Thirty Million (30,000,000!) Words! And 450 Books!

Today marks an exciting day here at ScriptAcuity Studio! We have officially surpassed the thirty million–word mark and have also received our 450th full-scale manuscript!

(While we technically have logged 687 unique manuscripts to date [with another one due to arrive imminently], some of them have been very short, such as children’s books or brief web-based educational content.)

Today’s 450th full-scale book also serves to push us solidly over thirty million words edited. This is of particular note given that we conduct multiple rounds of edits on every manuscript, meaning that those same thirty million words have all been edited multiple times.

We love what we do!


Noted in a recent magazine article* was the following side blurb: “Four officials were suspended from their posts for allegedly mismanaging flood in China’s northern province of Hebei …”

In reading the phrase Four officials were suspended from their posts, one might (correctly, in this case) interpret it to mean “Four officials were halted from returning to the jobs to which they were assigned” or some variation thereof, but might one—particularly one for whom English is not a native language—also understand it to mean “Four officials were dangled from their stanchions”?

The culpability for such potential confusion cannot be placed solely at the feet of our poor friends the homonyms. Given the intricacies, subtleties, and complexities of language, it is little wonder that what a person often attempts to communicate to others is not necessarily interpreted as he or she intends by those on the receiving end. Such is a situation that occurs in all forms of communication—with sometimes hilarious or even tragic results—and it is certainly rampant in written communication, particularly with the still additional layer of complexities introduced by the vast universe of punctuation.

Consider, if you will, this second example, taken from The Chicago Manual of Style, sixteenth edition, section 6.29, concerning commas with compound predicates:

“She recognized the man who entered the room, and gasped.”

Do you see why the comma is necessary here?

If read without the comma, the reader may incorrectly infer that the person who gasped in this situation was the man who entered the room rather than the woman who recognized him.

Such a tiny piece of punctuation … so profound its impact on the intended message.

(Speaking of tiny pieces of punctuation with profound impacts on the intended message, we invite you to check out our November 2015 article “CMS Says …” for a brief, happy little chat about the hyphen versus the en dash versus the em dash. All distinct, all with a purpose.)

Tread carefully, friends.

In our work, we assiduously focus on an author’s intent and try to assist him or her in selecting the most appropriate words to convey his or her message, as we discussed in our June 2016 article “What We Mean and What We Say.” And by working with writers to increase their work’s clarity, editors can help writers to present themselves and most accurately impart their message, as we explained in our July 2014 article “Can’t You Just Run a Spell Check?”

Finally, we leave you with this bit of dialogue from a story familiar to many:

Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on.

“I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least–at least I mean what I say–that’s the same thing, you know.”

“Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter. “You might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see!’”

“You might just as well say,” added the March Hare, “that ‘I like what I get’ is the same thing as ‘I get what I like!’”

“You might just as well say,” added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, “that ‘I breathe when I sleep’ is the same thing as ‘I sleep when I breathe!’”

—From Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

* “The World This Week: Politics,” The Economist, July 30, 2016.

The Many Cogs in the Manuscript-Publishing Machine

Josh Mitteldorf and Dorion Sagan‘s joint venture, Cracking the Aging Code, formally launched in June of this year. Similarly, author Serena Burdick’s debut novel, Girl in the Afternoon, officially launched in July. Dr. Mitteldorf and Mr. Sagan and Ms. Burdick were kind and thoughtful enough to acknowledge us in their books—and Ms. Burdick also tweeted her appreciation—for which we are truly very grateful.

Look closely at these two different pages of acknowledgments (above). There we are!
Look closely at these two different pages of acknowledgments (see above). There we are! Whee!

GirlInTheAfternoonTweet What a sweet tweet!

Such acknowledgment—in our case, it has happened only a handful of times over the years—is a rare treat for most editors. There are so many people involved in a book’s publication that it would be hopelessly impractical for authors to personally thank every single person for his or her involvement in the project (and that’s assuming the author even knew of everyone or even wanted to!).

There is the author, of course, and anyone with whom the author speaks about the manuscript—formally or informally—to discuss and solidify ideas, solicit feedback, read drafts … and the myriad of other ways authors’ friends, associates, and coaches assist with the creation and smoothing of a manuscript. Let’s not forget about anyone with whom the author interacts for research purposes in the course of writing and refining the manuscript and those from whom third-party permissions must be sought and obtained. Such processes alone can take years, and there are always unsung heroes involved.

Then, often, there are such players as literary agents and independent marketing professionals who assist with garnering interest in the manuscript.

Once the book is picked up by a publishing house—and let’s remember that there are contracts directors involved with the various legalities of the deal—there are seemingly countless professionals whose job it is to facilitate the process. Just among editors alone, there are a variety of types, all of whom have distinct (yet often overlapping) roles. Acquisitions editors, managing editors, developmental editors, copyeditors … they all play roles in the process.

Who designs the cover art? Who writes the jacket copy? Who on the publisher’s legal team reviews the content? Who indexes the manuscript if required? Who screens the revisions? Who typesets the book after its copyedit? Who proofreads the final proof before publication? What about the marketing and promotion team? Those involved in communicating and monitoring the production schedule? And the people who read advanced readers’ copies to provide feedback? What about the innumerable folks in various ostensibly unrelated-yet-still-mission-critical positions—administrative assistants, accounting professionals, interns charged with a variety of responsibilities? How many countless people work hard to manufacture and distribute that glorious hard copy that you lovingly hold in your hands?

And if the book is self-published, there are often entirely different processes and people to shepherd those processes along!

It is little surprise, then, that copyeditors’ names only very occasionally make it into the printed glory of the manuscript on which they so dedicatedly worked—check out the acknowledgments of the books you read and see for yourself—which is part of what makes receiving one such a distinct honor and privilege.

What We Mean and What We Say

When we’re working, we keep our dictionaries close at hand when we edit, and we do this for several reasons.

First, our clients’ preferences determine what our go-to reference will be and which resource gets the final say in case of disagreement. In some cases, the authors’ preferences—especially in the case of nontraditional spellings or made-up words—can trump all other resources. (It doesn’t matter if the author spelled XXXXXX like that, even though the dictionary prefers XXXXX, especially when it’s a sequel to a previously published work!)

Second, and we’re not ashamed to admit it, we don’t know every single word in the English language, and in some cases, some terms are very specific to certain industries or fields where we don’t have the same expertise-level knowledge as the author. (If we had doctorates in biology, physics, astrophysics, economics, American history, world history, chemistry, medicine, law, and philosophy, we probably wouldn’t have time for editing.)

When we read and edit, we try to pay attention to an author’s intent and try to assist him or her in selecting the most appropriate words. Notice that when we say most appropriate, we don’t always mean correct; this is especially true of fiction. In nonfiction, using an incorrect or inappropriate word can call an author’s credibility into question. If fiction, however, the incorrect word can be used as characterization. What does it say about a character who consistently uses the wrong word? What if a character uses the same fifty-cent word repeatedly, whenever he’s given the chance? What if a character uses an outdated term or one now considered offensive?

Word choice can be powerful when applied correctly, even when the word is used incorrectly.

Shifting Perspectives

As we approach the end of May and the official start of summer, we were thinking back to weeks earlier, when we awoke on a late-April morning to rather heavy snowfall. We thought to ourselves, Typical Vermont weather.

But for people who may have just moved to Vermont from warmer climates, what might they think of this? Were their hopes dashed at seeing snow when, by the calendar, we were already more than a month into spring? And this brings up an interesting point for writers, because the event itself (snowfall in late April in Vermont) can evoke multiple perspectives. In both fiction and nonfiction, the perspective toward an event can tell a reader something about the subject. In fiction, particularly, a writer can hint at a character’s personality by how that character reacts to an event, and if that reaction is atypical or unexpected, it might signal a change in the character.

Using the April snowfall as an example, a character might be thrilled to see it because he is reminded of good times he’s had during snowy weather. A young girl might be hoping that school is canceled because of it, or she could be worried about a parent who’s unexpectedly late arriving home because of it. A lifelong resident might be frustrated by the fact that wintry weather goes on forever, but he doesn’t want to move away for some unspoken reason—perhaps fear of the unknown or something else that makes him feel like he can’t.

There are countless elements in our lives that affect us in both great and small ways. The next time you’re writing (or reading), think about how the characters’ motivations and personalities manifest in their thoughts, speech, and actions—particularly when looking at the same event.

May Milestone

Yesterday was a milestone day: one turns forty but once. Thanks to everyone for their warm wishes, and especially to my wonderful wife for making the day (and every day) truly wonderful. I love you!

A birthday also isn’t a birthday without cake, and boy, did we have a special cake, thanks to Danielle at BakeAria! BEST. CAKE. EVER.

(Click the thumbnails below for full-size images!)

cake_04 cake_02 cake_01

CMS says …

If you missed this tidbit from our Summer 2015 edition of Quill & Ink

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), sixteenth edition, is one of our go-to references when we edit. If you’ve never seen it before, it’s a massive orange brick with over a thousand pages of guidelines on such topics as the roles and duties of editors and proofreaders to more esoteric topics like the placement of punctuation marks relative to others.

Here’s one example, as seen in CMS 6.80:

The en dash can be used in place of a hyphen in a compound adjective when one of its elements consists of an open compound or when both elements consist of hyphenated compounds.

  • the post–World War II years
  • Chuck Berry–style lyrics
  • country music–influenced lyrics

An en dash (–) is only slightly longer than a hyphen (-) and shorter than an em dash (—). Each of these has a different and specific use, like mentioned above. You might also recognize the en dash in numeric ranges (e.g., 1990–2000) or linking a campus location to the name of a university (e.g., the University of Wisconsin–Madison), as well.

While it’s easy to misread an en dash as a hyphen, you’ll probably be surprised by the number of them that you see in the next book, story, or article you read.

That is just one of the thousands of rules in CMS, and those thousands of rules—along with the fact that CMS is just one of a myriad of style guides editors and publishers use every day—are why we chuckle whenever someone asks us about our jobs, “Can’t you just run a spell check?”

Questions? Comments? Reach out to us!

“Can’t You Just Run a Spell Check?”

Good editors are advocates, not adversaries.
Ray Robinson

If we had a nickel for every time someone asked us, “Can’t people just run a spell check?” when we tell them that we are editors, we would be able to edit others’ writing for fun instead of for our livelihood. Aside from the fact that word-processing software cannot possibly flag every misspelling in a document, editing involves considerably more than ensuring proper spelling. (Check out our “What We Do” page for more information.)

Publisher Ray Robinson offers a number of explanations for why editing is so important in his 2010 article “The Editor: Friend or Foe?” Chiefly among them is the idea that an editor serves as an advocate for writers, not as an adversary. “As arbiters of clear communication, editors intercept the blips that will irritate or confound readers and disengage them from your work,” he writes. “Readers expect professionalism and easy reading out of a published work. So, rather than face the potential onslaught of criticism, enlist an editor. This editor will function as a sympathetic but firm ‘test audience’ who is on your side. Help your editor help you.”

This is indeed a philosophy to which we wholeheartedly subscribe. In describing the nature of our work to others, we frequently explain that we partner with clients to help them create their best possible work. We are not simply grammar police. We are not merely syntax enforcement professionals. And we certainly are not in the business of scoffing and sneering at writers’ efforts and undermining their hard work with haughty denunciations. We team up with writers to help them achieve their best work and to facilitate their readers in the enjoyment of that work. We are all on the same side, and we all want the same end result: high-quality manuscripts.

There are a lot of excellent reasons to partner with an editor. As Robinson notes, “editors work with readers’ best interest in mind” and help writers “get their message across to their potential readers, keeping them hooked from the first page to the last.” By working with writers to increase their work’s clarity, editors can help writers to present themselves and their message accurately and convey credibility. The bottom line is that editors help writers to create their best possible product.

For a couple of other excellent articles about why editing is so important, consider checking out Catherine, Caffeinated’s 2013 article “Why Hire an Editor?” and Elisabeth Kauffman’s 2014 article “So You’ve Decided to Hire a Freelance Editor.”

Remember … good editors are advocates, not adversaries.