Saturday, March 28, 2009

Get a Room, Editorially Speaking

stet--from Latin stare (to be) for "let it be" or "let it stand"; editor or proofreader notation indicating a marked word or passage on a manuscript or proof is to stand as now indicated; a writer's note to an editorial suggestion or deletion, thus an authorial override on an editorial opinion.

Editors have a complex menu of responses to matter included in a manuscript, ranging from the highly idiosyncratic to the recognition of house conventions. Some responses relate to the use by the author of comma splices or Arabic numerals instead of spelled-out numbers. Other responses are more substantive, involving material the author wants in the final text as opposed to the same material the editor would like to see omitted from the text. When an author answers an Author Query or AuQy on the manuscript with a stet, the author is having the last word, presumably after taking the editor's query or suggestion into serious consideration.

By the time the decision is made to publish a particular work, and the deal has been contracted, notes and queries from the content editor are considered friendly, helpful suggestions, particularly since the editor was probably a party to the arrangement for publication. Editorial notes and suggestions made after the fact of contract are not mandates; the agreement or contract may have had provisional mandates--change the narration from third to first person, make the ending a happy ending,don't kill off Uncle Fred--and the writer will have been aware of these. The stet decisions involve last-minute details. Example: An editor may conclude that a particular exchange of dialogue will by its very use of words and specifics convey that Ms. Kitty is angrily energized and thus mark for deletion the attribution "Ms. Kitty said hotly" as a goes-without-saying notation. But the writer, wanting the reader to be sure of Ms. Kitty's frame of emotional mind, may say stet, at which point the editor says OK before moving on to the next matter.

Copyeditors are less likely to query on usage; their work is mechanical intervention in the service of consistency of use according to a house style (if book, the style guide is likely to be CMOS Chicago Manual of Style); if magazine or newspaper, more likely to be AP, NY Times, or a style guide based on these). Writers are not likely to get into stet decisions with copyeditors unless the copyeditor is challenging a statement the writer has set as a fact. For an example, in a story in which the writer has claimed that a character who is a professional boxer bears a stylistic resemblance to Muhammad Ali, the copyeditor may circle Muhammad Ali and write in the margin "who he?" The writer may believe Mr. Ali's name needs no attribution and thus lines out the query, then writes stet.

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