Friday, October 7, 2011

Get to know Neal Hock

As part of this interview series I wanted to talk to more than authors. I wanted to talk to book reviewers. I wanted to talk to editors. Well, Neal Hock is both. He's also another person I met through Twitter. Are you noticing a pattern here?  I think I got his name through Misty Baker, but I'm not sure. Take a few minutes and get to know Neal and what makes someone want to be an editor or book reviewer tick. 

On your blog you are a book reviewer, yet there's a link to your editing services on there also. So which came first, the editing or the reviewing? And is that one your first love?

Well, I guess it depends on your perspective. When I worked in the corporate world, I was the informal editor of performance reviews and business-related materials. However, I didn’t consider pursuing editing at that time. I started a book-review blog because I have a consuming passion for good books. So with regards to sharing my views on the Internet, the reviewing came first. As to what my first love is, I’d have to say I have a love of well-written, good stories. That’s my motivating passion for both editing and reviewing. However, real life has a way of funneling you in certain directions, and due to time constraints, my book reviewing is taking a backseat right now.

What makes someone decide that they want to review books?

A love for good stories. At least that’s what motivates me. I love the exhilaration I get when I finish a good story, and I can’t wait to find the next one.

What about editing? Were you the one weird kid in class who looked forward to diagramming sentences?

It’s funny, but I wasn’t that interested in grammar-related topics in school. Hell, I didn’t read a lot books throughout high school. I just didn’t get excited about The Scarlet Letter, The Good Earth, and The Great Gatsby. However, when I went to college, I had a professor for freshman English that encouraged us to discover modern authors, and from that moment on, my passion for interesting stories was ignited.

As to being a weird kid, I had my quirks. I’m probably a much weirder adult. My wife still gives me a strange look when I bring my Chicago Manual of Style to bed for bedtime reading.

Seriously, though, what kind of editing services do you provide? Do you work primarily with independent authors/self-publishers?

I provide proofreading, copyediting, and concept editing. The vast majority of my clients are independent authors, but I’ve also worked with publishers and websites.

What's the biggest error you find yourself correcting? Do you have a most infuriating mistake you find?

Wow, I’m not sure there is one that stands out. Each author has personal tendencies, so that kind of evens everything out. There are always wayward commas and misspelled or missing words. I guess the most common mistake I find across the board is missing hyphens in compound modifiers. I’ve never been infuriated when I find mistakes. It’s really quite the opposite, because mistakes mean I’ll continue to have work.

For years I did newspaper copy editing work. My favorite Associated Press style rule was for under way. It's two words except when it's used in a nautical sense. Do you have a favorite style or grammar rule? Please say you do. It will make me feel much less like a language loser.

Anyone who can appreciate such a nuance is not a language loser in my book. I’m a sucker for a hyphen in a compound modifier, and I love apostrophes of omission. When to use everyday and every day always gives me the warm fuzzies, too. See, now I look like the language dork.

Since you review books, it stands to reason that you've read a lot of them. What are three books that came across your desk that surprised you? And they don't need to be surprisingly good books. We all know that something can be unexpectedly bad.

Well, I’ll stick with the good. The whole point of my book-review site is to share good books. If I read something that I’m not crazy about, I usually just set it aside and keep my mouth shut. You know, the whole “if you can’t say something nice” thing. The biggest thing that has surprised me since I started reviewing books is the number of quality works being self-published. There are a lot of talented writers out there that are relatively unknown.

Three books that blew me away when I read them: As I Embrace My Jagged Edges by Lee Thompson, The Pack: Winter Kill by Mike Oliveri, and Identity Crisis by Debbi Mack.

I'm sure there are a few indie authors reading this. How can they contact you if they wanted to?

The website for my editing services is The website for my book-review site is An e-mail address to contact me directly is on each site.

Can you give us a recommended reading list? What books do we need to read if we haven't yet?

Sheesh, you’re trying to get me in trouble here. I’m afraid I might leave someone out. Here’s a few authors everybody needs to try: Guido Henkel, Stephen James Price, Debbi Mack, Mike Oliveri, Lee Thompson, Anthony Neil Smith, Scott Nicholson, R.E. McDermott, Willie Meikle, David T. Wilbanks, and Jeff Bennington.

What's the biggest piece of advice you have for authors as a reviewer? What about as an editor?

From a reviewer’s standpoint, I’d advise authors to not argue with a reviewer about the reviewer’s review. Especially if you solicited the reviewer. Recently I’ve seen a couple of authors say all kinds of things about reviews they didn’t agree with. If you get a review that’s bad, see what you can learn from it and then move on.

From an editor’s standpoint, I’d advise authors to always continue to learn more about their craft. Continue to put tools in your writer’s toolbox. If there are things that you struggle with, pinpoint them and try to improve. In this new digital age a writer can’t afford to put out a subpar product.


  1. Thanks for the time and blog space, Jarrett.


  2. My pleasure. Thanks for agreeing to do it.

  3. Neal, I noticed that you are a proponent of the serial or Oxford comma and so am I, although I heard that the Oxford Press recently dropped it, if I understand correctly. What is considered the final authority on a grammar issue when authorities differ?

  4. Hi, Brenda! Thanks for stopping by.

    I vaguely remember reading an article about that situation with Oxford Press, but there seems like there was a small twist to when the serial comma was being dropped (I could be totally wrong about that). As to what the "final" authority is, that all depends what style an author wants to follow. Most of the major style guides for book publishing recommend its use (although, journalistic publications tend not to use it). I advocate its use based on clarity, because when it's there, it clears up any possible ambiguity.

    I could say a lot more about it, but I'd just be showing how big of a nerd that I am. I haven't seen a compelling argument for leaving it out, but in the end, my personal final authority is my client's preference. If they want it, I make sure it's there. If they don't want it, I leave it out.

    I'm sure the ever-controversial Oxford comma would make a good blog post at my editing blog. :-)


  5. Neal is an excellent proofreader/editor. I can highly recommend him. He proofread one of my novels and went far beyond checking for typos and grammar. He found inconsistencies in plot and other issues I missed. Thanks, Neal!

  6. Hi, Christa! Thank you for stopping by and the kind words.


  7. Thank you so much, Neal. I like both the Elements of Style and the Chicago Manual of Style. I think the Oxford comma definitely clarifies a sentence. I need to learn to be a better grammar nerd, but I'm working on it. It's always great to see you, Christa.

  8. Great interview, Neal! Nice to get inside your head! And thanks a ton for the mention, dude!