Jason Hartman talks with professional book editor Barbara McNichol, and gives tips on several things such as grammar and spelling.
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Start of Interview with Barbara McNichol
Jason Hartman: It’s my pleasure to welcome Barbara McNichol to the show. She is the head of Barbara Mcnichol editorial. And she’s an expert non-fiction book editor. She did some work for me and grammar and punctuation seem like they’re these old stodgy ideas, things of the past. And it’s just terrible what people have done to the English language nowadays. So let’s see if we can get back on track and do a better job and make sure that our books, our eBooks, our business communications, our Emails are in good keeping with how they should be in terms of the language. So Barbara welcome, how are you?
Barbara McNichol: I’m terrific, thank you very much.
Jason Hartman: Well, it’s good to have you on the show today. So we have never covered this topic before and I think that it’s a topic that is sorely needed on the show and in general. So tell us a little bit about some of the big mistakes you see people making. I’m sure there are a lot of them, so we can cover many of them but take it where you want.
Barbara McNichol: Well, some of the big mistakes I’m finding have to do with people not really being clear when they sit down and begin to write whatever they need to write, whether it’s an Email, a proposal or a blog article. So my suggestion is before you write even word one, go through a bit of a planning process. I have a journalism background, a journalism degree, and we learned about the who, what, where, why, when and how piece. And I do actually have a suggestion for everybody before they sit down and write that high stakes sensitive Email. That is go through the ideas of your piece before you write the first word. So who? Who’s your target audience? Who will read this? What will you know about them? How will you be affected? What is the pain? What would be the message or the take away, including the call to action. The why piece would be the purpose or the benefit. Why do the readers need this information that you’re going to write about? What’s in it for them? Why should they care?
And then there may be logistical pieces of when and where. What needs to be spelled out? I guarantee that if it’s spelled out in the planning process, then it won’t get missed in the writing process.
And perhaps the most important is the how. What is the style and tone? How do you want your reader to hear you? Polite? Apologetic? Excited? Firm? Demanding? Laid back? What is the tone that you want to get across?
And I suggest doing this, taking five minutes to plan it out before you actually write it. And then after you’ve written the piece go back and, live dangerously; ask two people, ideally in your target audience, to give you feedback on what you’ve just written. Can they identify the who, what, why, where, when and how? If they have trouble with any one of those areas, that’s great information. You can go back and figure out what needs to be made more clear and more concise.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, very good point. And it’s surprising how we as authors don’t do that a lot, huh? We just sort of write something and we haven’t given that good thought as to what our audience is, our target, how they might perceive it in different ways. So, very good advice there. Well let’s drill down, Barbara, and talk about the actual mechanics. Maybe first starting with, what happened to the use of the English language? My god, I look at my Facebook feed and it seems like people’s shift keys aren’t working, that none of the punctuation keys are working, the difference between your and the you are version of your is completely a mystery nowadays. I mean, there and their, it’s just unbelievable.
Barbara McNichol: If you notice, we’re a society in a hurry. And we absolutely want to get things done quickly. We want to press that send button and move onto the next. And boy oh boy that can create lots of problems because if the writing isn’t clear, you can go back and forth, back and forth a lot of times. So really, a planning process like I suggested is helpful, but honestly slowing down and asking yourself before you press the send button, is what I say, what I intend to convey? Be extremely clear about that. If you hesitate at all go back and take another look. Because I think we’re in such a hurry, sloppiness gets through a lot.
Jason Hartman: So, mechanics. Drilling down. What are some of the big mistakes you see? I mean we talked about the broad idea of identifying your audience, very important obviously. Maybe not being in such a hurry, trying to really restrain the temptation to just put it out there and get it done because it reflects badly. What are some of the big mistakes you see over and over?
Barbara McNichol: Well I often see people use the wrong word. They do not match the word with the meaning. So they’re saying accept when they mean except and further when they mean farther. They don’t take time to really think that through. Or the word compliment can be spelled with an I or with an E. But it changes the meaning. And that one is wrong a lot. So becoming familiar with what I call word trippers is a really fabulous idea.
Jason Hartman: How many word trippers are there? Like, I mean I know there are a zillion of them. English is such a large expressive language. If we want to fix our word tripper problem, is it two dozen words maybe?
Barbara McNichol: Well, my gosh. I’ve been on a crusade for a lot of years. I’ve actually put together a book of 365 word trippers.
Jason Hartman: Oh my gosh, so one a day.
Barbara McNichol: These are not obscure ones. These are very common ones that I trip over when I’m editing people’s books. And I’m actually coming out with a second addition with even more. I know I will never run out, because again people can be very careless in their writing or they get it mixed up or it’s misused so often, they think it’s right when it’s not. So definitely paying attention to getting the right word at the right time is a passion of mine and hopefully people will pay attention to that.
Jason Hartman: So 365 word trippers. So this needs to become a one a day calendar type of thing.
Barbara McNichol: It could be and I need to set that up on my Facebook.
Jason Hartman: There’s a product idea for you.
Barbara McNichol: But I do have what I call word tripper of the week. It’s an Ezing that people sign up for. And every two weeks I send it out. Because I want to keep building the inventory but more than that I want to draw attention to all the ones that are still alive and well out there.
Jason Hartman: You talk about whacking wordiness. And wordiness makes the writing really cumbersome and hard to read, at least that’s my experience. How does one really reduce the wordiness of their content?
Barbara McNichol: Well I have some very specifics for you to answer that question. First of all, you want to eliminate extraneous phrases. Things like there is, and there will be. They just aren’t needed in a sentence. Here’s an example: There will be many residence who are planning to move. Better: Many residence will plan to move. You see how we don’t need those extra words? I have more: it’s all about, the fact of the matter is, the fact that, nine times out of ten you just don’t need those extra words in there. How about, in regards to? Or is going to? We say is going to a lot in the spoken word. We don’t need it in the written word. I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve changed that in somebody’s work. Is going to be a key asset; he will be a key asset will suffice. Or how about, the reason why is that, when a simple because will do? So quite often we are forced to write to a word count, and you can work real, real hard to get that 100 word summary for something. You can pair it down to maybe to 120 and just scratch your head saying, how do I do more? Well, you take a look at these extraneous phrases and pair it down, and pair it down, and pair it down and take them out.
Jason Hartman: And is there an estimate on how overly wordy things are commonly? What’s the usual reduction on the wordiness, I guess I might ask it that way. Is it a 20% reduction? Is it more? What are you finding?
Barbara McNichol: I’m finding in the manuscripts that I edit, I can guarantee that 10% will be chopped out without any problem just by doing these extraneous phrases and words like really, some, much, very, that, those are all wobbly words that don’t really add meaning and they kind of can confuse the matters as well. So minimum 10%. I think that the majority of the manuscripts I work on I can knock out 25-30%. Just because we’re more forgiving with the spoken word but the written word needs to be tighter and more concise.
Jason Hartman: it just flies in the face of a lot of goals out there for content publishers. They want to sell things by the pound. They are to make them bigger and longer and seemingly more valuable to the buyer of their product but that’s not always really the best plan, is it? I had Ken Blanchard on the show recently and of course you probably know his name from the one minute manager thing way back in the 70’s and he’s written several other books. And his books tend to be these very short books and I think that’s one of the big reasons for his success, is they just get to the point.
Barbara McNichol: You bet. A number of my clients will say, I want to write a book that somebody can read on one airplane ride. And that’s approximately 100 pages, so it’s short, quick, lots of bullet points, lots of scannable material, short chapters rather than long chapters, all of those factor into making it more readable, more quickly. And as you can see from the websites now, blog articles, we want to just be able to scan them, get the gist of them and move on. So it’s those kinds of techniques, lots of sub heads, bullet points, and summery points here and there that can really help move along an article, make it faster to read.
Jason Hartman: A lot of the stuff that I notice in the media and with very popular blogs are list oriented. And I think that’s generally a good idea but maybe it’s become a bit over kill now. What do you think about these lists? The 10 things, the 8 tips, the 13 worst experiences, whatever they are.
Barbara McNichol: I think they’re successful because number one, they’re tangible, and number two they have that curiosity factor. Somebody wants to know who’s in the top 10, or somebody wants to know the 6 better ways. Maybe they can guess 5 but they challenge them to figure out what the 6th one is. There is a real curiosity factor in doing those kinds of lists. And I think that people who analyze headlines find that they are pretty darn successful. Now overused? Perhaps. Maybe they are less imaginative, but honestly the people who go for practicality like those kinds of lists. And by the way, an odd number is better than an even number for lists.
Jason Hartman: Good, very interesting. So odd numbers are better. I know the mind thinks in 3’s, but usually a list is longer than 3 things, so 7. 7 habits of highly effective people, there’s a lot of 7’s out there too. So Barbara, you talk in one of your hand outs about how do you defend against Elance? And a lot of people hire copyrighters on the web, craigslist, Elance, these other websites like that. What are your thoughts about them?
Barbara McNichol: My thoughts are buyer beware. I have not had a lot of experience with it, although some of my clients have tried Elance and come back to me. And one of the things that’s happening out there, is that some of the people who have English as a second or third language are getting into the Elance world and my client in particular had a real bad experience. Okay, she only paid $300, but the woman in Argentina just didn’t get it when she edited her piece. So she came back to me. I like to say you pay for what you get, quality is important. And editing, quite frankly, is custom work. It’s helpful to get to know the client as well as the client’s work and objectives. And all those things come into the mix. If you just send a piece overseas and expect it back the next morning, it may or may not hit the mark. So I frankly don’t have a lot of experience with it, but I don’t endorse it, I really don’t.
Jason Hartman: So how does someone hire a good editor? It’s an amorphous thing. It’s not obvious who’s good and who’s not and even then, you mention people doing these jobs and that have English as a second or third language. Well people who have English as a first language can’t write properly.
Barbara McNichol: yes, we do run into that don’t we? For me it’s a practical thing. If people approach me and ask me to edit their piece, I will take time to do a minimum 3 page edit complimentary and I will edit thoroughly, I will show them the approach I’ll take to editing their work, they get to see the before and after and they get to compare. Did it really improve? How did it improve? Did she get what I meant? Does it feel right? Does it flow well? The 3 page sample edit is my secret weapon. I use that a lot because I think from my point of view, I get to understand and massage it and get a feel for what’s going on and so does the client. They get to see that I understand what’s going on too. So I would recommend anybody who’s hiring an editor to be sure to ask for a 3 page sample edit. It’s pretty standard, and it’s the one way that you can compare apples to apples when you’re comparing different editors.
Jason Hartman: And so the 3 page sample edit is a good way to vet them and is there any software that’s out there? For example, before someone comes to you, in order to save money, make the job quicker and maybe keep you from rolling your eyes too much as you’re editing, is there any software that one can use to at least take the first cut?
Barbara McNichol: Well perhaps that’s a good idea. I really don’t have experience with that, so honestly I can’t answer that. I am a bit old school and I just dig in and do a deep massage, whatever I’m doing. And work it and work it until I think it’s right.
Jason Hartman: And how do you charge for your services? Does someone just pay by the word or the project or the hour?
Barbara McNichol: I charge by number one, doing the sample edit and therefore defining the level of editing that’s required. And that in combination with the word count. So that I know if it’s kind of an average difficulty then I would charge an average price based on word count. If it was more difficult or less difficult then I would adjust accordingly. So I do a combination of that and that’s why the sample edit is so key in my process.
Jason Hartman: And so the sample edit is what helps you determine the price as well as your client determine if they want to use your services, right?
Barbara McNichol: That’s correct.
Jason Hartman: Okay so, we talked at the beginning about the who, what, why, when and where and the how parts. Are there any big broad ideas that you want people to take away from today’s discussion? Any other ones?
Barbara McNichol: I would just say again, slow down, be careful. Really understand that the written word is there permanently. And therefore make sure that you’re saying exactly what you want to say. There’s so much re-work if you’re sloppy about this, if you come back and don’t think it through. So my main piece of advice is be sure to say what you intend to convey. And do it as well as you possibly can.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, good advice. You talk a lot, Barbara, about Emails. And avoiding Email overwhelm and I think everybody listening faces this problem and I know I do. Any quick tips you can give on that?
Barbara McNichol: I think one of the big ones is one topic, one subject line. Probably you’ve received emails that have been forwarded 5, 10, 20 times. And whatever the subject line says, it has nothing to do with the first paragraph that you read. Maybe it does with the one at the very bottom, but you’re not going to take the time to do that. So my suggestion would be one topic, one subject line. If there’s a need to recap something that’s gone on in that big long forwarded Email, then simply take time to recap it so your reader is not having to work too hard. That’s the whole thing; people will not take a huge amount of time. If it looks tedious and hard to read, they move onto the next thing. So, and again, I think the subject line can be a big help to people. They can make it work harder than they do. And that would be, for example if you want somebody to attend a meeting, make sure you say, Bob’s office tomorrow 3pm, be there. Or even better, Bob’s office Tuesday, 3pm and the date, so that people can avoid taking time to actually having to open the Email if they’re part of an ongoing discussion. But that can help avoid Email overload simply because you deal with the matter much more quickly.
Jason Hartman: Good points. Barbara, give out your website. Tell people where they can find you.
Barbara McNichol: I’m at BarbaraMcNichol.com and I also have a blog, nonfictionbookeditor.com.
Jason Hartman: And you have a Facebook page as well that gives out some nice tips. So you can find that as well. And do you have a specific address for the Facebook or just Barbara McNichole ditorial?
Barbara McNichol: If you just type in Barbara McNichol or Barbara McNichol editorial, you will find me on Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter and Google+.
Jason Hartman: Good stuff, you’re on all the right places. Fantastic. Well, Barbara Mcnichol thank you so much for joining us today.
Barbara McNichol: Thank you so much and hopefully some people will come check me out on my website. I would love it.
Narrator: This show is produced by the Hartman Media Company, all rights reserved. For distribution or publication rights, and media interviews, please visit www.hartmanmedia.com or email [email protected] Nothing on this show should be considered personal or professional advice. Please consult an appropriate tax, legal, real estate or business professional for individualized advice. Opinions of guests are their own, and the host is acting on behalf of Platinum Properties Investor Network, Inc. exclusively.
Transcribed by Ralph
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