Last week I talked about Arthur Plotnik’s Elements of Editing. I hadn’t read the book in years, and thinking about it led me to check it out at my local library (I’m not sure where my personal copy went, and sadly at the moment buying books isn’t part of my creative checkbook management program.)
I’m about halfway through rereading it, and though the book itself is outdated as far as the technology it mentions goes, the advice Plotnik has to offer about editing as a process is useful not only to journalists, but also to book publishers.
An aside: The technology Plotnik mentions is pre-desktop publishing (to the disappointment of one Amazon reviewer who gives the book thumbs down because “As a professional writer and editor, I can’t imagine why the publisher of this book would put the word ‘modern’ on its cover. The book has some enduring qualities, but it refers to desktop publishing hardware as ‘VDTs or video display terminals’ and makes no mention of the Internet.” An interesting assumption the reviewer has — modern begins with the Internet. Is ancient history no longer about Greece and Rome, but the 20th century before Steve Jobs and Bill Gates?)
Plotnik takes a practical view of editing as a process to produce a product, which may make the Romantic in us cringe, but it’s true. As he notes, editors may view editing as “an art, a craft, a catharsis, a crusade,” but the professional editor must first think about what results from this art, craft, catharsis or crusade will be. For me the result of the editing process is producing a textbook, one that will effectively package the ideas, concepts, and information instructors want to get across to their students.
Now that I’m an expert (he says, winking) in the book publishing trade, I’ve been thinking about the processes I’ve been using, and I’m glad I’ve re-encountered Plotnik’s book. He outlines steps editors go through to push a magazine article from acquisition to print. Again, many of the steps he offers are either altered, combined or eliminated because of desktop publishing technology, but at the very least they’ve helped me better organize myself.
The steps Plotnik outlines for editing a magazine article, with adjustments made, are similar to those in book publishing, I’ve discovered. A manuscript is acquired through the mysterious channels of project development — chats with instructors, tapping the ether, voices in the head — styles are set, it’s copyedited, graphics are produced, pages are designed, ISBNs are assigned, it’s sent to the printers, and it’s distributed and sold.
As I’ve worked on various projects, and because I’m a newcomer to book publishing, what’s intriguing me now is how the process as a whole works, especially in a small operation as we have here — four full time employees, a handful of interns and student workers. How, indeed, are projects acquired? What is the full process — design, layout, editing — a manuscript goes through before it becomes a book? How will the book be distributed?
I’ll let these questions linger. I’ll ponder them. And sometimes I’ll write about them. As for now, I do have to recommend The Elements of Editing as a resource for editors and writers, even though it might not be “modern” to some.