Amplifying a Book’s Effectiveness

© 2000 Naomi Karten,

Good Editing is far more than adjusting the punctuation. Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to experience expert editing, as I’ve worked closely with a Dorset House editor to finalize a book of essays by your hosts. It was more work than we expected, but the result has made the effort worth it.

I used to think editing consisted of the following:

If there are too many commas, delete some.

If there aren’t enough commas, add some.

As it turns out, I was wrong, at least as far as Dorset House editing is concerned. With my book, Managing Expectations, I was amazed at how my Dorset House editors helped me transform my fuzzy focus and meandering messages into Good Writing. And now, over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity again to experience expert editing, as I’ve worked closely with DH editor David McClintock to finalize Amplifying Your Effectiveness.

This book, a collection of essays by 17 consultants, grew out of our plan to create and host a conference by the same name, Amplifying Your Effectiveness (AYE), in Scottsdale, Arizona, November 6-8, 2000. Our goal is to help conference participants improve their personal, team, and organizational effectiveness. We designed the conference to be different from most others. For example:

All sessions are experiential so that participants can really learn from the experience, rather than just passively listening to "powerpointed" talking heads.

Every session will be led by two or more presenters who will interact in facilitating the session.

Most sessions will be two to three hours long to allow time to explore key issues in depth.

Our conference website ( features numerous articles by both conference hosts and registrants, as well as a wiki web accessible by registrants so that we can share ideas before the conference as well as afterwards.

Birth of a book

As part of this event, the 17 of us who are hosting the conference decided to publish a collection of essays based on our organizational experience, and to send it to conference registrants as our way of saying, Welcome, we’re delighted that you’re joining us at this exciting event. Dorset House liked our idea and agreed to become our publisher.

Jerry Weinberg, James Bach and I became the AYE editing team, one of many teams engaged in conference preparations. Our job was to nudge the others to send us their contribution and then to give them some assistance as they tweaked it. Then Dorset House took over and the Serious Editing began.

As the team member responsible for reviewing David McClintock’s proposed changes before he finalized them, I eagerly awaited his edited manuscript. Finally, it arrived. When I looked at it, my reaction was as follows: Gulp!!! Once I calmed down and took three or four hundred deep breaths, I realized that what I was looking at was Exceptional Editing.

A lesson in gulp management

What was it that initially appeared so gulp-inducing? To appreciate my answer, you must first understand how you learn to be an editor:

First you go to Hieroglyphic School, where they teach you a vast array of symbols to indicate changes that will improve a manuscript. Any connection between the symbol and its function is strictly coincidental. A number sign, for example, means add a space. A curlicue means delete the word-or phrase or paragraph, depending on the area encompassed by the curlicue.

Next, you gather a large supply of Editing Pencils. Unlike conventional pencils, these have points at both ends. See, editors have no need for erasers, because if they want to revise an existing suggestion, they use a symbol that means ignore what it says here and do this other thing instead.

Most importantly, you learn how to draw wavy lines and arrows. This skill is very important because there’s sometimes no room near the text being edited to describe the suggested change, so the editor must write it elsewhere on the page with connectors to the text it pertains to.

Now, perhaps, you can empathize with the fact that when I looked at the manuscript, what I saw was a half-billion or so suggested re-wordings. (I’m exaggerating — it was probably no more than a quarter-billion.) My task was to review these edits and for each, to indicate with a symbol of my own that I approved, disapproved or had a different suggested wording.

David and the Technicolor manuscript

Thus empowered, and with David’s request that I use colored markers for my responses, I selected an orange marker to indicate approval, green for disapproval and purple to suggest an alternate wording. The job proved to be highly orange. It quickly became apparent that the vast majority of changes David suggested would resolve ambiguities, improve readability, and clarify the author’s points.

I was impressed with how beautifully these proposed changes retained the author’s message and voice. With support like this, experienced consultants can become published authors, even if they might never have considered it possible.

Not having been certified by the School of Edito-Glyphics, I designed my own intricate system of curvaceous lines and arrows. By the time I was done, it was a very colorful manuscript indeed. I won’t say it wasn’t work, but David’s sense of humor and our steady stream of silly email messages kept me laughing and spared me from an advanced case of curlicue-itis.

As I reviewed the manuscript, I realized that you can’t examine editing of this kind without becoming a better writer. The transposition of words, the rearrangement of thoughts, or even just a slight adjustment to a phrase can dramatically improve the flow of ideas. Although seeing one’s words challenged is not always easy (I’m being kind here — it’s sometimes dreadfully difficult), I’ve learned a huge amount that will help me with my next book. And having, in my pre-Dorset House days, published with publishers who did no editing at all — or who took writing that was already pretty good and mucked it up — I certainly prefer this approach.

Opinions by Naomi

This book took more work than we expected, but the result has made the effort worth it. This collection is filled with sound ideas and solid advice that everyone who works in organizations can benefit from. Yes, I know this reaction is not entirely objective — the book has two of my own contributions, after all, and the other contributors are my friends — but it’s true nevertheless. As one of the early readers of the collection, I latched onto numerous ideas that I began to use immediately. I’m really proud of all of us for taking the time from our busy consulting and training schedules to create this collection.

The only thing that makes me nervous is that David is going to take his Editing Pencil to this article before publishing it. I’d better keep my orange marker handy.

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