Saturday, August 9, 2008

I Think I Just Popped a Vein

The thing about working in publishing on the nuts and bolts of turning out finished products is that you deal fairly frequently with people who envision themselves master prose stylists. People get very defensive when you question their phrasing or suggest that there isn't actually an edict against split infinitives engraved in granite somewhere in Proper Grammar Headquarters.

This leads me to one of my current academic editors, which is to say he's responsible for acquiring papers that we can then publish. But he's not much interested in actually shaking the trees for papers to publish; it seems he would much rather be tweaking the details of authors' word choice. I'll give you a bit of a view into the publishing production process: this kind of thing is an exercise in futility, because the copyeditor will come along and change everything in accordance with her knowledge of X Style Book or whatever you happen to be following. In addition to which, these particular weeds are the unenviable province of production people everywhere. Trust me when I say that you can never--as a normal person--be thinking about hyphens or commas in quite the systematic manner they are.

I have given many speeches to this particular academic editor about his role, mine, that of the poor beleaguered copyeditor, to no avail. He argues about his pet style conventions, I send him style book links. I wax authoritative about my area of responsibility, and he nods soberly, then proceeds as before.

So, on his eternal mission to put his stamp on every comma, he asked to see edited manuscripts, so that he could see what the "copyeditor was doing." I declined, on the theory that it would not placate him to be in the loop on the eye-glazing process but would only give him ammunition for more intervention. Alas, my director, who isn't knowledgeable about publishing, didn't have the same nuanced view I did, and initially acquiesced to him before talking to me. He took the opportunity of her tacit approval.

So he just sent me an e-mail about wanting a sit-down to talk about the copyeditor's work, as represented on article X. After my rebuff, he had sneakily worked with the author--one of his protegee's--to see. He apparently is much, much concerned that the work doesn't meet "our" standards.

The joys of a power vacuum, friends, are multi-faceted. There are layers. And he's lucky that I'm such a laid-back kind of person.

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