More thoughts on book editing

21st century editing: no paper, no red pen. Just lots of Word tracking and comments, and in design, little yellow comment bubbles in a PDF.

21st century editing: no paper, no red pen. Just lots of Word tracking and comments, and little yellow comment bubbles once we graduate to design PDFs.

I’ve now edited five chapters of a nine-chapter book. It’s going surprisingly well, but I’m ever cautious and well aware of my own ignorance of the book editing and production process. This project is as much an education as it is a job, and I’m glad I’m enjoying it as much as I am. (It’s much cheaper than a master’s at Emerson.)

Here’s a quick look at some of the challenges I’m encountering.

* Consistency among chapters. I’m editing a chapter at a time. Fortunately for me, the client adheres to AP style, but AP style doesn’t tell us whether to say sea plane or seaplane. The client is fairly thorough, but they’re only reviewing a chapter at a time, as well. It’s my job to apply feedback from one chapter across all others. True confession time: I’ve neglected to put together a cheat sheet that covers the high points — that’s a must-have for next time. On the bright side, my work email is easily searchable, and I’ve long been a fan of the sticky-notes-framing-the-monitor reference tool.

* Macroediting. I can coach the author to refine his language, tie together ideas effectively, avoid contradiction, and clarify a murky anecdote. But what if a chapter misses the mark? How do I assist in improving storytelling, filling holes I don’t know are there in the first place, and sustaining narrative momentum within and among chapters? This has only happened once so far, and I’m grateful to have a second reader who is a seasoned scholar with some subject-matter expertise (or at least interest) who can help flesh out what, for me, is just an inarticulate nagging voice in the back of my head.

* Process comprehension. Before this project, I had never edited anything longer than a corporate report. A machine is already in place to make books happen (and I’m well aware that phrase makes it sound like magical book fairies flit about as I shuffle papers). As a somewhat major cog, it’s my responsibility to understand how that machine works, and I’m still working on that. Who proofreads, and when, and how deeply? How do indexers work? What’s the statute of limitations on client revision? How much time do the printers need? Who spearheads delivery?

General status report: not bad. Partly sunny with a chance of completion in the next two months.


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