Thursday, January 28, 2010

Endangered species: the copy editor

Two days ago, it finally arrived: the latest issue of The Raintown Review, featuring my pair of sonnets, "Wunderkind." I was especially excited because of the places where my work has been published, TRR is the most legit. No disrespect to online journals, but there is something very satisfying about holding a book in your hands and seeing your words in print inside.

There my name was, on the glossy back cover, listed among the other contributors. I flipped to the page with my poem and while I think the piece could have used another revision or two, I'm okay with the version they accepted. Then I turned to the page with the contributor bios and saw this:

Katie Vagnino is a 2nd year poetry student in the Creative Writing M.F.A. program at Emerson College in Boston. Her writing has appeared in Time Out New York, The Torch (Smithsonian), and. In the blogosphere, she writes a bi-weekly column for The Sex Appeal and posts regularly on her own blog, The Vagnino Monologues.


Seriously? That is a ludicrous typo. And another reminder that the art of copy editing, in our increasingly digital age, is in danger of becoming a lost art. Look, everyone makes mistakes. Copy editors are not infallible. Errors are going to slip past even the most trained eye. But in the publishing industry, copy editing is taking a hit. Many heavily-trafficked blogs and zines, like Talking Points Memo, do not staff copy editors and rely on their writers to check their own work.

A few things bum me out about the impending extinction of copy editors:

1) Copy editing is how many freelance writers pay their bills in between projects. It can be quite lucrative; major magazines pay in the neighborhood of $35/hour.

2) Copy editing is not just about correcting grammar/spelling/punctuation errors. A good copy editor can substantially improve the writing, making edits that improve transitions, clarity, flow, etc.

3) It's depressing that much of the public doesn't care about or doesn't notice errors, even really obvious ones like the one in my bio. This is sad albeit unsurprising given this country's habit of electing politicians with subpar grammar skills.

In my M.F.A. program, there is a course offered every semester in copy editing; we are told it's a marketable skill, one that will ensure we can get jobs after graduation. But unless you're lucky enough to be one of the New Yorker's infamous legion of copyeditors, well, you might find yourself as screwed as those of us who didn't drop $4K to learn how to spot dangling modifiers and errant commas.

Don't know what a dangling modifier is? Don't worry -- you're in good company.


Adam said...

Interesting. Oh, and depressing! Just another wobbly baby-step closer toward our future Idiocracy.

Adam said...

EDIT: "baby-step closer TO our future Idiocracy."

J.A.G. said...

I always find copyeditor vs. copy editor challenging. Out of all the words, that one should be consistently the same! Yet I'm always changing my resume based on how the job description lays it out.

(Google thinks the one-word spelling is wrong, btw. It's also hating on "btw".)

Katie Vagnino said...

I know, it's sort of the ultimate irony that there is no spelling consensus for the word "copy editor." Initially, in my post, I had it closed up....then changed it...but I'm still not sure.

Handel said...

Fight the good fight. And "copy editor" reminds me of the great, raging debate on whether the proper word is "Web site" or "website".

Quincy Lehr said...

Look, as a member of the journal's ed board, let me say something... there will inevitably be glitches. Inevitably. We managed to catch a fair number of errors, but a couple will inevitably slip by us. In this case, it's clearly a screw-up, probably on our end, and I'm not sure what happened. I do rather resent the notion that this is a sign of "idiocracy," though. It was a screw-up, and a dumb one, as there is clearly a clause missing.

In any event, sorry about that.