Wednesday, April 20, 2005

"The Most Unheralded Job in Publishing"

Adam Langer on copyeditors:

"They perform one of the most important jobs on manuscripts, saving authors from their misspellings, their grammatical errors, their logical and stylistic flaws, and yet, their efforts remain largely anonymous."

I mean, really, when was the last time you saw a copyeditor credited on a book jacket? Every now and again, an author will thank the copyeditor, in the acknowledgements. More often, the reader will never really know who saved them from dangling participles, misplaced modifiers, unclear antecedents, idiosyncratic spelling, factual errors that throw the reader out of the book, jarringly, and sentences that go on for lines and lines without stopping, just like this one does.

Not only does Langer sing the praises of good copyeditors, he also introduces us to several. I've never met these people, and I may not be in their league, but some of what they said sounded really darned familiar:

Steve Lamont: One needs to be fairly neurotic to copyedit—you have to be willing to spend time worrying about whether something’s a restrictive participle or a nonrestrictive one, and you actually have to care. Relatedly, it has to make a difference to you whether the name of the song is “I Want to Hold You Hand” or “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”
Yes! Yes! It so makes a difference!

Judit Z. Bodnar replied to a question about the most difficult parts of the job with

The toughest part is a toss-up between an author’s insisting on keeping wording that makes no sense or is just plain wrong (and the editor’s allowing it) and some people’s insistence that I not do fact-checking on projects in which I know things are inaccurate.
Ayup. Or when the publisher tells you "Please make this more clear without changing any of the words." I adore that.

Really, Judit Z. Bodnar sounds like a kindred spirit:

I work in fits and starts, bitch and moan to others in the business, toy with the idea of leaving everything just as it is, walk around the block when I find myself sarcastically reading passages aloud to myself. When the deadline looms close enough, I sit down and do what I’m being paid to do. You just do your best and wonder why you didn’t make a career of grooming poodles or putting wheels on toy trains when you had the chance. And why you didn’t have the business sense to whip out a piece of trash and sell it to a publisher for a huge advance.

Bitching and moaning? We never do that at the Comma Mines. Sarcastically read passages aloud? Not that, either.

We IM each other some of the more impossible sentences, take latte breaks, consume dark chocolate, and amuse ourselves by replacing every vague noun string with "giant, carniverous, flying wombat" to see whether it changes the meaning. But we wouldn't ever sarcastically read passages aloud.

It might disturb someone.


Anonymous said...

God, I love editors. Because it does matter, because too many writers write first and think (if at all) later, because reading someone's prose should not be an exercise in clairvoyance, because, damn it, we all need their help.

And "giant, carniverous, flying wombat" is a beautiful allusion the Aristophanes' Frogs, where Aeschylus finishes every line by Euripides by saying "lost his little oil jar"

Anonymous said...

nothing more to add. "1 comments was driving me crazy. This should take care of it.