Solidarity with the NYT walkout over copy desk restructuring

Copy editors at the The New York Times released a scathing, heartbreaking letter yesterday that details how Executive Editor Dean Baquet and Managing Editor Joe Kahn have required them to “dance for their supper,” as a supportive letter from reporters put it — editing tests and newsroom overhauls and interviews for their own jobs and restructuring, and finally, buyouts, all in a time when the role of copy editing has never been more important. Editors and reporters staged a walkout for 15 minutes, starting at 3 p.m. today, carrying signs and stickers.

A person holds a sign above their head at the NYT walkout today. The sign reads
Photo posted by NYT staff photo editor Lance Booth on Twitter (@lancekbooth).

“We are living in a strange time when routine copy-editing duties such as fact checking, reviewing sources, correcting misleading or inaccurate information, clarifying language and, yes, fixing spelling and grammar mistakes in news covfefe are suddenly matters of public discourse,” the copy editors wrote. “We are, as one senior reporter put it, the immune system of this newspaper, the group that protects the institution from profoundly embarrassing errors, not to mention potentially actionable ones.”

Baquet and Kahn replied, in another letter, “We take those concerns seriously,” which reads with the same sincerity as “Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line.” The top editors also noted in their reply that The Times employs more editors than its peers — but, considering the massive layoffs that journalism has suffered in the last two decades, this is no justification for further cuts.

A copy editor’s job is not simply finding and fixing mistakes, though it’s true that our work is invisible when done well. We are not the grammar police nor persnickety perfectionists, following rules for the sake of rules. We are the first readers, ensuring that accuracy and truth are conveyed in clear prose.

It’s no accident that the letter of support from Times reporters begins, “We write to you as the saved — those whose copy, facts and sometimes the intelligibility of a sentence or two have been hammered into shape by our friends and colleagues on the editing desks.”

In solidarity with today’s NYT walkout, copy editors tweeted reasons why copy editors are necessary with the hashtag #whyeditors. A few of mine:

Poynter has coverage of the walkout and a Storify of tweets and photos. More on my Twitter feed @RachelLeeCherry and on #whyeditors.

The gears of publishing grind slowly

It’s been tough to figure out how best to use this blog space, so, over the past year-ish, I haven’t. However, it occurred to me recently that readers might wonder if I’m still in business because the blog is so out of date. I am! Business is going well! Some new projects I just can’t talk about. Some are still going on (two current projects began in late 2016 and will go through fall 2017). Some have been quietly added to the relevant pages here and I haven’t announced them on the blog.

Notably, the latest novel I edited was released yesterday: The Hedgewitch’s Charm (#4 in the Sitnalta series) by Alisse Lee Goldenberg. I’m fascinated by all the different parts of my life that novel editing calls on, just by chance, and for this one I broke out the books on herb lore! Also this year I’ve edited Everly (#1 in the Everly series) by Meg Bonney, which earned silver medals in the Feathered Quill Book Awards for Best Juvenile/YA Fiction and Best Debut Author, and Beautiful Secret by Dana Faletti, which won a LYRA Independent Fiction award in the Romantic Suspense category and was given honorable mention in the General Fiction categories at the San Francisco Book Festival and Paris Book Festival!

Academic and educational editing projects also continue, albeit very slowly. I’m working on at least one project that won’t be released until 2018.

I also recently took Copyediting‘s Editing for the Web Master Class and picked up the Yahoo! and Microsoft style guides. They’re a few years old, but they were recommended as solid guides that are not yet outdated (and I’ve used Microsoft’s at least once to handle a set of website navigation directions), so I’ll be interested to flip through them and see what’s still relevant in 2017.

If you’d like to work with me, shoot me an email! I’m now scheduling for June, July, and August. You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter.

Springing forward

March is flying away already! Here’s what I’ve been up to since the start of this year.

150 px wide pandamoon logoNew client: In February, I signed on as a copy editor with Pandamoon Publishing. I’m excited to work with an indie publisher with such a varied book list. It’s like when I was in college, taking literature classes and pinching myself that I got to read novels for homework and then talk about them for class. Now I get to read (and edit) novels for work. This is the best job, y’all.

Returning client: In March I came back to the Friday night/weekend editorial shift in the Entertainment section at SheKnows. Editing here is like speedwork in running — it’s so fast-paced and demanding in short bursts that I get faster and better in everything else I edit, too. It’s also the source of my continuing pop culture knowledge. For example, you nae nae, you don’t “do the nae nae,” and when you clap back (v.), that’s two words, but a clapback (n.) is one word. To name two things I had to look up this week. I missed this weirdness.

Fiction writers and editors: Last November, I told NaNoWriMo writers not to choose an editor right away and, instead, to revise the novel in January and February, then look for an editor. Then I got so busy myself that I didn’t advertise that $999 March NaNoWriMo special. It still stands, however! If you’re ready for editing (and willing to book in April or May), shoot me an email about it. If you’re wondering what to expect from the editing process or have questions for fiction editors, read through the posts from Tuesday’s #AskFictionEditors Q&A session on Facebook or read the Storify compiled by Louann Pope.

New tools and treats: This week I installed f.lux on my desktop. I’m a night owl, often working late at night (check the timestamp of this post), and f.lux tones down the monitor’s brightness after sunset to match indoor lighting. I used to get headaches when I’d finally turn the computer off for the night. I can’t yet say that f.lux fixes that, because I’ve been sick with a head cold this week, but I’m very optimistic about it. And I also sampled Murchie’s Editors’ Blend tea, blended for the 2011 Editors’ Association of Canada conference. It’s just right for the afternoon, when I don’t need a jolt of caffeine but do need something hot to sip while I’m reading page proofs or puzzling through a reference list. (Today was more of a Throat Coat tea day, though.)

The rest of my March is busy and April is filling up. I post a little more regularly on Facebook — especially if I’m procrastinating — and on Twitter. Join me there!

Editor’s tools: Spell-check

I’m editing some ELA modules on Common Core language standards, so right now I’m hyperaware of details like sentence structure, active/passive voice, and spelling. Let me tell you why I rely on spell-check as an editor.

One of my goals for a text is to make sure that all words are spelled correctly. I’m smart, I can spell, I’m good at English, right? I’m a trained editor, a careful reader, and I know when to double-check word spellings. So, for a long time, I assumed I didn’t need to use a spell-checker.

However, when a group of colleagues were discussing and swapping editorial checklists, I noticed that running spell-check was a task that appeared frequently. Huh, I thought.

Out of scientific curiosity, I started running spell-check on texts after I finished editing them, especially long ones… and wow, was I embarrassed at some of the howlers it caught. I mistype studnet and exmaple all the time, for example, and my eyes just skim over those, but there were typos and spelling errors in the original documents that I’d missed, too. How does that happen? Check out all the scrambled words in the brain teaser below, a chunk of text that’s crossed my Facebook news feed a few times with an unlikely statistic about the number of brilliant people who can read it:

The last line of the scrambled text says, “This is because the human mind does not read every letter by itself, but the word as a whole.” According to BrainHQ, this is mostly true, but the patterns in the scramble are easier than other possible choices to unscramble, such as the maintained double in according. Your brain might not catch the variation accordnig, either, but a spell-checker will. I mistype that all. the. time. And porblem — I’d probably catch porbelm, as in the image above, because the and the are too far apart, but the first three letters still blur together.

Spell-check won’t pick up correctly spelled but misused homophones, of course. It does flag quite a few names and terms (for example, metacognitively and postassessment are two words I added to Word’s dictionary), and it does come up with some grammar suggestions that are hilariously wrong. That’s why I, the human running the test, review each suggestion and decide how to handle it. I’d rather click Ignore a bunch of times and catch one real error than skip the test and have a PE come back and tell me that something was missed.

So, important as it is to read carefully and fix typos and misspellings, I always run spell-check after I’ve read through a text. A++ recommended.

The power of breaking a rule

On Friday night, I was changing posts from tags to categories in advance of a design update (I clearly know how to rock a Friday night). This quote, from You’ve Got the Power: For Good or Evil on the Subversive Copy Editor blog, was worth a post in September 2012:

I recently spoke to a classroom of new copyeditors, and I took this “knowledge is power” idea one step further. Copyeditors have a choice as to what kind of power they wield. They can wave about the rule book and try to assume the power of saying “No, you can’t” to writers, or they can acquire the power of knowing when to break a rule in order to help writers achieve great writing.

My regular readers know that I like to call that second choice “subversive,” but they also know that it truly isn’t. Choose the second kind of power: it’s a better way of life.

It’s still quite true, and the rest of the post is worth a read as well, here in 2015. The point of knowing the rules isn’t to “take a chunk of writing and… grind it through the style-guide mill,” as Carol Fisher Saller says. The point of knowing the rules — from basic ones like capitalizing the first word of a sentence to arcane ones that rule reference lists — is to make that chunk of writing easier for the reader to understand. If a rule is making something harder to understand, it is eminently possible to throw the rule out. 

(Watch me end that sentence with a preposition. Besides, that’s not even a rule.)