Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Zen of Editing

The Subversive Copy Editor, by Carol Fisher Saller, is a book after my own heart--and why wouldn't it be? It's a book on the copyediting life, with some excellent advice and clever analogies. Nice and concise--what else would you expect from a copyeditor? A lot of it will be familiar to any editor, from acquisitions to DEs, with the one problem of being so familiar as to harbor a few truisms and skim-the-obvious moments. I hope every writer purchases a copy of this book: it humanizes editors and gives a clearer idea of what goes on in the publishing process.

My favorite part (I've already used it a half dozen times):
"You know what it's like to come back to a hotel room in the afternoon and find that housekeeping has been there and everything is all fresh and put to rights? That's how a copy editor would like you to feel when you see the editing. If you can view extra-duty editing as the mint on the pillow, all the better. What we don't want is for you to feel insulted that we saw the need for cleaning."
Editors are the cleaning staff. It's so very true. How much I wish authors would stop and think about that before sending an abusive letter. We don't grade your papers; you didn't get an F. You can choose to keep or remove every edit you get, especially if the editor is freelance. Saller notes that editors, despite their admittedly compulsive natures, are very much aware of the collaborative nature of editing, and do their best to work with author objections.

Just be aware: it's impossible for an editor to look at a document and pronounce it "perfect." Some would even try to edit Hemingway's six-word story. Fair warning!

Back to the book: Saller covers editing business more than editing practice (no proofreading marks here!) She writes wittily about office politics, the juggling act of acquisitions, substantive, managing, copy, proofers, indexers, typesetters, in-house and freelancers...the whole lot. There's even a whole section just for writers, detailing the publishing process. Conflict management gets a nice chunk, as well as time management and organization (like chocolate, or tea--never enough).

What I like best about Saller's work, though, is her obvious delight about the copyediting job, which even she admits is full of over-educated, underpaid folks who aren't very appreciated in the publishing business. She offers cheery advice on how to find copyediting work, either in-house or freelance, brushing a layer of zen over all headaches. She made me smile, and I went back to my own editing with gusto.

Onward, ye semi-colons!

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