Friday, April 6, 2018

THOUGHTS ON COPY EDITING by Chris Knopf


Every published author will tell you that a great copy editor is a gift from God, and have horror stories about those more in Satan’s camp. I’ve had both. Now that I’m busy with the editorial process, the importance of great copy editing has become even more apparent.

There’s a big range of capabilities different copy editors bring to their roles. Some are basically proofreaders, who concentrate on typos, spelling, punctuation, format screw-ups, like a bad break in the middle of a sentence, things that are objectively incorrect. But beyond that, there’s a lot of room for thoughtful interpretation. Especially for things like commas, colons, semi-colons, quote marks, dashes, and so on. These can have a big impact on style and meaning. The copy editor has to understand the author’s intent, their distinctive voice, to know how to properly suggest how these guideposts should be arranged.

Great copy editors also delve into grammar, usage, syntax, continuity, fact checking, historical accuracy, repetitive or poor word choice, character consistency, even unintended pejoratives  – many of the things developmental editors also attend to. This means they have to have a good understanding of the author’s voice and style, not only to catch and correct tiny errors, but to maintain a clear understanding of the storyline itself. A gestalt on the work as a whole. 

This is where copy editing is a fine art. It’s not their job to rewrite an author’s work. In fact, rewriting a sentence usually guarantees it’s in the copy editor’s style, not that of the author’s. Though sometimes the author doesn’t hear her own voice. She knows what she wants to say, and might think she is saying it, but it doesn’t always come out that way. The copy editor can help by questioning the author’s intent. “Did you mean for the reader to think x or y?”

A not-so-good copy editor is either someone who just misses too many goof-ups, or worse, one who conforms to strict definitions of formal rules. When I was in advertising, I sent some copy to a bigwig for approval. After checking for technical accuracy, he turned it over to his admin, who was a former English teacher. I got it back all marked up with a red pen. She took out all my contractions, re-attached the split infinitives, and after making sure there were no incomplete sentences, ganged them up into long paragraphs. Thus taking all the life out of the prose. 

I thanked her for her help, and sent her a huge stack of long-form brochures asking her to apply her magic, and never heard from her again.      

My favorite copy editors either come from journalism or advertising. Those professions teach you how to keep the writing from straying too far from acceptable standards, but also that style must be a flexible thing, who appreciate the whole and do not distort the author’s voice by fussing over irrelevant particulars, or imposing rules that were first established in the eighteenth century. 

I work with a lot of beta readers who I ask to ignore typos and misspellings, hoping to keep their attention on the greater work.  This is easy for me, since I’m the world’s worst proofreader. And utterly dependent on great copy editors, who are the lifeguards in the narrative stream. 

✱          ✱          ✱

This is the newest of the blogs Chris has been posting sharing his thoughts about the art of writing with other writers—be they published or unpublished—that might be helpful. He’s had a successful career as a wordsmith, starting with a career in advertising and moving on to write a string of highly successful mysteries. His most recent Sam Acquillo mystery Tango Down is available on Amazon. Chris has won innumerable awards and has had dozens of rights sales around the world, including audio sales to Blackstone Audiobooks. Do pass this on to others you know, post comments on the Cockeyed Pessimist website, and feel free to share your thoughts with Chris via View my Blog The Cockeyed Pessimist, or email Chris directly cknopf@thepermanentpress.com or Martin Shepard at shepard@thepermanentpress.com

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

NO OBITS NECESSARY FOR THE LIFE OF THE MIND by Chris Knopf

These are times when optimism is about as easy to sustain as the suspension of disbelief watching a superhero movie. I consume way too much of the media fury, so I won't add to it here. Rather, I’d like to address one small slice of the public debate, at least among those who are literate enough to ask: Are we moving into a post-literate society?
No. And here's why.
Just as there's a natural distribution of good looks, intelligence and athletic grace across the population, there's a percentage of people who like to read, absorb information and artistic expression, and formulate their own opinions from the swelter of competing views. Let's assume that the qualities described above are encouraged, for some, by spending four years in college. This means the percentage of the thoughtful and inquisitive is larger than ever: In 1940, only about five percent of the country had graduated from college. Now it’s over a third.
  You’ll hear people say "Kids don’t read anymore." Tell them that books sales, in particular physical books, are growing, and much of that growth is being driven by young readers. It's true that the number of brick and mortar bookstores has declined, but that's because of Amazon and other online sources. It's a matter of distribution, not consumption, and for the purpose of my thesis here, somewhat misleading. 
Journalism is another institution that is supposedly dying on the vine, and for sure, the print media is under huge duress. Though for every daily newspaper that goes under there are hundreds, if not thousands, of fresh news outlets appearing online. You may rightly assert that many, or most, are poorly managed and edited, and filled with uncurated dreck. That still leaves so much worthy and enriching information, and commentary, that you'd never be able to absorb it all.
You can make a strong case that the cretin in the White House has caused an upsurge in media consumption, however polarized individual outlets have become. Trust in the media favored by Democrats has actually improved in recent times. I submit that this is because people are paying more attention, that they're reading more. I also believe that responsible journalism, in an era of propaganda and phony news, is trying harder to keep their facts straight and their commentary thoughtfully nuanced. 
A good friend of mine has a theory of the human mind:  "People have a tendency to extrapolate current circumstances indefinitely into the future." Even the scantest understanding of the past ought to unburden you of this fallacy. We are, no doubt, going through some monumental changes, occurring at an unprecedented pace. This is much of the problem, since rapid change makes it feel like everything is going to hell in a handbasket. The originators of Chaos Theory, a scientific paradigm that explains the behavior of complex systems, say that nature moves from order to disorder in irregular, but relentless, cycles. They call the state between these cycles "phase transition," when things become the most chaotic. 
This is where we're living today. It’s not a post-literate society, it's a society making a painful adjustment to the Information Age, finding their way through the torrent of books, articles and essays, along with posts, Tweets, online rants and blogs, just like this.
If you believe civilization is worth preserving, you have to believe that wisdom and critical thinking are essential ingredients in that preservation. Thought in isolation from information is valuable, but closed-ended. You can only go so far on your own. I maintain that the richest source of revelation and enrichment are books. Whatever form they take, physical or electronic, books will save us from annihilation, from the foolishness – economic, military, environmental, cultural – that is also an irredeemable component of the human experience. 
Don't despair. Publishers are publishing, readers are reading. Thus, thinkers keep thinking. 

*              *              *
I encourage you to share this blog with others who may enjoy it. I particularly welcome your comments on this cockeyed pessimist site. Chris Knopf's eighth Sam Acquillo mystery, Tango Down, is now available for purchase. You can also reach Chris by email at cknopf@thepermanentpress.com, and follow The Permanent Press on Facebook and Twitter for updates on all our titles!