Calling All Copyeditors!

With the recent release of the seventeenth edition of The Chicago Manual of Style, the Press is developing a fourth edition of its best-selling Copyeditor’s Handbook, scheduled to publish in April 2019, along with a companion Copyeditor’s Workbook, which will feature extensive exercises, answer keys, and commentary. Marilyn Schwartz, the Press’s former managing editor, has taken over revisions for the much-missed Amy Einsohn; below Marilyn reflects on the book’s legacy and its future.

The Copyeditor’s Handbook began, like numerous books, in a conversation many years ago. At the time, Amy Einsohn was running a freelance editing business; I was supervising a staff of production editors at the University of California Press. We both also moonlighted as instructors of copyediting for UC Berkeley’s Extension program and the local freelance cooperative Editcetera. Whenever our paths crossed, we would stop to chat about our work and to commiserate over the dearth of instructional material for our students. Someone, we agreed, should write a book for aspiring copyeditors. Eventually, Amy wrote that book, and in 2000 UC Press published her now-indispensible introduction to professional editing. As Amy’s editor, I steered the Handbook through its initial publication and the production of two subsequent editions.

Amy’s book was unstuffy, hip, and often funny—traits not normally associated with copyediting. It demolished zombie rules of grammar and usage (those undead hordes of proscriptions against split infinitives and other imaginary faults) by advocating the counsel of professional linguists and lexicographers. It described the emerging procedures for on-screen editing at the end of the era when editors marked copy with No. 1 Ticonderoga pencils. It also offered technical tips, introduced new digital resources for editors, and adjudicated transformations in language and in the formal conventions for written English that were being accelerated by the internet, email, and social media.

With each fresh edition Amy refined, amplified, and updated content to keep pace with changes in editorial practice, but over time, we started to plan a more substantial revision of the Handbook, along with the creation of a new Copyeditor’s Workbook, a complementary volume of student exercises, in both print and digital form, that would greatly expand upon the fifteen assignments originally bound into the Handbook. Regrettably, Amy’s declining health prevented her from completing these projects, but she bequeathed extensive notes for this retooling. In revising the Handbook, I have followed Amy’s own tracks—her more than 100,000 words of marginalia and scores of saved computer files—and have incorporated the latest advice from language authorities, usage guides, and new editions of major style manuals, including The Chicago Manual of Style.

Tectonic shifts in the publishing industry have affected twenty-first-century copyediting in ways that Amy could not have foreseen when she wrote the Handbook, and I have tried to address these changes as well. No longer do editors merely groom manuscripts for print production: they often prepare text for several formats, including e-book publication, print-on-demand (POD) distribution, PDF output, and a concurrent existence or an afterlife on the web. Editors are also using, sometimes improvising, new tools, such as PDF markup, collaborative writing software, videoconferencing, and institutional clients’ proprietary production systems. They are expected to know how to emend text for global audiences; to conform manuscripts to governmental mandates for “plain language” (which is actually a thing); and sometimes to comply with accessibility requirements.

With the disappearance of many staff copyediting positions, more editors are plying their trade as freelancers. The new Handbook anticipates the demands of their increasingly diversified clientele, which includes soaring numbers of independent (self-publishing) authors, international scholars writing in English as a second language, and the intermediaries who have sprung up to serve such constituencies. In this new Wild West of publishing, editors must forge a professional code of ethics, establish independent standards, and undertake continuous self-education. And they must be prepared to negotiate the inevitable mission creep—the expectation that “copyediting” encompasses the full suite of services once provided by an entire team of specialists or the staff of a traditional publisher—while never abandoning the copyeditor’s prime directive: Remember that words matter.

After receiving a Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Davis, in 1976, Marilyn Schwartz joined the editorial staff of the University of California Press, where she served as Managing Editor for twenty-eight years. From 1979 through 2004 she taught Editorial Workshop, an introductory class in the Professional Sequence in Editing, for UC Berkeley Extension. She is the author of Guidelines for Bias-Free Writing (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), prepared for the Association of American University Presses with the members of the Task Force on Bias-Free Language. Since her retirement from UC Press in 2011, she has reenrolled in university classes and devotes her spare time to long-deferred writing projects and clandestine editing assignments.