An Interview with Editor Pat Brewer

Ashland’s Pat Brewer is owner of Patricia Brewer Editorial Services, which she began in
1999. Previously she was Editorial Production Manager at Wadsworth
Publishing and worked as a Production Editor at W. H. Freeman, Canfield Press, and Houghton Mifflin. She has B.A. and M.A. degrees in mathematics and began her career as a math textbook editor.

EB: What sort of editorial work do you do? developmental editing? copyediting?

PB: My publishing career was in college textbook publishing, starting as a copyeditor, then becoming a production editor managing the production from manuscript to bound book, then managing a department of production editors. When I moved to Ashland and decided to work as a freelancer, I wanted to return to working with the words themselves rather than managing the entire project. I did both developmental editing and copyediting, mainly on textbooks. For clients now I mostly copyedit because I want only short projects.

I’ve also always seemed to work as a volunteer editor or managing editor on a newsletter—from a women’s resources newsletter in the 70s to AAUW and OLLI today.

EB: Can you explain the difference between developmental editing and copyediting to our readers?

PB: Sure. A developmental editor works with the author on structure and content issues. In college textbook publishing, a DE may work with the publisher from the beginning of the project, developing model chapter outlines and pedagogy before the author starts writing; a DE may help shape content after a first or second draft is completed, helping authors respond to academic reviewers; a DE may be asked to write exercises, sidebars, photo captions, or specific pedagogical add-ons. Usually managing chapter and book length is part of the DE’s job, and often the DE helps develop the art program with pedagogical art and photo suggestions.

A copyeditor works on the final draft and is responsible for all the details of grammar, language, and consistency; the goal is clarity, so that the reader doesn’t hesitate over a phrase because of syntax or word choice. If the reader is pausing, it should be because the material is demanding and the reader is thinking about the idea, not because the sentence is awkward. At the same time, the CE must respect and maintain the author’s voice. Certainly there is overlap between developmental and copy editing, and copyediting sometimes turns into developmental editing.

Most publishers have a house style guide that the CE will follow, which gives the house’s usage preferences on numbers, punctuation (e.g., serial comma or not), capitalization, gender neutrality, and so on. But the CE also prepares a style sheet for the specific book, noting the choices made that are particular to the title (e.g., computer commands: italic? Initial cap?). Copyeditors have a large responsibility because they are the last publishing filter before the article or book is presented to its audience.

The DE or the CE also may write the design notes for the book designer; these name all the items that must be styled: obvious design elements like chapter titles and numbers but also headings and subheadings, examples, exercises, sidebars, lists. All these items will then be defined by the designer within the page-layout program (such as Adobe’s InDesign). Copyeditors may be asked to typemark or code these various design elements, so that the designer doesn’t have to guess the level of headings or where an example ends.

EB: How did you become an editor?

PB: I earned my B.A. and M.A. in mathematics, but I had an epiphany when I saw an ad in the Boston Globe for an associate math editor for Houghton Mifflin: “Degree in math required, publishing experience desirable.” At that time, copyediting was still done in-house by the production editor who would also shepherd the book through the production process. Copyeditors/production editors had a degree in the discipline in which they worked and were expected to work closely with the author on content. I had the degree but not the publishing experience, but I was hired, probably because math degrees were less common than English degrees among fresh college graduates who wanted to work in publishing.

I learned the publishing process on the job, moving from math books to science and then all disciplines. Working on a publishing team of editor, designer, and art editor multiplied the creativity. Publishing houses changed enormously throughout my career: More and more tasks were outsourced (copyediting, photo research and editing, design, and eventually project management), and technology changed every task: typesetting and layout, design, art production, photo research, editing. “Desktop publishing” was a wonderful revolution and made bookmaking more fun: more photos, more color, more last-minute changes! I have loved working with words and books—no regrets in leaving math!

EB: What is a typical editorial assignment like? Is there such a thing as a typical job?

PB: The typical part is the upfront work: Any project starts with reading the paperwork from the publisher and formulating questions to ensure I understand the audience for the book and the expectations of the publisher. The latter is critical—manuscripts can be edited with a heavy hand or a light hand, and I need to know what the publisher wants in the edited book. A phone conversation with the in-house editor or a conference call with several people at the publishing house usually follows. With developmental editing, I often edit and send a single chapter to the in-house editor. After that, I most often send directly to the author. Some manuscripts are complete when I start; some I work sequentially as the author writes; some I work in whatever sequence the author writes the chapters. Schedule always depends on the author’s priorities. Some projects are completed with pencil on paper, and many are completed electronically using the editorial tools in Microsoft Word. Sometimes I write design notes or prepare the permissions log.

The atypical part is the work itself—always different, always interesting, often fun. I like getting to know the author: his or her voice, personality, and quirks; learning a new subject or topic (llamas, patent law, food science!); working with the in-house editor; solving the editorial problems and enjoying the good writing.

EB: Do you have a particular specialization?

PB: When I was working as a consultant, I edited only nonfiction, mostly texts, mostly health and nutrition. Now I work mostly with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

EB: When you are working on an editing job, how do you pace yourself? Do you try to do a certain number of pages each day?

PB: Absolutely I need a pacing tool, either pages or chapters. The publisher has a schedule or expected turnaround, and simple division tells me how much I have to edit per day or week.

EB: Do you find it hard not to be an editor?

PB: When reading nonfiction, absolutely. Newspapers are particular culprits with poor spelling and syntax. I love those emails with a group of newspaper headline blunders: “Missippi’s literacy program shows improvement.”

When reading fiction, I try to suspend the editing portion of my brain and let the author lead me.

EB: What books or special training would you recommend for aspiring editors?

PB: Strunk and White’s Elements of Style comes to mind first because an illustrated version was just published, and a friend gave it to me for Christmas. I am enjoying reading it again—delighting in the illustrations and realizing how much I have internalized Strunk’s admonitions about clarity and deleting excess verbiage. The book has aged very well. Karen Judd’s book on copyediting is excellent. Once you are working, The Chicago Manual of Style is indispensable, and some publishers use The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association for house style.

Many schools have certificate programs in publishing that include the editing component. Some can be completed online: Portland State, UC Berkeley Extension, UC San Diego, PLU in Tacoma. Editcetera, a freelancers’ group in the SF Bay Area, also offers online courses. The grandmother of all publishing courses, the Radcliffe Institute, moved to Columbia University’s School of Journalism in 2000.

Internships are another great way to learn on the job, make friends and contacts, and get started in publishing. When I was editorial production manager at Wadsworth [now Cengage], I hired a college junior or senior every summer for an editorial internship. I also promoted several editorial assistants (secretaries) into editorial production—getting your foot in the door in a low-level publishing job gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your skills and personality.

EB: What’s the greatest challenge an editor faces?

PB: Talking with the in-house editor when the book is not what I was led to expect, either in the quality of the manuscript, the schedule of the work, or the completeness of the manuscript (or all three at once!).

EB: What makes for a good author-editor relationship?

PB: On the editor’s side: Respect for the author’s voice, intellect, and values; diplomacy in queries; being able to succinctly state your reason for suggesting a change while letting the author know that if he or she doesn’t agree with the suggested rewording, that some rewording is still necessary because the sentence/thought is unclear. On the author’s side: Keeping to schedule, seeing the editing process as a dialogue with the mutual goal of a better book. On both sides: Enjoying that dialogue.

EB: Do many editors and clients still use the traditional proofreaders’ symbols? I hate the thought of those going away.

PB: I have sent my translation list to many clients. Those symbols are such a timesaver, but now I usually don’t know if my client knows them or not, so I always explain each one on first occurrence. With electronic editing, it’s not an issue. There the issue is whether the client can make sense of what’s on the screen. So I usually send two files: one with the editing all there in red through Track Changes, and a second with the Changes all Accepted. Two files give the client the best view of the befores and afters.

EB: Thanks again for talking with us.

About Ed Battistella

Edwin Battistella’s latest book Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels was released by Oxford University Press in March of 2020.
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