Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Copyeditor's Bookshelf--Melanie's Top 5

Working from a home office sure seems like a good gig to people who brave rain and snow to work in a cubicle. And the truth is: it IS a good gig. For me it's the best thing I've ever done professionally--and it's the best thing I'm suited to do. But then, I've never been the type to linger at a watercooler, and I'm not so good at "being managed." If you're the same way and are wondering what you can do to explore the freelance life, here's an introduction.

I always say that the publishing freelancer must love looking for needles in haystacks. That's essentially the job. To find the typo that everyone else glossed over, to notice when a novel's character has blond hair on p. 5 and brown hair on p. 105, and to know how a little tweak here and there will make a sentence ping.

An easy place to start is to talk about the references most of us use in this business. For me, you've got to start with the fundamentals. And for that, there's only The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White (yep, the guy who wrote Charlotte's Web). My copy, which I've had since 1986, quotes the New York Times on the cover: "Buy it, study it, enjoy it." This book explains what active voice is, and why it's preferred to passive. It tells you what participial phrases, independent clauses, and parenthetical expressions are. It's one of the first books journalism students are told to buy, though smart high school teachers probably use it in their classes.

Next, find Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition. It's the one the publishing industry uses. Or look up words for free at Merriam-Webster’s Web site. And for a nominal annual fee, you can subscribe to the unabridged Webster's 3rd online.

Commercial publishing houses use the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, by the University of Chicago Press, but there are others that might be used by in children's education or scholarly publishing. And, of course, in magazines there's Associated Press (or AP) style. The book is a door stopper, so if you want a peek at what's in this tome, try out the Chicago Web site.

Many copyeditors like to use Words Into Type by Marjorie E. Skillin as a supplemental reference, because it might cover some point that is left out in Chicago.

And for crazies like me who love to work on cookbooks, there's Recipes Into Type by Joan Whitman and Dolores Simon, which is out of print now. Betcha didn't know there were so many rules for writing recipes.

If this isn't enough to keep you busy and/or running scared, next time I'll talk about education.


Meg Gardiner said...

Strunk & White: you're a woman after my own heart.

And now for a few more questions. Tag: I tag you to write six random things about yourself. Rules on my blog.

susan said...

Recipes into Type! What a concept. I sure wish some of the cookbooks on my shelf had been edited by someone who actual uses cookbooks. Being anal, I'll mention here the thing I hate worst about many cookbooks: the assumption that each recipe must be cited ONLY ONCE in the index, under the precise name of the recipe, so if you're looking for a brownie recipe, for example, you have to know in advance to look under M for "Martha's Fabulous Brownies."

Melanie Gold said...

Susan, imagine the poor indexer who worked on Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything!

Thanks for stopping by.