Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#24)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these reminders form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #24
Any time an editor sees the word “literally,” sirens should sound and red lights begin to flash. For “literally” is used wrongly most of the time, by most people. “I literally died of embarrassment” is not an extreme example. Every month you will read, and hear, dozens of such mistaken uses, serving to deprive the world of a useful word that says, “And I really mean this, it is the factual truth.” Dozens of examples. Literally.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#23)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these reminders form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #23
Another hat that the ideal book editor wears is the Marketing Specialist’s Hat. Even a literary novel allows possible special markets. A central character’s interest in bird-watching, for example, opens up prospects of attention, even reviews, in birders’ magazines or websites. A story set during the Canadian advance in Italy during the Second World War provides gives the publisher the chance of a market among veterans, the Legion Magazine, and fans of military history. The editor, as the first reader of the finished book, should be the spearhead of the attack on these special markets. Or, if you prefer the bird-watching analogy, should be the one to tweet the news around the publishing house.

Book Writing Is Not an Easy Job

In response to Mark Medley’s July 13, 2012, Afterword piece, “Who Edits the Editors?”, Doug offered his experience of editors becoming authors in a letter to the editor, which was published July 17, 2012. Doug writes,

Mark Medley’s fine column catches most of the problems facing people who work in publishing, yet boldly decide to write fiction. The matter of divided loyalties — and divided imaginative time — is central, of course.
But I especially liked the account given by the distinguished British publisher and poet, Robin Robertson, of the depressing reality in publishing offices of what happens to most books: “All those ashen faces among the glossy displays; all those unsold, unsaleable books; all that crushed hope underfoot.”
In my days as a publisher, dealing with writers’ hopes and dreams, I would sometimes gloomily describe myself as being in the business of disappointing people — the authors we decided not to publish, and , in too many cases, the authors we did publish.
In this case, Mr. Medley does not extend his research to include non-fiction writing by people in publishing. I know something about this, and its pitfalls. My recent book of publishing memories, Stories About Storytellers, has produced a rueful confession, under the subtitle: “Harder Than I Thought — A Publisher Tries to Write a Book.”
Is it possible that many wise people in publishing shy away from writing books simply because they know how hard it is?
Douglas Gibson, Toronto.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#22)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these guidelines form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #22
Recently I came across a carefully printed sign in the well-known educational establishment OISE.  It invited patrons who had used its services to pass along comments, including “criticisms” and “complements.” My comments were not complimentary.

Should this sort of spelling error matter? My response is that this was not a scrawled sign in a small-time grocery (“Cabages”), but a designed, carefully printed sign that had gone through several stages of checking by educated professionals. The resulting error reflected badly on them, and thus on OISE. I’m certain that you don’t have to be a professional editor to have this reaction. Spelling still matters to a large proportion of readers, which means that it still matters.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#21)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these guidelines form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #21
One of the many hats that a book editor should wear is that of Title-spotter. Sometimes a manuscript with a bland, khaki title will reveal a blazing, technicolour title in its pages, one that will bring the book major attention. One example. Harry J. Boyle wrote a novel named “I Am Shane Donovan” about a successful Toronto advertising man who wanted to quit his job in order to write “The Great Canadian Novel.” Guess what we called the book.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#20)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these guidelines form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #20
Make sure that lists are in a consistent form. All too often we find published lists that provide, for example, a list of aims as follows:
“ a. to entertain
b. to instruct
c. to inform
d. guidance
e to provide a model.”
Clearly, this is a very sloppy form of guidance, but a keen-eyed editor will find inconsistent listing everywhere. It’s almost as worrying as spotting a listing ship.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#19)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these guidelines form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #19
Care should be taken with adverbs, and editors should hunt down and kill surplus adverbs, taking an especially hard look at those that tell us how a line of speech is delivered. In my book I take a chance and offend against this rule. See if you think that I was right.
In the chapter on Val Ross (page 342) she is dying, and we both know that she will not live to see her book come out. “Val remarked on how many Robertson Davies books had come out since his death. “Yes,” I said, carefully, “and books do live on.”
I suspect that “carefully” has never been used more carefully.

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#17)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these reminders form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #17
In her 2012 book The Literary Legacy of the Macmillan Company of Canada: Making Books and Mapping Culture, Ruth Panofsky quotes the editorial policy of the legendary publisher John Morgan Gray: “Gray’s ‘first job’ was to help authors realize their ‘full potential’ and he consistently followed his own ‘golden rule’ for editors: ‘[When] dealing with writers who know what they are doing don’t edit any more than requested to do; stand by to help if called on. Occasionally even the most assured writer will get too close to his work and may then welcome a hint of how it appears to someone else . . . The ideal role for the editor calls for sympathetic understanding, some talent for listening, judgment and good sense.’”

 

Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#16)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these reminders form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #16
Sometimes there is a clash between the wide-ranging expectations of a publisher and the difficult detailed work that the luckless editor has to do on the manuscript. This (except in the case of schizophrenics who are both publishers and editors, cough, cough) reflects a basic difference in character. As the wise John Le Carré has one of his cynical characters remark in The Russia House, “Publishers can get their minds halfway round anything.” Editors, by contrast, can’t just be halfway professionals.