Chicago is some folks’ kind of town (the Blues, Obama, deep dish pizza…) and The Chicago is my kind of style guide* – there’s some swot editorial dagginess for you. Trust me, book editors everywhere are sniggering over their cappuccinos right now.
I warn you that posting on our ‘E’ book, The Subversive Copyeditor: Advice from Chicago by Carol Fisher Saller, may result in your humble blogger ranting about her job and the annoying questions people ask when you tell them you’re a book editor, so for all our sakes let’s get four things out of the way:
1. Yes, I read a lot.
2. No, my job does not solely involve reading and correcting spelling.
3. No, I can’t help you get your book published.
4. Yes, my job is interesting, I do love it, the pay is awful and no, I still can’t help you get your book published.
I hope we all feel better now. But why oh why am I blogging about a book most of you aren’t going to have any interest in reading? Well, isn’t that just the great thing about books? There are tomes for every taste and interest and knowledge-need out there, and though this particular title may seem a little overly specific for most, what I want to write about is that wonderful ability of certain books to do a wondrous thing for their readers – to teach, inspire and make them feel like they’re not alone.
Editing can be a lonely job. I work with a team of wonderful editors but the work itself is often solitary, taking a lot of concentration and ‘quiet time’. It can be a job of all responsibility and worry, yet no power or glory. But it can also be a job of immense pleasure – creative, collaborative, nurturing, challenging, enjoyable, educational and edifying. A well-edited book is a triumph of organisation, language-wrangling, consistency, understanding, specialised knowledge, relationship-building, hard work, a graceful mind and careful hand, talent, ability, design, structure, decision-making, time management, whimsy and a little luck. And Fisher Saller ‘gets’ all this and so for your blogging little black editing duck it makes The Subversive Copyeditor a winner.
Fisher Saller is an editor speaking to editors in a knowledgable and entertaining way about their craft. And that doesn’t happen very often. (After all, we may be the ones who make the books, but we don’t write them. It’s like writing a book for the stage manager instead of the leading performers.) I don’t know if this scenario is also the case for other professions. Maybe the shelves at engineering firms practically groan with entertaining and inspirational dusty tomes on bridge-building and urban structures (apologies, I’ve never been quite clear about what engineers ‘do’), maybe there’s a pocket-sized book on how to get more out of being a caterer that hairnet-wearing cooks the world over like to carry around in their aprons. I imagine, though, that all of us are a little lacking in well-written books that talk to us about what we do. What I do know is that even if you are someone who is passionate about their ‘job’, who has a craft, a philosophy on why they do what they do, who can, honestly, most of the time, tell people you love your job, you still need a little inspiration now and then, a voice in the dark that says ‘I know what you do, I know what you worry about and I have some ideas on how you can make it better’.
I’m not trying to sound like a born-again publishing professional. The Subversive Copyeditor is a great little book full of tips, advice, knowledge and a good dose of editorial humour (trust me, we’re a very funny people). But it is just that, a little book. It’s not going to change anyone’s world, but it may help its target readership do their jobs a little bit better, it may help remind them in those stressful, overworked, unappreciated times why they do what they do, and why it really is a pretty awesome job. I recommend it to editors and proofreaders, I recommend it to writers and wannabe-writers who want to know more about ‘editing’ and book-making, I’d like to hand it out to all those people I meet at barbecues who think I just sit in an armchair and read all day.
I hope there are books like this out there for engineers and caterers, mechanics and zookeepers. We spend so much of our lives at work it’s nice to like your job. It’s even nicer if you can indulge every now and then in a literary ‘discussion’ with someone who ‘gets’ it, you and why you do what you do. We all need a little inspiration and guidance now and then and The Subversive Copyeditor provided that for me.
* A style guide is a reference book editors use to make decisions about consistency of language style in a manuscript. It covers everything from how to deal with numbers, to capitalisation, foreign words, colloquialisms, referencing and more and more. The Chicago Manual of Style is a well-known and much-used style guide.