Working in an editorial team Part II: copyeditor, typesetter or designer, proofreader and indexer
Last updated 15 November 2022
For an editorial project to meet its goals, multiple people (sometimes many) need to work together, but potentially without ever actually communicating with each other. This requires each person to have a clear understanding of their role in the process and the ripples (good or bad) they can create for others in the editorial team.
Part I of this article gave some suggestions on how the author, developmental editor and project manager can contribute to each other’s work and the work of people later on in the process. This article resumes the workflow with copyediting.
The copyeditor takes the developmentally edited manuscript and subjects it to a more detailed and technical level of scrutiny, looking at grammar, style and completeness (this is necessarily a flagrantly brief simplification; see this explanation from the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading for more information on what a copyeditor does).
To do this, the copyeditor interacts (directly or indirectly) with several other people in the editorial team.
Helping others: author
- Explain, don’t just query: the copyeditor usually works with the author to resolve copyediting queries, but their communication shouldn’t stop there. Clear communication of requirements and limitations is particularly important at this stage, as it is usually the author’s last chance to make significant changes to the manuscript.
- Listen carefully – and react: authors understandably don’t like it if a miscommunication or omission leads to them opening up the PDF proofs later on and discovering a change they thought would be made is absent. If the author requests a change that isn’t within the copyeditor’s remit to approve, this should be passed upwards to the project manager – and never ignored.
Helping others: project manager
- Be the PM’s eyes: if the project manager is a commander back at base directing operations, the copyeditor is their scout out in the textual wilds, sending back crucial information. The copyeditor may be the first person in the project manager’s immediate editorial circle to read the manuscript through from start to finish. As a result, it is vital for the copyeditor to communicate any problems and issues that the project manager will need to monitor throughout the rest of the production process. This enables the project manager to be more targeted, effective and efficient in their checking of the proofs later on, and to provide better briefs to others.
Helping others: typesetter/designer
- Think beyond the text: if you’re sent a design sample, look out for any conflicts or gaps in how it will map onto the text. For example, the sample might contain a style for simple box-outs, but what about if the manuscript requires multiple types of box? Raising such issues straight away means they can be addressed early, potentially avoiding delay later on while samples are produced and approved.
- Report oddities: if the manuscript contains special elements, especially ones that could be corrupted by automatic formatting tools (e.g. computer code requires straight quotes, not the smart/curly variety), the copyeditor should explain this in their handover notes. Otherwise, errors may inadvertently be introduced during typesetting.
Helping others: proofreader
- Be stylish: copyeditor and proofreader will likely never communicate directly, but the copyeditor’s style sheet will govern much of what the proofreader does. Providing a comprehensive style sheet will make the project manager’s life easier too, as they won’t have to deal with so many questions from the proofreader. And it will also lessen the chance that the author’s preferences will inadvertently be lost during proofreading.
- Tie up loose ends: wherever possible, resolve outstanding issues (e.g. missing references), as dealing with these makes it harder for the proofreader to concentrate on their core tasks (doing a final check for final residual errors).
- Count, then count again: check the numbering of tables, figures, boxes and other numbered elements thoroughly. Renumbering elements is head-wrecking enough in Word; on PDF proofs, it’s many times worse as elements can’t be moved around ‘live’.
Helping others: indexer
- Think hierarchy: ensure that the headings hierarchy (i.e. the logical ranking of headings by importance) is clear and consistent. Indexers often use headings to help them decide which concepts should be given prominence in the index, so a sloppy hierarchy can lead to confusion and errors.
- How do you spell that? Indexers will particularly home in on names, so it saves them research and guesswork if recurring people and organisations are spelled the same way (and correctly!) each time.
How others can help them
- Tick all the boxes: send the copyeditor as complete a manuscript as possible. Often it is necessary to leave small bits and pieces (e.g. permissions or a figure or two) to follow on later in order to hit a tight schedule. However, the more of these there are, the more difficult it is for the copyeditor to ensure consistency and completeness because there are more moving parts to track and tasks have to be done multiple times.
- Be upfront: tell the copyeditor about specific requests and problems – for example, any preferences expressed by the author (either ‘please do this’ or ‘don’t under any circumstances change that’) or if the project has had a tricky history. This will allow them to tailor their editing approach and their communications with the author, circumventing traps into which they might otherwise have plunged headlong.
The typesetter/designer takes the copyedited manuscript and lays it out on the page according to the client’s specification. The amount of creativity and the degree to which bespoke work is required will vary with the type of publication and the client’s constraints.
- Get your queries in early: for example, if after typesetting has begun it’s discovered that the manuscript has an element that hasn’t been specified in the design (see above), it’s helpful if this is raised as soon as possible so a spec can be assembled without delaying the proofs.
- Trust tools… but not too much: the typesetter is naturally the best placed to decide how to translate the raw Word files into whatever format the client requires. However, this should never risk stripping out formatting (such as italic) painstakingly implemented by the copyeditor (meaning it has to be equally painstakingly reinstated by the proofreader).
How others can help them
- If in doubt, ask: copyeditors are often required to tag or style text in Word, and proofreaders usually use Adobe’s in-built tools or PDF stamps to mark corrections. However, there are variations in working practices and requirements. If in doubt, ask what the typesetter needs and always be consistent (check out this article for some ideas based on interviews I conducted with two typesetters).
- Don’t break the design: make sure layout corrections conform to the book’s design specifications, to avoid delays and errors later on.
In the editorial team, the proofreader is the last line of defence in the quality assurance process. As such, pretty much all of the points above can directly or indirectly help or hinder their work. Care taken earlier on in the process will smooth the way for the proofreader to focus on detail rather than worrying about big-picture issues such as structure. Equally, issues that are left unresolved in earlier stages may create critical issues and require difficult decisions to be made.
- Leave well enough alone: this was one of the first things I learned during my proofreading training almost 15 years ago. Making unnecessary changes risks irritating the author, bothering the project manager, undoing the work of the developmental editor and copyeditor, adding to the typesetter’s time making corrections, and causing the indexer to have to update the index. That’s a lot of people disrupted for something that’s not necessary or is based on personal judgement.
- Respect page boundaries: depending on the publication type, all kinds of hell can be created when pagination changes between proof stages. Where relevant, try to avoid corrections causing text to move onto another page.
- Clear as mud: consider how best to mark complex changes so that they will be easily understood. For example, marking six different changes to a two-word phrase may be technically correct, but it’s likely to be confusing and time consuming to read, check and implement. It’s probably better to mark the whole phrase for replacement instead.
How others can help them
- Clarify priorities: especially if a project has had a difficult history. If it’s acceptable for a certain category of inconsistency to be left alone or if it’s particularly vital for a certain thing to be checked, the proofreader should be told.
- Don’t expect miracles: there’s absolutely no point sending unusually messy proofs to a proofreader and expecting them to be able to do a normal proofread, on time and on budget. Something will have to give – whether that’s quality, budget or the schedule. It’s best to be realistic and up front about the issues from the start, so there can be an honest, pragmatic discussion of how the proofreader can best serve the project with the resources available to them.
The indexer is typically the last to get involved in a project. They typically work from the PDF proofs to create a kind of map of the book – a synthesis of terms, concepts and cross-references that is far more than a simple word list.
- You can be stylish too: especially if you have editorial training, try to follow the styles in the manuscript (spelling, hyphenation, capitalisation, use of numbers, etc.) as closely as possible, and be consistent. This reduces the number of changes the copyeditor has to make in the index (and therefore makes it less likely they will introduce errors into your hard work!).
- Validation is cooperation: make sure your cross-references are all valid and, if you use any unusual cross-referencing practices, let the project manager know. This helps the person who checks your index and reduces the risk of them breaking or misunderstanding your system.
- Report typos: there seems to be some sort of law of the universe where no matter how carefully a proofreader checks a text, an indexer will spot something they missed. If time and budget allow, consider sending a typo report back with your index.
How others can help them
- Indexers are not crash barriers: indexers are particularly vulnerable to being asked to salvage a schedule that’s careening out of control. Sally Roots, longstanding member of the Society of Indexers, told me:
As an indexer, you’re very aware that you’re at the end of the publishing food chain – everything else has usually been done, the print date has been set and you’re the final link. But like everyone else involved, we agree to a schedule that’s realistic – if, say, we need three weeks to create a quality index, then that’s pretty much what we think we’re going to need.
- Smaller isn’t necessarily cheaper: a concise index can take more time because, as Sally said, ‘every entry has to be carefully scrutinised to make sure it has earned its place’. Beware of the consequences of asking for a smaller index.
- Too many cooks: be wary of asking indexers to work from lists of words supplied by authors. This approach can add to the indexing time and result in a skewed index focus.
- And finally…: avoid sending non-final proofs wherever possible. If the schedule demands indexing before the proofs are finalised, ensure the workflow for this is very, very clear to all involved.
Editorial work requires a zoomed-in focus, but this should never be at the expense of forgetting the wider context and how we can affect the other members of the editorial team. It really is the case that decisions made years back by an author or developmental editor can directly affect (for good or bad) a lone proofreader battling with the closing stages of a project.
I like to think of this as seeing ‘the wood and the trees’ (an inversion of this idiom). Attention to detail is (rightly) a much-vaunted quality among editorial folk, but a holistic view is just as important in helping a project to reach a satisfactory conclusion.
Thank you to Sally Roots for generously filling in gaps in my knowledge of what indexers do and don’t find helpful.
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