In this blog post, former Embarker Shayna Keyles tells us what she's been doing since she left the Agency. Thanks for sharing your insights, Shayna!
A FEW MONTHS AGO, I LEFT THE CHAOTIC WORLD OF CONTRACTING TO WORK FULL TIME FOR AN INDEPENDENT PUBLISHER. I’ve learned a lot of things in my new position, but above all, I learned that there’s no such thing as a full-time copy editor. It’s true that my contract with the company says “full-time copy editor,” and it’s true that The Copy Editor’s Handbook and CMS 16 both sit on my shelf at the office, but copyediting takes maybe half my time. This post is about what I really do at work.
This vague term, which covers everything from tracking timelines to searching for photos to performing developmental edits, accounts for a significant portion of my time. We aim to publish twenty books each season, and each season, I see three to five books from conception to production. As our sole in-house editor, I also take on the developmental responsibilities of more challenging manuscripts. Some days are fully dedicated to project management: I’ll email all of my authors to check up on deadlines, review the progress of newly submitted drafts and offer suggestions, hunt down missing citation details and do some fact checking, and then spend a few hours talking with the sales and marketing team about cover and catalog copy.
Abiding By Rules
When I started my job, I already knew that editing was about following the rules. What I didn’t know was exactly how many rules there would be for me to follow, and how many rules I would forget on an almost daily basis. I’ve learned the rules for writing a good transliteration (converting script), listing ingredients for a cookbook, citing military field manuals, discussing volume measurements versus construction measurements, and using the metric system in books for US print. However, I’ve forgotten everything I’ve ever learned about commas and hyphens, sentence style capitalization, and how to spell. But it’s okay—that’s why we have sticky notes.
Making Things Fit
Not all manuscripts are complete when they make it to the copyediting stage. Usually, the publisher sends them back to the author, but in special cases we might try our own hand at making things work. Because of this, you might find me with a crime scene-like configuration on my desk, trying to put together pieces from seemingly different puzzles. After a few grueling hours, I’m usually successful, but sometimes an author disappears or a project breaks down before it can be fixed. You’ll probably encounter projects like these.
You love some authors, others not so much. Fortunately, most times, you only have to deal directly with those authors whose projects you manage, but even when you don’t have to communicate directly with authors, they read your queries. You will encounter that author who doesn’t believe in deadlines and sends a manuscript back for a fourth, fifth, or sixth pass. You will have an author who doesn’t believe in science or fighting sexism, or something else fundamental to your worldview. You will have to suck it up and do a good job, because as an in-house editor you don’t have the freedom to choose your clients.
Though I don’t use Adobe InDesign or Adobe Photoshop day to day, it’s important for me to understand how layout works, because when I finish my job, it’s time for the designers to push the book through production. Once I’ve finished an edit and finalized all author queries, I produce a production file for the design team. In this file, I label or tag every formatting choice that will affect the final document. This means that instead of working with bulleted lists, A-heads (primary headings), or indentations, I have to manually enter any of those features. I do not work with any images, but I create tags for the design team that indicate where an image should be inserted.
After I create a production file, I review it with the designer to make sure the features look good where I placed them. At this stage if necessary, we also change headers, update lists, reposition charts, and otherwise modify the formatting for an easier read. The entire point of this process is to make the text visually appealing for the reader. I don’t have any say in what fonts are used, but I do have a hand in the proofing process to help resolve outstanding issues of readability before anything goes to print (see Proofing & Production below).
I didn’t say I never copyedit. And when I do, I’m often working on three to five full manuscripts at a time, with some smaller documents thrown in for good measure. This is the work that I’m most likely to do remotely, though I rarely work from home. The long hours of sitting that’s required for copyediting is the reason I got a standing desk rig for the office, and why I can often be found during breaks pacing back and forth. Of all the things I miss about contracting, it’s the daily hour-long walks I’d take around the city. However, my new bosses are incredibly flexible and accommodating, so it’s been a worthwhile trade.
Proofing & Production
My eye for detail has been put to the test since I became a copy editor. I review manuscripts in their final stages by searching word by word and line by line; seeking out kerning errors (which relate to the spacing of letters) or bad line breaks; double checking hyperlinks; spotting misplaced periods; and suffering through the often faulty Adobe Acrobat DC application. Though, after a week of heavy copyediting and developmental editing, a pile of proofs is a welcome relief.
Text aside, I also look at design proofs, copyright proofs, cover proofs, and other production-related processes that might need a trained eye.
Reading is the reason I became an editor, and it is still one of the things I love most about my job. Despite the fact that at the end of the day my eyes aren’t usually in the mood to let me enjoy a book of my choosing, I’ve learned more than enough in my job to make up for my pleasure-reading glut. Through editing, I’ve (theoretically) learned how to rig a solar array, build an igloo and survive in it, construct a built-in wardrobe and a Murphy bed, and pressure-can a year’s worth of food; I also learned that zebras kick to kill, beeswax comes in five forms, and lavender can be good for your lungs . . .
Overall, I’ve come a long way from freelance to in-house editing, and I’m still learning and evolving. By working in-house, I get to work with a great team of editors, designers, and other knowledgeable professionals, and the formerly far-off world of publishing has been opened up to me.
I wish you all luck on the rest of your editing journey!