It's all right (but not alright) to use a trailing apostrophe in the classical genetive

Carrying on from the previous post, the copyedit style guide did resolve two of the greatest mysteries of the universe.

I wrote a blog post a couple of months ago asking whether ancient Greek and Roman names should have 's or only the trailing apostrophe in the possessive. This turned out to be quite controversial. The definitive answer is in the style guide, which says:

ancient classical names ending in "s" are set with a single apostrophe to form the possessive

i.e. the correct possessive form is: Pericles' scroll

There you are; St Martin's Press says it, so it must be true. So now everything's all right, but it's not alright.

My long term readers will be amused to hear Copyeditor meticulously replaced every alright with all right.

I'll have to admit defeat on that front. I promise to write only all right from now on. But I'm going to sob quietly as I do the global replace on books 2 and 3.

The debut author's guide to copyedit reviews

If you think writing a book is hard, try reviewing the copyedits.

An innocent-looking package arrived by courier at my home 2 weeks ago. I instantly tore it open to reveal:

The copyedits for my first book! Yay!

But there was a minor problem. When this thing arrived, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Clearly I had to check the copyedits, but what were all those funny marks in green pencil?

Now I know, thanks to lots of help from my friends, and guidance from my ever-supportive agent. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only debut author to have no idea what to do with a copyedit, so herewith is Gary's Guide To Reading A Copyedit.

Here's the first page of my ms:

I'm afraid it's a bit unclear in blogger. You might need to click on it for the details. You'll notice by the way the working title is still in the top left corner. The real title is The Pericles Commission, and it's fixed on the title page.

Everyone who touches the ms uses a different color pencil. Copyeditor used green, so I picked blue. Copyeditor also used red for various instructions to the printer. The CN means Chapter Number, as in, it would be nice to have one here. The 1-13 is the page number, since there is stuff which comes before. Copyeditor has meticulously counted out the starting pages. Earlier sections have FHM which mean Front Header Matter - stuff which comes before the actual story.

But you, Bedazzled Author, can ignore everything in red. It's the stuff in green that matters. Notice the arcs joining face down. That means make it a single word. The arrow coming up underneath left means put a comma there. Have a look at CHAPTER ONE. The triple line under the leading letters means make them caps. The up-and-across lines over the rest of each word means make them lowercase.

Notice the word knelt. There's a tiny but discernible strike through the lt. The strike means what you think it means. The arc followed by eled means join the surviving kne to eled to form kneeled.

Now for the most important lesson in copyedit review that you, Dear Author, need to know. Allow me to introduce you to the word STET.

When I saw this abomination called kneeled I did what any right-thinking author would do: I whinged to my agent. Janet managed to stay calm in the face of my unutterably black ignorance, and told me of the magic word STET. The magic word undoes whatever the copyeditor had done. So my blue magic nullified the green magic, leaving behind only the original text.

There are piles of these interesting green marks. Here's another example:

The lines in the ellipsis mean make the dots evenly spaced. There are zillions of marks like that throughout and they're for the printers, not me. The underline beneath him means make it italics. Using italics in the text isn't sufficient, so again, Copyeditor has laboriously placed printer instructions all over the place.

The question in the box is interesting. Copyeditor wants to change the text, ever so slightly. The =b means print a dash and a small b instead of the B. Apparently the Chicago Manual of Style, which I have never read, calls for it here. But since this changes the text, Copyeditor asks nicely if this is okay with me.

Here's a final one with some lovely exotic marks. The 1 m combination means this is an em-dash. The upper arc means the whole string of characters is joined together. Note Copyeditor spotted the endquote was the wrong way round. OMG. What attention to detail!

The weird symbol through the dash on the second line means delete. The under-arc closes up, and the triple underline means capitalize. All according to the style manual.

There're piles more of this, but you get the idea.

Once I knew about STET, I began to do something stupid: I over-stetted. It took me a while to realize Copyeditor is right far more often than I am. Which is why when I sent back the ms there were lots of faint blue STETs which I'd rubbed out.

I think the basic rule is, Copyeditor is always right about formatting, almost always right about spelling, usually right about usage, and almost never right about word substitution.

A few times Copyeditor wanted to change a phrase. Usually the substitute suggestion damaged the prose rhythm. But equally, in each case Copyeditor had clearly found a phrase that wasn't working. In just about every case I crossed out Copyeditor's text, crossed out my own text, and wrote something else.

The page you see on top in the first picture is the style guide. This is the set of rules for formatting, grammar etc. Copyeditor has applied these rules across the entire ms.

The style guide rules are followed by any unusual words and a complete list of characters. There are 3 pages of style guide. In the top picture you see the rules and the beginning of the unusual words. (I blurred a few terms to avoid spoilers.)

There are 55 characters in my book. I know because Copyeditor counted every one. And listed the page on which each first appears. And listed every variant by which each character is known. Copyeditor found minor characters I'd forgotten even existed. When I went through the list I twice read names that caused me to say, "Who in Hades is that?" Then I turned to the page listed for first appearance and said, "Oh yes! I'd forgotten all about him!" (It may be a bad sign I can't remember characters in my own book, but believe me, when you're writing the third, cameo appearances in the first evaporate from the brain cells.)

I am simply amazed at what Copyeditor did for me.

Copyeditor has read every single word, every single punctuation mark, every single reference, and has made sure everything is right.

Copyeditor has saved me from some embarrassing errors:
  • At some point I must have used global replace to turn every "armour" into "amour". I obviously meant to turn armour from its UK spelling to the US spelling armor. Thank you Copyeditor for saving me from looking like a complete idiot.
  • There are 8 places where I totally failed to type a necessary word! As in, the word just wasn't there. OMG. Copyeditor saved me.
  • I wrote "ordnances" where it should have been "ordinances". I'm amazed Copyeditor spotted that one!
I could go on, but you get the idea.

The mechanics of reviewing a copyedit turn out to be simple, even if some of the decisions can be tricky, and it's sort of fun in a bizarre, perverse, masochistic kind of way. While I wouldn't recommend copyedits as a good way to relax, there's no question the copyeditor turns your book into a better book.

There is no way I could possibly have got through the copyedit review without lots of help from my good friends on twitter. The moment I saw the funny marks I was asking questions, and where my North American friends were particularly useful was in helping me with American usage. The nuances are quite amazing when you get into it. I want to save that for another post though, 'cause this one is already way too long, but I do want to say a massively huge THANK YOU to all the kind people who got me through this!

And there's another thank you to be made. I don't know who Copyeditor is, by the way. Editor Kathleen intermediates. I've asked to send on a thank you note because Copyeditor did an excellent job. If by any chance Copyeditor is reading this, thank you so much!

The Pericles Commission, on sale October 12

We have a title! We have a release date! We have an excited author!
Nicolaos, the ambitious son of a minor sculptor, walks the mean streets of Classical Athens as an agent for the promising young politician Pericles. His mission is to find the assassin of the statesman Ephialtes, the man who brought democracy to Athens. The killing has thrown the city into uproar. The steadily increasing number of dead witnesses isn't helping much either.

But amongst the murder, the mayhem and the desperate investigation, Nico faces two even tougher challenges: how to get closer to Diotima, the intelligent and annoyingly virgin priestess of Artemis, and how to shake off his irritating 12 year old brother Socrates.

The official title of my first book is The Pericles Commission, appearing in a bookstore near you on October 12.


This story really happened, though not, perhaps, precisely as it appears in the book. There really was an Ephialtes. He really did create the world’s first democracy. He really was murdered days later.

The murder was never solved. Until now!

Autocorrect is your friend

Wow, after the massive response to my last post I'm getting the hint that Word tips are interesting. So here's another.

There's a feature in Word called autocorrect, which does what it says. If you type teh it auto-magically changes it to the. This saves lots of backspacing and retyping. You can find it on the menu under Tools -> Autocorrect Options. Autocorrect is on by default so you probably already know about it. But did you know you can add your own autocorrections?

You can distort autocorrect to do two things very useful for writers.

You can use autocorrect to make typing character names faster. My hero and heroine are Nicolaos and Diotima. After about 23 revisions of two books, I can type their names blindfold, in my sleep, with both hands tied behind my back. I have other characters with names like Pericles, Xanthippus, Themistocles and Sophroniscus. They're all real and fascinating people from the Golden Age of Greece!

So I've added these autocorrections:

N autocorrects to Nicolaos.
D autocorrects to Diotima.
P autocorrects to Pericles.
X autocorrects to Xanthippus.
thm autocorrects to Themistocles.
S autocorrects to Sophroniscus.

If I type:

"N, I want you and D to carry this secret message to X," P said.

Then what comes out is

"Nicolaos, I want you and Diotima to carry this secret message to Xanthippus," Pericles said.

That's 29 keystrokes saved, which frees up more time to spend playing with twitter and facebook.

You can add your own autocorrections by going to Tools -> Autocorrect Options. Type your N in the textbox labelled Replace, and your Nicolaos in the textbox labelled With. Then click Add. The entire list of autocorrections, including the defaults, are in the list at the bottom of the dialog.

The other use I put autocorrect to is to catch my noise words. Everyone has them. I tend to overuse the word just. To stop myself I put in this autocorrection:

just autocorrects to NO! NO! NO!

If I type:

"I'll just wander over to the Agora," N said.

What appears is:

"I'll NO! NO! NO! wander over to the Agora," Nicolaos said.

If you're wondering how I manage to write just when I actually mean it, jsut is set to autocorrect to just. So I have to deliberately misspell the word to get it in, which makes me think first.

Advanced searching in Microsoft Word

Writers are not always the most technical of people, and fair enough, but there's one techie thing worth learning about because it makes global editing easier, and that's regular expressions.

Let's say - to pick a random example, not that this would ever happen to me - that your dear agent thinks you have too many verbs of the form was ---ing. Was walking, was looking, was defenestrating, and so on. How to find them?

You can read through the whole ms. Which will take forever. Or you can search for was. This will cut the search time and you won't miss any, but you'll have to check 100 times more was words than you want. You might think to search for "ing ". Because you can have spaces in searches. But like searching for was, there'll be a lot of wasted time.

Or you can click Use wildcards on the find dialog (you need to click More to find it) and write a regular expression. They work like this:

* matches any number of characters

If you click Use wildcards and search for was *ing then that matches was followed by a space, followed by any number of characters, followed by ing. So was looking matches but was crooked doesn't.

You might think that would find everything we want, and indeed it will, but it will also match text like "The fence was crooked but John wasn't looking". The text in red matches because the * matches any sequence of characters, including spaces. We want something slightly trickier. We want to match was followed by a space, followed by and number of text characters ending in ing.

[a-z] matches any one character from a to z.

You can follow this by a @ to mean one or more of the characters between square brackets. So

[a-z]@matches one or more characters between a and z.

What if the first letter of the word after was is a capital? Not a problem, you can have more than one range inside the square brackets.

[a-z,A-Z]@matches one or more alphabet characters, big or small.

So a search string of was [a-z,A-Z]@ing will do the job beautifully. If you're totally paranoid about there being a weird character in the present participle (beats me why, but still...) then you can do this instead:

[!a-z] means any one character except a to z. The ! means match the opposite. So

[! ] matches any character except a space. If you can't see it, I typed a space between the ! and the ].

So a search string of was [! ]@ing is what I'm using to weed the excessive present particples out of my manuscript. It might seem like a lot of effort to work this out, but believe me, it's heaps faster than checking every was within 90,000 words.

There are more wildcards than these. They're all listed on the Special button in the search dialog, so you don't have to remember them all.