December 28, 2012

Copyediting by Kindle: Firing Up New Editing Tools

The Kindle Fire offers several useful features for proofreading and copyediting, from simple convenience to searches with the mere touch of a word.

Amazon's free Kindle Previewer software for e-books is indispensable as it shows you what a book will look like on different devices (Kindles, the iPad, the iPhone, etc.). But it is not efficient for proofreading and copyediting.

The Kindle Fire, it turns out, is. I recently tried the device for proofing and regret using Kindle Reader software for copyediting in the past. 

To begin with, you have the simple convenience of an e-reader, that is, things like mobility and custom type sizing.

You draw far fewer stares when you sit in a public place (say, a doctor's office waiting room or a park bench) and read on a Kindle—as opposed to taking out a large print manuscript, red pens, and a pair of reading glasses.

And while the notion of abandoning control over typeface and font size, as publishers must do with e-books, is detestable, in the proofreading stage suddenly that's OK, at least if you're middle-aged and becoming near-sighted. (The prospect of proofing a large print manuscript last year prompted me to go out and buy my first-ever pair of reading glasses.)

Far greater conveniences come from the search capabilities of the Kindle Fire (and other tablets). The advent of the CD-ROM and online dictionaries meant people could type words and zip right to their definitions, even from multiple sources, in the process leaving their shelves of print dictionaries to gather dust.

E-readers go a step further, providing definitions with a simple touch of a word.
A dictionary search,
Kindle Fire

On the Kindle Fire, touching a word automatically pulls up a definition from the New Oxford American English Dictionary, as well as a choice to do an additional search on the Web or on Wikipedia. With at least some words, the Web search will lead you to other dictionaries, such as Merriam Webster's online site.

Another choice when touching words is the ability to highlight and add notes, or when proofreading, corrections. You can also highlight phrases and sections of text (in my case adding such notes as "completely rewrite; what are you, crazy?").

My immediate plan for the recent book was to do just a final proofing, and so to look only for typos and mistakes. But I quickly found myself making notes to change whole sentences (meaning I now have to go back and start over, so there is a downside here).

Then comes the scary part of any edit: having to go back and type in the changes, a task that is irritatingly tedious.

Sorting through and making the changes with the Kindle Reader software for PCs was far from efficient, but the Kindle Fire made the job easy. Simply browse through the pages to find highlighted words, touch a tiny icon in the top-right corner, and the note pops up.

Kindle Fire word search in
a particular book.
You can also search an entire manuscript to find every instance of a word, and then scroll through the results, which are highlighted in yellow and presented with whole sentences for context.

And one area in which e-readers and tablets will change the future is the ability to provide links, to websites, to music, to video and more. The textbook of tomorrow is going to be highly interactive, as are many other types of books.

And just as with Web pages, these links must be tested, since a bad link is as embarrassing as a typo. And when you test them, you get to enjoy the wonders of this new medium (even if it's just pulling up a publisher website from the copyright page of a novel).

Also, let's not forget the extras, like the ability to play MP3s (so editors can listen to blues; "Nobody knows . . ."), and with the new Kindle Fire, a front-facing camera that can capture for eternity those timeless expressions when we discover major typos (such as a major sports website adding steaming video, instead of streaming, though the steaming video might actually sell better).

All of this is not to say hard copy editing is dead. But it is beginning to smell funnier and  funnier. And glasses are required.

By John Sailors
(c) 2012, by Story Crest Press

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