Scholarly Editing Panel

January 13, 2021

Nancy Wills was an enthusiastic and informative host for this discussion.

Panellists: Ellie Barton, Angela Pietrobon, Stephanie Stone (see bios below)

Moderator for Q&A: Wade Guyitt

Q. How would you define scholarly?

A. Ellie described it as a form of nonfiction that has been peer-reviewed, as opposed to other types of nonfiction such as memoir and trade books for a general audience. The main goal of scholarly books is to share research and generate knowledge.

Q. Please describe your scholarly publishing clients.

A. Angela edits for University of Alberta Press and Athabasca University Press, and she works with private clients to develop their scholarly books. She is also the managing editor of Encounters in Theory and History of Education (Queen’s University), Global Africana Review (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), and Africana Public Interest Journal (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). Ellie copy edits for McGill-Queen’s University Press (MQUP) and University of Toronto Press (UTP), and also works with private clients. Stephanie copy edits for UTP.

Q. Do you specialize in a certain subject area?

A. Angela doesn’t like to work only within one subject area because she can get bored with doing the same thing. She doesn’t do math and has edited enough engineering theses. She must be interested in the topic when she takes on a job, and she feels it’s her ethical responsibility to represent the reader. When she does accept a job, her biggest task is to learn the subject matter, to be curious. This gives her the confidence to tackle a manuscript or a new subject; she needs to be willing to learn.

Stephanie works in law, government, constitution, philosophy, and social science. These were the areas that her associate managing editor was responsible for when she started working with him. Ellie prefers to edit books on subjects she’s interested in, like history, religion, health care, mental health, culture, and the arts.

Q. How did you come to work for your client(s)? What process and/or experience led up to it?

A. Ellie started working for MQUP after a copy editor friend recommended her, and her work with UTP came as a result of being recommended by Stephanie. Stephanie started working for MQUP after Ellie recommended her. She started working for UTP after an associate managing editor there found her name in the Editors Canada online directory. (He recognized her name from working with her decades before.)

Angela had worked with her own client on a book for which Doug Hildebrand was the acquisitions editor at UTP. When he moved to University of Alberta Press as the new Director and Publisher, she asked him if she could work with the Press as a copy editor. Athabasca University Press approached her because they wanted to try her out after she had been referred to them a few times. Running your own business successfully, for Angela, means you focus on always having lots of work.

Q. How long does it take you to copy edit a manuscript? How much time do you need to commit to a book?

A. For Ellie, it depends on the length of the manuscript. Stephanie agreed, adding that it depends how many elements a manuscript has (beyond the text, citations, and references, there may also be figures, tables, and notes). For example, the most recent manuscript she worked on had 75 pages of references; they didn’t require a lot of work in themselves, but reading them and cross-checking them against the citations took a lot of time. She figures it takes her about two months to copy edit a manuscript. When she receives the files back from the author, it can take a few days to go through the tracked changes and “clean up” the files. UTP asks for about four weeks for copy editing, which she’s rarely achieved.

Q. Please talk about process and workflow.

A. Both Ellie and Stephanie copy edit all the chapters in a manuscript, then send it to the author for review; this was an original instruction from UTP. In some cases, Stephanie receives a manuscript as one file when a book isn’t very long. Ellie finds that once she’s copy edited the entire manuscript, she’s able to make sense of unclear passages and resolve some of the queries herself. The downside of this approach is that the author has to respond to all the edits and queries at once, instead of responding chapter by chapter.

The process that Angela uses is to copy edit and send out individual chapters. This allows her to apply the problems resolved in the early chapters to the later ones. It’s like a conversation in that chapters are passed back and forth until the final version is agreed upon. Wade (who copy edits for Oxford and Cambridge University Presses) uses this process too. It establishes a flow for the rest of the manuscript. One downside is that styles applied in an early chapter may no longer be viable by the time he reaches a later chapter.

We didn’t talk in detail about the sorts of things we look for or correct during copy editing, although everyone does two passes through a manuscript and keeps style sheets. Ellie line edits where necessary and queries ambiguous phrasing. She might research the background for a book by watching YouTube videos on the topic. In addition to copy editing, Angela reads for details, performing content editing. She likes to tidy; it gives her a sense of accomplishment. Citations and references are her least favourite aspect of editing. Stephanie does whatever work a manuscript needs.

For MQUP and UTP, the author does the proofreading first, and then the proofs are sent to the copy editor for review. For University of Alberta Press, the proofreading is also done by the copy editor, but this task is paid separately. At Athabasca University Press, proofreading is done by the author.

In talking about ensuring consistency of spelling, capitalization, etc. in a manuscript, Nancy highly recommended using PerfectIt, commercial proofreading software that is an add-on to a word processing program. She uses it as a last consistency check. Angela uses it for her work with the University of Alberta; she receives a PerfectIt report on a manuscript at the beginning and end of the project. [Note: As a benefit of membership, Editors Canada members receive a 30 percent discount on a single licence.]

Everyone agreed that technology has vastly improved the work process, although it’s added a layer of work because everyone now needs to have computer and Internet skills. When Ellie started with MQUP, she used to get a printed version of the page proofs; now the proofs come in PDF format. In Stephanie’s early years as a copy editor, a manuscript after the first copy-editing pass would be full of sticky notes with queries on them.

Q. Is it difficult to juggle your projects and meet your deadlines?

A. Angela stipulates that authors give her the date on which they’ll be sending her something; this avoids too much “stacking” and enables her to better plan her workload. As the managing editor of three journals, she knows each publication schedule, so she can tell how well everything is on track. There is no problem with the contributors meeting their deadlines. There was a time when she’d work in the middle of the night to meet deadlines for clients in other time zones, but she doesn’t do that anymore.

Q. Does working for different publishers and their different approaches present a challenge?

A. For each project, Ellie reviews the publisher’s style and process; she prints out the guidelines and adds to them as she learns more about the publisher’s preferences. For Stephanie, it’s like changing hats; she has the publisher’s style guidelines in front of her and creates her own list of spellings as she works through a manuscript. For Angela, it’s like studying for a test; it takes half an hour at the start of a project. She prints out style sheets and highlights what she might forget. As a journal managing editor, she often sets the style and preferences herself.

Q. Please talk about your communication with an author.

A. Ellie emails an author early on to establish contact and go over some initial queries. She sometimes sends an author the first copy-edited chapter as a sample; the author can then give her feedback on her approach. She finds that she gets to know her memoir and creative nonfiction authors better than her scholarly authors because that work is more personal; it’s easier to develop a relationship with them. She likes to talk to authors on the phone when possible.

Angela keeps up a constant conversation with an author during the editing process. She has always dealt with authors one on one. She assumes that every author is lovely and respectful and gets that back. She doesn’t worry about communication.

Stephanie contacts the author once she’s done a fair bit of the copy editing. She introduces herself and asks a few queries that have come up, such as inconsistencies in spelling or unclear meanings of terms. She also tries to give an estimate of when she’ll send the manuscript to the author for review. It’s an opportunity to get a feel for the author’s personality and approach to the manuscript.

Q. What do you enjoy about the scholarly editing you do? What are some of the benefits?

A. For Ellie, a benefit of working with university presses is that they have high production values. The books are well designed. UTP applies styles to a manuscript before it’s copy edited, which speeds up the process. She learns a lot by copy editing scholarly books and finds the work intellectually stimulating. For both her and Angela, copy editing enables them to inhabit the author’s mind. They enjoy learning about the world and working with people who are passionate about their work. Angela added that the copy editor needs to, in a way, become the author. A great benefit comes when the author appreciates your work. (This can be the result of good communication.)

Stephanie agreed that the work is intellectually stimulating. She enjoys working on the various elements of a manuscript and cross-checking them to make sure that everything is consistent. A negative aspect is that the client doesn’t always seem to understand how much time it takes to do a thorough job.

About the Panellists

Angela Pietrobon is a scholarly editor who works for University of Alberta Press and Athabasca University Press. She is the Managing Editor of three journals: Encounters in Theory and History of Education (Queen’s University), Global Africana Review (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), and the new and forthcoming Africana Public Interest Journal (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). Her projects with her freelance clients have resulted in polished manuscripts and indexes for, among others, University of Toronto Press, Routledge, Palgrave Macmillan, Fordham University Press, University of British Columbia Press, University of Alberta Press, and McGill-Queen’s University Press. Angela also works with PhD students through the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education at University of Toronto and Queen’s University. You can find out more about Angela’s work on her LinkedIn page.

Ellie Barton is a freelance editor of memoir, creative nonfiction, and scholarly books. She works for McGill-Queen’s University Press, University of Toronto Press, and individual authors seeking to self-publish or to submit their manuscript to an agent or a publisher. Ellie also worked for a decade as a copy editor and proofreader for two academic journals: Canadian Public Policy and the Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health. Ellie has a Certificate in Publishing from Ryerson University and an MA in Canadian literature from Queen’s University. She’s a member of Editors Canada. Please visit Ellie at https://www.elliebarton.ca/

Stephanie Stone began copy editing in the early 1980s with Copp Clark Pitman, a textbook publisher in Toronto. Her first manuscript was about the Commodore 64, a very early computer. She then moved to Methuen Publications for the chance to work on trade books and worked as a production editor – not just copy editing but also laying out and proofreading the typeset pages, sometimes indexing, and working closely with the editors, authors, designers, typesetters, and printers. She learned many of her skills from taking courses through the Freelance Editors Association of Canada, the forerunner of Editors Canada.

In 1987, Stephanie moved to Kingston to work as a technical writer and trainer with a local software consulting company. She also copy edited the work of the other technical writers and developed in-house style guides. In 2001, she started her own company, Cornerstone Communications, whose major clients are Elections Canada, University of Toronto Press, and the journal Physiotherapy Canada. She is now starting to retire so that she can focus on other aspects of her life.

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