Book Editing: A Big Book Worth Reading

31 Aug

I think I mentioned these last few weeks have been hectic as summer production closes. Still, I’ve cobbled together a few hours here and there at home to begin reading Amy Einsohn’s The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications.

It’s a big book, 560 pages, including the index, and seems comprehensive, covering process as well as practice (grammar, punctuation, style, etc.) — I’ve only read through the first three chapters and am slowly reading through the fourth, which covers punctuation. Those first three chapters have been absorbing reading, particularly because I’ve experienced my first production cycle, though perhaps not a full one: I entered somewhere in the middle of the cycle when I took over the position as editor here. (Can I get a cliché from the audience? A trial by fire? A thrown in the lion’s den?)

I have a better idea now about what a copyeditor in book publishing does as opposed to a newspaper copyeditor. Einsohn’s book has been reinforcing that understanding. Her book is a big book worth reading.

An essential difference is time. Copyediting at a daily paper, especially one with a small to mid size circulation, can clip along. Sometimes, as deadlines close in, one read through is all you get, when at least two or a thousand would be ideal.

Slowing down my reading pace as I edit is something I’ve had to adjust to. I have loved, though, the time now available to get that second read. At least two passes are necessary for a clean copyedit. As Einsohn notes, “Two passes seems to be the universal magic number: No copyeditor is good enough to catch everything in one pass, and few editorial budgets are generous enough to permit three passes (unless the text is only a few pages long).”

And while it’s common at newspapers for copyeditors to also do design and layout work, that work at book publishers is done by design and production people, according to Einsohn. Of course, here — with design and layout experience — I’ve been able contribute some to the design and layout process to get the books we had scheduled to finish done on time.

With the fall production schedule beginning to roll now, I should be less involved with design than I was this summer, and more involved in development and other editorial duties.

As I was reading through Einsohn’s book I came across this statement: “Copyeditors are not proofreaders.” In an earlier post, I mentioned that I also proofread our books; it’s another talent I brought with me from the paper. Again, often because of encroaching deadlines, proofreading and copyediting were combined at the paper. Now that I have more time, I have been able separate the two processes, and that’s been nice.

I can see, though, how on a larger scale separating the two processes is beneficial. There’s nothing like a second set of eyes for catching errors, especially errors that creep in after design and layout, and any misses from the initial copyedit.

At our scale, having time between the initial copyedit and the proofread helps with the process. When the initial copyedit is finished, I can go on to other projects while waiting for the proof copy to be printed. Once the proof copy is printed, it seems like a fresh text to my eyes.


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