Category Archives: tip

For all you men out there…

If you are looking for a word that will give voice to your frustration at your wives’ incessant nagging – and let’s face it, there isn’t a woman among us who can honestly say that she doesn’t derive some deep satisfaction from nagging her husband –  look no further. Double Take’s word of the day is “Termagant,” meaning A scolding, nagging, bad-tempered woman; a shrew.

NOTE TO READERS: I apologize for the brevity of this post, and my infrequent posting in general. I am actually working, I know it’s hard to believe. I hope to return to my former lazy and procrastinating blog-addicted self shortly.

Future history

Funky title for a blog, no? Well, it’s my husband’s blog, so head on over there and check it out. He wrote here on this site a month ago with a guest post that was, in my opinion, hysterical if not a little heretical. The title was “God is a mob boss.”

I know I am probably not the most impartial person in the world, but I always love reading his writing because he writes exactly how he speaks. And if you were to listen to him speak, you would realize why that is  so amazing. Anyway, enough blarney. I guess that’s what happens when your father is an Irishman.

The three dashes (this is for you, Alan)

One of my readers asked me the following grammar question as a follow-up to this post:

I would appreciate a lesson on the use of the hyphen in sentence construction. I use it sparingly when I think I am using it correctly, but I am never quite sure frankly…My question is … can the hyphens be used as a substitution for commas or is their usage different?

Well, firstly, as listed in every editor’s bible, the Chicago Manual of Style, there are three types of dashes – hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes. They all have different functions, and to make life fun, are all different lengths (the dash used in this sentence is an em dash):

  1. The hyphen is the shortest of the three dashes, and is used in the following ways:
    1. hyphens can connect two words, such as “hair-raiser,” “eye-opener.”
    2. hyphens are used in compound numbers, “thirty-seven,” “forty-nine.”
    3. hyphens are used with the prefixes, ex-, self-, and all, e.g. ex-boyfriend, self-assured, and all-encompassing.

    The hyphen can be found on the keyboard on the underscore key, next to the “0” computer key.

  2. Now we come to the en dash, which is longer in length than the hyphen, and is used to connect continuing, or inclusive, numbers, e.g. the years 1968-72, 10:00-5:00 P.M.

    The en dash can be found on the keyboard by pressing Ctrl and the grey minus key on the numeric keyboard.

  3. Last but not least, the em dash, which is double the size of the en dash, and is used in the following ways:
    1. The em dash, or a pair of dashes, can be used to denote a sudden break in thought:

      I know a person—let’s call her Elizabeth—who is extremely gregarious.

    2. And now, in answer to your question, Alan, an em dash can also be used to separate ideas in a sentence which is long and complex, or in one that has an excessive amount of commas:

      On our way to see my brother and sister-in-law in Modi’in—which is located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv—we stopped off at a cafe for a bite to eat.

Rules are made to be broken

Any self-respecting editor or publisher will tell you that it is all well and good to have your own individual preferences when it comes to style issues, but what is critical at the end of the day is consistency. Always be consistent. If you choose to italicize a certain transliterated word, make sure to do this throughout. People can forgive a strange spelling of a word, but what is truly unforgivable is inconsistency.

Be warned, though: Do not get caught in the following trap. Word has a feature called Find and Replace, which enables you to make global changes to the file by finding the word in question and correcting it. NEVER select “Find and replace all” – there may be certain instances where the correction should not be applied. For example, you may want to replace the word “apple” globally with “fruit.” If you were to do a global Find and Replace, you run the risk of inserting the word “fruit” with a lower-case f at the beginning of a sentence, where a capped letter should really be used. As tedious as it is, you need to search through each example of the word, and determine whether the correction is appropriate.

Another little tidbit of information relating to consistency. Let us look at numbers. If your work is filled with a lot of mathematical and statistical data, you may decide to use numerals. For example, “There are 25 graduate students in the French department, 22 in the classics department, and 270 in the physics department, making a total of 317 students in the three departments.” The exception to the rule of using numerals is when the number is the first word in the sentence. At the beginning of a sentence, any number that would ordinarily be written in numerals is spelled out, regardless of any inconsistency this may create:

“Twenty-seven percent of the cost was guaranteed.”

If I could turn back time…

I would never have bought the Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger. I had high hopes for this book, and actually bought two copies of it before I even began reading it.

I first purchased the book exactly two years ago.  I was in Ben Gurion Airport on my way to London, and overcome by the excitement of travel and the “anything-could-happen-at-any-moment ” buzz I always feel when I am in the airport, I fell in love with the title and decided to splash out and treat myself to this book.

Well, to cut a long story short, I can’t EVER read on planes due to nausea and the joys of supervising two young children (not necessarily in that order), and didn’t have a second to read while I was in London. I ended up leaving the  book at my sister’s friend’s house, and only realized its absence when my sister called me up and told me that I had left it behind.

Well, I never did get that copy back, and, determined that my luck would change, bought the book again in Ben Gurion a year later on my way to the States. (When you’re from England, and your spouse is from the States, vacations only ever happen in these two countries.)

I guess with such drama surrounding the purchase of the book itself, it stands to reason that the actual reading would be anti-climactic. I was not impressed. I had read some really positive reviews about the book – I had, after all, an entire year before purchasing copy # 2 to read up about it – and expected to be really wowed, but it’s gotta be said, it was an extremely dull reading experience. There were very few redeeming features. The premise of the book was interesting – the aspect of time travel combined with a love story appealed to my romantic sensibilities – but the book itself put me to sleep. The plot felt contrived, the characters were pretentious, and the dialog was unforgivably tedious. I did make it through to the finishing line, but that was due to my determination not to have wasted $30 on two copies rather than tribute to the book itself. Anything positive to say about the book? Yes, it was a great sleep-inducer.

Ten tips on how to turn a writer into a friend, not a foe

During the last seven years of my career, I have not only sharpened my skills as an editor, but I (believe that) I have become a more sensitive human being. 

I have worked with so many authors of different types and stripes that I have come to the realization that as much as it is my job to perfect and polish the text, it is equally my role to hold the writer’s hand, so to speak, and guide him or her through the editing process. 

Writing a book is no mean feat, and revealing your writing – which often, directly or indirectly, exposes your innermost thoughts – to an anonymous editor who is itching to roll up his or her sleeves and take out the unforgiving red pen can be an extremely intimidating prospect.

On that note, implement the following pieces of advice, and you, too, will have your web page filled with glowing testimonials will achieve a harmonious working relationship with your client.

Are you ready?

 1. Meet the writer first. Ideally, you should try to meet your client before you begin the writing process. Nowadays email is the standard means of communication, but it is crucial that you start off on a more personal note. Your client will be entrusting his or her “baby” into your hands, so it is advisable that you meet face-to-face in order to build a rapport. While emails are useful and efficient, they can often be misinterpreted, and it is hard to “read” warmth from impersonal messages. If it is an impossibility for you to meet the writer, pick up the phone.

2. Be friendly. When you write emails to your clients, always try to start off on a light and friendly note. Here is a sample of such an email:

Dear Henry,

I hope you are well.

 I read through the first two chapters, and I have the following comments. Please see the attached document. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask.

Best regards,

Sorelle

3. Explain the process. Do not enter a project with the expectation that the writer is familiar with the editing process. Often writers have never worked with editors before, and are not familiar with Word and track changes. Before you begin editing, send the writer an email explaining to him or her (in a bulleted list) the process of editing, and ALWAYS stress at the end of such an email that if anything is unclear, he or she should not hesitate to ask you any questions. 

When working with a writer, your aim should not only be to dazzle him or her with your brilliance, but also to put him or her at ease. Presuming knowledge from clients is a big no-no, and can often end in tears. If you have a preferred method of working, such as always making a point of renaming drafts, make sure that you tell your client from word go about your preference.

4. Be positive. OK, you have read through the manuscript, and it is going to take a great deal of work and many mugs of coffee to get you through this project. Do not project frustration into your emails. You should adopt the attitude that this project is going to improve your editing skills, and will result in you becoming a sharper editor. When you write an email to the writer with your general comments, try to start the email on a positive note. (There has to be SOMETHING positive you can write about the manuscript, and writers really appreciate any positive feedback you can give them.)  

Even if you believe that the manuscript is in an appalling state, starting off your email with a message similar to the one below is only going to alienate the writer and put him or her on the defensive:

Hi John,

I have just finished reading the first five chapters. I am sorry to say that they are incomprehensible and poorly written. Much work is needed to make these chapters publishable.

Sorelle

No good. Try the following tactic:

Hi John,

I have just finished reading the first five chapters, and am attaching my general comments to this email. From what I have read so far, I believe that the book has a great deal of potential. I have outlined in my comments those issues that I feel need particular attention. Please let me know if you have any questions.

I am very much looking forward to working with you on this project.

Sincerely,

Sorelle

5. Consolidate your comments. If you have multiple comments about the work, it is better for you to write them up in a Word document, and attach them to the email. It is tedious for your client to scroll through an email with fifty points. An added advantage of such a method is that you have your saved file for your records. Emails can get lost.

6. Be clear. If you are inserting comments into the Word file, make sure to phrase your question or comment clearly, and write in full sentences. Don’t fall into the trap of writing short comments that resemble text messages. It looks sloppy.

7. Be humble. The following point cannot be reiterated enough. Always make sure to stress to your client that your editing suggestions are exactly that, suggestions, and that ultimately any major editorial decisions are in the writer’s hands. It is counter-productive to present your argument as an indisputable fact. I find that when I have given the writer the option of rejecting my comments, most times he or she will be more amenable to my suggestions.

8. Be organized. If you are working with a writer who is disorganized and sends you vague emails with vague responses to your questions, it is very important that you formulate your emails in such a way that he or she will be forced to answer your specific points. Number each of your points in a bulleted list, and end the point with a direct question that clearly requires a direct answer.

If the lines of communication seem to be broken, make a point of ending your emails with the following request:

“Please acknowledge that you have received this email.”

9. Keep a list. Keep LOTS of lists. Always keep a running list of the issues that you discuss in your email correspondence with your client. Often interesting ideas will be suggested but sadly forgotten in the midst of more pressing issues, so it is extremely useful to have this list handy.

10. Be humble. Yes, I’m repeating myself. Being an editor requires humility. You are not competing against the writer, you are helping him or her. You are in effect finessing someone else’s work for which you will not receive any credit (aside from a few complimentary words in the Acknowledgments, if you are lucky). If you cannot derive satisfaction from the fact that you have helped steer the writer towards an excellent final product, then you are in the wrong profession.   

Online resource for copy-editors and proofreaders

If you are an editor or proofreader living in Israel, and would like to share or receive information about all editing-related topics in this country, there is an email list to which you can subscribe – COandPI@yahoogroups.com.

You need not be embarrassed about asking the most simple of questions on this list. There are editors who ask for help in basic grammar, such as where to place a comma or semi-colon in a sentence. 

Identify your audience

Before you submit your manuscript to a publisher, or better yet, before you begin writing your book, sit down for a minute and consider the potential readership. Ask yourself who you think will most likely want to read this book. This will influence the tone and direction of your book. For example, if you are writing a book about Kabbalah, we all know that you’re not the first or last person to do so; there are a plethora of Kabbalah works out there on the market. You will need to provide a fresh perspective on the subject in order to make your book stand out from the 150 other Kabbalah manuscripts on the publisher’s desk. If you are writing about a subject that requires specialized knowledge, but want to target your book to a wide audience, make sure to explain and define any complex concepts and language.

It is the publisher’s and submission editor’s job to weed out those manuscripts that are cliched and lack originality. They will only take on your book if they can identify a potential market, and unless your writing is of an excellent literary standard, your manuscript will gather dust on their desks and will eventually end up in the garbage.

One final word of advice: you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Your first page, your first paragraph, your first sentence, needs to grab the reader. Don’t expect the reader to persist through 100 pages of waffle to uncover the point of the book. From word go, you need to engage your readers.

On that note, I will get back to work.