You say employer, I say employee

“Okay, okay,” you say. “Pointing out typos and other copy editing failures is fun and all, but does any of this stuff really matter?”

Well, how about this? In Albuquerque, New Mexico, officials recently wrote up a proposal to increase the minimum wage and change how employees receive tips, hoping to get it on the November ballot. More than 12,000 people signed it, and the proposal seemed on its way to a slam-dunk victory, before someone noticed an error in a key section. Here’s the troublesome passage:

The measure would also require that starting in 2013, employers of tipped employees like waitresses and waiters be paid at least 45 percent of the minimum wage in cash wages from their employers.

See the problem? According to the wording above, who will be receiving the wages here? That’s right—the employers. Obviously, it should be the employees who will benefit from the change in minimum wage and tips, not their bosses. But that’s not what the proposal says. Councilor Ken Sanchez, one of the sponsors, said that if the proposal passes as is, lawsuits will probably be filed against the city.

As you might imagine, changing the wording of a government proposal after it’s been voted on involves just a bit of bureaucracy. Albuquerque city councilors are thinking about letting the current proposal appear on the ballot and also putting up another version with corrected wording. (Sure—that won’t be confusing to voters.)

Whatever happens, this is a good lesson in clear writing, good copy editing, and/or careful proofreading—take your pick.

(Here’s the source of this story.)

 

 

It’s a beautiful day in the . . . whaaaaat?!?

A guy named Ben Akselrod is running for the assembly in the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. His campaign sent out mailers that blamed an increase in crime on the policies of his opponent. But check out the highlighted phrase in the mailer:

If you can’t read it, the phrase says the opponent “has allowed crime to go up over 50% in our negrohood.” Yow.

Not to worry! Akselrod says it was just an unfortunate typo. He responded thusly:

“As the candidate, I take full responsibility for this inadvertent error and I am sorry to anyone who was offended by it.”

That’s some inadvertent error, all right. You really have to go out of your way to misspell “neighborhood” as “negrohood.” Most typos aren’t quite so . . . different from the original word.

But even if we give Akselrod’s campaign the benefit of the doubt and assume that the word truly was an unintentional typo rather than a Freudian slip, the mailer still makes him look pretty bad. It contains several other spelling and grammatical errors. For example, we learn of Akselrod’s desire to “Creat” jobs and the fact that he misspelled the very name of the district he wants to represent! Heck, even his name seems like a typo—I mean, is it just me, or do you want to mark up your monitor to change the spelling to “Axelrod”? Clearly, the text wasn’t even run through a spellchecker, much less proofed by human eyes.

Regular readers of GRAMMARGEDDON! will remember that we recently saw another creative misspelling of “neighborhood” on a Boston public school sign. Maybe there’s something in the water on the east coast.

(The photo comes from this article, which provides more details on this incident. I’ll be interested to see how it affects Akselrod’s prospects for election.)

Q: What do you call a neighborhood for hobos?

Nothing instills confidence in your school like seeing a big typo on the sign by the front door.

O no!

Just think: someone (probably many someones) had to write those words, create the sign, proof the sign, drill it into the brick wall, look at it, nod contentedly, and walk away, whistling a happy tune.

The photo comes from the Dudley Street Neighborhood’s Facebook album, and if you check out the comments there, you’ll see that the school posted the photo proudly, then realized their mistake after several people pointed out the error. This article offers a good quote:

“I think we get a big, fat F for the spelling on this sign,” said Matt Wilder, director of media relations for Boston Public Schools. “We are already in the process of fixing it, and it will be taken down today.”

Kudos to the school for acknowledging the error and moving quickly to replace the sign. But this incident just goes to show you that, for good or ill, it’s hard to get away with typos in these days of instant feedback from social media.

 

I’m not making this up. Honest.

I’ve been ranting a lot here and elsewhere about the sorry state of ebooks from indie authors, relating to the (apparent) lack of editorial skills (paid or otherwise) applied to those ebooks. I decided to provide concrete examples from the book I’m currently trying to read. I say trying, because I want to read it, I want to enjoy it, but the appalling number of errors is really harshing on my serenity, dude.

I won’t name names or titles, or say where I got the book. I will say I’m glad I didn’t pay for it, though. If I’d parted with any money for this I’d be pretty upset. More upset than I already am. At least having paid nothing for it, I can’t bemoan the loss of money I could have spent on, I don’t know, food or gas or something useful. All I’m losing is time.

These, then, are actual errors from an actual book. I’m not making this up. Honest.

I will note that I’m only 25% of the way through the book, according to my Kindle. I took a tip from another editor and started highlighting errors as I came across them. What an eye-opener that was! I mean, I knew there were errors; I can’t not see them. Proofreading is hardwired into my brain. However, highlighting them makes them seem that much worse. Now I really can’t not see them.

Some of them I’ll explain, some I’ll let speak for themselves. By all means comment if you don’t understand why I’ve called something an error. I’ll do my best to enlighten. I will also state that I’m not quoting full sentences, but only the portions containing the error. It’s also important to know that the writer is from the UK, so some of the mechanics just drive me batty on principle and some of the word choices are unfamiliar to me.

#############

no sights, no sound (For parallelism, I’d change that to “sounds” in this description of a setting.)

standing next to it, was M (Delete that unnecessary comma.)

lit up the lens of his glasses (Unless he’s wearing a monocle, he has lenses, plural.)

gunge (As an American English speaker, I didn’t know this word. It’s a UK term that I figured out contextually and then checked against a dictionary online. If I had been editing I might’ve queried it even after finding the definition. Therefore, this isn’t so much an error as a language issue–but I’m still pointing it out as something that can stop readers in their tracks.)

” . . . we can-.” (Oh, dear me. No. Not even in British usage. If the sentence/thought isn’t finished, there’s no period, no full stop, whatever you wish to call that dot at the end. Also, rather than a hyphen, I’d have used an em-dash to indicate the sudden breaking of the thought/speech. This particular mechanical error occurs throughout the book. I cheated and looked ahead, so I know.)

“Just one . . . at a time”. (Again, no. The period’s at the end of the spoken sentence, so it goes inside the closed quotation mark. I’ve read quite a few blogs lately about US vs. UK mechanics, and quotation marks with other punctuation is one of the most confusing things on both sides of the pond. However–no. It’s a sentence; it has a definite end; put the period inside the quote.)

alright (It’s not all right to use this. It’s all wrong. Two words. Always. All right? Thanks.)

small with a blue studs on top (It’s either a single stud, or perhaps this is a possessive missing its apostrophe and its object. I think it’s the first, and I’d delete that “s” on the end of “stud.”)

industrial sized Hoover (Adjectives made from two words–called compound adjectives–are often hyphenated. “Industrial-sized.” To a point this comes down to the editor’s preference in conjunction with a style guide, such as the CMoS. I far prefer the unambiguous hyphenation to an open version that in some cases leads to confusion or misunderstanding. That, and I like the look of the hyphenated form. So there. I suspect that in this case one might argue that “industrial-sized” is a temporary compound. I’ve not looked for the term in any dictionaries, so I can’t say. The concept is familiar to anyone who shops at places like Sam’s Club or Costco, though.)

give a once over (The idiom is hyphenated. “Once-over.”)

cotton weaved interior (I’m not entirely clear on the intent, here. I think the writer means the interior of this particular wig is woven from cotton. I’d have suggested changing it to “woven cotton interior.” On further discussion with the writer, I might have ended up with something more like “woven cotton cap,” since I believe that’s what the base of a wig is called–the part that fits the head like a cap, that is. I’m indulging in conjecture, of course.)

cheers and laughter . . . was a cacophony (I’d recast this, because while it seems a quick fix to say “were” and have the plural form for the plural subject, we’re also in that messy area of reciprocity. The sentence can’t be easily reversed using the same words (“cacophony” as the subject requires “was,” but “cheers and laughter” as the subject require “were”). I’d suggest recasting the sentence entirely to avoid the issue, and perhaps use the verb “created” instead of the form of “to be,” which is the heart of the problem.)

To the greying ice cream man, he couldn’t help but think . . (The greying fellow is the “he” following the comma. The sentence needs to be recast to eliminate the clumsiness. Perhaps “To the greying ice cream man the crowd looked like nothing so much as a cross between . . . .” Trust me, that’s where the sentence was going. I didn’t want to type the whole thing as it appears in the book, though.)

white-clothed (Again, this needs a hyphen.)

The driver slammed the breaks (No he didn’t. He slammed the brakes. A live proofreader would’ve caught this one.)

her inner thighs ran red raw from . . . (It took me a while to realize what’s needed here, I think because I was getting numb from the number of errors assaulting my editorial senses. Inserting a comma after “red” helps quite a bit, but I still would query the “running red” part. I know the condition the author’s describing, and I wouldn’t use the term “running” with it. “Were chafed and red,” perhaps. The way it’s written sounds like a hemorrhage.)

marine life getup (Another case here of needing a hyphen to create an adjectival compound. “Marine-life.”)

baggy (Pants are baggy. The plastic bag is a “baggie.”)

un-amused (Here’s one of the hyphens that was missing from the compound adjectives. It doesn’t belong in this word; “unamused” is a closed form.)

pre-occupied (Here’s another one. Delete it and close the space. “Preoccupied.”)

buy one get one free offer (Now we’re back to needing hyphens. “Buy-one-get-one-free offer.”)

collapse on to the floor (Usage problem. One could say “collapse on the floor” or “collapse to the floor,” but “collapse on to” is just poor usage.)

oxidisation (Aside from the UK s-for-z spelling issue, this just isn’t a word. The one the writer wanted was “oxidation.”)

pressed him for a minutae (sic) more (Just–no. No. One cannot have “a minutiae.” “Pressed him for more minuitae” preserves the author’s word choice and is grammatically correct. I had originally written another suggestion with a different word entirely, but I like this one much better. And I corrected the misspelling.)

spaghetti bolognaise (If you’re going to write about a food, know how to spell it. Particularly when the food is regional Italian, like “spaghetti Bolognese.” Capitalize the “B” because this is a proper adjective.)

############

That’s where I stopped taking notes for the time being. You’ll notice I’m not fussing about pacing, or characterization, or plot, or any of those bigger things. I’m not a story/fiction/developmental editor. I’m a copy editor and a proofreader. I see these little things that many people seem to consider “nitpicking.” They’re far from nitpicking, though. They’re signs of someone with an imperfect grasp of grammar and mechanics who would have done well to have hired someone like me–or any other professional copy editor/proofreader–to look over the work before publication. Then, readers like me wouldn’t find themselves becoming irritated and unable to enjoy the story because of the plethora of errors in the “nitpicky stuff.”

I’ll also say: I learned a new phrase from this book. “Keep schtum” means “keep quiet, particularly if you’ll get in more trouble otherwise.” While it sounds Yiddish, it apparently came from the criminal culture of the UK. It might come in handy someday, so I’ll tuck it away for later.

I would hope that this has shed some light on how a typical copy editor’s brain works while they’re reading. (I think I’m typical, anyway. I’m damned good at what I do, but I don’t think I’m all that special when compared to other professional copy editors.) That’s why I did it. Not to point at a writer and chastise his work. Not to complain for no reason. To point out the kinds of errors commonly made, to explain how I would correct them and why, and to provide an example of why writers really should drop some cash on professional editing and proofreading for their hard work. That’s all, really.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

Copy editors and fiction editors

So there I was, wondering what to post here on the blog, and then fate stepped in and delivered unto me a wonderful little essay on the difference between copy editors and fiction editors, written by Torah Cottrill (who happens to be both a writer and an editor).

In my own professional work, I do both kinds of editing. Karen focuses mainly on copy editing. But plenty of people out there—including many self-publishing authors, unfortunately—don’t differentiate between types of editing. No matter what you’re writing, it’s important to know what kind of editorial services you want and/or need to make your stuff as appealing as possible to your audience.

And now, take it away, Torah!

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A Few General Thoughts About Editors

It’s worth pointing out, for those not familiar with the distinction, that copy editors and fiction editors are two entirely separate things. (Although there are cases where the same person can do both, it’s actually pretty rare for one person to be good at both.)

Copy editors will make sure you don’t use “bare with me” or “should of” or “sneak peak” and that your typo “what is” instead of “what if” gets caught and corrected. Copy editors can catch continuity errors (for instance, that your character had a red shirt in the first chapter, but you described a blue shirt in chapter three), and can even offer advice about restructuring sections of text and about reworking clunky or confusing language.

Fiction editors look at the larger picture of your work, and can help you decide things like whether you need to add more POV characters, if the narrative structure is falling apart in chapter 5, whether your antagonist is believable, and all of the other story advice that writers dream of when they imagine “having an editor.”

Both types of editors are invaluable. What you should spend your money on depends on what you feel you need. Bottom line, everybody needs to have a copy editor (or a friend who’s good at those kinds of details) look at their work before it’s published, because basic errors of grammar and spelling are inexcusable in work you offer a reader.

As with any professional service, ask for references when looking for any type of editor. Ask what the editor offers, and how much he or she charges. Ask for a sample of his or her work. Discuss price and what you get for your investment. Maybe you’d benefit more from general advice on the structure of your novel, based on the first two chapters and a detailed outline, rather than from a full-blown edit of the whole work. Maybe you only want a final proofreading polish rather than a more intensive copy editing pass. Discuss what you want to achieve by working with the editor, and how the editor can help you accomplish that.

Remember, like any other professionals, editors have varying degrees of experience and expertise, and varying personalities. Spend the time to find someone who’s a good fit for you.

For examples of both kinds of editing, look at the Serious Pixie blog by Susan Morris and GRAMMARGEDDON! by Karen Conlin and Ray Vallese.

—————————————————————————————————————–

Very well said, Torah. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us—and for the shout-out to our blog. (I disabled the GRAMMARGEDDON! link you put in your essay so as not to create a self-referential loop that would destroy reality. That’s me, generous to a fault.)

Spam, Spam, Books, and Spam

Have you read Thirty-Five Shades of Grey? How about I Am the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? How about Steve Jobs—no, not the biography by Walter Isaacson, but the version by a guy named Isaac Worthington? The one that looks like it was cribbed from Wikipedia?

If you try to buy a popular best-seller from Amazon, double-check your purchase before clicking all the way through. It seems that the website sells books that have titles and author names that are deliberately similar to genuine best-sellers. That’s because they’re “written” (and I wish I could imply even more sarcasm than mere quotation marks will allow) by “authors” (there I go again) who are trying to jump on the self-publishing bandwagon.

Worse, they use CreateSpace, an Amazon service that makes it easy—apparently far too easy—to write and publish your book on the website with an air of legitimacy. The product details list CreateSpace as the publisher, so customers who aren’t paying attention might miss this clue that the books are, in fact, self published. (Amazon has removed the knock-off books listed above from the site, probably due to the bad publicity stirred up by articles like this one from Fortune, but you can still find them for sale elsewhere on the web.)

As I’ve said before, self-publishing is great, but not if it bypasses an editor. At the very least, a good editor can stop you from making an absolute fool of yourself as you try to dupe people into buying your book by accident.

Then again, maybe I’m missing the boat here. According to the Fortune article, Karen Peebles, the “author” of I Am the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, claims to have used CreateSpace to publish 10,000 books. Yes, ten thousand. (You can see some of them here, if you dare.)

If I hurry, I might be able to get I’m Not the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo up for sale by dinner.

So me the money!

Should weekly grocery-store ads count as low-hanging fruit and thus be excluded from the wrath of GRAMMARGEDDON!? (Hmm . . . note to self: don’t end a question with the name of the blog again.)

Well, here’s one, anyway, sent in by my old college pal Kevin, who apparently received the ad in his email. It’s from the H-E-B chain of grocery stores in Texas, which I had not heard of before. Can you spot the typo in the ad? I’d so it to you, but that would cheat you out of the fun of finding it yourself. Okay, okay, there are at least two things wrong in the ad, but I’m talking about the most obvious error.

Is this too nitpicky of us? I don’t think so. It’s just another example of a blatant typo that really should have been caught—and it probably would have been, if it weren’t for those meddling kids! Er, I mean, if anyone at H-E-B had spent 10 seconds reading over the ad. But they probably just ran a spellcheck and called it a day.

This lowly typo reinforces one of our blog’s main points: if you can’t be bothered to check your work for errors and present a professional front when communicating, you can’t expect people to treat you professionally.

Sorry, H-E-B. And thanks, Kevin!

Seal of A-proof-al

I just became aware* of an interesting post that went up a few months ago on The Digital Reader. It asks a very intriguing question: Should editors certify that an ebook has been edited?

I really like the idea of a shiny burst stamped onto the cover of each ebook, similar to the old classic Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval (still going strong!) or the mark of the Comics Code Authority (which has faded away in the last few years). But honestly, there are a million reasons why it wouldn’t work: lack of standardization among editors, absence of a certifying body, never knowing whether a seal was earned or rubber-stamped, the difficulty of assessing the value of line editing versus development work, and so on.

A “seal of good editing” would be more or less meaningless, and the reading public would recognize it as such before too long. The best way to make your book appeal to potential readers is to make it readable, which usually means hiring a good editor and listening to his or her suggestions.

But it’s still fun to imagine an editor, red pen in one holster and a branding iron in the other, riding from town to virtual town, cleaning up the lawless publishing frontier one bad sentence at a time, burning his or her seal into the trail of pages left behind.

* Thanks, Steven Schend!

The name’s Spiderman. Harvey Spiderman.

So there’s a new Spider-Man movie out now, conveniently titled The Amazing Spider-Man, and I don’t intend to get into a debate over whether they really needed to reboot the franchise already with another origin story. (The answer is “no,” by the way. Thus ends the debate.)

I’m here instead to say that I’ve already seen several reviews, including this one in the online Seattle P-I, of an apparently different movie with a similar title: The Amazing Spiderman.

Okay, okay, I know it’s the same flick, but really—when you’re reviewing a movie, I think it’s kind of important to get the name right, and as Karen noted in a recent post, hyphens are cheap, my friend. Plenty to go around. Besides, when you run the word together like that, the movie sounds more like a documentary about a two-bit magician named Harvey Spiderman.

 

I only read Playboy for the typos

Early Saturday morning, Salon posted a story about Jenny McCarthy posing for Playboy at the apparently shocking age of 40. Unfortunately, the article’s subhead didn’t really make sense. It said: “At 40, the celebrity is insults women who don’t have her advantages.” See the screenshot below (click to enlarge).

Later in the day, a commenter called out the typo.* But as I write this, the clock just rolled over to Sunday morning, and the error still has not been corrected. Scott Douglas, friend of this blog and the eagle-eyed spotter of this typo, remarked:

It would be one thing if this were on Open Salon (a volunteer community), but I’m wondering, do the Salon folks (who are paid employees) have anybody working on the weekends? If you’re going to publish, shouldn’t you have at least a community coordinator around?

Yeah, you’d think. Also, it’s not like the error is hard to notice. In fact, you’d have to work hard to miss it. But sadly, not everyone is as obsessive pedantic diligent as we are here at GRAMMARGEDDON!

Thanks, Scott, for sending us the story and the screenshot.

* Several commenters on Salon’s post also argued over the fact that the subhead says Jenny is 40 but the article says she is almost 40. I don’t have a problem with that. Subheads need to be concise, and the difference between 40 and 39-and-three-quarters isn’t worth worrying about. (I can say that because I’m over 40.)

Actually, I didn't know they still published Playboy