With Notes, choose the foot

By Ken Walker

For years, because the publishers I edited for collected endnotes into a separate section at the end of the book, I generally did the same for the self-publishing projects I edited.

No longer. In the past eighteen months, I have become a fan of footnotes, placed at the bottom of each page by Word’s automated function.

There is so much less work, particularly the need to make sure you haven’t miscounted when manually inserting note numbers and placing sources at the end of a chapter. In the past, I would put the notes at the end of each chapter before then moving all of them into an endnotes section at the very end. As I consider that habit, I ask myself, “Why?”

The start of my conversion to footnotes came when I took on an editing job that included more than 300 endnotes, numbered consecutively from one through the end.

The author wanted them redone, starting over at one with each chapter. Since she used the incorrect form (academic style, with last name first), refining the notes posed a major headache. It required a constant back-and-forth process that regularly made my head spin.

Then came another book for an author I had worked with previously. He liked footnotes and used them in each of the chapter drafts he sent me as I steadily worked through his manuscript.

In the past, I had been a purist about starting over with “1” in each chapter. But when you compile multiple chapters into one file, unless you set up parameters, footnotes will be consecutively numbered throughout the book. The author didn’t care and I learned to not care, either. I doubt many readers do.

We obsessive-compulsives can often fall in love with a process just because that’s the way we have always done it, when in fact our way isn’t necessarily the right way. Or at least, not the only way.

One time, a publisher told me to change all the superscript numbers in the author’s endnotes to plain-size type. Which wasn’t a big deal, since she had only a couple dozen endnotes.

Then another author I worked with brought out his book—self-published through a good-size company—with superscript numbers throughout his note sections (which I had advised against). When I saw the book, I appreciated that stressing out over tiny numbers had caused me needless worry. Yes, you generally should change superscript to plain size in notes, but if it doesn’t get done, don’t have a cow.

The relevance of endnotes vs. footnotes came into focus when I started recently on my latest ghostwriting project. It’s one that is requiring considerable research to fill in  historical gaps or add perspective or detail to the author’s memoir.

Since the author only cared that any quotes or factual information was properly noted, I chose to go with footnotes for chapter 1 and am still doing that. It’s caused me fewer sleepless nights.

Experienced. Award-winning. Skilled. For years, Ken Walker has been shaping stories—thousands of them—for books and articles in various venues. He uses his writing and editing talents now to help refine authors’ material, handling substantive edits for a variety of memoirs, personal experience, and teaching books. During his career, Ken has had more than 4,400 article bylines and ghostwritten, edited, or contributed material to more than 85 books.