eContent Pro values their relationship with the academic community and aims to provide the community with valuable information to enhance their writing. What better way to share information with the academic community than interviewing scholars with years of experience in the editing and publishing world? If you missed our previous interviews with Dr. Jeffrey Morris and Dr. Susheel Chhabra, be sure to check them out.
This week, eContent Pro discussed a variety of different writing mistakes and topics with Chris Shearer, IGI Global’s Copy Editing Manager. Chris has been with IGI Global for eight years, and for the past seven, he has managed the Copy Editing Department. In addition to his work for IGI Global and eContent Pro, Christopher is an award-winning author and editor with nearly 50 publications to his credit.
What drew you to copy editing and what inspires you the most in working with authors?
I’ve always been drawn to reading and writing. I literally read every book in my first elementary school and then everything they’d let me see in the public library of the town we moved to when I was in third grade. On top of that, my grandmother was an award-winning writer and storyteller and my dad was a publishing poet, and I was publishing at a young age. As a writer, you come to know the value of editing—line, content, and copy—and look forward to having someone else’s eyes on what you’ve done in the hopes that the two (or more) of you can make the work better. But that doesn’t really explain how I got here, does it? This path in particular started my freshman year of college. My first semester, I decided that, in addition to my classes, I wanted to learn as much about the other side of publishing as I could, so I sent out emails to a handful of publishers asking if they’d give me some work. I was lucky enough to get in on the ground floor of a world-renowned genre publisher, who gave me not only the training and experience I was looking for but also a nice supply of new books and spending money. That led me to another publisher and double the work and experience. That led to more. And eventually led me, at least partially, here. As for the second part of the question, I enjoy helping people realize a work’s potential as fully as they can. As an editor, you can’t do the work for the writer, but you can point out weak areas and give suggestions that will help get rid of all the stuff that may take away from the work. For me, it’s all about the work and doing my part to make it the best it can be.
As a copy editor, what common mistake(s) do you see authors often make?
Different people make different mistakes. It’s not uncommon to see grammatical errors or formatting issues (or authors who don’t follow their guidelines at all) or trouble with homonyms, but these vary by person. The most common issue, I think, is consistency, be that in quality or the way something is described or pacing or spelling and formatting. People will do one thing and then move away from it and then come back to it. Sometimes these changes are minor and sometimes they’re not.
In academic writing, why is it important for authors to provide accurate references?
In short, because if they don’t, they’re plagiarizing (even if unintentionally). But it’s also about fairness and recognition. Would you like someone to write something that uses research you’ve done and give you none of the credit for your work? I doubt it. But that’s what happens if the references aren’t accurate. Someone reading the article can’t find the work that’s being referenced, so that author/researcher gets no credit/recognition/money. From a reader’s perspective, this is also troublesome. Imagine that you’re reading an article and want to learn more about what went into a study that’s referenced. If the references are inaccurate, you can’t access it, so you can’t do any further research. Inaccurate references hurt everyone.
How can authors eliminate first-person pronouns from their writing?
They don’t always need to eliminate it. In academic writing, first person is often frowned upon, but it is sometimes (and in some styles) acceptable. But, taking the question at face value, some advice would be to make the work the focus. Instead of saying “I did this,” say “The study found this.” Another way would be to leave out the “I” part altogether and just present the data. Instead of saying “The study found that 18% of monkeys disliked peanuts,” you could say “18% of monkeys disliked peanuts.” The thing to watch out for when eliminating first person is the voice. It’s often best to keep your writing in active voice (meaning that the subject of the sentence does the action), with, obviously, some exceptions. To use the monkey example above, a passive sentence would say “Peanuts were disliked by 18% of monkeys.” This is harder to follow and wordier (added “by”), but this mistake is easy to fall into when making this type of change. An easy way to identify passive voice is to add “by zombies” to the verb. If doing it makes sense, you have a passive sentence. To use the monkeys again, this trick would give us “18% of monkeys disliked by zombies” in the active sentence, which makes no sense, but the passive version would become “Peanuts were disliked by zombies.”
In what ways can an author maintain consistency throughout their manuscript?
The only way is through editing. If you’re editing it yourself, you have to give the work multiple looks. The further you get from the work, the more you’ll see, so it’s best to set it aside if you can and then come back to it later. Other strategies, if the deadline’s looming and you can’t put it aside, are to see it in a different form. If you wrote it on a computer and have read it that way, print it out. If you’ve already done that, upload it to an e-reader and read it that way or print it out in a different font and/or color. Anything to make you see it differently will help. But you won’t be perfect no matter how different you make the text look or how long you wait to edit, and that’s why you need an editor. Another perspective and set of eyes is invaluable.
Why, in your opinion, is copy editing so valuable?
This sort of piggybacks the last question. Most generally, that other perspective and set of eyes will see things you don’t and question things you don’t. Specifically, an expert in the language and/or style/genre will spot problems you didn’t even know existed. The copy editor, in particular, will spot consistency issues and grammatical and word usage concerns. A friend of mine writes historical novels, and her copy editor often comes back questioning the use of words that didn’t exist at the time the story’s set. It’s kind of hard for someone to say “The way he moved reminded me of Pacman” in the 1800s.
What resources do you recommend for authors to guide them during the writing process?
The big one would be The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. It’ll give you the basics of everything. Beyond that, if you’re writing in a particular style, pick up a copy of that style guide. There are also countless how-to books, but the best thing is probably to read whatever you’re writing. If it’s academic papers, read academic papers. If it’s SF novels, read SF novels.
If you could provide just one piece of standalone advice for early-career authors, what would it be?
Read the type of thing you’re trying to write. You’ll learn the way things in that genre/style are put together, how they work; you’ll get a feel for the “right” structures and ways of doing things. But, and this’ll sound contradictory, also read other things. From them, you’ll learn things that you can use in what you’re doing. The variety will also keep you engaged and give you a more varied perspective, which will help you in the long run. In grad school, each semester we had a genre-focused class in addition to our thesis work and regular classes. My first semester we read Fantasy books, my second Thrillers, then Romance, then YA, then SF, then Horror. This gave us a well-rounded view of genres that we wouldn’t necessarily come across, and each gave us another tool in our toolkits. I guess the advice I’m giving here is to read. If you want to write, you need to read.
And one last bit of advice to grow on, don’t take rejection personally. Everyone’s rejected. Even people you think aren’t. In my experience as a submissions editor, I’ve rejected some of them. It’s part of the process.
Many thanks to Chris Shearer for his cooperation and insights. eContent Pro hopes authors and researchers around the world found this discussion helpful as they continue their journey in the publishing process.
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