I’ll put a spellcheck on you … !

I have a confession to make. I am something of a spelling nut. It’s all my father’s fault. When I was very little, he made me do my spelling homework with uncharacteristic vigour. I have never forgiven the word ‘soldier’ for the torment it caused my eight-year old self.  It took me days to get it right. But I never forgot it. And so began my obsession with the correct spelling of things.

As a twenty-something I was accused of being a schoolteacher (??) because I asked a waiter in a trendy restaurant why there were so many spelling mistakes and typos in their printed menu. And I don’t care what anyone says, spelling errors (for whatever reason) in business correspondence and documents make the writer and the company look unprofessional.

It is even more unforgivable when they crop up in a manuscript. After all, words are the foundation of a writer’s craft – they should be loved and cherished, and, most of all, spelled correctly! Call me old-fashioned, but I am regularly aghast at the amount of writers from all walks of life who rely solely on the spellcheck function of their word processing package to check their spelling. It’s the ‘if-there-are-no-red-wavy-lines-then-it-must-be-ok’ attitude. No consolation to the top-level Personal Assistant who sent her CV to a prestigious financial firm stating that she was an expert in dairy management.

Or how about the viscous serial killer? The police caught him easily because he was so thick (sorry, I couldn’t resist that one!). And if another person tells me they are loosing their mind, I can guarantee you that I will lose mine! Please don’t even mention predictive texting, because I am liable to start chewing the furniture.

Anyway, the moral of this sad little tale is: please, if in doubt, look it up in a dictionary. And double please – don’t rely on the computer spellcheck!  Why? Because it just checks spelling – it won’t check your work for reason, sense or context. Why should it? That’s your job!

As for me, I’m off for lunch: stir-fry vegetables with rice and a delicious desert of dark chocolate mouse to follow.  Yum!

Beware Mrs Malaprop! (Or how to illiterate mistakes and become the very pineapple of eligible writing.)

“… but above all, Sir Anthony, she should be mistress of orthodoxy, that she might not mis-spell, and mis-pronounce words so shamefully as girls usually do; and likewise that she might reprehend the true meaning of what she is saying.”

Mrs Malaprop, The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 1775

Malaprop; malapropism [from the French mal à propos meaning ‘inopportunely’ or ‘at the wrong moment’.]:

Jester 002Sheridan wasn’t the first playwright to exploit the misuse of a word for one which sounds similar for comic effect (Shakespeare used it before him), but it is Sheridan’s creation that has famously given her name to the phenomenon. A useful weapon in the arsenal of the comedy writer perhaps, but be careful not to let one slip in unnoticed, as the effect may not be what you were expecting or hoping for. Couldn’t happen, I hear you say! Don’t be so sure. How about this gem which popped up in a letter from a professional correspondent assuring the recipient that they were happy to make an offer as a jester of goodwill?? I still chuckle every time I think of it.

And that’s what you need to keep in mind. If you are sending out a pitch letter or sample manuscript to an agent or, you want them to remember you as an amazingly talented writer, not as someone who can’t tell their ‘jesters’ from their ‘gestures’. Equally, if you are self-publishing, you do not want a reputation amongst your readers for comedy, unless, of course, you are intentionally writing comedy!

My advice?

Obviously, a good copy editor will sort out all such clownish behaviour on the part of your manuscript pretty quickly, but, basically, I’m with Mrs M. on this one: be a master or mistress of orthography so that everyone can comprehend the true meaning of what you are saying – it may save much embarrassment at a later stage.

Editors: animal, vegetable or mineral?

Of course, I’m not actually suggesting that editors are anything less than human, but authors are often confused by the various types of editors and edits available.

Editing phases 0031I don’t think anyone (including myself) can guarantee you a definitive answer, given that in practice there is a considerable amount of overlap between the types of editors and the work they do. However, as a general overview, I’ve broadly divided the traditional editorial process into three phases:

1. The ‘big picture’ stage:  this is where you will meet commissioning (or acquiring), developmental editors and content (structural or substantive) editors. Commissioning and developmental editors buy or commission books for their publishing house and assist an author with the overall vision for a book (including marketing). Content editors work with an author on the substance and structure – for fiction, this would include areas such as character, themes, plot and pacing.

2. Editing phases 0051The ‘nuts and bolts’ stage: once the content of a book has been more or less copper-fastened, the copy or line editors take over. The scope of these editorial roles can vary and the two roles are often combined, but, essentially, both types of editors work through the actual text of a manuscript at paragraph and sentence level. Their basic function is to ensure clarity and consistency of style and format; they will check grammar, spelling and punctuation, suggest revisions or rewrites and mark up the text for the typesetters.

3. The ‘minutiae’ stage: this is the proofreading stage.

Picture3BTraditionally a proofreader’s job is to compare a typeset copy of the manuscript (one that has been formatted for printing) with the final edit copy (basically the instructions to the typesetters) to ensure no errors have slipped in during the typesetting process. However, the term ‘proofreading’ is often used to describe work which is, in fact, nearer to copy-editing.

We’ll look at some of the different types of edits in more detail later on, but hopefully this clears up some of the confusion!

For more details on substantive (structural) editing, copy-editing and manuscript critiques, check out Book Nanny’s website at www.booknannyfictioneditor.com.