Editing Goes Global is right around the corner! This week, the Editors’ Weekly is holding its final conversation with keynote speaker and editor extraordinaire Carol Saller. In addition to her keynote speech on “‘Subversive’ Editing: Or, What Bugs Editors and How to Fix It,” Carol will be co-delivering the session “Hiring Other Freelancers: Expanding Your Business with Colleagues.”
Facing the challenges of editing
Sue Archer: You’ve worked for many years as an editor with the University of Chicago Press. How did you get started there? What kinds of challenges did you face as you learned the editing profession?
Carol Saller: Just between you and me, I came in the back door of the Press when they acquired a monograph series that I was the copyeditor for. That meant I never took that notoriously hideous editing test that everyone else has to pass to get hired. I’ll always wonder whether I would have passed it.
My biggest challenge was to get past my stickler tendencies. As a child I hated being wrong, and I always wanted people to follow the rules. I was bossy. I had to have the last word. And I was the same way as a new copyeditor! It’s embarrassing to remember. Luckily, I had more than one mentor with great patience and tact, and they inspired me. I soon learned to pretend to accept criticism gracefully, and I eventually learned to accept it genuinely and even to welcome it. By now I have a thick hide.
SA: Your experiences as a new editor remind me of your fantastic book The Subversive Copy Editor, where you talk about three essential aspects of editing: carefulness, transparency and flexibility. I think flexibility is the most difficult to learn. How do you balance the need for flexibility with a house directive to follow a style like Chicago?
CS: The Chicago Manual of Style actually leaves quite a lot of discretion to the editor, so it’s not that hard. As CMOS states (and constantly reiterates), its guidelines must be adapted to fit the context. If a writer has good reasons to diverge from a recommendation in the manual, the editor should do so. “Following Chicago” means editing with flexibility.
Working with others
SA: What if the writer doesn’t have good reasons for diverging from guidelines, but won’t accept changes? Do you have any advice for editors who are having difficulties reaching agreement with their writers?
CS: Luckily, this is pretty rare. Most writers are reasonable, and they don’t want to have mistakes in their copy. In the case of style preferences, if an editor’s suggestions are rejected, she’s done her job and can move on (but save the evidence!). In the case of factual and grammatical errors, the editor’s responsibility is to the reader and the publisher, so she will have to argue those points tactfully but firmly, citing authoritative sources. If a writer is truly intractable, it might be necessary to appeal to a supervisor.
SA: In your role as senior editor, I imagine you often supervise the work of other editors. What are some of the challenges you face when hiring or working with new editors?
CS: New editors almost always have the same foibles: they edit when they shouldn’t; they don’t edit when they should; and they don’t look things up before querying. This means they introduce errors — the worst thing an editor can do. I’m afraid I’m rather tough on my protégés. I hope once they become great editors they forgive me for hammering on their mistakes.
Seeing things from the author’s point of view
SA: In addition to writing The Subversive Copy Editor, you’ve penned the young-adult novel Eddie’s War. How did you come up with the concept for it? What inspired you to write it?
CS: After my father died, we found diaries he had written as a boy from age 10 to 18, starting in 1940. Reading them, it occurred to me that it was a great trove of detail that could be used in place of research for a historical novel. I know the farm he grew up on — I visit there still — so I thought it would be easy to write a novel set on that farm. I was so wrong! I’ve written elsewhere about my messy “process” in writing the book, and it’s not one I recommend, so I won’t go on about it here. But the story is loosely based on the true-life fact that my dad’s older brother was a bomber pilot during the war, while my dad was too young to enlist.
SA: What has it been like for you to experience the writing side of the writer-editor relationship? And how do you handle the switch between writing and editing?
CS: For an editor, it’s a luxury to be edited. I’ve been lucky to have good editors, so I took to it right away! No problems there. Switching back and forth is also pretty smooth, because the larger part of writing consists of self-editing — or at least it should. The hardest part is generating a first draft, and I confess I don’t enjoy that as much as the revising and honing.
And finally, some fun with Chicago Q&As
SA: I use the Chicago Manual of Style Q&A when I get stuck on a point of style, and I’m amazed by the variety of questions that people ask. As the editor for the Q&A, how do you decide which Q&As to post online? Do you get more questions than you can answer? And what are some of the strangest questions you’ve encountered?
CS: We do get some doozies! It’s clear that some people are just having fun with us when they ask “style” questions like “What colour sweater goes best with a red and black plaid skirt?” But within the legitimate queries, the oddest have to do with citations: someone needs to cite a text that consists of tattoos on two thousand volunteers, one word each, which was never written down anywhere else. Someone else wants to cite a sign on a bus. Or a candy bar wrapper. Unfortunately, there are too many questions for us to answer personally; we do what we can in our spare time. Choosing the questions for the monthly posting is fun — I try to choose a variety of topics, some easy, some more complex.
Carol is the editor of the Chicago Manual of Style’s online Q&A. The author of The Subversive Copy Editor and an occasional blogger on copyediting, Carol encourages editors to remain flexible — to cooperate with and support writers while staying exact and careful. Join her at Editing Goes Global, the EAC’s first-ever global conference for editors, June 12 to 14.
Previous speaker profile: Leonie Pipe
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