Frequently Asked Editing Questions
By Evan Braun
With years of working with authors and publishing clients come a plethora of important questions, and here on the Word Alive Press blog we explore these questions on a regular basis. Today, instead of focusing on a single point, I’d like to write about some of the most common questions that get asked. Buckle up!
1. “Do I need to ask someone’s permission to include them in the acknowledgements/dedication of my book?”
The short answer: no. As with most things, there may be exceptions to this rule. For the most part, however, the people you want to acknowledge are bound to be people with whom you have a good relationship, otherwise you’re unlikely to be acknowledging them in the first place. These people will probably be all too pleased to find their names in print. But if you think permission is warranted, sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry.
2. “Do I need to ask someone’s permission to include their story in my book?”
The short answer: yes. Generally speaking, if you’re going to write about your relationship with another individual, it’s a good idea to give them some notice. This is dependent on the content of the story and your relationship with the individual. If the story you want to include is positive and generally complimentary, it isn’t likely to be a problem. If the story is more critical, you’ll need to take more care. Even if someone doesn’t want you to write about them, that doesn’t mean you can’t, but you’ll want to take the precaution of changing or withholding details that will identify them—names, where they live, etc.
Also bear in mind that we’re mostly talking about non-fiction here. Fiction writers are bound to mine stories from their personal lives, and the details of those stories are usually sufficiently disguised anyway.
3. “How much of someone else’s material can I quote before needing to ask for permission?”
The short answer: very little. In Canada, we have the “fair dealing/fair use” exception written into our copyright laws. This allows writers to quote other authors in small amounts for the purpose of research, private study, criticism, review, and news reporting. Quoting articles, books, websites, etc. usually constitutes research. Generally, use as little as possible: a sentence or two, no more than a paragraph. If you’re quoting from a book and want to use multiple pages, you’ll need to ask the copyright holder for permission. If you’re quoting more than 25% of an article, ask permission. Fair use definitely doesn’t allow you to cover the entirety of a work.
4. “Can I quote song lyrics in my book?”
The short answer: no. For a number of reasons, song lyrics are very sticky from a legal standpoint. So leave out song lyrics wherever possible. If it’s absolutely essential to include song lyrics, you’ll need to approach the copyright holder—but be prepared to incur licensing fees and face time delays.
5. “How long must a writer keep interview notes and research material used for a book once the book has been published?”
The short answer: forever, except for the hard copies. The majority of research these days exists online and therefore doesn’t have an expiry date; it will more or less exist indefinitely in the great storage bin in the cloud, free from the clutter of our office filing cabinets. Of course, some research materials are collected by authors personally. For instance, interview transcripts. I’ve personally had ghost-writing projects where I collected lots of interview notes and transcripts. I have long ago destroyed the hard copies (I kept them for a year or two), but digital backups still exist. I don’t plan on ever consciously getting rid of them.
6. “What is the best form of emphasis in writing?”
The short answer: keep it simple. For example, should you use italics or or bolded text or ALL-CAPS or some combination of the aforementioned (such as )? At Word Alive Press, our style guide suggests sticking to italics, and I think that is excellent advice. An even more important rule is to use restraint. If you find yourself using emphasis on every page of your book, it’s too much. For that matter, if you’re using it more than two or three times per chapter, that’s also probably too much. To summarize: be consistent with a single form of emphasis (such as italics), and use the absolute smallest amount possible.
7. “Should I capitalize pronouns when they refer to God?”
The short answer: it’s up to you! This is what we refer to as the deity pronoun, and many Christian authors swear by it. But only about half of English Bible translations capitalize the deity pronoun, so it’s not a hard and fast rule. The key is to be consistent: either capitalize it always or capitalize it never. Personally, I don’t capitalize it, but this doesn’t mean that I don’t have respect for God. Far from it. I think that the more special capitalization you introduce into a manuscript, the more difficult it is to read—which is why I advocate for capitalizing the usual proper nouns and very little else.
8. “Should I use one space after a period or two?”
The short answer: one. If you learned how to type prior to about 1995 or so, you probably learned to include two spaces after every period. There was a good reason for this, which goes back to the prevalence of monospaced fonts. (Monospaced fonts mean that every character takes up exactly the same amount of width on a line, whether it’s a “w” or an “i.”) A good example of a monospaced font is Courier. Indeed, it’s much easier to recognize the end of a sentence if you double-space monospaced fonts. However, these days almost all printed fonts are proportional, meaning that the width of each character widely varies. A good example of a proportional font is Times New Roman. Research shows that double-spacing proportional fonts actually makes it harder to read. Which is why you will almost never see those pesky double spaces anymore. So it may be a difficult habit to overcome, but no, you shouldn’t be hitting the spacebar twice after each period. Once will suffice.
About this Contributor:
Evan Braun is a full-time author and editor. He has authored three novels, the first of which, The Book of Creation, was shortlisted in two categories at the 2012 Word Awards. He has released two sequels, The City of Darkness (2013) and The Law of Radiance (2015), completing the series. As a professional editor, Braun has seven years of experience working with Word Alive Press authors. He is also a regular contributor at The Fictorians, a popular writing blog.