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Book Review: The Subversive Copy Editor

September 5, 2019

 

This month I’m reviewing a craft book…well, not so much craft of writing as much as craft of editing. It’s The Subversive Copy Editor by Carol Fisher Saller who is revered as an editing guru from The University of Chicago. As in The Chicago Manual of Style, the writing industry’s style/grammar bible. I chose to read it for two reasons: one, because I might go into freelance editing, and two, because knowing what editors think might help me as a writer. Or at least make the dreaded editing rounds easier.

 

What surprised me was the emphasis placed on doing what’s right, not necessarily what is stipulated in a style guide. There’s always conflicts, and a good editor knows when to let go of the rule and apply a new one that makes it easier on the reader to understand the material. The focus should always be on the reader, which is good advice.

 

Granted, a lot of the examples and anecdotes in the book were about technical or academic writing, but a lot could be gained from my fiction-writer perspective. Given I’m a rules-based person, the biggest take away was to go easy on myself. I shouldn’t concentrate so much on rules—my focus should be on story, characterization, and emotional bond. Yes, I should still write according to “the rules,” but when it comes down to it, if I don’t have a compelling story, no amount of perfect grammar will make a reader finish, or even pick up, my book.

 

Again, some of the info wasn’t always relevant, and some of the points got hammered home a bit too much for me. But overall, I’m glad I read this book. It helped me reflect on my own process and make it better. Three-stars.

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