Why you should stop buying books

Blog, On reading

About a year ago, my six-year-old son jumped on my Kindle and it died, never to be resurrected.

I figured that with a bookshelf creaking under the weight of real books, I would survive the loss, but I couldn’t let it go and eventually bought myself the Kindle Paperwhite. My sanity was restored.

Being an editor, books are my business and though I love the smell and feel of a real book, I do love my Kindle. Please allow me to explain:

Not only is the Kindle really user-friendly (its designers have thought about everything from how to make it look just like printed words on a page to its nifty size), there are also these five amazing benefits of reading on Kindle.  

1. Everything is at the touch of a button

  • I can highlight passages and take notes without feeling guilty about defacing my books.
  • I can see ‘popular highlights’ to know which passages other people thought were important
  • I can bookmark my spot and ‘dog-ear’ pages I want to come back to. I need never worry about losing my bookmark or my place.
  • I can easily search the whole book for a word, phrase or even character name (this last one is particularly helpful when I can’t remember when a character was first introduced – think epic historical novel!).
  • And my absolute best: I can look up the definition of a word with a simple tap. No more reaching for that heavy dictionary.

    2. A library on the go

These days when I go on holiday, I never have to worry about adding any weight to my luggage; the Kindle’s handy size makes it perfect for tucking into my handbag on the way out the door. And best of all, I don’t even have to first pick my holiday read – I have a library at my fingertips. 

3. Free classics

And on that note, there are so many books to choose from. There are literally thousands of popular classics that are free to download. The Great Gatsby? Jane Eyre? Mine for free at the touch of a button.

4. Read your own documents

This is an important one for me. The Kindle allows me to read my own files on my device. This is so helpful to me as an editor when I’m reviewing a manuscript. Reading it on Kindle and experiencing the text the way a real reader would, helps me catch errors and get a real feel for the quality of the text.

5. Perfect for night owls

And at the end of the day, when I climb into bed with some pleasure reading, I can rest assured that the side-lit screen and e-ink interface won’t affect the quality of my sleep. Best of all, when my husband turns out the light and I want to finish a chapter, I can … and the next one and the one after that … 

I promise you this is not a plug for Amazon and I do still love the books on my shelf. But it’s time to embrace the future people – go on … buy one already!


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance non-fiction editor

I help non-fiction publishers deliver award-winning content. I am an internationally qualified non-fiction editor with 11 years’ publishing experience, specialising in education, lifestyle and literacy.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

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Long live the book festival

Blog, On reading

For the past thremonths or so I’ve been working behind the scenes on one of the new literary festivals on the block – the Jewish Literary Festival – which takes place this Sunday (17 June) at the Gardens Community Centre.  

When asked to volunteer my skills to make this event possible, I jumped at the chance. Why? Because I’m a shameless bibliophile and because the thought of attending (and more especially being involved in the creation of) an all-day event dedicated solely to the love of books is my idea of heaven. It’s the same impulse that guides me away from my errands at the mall and into the nearest bookshop, where I’ll lose myself for hours in the solitary and intimate pastime of flicking through the stories that capture my imagination and deeply inhaling the smell of fresh paper that puffs up from their pages.

So what is it that makes book festivals draw such crowds? And why does a team of unpaid volunteers sign up to put on such an event with no reward other than the pure joy of seeing others flock to author signings, new book launches and panels of writers gathering to discuss how their stories and ideas intersect?

My guess is that it’s the appeal of that rare opportunity of face-to-face interaction between readers and writers. For so many authors, solitude is their way of being in the world and for the hungry reader, this makes book festivals all the more thrilling. At these events, authors are willing to show up and speak about their craft and we as readers get to glimpse the magician who conjures up lives and stories from words. We want to be able to know how they do what they do and we want them to know that they’ve touched us with their stories.

“I loved your book,” we gush at the signing table; it hardly conveys the depth of our appreciation for their words. But I guess it’s the reason why they do what they do and why we merely flock to the places they gather.

Some of the authors you can look forward to interacting with at the festival on Sunday are Rahla Xenopoulos, Gail Schimmel, Stephanie Urdang, Lyndall Gordon, Joanne Jowell, Mark Winkler, Mandy Wiener, Damon Galgut and Rachel Zadok.

See you there!


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance non-fiction editor

I help non-fiction publishers deliver award-winning content. I am an internationally qualified non-fiction editor with 11 years’ publishing experience, specialising in education, lifestyle and literacy.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

Let’s Connect

If you liked this post and you’re passionate about publishing, let’s schedule a meeting to discuss the industry.

Three things I miss about working in an office

Blog, On freelancing

 

A while back I wrote about why working in an office is not my cup of tea. And it had it more to do with my shameless addiction to a good cuppa than anything else. For me, the pros of freelancing from home far outweigh the cons, but for the record, here are the top three things I miss about sharing a workspace.

1. Adult conversation on tap

Let’s be honest: working from home can be lonely. And the lack of water cooler moments I enjoyed in the office becomes painfully apparent when I step outside the house and try to engage supermarket cashiers in in-depth conversations. *Cringe*

I remember laughing a lot when I worked in an office. Someone always had a joke to share and there was always plenty of office banter. Now that it’s just me and I have to rely on the odd social media meme to tickle my funny bone, it’s not quite the same.

2. Closing the door on the workday

I used to love the feeling I got when I left the office building at  5pm. There was great satisfaction in knowing that I had accomplished all I could for the day and that the rest could wait till tomorrow. Not so now. The lines between work and home are so blurred these days that I feel like I’m always on the job. Work… home…it’s hard to draw the boundary.

3. The IT Department

Ah. The good old IT department. When the internet went down, or the printer needed ink, there was someone to call and it wasn’t my problem anymore. At home, it’s always my problem. Which means I can lose hours or even days having my laptop repaired or without an internet connection. I may be the boss, but as a freelancer, I’m also the IT guy, the courier, and the PA.

 

Having said all this though, I can think of many reasons why I love working from home and being my own boss, not least of all the freedom and flexibility that the freelance life affords, and the fact that I get to choose who I work with – my awesome clients.

 


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance content writer and editor

I help traditional and digital publishers deliver engaging and informative content that resonates with their readers. Internationally qualified writer and editor with 13 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

Let’s Connect

If you’re a freelancer like me, and you’re passionate about publishing, let’s schedule a meeting to discuss the industry.

 

The most stolen library books of all time?

Blog, On reading


As we celebrate South African Library Week (19–25 March), I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on some interesting facts about libraries around the world.

To start, you’re probably wondering what the answer is to my question. Here it is, along with other interesting facts about libraries here and abroad.

The most stolen library book in the world is the Bible, closely followed by The Guinness Book of World Records.

The South African Public Library in Cape Town, now known as the National Library of South Africa (Cape Town) was the first library in South Africa, established in 1818 by Lord Charles Somerset, Governor of the Cape Colony at the time.

The oldest library still in operation in the world is St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai, Egypt. It was built in the middle of the 6th century.

The largest library is the Library of Congress in Washington DC, with more than 160 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves. The smallest is a bright yellow plastic structure outside 32 Prince Street, New York City. It houses 40 books and has space for just one reader at a time.

According to Guinness World Records, the highest library is the library on the 60th floor of the JW Marriott Hotel at Tomorrow Square in Shanghai, China. It’s situated on the 60th floor, which is over 757 feet above street level.

And finally, the largest overdue fine for a library book was $345.14 (around R4,000). The book in question was a poetry book called Days and Deeds checked out of Kewanee Public Library, Illinois, USA in April 1955 by Emily Canellos-Simms. The book was 47 years overdue.

The good news for you though, is that if you take your overdue book back to your local library during South African Library Week, you’ll pay nothing, whether it’s one day or 47 years overdue!

For more information about libraries in your locale or about SA Library Week, visit the Library and Information Association of South Africa.


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance non-fiction editor

I help non-fiction publishers deliver award-winning content. I am an internationally qualified non-fiction editor with 11 years’ publishing experience, specialising in education, lifestyle and literacy.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

 

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If you liked this post and you’re passionate about publishing, let’s schedule a meeting to discuss the industry.

Word for today: Kanban

Blog, On language, On productivity

 

Those of you who’ve worked with me before will know that I’m a Trello evangelist: I must have my tasks visible at all times in order to see my workflow and I particularly love getting others in on the game. Trello is an app based on a productivity system called Kanban. Taking my process one step further, I recently read Kanban guru Jim Benson’s book, Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life. And so my word for today is, (drum roll please):

Kanban

/ˈkanban/

(n) A Japanese manufacturing system in which the supply of components is regulated through the use of an instruction card sent along the production line.

The word came into use in the 1950s  when Toyota began using an engineering process based on supermarket shelf-stocking techniques. The Toyota team had noticed that in supermarkets, grocery items were only restocked according to the shop’s inventory and not according to its vendors’ supply; only when an item was almost sold out, did shop clerks order more. This observation made Toyota engineers rethink their own processes and they pioneered a new system – Kanban – which aimed to match inventory with demand and achieve higher levels of quality.

Kanban, which literally means ‘billboard’ or  ‘sign’ in Japanese, allowed Toyota line-workers to visually manage their manufacturing process through the use of Kanban cards. This visual system allowed them to communicate better about the work that needed to be done and most importantly, it eliminated waste thus maximising value.

Essentially, Kanban is a visual system for managing work as it moves through a process. Its goal is to identify potential bottlenecks in work processes and to fix them so that work can flow through the system in a cost-effective and time-efficient way. Today, it’s become a major tool in software development processes, but I find it works just as well in the world of publishing.

Example sentence: Perhaps you’d like to use Kanban to help streamline your own workflow.


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance non-fiction editor

I help non-fiction publishers deliver award-winning content. I am an internationally qualified non-fiction editor with 11 years’ publishing experience, specialising in education, lifestyle and literacy.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

 

Let’s Connect

If you liked this post (or even if you didn’t) and you’re passionate about publishing, let’s schedule a meeting to discuss the industry.

 

 

 

5 things everyone can learn from Dr Seuss

Blog, On reading
Illustration by Steven McKimmie from open source children’s book, Little Ant’s Big Plan

Today would have been the 114th birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr Seuss.

For over three-quarters of a century, children have delighted in the colourful and whimsical stories of this prolific writer. My own children have enjoyed the satisfaction of reading their very first words in Hop on Pop, a book which displays Seuss’s amazing talent for teaching kids how to read.

Possibly the best thing about his books is that though they all have some kind of lesson or moral, these aren’t overtly spelled out, making them a pleasure for even adults to read.   

In honour of his birthday, I’ve created a list of five life lessons all kids can learn from his stories.

1. Learn to Read: Dr Seuss’s ABC

It’s a classic, which breaks from the traditional ‘a is for apple’ books. Like all his other books there’s a heap of nonsensical words, which make learning letter sounds fun for kids.

2. It’s Good to Try New Things: Green Eggs and Ham

As a parent, I know how picky children can be, especially when it comes to food. This book provides a great lesson for kids on trying something new. Kids will discover, just like Sam I Am, that when they try something new, they might actually like it!

3. We Must Protect the Environment: The Lorax

We’re reminded in this book of how important it is to reduce waste and to protect the environment. Though it’s a heartbreaking read, especially the part where the Lorax gets up and floats away, the story ends on a hopeful note. Kids are reminded that if they do their bit to protect our Earth, the Lorax and his friends might just come back.

4. We Should Live with Others in Peace: The Sneetches

After a race to try and be better than each other, both the Star-belly and the Plain-belly Sneetches realise that ‘Sneetches are Sneetches’ and that no kind of Sneetch is the best. It’s a valuable lesson for children to see that people are people regardless of their differences and that we can all live together in harmony.

5. Life is an Adventure: Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

I received this book as a gift for my 21st birthday. It inspired me then and it still sits on my bookshelf today. The story tells us that no matter how old we are, or where we are in our lives, there are always new things to see and do. It also touches on the reality that sometimes life can be hard, but that there is always something new to learn. Kids (and grownups) can take great joy in this – that life is an adventure and we get to make it so!

 


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance non-fiction editor

I help non-fiction publishers deliver award-winning content. I am an internationally qualified non-fiction editor with 11 years’ publishing experience, specialising in education, lifestyle and literacy.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

 

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If you’re passionate about children’s literacy and you enjoyed reading this post, please share it with your networks.  I’d also love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment below. 

The editor’s guide to cheese

Blog, On editing

You read that correctly. This is indeed a post about cheese. I thought it would be useful to capture in one place the correct spellings of 10 of the cheeses most commonly used  in recipe books. Why? Because when editing a recipe book, it’s good to know exactly how each cheese is spelt and whether it takes a capital letter or not. Here’s my by no means definitive list:

Cheeses named by regions take a capital letter

1. Brie (from Brie, a region of northern France)

2. Cheddar (from the English village of Cheddar in Somerset)

3. Camembert (from Camembert, Normandy in northern France)

4. Gouda (named after the Dutch city of Gouda)

5. Gruyère (named after the town of Gruyères in Switzerland)

6. Parmagiano-Reggiano or Parmesan (from the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia and  Bologna in Italy.  Parmagiano-Reggiano refers to Parmesan produced in Italy. The generic term Parmesan is used for cheeses produced elsewhere which are similar in flavour and production method.)

Cheeses named for their ingredients or production method take lower case

1. feta (from the Greek word, meaning ‘slice’)

2. mascarpone cheese (thought to have got its name from mascarpa, a milk product which is made from the whey of stracchino or short aged cheese. )

3. mozzarella (from a Neapolitan dialect,  it is the diminutive form of mozza meaning to ‘cut’)

4. pecorino (an Italian cheese made from sheep’s milk; the word derives from the Italian pecora, which means sheep.)

It’s worth noting though, that the Guardian and Observer Style Guide suggests spelling all cheeses using lower case even if they’re named after a place.

As always, whatever you choose, make sure to be consistent throughout the text.


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance non-fiction editor

I help non-fiction publishers deliver award-winning content using a creative and flawless approach to editing. Internationally qualified non-fiction editor with 11 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

 

Let’s Connect

If you liked this post (or even if you found it cheesy) and you’re passionate about publishing, let’s schedule a meeting to discuss the industry.

 

 

 

 

I made a Creative Commons kids book in 12 hours. Here’s why…

Blog, On reading

Illustrations by Karlien de Villiers

As an editor, one thing I know for sure about writing is that it takes time. So when I found myself writing a story for children at my first Book Dash event, I was taken completely out of my comfort zone.

Book Dash gathers writers, illustrators, book designers and editors in one room to produce print-ready children’s books in just 12 hours. Why? Because kids in South Africa desperately need books – good quality storybooks – and there’s no time to waste.

Literacy stats in South Africa are bleak – only 5% of parents in South Africa read to their children and 51% of households don’t own a single book!

Graça’s dream

My team’s book back then was about Graça Machel. From humble beginnings in Mozambique she went on to help her country gain independence and significantly raised its early childhood literacy levels in her first two years as Minister of Education and Culture. She was passionate about sharing her love of books and learning with her people and realised so many seemingly impossible dreams.

This story speaks to me on such a personal level – it’s the reason I volunteered to be part of Book Dash in the first place. South Africa’s own reading culture and literacy stats need to change; our children deserve to know the power of story and the pleasure of reading. It’s a worthy dream to have.

The challenge

So there I found myself in a room full of talented and committed strangers – people all working towards the same goal of getting quality storybooks into children’s hands.

Here’s what I learnt 12 (very short) hours later:

1. Making kids books is a collaborative process

In kids books, the visual elements need to have a fluid conversation with the words. Neither can be created in isolation. Producing a kids book is all about teamwork.

2. A time limit is a good way to keep focused 

There’s something about an almost impossible time limit for a task to motivate action. Write, illustrate and design a print-ready book in 12 hours – it sounds difficult, right? It was actually easy. It really was. There was no time for checking Facebook, email or smartphones or even engaging in small talk. The task at hand was our primary focus and there wasn’t a minute to spare.

3. Books connect us

I connected with some amazing people that day – this is the beauty of books. When we are in that intimate space with a book in our hands and we relate to the story being told and the voice that tells it, we get taken to a magical place, a place that can teach us something, that can inspire us. All of us in that room knew that space well and it’s what brought us together in the first place. We did what we did because children deserve to know this place too. We wanted to offer it to them, just like Graça did when she asked at the end of our story:

Here’s a book, my child, what will it inspire you to do?

 

This is what Book Dash is all about.

We all did something extraordinary there that day. We put aside our egos, our doubts and our own personal agendas and we gave everything else we had, to bring the joy of reading to our small people.

I’ve since participated in two other Book Dash Events and there are now a whopping 85 unique open source books available to hungry readers. It was worth it!

Read Graça’s Dream for free here.



Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance content writer and editor

I help traditional and digital publishers deliver engaging and informative content that resonates with their readers. Internationally qualified writer and editor with 13 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

 

Let’s Connect

If you’re passionate about children’s literacy and you enjoyed reading this post, please share it with your networks.  I’d also love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment below. 

 

Successful freelancing: all you need to know

Blog, On freelancing

Photo by Markus Spiske and used via Creative Commons.

Ask any freelancer and they’ll tell you the same thing: business can often be uncertain. There are times when we don’t know where our next client is coming from or what projects we’ll be working on a month from now. Regardless, there are good reasons why we choose this way of working and we can always take inspiration from others who have walked this path before and have wisdom to share with us.

Like author and comic book writer, Neil Gaiman, who celebrated his 57th birthday this month.

I love this advice from his 2012 commencement address at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He says:

“People keep working in a freelance world (and more and more of today’s world is freelance), because their work is good, because they are easy to get along with and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three! Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. People will forgive the lateness of your work if it is good and they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as everyone else if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.”

Watch the full video here.


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance non-fiction editor

I help non-fiction publishers deliver award-winning content using a creative and flawless approach to editing. Internationally qualified non-fiction editor with 11 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

 

Let’s Connect

If you’re a freelancer like me, and you’re passionate about publishing, let’s schedule a meeting to discuss the industry.

Why I hate Grammar Nazis

Blog, On language

The other day someone tagged me in one of those awful Grammar Nazi posts on Facebook. You know the kind I mean – a meme about the stupidity of people who don’t know their there’s from their theirs or some such.

I was highly offended. Because contrary to popular belief, an editor or a proofreader does not a Grammar Nazi make.

These pedants come in many guises – there’s the person who gleefully (and self-righteously) spots a typo in the restaurant menu or those who respond to your messages and Facebook posts by pointing out your incorrect use of who versus whom or too versus to.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the English language with all its nuances and exceptions to the rules and I get great satisfaction from helping publishers polish their copy, but that is precisely why I can’t bear Grammar Nazis.

So why as an editor do I not count myself among them? Because English is alive and always changing. What was supposedly an incorrect use of the language two decades ago may be perfectly passable now. As Harvard linguist Steven Pinker wrote in his book, The Sense of Style: “The rules of Standard English are not legislated by a tribunal of lexicographers but emerge as an implicit consensus within a virtual community of writers, readers, and editors.” 

So not only are Grammar Nazis highly annoying, but they’re often blatantly wrong. Their devotion to unchanging grammar and spelling is misplaced in a language like English, which is constantly changing.

And finally, there’s another thing about these pedants that really gets my goat. They’re downright arrogant – a word that comes from the Latin verb arrogare meaning to claim for oneself – which is not an option with something like the English language. No one person is its custodian, not even the world’s best lexicographers, as Pinker says. It’s a language in flux which belongs to us all.  


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance non-fiction editor

I help non-fiction publishers deliver award-winning content using a creative and flawless approach to editing. Internationally qualified non-fiction editor with 11 years’ publishing experience.

Email me: melissa.fagan@mfedit.com

 

Let’s Connect

If you liked this post (or even if you didn’t) and you’re passionate about publishing, let’s schedule a meeting to discuss the industry.