An American Editor

November 7, 2011

The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online I — The Books

I am celebrating the start of my 28th year as a professional editor. Over the course of those years, I have watched the world of editing change. Sadly, many of my colleagues have not changed with it.

In my beginning years, nearly all editing work was done on paper. I hated working on paper! I hated it because of the types of editing projects I undertake — generally the books I work on are several thousand manuscript pages and often, when published, are either a very large single volume (very-large-width spine) or are multivolume. Imagine realizing that you made a mistake in the first 500 manuscript pages and trying to find each mistake when editing on paper. Difficult at best, impossible realistically. More importantly, think of the money it cost me — after all, it was my mistake and the client shouldn’t be penalized for my mistake — and the time I spent trying to find those errors. Online editing has definitely eased that task; now correcting a mistake is significantly less expensive and less time-consuming.

Those years were also the time when computers were being introduced into the workplace for everyone, rather than for a select few. Remember XyWrite? It was the software program that many publishers adopted when it first became available. Lippincott, before it was Lippincott-Raven then Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, went so far as to create a customized version of XyWrite and would only hire editors who took, at the editor’s own expense, a day-long class in New York City on using the customized template. Alas, XyWrite was soon swept away by WordPerfect, which was ultimately swept away by Microsoft Word.

Yet in those beginning years, I saw both the future of editing and an opportunity. The future clearly was online editing and the opportunity was to be among the very few who could and would offer solely online editing of manuscripts. And that was how I promoted myself. I would send out “cost comparisons” demonstrating how much money I could save a publisher by electronically editing and coding their manuscripts instead of working on paper. And in the beginning, those savings were huge.

Today it is the rare manuscript that is edited on paper. Nearly all manuscripts are edited electronically and almost never does paper move hand to hand — the Internet has changed how professional editors work. Yet one thing hasn’t changed in all these years: there is still a sizable number of editors who have not mastered the basic tools of their profession. Their knowledge of the tools they use daily is minimal — just enough to get by. Ask them to use a feature that they have not used before and they get flustered.

Succeeding as a professional editor in the 21st century requires more than knowledge of language, spelling, and grammar — it also requires mastery of the tools we use daily. It requires learning new skills, particularly how to harness the built-in power of the software we use, and finding and using complementary software that enhances the already great power of our basic editing software. For example, it is not enough to master Microsoft Word; one needs also to be familiar with programs like MacroExpress, PerfectIt, the Editorium macros, and EditTools. (The latter three were the subject of discussion in these articles, which appeared on An American Editor more than a year ago: The 3 Stages of Copyediting: I — The Processing Stage; The 3 Stages of Copyediting: II — The Copyediting Stage; and The 3 Stages of Copyediting: III — The Proofing Stage.)

Even though we need to enhance our skills with ancillary programs, we also need to enhance our skills regarding what Microsoft Word can do that makes our workflow increasingly efficient. Thus, three books that should be in every professional editor’s library, and regularly consulted, are these:

(The Macro Cookbook is not yet available for sale. I was given an advance copy by Jack Lyon because of our mutual interest in macros. Macro Cookbook will be available for sale by November 30. Jack is adding a couple of chapters to it that will make the book even more valuable. When it becomes available, I will post the information in a Worth Noting post here on An American Editor.)

Each of these books can be considered, from the editor’s perspective, a bible for working with Microsoft Word. They both educate and help to solve problems. Most importantly, if you take the time to work through the books, they will give you mastery over the one bit of software that is simultaneously an editor’s bane and savior: Microsoft Word.

Although there are many editors who resist delving deeply into the tools of our trade, and who even loathe having to rely on these tools, the reality is that working in Word is a fundamental requirement of professional editing. If one software program is used nearly universally in the publishing industry for editorial matters, that program is Word. And I do not see Word’s role changing in the near future; rather, I see that mastery of Word will become part of the testing process that publishers will use when choosing editors to hire.

More importantly for the professional editor, mastery of Microsoft Word is the avenue by which we can become more efficient and proficient. Increased efficiency and proficiency means our earning more money and making ourselves more saleable in an ever more competitive market.

One good reason to master Word is to clean up author files. One constant over the many years that I have been editing electronically is that authors continue to amaze me with how they prepare their manuscripts for editing. If it is a feature in Word, they feel obligated to use it in their manuscript, albeit usually incorrectly. It is the rare file I receive that can be cleaned and readied for editing within a few minutes. Authors are uncannily creative with how they misuse Word. These three books — Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals, Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word, and Effective Onscreen Editing — can help you deal with author creativity, as well as with whatever other problems we encounter just because we use Microsoft Word.

Mastering Word means less time spent on noneditorial matters. As our primary focus is (or should be) on language, grammar, and spelling, mastering Word reduces the time we need to spend on ancillary problems. These are the key three books to mastering Word for editors.

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