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‘The Subversive Copy Editor’ redux: Breaking the rules when you need to

April 1, 2016 By Junnelle Hogen Conferences

Carol Saller introduced ACES conference goers to the new edition of her book “The Subversive Copy Editor” at a Friday late-afternoon breakout session titled “‘The Subversive Copy Editor’ Redux.”

“There are no universal, immutable style and grammar rules,” said Saller, the editor of the monthly Q&A of the Chicago Manual of Style Online who is known for challenging the “Grammar crank” copy editing stigma.

In the initial “Subversive Copy Editor,” published by the University of Chicago Press in 2009, Saller resisted the archetypal editor versus writer portrayal, advocating for a relationship that upheld the good rules of grammar and consistency, while encouraging editors, if possible, to listen to and represent their writers’ unique voices.

Saller gave conference goers a highlight of her revisions to the new edition, currently on the printing press, which includes two additional chapters and tightened content. One of the new chapters challenges outdated style and grammar rules, while the second chapter gives editors resources for keeping up with the digital age.

“We still believe in the rules of English we learned in our youth,” Saller said, joking that the crankiest of the grammar police may find their inspiration from primary school instructors, who got their sense of grammar from a many-decades-outdated textbook.

Saller warned young and novice editors to avoid common style adherence pitfalls. In her decades of editing and overseeing new copy editors, she mentioned that she noticed many new professionals take out terms they didn’t understand, reword sentences in order to fit their idea of style, and introduce errors by not upholding consistency.

“They needlessly contort a sentence to avoid a passive construction,” Saller added.

Saller also stressed that editors should stay up-to-date with publishing technologies, such as print on demand, and follow high-profile publishing rights cases, in order to converse intelligently with colleagues and potential clients.

Along with the exhortation, she listed a variety of digital and social media resources useful to editors. Saller promoted using Twitter to monitor news and interact with like-minded professionals, despite the “chirpy terminology,” and encouraged adding personalized interest groups on LinkedIn. She threw in a cautionary for Facebook, mentioning that while the site may be appealing, for professionals, its constant feed of friend updates may be distracting. Instead of filtering through the fog of a social media blitz, Saller said editing professionals should consider using information aggregators like Netvibes to personalize social media results.

“Some people resist social media because they fear becoming addicted,” Saller said. “I think it’s worth a try.”

Toward the end of the lecture, Saller opened the table to a Q&A, responding to questions about style preferences, author-editor relationships, and concerns about potentially outdated usage.

At one point, an audience member asked Saller, based on the title of her book, why she defined her editing as “subversive.”

“I facilitate the breaking of rules all the time for writers who have a reason to break the style,” Saller said.

ACES newsroom member Junnelle Hogen is a student at the University of Oregon.
Carol Saller Talk
Carol Saller speaks at the 20th national ACES conference in Portland, Oregon. (Mark Allen)

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