One of the most essential steps in publishing any book is editing. What does this mean to the average self-publishing author? If you are a writer, you know that editing is a collective term referring to developmental editing, copy editing, and proofreading.
The following is a depiction of a typical day in the life of one book copy editor—on the day I begin a new manuscript. The changes noted here are not exact descriptions of those I’ve made, but give you the general idea of the types of things an editor looks for (depending upon the type of edit being performed and the scope of work).
A Day in the Life of a Book Editor
8 a.m.: Open manuscript file.
8:01 a.m.: Save as a new file adding “WITH TRACKED CHANGES” to end of file name. This keeps the author’s naming convention in place, but makes clear which version I’m working on.
8:02 a.m.: Create a new style sheet. This is a Word document that is the home for information related to style and formatting for the book. My variation includes a spot for the name of the project and month/year the edit is being performed. I also note my primary style guide (Chicago for books) and the dictionary that will be followed. The style sheet is not just for me, but also for the author and anyone else who will work on the manuscript such as another editor, the designer, and the proofreader. If there is a question about the spelling of a word or choice of reference style, for example, the style sheet may be consulted for standardization.
8:05 a.m.: Start editing!
8:15 a.m.: Hmmm. . . Half of this sentence is in green. Nope, no reason for it. Change to black.
9:00 a.m.: “non-partisan”—is that spelled with a hyphen as the author used or should it be one word, “nonpartisan.” Quick dictionary check to confirm, note on style sheet, and make correction to manuscript.
10:00 a.m.: A section of dialogue has some funky punctuation. Make fixes to backward quotation marks and insert commas where needed.
11:30 a.m.: Update some style preferences to match Chicago style. AM and PM become a.m. and p.m.
Noon: Lunch! It’s time for my brain to have a break and also refuel.
1:00 p.m.: Someone is shopping at “Nordstroms.” A common way of saying the name, but not the actual store name. Quick online search confirms that the name of this store is “Nordstrom.” (It NEVER hurts to verify and facts like this only take a second to confirm.) Since this is exposition and not dialogue, the name is fixed.
1:35 p.m.: This chapter heading doesn’t match the style of the author’s. I increase the font size and bold for consistency. It is important for the designer to have clear distinctions between heading levels when he or she is laying out the book.
2:15 p.m.: A quote is attributed to a person but only the individual’s first and last name are provided. While that works for someone who has achieved a certain level of fame (e.g., Barack Obama), if the person does not have that level of name recognition, then some sort of context should be provided. For example, is this a “world-renowned dermatologist”? Or perhaps it’s the author’s best friend?
2:45 p.m.: This quote runneth over! An opening quotation mark suggests the start of the quote, but there’s no closing quotation mark. Is the opening quote mark an error? Or is it the start of a quote, but the author forgot to note where the quote ends? This is a common error I come across that I query and ask the author to go back and check against his or her source.
3:00 p.m.: Time to stop editing. I verify that all final changes are saved to that file and the style sheet. My work on the book is done until tomorrow.