Sunday, March 3, 2013

Copyediting

You may be comfortable with your digs at 409 E. Sola Street, but depending on where you write about it, your place of publication might not.

If, for instance, you were writing about your apartment in a book, you'd better get used to the idea that you live at Four Hundred Nine East Sola Street.  Although some newspapers and journals might be content with your first listing, others still might wish you to abbreviate the street.

You'd have similar options when dealing with time.  Should the abbreviation for post meridian, meaning afternoon, be rendered in capital letters, as P.M., or the lower case p.m.?  Should the hour be expressed in numerals or written out.  Are you a Prof. or a professor or, indeed, a Professor, and does the publication insist you use the serial comma--a,b, and c, or does that seem too much for them to the point where a, b and c will suffice?

There is no right answer except the one abstract answer, which is:  Consistency rules.  Publications have what is called house style.  A book such as Moby Dick would be rendered "Moby Dick" in such publications as The New York Times, although if you were writing about that newspaper, known sometimes with affection and other times with derision as "The Gray Lady," in The New Yorker, it would lose its italics and appear as "The New York Times."

Go figure.

Better still, find out through reading and study what the stylistic preferences of a given publication are.

The more informed of American book publishers use The Chicago Manual of Style, so called because it has been published by the University of Chicago Press since the 1870s, which means it has hundreds of pages dealing with such matters as abbreviations, use of acronyms, captions, myriad matters of punctuation, index matters, numbering of front and back matter, when to use italic (and when not to), capitalization, and page numbering in general, a list that is still not by any means complete.  Most publishers following the usage conventions of CMOS would not only render Moby dick in italics, they would use an n-dash, thus Moby-Dick.

One way to spot the new kid on the block, the intruder, the amateurish self-published book, is to note the inconsistencies in usage.  These are not the foolish consistencies Emerson spoke uo when he remarked how those were hallmarks of small minds.  These inconsistencies pile up in the reader's awareness to the point where, as they proliferate, the reader begins not to trust the printed account in the same manner an audience will begin to question the professionalism of a pianist who keeps hitting wrong notes.

A good style guide to follow for newspaper and magazine material is The New York Times Style Guide.  One of equal relevance and merit is The Associated Press Style Guide.

By nothing the individualized style of a publication or publisher, you become more aware of the pains taken to produce the equivalent textual sense of a reliable narrator.

There are professionals who edit for this kind of stylistic consistency.  They are called copy editors.  Their work, which is essentially mechanical, often includes fact checking or querying the writer about matters of accuracy,  Thanks to some hands-on assistance from talented copyeditors, you have come to appreciate the process in ways you hadn't considered before, thinking at one time that the editorial process was over when the content editing was done.

Copyeditors are systematized, fierce in their pleasure at catching and curing inconsistencies.  You have come to enjoy the process to the point where you take pride in seeing a copyeditor's comment on a project of yours stating that the project is clean.

You can't catch everything; no one can.  Only amateurs and rank beginners believe they can,  Being aware of the copyediting process helps you see well into the world you;ve created while writing the text, whether the result is fiction or not.

Over the years, thanks to the things you've learned from the content and copyediting work done on your material and from the copyediting and content editing you've done on the work of others, you've arrived at a place where you find yourself amused by the conceit that writing is such a lonely business.  To be sure, it calls for concentration, but that's another way of speaking to the companionship of the characters you've created, hearing their intensity as they bargain with you for the implementation of their goals.

You find time spent with the ideas and concepts of nonfiction in their way stimulating and companionable.  Then there is the sense of the knowledgeable reader, the content editor, then the copyeditor, focusing on the worlds you've created, questioning every word, every keystroke to make sure your vision is given the most potent form, a blend of idea, concept, story, and feeling almost mystical in its dimensional presence.

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