The Subversive Copy Editor

  1. Is this the book that will finally get me on Twitter?
  2. Do writers need to read a book for editors?
  3. Should you judge a book by its title?
  4. Why write about this classic now?

Carol Fisher Saller answers tricky questions for a living, as editor of the Q&A for the Chicago Manual of Style online. To answer the questions The Subversive Copy Editor raised for me in reverse order:

4. Saller’s book is an absolute classic, well into its second edition. Any editor should read it: it’s about your relationships with writers, colleagues, and yourself. It’s from an in-house perspective, so some of it won’t apply to freelancers, but Saller is the woman who knows about how editing works and if you haven’t read her book yet, you should; you will learn a lot.

3. The subversive in the title absolutely had me sold. I know that writing the story down (from histories to minutes) puts you in a position of power. Editing the story once it’s written is also a position of power, as Saller is very aware. She shows you how you can be a force for positive change in the texts you work on and in the relationships around them. This sometimes means breaking conventions and rules – so long as you know why you’re doing so.

2. Yes, this book is for writers too. It’s a concise, clear introduction to what copyeditors do (I prefer closing them up and I’m not alone), how they can do it better, and why it matters. Saller’s key message is that copyeditors work with writers for readers. I often tell authors that I’m their “first reader”; if I notice that something jars, a reader will too, and we can sort it out before they ever notice. Writers have their own chapter in the book on getting the most out of your relationship with your copyeditor. Saller stresses that copyediting is not meant as an insult, but a gift.

1. I’m writing this just after a large online conference (ITI 2021) where the parallel conversation was on Twitter. I’m not, because I’m fierce about protecting my headspace to write and given my magpie personality, I’m not sure I’d have that space between tweets. If we aren’t back to in-person events in 2022, I will stop teetering and try it. Saller makes very a good case for doing so – it’s where the wordsmiths are – but there are other places for us to meet.

Good relationships around your text are good for you. By being careful, transparent and flexible, copyeditors can help subvert the power imbalances in publishing and writing. Done well, copyediting makes for better texts, happy authors, and happy readers.

new retreat dates – seuraavat retriitit

Published by Kate Sotejeff-Wilson

Translator, editor, writer, reader

2 thoughts on “The Subversive Copy Editor

  1. Sounds like an interesting book (I have to say the “subversive” bit got me too) – another for my TBR pile!

    As for Twitter, I’m on there more than any other social media these days, but I didn’t particularly join in the chat around ITI 2021 because there were so many opportunities for chatting *at* the conference. So I’m not sure I’d say it’s a must-have for that reason.


    1. If we lived nearer I’d lend it you! I agree, I’d rather chat *at* events like that than be glued to my phone, but if I hadn’t gone, I’d have been able to watch it unfold in tweets. It’s a bit like reading a weekly news magazine instead of a daily paper though, I find the stuff that sticks on Twitter usually makes it onto my radar elsewhere soon afterwards, handily pre-digested.


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