Now’s your chance

red pencil

Remember Merrill Perlman, the New York Times copy queen who did a loooooong Q&A last year? Well, she’s just started another one: Talk to the Newsroom: Director of Copy Desks Merrill Perlman. So now’s your chance to have those burning editorial questions finally doused. One of my esteemed former colleagues at St. Martin’s has a question right on the first page:

A Vanishing Breed?

Q. I’m a managing editor at St. Martin’s Press in New York City. We are having more and more trouble finding literate freelance copy editors and proofreaders — people who know the basics of punctuation, spelling, grammar, something of what the English language can or can’t do, perhaps enough knowledge of a major European language to add an accent or make a past participle agree with a noun. Are newspapers experiencing the same problem, and if so, how are you dealing with it?
— Robert Cloud

A. You’re right, Mr. Cloud, it’s harder to find people who know what good copy editors need to know. You can argue that English usage has gone downhill, or you can argue that English is changing, but a better answer, I suspect, is plus ça change. . . .

Note that although Ms. Perlman is, of course, answering many general questions about copy editing, her primary field of expertise is newspaper style, and the Times‘s flavor thereof in particular. Should you have questions relating specifically to U.S. trade book style, you might want to ask the wonderfully salty Chicago Manual answeristas instead.

Photo: colour me red by :: Rick :: / Rick Truter; some rights reserved.

I say! A subterranean semicolon!

laser semicolon

[W]hatever one’s personal feelings about semicolons, some people don’t use them because they never learned how.

In fact, when Mr. Neches was informed by a supervisor that a reporter was inquiring about who was responsible for the semicolon, he was concerned.

“I thought at first somebody was complaining,” he said.

From “Celebrating the Semicolon in a Most Unlikely Location” by Sam Roberts, New York Times, 2/18/08.

I am a big fan of the semicolon, myself; it’s an extremely useful punctuation mark.

(Thanks, Rob!)

Photo: laserColon laserSemiColon by Andrew Plumb / ClothBot; some rights reserved.

How stylish are you?

Woman applying lipstick

How do you name your style sheets, those of you who bother to use them at all? Below are some of the most common style names I use for book work, which are cribbed from various sources. I use these same abbreviations to key manuscripts on those rare occasions when I’m copyediting text for someone else to typeset.

Warning: This is supernerdy. Do not click “more” unless you are prepared to be bored out of your skull.
Continue reading “How stylish are you?”

A window into our world

Women at Work

On Monday my bossfriend, Joanna Smith-Rakoff, explained to Bookslut what it is that we do all day at the mysterious place where we work.

What would you say a normal day at Nextbook is like?

Our days vary somewhat greatly and they’re different for different members of the staff. Let’s see: In the morning, we generally spend some time making sure that the day’s feature is ready to go, which means coordinating with our art director, India Amos, to see if art is ready. Having someone give the story a final proofread. Perhaps asking one of our assistants to add links into the story. Sometimes we’re running behind and desperately trying to come up with a hed and dek (or heds and deks, if we’re doing a package, or running more than one story); so we’ll email a few choices around, or gather at someone’s desk to brainstorm. At the same time, our assistants will be surfing the Web, choosing stories for that day’s Filter, then checking in with Sara Ivry, the senior editor who oversees it, about those stories. They’ll then write up the Filter and sit down with Sara to edit it.

On Tuesdays, we have our story meetings at lunchtime—we order lunch in, which is nice—during which we check in about various pieces in the works, bat around new ideas, suggest new writers, present pitches from writers, and sometimes discuss larger plans and initiatives. Often these meetings are long—two hours, sometimes more—because we really help each other shape story ideas (which is necessary, being that we never just say, “Okay, let’s do a review of the new Philip Roth novel”).

Hey! That’s me!
Continue reading “A window into our world”

What typefaces writers compose in, and why

Daisy Wheel

Slate presents “My Favorite Font: Anne Fadiman, Jonathan Lethem, Richard Posner, and others reveal what font they compose in and why.” Some bits I appreciated:

I like Courier because it seems provisional—I can still change my mind—whereas Times New Roman and its analogues look like book faces, meaning that they feel nailed down and immovable. —Luc Sante

Most of my books have been set in Walbaum, which sounds like a chain store but is in fact an early-19th-century font designed by Justus Erich Walbaum, a German punchcutter whose luscious serifs may have been influenced by his early apprenticeship to a confectioner. —Anne Fadiman

Obsessing about fonts is a form of procrastination, so of course I have indulged in it ever since I graduated from a TRS-80 Model III to a Macintosh. —Caleb Crain

There’s a strong preference for Courier, which I happen to think is a good idea. Keeps the writer from getting to hung up on presentation. When I worked on the PEN literary journal, I’d format files in Courier for the staff, but in Times New Roman for the editor in chief. The book was then set in very small Adobe Caslon, and we’d find another round of typos on that version—you see different kinds of errors every time you change the typeface.

The default fonts in most of my non-layout applications are set to Georgia, Verdana, and Andale Mono. Yours?

(P.S. Man, remember daisy-wheel printers? I used to take mininaps between pages when I printed out my papers for school; each page took, like, five minutes, and I found the tat-tat-tat-tat-tat soothing.)

Photo: APL 10 by Paul Downey; some rights reserved.

Ask the copy desk

New York Times

Last week my friend James sent me a link to a New York Times piece from March 6, 2007: Talk to the Newsroom: Director of Copy Desks Merrill Perlman. I didn’t get to look at it until now, and wow, is it long—thirteen pages. Interesting, but long. And because it’s a series of Q&As, written over several days, somewhat a little bit repetitively repetitious. But for those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like. I made it only halfway through, plus some skimming near the end, but I’ve also had only one cup of tea so far today; I’ll come back to it. In the meantime, however, I thought perhaps you’d like to know what the Times copy editors do all day.

People often look at me like I’m nuts when I say that some differences between newspaper and book style conventions (e.g., quotation marks vs. italics) are most likely the result of technological limitations in the wire service, so I was interested to see this:

As an aside, the advent of e-mail and Internet addresses has caused some confusion for material that is transmitted over wires, but not the Web. For example, many transmission protocols have called for the use of a symbol like @bt to signal the beginning of a transmission, and @et to signal the end. At the Times News Service, where I used to work, we were sometimes puzzled because stories we transmitted were cut off in the middle when they arrived at client newspapers. Turns out we had used one of those symbols in a story we transmitted—something akin to a story talking about the movie “E.T.” establishing an e-mail account “”—and the transmitter obeyed the @et. The Associated Press, which operates the means by which many other organizations transmit stories to one another, still has a list of “nontransmitting symbols” that need to be avoided in text lest they be mistaken for computer commands. Instead of “,” for example, stories sent via The A.P. are supposed to use “asktheeditors(at)” and someone—usually a copy editor—has to change (at) back to (@) before it appears in the local publication.

So there.

Go on, geek out.

Photo: new new york by sashamd; some rights reserved.