Book Editing: Many Hats, One Paycheck

17 Aug

Did I say book editing was less hectic than newspaper editing? I think I may have said so somewhere. If so, I’ve made a liar of myself. As the summer production schedule closes out, this past week and a half or so has been as high tension as any high tension I had daily at the paper.

As we’re getting books put to bed, filling orders, shipping them out, making last minute edits, I’ve recovered that old sense of urgency I faced daily at the paper, all the bleary- and burning-eyed habits of mind and work. It’s that sense of urgency that brought about thoughts of processes in the first place, of how many hats I’ve been wearing here.

For the most part they’re similar to the hats I wore (you’d think with so much hat wearing I’d have more hair) at the paper. There, I wrote, copyedited, did layout and design, proofread pages, came up with story ideas, sometimes shot photos, commanded an assistant editor, who also wrote, copyedited, did layout and design, proofread pages and came up with story ideas, and sometimes shot photos, all the while listening to me vent, complain and/or make bad jokes. (My assistants, they were ever so lucky.)

Here, almost the same processes have been in use: Here, I’m copyediting, proofreading, and helping some with layout and design (though only a little), helping with project development in some instances, and doing some writing (as far as the blog goes). For an editor to wear so many hats may be uncommon for book publishing, at least at larger operations. Or that seems to be the case according to recent comments on this blog.

Given the experience I’ve had coming from a newspaper background, I don’t mind taking up so many hats, especially doing both copyediting and proofreading, even though they are two different tasks. When I wear my copyeditor’s hat, I’m not merely checking grammar, spelling and punctuation, but also making sure the manuscript is consistent in style, according to what we’ve established for the house. Once we get proof copies, the proofreader’s hat goes on. I check to make sure headings and subheadings are consistent with style, check spacing, and look for quirks in the pages, as well as pick up any other final corrections that need to be made.

As an aside, I found this part of the comment somewhat distressing: “Interestingly, many textbook publishers considered copyediting to be an optional or completely expendable process; they were primarily concerned with getting the layout right.”

It’s scary to think copyediting is “optional” or “expendable,” not just because copyediting is part of my job, and I don’t like to think of myself as “optional” or “expendable,” but also because it makes me question what these “many textbook publishers” consider to be quality. Are they, by simply getting layout right, concerned chiefly with the surface, the look, and not the content? Isn’t part of the look making sure content reads well, even for texts that aren’t text heavy?



One Response to “Book Editing: Many Hats, One Paycheck”

  1. Stephen Tiano August 18, 2007 at 9:59 am #

    In my curmudgeonly eyes—partly because, in my first incarnation as someone working in publishing, I worked as a proofreader and copy editor—I just think it’s proof that the world’s going to hell if copy editing is considered an expendable part of the book-making process. But then it occurs to me that you’re talking about textbooks, books that are used to educate, and it just seems like lunacy to not make copy editing a major part of quality assurance that should go into any book.

    I’ve written some lately, both privately and on my own blog, about how marketing books often takes precedence over actually writing good books to market. My intention wasn’t to compliment those engaged in that ass-backwards scheme. I think I succeeded. But, again, when it comes back to textbooks, I don’t see how publishers can possibly be rewarded with sales for such slipshod workmanship.

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