29 March 2012

So you want to be a copy editor

It must be easier nowadays.  This is a hand-edited typewritten manuscript of Crash, by J.G. Ballard, written in the early 1970s.  Via Uncertain Times.

Addendum:  Reader MikeP points out that the ms above would not be the version submitted to the copy editor; this would have been an earlier draft, with revisions probably made in the author's handwriting, which would likely have been retyped before being professionally edited. 


  1. I am a copyeditor, among other low-paid journalistic job titles. I started back when we still passed around printed galleys of articles, and used proofreader's marks to edit them. Not much use these days except when the crossword puzzle clue is something like "Leave as is", four letters (stet).

  2. I remember learning copy edit marks in grade school. (I'm 35.) I never had to use them after that, even in high school. I got laid off from a graphic design job about a year ago, at which my boss would use them. I recognized and remembered maybe 3 of them, but there was another old-schooler in the office also, who could translate them for me. And I'm enough of a grammar nerd to be able to figure out my mistake/the edit based on context alone, as if she had simply circled the offending bits without specific editing instructions.

  3. Just discovered this. This work isn't by a copy-editor. How do I know? Because I copy-edited the ms of Crash when I worked at Jonathan Cape in the early 70s, and that's not my writing. If I had to guess, I'd say these are Ballard's own edits/rewrites before the final ms was retyped and submitted - the typesetter would have refused to work from this.

    1. I certainly didn't mean to imply that the marginal notes and corrections were the work of the copy editor. My title implied that this is what a copy editor would have to work with.

      But from your comment I gather that there is another link in the chain? That someone had to retype this before submitting it to the copy editor? So Ballard would have a secretary do that?

      I want to revise the post, but hope you can clarify this part for me first. Tx.

  4. Nothing more annoying than an editor who gets the wrong end of the stick, sorry about that!

    It's a long time ago (mostly what I remember is being traumatised by the text...), but I have a dim memory of the first submission (which I wouldn't have read, too junior) being sent back to Ballard for cuts. If I'm right then what we see here could be his work in progress between the first ms and the final one - or of course it could be an earlier stage altogether. I can't remember if a typist was involved or not - Ballard wasn't the sort to have a full-time secretary, and could easily have done it himself.

    No doubt there's a Ballard freak out there who can shed more light!

    Thanks for an interesting blog, by the way - lives up to its name.


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