Category Archives: Editing

Editing Quick Hit: How Many Spaces Go After A Period?

Spacebar: the Final Frontier

I’ve been saving this image so long; I can’t believe I can finally use this joke.

An unexpected furor popped up among some family friends last month, and because I work as an editor, I was the subject-matter expert (in other words, the controversy swirled around me). And it all started with a 3-year-old online article.

The very important question: How many spaces go after a period ending a sentence?

The question-asker had stumbled upon this article from Slate: Space Invaders: Why You Should Never, Ever Use Two Spaces After A Period.

And it’s full of fightin’ words.

Forget about tolerating differences of opinion: typographically speaking, typing two spaces before the start of a new sentence is absolutely, unequivocally wrong,” Ilene Strizver, who runs a typographic consulting firm The Type Studio, once wrote. “When I see two spaces I shake my head and I go, Aye yay yay,” she told me. “I talk about ‘type crimes’ often, and in terms of what you can do wrong, this one deserves life imprisonment. It’s a pure sign of amateur typography.”


But, yes, the accepted standard is now one space after a period, in all cases. (If you’d like to look it up yourself, it’s in section 6.7 of the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition.)

It came to be with typewriters, which didn’t leave enough visual space between a period and the next letter with just one space. But you probably haven’t touched a typewriter in years, so it’s okay to drop the preference.

I know, it’s likely you learned the habit in school–or maybe just picked it up as a sly way to increase the page count on assigned homework–but you’ll make your editor’s life easier if you slim your manuscript down to just one space after the period. If it’s challenging to unlearn the long-engrained habit, you can also use your search bar in Word to search for two spaces, then use the replace function to replace it with one space (it’ll look like you’re searching for nothing, but this works).

Does it really matter? Not truly. It’s just one of those accepted rules. Consider it like brushing your hair before you leave the house. Sure, you don’t have to, but you’ll look more polished and professional if you do. I don’t care if you put two-three-four! spaces after a period in your personal emails, your journal, your thank-you notes–but when finalizing a manuscript, stick to just one.


Filed under Editing, Publishing, writing

What is Editing?

At its most basic, editing is making changes to a written text. Simple enough, right? And yet, not, because folks have different understandings of when it is okay to make those changes.

Case in point: I once knew a writer-turned-editor who felt “editing” meant she always needed to make a change to the original text, sort of as a way to prove that it had, in fact, been edited. This led to a lot of ridiculous edits, such as the substitution of a word with its synonym: ex. “Clifford the big red dog liked to play” would become “Clifford the enormous red dog enjoyed playing.”

The original meaning of the sentence wasn’t changed or improved at all by those kinds of edits; many of the writers she worked with felt like she was just wasting everyone’s time and was only interested in her own self-aggrandizement.

On the small scale, this kind of substitution editing can be harmless to mildly annoying. On the large scale, it meant the editor was taking a lot of her time completely rewriting copy, without a good reason for it. (When asked, she said, “I thought it sounded better.” That… isn’t a reason to make edits.) Her editing ethos was: “The editor knows best.”

Basically, she was the Loki of editors:

Is there a better way?

I think so. My editing philosophy is: “First, do no harm. Second, make it better without impeding the author’s voice and meaning.”

In other words, it is never my job to make a change just for the sake of making a change. If I were hired to copy edit a piece and I couldn’t find a single mistake, I’d congratulate the author for doing an excellent job (I’d also want to shake their hand, because that’s a feat!).

An editor is really second fiddle to the author. Particularly in the changing publishing marketplace, an editor acts as adviser and clean-up crew–but the author is the boss. When I make edits as a freelancer, I always provide complete transparency, using Word’s Track Changes feature to literally show each and every change. If a change is subjective, I leave a comment explaining my actions. Then it is up to the author to decide which changes to keep and which to disregard.

Editors are powerful, it’s true, but at the end of the day, they–like our pal Loki–are small gods.

Author Hulk here is expressing his feelings toward his overly intrusive editor, Loki.


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Grammar in the Cat-iest (Best) Way

Special thanks to grammarian extraordinaire and friend-to-cats Tex Thompson for her shout-out and grammar lesson featuring my very own cat! My own naughty kitty can now help you learn more about the “royal order of adjectives” (he’s the one who prefers Coke products and espionage).

Tex is a great resource for the fine and tricky points of grammar that can be hard to grasp and harder to explain. She’s one of my favorites, too. Check her out!

From her post:

“The what?  The royal what?  Don’t be coming ’round here with all your highnesses and majesties and HMS Jolly Longbottoms.  This is AMERICA, dammit, and we speak democracy!”

YES WE DO.  And that means we have the right to life, liberty, and a full, complete understanding of where all those dang commas go between the adjectives — including the reason why we have one in “full, complete understanding” but not in “all those dang commas.”

Read more to get all the deets!

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Whatever You Do, Don’t Push ‘Publish’

You’ve finished NaNoWriMo! You’ve completed a whole book in a month! You are seriously hot stuff! Go get a cookie. No wait, get two. You’ve earned it, kiddo.

“But wait,” you’re saying, “I’m busy right now. I was just about to publi–”


Don’t push that button.

This post was originally going to be called “Advice to Past-Me,” because I have SO been there — and still step over there when the flights of fancy get a bit giddy — but I realized this feeling probably applies to a lot of people coming down off that writing euphoria.

I know the feeling, believe me I do. You have just written the most amazing piece of writing the world has ever known. You are going to be so famous. Your book is like the lovechild of J K Rowling, Isaac Asimov, and all the best parts of your favorite movies. It’s gonna be so big, you guys.

Coming down off that writing high is exactly like being a 15-year-old who just had a first date and held hands for the first time. OMG! That was, like, the best ever! Your heart is all fluttery and it feels like it must burst if you don’t show the world RIGHT NOW because this is your moment and you owned it and nobody understands.

But I beg you: Don’t publish right away.

You may be right. I hope you are! I hope your book really is the next best thing. But if it is, then it won’t be hurt by what I’m going to recommend, and it might save you from the pain of rejection.

The first thing you should do? Walk away from your work for a month, minimum. Go on, you’ve earned the break! And if you still want to keep writing, go do something else. NOT a sequel or whatever. Just something totally different.

After that month, gently crack open your manuscript again, give it a read. It may not look as shiny as it did when you put it down; that’s ok, just do some edits, put in the work. If it does look amazing, first of all, you are a lucky duck. Second, get another opinion. It can be the opinion of your mom or your husband or your kid or your neighbor down the hall, but do tell them to be honest with you.

They’re not going to be honest with you. They’re going to try to be nice to you. But they might try to gently tell you they didn’t “love love” that one little teensy part. This will feel like ultimate betrayal, but this is what you need. Go work on that part.

Then, share your work with someone else, someone less close to you, if you can. Someone who can more reliably destroy your feelings for the sake of good work. (Warning: these people are often hard to get to actually read the danged thing). Take it to a critique group, if you have one.

This is going to feel like someone is stepping on your heart, crushing it into jello. But that’s okay. Your work will be better for it.

Then get your work edited, by someone who is not you. If you are exceptionally lucky, you know someone who is gifted in this area who will do it for free, but these people are special snowflakes, so don’t be discouraged if you need to pay for it. In fact, I don’t trust any unpaid editors, personally. If your work really is the best thing ever, you want it to shine! Stories with typos do not shine, as a rule. Put your money where your mouth is!

(If you don’t know where to find an editor, start Googling. I like I also happen to be a copy editor, and editing is one of the things I love to do… )

Now, after you have gotten your manuscript reviewed a few times and it’s edited, now maybe it really is the best work ever.

It’s also probably been at least six months since you finished writing it. Maybe it’s a year. But that’s okay! A novel is not a mayfly, emerging whole overnight. It’s an ant colony; it takes time and coordination and help to build it up into something incredible.

Now… now you can publish. Or you can start the process of contacting agents and trying to be traditionally published.

I know that all might sound mean and/or out of touch, because that initial excitement is SO heady. Don’t lose that excitement, but do try to put it in its correct context. That’s really hard to do, particularly when it’s your first rodeo. Slow your roll, new writer. It is more rewarding then publishing prematurely and facing the barrage of poor reviews.

Don’t do it. Not yet, anyway.


Filed under Editing, Publishing

Editing Quick Hit: Like vs. Such as vs. Including

This is one of those times that spoken English has messed up written English, because casually, we do not care. But in writing, sometimes this one actually matters. (You’ll hope your lawyer understands this grammar rule.)

“Like” means “similar to but not including.”

“Such as” means “similar to AND including.”

“Including” means… including, or, as the dictionary likes to say “containing as part of the whole being considered” (that’s Google’s dictionary, btw). And works as a more flexible catch-all when you’re confused about whether you should be using “like” or “such as”

Let’s just assume the pomegranate is behind the pear back there, ok? Ok.

So putting this to work, an example: If you are picking out a fruit to eat and know you like apples but aren’t in the mood for one right now, you might say “Give me something like an apple” and I might hand you a pomegranate. (Because a pomegranate is similar to, but not, an apple)

If you are picking out a fruit later but now are more flexible on what you’d like, you might say, “I’d like a fruit such as an apple, orange or banana” and I might hand you any of the three or I might hand you a pear. (Because you want something similar to the things you listed, as well as the specific fruit you mentioned.)

If I’m offering you fruit from my selection and just want to list them off, I’d go with “I have a variety of fruits for you to enjoy, including an apple, banana, pear, orange and pomegranate.” If you wanted a grapefruit, I’d have to send you down to the grocery store to buy one yourself.

Got it?

Hungry now? Man, I want a strawberry after all that fruit.


Filed under Editing

Editing Quick Hit: Month and Year

For some reason, people sometimes have a proclivity to write dates like this: “February of 1990.”

This flummoxes me, because the correct way is actually easier: February 1990. And you’d never say “February of 1990” aloud, would you?

I mean, no one says, “Oh yes, I got that cat sweater during the Christmas of 2011.” Unless you’re working on your Abe Lincoln impression, maybe, trying to sound old-timey?

Perhaps it’s an effort to aggrandize your writing. Well, stop it! Stop it, I say! Leave “of” out of your dates. They’re happier that way.

November 2013. Done.


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Editing Quick Hit: Latter vs. Ladder

This is an easy slip-of-the-fingers to make, because when said aloud, “latter” and “ladder” frequently sound pretty similar.
But “ladder” is for the thing with rungs you climb to get to a high place. “Latter” is the much less common word you use in the phrase “the former and the latter” (meaning the one prior and the one second).
I tried but failed to come up with a helpful mnemonic for this: anyone have suggestions?

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Review: The Subversive Copy Editor

The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself)The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago by Carol Fisher Saller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this book when I was first really starting But I am very well aware that not everyone is as privileged to be taught that fundamentals of editing from experienced professionals who also happen to be professors, as I was. (Shout-out to Maggie and Jake at Mizzou!) For you, I say: Read this book!

Saller tackled the difficult task of talking about a fairly dry subject while making it accessible to folks who knew nothing as well as folks who know a lot. And kept it interesting.

There are two parts: 1) How to work with the text in the readers’ best interest and 2) How to work.

The first section (How to work with the text) lays out the “subversive” approach Saller advocates: basically, do no harm… even if that means not adhering completely strictly to the stylebook. (*cue communal gasp of shock from the true pedants*)

This is my philosophy, and it’s great! I think it’s the best way to keep a story true to the author’s vision while making the story comprehensible to the reader.

But it’s tricky when you’re a new copyeditor, because it more or less requires you know all the rules and then willfully choose to ignore them when it is appropriate to the book. (There’s a big difference between not changing something because you don’t know it’s wrong and not changing something because it’s wrong but it makes sense for the story.) This means acknowledging that every story is different and will have distinct needs.

Personally, I think that’s a beautiful thing, but not every editor or writer will agree with me.

The second part–how to do the business stuff–was what I was really reading the book for, and that’s the half that earned this book only 4 stars instead of 5. It told me a lot of what I already knew here, too, but the difference was that it said stuff that I figure most business people should know. Things like “don’t pick needless fights,” and “be nice to others.” I realize that’s probably idealistic of me to think most people already know that kind of thing, and it certainly is good advice for the utterly clueless, but that wasn’t really what I was coming to the table for. Aside from the one chapter on freelancing, there wasn’t a lot that I found truly applicable to my career–especially as it is increasingly unlikely that publishing house jobs will continue to exist in the future (but I’ll knock on wood, anyway). And the freelancing chapter didn’t match the kind of freelancing I actually do, so even that wasn’t ideal.

That being said, this book was great. I think it might be particularly good for a writer who is fearful of handing her manuscript over to a copyeditor or doesn’t really understand why she should bother. (We can help, I promise! In fact, we LOVE to help!)

View all my reviews

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Untrustworthy Friend: Trust, But Verify, Spellcheck

After editing a killer YA manuscript for a client, I began my customary closing procedure: I ran spellcheck.

Yes, I own several stylebooks and a dictionary or two and have been a copyeditor for nearly a decade now, but I still run everything through the handy-dandy spellchecker.

It’s practically a copyeditor’s motto: You can always benefit from a second pair of eyes. Or, in this case, bytes.

Spellcheck (and its smartphone compatriot Autocorrect) has its merits. I run it after I’ve completed an edit to make sure I haven’t accidentally created any mistakes, see if I missed anything, and if Microsoft has any more brilliant thoughts than I do. And I caught at least 5 or 6 more little changes (including the misspelling of one unusual name!), so, job well done, spellcheck!

I recommend everyone use spellcheck. It’s a great way to slow down and look at your work with a “different brain.”

But, just like the old journalism quote: Trust, but verify.

Spellcheck is far from flawless. It just doesn’t understand the nuances that humans understand. For example, spellcheck gets deeply affronted with every blasted sentence fragment and with using “, then” as a joining clause. Don’t be pedantic, spellcheck. A human can tell that the fragment and that joining clause are used that way for effect, to improve pacing. If I had obediently allowed spellcheck to “correct” every one of those “problems,” the story would have been dramatically slower and it would have killed the conversational tone.

I’m grateful for spellcheck: it’s saved me from embarrassing myself on many occasions. Though I sometimes think it’s atrophying my brain a little because I no longer have to have every little thing memorized, it’s also helpful to see that little red wavy line to make me say “hm, am I doing this the best way?”

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Kind Endorsement from a Great Client

Aww, thanks! Eric Edstrom is a fantastic writer with some really exciting Young Adult pieces in the works, and you should go follow him, too.

And if you ever need a copy editor or a proofreader, let’s talk! I’m always happy to work with new clients with exciting stories to tell.

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