We decided we’d like to talk a bit more about the processes of book publishing, to show you the precision clockwork-like processes of how we turn pledges into books. So, in the first of what promises to be a pretty sporadic set of blog posts, here’s Isobel Frankish of this parish on the art of the copy edit:
A general assumption sometimes appears to dictate that all copy-editing is either common sense (the implication being that it is a job we could any of us do given half a chance), or it’s a task relegated to only the most pernickety of nitpickers; freakishly meticulous disciples of grammar bibles and weighty tomes.
I suppose both of these are true, in moderation, but the skill of an excellent copy-editor lies in the happy in-between. This is the ability to tread gently through a dense field of prose and identify that, while beautiful, sometimes there are bits needing some light dead-heading, or perhaps some hidden beauties are wilting under a shrub somewhere that needs pruning. During his fifteenth year at Ed 2, the copy-editing department at Penguin, Richard Duguid put it beautifully and much better than I ever could:
‘[the] aim is simply to walk undetected through the corridors of [authors’] prose, gently rearranging the misplaced artefacts that can so easily obstruct a reader’s view of the larger scheme’.
Some authors can get prickly about the perceived notion of someone interfering with their most precious endeavours, but the working relationship between an author and an editor is completely and crucially based on a mutual understanding of the manuscript on which you are working, hopefully together. Authors are our gardeners. A copy-editor’s not in it to duck under the fence and make off with all the prize roses. We’re your nutty next-door neighbour who’s slipped in, sorted out the begonias, made a quick round with the watering can and crept away again invisibly to admire all your hard work.