“The Most Unheralded Job in Publishing”

By Kathryn Comment

This week, Adam Langer devotes his Book Standard column to “the most unheralded job in publishing,” that of the copyeditor. Here’s some highlights:

AL: Do you feel that your job is too anonymous?* Should you get more credit?

SL: The anonymity is appropriate. It’s akin to a referee or umpire in a sports contest: If you become aware of his presence, chances are, something’s wrong.

CD: I once had a colleague who complained that text and book-jacket designers are credited, so editors should be too, but I don’t feel a need to be credited. I usually receive thanks from authors in e-mails or phone calls, and that means a lot to me, especially since my job is to be an annoying gadfly and question every little decision they made. Sometimes, frankly, I would not want credit, particularly when an author insists on atypical or inconsistent style choices, errors, anachronisms or offensive wording.


AL: What if you have to copyedit a book that you hate? Can you distance yourself?

SL: You have to. It’s like a mechanic who hates Volkswagens: He still has to do a good job fixing whatever’s wrong, no matter his personal dislike of Jettas.

JZB: I work in fits and starts, bitch and moan to others in the business, toy with the idea of leaving everything just as it is, walk around the block when I find myself sarcastically reading passages aloud to myself. When the deadline looms close enough, I sit down and do what I’m being paid to do. You just do your best and wonder why you didn’t make a career of grooming poodles or putting wheels on toy trains when you had the chance. And why you didn’t have the business sense to whip out a piece of trash and sell it to a publisher for a huge advance.

*In this case, anonymity would only be the result of my laziness. So, though it takes extra typing, here’s the names the above initials refer to: JZB = Judit Z. Bodnar (favorite projects: Thursday’s Universe, by Marcia Bartusiak, and Wakefield, by Andrei Codrescu); SL = Steve Lamont (favorite projects: David Sedaris’s books and The Ice Queen, by Alice Hoffman); and CD = Courtney Denney (favorite projects: How to Survive a Robot Uprising, by Daniel H. Wilson and Candyfreak, by Steve Almond).