Archive by Author

Publishing News: Soft Skull Alive, Well and Independent

26 Oct

A couple of weeks ago I talked about David Silverman’s Typo, and some of the copyediting misses in that book.

Silverman responded in a comment, and sent me a link to a list of errata people had sent him. He said his copyeditor, a “wonderful man,” though overworked, also was the main designer and typesetter for Typo at Soft Skull Press. (Ah, yes, overworked. We in publishing are overworked; it’s the nature of the beast.) Unfortunately, Silverman said, the copyeditor lost his job when Soft Skull sold to Counterpoint, a result of the bankruptcy of book distributor Publishers Group West. That job loss occurred, Silverman said, at about the same time Typo went to print.

Soft Skull, however, apparently didn’t suffer the horrible fate of getting folded into the conglomerate amoeba, as so many of the big publishing houses have. It’s still “one of the most successful small, independent presses” around, as Jordan Rosenfeld writes in the December issue of Writer’s Digest. In that issue Rosenfeld interviews Soft Skull publisher Richard Eoin Nash, and from what Nash says, it sounds as if Soft Skull will retain its independent nature, though under the wings, but not the leash, of a larger corporation.

In the interview Nash says Soft Skull won’t change its vision, though under new ownership. He said in the interview he “publish[es] in order to discover.” As part of the larger corporation, the interview said, Soft Skull gets to support its vision and its authors more effectively.

It’s nice to hear about a publisher that wants to remain independent in nature, one that’s willing to take on writers and books other publishers might not take on; it’s a fresh vision, and good to know Soft Skull will take a chance on new writers, or writing that isn’t necessarily mainstream, either in style or subject matter or both.


Book Editing: A Rarity

12 Oct

Nothing can be more irksome for an editor than when someone, usually English teachers, call out mistakes in a published piece. Sometimes mistakes happen, especially in a fast-paced environment like a daily newspaper.

I never liked having my gaffs, when they did make it to print, pointed out, and I try not to point out gaffs others make, especially in material already published. But, I find myself noticing errors now when I read more than I used to, and find it hard not to comment, at least to myself, about those errors.

Periodically, over the past two or three months, I’ve been making my way through Typo: The Last American Typesetter or How I Made and Lost 4 Million Dollars by David Silverman (Mark reviewed this book in an earlier post) and I’ve become bogged down noticing errors that shouldn’t have escaped the copyeditor’s eye, for example, “In the morning I didn’t feeling very prepared to meet with Jose Bembo, the father of the brothers who ran the company and the money behind it.” Is the sentence supposed to read “I didn’t feel”? or “wasn’t feeling”? or some other variation? There are persistent inconsistencies in this book, and this one falls on page 65.

Thursday, some marketing and sales reps from Delmar Cengage Learning were at the school hawking their books, and I visited their booth. When I introduced myself, one of the sales reps (or was it a marketer?) said, “You’re a rarity.” Yes, I am unique. Of course, what he meant was this: It’s rare now for any publishing company to have an in-house editor.

I knew vaguely this was true, having looked at publishing from the other side of the looking glass: the aspiring writer reading books, magazines and blogs to learn about how to market, submit and publish my writing. I knew the intimate relationships forged between writer and editor like those of Max Perkins and (insert name of famous literary novelist at Scribner’s in the early 20th century) were long gone, fading even in the golden age when Perkins worked. But, I didn’t know just how far those relationships had faded.

From what I’ve been reading and hearing of late, publishers are much more interested in having marketing and sales reps on board to push the books out into the world, a world I keep hearing is less hungry for books than ever before (if this is true, however, what exactly accounts for the success of Amazon and Barnes and Noble–though B&N has longevity on its side). At the same time, publishers are sending manuscripts out for freelancers to edit and design (not to disparage freelancers, given that I also freelance) their books.

Not to fault publishers for wanting to sell books. Publishing is a business after all, and businesses want to make money and profit from their ventures. But to cut costs by cutting in-house editors and designers seems risky. As a reader, who also happens to work as an editor and writer, I get bogged down by errors that stand out, just as my readers did when I gaffed at the paper. (Then again, I also get bogged down by things not so apparent, like the inconsistent use of drop caps.) Isn’t sacrificing the reader’s satisfaction leaving the publisher at risk of losing customers, or does it really matter, as long as the bottom line gets filled?

I didn’t set out to call out Soft Skull Press, who published Silverman’s book. Their books are nicely designed, and Typo itself is fascinating (I prefer the narrative memoir style over just nuts and bolts plain-facts of most business books) — who would have thought a general-interest book about a failed business venture in typesetting would be so quirky and appealing? I just hope the editor was, like most of us in publishing, overworked and underpaid, when he or she undertook the copyedit of Typo, and that publishers take a greater stock in producing quality books over ones that are simply marketable.

Oh, and if you spot any errors in this blog post, feel free to let me know — I won’t get irked. At least not this time. (And the fragment is intentional.)


Editorial Intern: More from Nathan McCoy

12 Oct

Besides helping us work up blurbs for our first catalog, editorial intern Nathan McCoy has produced another promotional piece for us, this one about The Quick Math Review by Diana Gafford, developmental math chair at Texas State Technical College Harlingen. Thought I’d share that piece with you.


TSTC Harlingen Faculty Collaborate on Quick Math Review


By Nathan McCoy
October 2, 2007

During planning for the Quick Review math course at Texas State Technical College Harlingen, Diana Gafford, developmental math department chair at TSTC Harlingen, said she looked through several books for the class but couldn’t find anything she liked.

“I wanted a bare bones book and didn’t want students to pay $150 for a textbook,” Gafford said.

So Gafford decided to write her own book, The Quick Math Review, with assistance from Dr. Mike Hosseinpour, senior math instructor at TSTC Harlingen. The book is a basic review workbook that covers the material needed for the Quick Review class, an intensive one-week course covering topics from Basic Mathematics, Introductory Algebra and Intermediate Algebra.

Gafford said the book begins with fractions and continues into areas such as factoring, basic algebra and graphing.

“I wrote this book to help these kids accelerate through the developmental sequence,” Gafford said. “It pares everything down to the very basic skills that students need to know.”

The developmental math department offers support to programs at TSTC Harlingen to improve their students’ math skills and prepare them for the workplace or other college-level math courses.

The class is held the week before the regular semester. Students are taught from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. with an hour break for lunch.

Gafford said she has been very pleased with the inclusion of The Quick Math Review in the Quick Review class.

“Out of all our students, 65 to 70 percent move up and pass the class to save themselves a semester or two of Basic Math or Introductory Algebra,” Gafford said.

* * *

Nathan McCoy is a senior at Baylor University, majoring in journalism and public relations with a minor in marketing. He’s a 2004 graduate of Irmo High School, Columbia, S.C. Between classes, interning here and working at the Baylor Fund Call Center, he enjoys getting involved with all things having to do with music: learning guitar, listening to it whenever possible and going to concerts. He’s also a sports fan, supporting Baylor athletics, rooting for the Dallas Mavericks, complaining about the Texas Rangers, and playing golf, tennis and basketball. After graduation he hopes to work in public relations.

Editorial Intern: Introducing Nathan McCoy

28 Sep

At the beginning of the month, I welcomed aboard editorial intern Nathan McCoy, a senior journalism and public relations major at Baylor University. It’s nice to have him aboard this semester. And we plan to keep him busy so he can work up some great clips and other portfolio pieces that he can have to show future employees in the world of public relations and marketing.

After getting him acquainted with the office, I had him head out on campus to interview Dr. Otto Wilke, a math professor here who has published a textbook through us, Contemporary Math I Using Maple or TI-89.

Here is Nathan’s release (which by the way you can also find on our main site, along with other great stuff about us):

Otto Wilke’s Contemporary Math I Using Maple Published


By Nathan McCoy
September 21, 2007

Dr. Otto Wilke, mathematics professor at Texas State Technical College Waco, recently completed his first textbook, Contemporary Math I Using Maple or TI-89, for his Contemporary Math I classes at TSTC.

Maple is a computer algebra system that was first developed at the University of Waterloo in Canada. The program is used in Contemporary Math I to solve problems in the areas covered in class such as modern algebra, geometry and probability.

“For two or three decades, we’ve been using computer programs to solve any equations,” Wilke said. “Maple is by far the easiest to use and the cheapest to buy.”

Contemporary Math I covers a broad area of math topics that include algebra, geometry, logarithms and basic trigonometry. Wilke said it is more of a survey class that covers many topics briefly, whereas classes at TSTC like College Algebra or Trigonometry cover specific topics in depth.

Before Wilke’s textbook, there were math books that touched on Maple usage, but no math book had been written specifically to explain how to do the problems using Maple software. Wilke said he wrote the textbook so students would be able to use Maple properly in order to work problems associated with the particular course.

“I want students to be familiar with the best and latest tool for doing mathematical calculations-and that’s Maple,” Wilke said.

Wilke began using Maple around 1990 with version two of the program. Maple is currently in its eleventh version, released in early 2007.

The book also includes instruction on how to work problems with a TI-89 calculator accompanied by screen shots from the calculator.

Maple has many practical uses, Wilke said. He said he uses written programs in Maple to randomize the exams he gives to his students so no two tests are alike. He also holds a patent for a program he wrote in Maple that adjusts airplane holding patterns in the event of strong crosswinds.

Wilke received his Ph.D. in engineering at Texas A&M University. He did research for 10 years before going to Baylor University Dental School. After practicing dentistry for 10 years, he came to teach mathematics at TSTC Waco, where he has taught nearly every math class in his 18 years on staff.

* * *

Nathan McCoy is a senior at Baylor University, majoring in journalism and public relations with a minor in marketing. He’s a 2004 graduate of Irmo High School, Columbia, S.C. Between classes, interning here and working at the Baylor Fund Call Center, he enjoys getting involved with all things having to do with music: learning guitar, listening to it whenever possible and going to concerts. He’s also a sports fan, supporting Baylor athletics, rooting for the Dallas Mavericks, complaining about the Texas Rangers, and playing golf, tennis and basketball. After graduation he hopes to work in public relations.

* * *


Blogs About Writing: Blog Roll

21 Sep

Four years ago, I knew nothing about blogs (give me a trend and I’ll catch up to it 10 years later.) A writer acquaintance of mine told me about her blog — the most recent incarnation of which is here — and I immediately saw a great opportunity for myself to build a Web presence through blogging. After going through several different sites, I settled on my own blog and began blogging, and also trolling the blogosphere, finding new blogs, particularly blogs related to writing and reading.

As I did last week, I’m going to post links to some of my favorite writing blogs. Some deal specifically with writing and developing craft, some are a bit more personal, but talk frequently about writing, and one is a well known author blog.

So, here are a handful of favorite blogs. The list is in no particular order.

After the MFA

A site by Gordon Hurd, who writes about his life as a writer after receiving his MFA in creative writing. This is a good site, and has a lot of great links to other sites about writing. There are frequent posts with resources for writers, as the most recent “Writing, Practicing, Excelling.”

Big Bad Book Blog

Administered by Greenleaf Book Group in Austin, Texas, this blog covers a gamut of publishing topics from writing to book distribution. The various writers are witty as well as insightful.


Administered by Elizabeth, a writer in the San Francisco bay area, this is another site similar to After the MFA. She started the site to document her MFA experience, but now documents her writing life. Besides giving a picture of a writer’s life, we get resources about writing, and about the process of writing. It’s a nice mix of the personal and the process.

Straight From Hel

Adminstered by Austin area writer Helen Ginger, this is a nice site, as wel,l that mixes personal with process. As you can see from her recent post (Friday, Sept. 21, 2007), she’s been prolific about writing and the writing process.

Nick Hornby

Novelist Nick Hornby administers this blog. Hornby is one of my favorite writers. I love his wit and his blog and novels are worth reading to get a taste of that wit.

These are just five of my favorite blogs. There are many more, but it’s close to closing time here and I may try to start a new trend and post lists like this more frequently, and with some hope it won’t take 10 years for it to catch on.


Books About Writing: A Top 10 … Umm … Top 7 List

14 Sep

To take a cue from David Letterman, I’m going to play around with a Top 10 list this week. (Does Letterman still do Top 10 lists?)

Writing books get their own section in bookstores, and I’ve bought my share of them, some good, some bad, some ugly. I have my favorites, and this is my annotated list:

1. On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Whether you’re writing nonfiction (Zinsser’s subject) or fiction, this book is hard to beat. I first read it in an advanced writing course as an undergrad, and it reinforced my belief in simplicity and clarity as essential to writing, and did its best to beat the jargon out of me (a difficult task later on when hashing literary criticism and critical theory).

2. The Art of Fiction by John Gardner

Though all of what I’ve worked on here at the publishing office is nonfiction, I have to include Gardner’s book on the art and craft of fiction. It’s a classic book on writing, and anyone, especially someone interested in writing fiction, ought to try at least a few of the writing exercises in the back.

3. Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich

Another book about fiction technique, I think any writer would find it useful. Novakovich breaks down the elements of fiction, explains them simply, and then offers challenging exercises. I especially like the sections on word choice and style, and the section on revision.

4. How to Write by Richard Rhodes

More than just a writing manual, Rhodes talks about one of the most detrimental things to writing — fear. His advice is simply to begin writing. The most important thing to remember is his bum-to-chair principle.

5. Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft by Janet Burroway

Though largely for creative writing, again the exercises can be challenging and Burroway includes several other resources for further reading. Her approach is one I love, too, because she makes the strong link between reading and writing and how to learn to write from reading.

6. The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

A classic, but I’ve put it low on my list because it’s somewhat stodgy and inflexible.

7. When Words Collide: A Media Writer’s Guide to Grammar and Style by Lauren Kessler and Duncan McDonald

A great little quick-reference to grammar and style, as the title indicates.

OK, did I say Top 10? How about Top 7? These are my favorites. I have many others on my bookshelf, some less practical than others. Other favorites such as Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer or Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley are much more geared toward creative writing, and specifically dealing with the relationship between reading and writing or with the art of fiction and criticism, but good reads nonethless.


Book Editing: Unclutter Clutter

7 Sep

A few years back, when I was still at the paper, my colleague Clay and I would have important committee meetings about writing (aka standing around the newsroom talking). He once told me about an interview he did at the Blackland Research and Extension Center in Temple, one in which the researcher he was interviewing kept referring to the “vertical integration of moisture.” Clay had to back the researcher up and ask, “Do you mean rain?” Which basically was what the researcher meant by “vertical integration of moisture.”

Science and technology, as all fields, have terms specific to the field, without which those in the fields can’t communicate specific ideas or talk about specific equipment. Any healthcare professional, for instance, ought to know about blood-borne, airborne and contact pathogens, those potentially dangerous invisible things that pass disease to people through the blood, through the air, or through touch.

But when writing about science and technology, whether for a general audience or for students at any level, clarity has to be a priority. A general newspaper reader has to know that the “vertical integration of moisture” is rain, otherwise an article about research may be unclear; the reader will snooze rather than learn that research’s value. Students need to know pathogens are microscopic things like bacteria or viruses that cause disease, and such pathogens spread disease through the blood, the air or by touch, otherwise the student may get sick or cause others to get sick.

Clarity is one of the most important elements of writing and often impeding clarity is clutter, as William Zinsser notes in his classic book On Writing Well.

“Clutter is the disease of American writing,” he writes. “We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.”

Since starting here, I’ve seen many instances of cluttered writing. Often clutter isn’t caused by writers inserting terms necessary to learning a particular subject; it appears when writers try to convey those terms or ideas to the reader. Complex and confusing sentences full of big, unnecessary words and strings of confusing prepositional phrases erupt on the page. Simple, clear sentences fade. Some of our textbook authors seem afraid of simplicity, as if under-inflated sentences didn’t sound important enough.

One recent text outlined a dress code for nursing program students with a policy that originally read: “Hair coloring must be natural in appearance.” I edited the sentence to read: “Hair color must appear natural.” The sentence has two fewer words, less clutter, and the meaning is clearer, the sentence vigorous in active voice.

But, it’s not just whole sentences that clutter clarity. I often find myself editing phrases that to the writer must’ve sounded “official” and more important than simpler phrases or words. Common phrases include “in order to” instead of “to” and “prior to” instead of “before”. Another common phrase is “including, but not limited to,” used when “including” works just fine, because “including” is only part of the whole.

As I’m editing, I wonder why writers feel the need to add to sentences such official sounding language. Surely it’s not to obscure meaning or confuse their reader? Sometimes I believe it’s a matter of the writer’s confidence, or the writer lacks confidence in the language. Or maybe William Zinsser is right: When it comes to writing, we have become sick with cluttered sentences, because our thoughts are just as tangled.


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