work. You can’t sustain the fantasy that it should somehow be otherwise for you because you are more special or more committed than other aspiring writers. At times it can be a thrill and it feels more like play, but we are easily deceived by whatever pleasures or rewards writing can offer. Exhilarating work is still work. Is it work, or is it play? And the answer is yes. Does it sometimes feel like it comes easily or naturally? Yes. But did it really come easily? No. Writing doesn’t offer the rhythmic endorphin hit you get scrolling down the screen clicking on memes. Are you up for the work it is going to take to become successful as a writer? It is going to be harder than you think. You are submitting to a process that you can’t fully control. There is more control if you self-publish, but even that is going to introduce hard work. Probably harder than you think. If my next novel can’t find a home, I’ll self-publish it in some capacity and then move on to the next project.

Another thing that comes to mind is the particular environment you are trying to learn and grow in. I’m finding my new work being nearly smothered by this post-2016 landscape in America. If defiance toward the powers that be helps get you motivated, great. Write something beautiful as an act of resistance. Make sense of who you are and what you have to say by writing. It’s going to be hard in the coming years to even hear yourself talk as an artist in America. Gravity is pulling people toward—or against—self-preservation. Words like peace, safety, and empathy are becoming politicized. Some things that need to be said take longer than anyone has time for.

As far as becoming a writer goes, Mark Twain’s advice to someone who asked if they were a gifted writer was to go write for five years, and then they would be closer to an answer. I wrote for more like thirteen years before getting a novel-length work published, though I wasn’t writing that whole time. So waiting a set period of time for an answer to whether you are going to be a talented writer or not is a bit dubious. Of course, Mark Twain was winking at us, as he often does. The truth is that there is no answer. There is only the work that is in front of you to do or not do.

Editors Are a Writer’s Best Friend

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 17:00:04 +0000

So you’ve written a novel. You’ve done a couple of drafts, and you feel good enough about it to ask a few people to take a look. Choose carefully; you need constructive feedback, not unconditional love. You won’t get it from the person who’s kept all your precious papers since you were four, and you won’t get it from your soul mate. Your trusted readers are business casual: friendly, but there for a reason.

The first read is mostly for characters and story—the who, what, and why. Your trusted readers tell you what was great about the book and what wasn’t so great. They ask for clarification and comment on that thing that happens in chapter four that maybe could happen sooner, or not at all. You grit your teeth, smile, and revise.

Readers now see how you’ve responded to their suggestions. Some inspired you to go deeper, and others were just silly. Your trusted readers get excited because things are coming together, but whoa, it’s twenty thousand words too long. You need to work on that dialogue because all the characters sound alike. Your readers have scribbled big red arrows in the margins to shift paragraphs around. You sweat out another draft.

Your readers are looking and listening to make sure the story flows well. Now they want to tidy up the finer details. Maybe you’ve killed off the Bob character in this draft, but Bob shows up eating a turkey sandwich fifty pages later, and he’s not a ghost. They change your to you’re and look up who really directed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on IMDb, because it wasn’t David Yates.

Finally, in your freshly revised draft, your trusted readers zero in on whatever typos, misspellings, and finer points of language haven’t already been corrected. Alert readers know that punctuation and formatting should align to a house style—and by “house style,” I don’t mean transitional or midcentury modern. For book publishing, it most likely refers to The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition.

This, in essence, is what happens in book editing, where your trusted readers are developmental editors and copyeditors. These four stages are the levels of editing which might apply to a manuscript at Ooligan Press: developmental editing, heavy copyediting, medium copyediting, or light copyediting. Every manuscript is different, so the amount of editing required will vary with each one.

Occasionally, editors will find an error in continuity. Continuity is the consistent description of anything that’s mentioned more than once, such as hair color (unless it’s supposed to change), left- or right-handedness, or the gender of a family pet. No question, an inconsistent description of little Chompers has to be fixed.

At Ooligan Press, I’m on the team working on The Ocean in My Ears, a debut novel by Meagan Macvie. It’s about a teenage girl who longs to escape from the drudgery of small-town life in Soldotna, Alaska. It’s been wonderful to see this manuscript evolve over the last several months, and—yay!—the editing is done. All that’s left is proofreading, the final phase of weeding out any last typos and small errors in formatting for print or ebook production.

So write your novel, trust your readers, and revise, revise, revise. You can give your mom a copy when it’s published, but until then, your readers—your editors—are your best friends.

The Ocean in My Ears will be published in November. Oh, that Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban director? It was Alfonso Cuarón.

More than Dotting i’s and Crossing t’s

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 16:00:18 +0000

Fall term has arrived and has brought with it students new to Ooligan Press, students new to the book publishing program, and students new to The Ocean in My Ears team. Joining our team this term we have the talented Brianne Robinson, who is not new to Ooligan but is new to our team, along with future publishing rockstars Terence Brierly, TJ Carter, Ava Dean, Taylor Farris, and Laura Nutter. Returning members include the canny Joanna Szabo and the punctilious Pam Wells.

While the new members are busy reading the manuscript, which went through developmental editing over the summer, the rest of the team has just begun work on the copyedit. The team is working under the expertise of the brilliant Whitney Edmunds, cohead of Ooligan’s editorial department. The copyediting team consists of not only Pam Wells and Joanna Szabo but also the careful copyediting eyes of Alison Cantrell, Jessica Clark, Ruth Kaplan, and Gloria Mulvihill.

So what, exactly, happens during a copyedit? Dictionary.com defines copyediting as “editing (a manuscript, document, text, etc.) for publication, especially for punctuation, spelling, grammatical structure, style, etc.” And while this description is accurate, it is also ambiguous, so allow me to demystify the process. Copyeditors correct errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation, but also style and usage issues such as the overuse of bold or italic or inconsistent use of numbering styles, for example. Copyeditors also look for changes to a character’s appearance or speech pattern, abrupt jumps in the timeline, potential legal issues such as libel or breach of copyright, and potential factual errors.

Ultimately the job of the copy editor is to make sure that “Wedensday” ends up “Wednesday” and that the Oxford comma is either used consistently or omitted entirely. But it is more than that—it is, as The New Yorker’s Mary Norris points out, a job that “draws on the entire person: not just your knowledge of grammar and punctuation and usage and foreign languages and literature but also your experience of travel, gardening, shipping, singing, plumbing, Catholicism, Midwesternism, mozzarella, the A train, New Jersey.” Or, in the case of The Ocean in My Ears, “teenagers, the 1990s, Dairy Queen, small towns, hairspray, standardized testing, dating, VW Bugs, and Alaska.”

Meet the Ricochet River 25th Anniversary Crew

Thu, 28 Apr 2016 00:00:22 +0000

Welcome back to Rivers of the Pacific Northwest! Before we head any farther downstream, I’d like to introduce myself and the rest of my crew. We’ve added some top-notch talent this term, and they deserve a spotlight.

First up, Tyler Mathieson, our fearless leader through the stormy seas of Rhythm in the Rain, will graduate soon, and I am honored to be taking the helm. Over the past year I’ve watched Tyler take a group of mostly novice Oolies and turn us into a strong, efficient crew capable of handling the incredible pair of projects we’re working on today.

A great deal of this work revolves around editing. Robin Cody has sent us some exciting new material for Ricochet River‘s 25th anniversary edition, and we’ve been hard at work with Brian Friesen, developing his manuscript. Fortunately, our crew is overflowing with editorial talent. Katey Trnka, onetime head of Ooligan’s editorial department, is a language specialist. Though she’ll be graduating this term along with Tyler, I have no doubt both books will be more beautifully written having started their journeys with her guidance.

The sheer amount of editing to be done has attracted some new team members, including Elizabeth Nunes and Brendan Brown. Brendan actually worked on the team during Rhythm in the Rain‘s early days and is back now to share hard-earned lessons. Elizabeth comes to us fresh off last term’s wildly successful Write to Publish team and is ready to flex her editorial muscles.

For the next couple months we are lucky to have Maeko Bradshaw on board. Maeko, who will head up the acquisitions department next year, knows how to identify the gold within a manuscript and will be an invaluable asset as we help Friesen shine up his novel. And here to ensure we navigate the entire editorial process successfully, we have next year’s editorial leads, J. Whitney Edmunds and Nicholas Shea. Eventually we’ll have to share these three with the rest of the press, but for now we get the full benefit of their editing superpowers.

As much of the crew is obsessing over characters and commas, a few heroes are looking ahead towards future challenges, like marketing. It’s never too early to think about the audience for a book, and we are fortunate to have several crewmembers who specialize in keeping wind in those sails. (Or is it sales? Nautical marketing puns FTW.) Amanda Taylor, who will someday, I’m calling it now, be responsible for a viral marketing campaign that will blow your mind and win the internet, helps us think big picture. I can’t wait to see some of the ideas she is developing go live. Meanwhile, our resident design experts, Alyssa Hanchar and Julia Skillin ensure that everything you see from us will be beautiful and interesting, whether it’s a promotional bookmark, a web banner, or your new favorite meme.

Finally, our newest crew member, John Leavitt, comes to us courtesy of PSU’s MFA program. John’s a fiction writer himself and has joined this term to get a sense of what goes on behind the scenes at a publishing company. When I asked him for his thoughts on Ooligan so far, he said, “I had no idea you guys did so much work! There’s a lot more to it than just printing books.”

Indeed, there is a lot of work to do, much of it still to come. But with a crew this good, I have no doubt we’ll keep our heads above water, run the rapids, weather the storms, keep everything ship-shape, and sail smoothly towards publication. Someday I’ll even run out of nautical metaphors—but I don’t sea it happening yet.

Where are the Digital Critical Editions?

Fri, 20 Mar 2015 17:00:19 +0000

This past fall term, I took both Editorial Theory and Concepts in Digital Publishing. Editorial Theory mainly dealt with the divergent (read: ideologically fraught) theoretical principles underlying the creation of critical editions—that is, “authoritative” versions of works the academy has deemed worthy of scholarly editorial treatment. Research into the genesis and development of the work in question is the basis of any critical edition. Yes—surprise! Works of literature don’t just pop into existence; they develop before and even after they are first published, and many people besides the author (think editor, publisher, Ezra Pound, your not-quite-sober typesetter) have a hand in whether the hero dies or not, whether I love or adore you, or whether this very sentence ends in an excited exclamation point or a dignified and unassuming period. (Period it is!)

One work, different versions

One work, different versions.

To illustrate what scholarly editors are dealing with in a simplified way, this little table displays, along the x-axis, five static, self-contained iterations of the text. They stretch along a y-axis, however; that is, the overall work is in an ongoing process of development, in a state of flux.

Scholarly editors are confronted, then, with a question of representation: how do they create an edition that accounts fully for the text’s multidimensionality? Traditionally, editors in the Anglo-American context have created so-called eclectic editions that “flatten” the work into one clear reading text and note the variations between text versions in sprawling footnotes and/or appendixes (yeah, you know the ones). This usually results in a text that has never before existed—the editor picked one word from the manuscript, the next word from the first edition, and so on. The German-inflected Continental school of critical editing has traditionally put more emphasis on representing the development of the work over time and has devised intricate ways of representing several text versions at once.

Recto page of Jeffrey S. Cramer's 2004 edition of Walden, an eclectic edition with a clear reading text on the left and notes on the right..

Recto page of Jeffrey S. Cramer’s 2004 edition of Walden, an eclectic edition with a clear reading text on the left and notes on the right.

Hans Zeller’s 1975 representation of the textual history of C.F. Meyer’s poem "Der Rappe des Comturs" closely echoes my hypothetical table at the beginning of this post.

Hans Zeller’s 1975 representation of the textual history of C.F. Meyer’s poem “Der Rappe des Comturs” closely echoes my hypothetical table at the beginning of this post.

Hans Walter Gabler devised a system of diacritical marks to represent Joyce's continuous writing process in his 1984 edition of Ulysses.

Hans Walter Gabler devised a system of diacritical marks to represent Joyce’s continuous writing process in his 1984 edition of Ulysses.

The drawbacks of both schools’ preferred modes of representing the work quickly become apparent. The eclectic edition, in presenting the reader with a clear reading text, conceals the work’s multidimensionality—it represents the work as a static, choate entity. The historical edition, conversely, sacrifices readability for a representation of the work’s multidimensionality, thereby making it accessible to a highly specialized readership with a decidedly academic interest in the text only.

Because I was also taking Concepts in Digital Publishing, I soon became convinced that the limitations of both the eclectic and the historical edition are, to a great extent, conditioned by the materiality of the printed book format. Ink on paper inevitably inscribes a static text.

Cut to today, to now, to our brave new World Wide Web, to hypertext, which certainly has the potential to accommodate complex textual relationships. Where are the digital critical editions? Editions that offer their reader-users accessible texts, layered presentations of text versions, critical commentary that can be toggled on and off? Editions that are responsive to their readers’ needs?

The reality, as far as I can see, is that most online scholarly projects are repositories, databases of raw material more or less curated, or digital editions (without the “critical”). Don’t get me wrong—projects like Folger Digital Texts are immensely valuable resources (for their searchability alone), but they don’t account for the multidimensionality of the work(s) they contain.

The one single digital edition I have come across thus far that best makes use of the digital environment is the Digital Thoreau’s fluid-text edition of Walden, which first went online in February 2014. It allows readers to display seven stages of Thoreau’s manuscript alongside the standard print critical edition of Walden and to track passages throughout their development. It is critically annotated, and its intuitive user interface ensures that it’s accessible to general and scholarly readers alike. In the future, the project’s creators plan to add manuscript facsimiles.

The Digital Thoreau provides a promising model for future developments that might succeed in overcoming the problems of representation inherent to printed critical editions. The digital humanities have made huge strides in the past few decades, yet there is still a scarcity of digital critical editions. Here is a huge chance for universities, scholars, programmers, and publishers to set an example by fully exploiting the advantages of the digital environment.