For most of my career the words I worked with came in between and wrapped around a lot of signs, symbols, and equations. Although I liked my job at a mathematics publisher, I kept longing to be able to sink my editorial teeth into subjects that I could actually understand. So eventually I decided to work for a master’s degree in psychology.
Thanks to a generous program of my employer and the patience and support (emotional and financial) of my husband, I finished my degree program in 1997. I had reduced my position to part time at my employer while I studied, and I began to use the spare time I had to start seeking freelance work. I was lucky enough to find a few clients, and in the fall of that year I became a full-time freelancer.
I love working for myself. The lifestyle suits me well, even though I do have times when I miss having other people to interact with. But I’m an introvert, and I’ve always worked better when I can be by myself, in my own space, without interruptions.
Having a flexible schedule has been a godsend over the past few years, as my mother began to suffer from dementia and needed care. I’ve been able to reduce my workload when needed or even take time off, as I did this past summer when she went into assisted living and I visited her on most days of the week.
I’m not always best at disciplining myself, though. That’s something I still work at. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
When I tell people I’m a copyeditor, they often want to know what that entails. So here’s a brief description of some of the things we do.
What is a copyeditor?
A copyeditor is the link (invisible but hopefully never missing) between author and reader.
Copyeditors have a dual consciousness. We must try to put ourselves inside the mind of the reader, reading the text as he or she will, thinking, “Would I as a reader understand what’s meant here? Would this phrasing make me stumble or stub my toes? Would this ambiguous pronoun confuse me about the meaning of the sentence? Why did the verb tense suddenly change?” We must also try to think like authors, even though we may not be experts in the subject, trying to follow their line of thought and understand what they are trying to say and whether a few word changes or punctuation will make that thought clearer. Unfortunately, though, we’re not mind readers. That’s what author queries are for (AU: OK as edited??)
Like housework, copyediting, when well done, is invisible. It may be noticed only when it isn’t done or is done poorly.
Suppose you were reading a novel or textbook and you came across the following:
· The Magna Carta was signed in 1298. (actually 1215)
· Thoreau’s great work was titled On Walden Pond. (just Walden)
· Fargo won the Best Picture Oscar in 1996. (The English Patient won.)
· A woman in France makes a call at 5 p.m. to her husband in New England--where it’s bedtime. (It’s actually earlier in the U.S. than in Europe)
The first three are actual errors that I caught when working on manuscripts. The fourth I found in a published novel, and it certainly affected my enjoyment of what was otherwise a good story. They don’t by any means reflect on the intelligence of the authors; we’re all human beings, and authors have a difficult task in organizing their thoughts and expressing what they want to say. Even small errors, those that might easily escape any author proofing his or her own work, can make a big difference in how the author’s work is received by a reader. An omitted not can entirely change the meaning of a sentence. Extraneous words can clutter a sentence and make it more difficult to read.
And then there are the “spell check”errors—things that a word processor’s checking program will miss simply because it isn’t programmed to catch them. Have you ever red (read) anything like “the cargo was to (too) heavy to left (lift)”? Or stumbled on two words in succession that seem to mean the same thing—hole crater—because the author changed the word but simply forgot to delete the original one? A spell checker won’t catch these things. A trained, sensitive copyeditor will.
Have red pencil, will use it.
I breathe, therefore I edit.