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The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself) [Hardcover]

Carol Fisher Saller
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Book Description

March 16 2009 Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing

Each year writers and editors submit over three thousand grammar and style questions to the Q&A page at The Chicago Manual of Style Online. Some are arcane, some simply hilarious—and one editor, Carol Fisher Saller, reads every single one of them. All too often she notes a classic author-editor standoff, wherein both parties refuse to compromise on the "rights" and "wrongs" of prose styling: "This author is giving me a fit." "I wish that I could just DEMAND the use of the serial comma at all times." "My author wants his preface to come at the end of the book. This just seems ridiculous to me. I mean, it’s not a post-face."

In The Subversive Copy Editor, Saller casts aside this adversarial view and suggests new strategies for keeping the peace. Emphasizing habits of carefulness, transparency, and flexibility, she shows copy editors how to build an environment of trust and cooperation. One chapter takes on the difficult author; another speaks to writers themselves. Throughout, the focus is on serving the reader, even if it means breaking "rules" along the way. Saller’s own foibles and misadventures provide ample material: "I mess up all the time," she confesses. "It’s how I know things."

Writers, Saller acknowledges, are only half the challenge, as copy editors can also make trouble for themselves. (Does any other book have an index entry that says "terrorists. See copy editors"?) The book includes helpful sections on e-mail etiquette, work-flow management, prioritizing, and organizing computer files. One chapter even addresses the special concerns of freelance editors.

Saller’s emphasis on negotiation and flexibility will surprise many copy editors who have absorbed, along with the dos and don’ts of their stylebooks, an attitude that their way is the right way. In encouraging copy editors to banish their ignorance and disorganization, insecurities and compulsions, the Chicago Q&A presents itself as a kind of alter ego to the comparatively staid Manual of Style. In The Subversive Copy Editor, Saller continues her mission with audacity and good humor.

 


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Review

“An insider’s book to cure writers . . . while shoring up editors. . . . Good advice.”

(William Safire New York Times 2009-04-28)

“One of the great virtues of this book (which has been very well copy-edited) is the many helpful examples of exchanges and situations Saller uses to illustrate her points. Many are real—and some, incidentally, very funny.”

(TLS "In Brief" 2009-05-29)

“Carol Fisher Saller . . . knows editing is as much about people as paragraphs, and that mastering diplomacy is as important as mastering stylebooks.”
(American Copy Editors Society)

“A little insider baseball . . . What may be the best copy editor’s companion since the CMS, the AP Style Guide and that dog-eared xerox of copy editing marks you keep tacked up on the cubicle wall. . . . With entire chapters devoted to the freelancer and the writer, and an extensive guide for further reading, this is an ideal complement to any style guide: practical, relentlessly supportive and full of ed-head laughs”

(Publishers Weekly Online 2009-05-04)

“In this slim volume, Saller not only presents the sometimes muddy art of copyediting in a clear, matter-of-fact way; she has a lot of fun doing it. . . . The Subversive Copyeditor is a wonderful read for anyone involved in copyediting and an especially good ‘welcome’ gift for the many enthusiastic—and regrettably underpaid—interns now entering the publishing field.”

(Publishing Research Quarterly 2009-04-11)

“Carol Fisher Saller has hit this one out of the ballpark. Ms. Saller is knowledgeable and funny, her advice practical and relevant, and the book she has written is above all readable. So readable, in fact, that when I received a set of uncorrected page proofs for review, I could not put them down. . . . It was exhilarating, as if I’d been to a revival meeting where Ms. Saller was the preacher and I was the amen corner.”

(Wendalyn Nichols Copyediting 2009-01-29)

“A wonderfully concise yet nuanced guide for the working (or would-be-working) copy editor. . . . [Saller] wears her experience well, urging flexibility, transparency, and tact—along with, obviously, consistency and reason—in working with authors and their copy.”

(Alan Moores Booklist 2009-03-31)

“It’s no surprise that the droll and (seemingly) all-knowing wizard behind the Chicago Style Q&A puts it all together—entertainingly—for manuscript editors in this real-world guide to job success and survival. The surprise is how urgent it is for every author, client, and boss who works with editors to embrace Carol Fisher Saller’s ‘subversiveness’—or suffer the next outcome from hell.”

(Arthur Plotnik, author of The Elements of Editing and Spunk & Bite: A Writer's G 2008-09-08)

Q. I’m just starting out as a copy editor. I’ve read the style manuals, but can you suggest a book that will give me a sense of what’s important and put my job in perspective?



 



A. Happily, yes. In The Subversive Copy Editor you will find chatty, sensible advice from the guru behind the Chicago Style Q&A. Carol Fisher Saller’s well-reasoned plea for carefulness, transparency, and flexibility will keep both on-staff and freelance editors on the right path.



 



—Jenya Weinreb, Managing Editor, Yale University Press

(Jenya Weinreb 2008-09-08)

“Serving the reader by working cooperatively with the writer? Sometimes throwing ‘the rules’ out the window? Clearing the decks of pet peeves, mythical prohibitions and intractability? That is subversive. And welcome.”

(Craig Lancaster Billings Gazette "Watch Yer Language" blog 2009-03-09)

“Anyone who has struggled with how to apply various rules to improve her writing would benefit from reading Saller’s book. Though it isn’t a style guide itself—that’s what the Chicago Manual and other guides are for—the book is a perfect complement to such guides.”

(Sarah C. Lange The Writer 2009-05-01)

“Carol Fisher Saller is the mentor that every copyeditor dreams of: wise, smart, shrewd, gracious, generous, and self-deprecating. Her advice on how to manage your deadlines, your computer files and e-mail, your relations with authors and colleagues, and your editorial compulsions, fears, and superstitions will add years (long, happy, productive years) to your life.”

(Amy Einsohn, author of The Copyeditor's Handbook 2008-08-25)

“I've got dozens of books concerned with the nuts and bolts of copy-editing, but this is the only one that teaches the fine art of chilling out. . . . Saller’s project, in about 100 pages, is to (a) civilize the editing process, and (b) keep copy editors—meticulous and learned and hard-working, but also stubborn and obsessive, sometimes injuriously so—from going insane. . . . There’s advice here on deadline management, e-mail etiquette and how to handle ‘the difficult author'. . . . 'The Subversive Copy Editor' will remain on my shelf. I think Mr. Bernstein and Messrs. Strunk and White will find Saller to be good company."

(Jennifer Balderama New York Times blog "Papercuts" 2009-02-26)

“An entertaining trip even for those who never plan to lift a red pen or use the editing feature of a word-processing program.”
(Tom Frisbee Chicago Sun-Times 2009-05-03)

“While copy editors are Saller’s target audience, The Subversive Copy Editor includes wisdom that applies to just about anyone: how to ask questions without making them sound like accusations, and how to prevent your in-box from becoming an unmanageable mountain of e-mails.”

(Robert Loerzel Time Out Chicago 2009-03-12)

“Carol Fisher Saller is a comedian in copy editor's clothing--or should that be comedienne? . . . This is not a book about where the commas go, but rather where an editor’s hand should and shouldn’t go. . . . While the book is probably most useful to new or would-be editors, some of its advice is universal—communicate quickly and directly, be organized but resist compulsion, take deadlines seriously, document everything. Each chapter is prefaced with a question, with the clever answer placed at the end, and her stories from the front lines (the writer who described someone hiking 5,723 miles up a mountain, the editor who used a phone to anonymously wake her napping boss) keep things entertaining.”

(Jim Foti Minneapolis Star-Tribune 2009-05-08)

“Carol Fisher Saller is a nicer person than I am—not that that is any great feat. She maintains the question-and-answer feature at The Chicago Manual of Style’s online site, giving brisk, concise, helpful and sometimes amused answers to a barrage of questions from writers and editors. That same level-headed advice appears on every page of The Subversive Copy Editor. . . . If you are a copy editor, an aspirant to copy editing, or a writer dealing with copy editors, a $13 investment will be money well spent on your career. . . . . I wish I had had this book 30 years ago; it could have saved me from any number of rash actions and missteps.”

(John E. McIntyre Baltimore Sun "You don't say" blog 2009-03-12)

"The Subversive Copy Editor is a delightful book. I haven’t had this much fun reading about things editorial since devouring Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. . . ..[ Saller’s] book is filled with excellent advice and illuminating anecdotes, and Saller has an engaging writing style and a wonderful sense of humor.”

(Stephanie Deming Science Editor 2009-07-29)

“Saller writes with equal parts of experience and heart. . . . Whether you are a casual editor, a teacher, a student, or a communications professional, you likely should read this book, if not for the concise fount of wisdom it is, then at least for a knowing chuckle or two. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll take notes.”

(Gary Hernandez Technical Communication 2009-11-15)

“The Subversive Copy Editor—what a great title! That alone was enough to make me pick up a copy right away. . . .



The advice it contains is solid and pertinent, and I suspect it could be quite an eye-opener—possibly even life-changing—for some working editors. Saller’s humor is infectious, and helps her to make points effectively, so that even experienced editors happy with their working relationships will enjoy the read, as well as possibly picking up some useful suggestions and tips and gaining some beneficial insights.”

(Society of Writers, Editors & Translators 2009-10-01)

"If sanity is subversive, so is this guide. . . . This book should be read by all who write or edit in the course of their professional duties."
(Examiner)

"The author succeeds in maintaining momentum to justify these early revelations in the rest of the book. She has written a collection of simple, practical messages for copy editors and their authors, favouring a readable, chatty style that doesn't seek to overemphasize them. Saller's prose thus remains digestible, with sufficient examples to illustrate her message. Although much of the substance of this book will be common sense to an experienced, organized, thinking editor, it is nonetheless worth repeating, particularly in such a readable style."

(Stephen K. Donovan Journal of Scholarly Publishing 2010-06-21)

"A treasure house of advice, stories, suggestions and how to handle the difficult author. If you work with copy or authors, you should have this book by your desk."
(Barbara Rixstine Lincoln Journal Star)

“I'm a regular reader of The Chicago Manual of Style Online’s Q & A section, so I felt a certain fan-girl glee when I learned that its editor had published a book. . . . Written in a wry, engaging voice, the book is full of useful advice on meeting deadlines, managing files, coping with email—and dealing with authors.”

(Pamela Toler American Society of Journalists and Authors Monthly)

About the Author

Carol Fisher Saller is a senior manuscript editor at the University of Chicago Press and the editor of The Chicago Manual of Style Online’s Q&A.


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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The social smarts in editing Sept. 18 2012
By Brian Griffith TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Looking beyond the printed page, Saller offers her experience dealing with the people issues, the organizational problems, the priority setting or the negotiating skills needed to stay sane in an editing career. In general, she's a force for greater social and emotional intelligence in the field.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Helpful advice through the author's personal experience as a professional editor. Rather than "preach" to her reader, Carol Saller informs through examples, many of which are humerous.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  38 reviews
64 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Teach Yourself the Craft of Editing June 2 2009
By C. J. Singh - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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Reviewed by C.J.Singh

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. -- C J Singh
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's like finding out your mother smokes! Nov. 2 2009
By Patricia E. Boyd - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Editors break rules. How liberating! Carol Fisher Saller's "Subversive Copy Editor" confirms what I learned as a scientist: The more you know about a subject, the less dogmatic your opinions. Rules can be broken; editors do make stupid mistakes. Saller brings great common sense and, yes, sharp business acumen to her profession. The book reminds you that if an author--consistently--has styled his 985 references in a totally nonstandard, but logical style, what's the point in undoing all the painstaking work? Having enjoyed this "Chicago Manual of Style" editor's online Q&A page for years, I loved reading more about the crazy questions she gets about editing (and sometimes other topics, like fashion, when someone mistook "The Chicago Manual of Style" for a fashion advice book) and the clearheaded, sometimes funny answer she gives. But beyond her approach to editing and her invaluable hints on how to stay organized as an editor, the book includes invaluable lessons in modern business etiquette: ways to work with difficult co-workers and authors, the importance of answering e-mail promptly, even if you don't know the answer; how to defer a decision; the importance of keeping the big picture (in this field, the big picture is the reader and book sales); rules of etiquette not only in your own e-mails but especially with how you handle others' messages; and so on. The book can be read from front to back, almost like a novel (well, I am an editor, so perhaps I found it especially compelling), and Saller's self-deprecatory humor had me laughing out loud. Editors, writers, students, and businesspeople who handle any sort of communications will enjoy this book.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty, humane, real-world advice April 20 2009
By L. F. Chapman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I'm a manuscript editor at a university press and I can't say enough good things about this book. I've long enjoyed Ms. Saller's clever answers in the Q&A section on the Chicago Manual of Style website, so I was predisposed to think well of her, but this book just cemented my respect and admiration. Her advice to editors (and to writers) ranges, for me, from the "I can't believe I never thought of that" variety to the "I have thought of that, but could never have said it so well" variety. This book should be required reading for anybody who is in the business of transforming unpolished words in a manuscript into type on a page.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stet Sept. 7 2009
By Christian Schlect - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
While written for the narrow orbit of copy editors and those who might desire such a career, this book deserves a wider readership.

Authors, language mavens, newsletter writers, corporate communicators, to those who simply want general good advice on handling co-worker business interactions at any type of office--all these and more would profit from Carol Fisher Saller's advice.

Practical, good humored, well written, and nicely proofed. (The jacket design by Isaac Tobin is nicely done, as well.)
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars THE SUBVERSIVE COPY EDITOR by Carol Fisher Saller Sept. 16 2011
By MOTU Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago is a 2009 book on editing by Carol Fisher Saller, a senior manuscript editor at the University of Chicago Press. The book's subtitle is "How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself," and this is Saller's primary focus.

The Subversive Copy Editor is divided into two sections: one on dealing with the writer and working on behalf of the reader, and the other on working with colleagues. Saller's advice, generally, is to take a common-sense and courteous approach to dealing with anyone and everyone. Her insight into the dynamics of the copy editor's working relationships is probably the most valuable part of the book.

Much of the book seems geared toward new editors, and there's a lot of basic, getting-started information here. On the whole, though, it isn't very subversive - unless remaining calm and not killing yourself stressing out over minutiae is subversive.

Saller's writing style is light and clever, and it makes this book generally enjoyable to read. Saller is also quick to discuss her own mistakes, which certainly helps the reader relate. Even if much of what she has to say isn't profound, it's nice to hear it from somebody who's experienced and credible.

This is quite a short book, but the pace feels a little too leisurely at times, particularly as Saller seems to try to hit a number of disparate targets. Not everything in the book is for every copy editor, and few if any editors will find every chapter relevant or helpful. That said, though, most any editor can get something out of this book.

There's nothing particularly groundbreaking here, but if you're looking for an easy, common-sense book on copy editing, The Subversive Copy Editor is a winner.
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