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I am an editor at the University of California Press and author of the first full-length handbook ever published on the subject of developmental editing.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

I Feel as Much Responsibility to the Reader as I Do to the Author and the Publisher

Entry 2: June 1, 2009

By Nancy

I do a lot of freelance copyediting for a mid-size publishing company that specializes in how-to books for artists and crafters. The company's staff editors find potential authors from contacts made at art shows, craft fairs and various artists' associations. Once an artist agrees to produce a book for the company, the editor coaches them through the writing process, suggesting ways to organize and develop instructional material based on the methods they use to create their visual artworks. Although these editorial staff members might be described as "developmental editors," many of the manuscripts they turn over to me for copyediting indicate that they are more interested in developing a saleable product than developing a readable, engaging text.

The authors of the books this company publishes include successful professional artists, television personalities, popular workshop instructors and respected university professors. I don't doubt that they are good at what they do, but many of them are not so good at explaining what they do; and, once the manuscript is beyond the outline stage, the staff editors generally aren't much good at helping them clarify their explanations. Thus it often falls to me—the copyeditor who is supposed to simply make sure that the text is styled consistently and doesn't contain any glaring errors—to determine what the author was actually trying to say, and then figure out how to say it in a way that the reader will be able to understand. (I can't tell you how many times I have had to rewrite entire chapters that purport to explain the mysteries of perspective.) Because I feel as much responsibility to the reader as I do to the author and the publisher, I often find myself doing as much substantive editing as copyediting.

The people who buy how-to books expect them to provide clear, easy-to-follow instructions, but unless a dedicated developmental or substantive editor has been involved, such books may fail to meet that expectation. It has been my experience that some publishing companies lack the resources—or, perhaps, the will—to provide that kind of dedicated service.

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