Friday, September 17, 2010

The Proof is in the Book

During my writing career, I have written quite a few books. Like most writers, I labored over the content and the words and phrases to bring it to light. When I finished writing my books, I sent them off to an editor at my publisher.

Recently, I took on the job of editing a cookbook for a Quaker Meeting of which I’m a member. While this seemed like an easy task at first, I soon realized that editing was much more than correcting spelling and punctuation and the occasional mistake in grammar. How difficult would it be to edit recipes? Boy, was I way off base.

Yes, there were spelling and punctuation errors to correct, but editing a book involves so much more as I soon found out.

One of the main jobs of a book editor is to make sure the content and style remains consistent throughout the book. A book is a large volume of work. When writing one, I try to keep the main idea in mind, but as I get deeper into it, I sometimes change how I express certain things which results in inconsistencies.

And so it was with this cookbook. The person who compiled the recipes is a cook, herself, so the recipes, themselves were okay, for the most part. However, different recipe donors had different ways of expressing the same procedure in similar recipes. For example, some donors used fractions while others used decimals to indicate parts of measurements. A few recipes weren’t at all clear. And while folksy and interesting to read, they left the cook wondering what to do next. So in this case, clarity became a major concern.

Another facet of editing this cookbook was focusing it to the reader. At first, it targeted only to people at our Meeting, but to make this a successful fundraising project, it had to be clear to those outside our Meeting who might purchase the book. The problem that surfaced while editing was how the descriptive anecdotes that accompanied the recipes related to the reader. Originally, the compiler had only the people at our Meeting in mind as readers. But to sell the book to a broader audience, that had to be changed so that other readers would understand the family relationships mentioned in the book.

Upon finishing this project after six or seven weeks of intensive editing, I now have a very healthy respect for my book editors. And as a writer, I plan to insure that I make their job a little easier by paying stricter attention to details when writing my books. I also learned a lot about the other side of publishing–getting the book ready for market–which I can now use to self-publish books.

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