How to Save Your Manuscript
Before It Leaves Your Laptop:
An Interview with Cindy Hochman
by Ann Cefola
Cindy Hochman peers over a manuscript. On the first page, she has already discovered a typo, a punctuation error, and a malaprop. She feels a wave of satisfaction, tinged with a frisson of irritability. Hochman is in the business of saving writers from careless errors that will discredit their work with agents, publishers—and readers. A poet herself, this proofreader knows that writers get only one chance to make a favorable impression.
A fixture in the New York City poetry community, Hochman is the author of Habeas Corpus (Glass Lyre Press, 2015); editor-in-chief of the online poetry journal First Literary Review-East; and a book reviewer for The Pedestal, Home Planet News, great weather for MEDIA, and New Mirage Journal.
Part defender of the English language and part comedienne, the Brooklyn-based Hochman reveals here what trips up writers, and why she worries about the future of our lexicon.
AC: What kinds of manuscripts do you proofread?
CH: Generally, I read anything. That includes novels, novellas, short stories, essays, term papers, full-length poetry books, and poetry chapbooks, which are usually between 25 and 40 pages.
AC: Are most of the manuscripts you proofread already accepted for publication, or about to be circulated to agents?
CH: In the case of novels, not surprisingly, most are seeking a home and most writers are seeking an agent. Often, a client will ask if I can provide leads. This involves doing quite a bit of Internet research and poring over resources such as the Writer’s Market. I like this type of legwork, and it saves the writer time so that they can concentrate on the writing itself.
Poetry collections are a bit easier. Sometimes, by the time I get the manuscript, the book/chapbook has already been accepted by a small press. At that point, my job is to make sure the entire manuscript, including—and especially—the bios and blurbs, is error-free before it is printed. Oh, the pressure!
Some manuscripts are works in progress and some are actually slated for self-publication from the outset. Walt Whitman self-published most of his work, and it’s a perfectly legitimate way to gain exposure. One task that I particularly relish is helping poets find suitable forums for their chapbooks. Through my own experience as a poet, I have become familiar with many poetry journals and small press publishers, and I am pretty good at steering a poet toward a publisher who might be interested in their work, but always with the proviso that I cannot guarantee publication—I can only keep my fingers crossed for them.
AC: When it comes to poetry manuscripts, how do you go about getting them ready for submission or publication, and why is it important?
CH: You’d be surprised how many “moving parts” are involved in preparing even the slimmest chapbook for submission and/or publication. First I do a close reading of every poem—every word and every line—in order to eliminate any typos and spelling errors. Although I am mindful that many poets purposely do not use a lot of punctuation, I do suggest commas, semicolons, and even em dashes, where they will clarify or make a line more powerful.
Many clients also request help with sequencing. Poetry books can often benefit from careful attention to sequence, especially full-length books, which can run to over 100 pages. A logical order and flow will enhance one’s enjoyment of the poetry.
In addition, I always match the Table of Contents against the actual poems. It sounds trivial, but sometimes a poet will change a title and not remember to change the Table of Contents as well.
AC: Is it sometimes awkward suggesting an edit to a poem?
CH: There is a fine balance between good grammar and poetic license. Sometimes a line can be read different ways depending on the comma. I often have to ask poets what was intended because sometimes they do want that ambiguity, and I respect that.
I have been told that I am “sensitive to nuance,” and I try to bring this quality to my proofreading. English is full of subtleties, and it is especially important to capture these nuances. If a poet decides to revise a poem, even to make minor changes, I re-proof it in case an error has somehow crept in while I was on my coffee break.
AC: And you proof the entire manuscript from start to finish?
CH: Yes. I check blurbs, author bio, and acknowledgments, which are usually added last, and often overlooked. It’s amazing how many misspellings of names and book titles can be found in a short blurb or bio. In their zeal to write glowing testimonials, blurbists—which my computer does not consider a legitimate word—can be careless with punctuation or word usage. I wrote a blurb once where I used the phrase homes in on, but the publisher changed it to hones in on, which means something entirely different. People often confuse word usage. Recently I encountered a grammar blog that used the phrase one in the same. The correct expression is one and the same.
Since the poetry genre is much maligned to begin with, poets have an obligation not to compound this lack of respect by presenting shoddy work.
AC: What is the value of a literary proofreader vs. a traditional one?
CH: If you have a toothache, you go to a dentist rather than a podiatrist, right? So, if you have a literary manuscript, it makes sense to hire someone who specializes in all things literary. While most proofreaders can competently correct the spelling, punctuation, and grammar, a literary proofreader may bring a creative bent or more of an outside-the-box mindset than someone who mainly proofreads scientific theses.
AC: Do you recommend a thorough proofreading early on, or only after a manuscript is complete?
CH: It’s perfectly fine to proofread early on, but even more crucial when a manuscript is closer to a final version. If a manuscript is proofread too early, there is the pitfall of thinking oh, this has already been carefully scanned. If numerous changes are subsequently made, you are bound to miss something. For a long novel in revision, I prefer to proofread when it’s a final draft. It’s all too easy to make typos when you tweak sentences and paragraphs; invariably, you get an extra word, a missing word, or a spacing error.
AC: So many books these days have really embarrassing errors. Would you recommend hiring an independent proofreader before a book is published?
CH: I am absolutely in favor of doing so. The very fact that, as you’ve pointed out, “many books these days have really embarrassing errors,” is proof that the publishing business has relaxed its standards. I was once told that publishing houses expect about an 80% accuracy rate from their proofreaders. I truly believe that it is possible to produce an error-free book, and 100% accuracy should always be the goal.
AC: Do the big publishing houses have proofreaders anymore?
CH: Having never worked in a publishing house, much less a big publishing house, I am not all that familiar with their practices. As a proofreader, though, I have become much more aware of missing punctuation marks, misspellings, and factual errors, even in best-selling novels. I chuckle whenever a well-known author thanks his or her meticulous editor, who has, unfortunately, left an egregious error or two on the acknowledgments page on which they are being thanked.
In every field these days, there seems to be an emphasis on quantity rather than quality, and we are seeing evidence of this not just in literature but on billboards, in commercials, and even in textbooks. I am not being facetious when I say that part of my mission is to clean it all up.
How many proofs would you recommend in the life cycle of a manuscript?
CH: Ideally, a manuscript should be scoured until there is not a single error in it. After a proofreader makes corrections, and after those corrections have been input, the new version should be proofread. This way, it can be viewed as a whole, and both the proofreader and the author can make sure they are satisfied with the final product. I admit that there are times I rethink a correction and suggest a new change, sometimes even changing it back to the way it originally was (in proofreading lingo, the word is stet).
So, before a manuscript is even accepted for publication, it should be proofread at least twice. If it does get accepted by a publisher, in most cases there will be at least one galley proof, and maybe more, and it is very important to do a careful reading of this galley proof because something can get lost in the typesetting process.
AC: What are the most common mistakes you see?
CH: Oh, it runs the gamut. The simplest are typos—sometimes the word the is missing its “t,” and that one is easy to bypass since he is a perfectly good word. Some of the most intelligent people I know are not good spellers, and spelling errors stand out most in a book. I always check names, especially foreign ones. Two names that I’ve frequently seen misspelled are Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keeffe, which is often misspelled as O’Keefe. Homonyms are also misspelled a lot; for instance, too, to, and two.
People always misspell callus (that hard thing you get on your hands and feet) as callous, which means insensitive. A lot of the spelling errors I see are the same ones that are found on SAT tests: affect vs. effect, altogether vs. all together, and a while vs. awhile, which is a particularly tricky one, even for a proofreader. A while is a length of time, and is a noun, while awhile is an adverb and it means a short period of time. Usually, if the word for precedes it, you use a while, not awhile (but you can stay awhile).
Sometimes people use the wrong expression or idiom; for example, writing should of or could of instead of should have or could have, and even conflating them, such as on the same token, which seems to be a combination of by the same token and on the other hand.
AC: What punctuation is problematic?
CH: Punctuation can be difficult to finesse. Most writers use the ellipsis and em dash prodigiously, but don’t format them properly. There are two ways to do the ellipsis: either three dots together or three dots with a space between them; however, in both cases, there should also be a space between the words and the dots on both sides. Also, some people use the four-dot ellipsis; that is, putting a period next to the word and then three more dots. But I don’t want to confuse anyone. . . .
Hyphens can present a problem when forming adjectival phrases. Hyphenating certain phrases makes it clear which words should be read together. A minor point, perhaps, but the lack of a hyphen can leave the reader baffled. Consider the phrase man-eating alligator, which makes sense with the hyphen. Without the hyphen—man eating alligator—you’ll have a devil of a time trying to figure out who is eating whom.
A very common mistake involves possessives and plurals. People use it’s, the contraction meaning it is, when they ought to use the possessive (its).
AC: Is there anything else writers miss?
CH: Another common error involves brand names and corporations. Interestingly, I recently learned, and have imparted to others, that Walmart is spelled as one word for the actual store, but when you hyphenate it (Wal-Mart), it refers to the corporate entity. So, if you’re just shopping there, don’t put in the hyphen, but if you are writing to them, the hyphen is correct. Of course, you can avoid the whole conundrum by going to Costco.
Writers should also pay attention to acronyms. For instance, IKEA should be spelled in capital letters because it’s an acronym for four names in Swedish (please don’t make me spell them). Believe it or not, the “zip” in ZIP code is all capital letters—it stands for Zone Improvement Plan. And whether or not you like pigs or geckos, GEICO is all caps too, because it stands for Government Employees Insurance Company.
Now you know!
AC: What should authors double-check prior to handing off the manuscript to a proofreader?
CH: Make sure you have sent the proofreader the most updated version of your manuscript. Always double-check names and places, especially obscure ones. Alert the proofreader to anything in the manuscript that may potentially be confusing. Of course, it’s up to the writer to fact-check historical dates and locations, but, yes, I catch these things, because I’m sure that Columbus did not sail the ocean blue in 1942.
Never put a copyright mark on your work; it implies that you think the publisher will steal it. The copyright symbol is always added when your book is published.
In general, try to prepare a fairly polished manuscript instead of relying solely on the proofreader. It’s always a team effort.
AC: Is there any style or punctuation that varies among publishers?
CH: Most small press publishers print the books exactly as submitted because their modest budgets don’t allow for any substantive proofreading or editing, so it is up to the writer to make sure the manuscript is in good shape.
That being said, all publishers appreciate well-edited work; good grammar and spelling are always in style. Some publishing houses do have their own style guides that must be adhered to, but in many cases, work is being published without careful scrutiny.
AC: What format is required for prose manuscripts (font size/type, line spacing, chapter format, etc.)?
CH: Writers can’t go wrong using 12-point Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier. Typically, serifs, rather than non-serifs, are preferred. Use double-spacing. Use black ink (you wouldn’t use pink ink when writing a business letter, would you?) Use default margins, one inch on all sides. Most novels have justified margins, so this is something I suggest to the novelist right off the bat.
I have noticed that many novelists have learned a rule that the first paragraph of a chapter should not be indented, but many publishers actually prefer indented first paragraphs. This, of course, is a stylistic preference and will not be a deal-breaker in terms of acceptance.
No matter what, where, or to whom you are submitting, it’s always a good idea to study the submission guidelines first.
AC: What about poetry manuscripts? Have you had to proofread experimental poetry?
CH: I’m a big fan of experimental poetry. One of my longtime clients, Heller Levinson, who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, invented, and has written extensively about, a theory of experimental poetics (“Hinge Theory”). While the theory itself is quite intricate, it translates into poems that are brief, accessible, and in my opinion, delightful.
When dealing with experimental poetry, a proofreader has to open her mind and look the other way, since an experimental poet’s raison d’être is to defy convention. But even if I suspect that the poet “meant it that way,” I usually point out anything that looks off-kilter, just in case it really is an error.
AC: Do most authors stick with quotations when writing dialogue, or can it be more free-flow?
CH: For the most part, writers seem comfortable with traditional dialogue. However, I often see mistakes in formatting with regard to dialogue tags, i.e., he said or she said. If a character speaks a line and then there’s a dialogue tag, in most cases a period should follow the dialogue tag. Some writers continue the sentence with more dialogue, and that is incorrect. And, if there is more than one speaker, each one should get their own paragraph in order to differentiate between them.
I am seeing some free-flowing dialogue, though, especially in flashback scenes — and from people who happen to be reading a lot of Kerouac.
AC: What punctuation, if any, is flexible?
CH: Flexible? These days, most punctuation is flexible enough to do Pilates, but that’s not flexibility; it’s laziness. In many cases, the comma is optional, especially the serial comma. For the record, I prefer the serial comma (also called the Harvard comma or the Oxford comma). Leaving it out sometimes makes the last two items in a list seem joined, and that can lead to confusion. The comma is a small mark that gives me big agita.
Although, in American English, the preferred way of quoting is to use double quotation marks, with single quotation marks used for quotes within a quote, the other way around is permissible, as long as you are consistent. The British do it that way, so if you are going to do it that way, please put on your Union Jack T-shirt and some Beatles music. Tally-ho!
Editing vs. proofreading
AC: Do you ever make more global editorial suggestions beyond immediate corrections?
CH: Oh, absolutely. Many clients request more substantive changes. When a client asks a specific question about a line, a paragraph, or a poem ending, I use some creativity to help smooth out the rough edges. I might suggest changing the tense of an opening chapter, or discarding poems that don’t flow well, or deleting a stanza, or even changing the title of a poem.
I am never insulted if a client decides not to go with my suggestions. I’m thrilled, actually, when a client says they agree with one edit but not another, because that means they are fully engaged in the proofing process, as it should be. There is a tendency to just agree with what the editor says because they’re the expert and they must be right. I make it clear that if they asked four other editors, there would be disagreement among all of them. This is why I like working with sophisticated writers who trust themselves just as much as they trust me.
AC: What’s the line you cross when you go from proofing to editing?
CH: Some people call me their proofreader; some people call me their copyeditor; and some people call me their editor. I answer to all three; however, there are distinctions. A proofreader’s role is to check grammar, spelling, and punctuation. A copyeditor checks for inconsistencies in the storyline, points out awkward phrasing, or reverses the syntax of a sentence. An editor does radical surgery, often deleting large passages or rewriting text.
Most of the work I do falls under the rubric of copyediting. Fixing the “mechanics” comprises the bulk of my job, but I often make suggestions that will, hopefully, make the manuscript stronger.
AC: What do you recommend that writers do to tidy up language in a draft manuscript?
CH: Pare down sentences to get rid of redundancies. Many of my margin notes say “use either this word or that word, not both.” In real estate, the mantra is location, location, location; in editing, it is clarity, clarity, clarity. If I have to read a sentence more than once, then it most likely needs something. (Pepper? Tabasco sauce? No—probably just better punctuation.)
Most editors advise the writer to avoid clichés, but sometimes a cliché actually works. My theory is that if writers avoid clichés long enough, they are no longer clichés, and you’re free to use them again. It all depends on the context.
AC: What reference books do you rely upon: The Chicago Manual of Style, MLA, or AP Style Guide, etc.?
CH: I have a particular fondness for The Chicago Manual of Style because it was the first guide that was suggested to me. I agree with Chicago most of the time, whereas I don’t always agree with the others. I also like the fact that Chicago is humble enough to reverse itself from edition to edition, always giving a plausible explanation for the change.
AC: Do publishers generally stick with Chicago? What’s the major difference between Chicago and other style guides?
CH: Chicago seems to be the gold standard. MLA is an excellent resource for scholarly papers, which usually include a lot of citations, and AP is most often used in journalism. A good proofreader should avail herself of any and all of them; if for no other reason than to note the differences.
On days when I don’t feel like lugging a heavy book, I go to the venerable The Elements of Style (Strunk & White). While there are, of course, updated versions, reading the older, stodgier ones is a fun exercise in nostalgia.
AC: What online reference sites do you depend upon?
CH: In cyberspace, you can end up frustrated trying to get a consistent answer to even the simplest question about punctuation. Lately, I’ve been using Grammar Girl, the very cool nickname of Mignon Fogarty, who gleefully dispenses good advice on this topic. With a name that sounds like filet mignon, you have to assume she is “a cut above,” and she usually is, although I have been known to quibble with a few of her examples.
A Google search on a particular grammar or spelling topic can unleash a host of online sources, and, ironically, many contain misspellings and faulty information. One blog suggested using hyphens for numerical ranges, which is incorrect — numerical ranges require an en dash. Another blogger uses the term m-dash, when the correct spelling is em dash.
Sometimes a British grammar site will pop up, and that can be totally confusing. And, while we’re on this subject, I feel it’s my patriotic duty to point out that when you are writing for an American audience, you should use American spellings. I am forever changing Acknowledgements to Acknowledgments and grey to gray, although poets seem to prefer grey (all 50 shades). When I’m in a good mood, I’ll let that one slide, because it does have a certain poetic elegance. Just be consistent in the spelling throughout the manuscript, and no one gets hurt.
AC: Do you use online dictionaries?
CH: I probably use online dictionaries more than I should. Believe it or not, they are not always accurate and, depending on which one you use, they can differ in their spellings. I do have the big, fat print version of Merriam-Webster right by my work desk, and I use it when the online dictionaries have put me in a daze.
AC: Do you see some traditional punctuation going out of style, or any other language trends evolving?
CH: Unfortunately, I’m seeing most punctuation not only “going out of style” but going the way of the dodo bird. I often wonder whether my old-school style of proofreading has just fallen behind the times, or whether writers and publishers have gotten lax. When I pick up a best-selling novel, I am appalled by the paucity of punctuation. There is a notable lack of commas after introductory phrases, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I see a long-winded sentence with nary a comma in it. A lot of words that used to be hyphenated are now spelled as one word, but that may be the natural evolution of language, so I’m trying to just go with the flow.
AC: Do you feel social media will eventually abbreviate language?
CH: At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, let me answer that question with a brief poem of mine.
PROOFREADER’S LAMENT (in 4 words)
English. Language. Hell. Handbasket.
Social media has already decapitated the English language. Even I find myself typing OMG — as in, OMG, I can’t believe I’ve succumbed to these inane abbreviations, too. In all fairness, some people are just lousy typists; others are trying to thumbs-up 50 of their friends’ posts; and most of us are trying to get in a few e-mails (yes, the dictionary still hyphenates e-mail) before the boss notices that we are goofing off, so there are perfectly acceptable reasons for the ungrammatical swill that passes for communication these days.
AC: Do you see any trends in what people are choosing to write about?
CH: Yes. In both poetry and prose, a lot of writers are leaning toward memoir. I have seen a number of gut-wrenching personal stories and poems that deal with marital discord, abuse, illness, and dysfunctional family dynamics. Loss and loneliness are always relevant, and people are also tackling violence, war, economics, injustice, and other political, societal, and global issues. In the same vein, I see a lot of philosophical, spiritual, and religious work that tries to make sense of the precarious state of the world — and the planet.
Secrets of successful writers
AC: You work closely with successful authors. What practices, attitudes, or behaviors help them achieve their goals?
CH: First off, we need to define the word successful. To date, I’ve never edited a book for Stephen King or Anne Rice. In the world I inhabit, success is defined as producing a body of work the author can be proud of, which may receive critical acclaim or a prize, and which, most importantly, takes risks. Discipline, perseverance, and not being afraid to put your work out there are the keys to this type of success. You’d be surprised how many terrific writers there are whose work remains hidden in a drawer. I have cajoled several of them to start dipping their toes in the literary water, and some have actually listened to me.
AC: Is there anything you see in a budding author that will surely work against him or her?
CH: I often work with people who have been toiling over their manuscript for ten years or more. That, in and of itself, is a sign that the author is serious about their craft. As far as things that can work against an author, it would be the exact opposite — someone who sends out a sloppy first draft and assumes it will be published. While having confidence is healthy, if it spills over into unrealistic expectations, or even worse, arrogance, the writer is going to be sorely disillusioned.
There is also the it’s who you know factor. The literary field, as is true of most fields, is not immune to politics and cronyism, and this threatens the quality of the work that is being promoted.
What it takes to be a proofreader
AC: What qualities are required to be a good proofreader?
CH: To be a good proofreader, you have to be an excellent speller and a good grammarian, and be able to correct punctuation in a single bound. To be a great proofreader, you also need to be detail-oriented, in the sense of “seeing the big picture.” Now, to be a world-class proofreader, you have to have good instincts about all phases of the English language, a lot of patience (mostly with yourself), a passion for words, and the ability to play well with others.
When you work with a client, it helps to be excited about what he/she is writing and what their ultimate goals are, and you have to be able to communicate with them so as to avoid misunderstandings — or, put another way, both you and the writer have to be on the same page. It is best to let the client determine what tasks they want you to accomplish; I always appreciate that guidance.
AC: So, proofreading is a very personal collaboration?
CH: A proofreading project is a two-way relationship that involves mutual respect and trust. Within their writing, you are made privy to a person’s innermost thoughts, and you should never lose sight of that great honor. My M.O. is to always go that extra mile for the client, whether it means doing some research to learn a bit more about the subject, or sending them information/articles/poems that might be of interest, or just encouraging them to plow on.
I had one client who was ready to chuck his full-length book of unique sonnets into the round file. With a little nudging, he not only finished the book but got it published. This is probably the most gratifying part of my work — going from cheerleader to midwife. I am always pleased when a writer tells me they have learned from me, and it most assuredly works both ways — I am perpetually in awe of my clients’ knowledge, skill, ambition, and talent.
AC: How do you keep from getting caught up in a narrative — and keep the focus on the visuals before you?
CH: The first thing I do is read the manuscript “as a reader would.” I read for content and to familiarize myself with the voice and the theme. I read it to see if it holds my interest. While I’m doing this initial read, I can’t help but make mental notes of what I will have to fix and how much editing it will require. Mostly, though, I just read it.
After that, I am ready to proofread it. This can be a labor-intensive process, but I try to work with small chunks at a time so that it’s not overwhelming.
When the writer makes the corrections, once again I read it, with an eye toward content and to determine whether I am happy with my corrections.
AC: How do you find your clients?
CH: Being a New Yorker, I suppose I have the option of running through the subway cars yelling, “Does anyone here need a good proofreader?” No, no, thankfully, it hasn’t come to that; my methods for drumming up business are a bit more low-key.
I am lucky to have a built-in clientele thanks to my involvement in the poetry community. In my capacity as editor of an online poetry journal, I tend to correct people’s submissions, and that has sometimes led to my being hired for proofreading projects. (Of course, it has also sometimes led to my being called unspeakable names.)
I have some wonderful and generous editor friends who have advertised my services in their newsletters, in their magazines, and on their blogs.
In addition, I always hand out business cards at poetry readings; I wear a bright yellow button that says “Proofreader Chick”; and I post weekly proofreading tips on Facebook, which people seem to enjoy. Since I am in constant contact with many prolific poets and writers, I enjoy a lot of repeat business. One of my favorite ways to acquire a new client is via referral from an old client, because that means I have a satisfied customer out there. You might say that my job involves both words—and word of mouth.
Your literary background
AC: You’re also a poet, journal editor, and book reviewer. How does being immersed in the New York City literary scene help you as a proofreader?
CH: There is a tremendous overlap of all these roles. Being active on the literary scene is stimulating and fulfilling, and that transfers to my work. Although New York is my home base, my poetry has been published in Canada and Turkey; I am on the book review staff of an online journal based in the South; and my own poetry journal gets global submissions, so there is a vast network out there. As someone who spent years in a non-literary day job, it is an absolute blessing that the things I do now for both business and pleasure are so intricately linked to the literary realm.
And it is a bit ironic, perhaps, that after a day spent proofreading, and a night spent at a poetry reading, I come home and do what? Read a book, of course!
AC: Was there ever an instance that challenged or stretched your proofreading skills?
CH: Every project presents new challenges. One of the biggest challenges is tailoring my methods so that I can be less perfectionistic — and avoid ending up in a padded room somewhere. I continually have to remind myself that I can do a top-notch job without obsessing over every word and comma.
Honing my innate skills, trusting my own instincts, not imposing false deadlines on myself, and having faith in my ability to polish up a manuscript are constant challenges, but that’s what makes my job — and my life — interesting.
AC: What was your first proofreading job, and what intrigued you about the experience?
CH: My prior career as a legal transcriptionist was excellent preparation for proofreading, since the lawyers had high standards and expected the transcribed documents to be spelled and punctuated properly. My instinctual knowledge of the English language helped me succeed in this field. Once the lawyers became aware of my facility with grammar and spelling, they would have me proofread, and even edit, their work.
When I was seriously contemplating hanging out my shingle as a full-time freelance proofreader, I took on a few full-length poetry books, and it became apparent that I did have a flair for this, so I accepted more and more projects. I enjoy the diversity of the people I work with, as well as the exposure to various genres and themes. But, by far, it is the finished product that gratifies me the most — my shelf runneth over with books and chapbooks that I had a hand in, and that’s when I feel that I am, in some small way, contributing to the literary canon. The beauty of all of this is that I am constantly learning.
AC: And here’s your surprise question. In the 1946 film “Ball of Fire,” Barbara Stanwyck plays a gangster’s moll who hides out at an institute dedicated to tracking the evolution of language. Gary Cooper, a repressed professor who falls for her, records in a tiny notebook her and others’ jive talk for posterity. Is “Ball of Fire” one of your favorite movies?
CH: Ha! You know, Ann, before you asked me this question, I had no idea this movie existed. But, being a proofreader, I am in the business of correcting things, so I immediately got myself a copy of the film, and now I’m able to give you a cogent and detailed analysis of it.
It was freakin’ hilarious!
AC: On that note, what is the funniest typo you’ve ever seen?
CH: Oh, I have a great example that goes back to my warning about the acknowledgments page. Being a history buff, I read a lot of books pertaining to the Civil War. In one particular book, and it happened to be a very good book, the acknowledgments page thanked the author’s copyeditor, “who saved me from embarrassing errors and reigned me in when I got wordy.” That author should not only have been reined in, but his proofreader should also have checked that page. Well, at least the book did not mention the reign in Spain.
There is an attorney here in New York whose TV promotion flashes a sign that says “you maybe entitled to a cash award.” Having worked with attorneys myself, I can tell you that most lawyers try to use more decisive words than maybe when dealing with prospective clients, so maybe I would have changed “maybe” to “may be.”
I also saw an advertisement on Pandora, of all places, for a used car dealer who promises a discount “if you mention this add.” This just goes to show you that these errors can really—ahem—ad up.
About the editor:
Cindy Hochman provides free consultations, and you can reach her business, “100 Proof” Copyediting Services, by e-mailing .
About the interviewer:
Ann Cefola is a poet and translator, whose most recent book is Face Painting in the Dark (Dos Madres Press, 2014).