It’s National Grammar Day (well, it is in the US, anyway), so amuse yourself with some fun blogs devoted to the subject. This post by Copyediting has several fun suggestions.
Tag Archives: copyediting
Not so long ago, editors worked on hard copy, so a manuscript was treated with kid gloves. Can you imagine losing or damaging the only copy of a text? Not a fun conversation to have with your client.
But handling files effectively is important today, too. Save the original file, and back it up. If the file is long or made up of chapters, it’s best to save each part or chapter separately within a folder. When you’re ready to edit, open the file and rename it so that you’re working on a duplicate, not on the original.
I’m sure there are some lost-manuscript horror stories out there. Thankfully, the only thing to worry about losing in this day and age is face. But who wants to look irresponsible and unorganized by asking for files to be re-sent?
Today’s commandment is again credited to Einsohn’s Copyeditor’s Handbook. Pretty self-explanatory, right? After all, the freelance editor and the client sign a contract at the beginning of their working relationship agreeing to delivery dates.
But what if there is a delay? What if the editor has made queries to the author, and the author is in no hurry to respond? What if the job is taking more time than expected?
Schedules can sometimes be changed, but remember that editorial work is only one part of a larger project. Editorial delays affect everyone else working on the project. Be remembered for your punctuality and professionalism, not your plodding and prolongations.
Today’s commandment comes from Amy Einsohn’s Copyeditor’s Handbook.
Copy editors do not develop or rewrite text; they make text clear and coherent. If the copy editor is confused by a text, readers will be, too. But the copy editor doesn’t assume the author’s meaning; the copy editor queries the author about ambiguities.
Queries should be framed in terms of what readers want, expect, or need. Along with the query, a good copy editor will offer suggestions for improvement.
As far as commandments go, this one is as easy as “thou shalt not murder.” (I’m not the only person who finds that particular Old Testament commandment easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, am I?) After all, a good copy edit by definition makes text clear, coherent, correct, and consistent.
Maintaining consistency throughout a text is a basic editing skill. The list of items to keep consistent is long and varied:
- capitalized words (Moon or moon, for example)
- numbers (when to use figures, when to use words, how to treat dates, times, etc.)
- abbreviations (when to use them, how to punctuate them, what articles to use with them)
- distinctive type (italics, roman, quotation marks, etc.)
- format (headings, lists, captions, tables, bibliographies, etc.)
- punctuation (open or closed style, use of serial comma)
- spelling (British vs. American vs. Canadian)
- hyphen use for compound nouns (policy making or policy-making)
- internal facts (what’s written on page 202 shouldn’t contradict what’s written on page 2)
Many writers don’t know how to treat different elements of content — or they’re too busy creating great content to care. The copy editor polishes text so that it’s ready for its close-up (i.e., publication!). The result can be transformative. It’s like the difference between you at home in your jammies and you ready for a hot date.
Hair, makeup, nails, and wardrobe for text: it’s what copy editors do.
When it comes to choosing the ten commandments of copy editing, number one is a no-brainer:
Thou shalt not introduce errors into a text.
Just like a physician should do no harm to a patient, a copy editor should likewise do no harm to a text. (If you don’t appreciate the comparison of editing with the medical profession, I urge you to consider how authors feel about their
babies manuscripts — as they should!)
The editing of a text is done in a context of time and money. The two parties agree on a delivery date and a price, which are based on the complexity of the copy edit: thorough and precise or quick and dirty? If the latter, there will probably be a few errors that make it into the final product. No biggie. It’s not ideal, but you get what you pay for.
However, missing errors due to time and money constraints is not the same thing as introducing errors. Introducing an error goes against everything a copy editor stands for: clarity, correctness, and consistency. Errors reflect poorly on the writer and publisher and cause headaches for the reader. To willfully cause errors is thus anathema to editors. Editors are there to stop the bleeding, not to puncture another artery (had enough of the medical analogies yet?).
I guess a corollary is that an editor who introduces an error shall expose a lack of knowledge and shall be considered evermore a fool.
And nobody wants to be that guy.
There are two editing books that deserve space (not that they require much of it, being the pithy publications that they are) on every editor’s shelf: Elements of Style and Carol Fisher Saller’s Subversive Copy Editor.s
Upon seeing The Subversive Copy Editor lying on our bed recently, my husband assumed that the book was a novel and asked me about it. Ha! No doubt Saller could tell many a story about her years with the Chicago Manual of Style, but TSCE is about, as the subtitle says, “how to negotiate good relationships with your writers, your colleagues, and yourself.”
The first half of the book is about working with writers, and Saller stresses that editors must exhibit transparency, flexibility, and care when dealing with a writer’s work, and I couldn’t agree more. Transparency is about being upfront with writers and letting them know how and why your editing decisions are being made. Flexibility is about allowing the spirit of editing to rule the day instead of blindly following rules to the letter for the sake of, well, following rules to the letter. And showing care is obvious: excel as an editor by knowing your trade. Above all, obey the first law of editing, which is to introduce no errors into a text.
In a publishing world where copy editing is often done on the cheap and where text is riddled with errors, it’s a pleasure to read the wise, trenchant writing of Strunk, White, and Saller.