Marilyn Schwartz and Erika Bűky talk about the new Copyeditor’s Handbook and Copyeditor’s Workbook

Copyeditor's Handbook and WorkbookAfter earning a PhD in English in 1976, Marilyn Schwartz joined the staff of the University of California Press. She became managing editor in 1983 and held that position for twenty-eight years. From 1979 through 2004 she also taught editorial workshops for UC Berkeley Extension. She was the acquiring editor and production editor for the original Copyeditor’s Handbook, written by her colleague Amy Einsohn (1952–2014).

Erika Bűky is a freelance editor currently based in New Zealand. She joined the University of California Press in 1991 and served as assistant managing editor from 2000 to 2004. She has worked as a freelance copyeditor and developmental editor for scholarly and trade publishers, research foundations, advocacy groups, and museums. She has also taught English composition and grammar, rhetoric, and scholarly editing.

Since it was first published almost twenty years ago, The Copyeditor’s Handbook has served as both textbook and guide for copyeditors in book publishing and corporate communications. The revised fourth edition of the Handbook is now published alongside a companion, The Copyeditor’s Workbook, consisting of nearly fifty exercises that parallel the lessons in the new Handbook. We’re fans of these books not only because they plumb the depths of The Chicago Manual of Style (together with a number of other essential resources) but also because we think they provide some of the best teaching tools available today for working copyeditors.

CMOS: So, Marilyn, you acquired the original Handbook as managing editor at the University of California Press (a.k.a. UC Press, not to be confused with UChicago Press). Tell us about that experience, and what it’s like being the author for a change.

Marilyn Schwartz

Marilyn Schwartz

MARILYN: Managing editors don’t normally acquire books, and the Handbook was my only venture in nearly thirty-five years of publishing. It grew out of conversations with my colleague and friend Amy Einsohn, a freelance editor who, like me, taught copyediting classes in Berkeley for many years. We both assigned the Chicago Manual as a course text, but we supplemented our lessons with extensive class handouts. We always thought someone should write a book specifically for new and aspiring editors. Eventually, Amy wrote that book, and the University of California Press published the first edition in 2000.

As an editor, I confess, I used to grumble about authors who seemed oblivious to the glaring faults and inconsistencies in their prose. But writing requires an entirely different mindset than editing. As an author I experienced firsthand the challenges of managing all the moving parts, of achieving perfect consistency, of pruning my excesses. (The editor who edits herself—themself?—indeed has a fool for a client.) I also developed a more personal appreciation of the values added by the publishing process. The revised Handbook was immeasurably improved by peer review, copyediting, project management, design, composition, proofreading, and indexing. It takes a village to make a book!

Erika Bűky

Erika Bűky

ERIKA: Amen to that. The editing and production of the Workbook were particularly complex because of the recursive nature of using tracked changes on text that demonstrates the use of tracked changes, and the problem of identifying inadvertent mistakes in a forest of intentional errors. We owe a huge debt to our copyeditor and proofreaders.

CMOS: We know from revising the Manual that even a small change can lead to debate. Were there any revisions that sparked long discussions?

MARILYN: Erika and I both wondered whether to retain any treatment of editing on paper in the Handbook and Workbook. One early peer reviewer recommended omitting any mention of hand-marking, declaring that no one edits with a pencil anymore. But a recent discussion on one of the online copyediting lists concerned how to edit a memoir typed on paper by a prison inmate without access to digital writing and reviewing tools. Also, on PDFs copyeditors sometimes use markup tools or custom stamps that mimic traditional hand-marking symbols. The UK Society for Editors and Proofreaders still tests proficiency in proofreading marks. And some digital displays support hand-marking with a stylus. So in the end we retained a brief discussion of on-paper editing and included both the table of manual copyediting symbols and a practice exercise using the old-school techniques. Hey, in 2016 the US Navy reinstated the training of young naval officers in the ancient art of celestial navigation—so if the GPS ever fails, they won’t literally be lost at sea!

Of course, I greatly expanded the Handbook’s discussion of on-screen editing. Also, Erika and I included nearly forty Workbook exercises intended for on-screen editing, with answer keys showing the use of several different applications to mark changes and insert queries. Editors can now download free digital copies of all these exercises from the Workbook page on the University of California Press website, but they have to refer to the Workbook itself for instructions and answer keys.

ERIKA: Actually, what surprised me about the collaboration on the Workbook was how much we agreed on. My personal usage choices are probably more conservative than Marilyn’s and much more conservative than Amy’s. But our focus on editorial judgment—considering context, audience, and the author’s voice (where applicable) along with conventional rules and guidelines—meant that we could agree to disagree when necessary, and explain alternative choices in the answer keys.

We did argue a bit over a small issue: whether to retain the venerable Words into Type on the list of recommended reference works. The most recent edition was published in 1974, and it’s long been out of print. But Marilyn (and Amy’s shade) persuaded me that much of its advice on grammar is timeless, so it stayed.

CMOS: How much of the revision of the Handbook was influenced by the growth of freelancing?

Marilyn Schwartz, mid-1980s

Marilyn Schwartz reconciling corrections at the University of California Press (mid-1980s)

MARILYN: The replacement of many staff editorial positions by contract work and the growth of gig work throughout the publishing industry have had a huge impact on copyediting. In Amy Einsohn’s time and mine, a newly minted English graduate could learn the craft by apprenticing to a battle-tested in-house editor or by following an experienced editor’s hand-marked foul copy while proofreading typeset galleys. This mentoring system has all but disappeared. The revised Handbook expands the survey of basic skills and procedures, and it adds information about the professional organizations, continuing education, and online editorial communities that support editors in this new environment. It also describes the demands of freelancers’ changing client base, which now includes global businesses, institutions complying with plain language and accessibility mandates, international scholars writing in English as a foreign language, a rising population of self-publishing (“indie”) authors, and a host of intermediaries that have sprung up to serve these constituencies.

ERIKA: One of my goals for the Workbook was to create a resource for my past self. When I began freelancing (as a newly jobless English ABD), I faced the classic problem of being unable to find work as a copyeditor because I didn’t have any copyediting work experience—and at the time, there were very few resources for teaching yourself the trade. I took local publishers’ editing tests more or less cold, and I was lucky that a managing editor at one of those publishers took an interest in me despite my cluelessness. I was also lucky to be living in an area where people like Amy and Marilyn were teaching courses and workshops (though, as it happened, I never took a class from either of them). But volumes like the Handbook and Workbook would have taught me a great deal of what I needed to know and saved me frustration and occasional embarrassment.

Later, when I worked in-house as a project editor, I spent a lot of time—probably too much—reading edited manuscripts, initially so that I could learn from experienced freelance editors, then also to offer mentoring to new editors, and always because I’m curious about how different people solve problems. Today that sort of opportunity to review other editors’ work is much less common. Online forums can be great for discussing specific editorial questions, but they don’t offer the opportunity to look over other people’s shoulders. We wanted the longer exercises in the Workbook, with examples of edited text, different querying styles, and discussion of alternative approaches, to help fill the gap.

CMOS: Several of the exercises in the Workbook are identified as having been adapted from published sources. Were the errors that you introduced drawn from real-life sources also? How were the rest of the exercises developed?

ERIKA: Almost all the errors in the Workbook exercises were found in the wild, though not necessarily in the exact habitat where we’ve set them in the book. The restaurant menu exercise in chapter 2 was largely inspired by a real menu at a snooty café (and a long wait for the food).

It was surprisingly hard to create exercises that contain only intentional errors and avoid distracting, tangential infelicities—and aren’t deadly boring. That’s probably one reason why copyediting textbooks are so thin on the ground.

The Workbook includes many sentence-style drills, because those are efficient tools for reinforcing specific points of mechanics and usage. But it also addresses bigger stylistic and rhetorical issues, like tone, logic, and cadence, and the technical aspects of editing, such as reconciling source citations with a reference list. Integrating all these challenges required longer exercises. In addition, we wanted to include a range of subject matter, and texts written for different audiences: general-interest essays, health advice, instructional material, travel guides, public health statistics, and retail catalogue listings.

Although we certainly mangled some published sources in the service of pedagogy, for other exercises we had to write our own. You’ll notice that a number of the texts draw on Marilyn’s vast knowledge of midcentury American popular culture, and a few examples refer to New Zealand rural life.

CMOS: The comments in the answer keys (in the second half of the Workbook) add up to a kind of mini treatise on the finer points of style and a lesson in interpreting and navigating the dictionaries and style guides (including CMOS!) that copyeditors will need to consult. Is this where the “tips for honing your editorial judgment” (from the subtitle for the Workbook) are to be found?

ERIKA: We hope so, although we were less certain than the marketing department whether editorial judgment can truly be “honed”! The answer keys are intended to offer insight into the editorial thought process: considering whether a particular passage really needs intervention, coming up with alternatives, weighing them, and justifying the decision. Following an established style (within reason) essentially automates many small decisions and makes copyediting more efficient. So does learning the lesson Amy liked to emphasize: that “sometimes good enough is good enough,” and that excessive intervention not only risks antagonizing the author but also wastes time and money.

CMOS: Many of the new exercises zero in on dictionaries, usage guides, and search tools (including the Google Books Ngram Viewer). How important is it to teach these resources?

Where can an editor find reliable information online without perishing in a vortex of internet junk resembling the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

MARILYN: My grandfather, who was a carpenter, used to say that we should use the right tools for the job. Editors have to be familiar with basic editorial references and adept at using many specialized resources. Which dictionaries are the most authoritative and current? Which one is appropriate for a given client? What grammar and usage guides should an editor trust? How can an editor reconcile their sometimes contradictory or equivocal advice? Where can an editor find reliable information online without perishing in a vortex of internet junk resembling the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

ERIKA: Identifying reliable online resources is particularly challenging because they are evolving so fast. Still, I’m betting that my standard advice never to rely on Goodreads to verify quotations by Albert Einstein will stand the test of time.

CMOS: There are many refinements and updates. For example, the copyediting glossary in the Handbook has a nice aside on the origin of TK (for “to kum”), adds such useful terms as “spousal commas” and “up style,” and makes some essential clarifications. Were these changes the results of research and reader input, or simply the fruits of rethinking the work from the ground up?

MARILYN: Amy Einsohn often used the term “spousal commas” when describing a known exception to the custom of setting off nonrestrictive modifiers with commas—namely, the omission of commas with a short nonrestrictive appositive of relationship. Her favorite example was the omission of the spousal commas in the phrase “my husband C—” (C— was her only husband).

Through her husband C—, Amy bequeathed to me more than one hundred thousand words of stenographic notes concerning possible revisions in this fourth edition—sentence examples, excerpts from articles, blog posts, email exchanges with colleagues, and links. I began by following Amy’s trail, which sometimes required advanced tracking skills and a divining rod. But I also added substantial new content on topics that she couldn’t have foreseen when she wrote the Handbook twenty years ago. Altogether, I revised, updated, and expanded about 30 or 40 percent of the earlier edition on the basis of both Amy’s notes and my own publishing experience, supplemented by four-plus years of further research.

Of course, I retained all those portions that still make Amy’s book an invaluable resource—for example, who could edit without that handy list of gnarly subject-verb agreement problems?—and I made every effort to preserve Amy’s distinctive wisdom and wit. In her spirit I also indulged some editorial humor of my own—for example, a brief history of punctuation marks that didn’t make it into the canon, the curious case of the word “razbliuto,” and some cherished eggcorns. I’ll let readers search for the Easter eggs.

CMOS: Speaking of acorns, we’re copyeditors, so we’ve noticed that it’s not Erika Büky, with an umlaut, but Bűky, with a double acute (for the Hungarian long u). Is there a copyediting story here?

ERIKA:  Thank you for noticing! Being able to use the correct Hungarian diacritical mark in my name—even on my smartphone—is a small but significant satisfaction of the digital age.

Sadly, although CMOS Shop Talk and typesetters can accommodate the ű, sales and marketing databases cannot, so it’s missing from advertisements and online listings. Dealing with the limitations of publishing technology has been part of the editor’s job for centuries, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.


Photos: Marilyn Schwartz in color, by Genevieve Shiffrar; Erika Bűky, courtesy of Erika Bűky; Marilyn Schwartz mid-1980s, courtesy of the University of California Press archives.


Please see our commenting policy.