Teach Yourself the Craft of Editing

★ : The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself) (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing) (Hardcover) by Carol Fisher Saller, reviewed by C. J. Singh on amazon.com, copy posted June 2, 2009 (62 of 63 people found the review helpful.)  – See all my reviews.The Subversive Editor

While teaching courses in editing at UC Berkeley extension, I always assigned The Chicago Manual of Style and Richard Lanham’s Revising Prose (5th Edition) for the introductory course. For the advanced course, we studied Joseph Williams’s Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace (ninth edition). As noted in my detailed reviews of the two latter books, most students found them excellent. I’m sure they’d be just as enthusiastic about The Subversive Editor by Carol Fisher Saller. In fact, I’d place this book near the top of the reading list for anyone interested in learning how to edit. Saller, a senior mansucript editor at the University of Chicago Press, also edits “The Chicago Manual of Style Online’s Q&A.” Written with charming wit, her brief book presents numerous tips. For several samples from the book, please read on.

Introducing her book, Saller writes: “Although people outside the Press address us `Dear style goddesses’ and assume we are experts on everything in the `Manual,’ most of the time I feel more like the pathetic little person behind the curtain in `The Wizard of Oz.’ It’s only because I’m surrounded and protected by knowledgeable and generous coworkers that I can assemble the authoritative front that appears in the Q&A” (p. xi).

From the Q&A: “Q/ Oh, English-language gurus, is it ever proper to put a question mark and an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence in formal writing?” (p. 31). “A/ In formal writing, we allow a question mark and an exclamation only in the event that the author was being physically assaulted while writing. Otherwise, no” (p. 43).

On serial commas: “A/ Well, if you don’t allow the serial comma at all, you will be stuck with situations like the following hypothetical dedication page that our managing editor likes to cite: ‘With gratitude to my parents, Mother Teresa and the pope'” (p. 70).

Know Thy Word Processor: “Q/ Is there an accepted practice for use of emoticons that include an opening or closing parenthesis as the final token within a set of parentheses?” (p. 71). “A/ Until academic standards decline enough to accommodate the use of emoticons. I’m afraid CMOS is unlikely to treat their styling . . . But I kind of like that double-chin effect” (p. 79). Included in the above chapter is a footnote: “Hilary Powers has written a gem of a guide, ‘Making Word Work for You: An Editor’s Intro to a Tool of the Trade.’ You can download it inexpensively at….” (p. 72). I did. Thanks.

On Associated Press Stylebook: “Minimizing word count must be another goal for newspapers: have you noticed their avoidance of ‘that’ even when it’s needed? ‘They maintained the house for years was a haven for crackheads.’ It drives me crazy” (p. 28).

Saller’s use of “subversive” in the title is a bit of a teaser. And she knows it: “Editor’s first loyalty is to the audience of the work you’re editing: that is, the reader. . . . Common sense tells us that working on behalf of the reader is not really a terribly subversive move” (p. 4).

To learn the basics of the editing craft, I recommend: reading Constance Hale’s “Sin and Syntax” for a review of grmmar basics; doing the exercises in a self-teaching book such as Amy Einsohn’s “The Copyeditor’s Handbook”; and, perusing regularly “The Chicago Manual of Style Online’s Q&A,” edited by Saller.

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