Creepy, Crawly Side to Writing and Editing
October 18, 2000
(Warning: The following contains instances of typographic violence that may not be suitable for all audiences.)
In honor of Halloween, October's meeting was devoted to the creepy-crawly side of writing and editing for a living. With BAEF members Mark Halpern and Hilary Powers as facilitators, attendees discussed their particularly ghoulish editorial experiences.
Mark told what it was like to have one of his puns mangled by an editor. In an article for a now-defunct computer magazine, he wrote about the days when COBAL was "just a gleam in DOD's eye," which the editor—underestimating, Mark felt, his audience's knowledge of acronyms—changed to "just a gleam in the eye of the Department of Defense."
Recalling this experience inspired Mark to share his list of editors' deadly sins, from least to most egregious:
Editor does not change meaning of copy but replaces it with copy he or she likes better.
Editor changes meaning of copy.
Editor changes copy so that it means the exact opposite of what the author intended.
Editor changes copy so drastically it becomes meaningless.
Hilary talked about one project from hell in which she had to copyedit a book cowritten by two high-profile but out-of-sync authors. "It had to be completely reordered," she said. Another book she was assigned to edit was written by a subject-matter expert accustomed to writing magazine articles. It read "as though it was written on 3-by-5 cards," Hilary said, and the publisher ended up sending it back to a developmental editor for finessing.
Hilary also told of narrowly missing a publishing nightmare. While editing an aftermarket user's guide for software she herself owned, she decided to cross-check some facts against the manual that had come with the software. To her horror, she found that the writer of the user's guide had lifted his copy from the software manual.
Henry Robb, author of a book on online investing, also shared a scary story. Henry had submitted clean, well-edited copy to his publisher. What he received back from his team of editors was an electronically edited manuscript replete with a kaleidoscope of color-coded changes that Henry didn't have the time or the stomach to microedit. The book went on to be published with a bevy of errors ranging from typos to incorrect investing advice. It was enough to make any wordsmith's skin crawl.