Define Subversive

After attending a presentation by Carol Fisher Saller at the American Copy Editors Association’s 2016 annual conference, in Portland, I looked forward to reading the soon-to-be-released second edition of her book The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself). Now that I’ve done just that, I can happily report that it’s a good addition to any editor’s library.

To be clear, the book is not a grammar or usage guide. Rather, it contains Saller’s thoughts on her approach to copyediting—and a reasonable, even kind, approach it is. Take these thoughts on working toward the perfect document:

The document does not have to be perfect because perfect is rarely possible. There’s no Platonic ideal for that document, one “correct” way for it to turn out, one perfect version hidden in the block of marble that it’s your job to discover by endless chipping away. It simply has to be the best you can make it in the time you’re given, free of obvious gaffes, rid of every error you can spot, rendered consistent in every way the reader needs in order to understand and appreciate, and as close to your chosen style as is practical.

Lest the above be taken in the wrong spirit, Saller is in no way lax with her editing. It’s clear she cares deeply about even the smallest aspect of her work, but this doesn’t mean that she is so rigid that she would allow adherence to a supposed rule to interfere with the ultimate goal of any copy editor: helping the reader. And this is exactly where the subversiveness of her title comes into play. She is subversive because she allows that one should occasionally step outside of the “rules,” that one should accept that style is not always a matter of being correct or incorrect. She is subversive because she doesn’t believe the writer-editor partnership need be adversarial, but that it should instead be a relationship that ultimately serves the reader.

Not so very subversive, at all, you see.

Saller notes that while many copy editors are lucky enough to find a mentor at a newspaper or publishing house, many others struggle to find their own way. With its helpful philosophy, the benefit of Saller’s experience with the University of Chicago Press, and a list of helpful print and online resources, The Subversive Copy Editor is a must-read made all the more enjoyable by the author’s informed, yet often humorous, and even self-deprecating, tone.

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