Coping with Copyediting

Part 2 of The Subversive Copy Editor switches gears from how to work with the writer for the benefit of the reader to how to manage yourself and others. Saller offers coping strategies for what she believes are the real sources of stress: difficult projects and difficult people.

In “When Things Get Tough (the Sequel): The Dangerous Manuscript,” she takes on both the mindless task and the complicated task: “A mindless task can usually be safely undone. A complicated task risks doing harm.” If automation doesn’t work, reevaluate: “Is the offending material actually incorrect, or is it simply not styled conventionally? Will it inconvenience or confuse the reader?” I love that she advocates not turning ourselves into fleshy automata when conventional automation can’t handle the job. Rather, use judgement and be as flexible as the situation allows. But, of course, if the task turns out to be necessary, give it your full attention.

Saller briefly mentions the virtues of word processors (your automating friends) and gives some best practices before moving on to managing deadlines, which, she says, can be accomplished through “three skills: prioritizing, organizing, and documentizing” (which she promises is a real word). In the next chapter, we learn how to “play nicely” with our officemates—if we have them, which leads us to “The Freelancer’s Quandaries” of feast or famine and how much to charge for services. One of the variables in that equation is just how knowledgeable you are.

“Things We Haven’t Learned Yet: Keeping Up Professionally” addresses not the innocent ignorance of youth, but the bullheaded stubbornness of experience. Just as the language evolves, so do the rules (we’ve circled back to “correctness”). While changes in the basic tenants of grammar are glacial, usage is another matter altogether. Saller suggests first of all, traditional professional development, but even more emphatically, turning to the internet: websites, blogs, Twitter, and mailing lists. Here, you can find not only fresh knowledge, but communication with other professionals editors, scholars, and linguists, many of whom are more knowledgeable than you.

“Further Reading” lists professional organizations, websites, blogs, newsletters, forums, and mailing lists that Saller recommends, in addition to referring the reader to the “extensive bibliography” in the Chicago Manual of Style.

The Subversive Copy Editor takes us on a quick and fun trip through the copyeditor’s world, with occasional dives into personal anecdotes that give depth and weight to the narrative. It’s not so much a “how to” book as a coping and improvement manual for those already working in the field. Which is a good thing.