Build a copyeditor from scratch!

stack of manuscript pages

My stats page tells me that that nice Brian Winters has namechecked me again over at Metafilter. This time, it’s to Baethan, who wants to work in publishing. Her question was,

What sort of courses, experiences, certifications, degrees, etc. should I pursue to tailor me for a career in editorial publishing?

When I return to college in the spring, I’ll be a sophomore. I want to use the next three years to make me into a dream applicant for a job in editorial publishing- proofreading or copy editing. Random House’s example of an entry-level job, “Editorial Assistant“, sounds like what I plan to apply for.

I’d like to work in fiction, preferably fantasy, but I’m not too picky. I also have an interest in art history and some knowledge of music. I really like learning and I know from a high school chemistry class that working my way through technical papers is a lot of fun, so I probably wouldn’t mind a nonfiction editorial job. I don’t think I’d like to work for a magazine. I want to stay the heck away from newspaper jobs. Oh, freelancing is also something I’d rather not do for a living (though I suppose it would be good while I’m in college). I love cubicles.

What sort of resume would make me attractive to a publishing company? I’ll be attending one of Connecticut’s state schools (not UConn, probably) so any ideas on majors and classes would be welcome. (SCSU has Journalism and English as majors, so I’m thinking a combination of the two would suit.) I’ve also been looking for relevant distance learning courses, but haven’t had any luck. Money is not abundant, so I don’t want to end up going to grad school.

Finally, what can I learn at home that will be valuable in an editing job? I know my vocabulary could use improving. My knowledge of grammar is lacking- I never learned grammar, I just got a feel for what’s correct and incorrect through reading. Any good websites or books for this?

In short, I’m looking for all your knowledge regarding copy editing. I believe I’ve read all the pertinent MeFi questions, but please point me to any you feel I should pay particular attention to. (Er, to which I should pay particular attention?) Thanks!

There’s some good advice at MeFi already, including the most obvious—study the Chicago Manual and Strunk & White, get an internship, volunteer—but I’m wondering if y’all have additional suggestions.

I, for one, am concerned by the acknowledged grammar deficiency, and by the suggestion by one respondent that it doesn’t matter:

I’ve been an editor for years and years. My formal, schooled knowledge of grammar is fairly abysmal, but because I grew up reading stuff beyond my grade level, I developed an “ear” for it fairly young.

The confession itself does not surprise me, as at least half of the so-called editors I’ve worked with have been unable to distinguish a dangling modifier from a hole in the ground, but I don’t see any reason to perpetuate that dismal tradition—especially among those who aspire to be copyeditors. There are some grammatical errors that elude the ear and eye more easily than others; people have to be taught to notice them. For that purpose, I’d recommend James Fernald’s English Grammar Simplified, which was the textbook for Linda Stern’s Grammar for Publishing Professionals class at NYU when I took it.

There’s also the matter of style. It varies from company to company or even imprint to imprint, so you can’t fully learn it in advance, but you can learn to identify situations in which style decisions need to be made. Chicago is excellent for this, of course, but I think one should be able to put it in perspective—how does it compare with AP style? UK style? The Elements of Style? A good book to help one get a sense of this is Amy Einsohn’s Copyeditor’s Handbook—also assigned by Linda Stern, for the Fundamentals of Copyediting class (which it looks like she’s no longer teaching).

For proofreading, I always recommend Mark My Words.

How about youse? What’s your advice?

Photo: 39,704 words by David Lee King; some rights reserved.

2 Responses

  1. david lee king
    david lee king October 1, 2008 at 1:10 pm |

    Thanks for the photo use!

  2. India
    India October 2, 2008 at 3:44 am |

    Thanks for sharing it with a CC license!

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