Back in November 2020, I was lucky enough to attend the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading’s annual conference for the first time. I was privileged to watch developmental editor Sarah Grey’s talk, “Conscious language: making editorial decisions for inclusion”.
The session was thought-provoking and insightful. Take three minutes to read my summary over on the CIEP blog. Hopefully, whether you write or edit, you’ll find the summary as useful as I found the original talk.
Sarah Grey (@GreyEditing) is a development editor at O’Reilly Media. Sarah is a highly experienced editor, working on technical texts across the humanities and specialising in social and political non-fiction. She is a Robinson Prize laureate and delivers workshops and seminars about editing and language-related topics around the world. Her opinions are her own.
Good communication starts with asking questions. So does good storytelling. After all, how many sci-fi and fantasy novels start by posing the question “What if the world was like this instead?” and explore the answer in a plot that lasts for hundreds of pages and keeps the reader gripped until the very end?
Twitter reminded me that October is Black History Month in the UK and this got me thinking. As a person with a disability in a world designed overwhelmingly for able-bodied people, I understand one kind of inequality. As a person who wants to see a more equal world, I really want my business (MKL Proofreading and Editing) to encourage inclusivity and support authors from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds.
Ultimately I would like this blog to be a forum where we can shine a light on inclusivity issues, particularly within the publishing industry. I want to celebrate the wonderful work of authors from different communities – writers with disabilities, Black writers and writers of colour, neurodiverse writers, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex writers. We are all people. People come in infinite varieties. Everyone has a need to be acknowledged, to be seen, during everyday interactions or in the media that constantly surrounds us.
Having the desire to create an inclusive space on my blog and run a truly inclusive business also got me worried. Truthfully, I’m very ignorant of things beyond my own experience. When it is it okay to use the word “Black” with a capital B? When is it right to use a lowercase b? Is the preferred term “People of Colour” or is that more prevalent in the USA? Are these linguistic distinctions important, or is it better to focus on how people, or characters, are represented rather than on the language used to classify them? These are just some of the things I’m learning about.
Another thing that makes me hesitate to talk about race and inequality, or the experiences of people in other underrepresented groups, is that I’d hate to accidentally upset someone or cause harm through sheer ignorance.
I’m taking steps to educate myself. I’m asking questions.
Can anybody recommend any books/podcasts/videos/essays that would educate me on black issues and perspectives?
Is there anybody out there who’d be happy to talk to me first hand about Black History beyond slavery?
What if the world was more accurately represented in mainstream literature?
Please share your suggestions in the comments. I’d particularly love to hear from Black historians, writers and bloggers – please reach out.
I really didn’t want to write a coronavirus post. I just wanted to carry on with business as usual and ignore it until it passed by. My hands are chapped from all the extra washing and I just want Covid-19 to GO AWAY.
But I guess your hands are chapped from all the washing too. In spite of all my hopes, this virus is definitely serious and here to stay for quite some time. So all we can do is rise above it, carry on as usual and find ways of making this whole sorry mess a little more fun.
So here’s a little writing exercise to keep everyone entertained for half an hour this weekend. It’s great for kids too.
Pick a sentence. Any random sentence.
Use each word in your chosen sentence to start a new sentence.
Keep writing until you have a paragraph and see what you come up with. Bonus points if it makes sense.
Who knows, it could be the inspiration for a new novel, or the start of a short story, or even the seed of an idea for a new avenue of research.
Let’s try it together on that last sentence.
“Who do you think I should ask about these bagels?” said Win, holding up the bag and peering inside.
“Knows about bagels, does Claris,” said Win’s friend Arthur, nodding wisely.
“It could be worth a try,” agreed Win as they moved down the street away from the market stall.
“Could be,” added Arthur.
Be happy in life, thought Win as she mused over the bagels. The daily acquisition of freshly baked bread was an essential part of happiness for Win. Inspiration came from creativity, and what was baking if not creativity?
For to bake was to create something wholesome and good. A chilling thought struck her: bagels had not been made in Bagelthorpe for a hundred years, and yet here she was with some seemingly fresh bagels. Novel idea indeed. Or merely some wizard’s deception?
The idea terrified her. Start to think like that and you’ll go crazy, Win thought. Of these fearful thoughts Claris knew nothing. A few short minutes would change this.Short strides towards a life changing conversation. Story Time at the library would be over by now and Claris would be in, settling down with a cup of tea. Or would she? Even Claris deviated from routine sometimes. The routine of 50 years could be thrown over in an instant, and Win might never get to speak to her again. Seed of fear fast growing in her mind, Win hurried to Claris’ front door and knocked. Of bagels she must speak, and speak now!
An aggravating pause and then Claris was suddenly at the door.
Idea forming on her lips, Win thrust out the bag as she spoke. For minutes she couldn’t get the words out.
“A moment please,” Win whispered as Arthur drew up beside her, puffing. “New bagels in the market, is that odd?” she finally gasped.
Avenue Z, where Claris lived, was suddenly eerily quiet.
“Of these new bread products I have not heard,” admitted Claris, peering out into the street. “Research will be required. I’ll put the kettle on and fire up the toaster,” she said.
This story isn’t perfect. I didn’t plan it. But I did edit it. And I decided to add the last sentence to round it off.
What do you think?
Let me know in the comments if you try this exercise. In the meantime, happy writing and stay safe and well.
(For the story behind the photo at the top of this post, watch the feature about 19 minutes into this episode of Inside Out South).
If you’re an independent author, following these rules from the outset will make your manuscript easier to read and typeset for publication. If you’re hiring an editor, applying the correct formatting before you send them your work will save their time and your money.
They’ll have more time to resolve any concerns you have, and to check for typos, spelling mistakes, and grammatical errors. Of course, if you do find you’re struggling with formatting, your editor will still be there to help.
If you’re looking for a publisher, then it’s absolutely vital to follow these rules. If you don’t, it’s highly unlikely they’ll read your manuscript.
Most publishers also have their own guidelines on how to submit a manuscript, so it’s best to check these out before you send out your work.
2. Writers’ Groups Are Awesome
Most things I’ve learned about writing, including how to format a manuscript, I first learned from my local writers’ group.
It’s a supportive, warm and varied community on your doorstep. It’s face-to-face and full of knowledge about every aspect of writing.
Somebody once said to me, “Think about the kind of stuff you like to write and approach publications that publish that kind of thing”.
If there is a magazine you read or an imprint you really like that you think you’d be a good fit for, it never hurts to investigate their submission guidelines.
This style of hunting can feel a bit overwhelming. The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook is an invaluable resource for taking the legwork out of the situation. A friend of mine also recommends FirstWriter, an online directory of agents, publishers, magazines, and competitions.
4. There’s More Than One Way To Get Information
Podcasts and videos are so, so good for getting more detailed information on specific subjects. I really like this episode from The Editing Podcast, which neatly explains different types of editing.
5. You Can Always Ask An Editor
An editor can offer you an utterly non-judgemental perspective, complete confidentiality, and a friendly smile. If you have a specific problem you’d like advice on, or you’re looking to improve your writing but just don’t feel comfortable sharing your work with people you know, asking an editor could be the solution.
What other tips would you add? Please leave your ideas in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!
A few months back my brother and I were chatting when he suddenly asked:
“Why would anyone use a proofreader?”
He raises a valid point. In these days of increasing automation and ever more intuitive AI, why would anyone rely on a human to check their work?
Microsoft Word comes with its own spellchecker (as do most word processing packages). If English isn’t your first language, there is always Google Translate to help you out.
It’s true, Word’s spellchecker has got a lot better since it was first launched. Now it will underline misspelt words in red, offer you a green line for possible grammatical errors, a blue line for a contextual mistake and even a brown dotted line if it thinks you’re using too many words. Some of its suggestions are helpful, others can be downright confusing.
For example, as I write this, it is trying to tell me that I’m spelling “proofreader” wrong. In fact, there are several different ways of writing this word correctly. And no matter how hard it tries, Word will never be able to tell you with absolute certainty whether you’re using “hare”, “hair” or “heir” correctly in a sentence.
Google Translate is frankly an amazing invention. I find it truly mind-boggling that it can translate text instantly. It’s definitely handy if you’re trying to decipher a menu, but don’t rely on it if you want to do anything more complex.
If English isn’t your first language, but you find yourself having to write in English, translation tools won’t be able to offer you accurate advice on grammar. They may also struggle to process figures of speech, like “Bob’s your uncle”, sometimes with disastrous results.
If you’re looking to publish your work, or simply to have it read more widely, making sure your work is clear and easy to read is vital. Confusing sentences, formatting errors and typos can make all the difference between acceptance and rejection with a publisher. More importantly, they can make the difference between someone reading what you have to say and walking away.
Best of all, you can talk to a professional proofreader. A good proofreader will work with you to answer any questions you have. If they spot something where your meaning isn’t clear, they’ll ask you about it and help to clarify it, rather than choosing a preset phrase from a list of autocorrect options.
As an author, you have every reason to be confident in your writing. When you choose a professional proofreader to check your work, you can be confident it reads well too.
Think you might need a proofreader? Contact me today.