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New business track - copy editing/proofreading

Sometimes a game plan doesn’t work out the way you draw it up. That was the case with one of Worldwide Editing’s three original business tracks, ghostwriting.

Today I changed that track to copy editing/proofreading. Here’s the thinking and the reality behind the change.

When I went into business after retiring from Cox Newspapers as a senior editor, a book publishing company approached me about contracting through them to work with former executives to ghost write business books. They saw my skills and their needs as a perfect fit.

As it turned out, though, the books the publishing company’s clients really wanted me to write were, in my opinion, vanity books. Not my thing. The cost of a professional ghostwriter also didn’t appear to be their thing. Ghostwriting, which occurs when a person is hired to write a text that is published in another person’s name, is very time consuming and, therefore, expensive.

Unrelated, I edited/ghostwrote two other books. Then, a public policy ghostwriting gig came in. Voila! Looked like a business track to me – until the whole ghostwriting gig unexpectedly dried up.

But, as a line from the Sound of Music goes, when God closes a door He opens a window.

In through that open window flew copy editing and proofreading opportunities. First for multinationals through a third-party and now through Atlanta Custom Media, a publishing arm associated with Atlanta Magazine.

This is like going back to my roots. My first job in journalism was as a copy editor.

Copy editors are the grunts of the publishing world. In the old days of not that long ago, they were the green eyeshade types … the people who knew grammar and style and fact-checked information they instinctively knew was wrong that had slipped past the first line of editors.

From smoke-filled newsrooms with bottles of whiskey kept in desk drawers to working remotely on laptops and tablets across continents and cultures with people you’ve never met, it’s a process that in one sense has never changed. Copy editors question everything.

A recent experience illustrates the point. I was copy editing a story about farmer’s markets on a pdf page proof – meaning the story was “ready” for publication. The story said the markets were open from April through December. Through December? How many farmer’s markets are open the week between Christmas and New Years? None that I know of.

I wen to the market website and saw that the market closed Dec. 10.

Hmmm. What else had the writer gotten wrong and the first editor missed? Plenty, as it turned out. The vendors names in the story and the list on the website didn’t match.

A check of the websites for other markets mentioned in the story turned up similar problems, Wrong open/close dates. Wrong vendor lists. And, in one case, a wrong location.

Then it dawned on me. The writer had pulled content from a story about the same markets from a year ago but hadn’t checked the websites for information about the current year.

That’s what copy editors do. We check. And ask annoying questions. Lots of annoying questions.

But in the end, a good copy editor and help save someone’s bacon. Or, more importantly, their reputation.

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