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Random Thoughts About Whatever Comes to Mind

Whither Editorial Professionalism?

So, okay, let me clarify what I mean by "editorial professionalism." In the context of this post, it refers to a presentation of content that does not distract from the writer's ability to communicate to the reader the intended information, atmosphere, emotion, etc.

Editorial professionalism is determined by specific actions throughout the entire writing continuum from the first draft all the way through to output.

What are the causes of editorial unprofessionalism? The most basic is either carelessness or ignorance on the part of the writer. The second is the sometimes confusing result of grammar- and spell-checking capabilities resident in most full-featured word-processing programs. The third derives from bad composition habits due to the widespread use of communications systems that reward brevity above all other virtues. The fourth is a failure on the part of the publishing house to provide competent editorial support. The fifth relates to glitches in programs that convert publication files into the eBook universe.

The first stage of professionalism begins with the writing. Writers who want a professional outcome must have enough respect for their process to use it properly, i.e., to spell, construct, and punctuate according to Hoyle (or at least Strunk & White). Of course, what might be deemed strictly inaccurate can sometimes be used to effect, but good writers will always know exactly what is going on as they compose and will use deliberate inaccuracies sparingly.

The second stage of professionalism requires that the writer use grammar- and spell-checking tools as conveniences for initial drafts and not as the final arbiter of what ends up on the page. Helpful as they can be, these tools often produce erroneous words and/or strange constructions.

The third stage of professionalism is copyreading. For most writers, this is a chore for which we are responsible. Doing this well may be the most challenging part of achieving professional output. For one thing, it's usually done very close to the completion of the writing phase, making it difficult to put on our C.R. hats and look at what we're reading with a fresh eye. For another, it's hard not to get so caught up in the meaning of what we're reading that we miss "minutiae." Nonetheless, this may be the stage at which we can most enhance the professional appearance of our output, particularly if the publishing house uses the writer's file to proceed to typesetting or digital publication without bothering to vet it.

The fourth stage of professionalism is proofreading. In traditional publishing houses with competent editors, the typeset proofs will have been vetted in-house before being returned to the author for a final review. The writer cannot count on this, however, and should always scour the proofs for any errors, whether caused by the publisher's process or by the writer at an earlier stage and not caught by the editor.

For writers who are self-publishing in a digital environment, any copyreading and proofreading will be done only by the writer at two stages: when finishing the work; and just prior to publishing in one or more eBook formats. It is very hard to force yet another review of a work that's by now probably been read in toto at least half a dozen times, but it's critical. Publishing programs, particularly those that do heavy conversion of the writer's files, are not infallible. Errors do occur and should always be corrected as soon as possible.

It might be argued, of course, that standards have changed and that typical readers no longer expect polished output. That may or may not be true. I know I'm influenced by those review comments about lousy formatting on Amazon, aren't you? There's nothing like some genuinely creative sarcasm to keep my finger from the old "Buy now with 1-Click" button.
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