If You Think Making eBooks is Easy . . .

. . . then let me describe my morning to you.

I am working on the eBook for a previously published novel.  Actually, the novel has been published twice, since it went out of print and then, as the agent, I sold the book to another publisher that then went bankrupt.  So now we have the rights back and we’re reissuing through the Ignition Books imprint of Endpapers Press.

This book has been delayed as I was waiting for the author to proofread the scanned version.  There were technical glitches with Adobe Digital Editions and his computer.  You need ADE because when you open an ePub file in ADE there are actually page numbers for reference purposes.  But he found only a couple of errors and that seemed unlikely.  So here’s what I did:

  • Opened the ePub in Calibre.
  • Converted it to HTMLZ.
  • Extracted the HTML file.
  • Opened in Microsoft Word.
  • Converted to a Word file.
  • Started the spelling- and grammar-checker.

While I’m doing that, I have the ePub file open in ADE so I can locate the errors in that version to report the page number to the conversion folks.

I keep a Word doc with a three columns showing the page number in ADE, the original text, and the corrected text.

I also keep Webster’s site open to double-check spellings:  http://www.merriam-webster.com/.  And I reference the web as needed for unusual terms.

But beyond all that, I’m finding typos from the original book that the author should have located the first time around, never mind this time.  And I’m finding copyediting errors that should never have been gotten through in any edition.

Now, on the one hand, I recognize that this book was written years and years ago, on a word-processing typewriter (remember?  the typewriters with the little screens?), not a computer.  It was then edited and copyedited by hand and typeset and proofed in the old-school manner.

On the other hand, I recognize that I have access to more tools now and want to use them.  But I do have to weigh the return on investment.  Not fixing every “can not” to read “cannot” won’t likely get me in trouble.  But missing quote marks can make for a confusing read.

But what’s most telling to me about this, which is my umpteenth trip down this road—going through an author’s book in Word—is that most authors really don’t spend enough time simply using Word’s built-in tools.  Working with a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style and the Webster’s website noted above, each author should be spending far more than just an hour or two on the spelling- and grammar-checking process.  Add in the need to review formatting and it’s easily a two- or three-day full-time job.

What about the copy editor, you ask?  Well, my theory is that you want to fix what you can long before your copy editor gets into it.  And copy editors are not always as good as we want.  One client (and his girlfriend) of the Zack Company spent weeks trying to straighten out a completely flawed copyediting job (he would use a different f-word there).  The copy editor introduced historical inaccuracies (into a work of history!) and made cuts and changes with which the author strongly disagreed.  Sure, he could stet those changes, but working through a file using Tracked Changes it is often hard to know which change you are rejecting and then the program moves onto the next.  It’s a time-intensive process and requires you to look hard at every change.

And authors often deal incorrectly with copyedited manuscripts.  When the copy editor writes a comment, the author shouldn’t respond to the comment with one of his own, as if he is having a debate with the copy editor.  The author should revise the manuscript to address the comment.  For example, I had a novel where the copy editor commented, “How can he see the gun if it is in his pocket?”  The author noted, “Slit pocket, so he can fire the gun without taking it out of his pocket.”  This was the wrong response.  He should have looked at the scene and the ones prior and somewhere added the detail about the slit pockets.  Since he didn’t, I did, but it really was his job.

I do all that spelling- and grammar-checking as I type.  Good for you.  Now, do it again.  In fact, go to the Options dialogue and under Proofing hit the button that says “Recheck Document.”  This causes Word to look at everything again.  And then so can you.  That word you thought was foreign, look it up in Webster’s.  It may not be.  And Word’s tools aren’t always right, either.  It wanted to change “breech” to “breach” on me today, apparently not knowing what a breech-loading weapon is.

Next, consider that many words you may think are capitalized actually aren’t.  Check the Chicago Manual of Style for the term and usage.  The president walked into the Oval Office, is correct.  The President of the United States walked into the Oval Office, is correct.  The President walked into the Oval Office, is incorrect.

And the past tense of the word “drag” is not “drug.”  Don’t laugh.  I see this monthly, at least.

So, use the tools you have and be patient and diligent.  You will be rewarded.

Z

 

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2 Responses to If You Think Making eBooks is Easy . . .

  1. D. C. DaCosta says:

    First, let me say I always enjoy your postings and explanations.
    However, I am dismayed to read the above article. It sounds to me as though:
    – the original copy editor thought he was a “real” editor;
    – the author thought he was above making corrections;
    – too many high-paid people are spending their time, effort, and talent on secretarial tasks.
    I have to wonder…why didn’t you just have a college student retype the whole manuscript?. I’m betting it would have been faster and more accurate…and you would have put an English major to work!

  2. andyzack says:

    Well, I think you have a few things wrong here:

    Copy editors are “real” editors, though they are not developmental editors. I think the copy editor on the book I was working on today (the eBook reissue) could have done a better job back in the 90s when it was first published, but who knows who it was?

    I don’t think the author thought he was above making corrections at all. I think he was having issues working with an electronic file and was trying to proof on his Kindle and that really doesn’t work. The best way to proof these things is to print the ADE copy and proof on paper and then either send me the changes with the errors or create a Word document as I described.

    I’m not sure I’d call what I did today a “secretarial” task. Certainly it was editorial and normally it would fall to a professional proofreader, but with eBook reissues usually just the author proofs since technically the book wasn’t reset and there shouldn’t have been many errors in the scanning and conversion (the software is pretty damn good).

    If I could find a college student who was bright and capable, I’d be happy to put him or her to work, but the truth is that there are a lot of judgment calls in this process and you really need someone with some experience.

    Z

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