Killing the Ego

The copyeditor walks the thin line of asserting personality and totally squashing it. And I don’t even mean the author’s personality, I mean the editor’s. As copyeditors, we are supposed to have knowledge, opinions, and experience. And yet, even as we enforce rules, we must not kill the author’s voice. We fix grammar, but try to retain her words when possible, even if they are boring, awkward words.

It’s a fucked-up field. We retain the author’s words but know better than she does what she means to say. You spend enough time in someone else’s genre, you learn the kind of mistakes they make and what they say when they’re doing it right. And even so you have to be totally submissive to authorial intent and publisher’s requirements. I am the small golden retriever puppy turned over on his back.

Is it any wonder I curse a lot on my blog?

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8 responses to “Killing the Ego

  1. And I’m not entirely sure what it means that I just went back in to edit the post, not to fix the pathetic fallacy in the first sentence (Copyediting walks was changed to The copyeditor walks), but to take out an extra space. Then I changed the first sentence.

      • Only about some things. I was clearly willing to let the bad word choice stand (instead of a bunch of spaces??). It’s like barging into a house fire to save your schlock novels.

    • I admire the perfectionism, both required and inherent, in this post and your work! Here’s to copyeditors. Seriously, do people (and by people I mean writers) complain a lot about this? I can’t imagine!

      Of course I’ve never submitted a book-length manuscript for scrutiny ….

      • There are those who take edits very personally. “Who do you THINK you are, altering a single letter in my BRILLIANT work??”

        And then there are those who don’t give a damn about publisher’s style. “My high school English teacher said that the comma before and in a list is optional.” And so the copyeditor has to say “Well, yes, but according to Chicago Manual of Style, which is the style used by every other book XXXX publisher has published, the serial comma is required.”

  2. But Indy, is it really ego?
    It’d be different if the copyeditor was the superstar, but you are the behind-the-scenes woman, rarely thanked and often critisized (which I find bogguss, but that’s a thousand words to get me there…).
    In my day job, there are many things I go to bat for that make me the bad guy. But it’s right, I know I’m right, and when it’s done others get the credit. If it’s wrong its on me and its a job where I’m not allowed to be wrong. So, I would argue its the absence of ego to fight the good fight knowing you won’t get the credit. No?

    • Wow, that is very much like my job. (I’m curious about what you do.) I have a lot of ego about my job sometimes, well, let’s call it pride, because I can do things that other people can’t do. When I was a bookseller, I relied on that kind of pride as well, the pride of being able to name just about any book anyone ever talked about. And as a poet…I guess the list goes on.

  3. The copyeditor IS the superstar! What are you talking about? I don’t venerate my publisher. I don’t have a relationship with my acquisitions editor (I think I am supposed to, but the fact that they downsized sometime between accepting my manuscript and publishing it, and presented me with a new one may have had something to do with it). But, my copyeditor… WOW! He taught me new words. He made me look smart. He prevented me from making a fool of myself (more than once). Thank heavens I never had to talk about skin colour, but if I had had to, he would have made sure I said it right.(would he have let me say “had had”? I dunno, but he would have gently debrided around the correct “had,” and I wouldn’t even have noticed). What I have noticed is that some (journal) publishers (say Elsevier, just as an example) have obviously picked up some pretty shy copyeditors. i get my manuscripts back and they give me no cause for veneration. Instead of thinking “geez I must be writing well these days!” I go: “didn’t they copyedit this thing?!” PS-why does this site keep underlining “copyeditor”? Isn’t that a word?

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