Dear Authors, Love, Your Copy Editor


I’m employed to copy edit your books. Not necessarily yours personally, but copy editing is what I do. Some books instead get sent to be copy edited abroad, and some (I believe) even get put through a computer programme that does the job. Those methods have their advantages and disadvantages, but for now, assume your book is going to be sent to someone like me.

Now then, let’s make this clear. I like reading the actual text, helping clarify your writing, marking things up for the typesetter and correcting your grammar (yes, you do make mistakes, everyone does, and if I wrote a book I’d make mistakes too. There are also customs that fall into that grey area – is it a ‘rule’ or is it just ‘what we do’ to never split an infinitive, put ‘However’ or ‘And’ or ‘But’ at the beginning of a sentence, or finish on a preposition?).

And my guess is that your spelling hovers, like many, somewhere in the Atlantic ocean. And whatever my preferences it’s my job to correct it to whichever one I’ve been told to go with.

All that is the fun bit. Or rather what makes it fun is reading your book, and honing all the rough edges, and turning something weirdly formatted with errors and issues into something that sits neatly on the page, reads well, and conveys what you meant, while still being very clearly your style and your book.

However. Referencing. This is not the fun bit. So I’m going to give you some guidelines. This isn’t a ‘how-to’ on Harvard Referencing (or your style of choice). This is a ‘how-to’ that should mean that, no matter in which style we end up presenting your references, you actually give us all the information we need first time and don’t then land up with hundreds of queries from us, giving yourself hours or days more work further down the line. I know you want to get your manuscript off your hands, but if you get this wrong it’ll land up back in your hands for much longer than you anticipated.

So, in no particular order*:

  • Please don’t use the ‘referencing software’ that routinely comes with Word and other processing packages these days. We have to literally copy and paste everything out, which will take us hours and probably result in some confusing due to residual invisible formatting. Given that the referencing is the first thing I check, this is also likely to result in a bad first impression: I will start to hate you for having unintentionally made my life harder. Honestly it takes you no more time to simply type out your reference the old-fashioned way.
  • Write your references as you go along. In a separate document, whenever you refer to a person’s work, just write a reference. You can also use the ‘find’ tool to check you haven’t already written a reference for that person and that particular work. If you do this first time through this will eliminate the ‘reference missing; please provide’ queries that will otherwise litter your book. I did this when I was doing all my writing as a student; I’m sure writing a book is a bit different, but I’m not that organised and I still managed to do it. Please.
  • Check spellings! I’m sorry, it takes me much less time to write a query to ask if you mean ‘Thomson’ or ‘Thompson’ as you’ve used both than it does for me to Google the work in question (and looking it up isn’t really my job). And I will write that query (or copy-paste it) wherever it occurs, and you will start to hate me for it. If it’s a name you struggle to spell, put it on a literal post-it on the edge of your monitor so you get it right every time.
  • Giving me the web address doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility for providing other details. Please give the author, where possible, as well as organisation/publisher, date, and location. Please also provide the date when you last checked this link – I may not need it but some style guides ask for it.
  • Think about your reader. For example, here is some imaginary text: ‘While the Veterinary Convention condoned dyeing all cats neon orange (Jones, 2012) the RSPCA (2013) said this advice was arbitrary and cruel’. When I as a reader decide I want to look up Jones, 2012, I’m fine. There is ‘Jones, A (2012). Report on the Convention for Supervillain Vets‘ right in front of me. But when I quickly glance for ‘RSPCA’, I’m not necessarily going to notice it if instead the reference is ‘Royal Society for the Protection of Animals, (2013) Please don’t dye your cat‘. Instead write, ‘RSPCA (Royal Society for the Protection of Animals), (2013).**
  • Be systematic. If you always reference your works in the same way, this helps in a number of ways. Firstly, it helps you make sure you’ve given me all the information I need, because sticking to a pattern helps you spot when you’re missing a detail. Secondly, I have a style to stick to, and if all your reference differ from that style in the same ways, I can often do a ‘global’ change where I change one particular feature of all your references in one fell swoop (this isn’t fancy, I use the Find and Replace feature in Word which can be found by hitting Ctrl+F if you’re using Windows). I will always have to change your references from ‘your’ style to ‘my’ style in some way, and that’s not a problem.
  • It’s not rocket science. Yes, different types of references are referenced in different ways, and while you should be A-OK on journals and books, Green Papers, White Papers and what on earth is this brilliantly useful but completely obscure PDF I picked up might not be so easy. But essentially I need the same information for any kind of publication, so here is how to think about referencing obscure and complicated things. 1) Who wrote it – a name or list of names is great if they exist (do some sleuthing) but the organisation it was written on behalf of will do. 2) A date. Again, you may need to sleuth. 3) A title. This should be the most obvious thing to find. 4) if the reference is a report or paper of some kind, or maybe even a speech, then the title in (3) is the equivalent of a journal title, so you still need an overarching title, such as what series of reports it is from. If (3) is just straight-up the title of this thing, then you don’t need this bit. 5)Publication details – preferably a geographical location, followed by a publisher (except for journals, or reports in a series, where I need volume/issue numbers/serial numbers/any other identifier of that nature). If there isn’t a publisher, then it’s probably published by the organisation that also ostensibly authored it. Never mind, give me that information again anyway. As for place, if you don’t know, just google whatever you’ve identified as the publisher. That should provide your answer. 6) If: you think it’s useful/you’re still not sure you’ve given enough information/whatever, give me the web address and when you accessed it (if you accessed it online). If nothing else, that will help me if I can’t figure out what your reference is meant to mean, and it will obviously help your reader. Job done.
  • Re: rocket science. The above point is not a definitive guide to referencing anything. But it should give me all the information I need to construct a reference properly from whatever deluge of information you’ve provided. At the end of the day I’d much rather a deluge of information which gives me the tools I need, than ‘HMRC, (2012) Some Random Report, But Whatever‘ which leaves me stranded. In the fullness of time I might make a flow chart, which I’m sure will be incredibly helpful to the three people that read this blog.

That’s more or less it. I should probably go back to checking the references of the book I’m currently working on.

*If this all looks like too much hard work/you feel tired thinking about just reading my thoughts on references, try and mess up your references so much that I have to charge extra hours to fix it, but bear in mind that this method will also create a lot more work for you to sort out afterwards, and to be honest, I would rather have an hour’s less money and easier references to deal with even if that means I’m eating exclusively from the Clearance shelf at Nisa for a month.

**I’m reasonably certain no-one condones the dyeing of cats, and I made up the Veterinary Convention, so if such a thing exists, I’m sorry for the resemblance, and I’m sure none of its members are supervillains. Sorry. And please don’t dye your cat.



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3 responses to “Dear Authors, Love, Your Copy Editor

  1. Interesting to learn about people behind this sort of stuff, although I got lost a bit in the middle with the referencing rules. Do you enjoy it?

  2. Mostly, yes. I like reading the actual books, it’s very satisfying turning something from a manuscript into a much neater thing ready to be type-set, and I can do it, and doing things you *can* do is always pleasant on some level. Not a huge fan of references and when I’m doing the references I do often get distracted and do something else instead (like, say, rant about referencing on my blog…?). I like working from home in that it gives me the flexibility to do other things, to an extent, although that said I do actually work not far off full time, I just don’t necessarily have to do that work within the 9-5 if something else needs doing (or something fun comes up and I can shuffle work to fit round it).

    I also *hate* working from home because I go a bit stir-crazy and forget how to talk to humans. Doing it last year was worse, but having done the teaching and come back, I’ve also become much better at imposing boundaries, leaving the house, and knowing when I’m starting to go crazy!

  3. References sound like a nightmare. :/ Do you find yourself automatically correcting stuff you see in writing that isn’t work-writing? For example, blog comments? Hah.

    I like working from home but I fear I will get too stuck in my ways and when it comes to having a job that involves commute longer than 15 seconds, I will find it awfully difficult to adjust. I also forget how to talk to humans. I manage brief one-sided conversations with my dog on a daily basis, though. I’m not crazy. Yet.

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