Jossey-Bass: What We Want in a Copyeditor

What We Want in a Copyeditor

We asked Jossey-Bass Managing Editor Lasell Whipple "What Do Hiring Editors Want?" After polling her staff, she replied with their comments in this handout accompanying her talk on May 20, 2003.

  • Excellent technical/organizational skills (coding, file management, thinking at and across all levels to bring project together in a thorough way); delivering a very tidy package with no loose ends for Project Editor (PE) to discover.
  • Expertise in grammar, usage, style, and experience/good judgment with when to apply standards, when to leave alone.
  • Tact and savvy in dealing with authors; persuasive but not intrusive or idiosyncratic. Knows how to serve the ms. and get into author's head.
  • Punctuality.
  • Knowledge of field, audience, and ability to contribute from that vantage.
  • Experience with book arts; organization of book; logic of format/organization—"development."
  • Talent for titling; editing titles when needed.
  • Good writing skills—able to rewrite when needed.
  • Good communication/interaction skills, with PE, author. For PE, being organized and efficient with questions; knowing when to query, when to make judgment calls.

What do we want in a copyeditor? Someone who....

  • Does NOT engage in rewriting on a light edit, such as: nitpicking word choices, changing things that aren't wrong factually or grammatically.
  • Asks questions rather than assumes; it's easier to confirm now than fix later.
  • But does NOT ask about things that are covered in the style guide or job instructions.
  • Queries authors/editors in a polite yet direct tone about missing or inconsistent information.
  • Yet does NOT explain every edit. I need to trust that the c/e has good reason for each edit, I don't have time or interest to read explanations, and good edits shouldn't need explaining.
  • Is attentive to details (duh) and consistent.
  • Stays in touch with occasional updates on availability, but doesn't pester for work.

Thorough knowledge of grammar and good writing skills, attention to detail, awareness of consistency issues, sensitivity to the author's style and professional vocabulary, tact in writing author queries, ability to follow instructions and ask the right questions, timeliness. We also want the ability to visualize how elements will look in the paged book, a skill needed to do a good coding job. Ease with the computer and the ability to learn new computer skills.

Here are some thoughts for you:

A really, really good copyeditor is hard to find! Some are good at mechanics but not at language styling. Some are brilliant prose polishers but lousy at mechanical details, which results in a lot of Editor's Alterations (EA) later.

I want someone who knows Chicago inside and out (just my bias, coming from university press publishing. Other folks might want someone who knows the APA Manual or the Wired style guide, or whatever Bible is appropriate to the type of publishing they do), whose knowledge of grammar, the mechanics of copyediting, and the different styles of documentation, is sound and comprehensive enough to pass the most difficult editing test. But something more refined--beyond a thorough knowledge of the tools of the trade--is also required. What I'm also looking for is someone who:

  • Knows all the rules and who also knows when to disregard them, and why.
  • Has a wide-ranging general knowledge (usually the mark of a curious person). This dilettantish knowledge is what alerts them to say, "I don't think that's 'quite' right," and then they look up the fact/name/whatever in question.
  • Queries in a diplomatic and respectful manner and who queries only what truly needs querying.
  • Can enter into the spirit of the author's argument and help strengthen it.
  • Can discern the author's writing style (whether it be conversational, informal, academic, etc.) and not interfere with it.
  • Can identify an appropriate level of detail for supplying documentation. In other words, someone who won't relentlessly query an author to document at a scholarly level of detail if the tenor of the book doesn't require it.
  • Knows when to gently "insist" that missing citations be provided (for instance, if the text repeatedly makes the point that there is "hard evidence" for the author's views, then it's necessary for the author to supply documentation consistently for at least the major studies and statistics cited).
  • Will solve the manuscript's problems, not add to mine (through sloppiness, lateness, not following directions about level of edit requested, etc.);
  • Returns the copyedited ms. with a cover letter that alerts me to what I need to know about the ms.: what the editor focused on, any big problems, etc. Believe it or not, I actually had a J-B copyeditor say to me, in response to my question, "Where's your cover letter?"—"I don't do cover letters."

Copyright 2004, Lasell Whipple, Jossey-Bass.

Members of the Bay Area Editors' Forum interested in taking the Jossey-Bass proofreading or copyediting test can e-mail rlloyd@wiley.com at Jossey-Bass. Please send your résumé with a mailing address.

 

 

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