Jossey-Bass: What We Want in a Copyeditor
We asked Jossey-Bass
Managing Editor Lasell Whipple "What
Do Hiring Editors Want?" After polling her staff, she replied
with their comments in this handout accompanying her talk on May 20,
- Excellent technical/organizational skills
(coding, file management, thinking at and across all levels to
bring project together in a thorough way); delivering a very tidy
package with no loose ends for Project Editor (PE) to discover.
- Expertise in grammar, usage, style, and experience/good
judgment with when to apply standards, when to leave alone.
- Tact and savvy in dealing with authors; persuasive
but not intrusive or idiosyncratic. Knows how to serve the ms.
and get into author's head.
- Knowledge of field, audience, and ability
to contribute from that vantage.
- Experience with book arts; organization of
book; logic of format/organization—"development."
- Talent for titling; editing titles when needed.
- Good writing skillsable to rewrite when
- Good communication/interaction skills, with
PE, author. For PE, being organized and efficient with questions;
knowing when to query, when to make judgment calls.
What do we want in a copyeditor? Someone
- Does NOT engage in rewriting on a light edit,
such as: nitpicking word choices, changing things that aren't
wrong factually or grammatically.
- Asks questions rather than assumes; it's easier
to confirm now than fix later.
- But does NOT ask about things that are covered
in the style guide or job instructions.
- Queries authors/editors in a polite yet direct
tone about missing or inconsistent information.
- Yet does NOT explain every edit. I need to
trust that the c/e has good reason for each edit, I don't have
time or interest to read explanations, and good edits shouldn't
- Is attentive to details (duh) and consistent.
- Stays in touch with occasional updates on
availability, but doesn't pester for work.
Thorough knowledge of grammar and good writing
skills, attention to detail, awareness of consistency issues, sensitivity
to the author's style and professional vocabulary, tact in writing
author queries, ability to follow instructions and ask the right
questions, timeliness. We also want the ability to visualize how
elements will look in the paged book, a skill needed to do a good
coding job. Ease with the computer and the ability to learn new
Here are some thoughts for you:
A really, really good copyeditor is hard to find!
Some are good at mechanics but not at language styling. Some are
brilliant prose polishers but lousy at mechanical details, which
results in a lot of Editor's Alterations (EA) later.
I want someone who knows Chicago inside and out
(just my bias, coming from university press publishing. Other folks
might want someone who knows the APA Manual or the Wired style guide,
or whatever Bible is appropriate to the type of publishing they
do), whose knowledge of grammar, the mechanics of copyediting, and
the different styles of documentation, is sound and comprehensive
enough to pass the most difficult editing test. But something more
refined--beyond a thorough knowledge of the tools of the trade--is
also required. What I'm also looking for is someone who:
- Knows all the rules and who also knows when
to disregard them, and why.
- Has a wide-ranging general knowledge (usually
the mark of a curious person). This dilettantish knowledge is
what alerts them to say, "I don't think that's 'quite' right,"
and then they look up the fact/name/whatever in question.
- Queries in a diplomatic and respectful manner
and who queries only what truly needs querying.
- Can enter into the spirit of the author's
argument and help strengthen it.
- Can discern the author's writing style (whether
it be conversational, informal, academic, etc.) and not interfere
- Can identify an appropriate level of detail
for supplying documentation. In other words, someone who won't
relentlessly query an author to document at a scholarly level
of detail if the tenor of the book doesn't require it.
- Knows when to gently "insist" that
missing citations be provided (for instance, if the text repeatedly
makes the point that there is "hard evidence" for the
author's views, then it's necessary for the author to supply documentation
consistently for at least the major studies and statistics cited).
- Will solve the manuscript's problems, not
add to mine (through sloppiness, lateness, not following directions
about level of edit requested, etc.);
- Returns the copyedited ms. with a cover letter
that alerts me to what I need to know about the ms.: what the
editor focused on, any big problems, etc. Believe it or not, I
actually had a J-B copyeditor say to me, in response to my question,
"Where's your cover letter?"—"I don't do
Copyright 2004, Lasell Whipple, Jossey-Bass.