We all know that authors get all the love and fame for the books they publish, but the reality is that they couldn’t possibly reach the heights they do without some considerable help from behind the scenes. Indeed, just writing the book itself is only a part of the battle as it needs to be proofread, refined and edited time and time again before it can become something suitable for the market.
Authors can have their day in the spotlight thanks to people like Mark Schultz who prefer to stay behind the curtain and work from the sidelines. Mark is the President and main driving force at Wordrefiner.com , a company that has been in the proofreading and editing business for over forty years now.
He’s done this for most of his life and is a legitimate expert in the field, and he graciously accepted to do the following email interview with us, discussing the work he does as well as his relation to literature in a more general sense.
Q: The online editing business isn’t the direction most writers initially aspire to take, so what path led you to becoming President at Word Refiner? Did anything in particular inspire you?
A: It was a natural development from my love of reading. I have never been a writer, in fact, my attempts at creative writing didn’t win me any awards or even great grades in high school. But I have always loved to read! I learned to read before I entered 1st grade, I inherited a love of books from my mother, she inspired me to read widely. It wasn’t until college that I learned I had a talent for finding misspelled words. After the advent of computers I thought I was washed up as a proofreader. It didn’t take long to realize that my talent was needed more than ever. Between homophones and typographical errors, there was plenty of work for me to do. Now I find spelling errors in 95% of the published books I read. I read a lot, around 45 books a year. That is a very high number and I am not counting the proofreading work I am doing.
Q: It’s somewhat obvious, at least where your site is concerned, that you have had a long love affair with the English language. How did it start?
A: I do love the English language, its complexities and subtleties never cease to amaze me. Shakespeare was an early inspiration, his deft use and light touch with language fascinated me, once I got around the slightly archaic construction my eyes were opened to a whole new world!
Q: What fascinated and still fascinates you about it?
A: I am learning new words and combinations all the time, I have no fear of running out of words. The other day I heard a snippet of a conversation in a tv show, “salubrious morass” stuck in my ears and really gave me quite a tickle! I laughed out loud and savored the phrase in my mouth.
Q: If you could trade your knowledge in English for another language, which one would it be?
A: I would not trade my knowledge of English for another language. But I do wish to learn other languages, including Spanish, Russian, Japanese, and maybe Chinese.
Q: Have you considered writing and publishing your own books?
A: I do not feel a novel trying to break out of my heart. I do know that if I attempted to write a novel, I would likely get lost in the planning, plotting and research. I am such a news and information junkie. In my high school days I was known to easily spend an hour in a dictionary or several hours browsing encyclopedias for fun.
Q: If not why, and if yes when can we expect to see something on the shelves?
A: I am thinking of writing a booklet about how I have achieved my growth on Twitter. I average over 300 new followers each week. But it probably won’t get written until I retire from construction. It will be something I give away on my website most likely.
Q: Had you taken the author’s road decades ago, what kinds of stories do you believe you’d be primarily known for?
A: Probably sci-fi. That is my favorite genre to read.
Q: Is there any genre or theme that fascinates you in particular?
A: I find the concept of time travel to be most interesting.
Q: Who are the most memorable authors you’ve had the pleasure of working for/with?
A: This is a great question! My favorite author at the moment is Tegon Maus. He writes sci-fi and he makes me laugh! I love to laugh! He is a really good writer in my estimation. Two of Tegon’s books that I love are “Bob” and “My Grandfather’s Pants”. I have reviewed both of these books and others by Tegon on my website. I have to add another author I have completed two projects for recently, Diane Munier. I have proofed two books for her, “Deep In The Heart of Me” and “Darnay Road”. Both books will be reviewed by the end of February 2017 on my website. She writes in first person and does it extremely well. I love her writing, it is so intimate and powerful!
Q: Over the years you must have had the pleasure of editing some truly ridiculous and nonsensical manuscripts, are there any stories you’d like to share in that regard?
A: I won’t mention any names this time. There was one book that was submitted for a book review, not even proofreading. I loved the concept in the book. The author said it was ready to publish. But I quickly soured on the reading because I found 12 – 20 errors on every page. I could not finish the story, it was too painful. I suggested they seek an editor, because it was far more than just spelling errors. I did not hear from that author again.
Q: On average, how much does an aspiring author’s text need to be edited before becoming presentable?
A: I tell authors to write many drafts, use beta readers, read difficult passages aloud, have it edited at least once, and when the rewriting is all done, that is when I can provide the greatest value to an author. I know my strengths and the refining process takes a beautiful jewel and helps to make it really shine! Getting rid of the homonym and typographical errors goes a long way, but I also look for plot holes and difficult passages, anything that interrupts the pure pleasure of a great read.
Q: How big of a part does editing and refining play in getting a book published?
A: Both are very important! I am not an editor in the strict sense. I do provide a few of the functions of an editor though. If a book is not well written, if errors and head-hopping stop a reader in their tracks, eventually they will close the book and move on because the thrill is gone. To really entertain a book needs to be smooth and consistent in many ways.
Q: Based on all the work you’ve done over the years, what advice would you give to aspiring writers looking to perfect their penmanship and finally get published?
A: Write that first book, make it as good as you can. Get all the help you can. Then give it away and see if anybody likes it. Take every negative comment very seriously. Use all of it to make the next book that much better. Do not expect to make any money on the first book.
Q: Are there any mistakes or tired tropes you can’t stop running into?
A: I see so many common homophone errors all the time, there and their are quite frequent, Many misuse “it’s” and “its”, they think the first is the possessive form. “From” and “form” is another common one.
Q: Is there are type of work you prefer to edit over all others? If so, why?
A: While my favorite is sci-fi and fantasy, I am happy to have branched out. I love cozy mysteries, some of those are very well written. I enjoy historical fiction and have been pleased in reading rom-coms. The only thing I shy away from are books with explicit sex or torture scenes.
Q: Who are your favorite authors and why? What kind of impact did their literature have on your life?
A: Isaac Asimov amazed me with his prodigious output. Heinlein, Bradbury, and others kept me entertained when I was a kid. JRR Tolkien really grabbed me in high school, I read the trilogy three times before graduation from high school, I loved the struggle between good and evil. CS Lewis is another personal longtime favorite, especially his sci-fi trilogy: “Perelandria”.
Q: With the advent of digitalization the world of literature is rapidly changing, with online editing and self-publishing now being very real and feasible concepts; what do you see for the future of book editing, especially in terms of traditional vs. new methods?
A: I have not seen software that can deal with context the way our minds can. Context makes all the difference, consider my favorite homophones: rite, write, right, and wright. All pronounced exactly the same, yet have very different meanings. The word right can be used as an adjective, adverb, noun, verb, and has an exclamatory form as well as serving a specific function in baseball.
People complain the English language is so complex and they are right! I am not worried about being replaced by a computer or lines of code anytime soon; at least until we can all have a super computer on our desk.
There will always be people who want to do their own editing, and others who see the value of a pair of fresh eyes. That is what I offer as the typo-buster and hyperspeller. You can learn more at my website: wordrefiner.com.