See You on the Bookshelf

7. The Copyediting


This week we hear from Regina Castillo, copy chief at Dial Books for Young Readers, about what copyeditors do, and we also chat with Wendy Shakespeare, senior editorial manager at Penguin Random House Children’s UK, about anglicizing American books for a British audience.

Jack: Previously, on See You on the Bookshelf, we talked about everything leading up to the internal launches at the publishing houses.

Jess Garrison: You are presenting a book that you’ve worked on with an author – and in this case, another editor – for a really long time. You know, for months.
Anthea Townsend: And it’s to the broader teams: sales, marketing, international sales, UK sales, marketing PR, our audio team …

Jack: So these meetings happen and all the different teams break off to do their own brainstorming and planning. Meanwhile, the editorial process itself is coming to an end. But before the manuscript is completely done and locked, there’s one more important step: copyediting.

Regina: When you’re working with an editor, obviously, you make a bunch of changes. You go through it again, you go through it again, and when it’s final, it comes to copyediting.

Jack: By now you’ve met my two editors, Jess and Anthea. This voice belongs to one of my copyeditors.

Regina: My name is Regina Castillo. I’m the copy chief at Dial Books for Young Readers, which means I do a lot of copyediting, a lot of proofreading. I check artwork for picture books – you know, the pre-production end of the book-making process. I’ve been part of Dial for about … 23 years now? Yeah.
My older brother – he was the one who first got into publishing. He started working for a vanity house, doing some editing work, some copyediting work as well. And when I went to college, I started doing freelance work for this vanity house.

Jack: So with vanity houses and vanity presses, the author is paying to have their book published – instead of the other way around.

Regina: When I graduated, I did a little bit of elementary school teaching and then I decided I wanted to get back into publishing. So children’s books, I think, was a perfect fit for me. That’s how I ended up here.

Jack: An adjective you’ll hear people use when talking about copyeditors is eagle-eyed. Editors work on things like story and character; copyeditors are more focused on the smaller details.

Regina: I read the manuscripts. I look for consistency issues – you know, if somebody has red hair on page five, they should also have red hair on page 10. You know, things like that. Grammar, spelling, repetitive language …
You have to remember who you’re writing for. Like, if you’re writing for younger children, there might be some some things in there that maybe they don’t get. It may be too sophisticated or too old – all of this happened way too long ago, the kids aren’t going to know about this – you know, things like that.
Jack: You mean, kind of like cultural references, things like that.
Regina: Things like that too. Yeah, exactly. It’s like, oh yeah, on that show – kids today aren’t gonna remember Love Boat. I mean, come on.
You do want to keep track of what’s going on in the book also. Every little detail is important. You think maybe it’s just a throwaway line here or something, but it might come up later in the book or it might turn out to be something important that, oh wait a minute, I think we need to fix this or I think we need to change this. You really need to pay attention to every detail in every manuscript. Because it is all important.

Jack: It’s also important that copyediting is a separate part of the process from editing. Not just because it’s a different skill set, but also because at this stage you need someone who’s had a bit of distance from the editorial process.

Regina: It’s better that way because when you’ve worked on several iterations of the same manuscript, you and the editor are very, very close to it. And you want a fresh set of eyes to look at it as a new person – as somebody who doesn’t know the material – who just is jumping in and saying, okay, this is a brand new experience for me. This is what I’m reading now.

Jack: Copyeditors like Regina will work with outside proofreaders too, to get even more pairs of fresh eyes on the manuscript.

Regina: Sometimes you might cut something, but there’s still a reference to it on another page. Somebody reading it for the first time will say, wait a minute, this doesn’t make any sense. And I’ll say, oh, that’s right, because we cut this reference earlier in the book.

Jack: As you can imagine, it’s a job that requires a lot of concentration and attention to detail.

Regina: I do get in nice and early. I have my coffee, I check my emails, and it’s a very quiet time of the morning. You know, people aren’t coming in yet. The phone isn’t ringing. You can really get a lot done. I mean, this kind of work is solitary. You kind of need silence and solitude to really concentrate on what you’re reading. To recognize mistakes. To recognize, oh, wait a minute, I think this author said something similar five pages ago and she might not want to repeat herself, or you know, stuff like that. It’s usually a lot easier just when it’s quiet and calm around me rather than people running in and out. So I get a lot done in the morning.

Jack: Do you recall any specific challenges with See You in the Cosmos, or other things that sort of was maybe a little unusual for this manuscript?

Regina: Not really. I mean, having never been an 11-year-old boy myself, I had to think about my nephews at that age. But you know, once you get into the voice of the character, who really has a very unique – I mean, I just loved him, by the way. You fall in love with this kid completely. And there were no issues, just, you know, the fact that I wanted to hug him was my only problem.
Jack: That’s great. So there was a little bit of back and forth with the UK this time around, right? Or is that pretty normal with other titles too?
Regina: Sometimes that does happen. Yeah. Sometimes if we’re doing a co-production. For the most part, I don’t deal too much with that. It’s mostly the editors here and in the UK who will more work together. Because the copyediting is going to be different. You know, the spelling is going to be different, some of the grammar is going to be different, and things like that.
A couple of issues maybe would come up that would be in both books. Like maybe, oh, you know, like if somebody says a dirty word or something. Say, oh, we don’t want to use this word here or something like that. But otherwise the copyediting here and in the UK was separate.

Jack: So I went back and I looked at my emails and the copyediting process started in June of 2016. We went through several rounds of it, and then in September, after Regina had pretty much finished on the US side, it went over to the UK.

Wendy: The first thing I always look out for is the word pants. [ laughter ] To make sure the context works. Because in the UK, pants is underwear. So he jumps into the lake and he says, I took off my shirts and pants. And at that point you’ve just got to go, whoa, no, definitely keeps underwear on.
[ laughter ]
So I think I suggested changing it to jeans? Something that would basically say, we’re talking about the outside pants, not the inside pants.

Jack: And if you haven’t guessed by now, that is our copyeditor in the UK.

Wendy: Hi, I’m Wendy Shakespeare. I’m senior editorial manager at Penguin Random House Children’s. And what I do is I look after the copyediting and proofreading stages of our titles. I make sure all the tiny details are correct and that when it goes to print, our books are perfect.
I ended up in publishing because I had a career plan when, I think I was 14, and I followed it.
[ laughter ]
Jack: Wow.
Wendy: My cousin had suggested it to me. I hadn’t thought about it. Because he said, you know, why don’t you work with books. You could be an editor. He was eight years older than me, so he knew a lot more. So he put the seed in my head. But actually what I was already doing, basically all the way through my high school years, was I was reading my friend’s essays for them and correcting them and telling them how to improve them.
So essentially, I was doing that already without even realizing it. And I thought, I’d quite like to go into publishing. I didn’t really understand much, but I saw, I’ve got two options: I can either do a publishing degree or I do an english degree. And if I do an english degree, I’ll do a publishing masters. So that’s what I did. I did American and English literature, had a year abroad in America – in Rhode Island, which was amazing – then I did my masters in publishing, and I was very lucky because I entered  publishing at a time when it was a lot easier to do so.
So, I think two months after I graduated, I was accepted into a graduate trainee program for a local history press where I worked on industrial history books, which I really, really loved because I like canals and railways and yeah, just that side of things. So I did that for two years. Then I went into working for primary school resources – not textbooks, but books for teachers to help with lesson plans, making classes for primary school. And from there, I got accepted into Puffin Books as a copyeditor.
So I’ve been here ever since – and that was about ten-and-a-half years ago.

Jack: Wendy works on a lot of anglicizations. On adapting books that are written in American English to British English. Some of it is what we already heard – changing words that means slightly different things.

Wendy: Two other things, which we have to be mindful of as well, which we have edited out of American books before is the word bum – for like, hobo. Because in the UK bum is a totally different word.
Jack: Right.
Wendy: But I’m sure you probably know about the classic one, which is fanny. So we never, ever, ever have fanny packs in our books. I have edited it out of a book before. I won’t tell you which one. But it has been removed. [ laughter ]
And that author never used that word again. So I think he knew after that.

Jack: But it goes beyond just word choice. It also covers spelling and various nuances in grammar and syntax.

Wendy: One of the common things we change is where prepositions are. So in American English, it’s very standard to say out the window. But in British English, we would say out of the window or, you know, going out of the door rather than just out the. So it’s a very, very minor thing.

Jack: And it’s also not as cut-an-dry as converting all the instances of American English to British English. Every book gets a different treatment.

Wendy: I think sometimes people do have to mindful that you don’t be tinkering too much, because you’ll just kill the voice – it just no longer sounds like a young American kid anymore. I think I’d find it weirder if an American is writing about an English character – like Harry Potter or something – if it had been written by an American with like, lots of American spellings in it. That would be really weird, because to me it’s a really English setting.
But when it’s a strong American setting, you immerse yourself in that world and it’s not so weird at all. I remember working on a book where – we were publishing and it’s English in a sense – but we felt that we had to leave in words like sidewalk and trash can

Jack: As opposed to pavement and rubbish bin.

Wendy:  – it just felt really strange to take it out of a very strong American setting and make it really British with those words. But yeah, I think it does depend. If it’s YA fiction we won’t anglicize because older readers should be fine with the variety of language that we have in the English language and how it’s used.
But for some books, say that are middle grade, we’re more mindful about trying to have UK spelling in there because children who are 7 onwards, you know, they’re learning spelling, they’re learning sentence structure at that stage, and hopefully really taking it in. So we feel it’s quite important for books to mirror the rules that they’re being taught, to make it easier to embed that knowledge. So even if they’re not actively thinking, for example, how the word colour is spelled, if they see it spelled with a ‘u’ as the norm, it hopefully embeds in their memory, and that they will find it easier to be spelling using British English form.
So yeah, it’s really more sort of younger section where we do it. And the reason why for Cosmos we didn’t anglicize much, but I was actually more mindful of the spelling, is because I was thinking it could be pitched to a slightly younger but more ambitious reader. And I didn’t want them to be thrown if they come across a word that in the US was spelled correctly, but in the UK means a slightly different thing.
So say the word story without an ‘e’. For us, we’d just simply read it as, you know, a tale, a novel, a book. But in America it means that and a floor in a building. So we wanted to have that separation, so they’re not being taken out of the story. We wanted it to be fluid. And so, yeah, that was my reason for only really targeting, like, very, very specific words to make it easier so it’s a smoother read.

Wendy: I don’t know if Anthea shared it, but I basically read it over a weekend. And when I got into work, I had to tell her how much I loved it. I could not stop reading it. I’d like, put it down, and have to just get back to it. And that’s actually a little bit part of why I didn’t really want to change that much, because I just couldn’t bear to. I was really mindful about being as unintrusive as possible. And just allow a lot of Americanisms through, which is not my natural state of mind. But I thought, yeah, it fitted.
What I did really enjoy about this experience was learning Alex’s voice and learning Alex’s idioms. That helps inform me how the words are being used and how language is used. Because I found it really odd, like the use of commas – that vocative comments weren’t used. But the more that I got into it, the more I understood why they weren’t being used. I remember reading the word guys’s – that Alex uses. And I thought it was funny, but then when I thought more deeply around it, I realized that it was actually just a tick of Alex and the way that he creates his plural possessives. It was his pattern, and even though it seems wrong to a copyeditor, you’ve got to think beyond that and think, why is it like that? What’s the reason? And does it actually fit?
It was really good, because actually what I liked was that it was an insight into how he thought and how he, you know, puts language together. So for me, it was actually kind of a learning experience to say that you have a rule, but sometimes you’ve got to break the rule … but you need a good reason to break the rule. And you had a good reason.
So it reminds me to be humble and to have that sense of humility, to think carefully before you suggest whether a correction could be made.

Jack: And what Wendy is saying here doesn’t just apply to anglicization. It applies to copyediting in general.

Regina: A lot of authors, I believe, tend to think that copyeditors are there to change your words. And you know, copyeditors are not supposed to be intrusive at all. They’re just supposed to clean things up a little bit. And I think sometimes authors do get worried that their voices are going to be stymied because a copyeditor might try to do too much “by the book.” Well, you have to make allowances for the author’s voice and the characters and everything else.

Jack: And in my experience, even when there are changes suggested by the copyeditor, there always just that – suggestions.

Wendy: We wouldn’t just completely go in there and just change everything. It would definitely be a conversation with the author to check that you’re okay with us doing that. In fact, we’ve been so far as rejecting edits on the author behalf because we know that it doesn’t fit the voice. And even though it’s grammatically correct, it’s not right.
Regina: The author has the final call. Even if it’s a good argument for why the comma should be there, it’s always the author’s call. Because it’s, ultimately, your voice that you want out there, and it’s not up to the copyeditor to decide that this does need a comma right here. So yeah, it’s always the author’s final decision.

Jack: Thanks very much to my eagle-eyed, unintrusive – and might I add, thoughtful – copyeditors, Regina Castillo and Wendy Shakespeare. Music for this podcast is by Saint Benjamin (now known as Ben Johnson Music Factory).

See You in the Cosmos is available now, in both American English and (slightly-anglicised) American English.