February 22, 2012 Mitch Granholm

The Copy Editor’s Life: Now Harder

Consider the poor copy editor.

They work their way through manuscripts, word-by-word, line-by-line, maintaining a delicate balance among an oft-needy author, readers who want to understand the text, the requirements of the language, the publisher’s deadline, and any number of style guides and sheets, working out how to resolve the parts that contradict the other parts. The soundtrack to copy editing is Sabre Dance. (Not so much for us; though we do get into a bit of plate-spinning, it’s not quite as intense as with full-time publishing houses.)

And now we find that Cormac McCarthy, winner of many awards (subcategory: National Book and Pulitzer, just to toss out two) and modern literary giant, enjoys doing some light editing of scientific books on the side. Including for a Nobel laureate physicist.

So hey, all you copy editors out there (especially of the freelance variety!). You’re not just competing with each other for work. You’re competing with Cormac McCarthy, too.

P.S. I also fully disagree about there being no place in literature for exclamation marks and semicolons. The exclamation mark has a place, it’s just very, very small. But the semicolon has a real purpose. Both can be overused, of course, and are, but I’d wager (using all the anecdata I can muster) that the semicolon is misused exponentially more than it’s overused. But of course this means that I have to disagree with Cormac. Freaking. McCarthy. A decidedly uncomfortable place to be!

Also, yes, I’m aware that in a post about copy editing I deployed antecedent/pronoun disagreement. I’m okay with that. Yell at me in comments if you’re not.


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