Life as a Copyeditor

Editor’s Corner

Do you ever find at the end of workday that even though you know darned well you weren’t slacking for even ten minutes, somehow you didn’t make any progress in editing your manuscript?

Or do you ever try to explain to someone why even though you put in forty or fifty hours a week, your editing time is way, way less?

Recently I was ransacking my archives looking for something, and I ran across a file containing a record of emails over a four-hour period on a day in 2009 involving three different book projects, all of which were already copyedited, either by me or by a freelancer I hired. I have no idea why I saved these in particular. People often ask me what a copyeditor in book publishing does all day; perhaps I saw some pedagogical potential in this record.

At the time, I’m sure I felt frustrated at not getting any “real work” done. Yet this was most certainly real work, too.

Anyway, allow me to share. (Names and titles have been changed.) Even though nine years have passed, it all still rings true. (Except maybe for that don’t-hesitate-to-phone-me-on-vacation bit. What was I thinking!)

______

From: Diego
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 10:37 AM
To: Carol

Hi Carol,

Does Cassandra need to revise the art program before we can go on? Should I wait on the template for now then?

Thanks,
Diego

From: Carol
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 10:42 AM
To: Diego
Cc: Cassandra

I suppose so, since we’re renumbering the figures. Sorry, Cassandra! I’m out of the office tomorrow and Friday, so I wouldn’t get to it right away in any case.

So, here’s the renumbering:

Current figure 1.1 becomes 1.2
New art becomes figure 1.1

Thanks,
Carol

From: Cassandra
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 11:43 AM
To: Diego
Cc: Carol; Xander

Dear Diego,

Is it possible for a solution different than renumbering the list? If Picture 1 and Picture 2 on the illustration log are a frontispiece—whether opposite the title page, or the contents page, or otherwise—can’t that simply be indicated on the list of illustrations that is to be included after the table of contents?

If a frontispiece is not possible at this point, do we need to confer with the author to find out where he would rather have the images placed before renumbering all of the figures? This would seem to be necessary because if we put them within the text, it will look odd as there is no reference to them therein.

Thanks,
Cassandra

From: Carol
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 11:45 AM
To: Cassandra; Diego
Cc: Xander

Cassandra, I thought the author wanted it to go between the preface and chapter 1. (This only involves renumbering one figure.)

Carol

From: Carol
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 11:47 AM
To: Cassandra; Diego
Cc: Xander

An alternative would be to number the new art as P.1 (for preface). Not having read this book, I’m not sure what the photos relate to (the preface, or chapter 1).

Carol

From: Meredith
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 12:20 PM
To: Carol
Subject: Illustration renumbering and relocation, 6–9 and 40–44

Dear Carol,

I need your advice and judgment (and I am not knowingly competing for a place in the difficult authors chapter in your sequel!) with regard to several errors of misplacement for illustrations, including ones you spotted in the 40s.

  1. I attach images of the “Illustrations” front material pages with the unproblematic page locations in blue ink, and the cases needing either relocation or renumbering or both, listed in side margins in pencil.
  2. From my point of view their relocation and renumbering would be ideal for visual intelligibility, and most of these would be “AA.”
  3. How do-able these instances would be without causing an indexing and pagination disaster, I have not the competence to judge, and will naturally defer to whatever you advise.
  4. Meanwhile, I continue with the proof corrections and indexing; but these details can change as needed, at least from my viewpoint.

So sorry to present this right before you depart, but I thought would need to know about these sooner rather than later. I appreciate your advice and guidance,

Best wishes,
Meredith

From: Diego
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 12:23 PM
To: Xander; Carol; Cassandra

Hello,

In my opinion, the easiest thing to do would be to place them on the verso before Ch.1 as the author requested. If we insert them in the text, the MS may or may not need to be re-coded with an A-level head to indicate the “growth” and “decline” that precede the images. I’m fine with either placement of the images.

The MS doesn’t mention the two images, which is what caused my initial confusion. Either way, we’re still in good shape since this hasn’t gone to the typesetter yet.

Thanks,
Diego

From: Carol
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 12:31 PM
To: Diego; Xander; Cassandra
Subject: new art will be figure 1.2

Ah, clarity!

I will add a figure callout to the text that Xander quoted (and remove the references to “above and below,” since they are gratuitous). This comes AFTER figure 1.1, so the new art will be figure 1.2.

Cassandra, I’ll leave it to you to add the new art to the illustration log.

Thanks, everyone—
Carol

From: Xander
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 12:49 PM
To: Carol; Diego; Cassandra
Subject: RE: new art will be figure 1.2

Carol:

Umm, I am not sure I follow. What you are suggesting seems different from Diego’s suggestion.

If we put the pictures in Ch. 1, which you seem to be suggesting, there are two pictures and not just one.

Is there any reason not to follow Diego’s suggestion and then have the text read something like “Streetville is pictured below Newtown. It is not a happy story, a sad example of boom and bust.”

Sincerely,
Xander

From: Carol
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 12:55 PM
To: Xander; Diego; Cassandra
Subject: RE: new art will be figure 1.2

Xander, I’m sorry—I thought I was following your directions (“Maybe it is best to place them in Chapter 1, around p. 7 and change the text (which I embed below) and redo the art log”). If I misunderstood, perhaps you can explain further.

I really don’t care what we do. I just need to prepare the MS. Since the photos have captions that clearly identify them as Newtown and Streetville, however, I don’t think we need to repeat the directional wording in the text.

Yours,
Carol

From: Carol
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 12:58 PM
To: Xander; Diego; Cassandra
Subject: RE: new art will be figure 1.2

P.S. Xander has a point about there being two pictures, however. The new art will have to be figure 1.1 (Newtown) and figure 1.2 (Streetville). The current figure 1.1 will then be 1.3.

Carol

From: Rothman
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 1:18 PM
To: Carol
Subject: page ivA

Hi Carol,

Should page ivA—which has the “summary” statement and QH information—be kept in the page proofs?

Thanks,
Roth

From: Carol
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 1:29 PM
To: ‘Rothman’
Subject: RE: page ivA

Roth, yes, that’s the Library of Congress CIP data, which must be inserted into p. iv and therefore must go to the typesetters with the master pages. I recalled that you wanted to see it, so I put it in now rather than later.

Carol

From: Rothman
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 1:40 PM
To: Carol
Subject: Question 2: front matter page numbers

Hi Carol,

Should the page numbers in the front matter be numbered FM1, FM2, and so on, followed by the “real” page 1 in Chapter 1?

Best,
Roth

From: Carol
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 1:55 PM
To: ‘Meredith’
Subject: RE: Illustration renumbering and relocation, 6–9 and 40–44

Meredith, my first reaction to your query was one of horror! I started to compose a note saying that making such changes would be possible only if we move your book to another season and if you’re willing to pay several hundred dollars in composition overcharges . . .

But then I decided I should at least take a look at the actual images in question, and I saw that, bizarrely—against all odds—the images are all about the same size and could probably be swapped around without moving any text.

So okay, go ahead and mark these changes. There still might well be charges, however—I feel I should warn you that such changes at this stage can be expensive.

Could you please refresh my memory: didn’t we already discuss the renumbering of 40–44 and didn’t I mark it all on the page proofs?

Thanks,
Carol

From: Meredith
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 1:47 PM
To: Carol
Subject: Epigraphs—four per chapter

Dear Carol,

I have one more tedious query. Could you kindly take a look at the formatting and font for the epigraphs in each chapter–usually there is one opening each one, then one commencing each of the three subsections of each chapter. I find inconsistencies throughout that perhaps I am misunderstanding–of fifty-two noted, 33 seem to be fully in italics, that is, name, title, source if mentioned, and date. As such, they stand out from the roman quote they follow, so I at first thought it a design feature or typesetters’ choice, etc.

Then I noticed that the remaining 20 or so had various combinations, though most with author in italics, title or source in roman, then date in italics. But not always, some, such as on p. 270 with the reverse. In any case, unlike in endnotes or bibliographies, this means that author tends to be in italics, while normally italicized titles/sources are in roman, and dates following, normally roman, are in italics.

Perhaps there is an explanation for these inconsistencies. I just wondered if they look odd or problematic to you as you browse these epigraph from chapter to chapter? Is consistency of formats here a problem? And if so, I am unsure by what criteria or conventions to correct them.

Again, sorry to be adding to your tasks,

Best wishes,
Meredith

From: Carol
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 1:59 PM
To: ‘Rothman’
Subject: RE: Question 2: front matter page numbers

Roth, they should just have conventional lowercased roman numerals, and they are not expressed on any “display” page or any page that is otherwise blank. I believe this means that in your book there are no expressed folios until the preface begins. That’s normal.

Thanks for asking!
Carol

From: Rothman
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 2:05 PM
To: Carol
Subject: Last question for today – I promise

Last question for today: on p. 1, we have a sentence that reads “traveler’s tales.” Is that apostrophe in the right place? Should it be “travelers’”? Normally, I would not (and will not) bother you with an apostrophe question, but this one has me stumped.

Best,
Roth

From: Carol
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 2:20 PM
To: ‘Rothman’
Subject: RE: Last question for today – I promise

Roth, don’t worry—that’s what I’m here for. Yes, I agree that the plural possessive would make more sense: travelers’ tales.

Carol

p.s. I’m afraid I’ll be out of the office tomorrow and Friday. I’ll be in transit tomorrow, but by afternoon I should be checking email sporadically until I travel home on Sunday. You have my cell number. Please don’t hesitate to phone me.

From: Rothman
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 2:20 PM
To: Carol
Subject: RE: Question 2: front matter page numbers

Well, I said no more questions, but I guess I was wrong. I don’t quite understand what you wrote below, which is fine—really. I just want to make sure of what to do—Shall I leave these FM1, FM2 and so pages as they are? Also, just to be clear, the “FM” number system is used on the blank pages I have (FM2, FM6 and FM 8)—I take it I should leave those alone as well?

Sorry, I don’t mean to be a bother . . .

Best,
Roth

From: Carol
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 2:32 PM
To: ‘Rothman’
Subject: RE: Question 2: front matter page numbers

Oh, dear—I think you must be looking at the numbering the typesetters are using for their own purposes. Please disregard any fine print at the bottoms of pages. Your little text page (6 x 9 inches) is all you have to look at. There are no page numbers in your front matter until p. ix.

Carol

From: Carol
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 2:42 PM
To: ‘Meredith’
Subject: RE: Epigraphs—four per chapter

Meredith, I’m sorry for the confusion. The design specifications for your book call for epigraph sources to be in italics, which means that any words that would be italic in normal text (or in notes or bibliography) must be “reversed,” and appear in roman.

This means that a source line that would normally be all roman will appear all italic; a source line that would normally be all italic will appear all in roman; and one that would be mixed will appear mixed in the opposite way.

It’s quite possible that some of the source lines were set incorrectly, so please do mark any that you think are inconsistent, keeping in mind that book titles are normally italic (and so will appear roman), and anything within quotation marks would normally be roman (and therefore italic in the source lines).

Yours,
Carol

p.s. I’m afraid I’ll be out of the office tomorrow and Friday. I’ll be in transit tomorrow, and out of touch, but by afternoon I should be checking email sporadically until I travel home on Sunday. You have my cell number. Please don’t hesitate to phone me.

______

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there is no glamour in copyediting. But don’t worry! It’s not every day that you’ll end up feeling pecked to death by ducks. In fact, after a stretch of pure copyediting you’ll welcome some interruptions, and a day of troubleshooting practical issues just might leave you feeling competent and productive.

~ ~ ~

Carol-SmallSCE2 thumbnail with borderHi! I’m Carol Saller, editor of the Chicago Manual of Style Online Q&A and author of The Subversive Copy Editor, now in its 2nd edition. My Editor’s Corner posts at Shop Talk are my own opinions and not necessarily those of my colleagues at the University of Chicago Press. You can also find me online on Facebook and Twitter (@SubvCopyEd).

 

Top illustration: Too Much Work, courtesy Bilboq.

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3 thoughts on “Life as a Copyeditor

  1. Thank you!!! I needed to read this today. I’m going to close myself in the office with a hot cup of coffee and try to finish a project that has languished due to such interruptions.

  2. I’m a production editor and this rings so true to my job it made me want to lie down with a cool cloth across my forehead!

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