Inside Baseball

Some time ago Lorraine suggested we could offer readers occasional coverage in this space about what we do and how we do it. I admit I was of two minds about that idea, in part because of something that happened to me in the pre-LOAC days. I had an idea for some short story or other, a tale that would feature a writer as its protagonist, and I was sufficiently jazzed up about it to run the basic plot past one of my oldest, closest writer friends. His response was one simple, chilling line: “No one wants to read about writers.”

That reaction was like a dash of cold water straight to the face: my enthusiasm for the idea instantly vaporized. In my backbrain, at least, the idea that a writer (and editor’s) work is of no interest has stayed with me, which means I’m not sure any of you give a toss about what I do. Still, I am at least mature enough to admit Lorraine may be right and the visceral reaction I’ve long carried with me may be one hundred percent wrong. On that premise, here’s a peek under the hood at how the editing portion of the LOAC engine typically functions …

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It all starts with the manuscript. We take ’em however writers choose to prepare ’em. I still use the format guidelines editor George Scithers of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine would distribute back in the late 1970s for the cost of a self-addressed stamped envelope: double-spaced; serifed font; an inch margin all around the page; title, author’s name, and word count centered at the top of page one; author’s name/abbreviated title/page # in the upper right-hand corner of each page (a paperclip was expected to be in the upper-left corner, binding together the MS, back in those days when the IBM Selectric was king and Scithers was editing Asimov’s).  When the writer finishes his essay it’s delivered to Dean, who gets first-look, since he has to design the layout of the text pages. Dean makes suggestions and edits, then passes the MS along to me (if I’ve done the writing, he sends his mark-ups back to me).

I strive to deliver clean prose, and as the LOAC resident grammarian Dean doesn’t often pass grammar or spelling edits to me (though we occasionally do discuss phraseology, since some constructions are based on solid rules of English usage while others are matters of interpretation). The second set of eyes is always invaluable, though: when I strive to achieve a subtle effect Dean will make a quick remark if I’ve succeeded, or a longer one if he thinks I’ve failed. And some remarks, like this one to the MS for my essay for Steve Canyon Volume 7, offer an extra fact for me to consider in determining whether or not to rework a specific passage:

01_MS Markup

Dean’s mark-up in the right margin made me reconsider this brief passage in my essay for Steve Canyon Volume 7 …

 

02_Printed Result

… And here is the adjustment I made for the printed text (placed just to the right of this photo of Milton Caniff with the man who would become known as “Tricky Dick” Nixon).

If we’re editing another writer’s work, Dean gives it the first read, then passes the MS to me for comments, after which we go back to the writer for reaction and further input. All parties having weighed in, Dean then puts together the text section of the book and routes it to me, in PDF form, for final edits. Sometimes we catch simple typos that have escaped notice to this point, but sometimes I discover that a sentence or paragraph that looked just fine in MS form doesn’t accomplish its mission; as a result I rewrite it on the PDF. We’re also always on the hunt for overused words, as with this example from the PDF of my text from Li’l Abner Volume 7. We may swap one of the words for a synonym or, as in this case, do a recast of the sentence to make the use of one word in a short span of text less noticeable:

03_Galley Proofing

PDF edits to L’il Abner Volume 7. Adobe’s “sticky notes” feature is a wonderful thing!

Once Dean has made all the changes resulting from our edits and proofing, he sends the file to IDW, where their proofreaders give the essay a fresh going-over. When the proofreaders have worked their magic, the text section is complete and the book is quickly ready to ship to the printer.

When we started LOAC in 2007, Dean and I talked about how our essays should read. We both grew up admiring the William Shawn-edited New Yorker, where writers such as Pauline Kael and Roger Angell could be counted on to deliver sharp, clear, incisive reviews and observations in their regular features for that magazine. We are also both devotees of Strunk and White’s invaluable Elements of Style (I favor the Third Edition), and we bring many of their sensibilities to our books. We have an informal “style guide” that includes preferences such as:

[1] Italicize the name of a newspaper, not its town or city. That means we prefer St. Louis Post-Dispatch to St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

[2] Embrace the serial comma. Per the second of Strunk and White’s Elementary Rules of Usage, in lists of three or more items, we favor placing a comma after each listed item except the last. Yes, newspapers and several magazines have long omitted the last comma (known as the “serial comma”) — but those publications were originally designed to be read by on-the-go metropolitan commuters zipping rapidly from home to work and back again. Like most well-designed books, LOAC volumes are designed to be read at a more leisurely pace, so we employ the serial comma. Beyond pace, simple logic dictates the serial comma’s value. Think about it: the mental image of the last item called up by the list, “milk, cheese, bread and butter” is:

04_Bread and Butter

A very different mental image is conjured by the list: “milk, cheese, bread, and butter.” The bread and the butter are clearly meant to be considered as two separate items:

05A_Bread

05B_Butter

[3] Avoid informal, Internet-style constructions. I refer to this as “I/we/you/me”isms. The Internet, coupled with generations of students who have been taught to “write it the way you would say it,” has created an online style that is relaxed and conversational. This is fine in its place, but its place is often not in the text features in our books. While we’re acutely aware of our duty to entertain as well as inform, we believe we can do that and still keep a degree of formality to our text that reflects the amount of scholarship we have devoted to its content. After all, the language has evolved and surely will continue to evolve in decades to come, so adhering to long-standing, tried-and-true approaches seems the best way to insure that the typical LOAC book may in future years retain value as a resource for the next wave of comics scholars. Sentences containing constructions such as, “As we can plainly see in the August 22nd daily …” can easily be rewritten to eliminate the “we” reference; phrases like, “You’re in for a real treat when you see …” typically are better seen in our press releases and publicity features, not in our pages.

I used qualifiers in the paragraph above because we do have exceptions to this approach. Max Allan Collins’s regular Dick Tracy essay is informed by his unique perspective as the second-ever Tracy writer, the access he had to Chester Gould before that cartoonist’s 1985 passing, and by the sensibilities an author of his stature brings to the page. We’d be chumps not to welcome Max’s first-person observations on everyone’s favorite yellow-coated manhunter! We also take a more relaxed approach to several of our licensed titles since the audience for, say, Star Trek can be different than the audience for Little Orphan Annie and the information presented in the licensed series often has more of a “coverage of pop-culture” approach than a scholarly focus.

No one bats a thousand, including us, but we bring a lot of energy and attention to the text and special features that go into our books. Do readers notice? The longtime friend who cut down my short story idea so long ago would likely say, “No,” but all of us at LOAC care, and we like to think we’re not alone in that department.

If so — and if you’ve stayed with me through this entire posting — Lorraine will get to look at me and say, “Nyaaah, nyaaah!”

 

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