“The Subversive Copy Editor” by Carol Fisher Saller

Title: The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself)
Author: Carol Fisher Saller
ISBN: 9780226734255
Pages: 148
Release date: March 2009
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Genre: Writing/Reference
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal collection
Rating: 5 out of 5

Warning: Extremely nerdy content ahead.

In addition to her position as senior manuscript editor at the University of Chicago Press, Carol Fisher Saller is editor of the Chicago Manual of Style Online‘s Q&A.

During her tenure, she has received tens of thousands of grammar and style questions pertaining Chicago’s complex rules for publishing. Somehow, she reads every single one, no matter how esoteric or absurd, and she posts answers to the most common and/or difficult questions in the online Q&A.

Saller has noticed, however, that an overwhelming number of queries relate to work issues—how to deal with difficult authors, how to manage one’s time and projects effectively, and how to defend one’s favorite, often quirky and unknown, rule in the face of controversy.

Too often, she has observed conflict between editors, authors, and publishers, and she urges each party—beginning with copyeditors, her intended audience—to cast aside this adversarial stance in favor for peaceful strategies and compromises.

In essence, Saller sets out to show editors how not to be curmudgeons.

And it works. Blending an irreverent sense of humor with years of experience, Saller advises editors on when to hold firm to their principles and when to back down.

She addresses working with the writer and for the reader; the copyeditor ideally polishes the ideas of a writer so that the reader can better understand the text.

Saller emphasizes the importance of “carefulness, transparency, and flexibility” in editing, and she also encourages editors not to be afraid to break the rules. Such advice is refreshing, especially when faced with the imposing bulk of the Chicago Manual of Style.

I’m not usually in the habit of including promotional copy in my reviews, but this summary of what the book is (and isn’t) hits the nail on the head:

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.

If you have any experience with the Chicago Manual of Style, you’ll understand why this book is necessary. I’ve spent countless hours scouring the Chicago Manual of Style Online and its incredibly helpful Q&A–and I still have scores of unanswered questions. Ultimately, though, Saller argues that following one’s common sense—and preserving one’s professional relationships—trumps any written rule.

And this book isn’t just for longtime editors quibbling over quirky points. With an entire chapter devoted to freelance editing, as well as an appendix on how to break in to the copyediting industry, the book is a solid entry into a career of copyediting.

Saller devotes a significant portion of the book to working with one’s colleagues–and one’s self. She offers very practical and sound advice on email etiquette, work-flow management, prioritizing, and organizing computer files.

I’m a fairly organized person, but Saller blows me out of the water. Since reading this book, I’ve devised a system for keeping track of my daily tasks, both “To Do” and “Done.” If a question arises about when I did something, finding the answer is as easy as searching a straightforward Word document. This has saved my ass more times than I can count.

Her advice on organizing my email and computer files has also kept me from going nuts. And she is one of the best when it comes to project management. This chick knows of what she speaks.

I recommend this book to anyone interesting in the process of publishing, but I also believe that the advice she offers—particularly in the second section—apply to all working relationships, especially those engaged in the delicate craft of refining others’ work.

One more thing: I must to mention the cover. It is so creative and fun, I can never resist picking up this slim but powerful book and flipping through its pages. Well done, University of Chicago Press!

Don’t just take my word for it! Buy The Subversive Copy Editor for yourself from an independent bookstore. Each sale from this link helps support Melody & Words.

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