Collective Nouns: The Rolling Stones

I recently copy edited a book on the Rolling Stones, and for any fellow editors and writers who run across a situation in which a collective noun appears plural on the page, I wanted to share my research and save you some trouble …

First things first: This research is only for users of the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS). Other style guides, including Associated Press (AP), do it differently.

Per CMS (edition 17, section 5.5), a collective noun “refers to a group or collection of people or things {a crowd of people} {a flock of birds} {a herd of rhinos}.”

Obviously, a band is a collective noun. It refers to a group of musicians.

Per CMS, collective nouns take singular verbs. For instance, “The crowd was rowdy” or “The flock is flying south,” not “The crowd were rowdy” or “The flock are flying south.”

Also, “The band is playing tonight.”

Here’s where it gets tricky …

The Rolling Stones is the name of a band—a collective noun. But “Stones” looks plural. So your first instinct will likely be to use a plural verb. If you’re working with CMS as your style guide, however, that instinct would be incorrect.

Per CMS 5.15, “Names of companies, institutions, and similar entities are generally treated as collective nouns—and hence singular in American English, even when they are plural in form {General Motors reports that it will earn a profit} {American Airlines has moved its headquarters} [italics added].”

This means that when you have a collective noun, you use a singular verb—even if the noun looks plural:

  • The Rolling Stones is one of the longest touring bands.
  • The Beastie Boys has won numerous awards.
  • The Beatles was on its way to America.

As you can see, it feels very strange to read/type singular verbs with a word ending in “s,” but if you’re working to align with CMS, this is the way to go.

Q. It grates on my ear to listen to the BBC (particularly sports) newscasts talk about countries in the plural form, e.g., “England are preparing for next week’s match.” Can this be correct? I only began noticing it a couple of years ago, and I seem to recall that the practice even extends to cities or team names (Bayern Munich are out of the playoffs . . .). Your assistance would be much appreciated. 

A. The British are much more likely to consider collectives in the plural rather than the singular. I first remember noticing this when reading about English rock bands back in the seventies (the Who are the loudest rock band in the world; Led Zeppelin, some say, have sold their souls). Fowler’s points out this difference between American and British usage at various points. In American English this usage has largely disappeared. (CMS online Q&A on “Usage and Grammar”)

Trusting Your Editor

When working with a client, I’m looking to create a collaboration, a joint effort, a partnership.

In short, I want to work with you, rather than for you.

This, of course, implies a level of trust, and I know that doesn’t come easily, especially if you’ve ever had a bad experience with another editor—or even no experience at all.

One simple way to build trust in your editor is to get an idea of their previous work experience, whether through their resume, references, or a list of other projects they’ve worked on. Do they turn in their work on time? Are they experienced in your project’s genre? Do they have a positive attitude? When you are able to verify that they know what they’re doing—and that people have good things to say about them—it can help calm your fears.

To build trust with your editor, be honest. From the beginning, you should let the editor know your timeline, your budget, your overall goal, and how hard you’re willing to work. Those should match the editor’s schedule, billing requirements, and skillset. The better the match, the better the outcome.

Finally, you can build trust between you and your editor by asking questions. I thrive when a client is eager to discuss ideas, put serious time into revisions, and/or ask about the changes I’m suggesting. All of those things show me how excited the client is, which in turn makes me excited!

Starting any new relationship can be scary, but working with a good editor should lift you up, make you believe in your work, and ultimately help you tackle the project at hand with confidence.

Quick and Simple Ways to Polish Your Manuscript

When you’re getting ready to contact an agent, a publisher, or an editor, there are some quick and simple ways to ensure your manuscript looks its best and, thus, makes a good first impression.

  1. Use Microsoft Word. This industry works in .doc, and while you can convert a Pages file, the intricacies (like formatting) can sometimes get lost in translation.
  2. Type a single space after the end of a sentence. Some of us grew up with two, but the standard today is one.
  3. Stick to simple, easy-to-read 12-point font. No handwriting-type fonts or teeny text. Both are too hard on the eyes.
  4. Exchange all caps for italics. If one of your characters is yelling, format the dialogue in italics for emphasis (“Like this!”).
  5. Run spellcheck. It’s not going to catch everything, but you will be in better shape than when you started.
  6. Give it one last read through. By the time you’ve completed your manuscript, you’re likely sick to death of working on it. But because you know what the text is supposed to say, your eyes skip over what’s actually there—meaning words are probably missing, character names might be switched around, and bits of old story are likely mixed in with the new. So take a few days (even employing a friend or two) and go slowly over every line. Trust me: what you think you’ll find is likely very different from what’s actually there.
  7. Finally, don’t make big decisions at 3 a.m. Why is it that things always appear worse in the middle of the night? If you have an idea, a worry, or a decision about your manuscript that comes to mind when the house is dark and the moon is up, write it down, sleep on it, and look at it again in the light of day.

Have any questions, comments, or other suggestions? Leave them below!

Control

As we get older, we begin to realize that control is an illusion—one that, as I recently learned from Dr. Shelley Prevost—can cause big-time anxiety. Think about it: if you believe you have the ability to control a situation, then you also believe you’re responsible when it falls apart. You could have done more, tried harder, worked longer …

This, of course, is bull. We do not have control over what happens—not ultimately, at least.

And this is just as true for authors as it is for the rest of the world.

Say you spent the last 2 years of your life writing a book. You worked with an editor through a developmental process, you revised, reached out to test readers and took their ideas into consideration, and you had the final draft proofread. In short, the book is in terrific shape. It’s the best you can possibly make it.

So why then, when you set it up on Amazon, does all that momentum you were building stall out? Why does a reader leave a 1-star review? Why do the sales move so slow? Why, why, why …

If you have the expectation and/or belief of control, then you’ll likely castigate yourself. Maybe you should have done one more revision. Gone through one more edit. Pushed a little further with your test readers.

And all that might be true. But.

At some point, you have to concede that you’ve done your best. The person you are at this moment and all the knowledge and hard work you can muster were put into the book. It’s honestly the best you can make it today. And it’s now time to move on.

Because guess what? Your next effort is going to be better. It’ll take a little time to find your guts again, but once you get started, you’ll take everything you’ve learned in the past 2+ years and pour it into this next effort.

All any of us can do is try our best—and then realize there are trillions of things (big and small) we will never be able to account for, let alone control.

Maybe that 1-star reviewer was having a bad day and decided to take it out on your book. Maybe there aren’t enough people interested in the niche you’re writing about. Maybe, maybe, maybe …

Sometimes, you won’t be able to figure out why things didn’t go the way you hoped. All you can do is stand up, dust yourself off, and keep going.

And when you’re ready, I’m here to help!