My son Jacob grew up wanting to be a book editor like me. He would say, “When I grow up, I want to work at your office at so-and-so.”
I remember when I was project manager for this print-on-demand publishing firm that there were nights I’d come home very late and not get to see him for three straight days, so I’d make up by bringing him to work and he’d settle into one of the empty walk-in closets in the office and read, color, cut paper, or do something productive.
Other times I’d bring a lot of work home, mostly printouts of manuscripts that needed reviewing, and skim through them while he’d sit beside me reading. The printouts would end up in two piles: one with corrections would be brought back to the office. The clean pages would go to him, and he’d pretend he’d be editing them as well.
I didn’t realize how absorbed he was with this “writer” and “editor” thing until recently, when he did the opening prayer during his preschool graduation. My mom, who had been a school principal in her working years, had drawn up the prayer for my little boy and practiced him every night so he would perfect it.
Of course, the ever-stubborn boy would not just take the draft as is: he had his own questions too. One line went, “This will be the last time that we will see each other–all 36 of us . . .” and this six-year-old disagreed with “all 36 of us” because “it is not a sentence, and it is grammatically incorrect”!
My mom was certainly shocked but kept her temper in check. “It’s for emphasis,” she says. “Writers do it a lot.”
And my boy said, “Well, you’re NOT a writer.”
Ooops. Now that’s what I mean by “a little knowledge . . .”
I didn’t start out wanting to edit manuscripts when I went to journalism school. I actually wanted to write features for Newsweek or Time or Reader’s Digest. I wanted to travel, interview people, take photographs of them, and tell their stories.
So I’d like to think the realization of wanting to be copy editor, or someone who makes some improvements to text before it is sent to production, was purely coincidental.
Several years ago, I came across an ad for a copy editor. It said the applicant had to have a good English background and some solid writing experience. I had my journalism degree and two years’ writing press releases. I was good to go.
To make the story short, I got the job. It involved editing manuscripts for a print-on-demand publishing firm in the U.S. As I went along, I learned what a book editor does. It is, as one publishing firm defines it, someone who is “an expert in style, grammar, punctuation, word usage, and style.” Eventually I also learned to double-check facts for accuracy and to recast text where it was needed, keeping in mind to tread lightly and respect the author’s style.
I cannot keep track of the number of manuscripts I have worked on my years as copy editor. Some have been memorable, that I actually follow their reviews on Amazon and Forbes Book Club. Other good ones fail to shine, and it saddens me that readers may not be able to read them. There were manuscripts that took me months to edit, not only because they were lengthy but also because they took a lot of hard work.
Without my tools, I wouldn’t be able to get all the work done. I learned to rely on dictionaries and style manuals, and read up on the intricacies of English grammar. But always at my beck and call was the Chicago Manual of Style, a trusty companion whose judgment I hold in high esteem.
I have had some career changes since then, but always I go back to what I now realize is my passion: working with manuscripts. There have been some authors who challenge every correction I make or each question I raise, but that is part of the job that should be welcome. If you, an author, had some editor shred your manuscript, wouldn’t you want to know why?
So that’s been my love affair with copy. I love it. I’m here to stay.