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on June 2, 2009
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Reviewed by C.J.Singh

While teaching courses in editing at UC Berkeley extension, I always assigned The Chicago Manual of Style and Richard Lanham's Revising Prose (5th Edition) for the introductory course. For the advanced course, we studied Joseph Williams's Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace (ninth edition) . As noted in my detailed reviews of the two latter books, most students found them excellent. I'm sure they'd be just as enthusiastic about "The Subversive Editor" by Carol Fisher Saller. In fact, I'd place this book near the top of the reading list for anyone interested in learning how to edit. Saller, a senior mansucript editor at the University of Chicago Press, also edits "The Chicago Manual of Style Online's Q&A" (Question&Answer). Written with charming wit, her brief book presents numerous tips. For several samples from the book, please read on.

Introducing her book, Saller writes: "Although people outside the Press address us `Dear style goddesses' and assume we are experts on everything in the `Manual,' most of the time I feel more like the pathetic little person behind the curtain in `The Wizard of Oz.' It's only because I'm surrounded and protected by knowledgeable and generous coworkers that I can assemble the authoritative front that appears in the Q&A" (p. xi).

From the Q&A: "Q/ Oh, English-language gurus, is it ever proper to put a question mark and an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence in formal writing?" (p. 31). "A/ In formal writing, we allow a question mark and an exclamation only in the event that the author was being physically assaulted while writing. Otherwise, no" (p. 43).

On serial commas: "A/ Well, if you don't allow the serial comma at all, you will be stuck with situations like the following hypothetical dedication page that our managing editor likes to cite: 'With gratitude to my parents, Mother Teresa and the pope'" (p. 70).

Know Thy Word Processor: "Q/ Is there an accepted practice for use of emoticons that include an opening or closing parenthesis as the final token within a set of parentheses?" (p. 71). "A/ Until academic standards decline enough to accommodate the use of emoticons. I'm afraid CMOS is unlikely to treat their styling . . . But I kind of like that double-chin effect" (p. 79). Included in the above chapter is a footnote: "Hilary Powers has written a gem of a guide, 'Making Word Work for You: An Editor's Intro to a Tool of the Trade.' You can download it inexpensively at...." (p. 72). I did. Thanks.

On Associated Press Stylebook: "Minimizing word count must be another goal for newspapers: have you noticed their avoidance of 'that' even when it's needed? 'They maintained the house for years was a haven for crackheads.' It drives me crazy" (p. 28).

Saller's use of "subversive" in the title is a bit of a teaser. And she knows it: "Editor's first loyalty is to the audience of the work you're editing: that is, the reader. . . . Common sense tells us that working on behalf of the reader is not really a terribly subversive move" (p. 4).

To learn the basics of the editing craft, I recommend: reading Constance Hale's "Sin and Syntax" for a review of grammar basics; doing the exercises in a self-teaching book such as Amy Einsohn's "The Copyeditor's Handbook"; and, perusing regularly "The Chicago Manual of Style Online's Q&A," edited by Saller. -- C J Singh
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on November 2, 2009
Editors break rules. How liberating! Carol Fisher Saller's "Subversive Copy Editor" confirms what I learned as a scientist: The more you know about a subject, the less dogmatic your opinions. Rules can be broken; editors do make stupid mistakes. Saller brings great common sense and, yes, sharp business acumen to her profession. The book reminds you that if an author--consistently--has styled his 985 references in a totally nonstandard, but logical style, what's the point in undoing all the painstaking work? Having enjoyed this "Chicago Manual of Style" editor's online Q&A page for years, I loved reading more about the crazy questions she gets about editing (and sometimes other topics, like fashion, when someone mistook "The Chicago Manual of Style" for a fashion advice book) and the clearheaded, sometimes funny answer she gives. But beyond her approach to editing and her invaluable hints on how to stay organized as an editor, the book includes invaluable lessons in modern business etiquette: ways to work with difficult co-workers and authors, the importance of answering e-mail promptly, even if you don't know the answer; how to defer a decision; the importance of keeping the big picture (in this field, the big picture is the reader and book sales); rules of etiquette not only in your own e-mails but especially with how you handle others' messages; and so on. The book can be read from front to back, almost like a novel (well, I am an editor, so perhaps I found it especially compelling), and Saller's self-deprecatory humor had me laughing out loud. Editors, writers, students, and businesspeople who handle any sort of communications will enjoy this book.
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on April 20, 2009
I'm a manuscript editor at a university press and I can't say enough good things about this book. I've long enjoyed Ms. Saller's clever answers in the Q&A section on the Chicago Manual of Style website, so I was predisposed to think well of her, but this book just cemented my respect and admiration. Her advice to editors (and to writers) ranges, for me, from the "I can't believe I never thought of that" variety to the "I have thought of that, but could never have said it so well" variety. This book should be required reading for anybody who is in the business of transforming unpolished words in a manuscript into type on a page.
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on May 22, 2014
Even if you're not a copyeditor, this book is useful if you ever find yourself in the position to need to edit someone's work. In some places it's probably a bit too granular, but overall, it offers some great advice for what to focus on, which battles are worth fighting and ways of working with people that won't drive them, or you, crazy.

My beef is that this particular Kindle edition needs a copy edit. There were lots of errors such as words and sentences running together.
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on March 29, 2015
I bought this book for one of my college textbook production editors. At his annual review it became clear that he had some editing issues. I asked some colleagues and they recommended this book. He was reading it and following what it said for about six months. He was making progress towards meeting his review goals. And then he quit. He took the book with him I noticed so he must have been getting something out of it for himself.
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on August 27, 2015
This was the required textbook for the first course in my Editing program. And it's a really good book, with lots of great information about copyediting practices, particularly the interpersonal ones. Editors are a supportive, helpful bunch who share a "we're here to help" ethos. The more I learn about editors and editing, the more I understand how widely misunderstood the profession and its practitioners are. This book is both entertaining narrative and source of practical information and strategy for negotiating the editing workplace, whether freelance or in-house.

Word of caution: the Kindle version has some glitchiness with word spacing (oh the irony), so if that really bothers you, get the print version.
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on September 16, 2011
The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago is a 2009 book on editing by Carol Fisher Saller, a senior manuscript editor at the University of Chicago Press. The book's subtitle is "How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself," and this is Saller's primary focus.

The Subversive Copy Editor is divided into two sections: one on dealing with the writer and working on behalf of the reader, and the other on working with colleagues. Saller's advice, generally, is to take a common-sense and courteous approach to dealing with anyone and everyone. Her insight into the dynamics of the copy editor's working relationships is probably the most valuable part of the book.

Much of the book seems geared toward new editors, and there's a lot of basic, getting-started information here. On the whole, though, it isn't very subversive - unless remaining calm and not killing yourself stressing out over minutiae is subversive.

Saller's writing style is light and clever, and it makes this book generally enjoyable to read. Saller is also quick to discuss her own mistakes, which certainly helps the reader relate. Even if much of what she has to say isn't profound, it's nice to hear it from somebody who's experienced and credible.

This is quite a short book, but the pace feels a little too leisurely at times, particularly as Saller seems to try to hit a number of disparate targets. Not everything in the book is for every copy editor, and few if any editors will find every chapter relevant or helpful. That said, though, most any editor can get something out of this book.

There's nothing particularly groundbreaking here, but if you're looking for an easy, common-sense book on copy editing, The Subversive Copy Editor is a winner.
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on January 6, 2014
What can I say to add to the other reviews? As a longtime writer who's new to editing other people's books, I found this book to be not only enjoyable but actually educational. I expected amusing anecdotes, but each chapter addresses aspects of the editor's job, and there's a lot about the relationship with the author. The editing manuals don't talk about that. This book fills a gap and is now one of the essential books on editing, as far as I'm concerned.
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on February 13, 2015
This is a good, helpful book, but the print is small. For those of us who spend our lives editing copy, larger print is easier on the eyes. If you don't struggle with small print, you should order this book.
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on March 19, 2013
I'm not a big fan of self help books, but this was worth my time. I recommend it for anyone who struggles to be firm but gentle in editing, and especially for anyone new to editing.

It's one thing to edit a document to near perfection, but an entirely different challenge to do so without alienating the writer. I'm a department manager for a pricey business consulting firm (not an editor, per se) and personally responsible for the quality of every report my staff produces. The tough part is that many of my staff members are young and "well educated" (MBAs) but 1) were never held to the high standards of "ready for publication" and 2) have, apparently, always been told they were wonderful writers. I want my staff to 1) learn from my edits so my job will get easier over time and 2) not feel defensive (which would interfere with the achievement of goal #1). Top that with the fact that we do 360 reviews, so even if I didn't care how my staff felt about my edits, I need to keep them happy or I will get a poor review. This book was helpful, as the author describes real-world situations and solutions drawing on techniques reflecting an understading of psychology as well as grammar and style.
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