PUBLISHED OCTOBER 2015
by Daniel Hueman, CEO & Founder, Intelligent Editing
If you’re a first-time self-publisher, you may be wondering whether you can afford an editor. And if you’ve realized that you need an editor, you may be wondering whether you can afford both an editor and a copy editor. But if you’re a full-fledged publisher, you know the importance of both. Books are supposed to make an impression on their readers and the impression they make should be based on the substance and the writing, not on errors and inconsistencies in spelling, punctuation, and the like. Amazon reviews mocking such slip-ups do not help sell books. And you don’t want readers distracted by a raft of small mistakes that can easily be eliminated.
You can’t do without an editor. And there’s more to copyediting than anything you or a piece of software can do on your own, so you shouldn’t try to publish without a copy editor either. However, you can bring down the costs of copyediting by taking on more of the checking yourself. This article explains some errors to look for. Then it looks at a number of software checkers (including one of my own) that can help make self-checking more effective.
Spelling consistency. Gray or grey? Theater or theatre? Adviser or advisor? None of those is wrong, so spell check isn’t going to help. And maybe there is a reason for using both forms (one because that’s your style, for example, and the other because it’s in a quote). But usually spelling has to be consistent.
Inconsistent capitalization. Are chapter titles and subtitles consistent in terms of capitalization (all words capped, sentence case, or mixed case, also called title case)? How about individual words such as Web or web? These inconsistencies will jump out at readers.
Hyphenation. Whether a term should be open, hyphenated, or closed (health care, health-care, healthcarespell-checker?) won’t highlight the fact that a term appears in different forms in different places. Again, that might be intentional. For example, a compound modifier before a verb is generally hyphenated, but when it comes after the verb, it is usually left open. So you need to find it everywhere it occurs and make sure it’s always right.
Punctuation. Do you want to use a serial comma (Oxford comma) or not? Do you want to treat quotation marks according to US (or is that U.S.?) style or UK style? Does the manuscript have space-hyphen-space where it should have a dash?
Abbreviations. Is a character in the book variously a Ph.D. and a PhD? Does an abbreviation for a company name or a technical term appear before the company or before the term has been introduced and defined? Abbreviations are hard to keep track of and very hard for readers to understand unless each one is introduced with a definition and then used consistently.
My Picks in Programs
You won’t be surprised to hear that my own company’s software, PerfectIt, does all the above, checking for many types of inconsistency. Of course, it’s possible to check manually, but with PerfectIt you can locate all those errors faster and with greater accuracy than you can without the assistance of a computer. PerfectIt also lets you customize the list of tests for your particular needs, and it lets you customize a style sheet for a specific manuscript or publishing house. For example, you can add a list of all the characters in a novel to ensure that their names are spelled the same way everywhere.
But, of course, PerfectIt isn’t the only tool that can help cut editorial expenses. StyleWriter and Edifix are great products that are well worth considering. StyleWriter goes through text line by line to assess readability and help put writing in plain English. StyleWriter’s readability formulas are unique because they compare all words used to a graded dictionary to give the most accurate assessment of any writing style. And Edifix is a wonderful tool for checking reference lists in nonfiction books. You can feed it any reference list and it will return the list correctly formatted in the style of your choice.
Grammar checkers are also worth considering. MS Word’s own spelling and grammar check have improved a lot over the years. The changes have mostly gone unsung, but if you aren’t already using one, it’s time to take a look at a more recent version of Office. And one of the better online grammar checkers is Paper Rater. It’s free, and if you haven’t used a grammar check for a while, you may be surprised at what it can do.
Free trials are available for all the checking software mentioned above. PerfectIt and StyleWriter require a Windows computer with Microsoft Word. Edifix can be accessed from any computer.
If you’re a self-publisher working on just one book, you can download the programs and use them on your final draft absolutely free. And you don’t need to feel guilty about using these products without buying them. Your use for that free trial period doesn’t cost the developers anything. Moreover, all developers know that people who liked using their products may buy them for their next books. Prices are not expensive when you factor in the amount of time saved; for example: PerfectIt, $99; StyleWriter, $90–$190 (depending on the edition); and Edifix, $40 per month for up to 250 references.
The People Part
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking that you can use software to replace copy editors. If so, you’re very much mistaken. There is no replacement for the human touch. And there is so much that editors and copy editors do that no software can replicate. However, what software can do is save professionals’ time by eliminating the kinds of small errors that delight people who post mocking Amazon reviews. And saving editors’ time will reduce your costs while leaving editors freer to focus on the most important aspects of editing.
Daniel Heuman, CEO and founder of Intelligent Editing, is the developer of PerfectIt, an MS Word add-in. He reports that more than a thousand professional editors around the world use his software; and he notes that a human editor, Dick Margulis of Dick Margulis Creative Services, worked with him on this article. To learn more: intelligentediting.com; dmargulis.com.