Interview with Carol Saller from University of Chicago Press

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the upcoming international editors conference that is being hosted by the Editors’ Association of Canada this month. I’ve been interviewing some of the conference speakers in advance of the event.

Subversive Copy EditorI’m excited to be able to share with you my interview with keynote speaker Carol Saller, who is well known in the North American editing community. She is the editor of the online Chicago Manual of Style Q&A and the author of the fantastic book The Subversive Copy Editor. I hope you enjoy our conversation.

(For those of you who are not familiar with the Chicago Manual of Style, it’s the standard style guide used by most American trade book publishers.)

I expect things to get a bit hectic over the next couple of weeks while the conference is going on, so I may not be able to post. I’ll be sure to share with you any tidbits that I pick up from the event!

 

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Advertisements

Interview with Brendan O’Brien, Editor and Writer

Today I’d like to share my interview with Brendan O’Brien, originally posted on the blog The Editors’ Weekly. Brendan lives in County Cavan, Ireland, and has over 26 years of experience as a writer and editor. He will be speaking at Editing Goes Global, the first international conference for editors.

(The conference is being held in Toronto, Canada in June – so those of you who are writers or editors and are in the general area may want to check it out.)

In other news, wallcat from My Inner Geek wrote a great follow-up to my Black Widow post from last week. It’s been wonderful to see all the lively and respectful discussion around the topic of female characters.

Finally, my apologies for being late in replying to comments last week. I’ve been down with a pesky virus but am now recovering. I should be back to my usual schedule with an original post for next week. 🙂

 

Cheers,

Sue

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Four Guidelines for Editing Your Way Through the Corporate Jungle

Some of you may know that my day job involves writing and editing for a corporation. I have a post out this week on the Editors’ Weekly blog on editing your way through the corporate jungle. I thought I’d post it here for those who may be interested. Please feel free to comment here if you have any thoughts on the post that you’d like to share.

Stay tuned for more DBW posts coming in December. My course is almost over, so I will have more time to blog soon. Thanks for sticking with me. 🙂

Seek Out Your Writing Intention…and Engage!

Have you ever read through to the end of a book and still couldn’t figure out what it was about?

Chances are you probably gave up long before that happened.

When assessing any kind of manuscript, the first thing that an editor looks for is the author’s intention. What is the author trying to accomplish with this text? It’s a simple question, but it can be a challenging one to answer.

As an editor, I have found myself lost in the deep space of a manuscript with no apparent way home. I’ve completed first reads on manuscripts that were trying to pack everything into 250 pages. I understand the writer’s need to include all of their favourite shiny bits. But this makes the editor’s job more difficult. Before I can provide any meaningful advice on what to change, move, remove, or add, I need to understand the intent of the work.

While reading through a chaotic manuscript, I was reminded of the classic Star Trek: TNG episode “Darmok.” In this episode, the crew of the Enterprise are trying to establish relations with the Tamarians, who communicate using metaphors. One of the Tamarians, Dathon, tosses a dagger to Captain Picard while saying, “Darmok and Jalad at Tenagra.” Picard interprets this as a request for the two of them to duel, and refuses. Dathon was actually referring to a story of two warriors who met and became friends by fighting a beast together on the island of Tenagra. He wanted to forge a relationship with the Federation by fighting an enemy together. Picard had completely misunderstood Dathon’s intention.

Dathon and Picard intend to confront the beast together...

Dathon and Picard intend to confront the beast together…

An author’s intention can be as mysterious to an editor (or to a reader) as a Tamarian metaphor. Please don’t force your reader into a tragic experience. You need to get to the heart of your story and find the core that your audience can recognize and engage with. To help you on this journey, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned about various elements of intention. Just think of yourself as the Captain of the Starship Enterprise, where you need to find out your mission before the story can begin.

Overall Purpose

A good starting point for defining intention is to identify your overall purpose in writing the work. There are four main reasons for writing: to inform, to instruct, to entertain, or to persuade. You need to think about your primary purpose. There may be a secondary one, but your primary one helps you determine the best structure and appropriate content for your work.

Most fiction stories (like those on Star Trek) are there primarily to entertain the audience. But they can also serve as moral instruction, or as a method of persuading people to accept a point of view. The trick is to make sure your secondary purpose does not overwhelm the first.

Audience

Who is your ideal reader for the book? What experience are you trying to provide for that reader? You need to construct your work according to your target audience’s expectations so they can understand your intention. Thinking about the age, gender, interests, reading habits, and knowledge of your readers will help you refine your approach.

From a practical perspective, the broader your work’s appeal, the more likely you are to have success in selling your manuscript. So think about your secondary readers as well as your ideal ones. Star Trek has had multi-generational success because it appeals to a large audience (and not just to sci-fi geeks like me).

Logline

A logline is the one-liner description of your work. Blake Snyder discusses how to create a marketable logline in his excellent book Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. He stresses the need to be able to answer the question “What is it?” in one line. According to Snyder, a good logline is emotionally compelling, creates an intriguing mental picture, and attracts the target audience.

Think about the logline for your work. It’s difficult, I know. But if you can’t explain your story in one line, you may need to look at all the threads and think about how to focus your intent.

Here’s an example of a logline from the Star Trek universe to help get you started:

War breaks out across the stars as the Klingon and Romulan Empires fight for supremacy… with the Enterprise caught in the middle.

(Can you imagine having to write a logline for every single episode of the television show? The mind boggles.)

Personal Intent

I’ve saved the most important piece for last. There was a reason why you chose to spend hours of your life writing or typing rather than surfing the internet or chilling out on the couch. Why did you write? Was your intent to write a famous story that would sell millions of copies? Did you want to tell everyone about a cause that matters to you? Or did you simply want to put your thoughts on the page, and say you have written a book?

Everyone’s intention in writing is ultimately a personal one. Knowing this will help you determine your direction. Maybe you don’t care about marketability, and only want help in writing clear prose. Maybe you want to make sure that your theme is coming across to a wide audience. Know what you want, and tell your editor. Then you’ll be able to collaborate together and create a work that both you and your readers will love.

Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, stated that “Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms.”

Even the fictional crew of the Starship Enterprise had a clear intention: “To explore new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

So what’s your intention? Seek it out, and you’ll be ready to engage.

***

How do you deal with intention? Do you find you have a clear idea of what you would like to accomplish before you begin, or do you figure it out as you write? What helps you to focus your writing?

Under Siege: The Writer-Editor Relationship

Solving confrontations between writers and editors is like negotiating a ceasefire between the rulers of opposing armies. On the one side, we have the writer, who has slaved to build his creation: a towering pinnacle of achievement for all the world to admire. On the other side, we have the editor, who is bringing out the battering ram to smash this magnificent edifice to bits.

Adam Thorpe, author of the Booker Prize-nominated novel Ulverton, has this to say about his editor Robin Robertson: “I have to be armoured to take on Robin’s professional side, and not to feel winded by the idea that I’m just another name on his long list. He’s part of the literary army, I’m alone.”

utherpen_2379

And not all of us are as brave as Prince Arthur…

To avoid having a writer feel like they are under siege, the editor should follow these lessons learned from the art of medieval warfare.

Lesson #1: Establish a Clear Treaty

Writers will react with hostility if they feel that an editor is infringing on their territory. Negotiate the borderlines up front before going forward. Is the writer looking for someone to admire their castle and encourage them in their work? Or is the writer looking for someone who can clean up the dusty words in a passage and point out where a colourful tapestry of description would liven up the room? Maybe they are looking for an artisan who can help demolish a section and rebuild it into something better. You won’t know until you ask. Clear treaties result in happy neighbours.

Lesson #2: Reply to Messages in Good Time

When a writer sends a message to you, be sure to acknowledge it as soon as possible. This will help reassure the writer that you are a trusted ally who will treat them with respect. The longer the writer has to wait, the more they are forced to question: Did the messenger horse go astray on the path, and the message was lost? Or is the editor ignoring the message, and focusing on other kingdoms that they feel are more worthy of notice?

Lesson #3: Break Bread Together

There are good reasons why agreements are hammered out over food. Everyone knows that it’s forbidden to draw a weapon when you are eating in someone’s guest hall. And a tasty meal can go a long way to improving everyone’s mood. The writer can feel isolated while penning a manuscript in a lonely garret. Don’t forget to bring on the cheer while you are toiling through negotiations.

Lesson #4: Don’t Throw the Gauntlet

There are ways to discuss areas that need help, and they don’t involve flinging feedback like insults. When you do this, you are forcing the writer to defend their honour. Remember to compliment the host before discussing areas that are more fraught with peril. And handle these areas with sensitivity – remember how you would feel as a writer if someone was criticizing your work.

And a final lesson for writers…remember the reason why your editor is taking apart the stones of your mighty tower. Together, you can build a stronger fortress that will stand the test of time against your mutual enemy: the critics.

So let that drawbridge down and open yourself up to adventure. You won’t be sorry.

“At that stage when you go back and reread for the first time, it’s kind of horrific. But I don’t want to have everything perfectly made before I take the next step. It seems like moving forward with armed guards. There isn’t an element of danger or risk or that anything possible can happen in the next scene.”

– Michael Ondaatje

***

Image from the BBC show Merlin.

Quotes sourced from The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself by Susan Bell. First quote: p. 210. Second quote: p. 213-14.

For those of you who have been edited, what has been your experience? Did it go smoothly? Or did you feel like you were under siege? Why?

Networking in a Strange Land

This past weekend, I attended the Editors’ Association of Canada annual conference. I had been looking forward to this event and I was not disappointed. The weekend was jam-packed full of sessions on self-publishing, social media, and the future of editing in the digital space. Plus, I had a chance to meet people like fellow blogger and awesome grammarphile Suzanne Purkis from Apoplectic Apostrophes.

I knew going in to this conference that it would be a great opportunity to network with writers and editors that I hadn’t met yet.

Wait a second…I was going to have to talk to new people all weekend? Ummm….

All of you introverts out there know exactly how much *fun* it is speaking with groups of people at large events. We’re the strangers in a strange land, hoping that someone will grok us immediately so that we don’t have to exhaust ourselves putting on a show. We always have a sneaking suspicion that other people have figured out we don’t belong here.

John Carter among the Tharks - What do you think? Should we toss him out, or have fun with him first?

What do you think? Should we toss him out, or have fun with him first?
(Image from John Carter)

Luckily, I was not the only one feeling this apprehension. There was a popular discussion on the EAC LinkedIn group before the conference on networking for introverts (where many of us sang the praises of Susan Cain’s Quiet). EAC member Elizabeth Macfie chimed in by writing an excellent post full of networking tips. Armed with this information, I bravely went forth and connected with many people. I even managed to find other fans of speculative fiction, like word sorceress Vanessa Ricci-Thode and graphic novel editing guru Alison Kooistra.

I’d like to share with you some of the networking tips that helped me survive my trip to this alien land known as a “business conference.”

Sue’s Networking Tips for Introverts

1. Try to know people before you go. See what you can find out about the people who are attending or speaking at the event. Look at their pictures on LinkedIn so that you will recognize them when you see them. Find out what they write about or what they post on their websites. The strange will become familiar, and you’ll have a starting point for a conversation.

(I was lucky that the EAC had a conference buddies program, where you could email with people ahead of the event and not feel alone when you got there. This was a great boon for introverts. Thank you to Jean, Anne, Avery, and Marie-Christine for being my conference buddies!)

2. Dress for confidence. Wear the outfit that makes you feel like you’re a star. You’re not there to blend in—you’re there to show your best self. Stop worrying about being different and celebrate those differences. At the conference, I saw someone wearing an unusual knit dress and another person wearing a tiara. Both of them pulled their outfits off with panache.

3. Keep your cards ready. You don’t want to be fumbling over your business cards and feeling like you have too many fingers as you try to make connections. Networking can be awkward enough. Put your cards in your name tag holder so that you can take them out quickly, and put other people’s cards at the front so you don’t mix the cards up.

4. Take a break. You can’t be “on” all the time. Spend five minutes wandering away to a quiet place and drink a coffee in silence. Pretend you’re out in deep space. Take the opportunity to study your agenda so you know where you’re going next. You don’t want to waste your mental energy thinking about plans when you go back in to meet people.

5. Focus on your goals. Why are you there? Is there a particular person you want to meet? Is there a topic you are interested in learning more about? Go where you will have the best chance of meeting your goals. Thinking about your goals will stop you from feeling overwhelmed, and help you avoid taking on too much.

I’m already looking forward to the 2015 EAC conference in Toronto, which is going international. Next year I will have the chance to meet writers and editors from the US, the UK, and Australia. Then it will be my turn to make strangers in a strange land feel welcome. Maybe I’ll see you there!