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The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself) Paperback – Mar 16 2009
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About the Author
Carol Fisher Saller is a senior manuscript editor at the University of Chicago Press and the editor of TheChicago Manual of Style Online’s Q&A.
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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
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.
My beef is that this particular Kindle edition needs a copy edit. There were lots of errors such as words and sentences running together.
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