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While I certainly enjoy a good copy edit, and frankly need it in most cases, I am disturbed by your life saving story.

A life guard roughs you up in saving your life. You are left with a fear of the water.

I suggest that a too rough copy editor could leave a writer so scarred they are frightened away from writing!

Patricia Bower

When you say that an author can "pick and choose what to accept," you don't mean that an author can revert back to capitalizing every Important Word or using commas for dramatic effect, right? (Yes, I've had an author tell me that was his "comma theory.") I will defer to an author on content changes almost every time, but I rarely concede on issues of grammar or style. I'm grateful that the workflow used by all of the presses I work with gives me the final decision, not the author.

Carol Saller

Steinnon, I think in truth all writers are afraid of writing. Maybe what we should fear more is extended analogy.


Carol, you have an important point: We can't bully authors into accepting our edits. Having a good manuscript-side manner goes a long way to establishing an effective author-editor collaboration. I did an audio conference for _Copyediting_ newsletter on this very topic: "Handling Difficult Authors." Here's the link to the audio CD: http://tinyurl.com/4e99lnw

John Cowan

Patricia Bower: "Almost" every time? You are empowered to make changes in content over the objections of the author? In such cases you should put your name on the cover as well, so that you can share the blame if any of the statements in the book wind up being incorrect.

Carol: What an unfortunate outcome, being left with a fear of the water. You have my every sympathy. You're quite right about panic, though. I've had lifesaving training (but never actually had to save any lives), and one thing emphasized repeatedly in training is that the person you are trying to help is very dangerous to you: in their panic, their hysterical strength (even a child's) can easily drown *you*. You either stay well out of their way (tow them by the hair, if they have any, or by the chin) or if you absolutely must use a body-to-body method like a cross-chest carry, make sure you can subdue the victim *completely*.

What is more, even calm people (there is something called the "tired swimmer's carry" which is for people who have swum further than they should have) can tip over into panic at any time, so the lifesaver must remain constantly alert for this. In short, lifesaving is nothing like carrying smoke inhalation victims out of a burning building: it is a struggle between the lifesaver and the victim's disordered mind.

Consequently, swimmers: if you don't have training, *stay out of the water*. Extend a hand from the shore, or whatever distance you can safely walk in. Throw a rope or a life preserver. Use a boat, if you have one and know how to use it (which includes knowing what to do when it is overturned -- most small boats will float upside down). But don't swim to rescue someone unless you know what you are doing. Two lives may be lost that way instead of one.


I forgot to share these tips for building a trust-filled relationship with authors: http://editor-mom.blogspot.com/2011/01/how-to-start-off-right-with-authors.html


At a journal I used to work for, we had an unwritten "List" -- as in, "Dr. So and So has been so difficult, he/she is going on The List." If we encountered that author again, we'd know to treat the manuscript with the lightest editing touch possible. In those instances it was even more important than usual to balance our responsibilities: maintaining a cordial, smooth relationship with the authors while upholding the publication's standards. Not always an easy balancing act!


I love to read, but frequently in books and newspapers I will find misspelled words, bad punctuation, and wrong character names referred to in sentences when it's supposed to be another character. Sometimes I wonder whether certain editors or printers know how to proofread.

Patricia Bower

John, I added "almost" after considering that there have been a few occasions that I have not followed an author's instructions to "stet" because the author's original was factually incorrect, usually because the sentence construction was so convoluted that the author didn't realize he or she was completely contradicting an earlier statement that I knew to be true. Authors can sometimes make factual errors, and editors can sometimes catch them. It happens.

John Cowan

Thanks, Patricia, that sounds more reasonable. Of course context matters too: newspaper copy editors are *expected* to catch and correct factual errors, as there's no time for anything else.


This is something I rarely encounter (I guess because I'm one of those editors who queries every change that's not strictly grammatical or punctuation-oriented), but it's certainly something to keep in mind when dealing with authors, Carol. I like Katharine's term, "manuscript-side manner." I'd like to cultivate a good one!

Patricia Boyd

OK, here's my plug. After reading "The Subversive Copyeditor," I modified my approach to authors and have had much more luck with them than I've had before. Used to be, authors would be happy with my catches of outright errors but sometimes seemed pretty resistant to any tightening-up of run-on sentences or suggestions for clarity. (Both such types of edits would have been requested by my publisher clients.) I'm not sure exactly how I've done it, but I think I just focus a little more on assuring authors that this is their baby and that they should feel completely free to stet or modify a suggestion. So thanks, Carol, as you have really helped me improve my professional skills by encouraging to me see the big picture. I'm not the Word Police or Grammar Patrol; I'm an editor helping a writer get something across to a reader and helping publishers and authors sell books.

Carol Saller

Patricia, thanks for the very kind words. (I might have to save them for a future book jacket!)

Celia Brayfield

I once suffered from a copy editor who insisted that Byron called Lady Caroline Lamb 'mad, bad and dangerous to know.' It was the other way around - and she could have looked up the quotation. I certainly felt like an abused puppy after she'd worked on my MS.

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