Aren’t they pinched-nosed mousy types with bifocals and buttoned-up blouses? Carol Fisher Saller, author of The Subversive Copy Editor (University of Chicago Press, 2009), thinks not.
A senior editor at the University of Chicago Press, Saller is the voice behind the Chicago Manual of Style’s online Q&A. She wrote The Subversive Copy Editor in response to two kinds of questions that make up the bulk of her mail: queries seeking confirmation that “I’m right” about something, and cries for help from writers and editors who have “hit a wall.”
She establishes in the introduction that the book is not a primer on the fundamentals of copy editing, but rather a handbook on relationships: "Consider this a “relationship” book, because I’m going to talk about the main relationships in your work life—with the writer, with your colleagues, and with yourself—in ways that you might not have considered before. Ways that might be called subversive."
POLISHING YOUR PROSE, BY STEVEN CAHN AND VICTOR CAHN
Brothers and scholars Steven Cahn (philosophy) and Victor Cahn (English) attempt something new in Polishing Your Prose: How to Turn First Drafts into Finished Work (Columbia University Press, 2013): they structure their book as a narrative, and they show the monologue that goes on inside an editor’s head.
Their book is aimed at writers wanting to improve their prose. “Here’s the situation,” they begin. “In front of you sits a piece of writing you’ve just completed ... How do you take your draft, which you know is better than ‘rough’ but worse than ‘smooth,’ and refine it?”
Cahn and Cahn answer this question in two parts. In the first section, “Strategies,” they present ten techniques for revising sentences. In the second section, “Passages,” they apply the strategies to edit paragraphs.
BETWEEN YOU & ME, BY MARY NORRIS
Should it be “short, balding man” or “short balding man”? “Bad hair day” or “bad-hair day”?
Mary Norris, a copy editor at The New Yorker for over thirty years, relishes these sorts of editorial decisions. “If commas are open to interpretation,” she writes in her literary memoir Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, “hyphens are downright Delphic.”
As an editor, I’m naturally interested in grammar, punctuation, and usage. But Norris’s book is not a practical guide with easy-to-locate advice. What drew me in and kept me reading was her voice: smart, straight-shooting, brassy and irreverent.
“Let’s get one thing straight,” she begins. “I didn’t set out to be a comma queen.”
But she has risen, over her 30 years at The New Yorker, to the august role of “page OK’er.” She is the one who gives the final “okay” to stories before they go to press.