University Press Week

Day #1: The copy-editor

In the first of our University Press Week posts, Newgen North America copy-editor, Amy Schneider tells us how she developed her love for copy-editing scholarly texts.

When I started out as a freelance copy-editor in 1995, college textbooks were my bread and butter. They were usually huge affairs, 800–1,200 manuscript pages, spanning several months in multiple batches. I enjoyed them very much because I could really dig in and immerse myself in both the subject and the work, and I spent less time hunting up projects. The downside was that by the time I got to chapter 45 or so, I was ready to just be done and/or join the witness protection program. It was often a challenge to stay focused for those last several chapters.

knowing that I’ll see the authors’ responses later helps me keep in mind the people at the other end of the Internet who have poured their heart and soul into their work

After a while, though, these textbooks took up less of my workload and I started doing smaller projects: novels, cookbooks, self-help books, and other trade nonfiction. I’ve found it easier to stay fresh by having a variety of (usually) lighter topics and more frequent switching among projects and tasks. Among these smaller projects came my work for the friendly folks at Newgen North America: scholarly books published by various university presses, usually 300–400 manuscript pages.

These manuscripts that I copy-edit for Newgen are often shorter, have fewer structural elements, and cover a variety of interesting topics. I’m often requested to dig deeper and really help the authors clarify their discussions.

Copy-editing for university presses enables me to keep up my skills in editing reference lists and text citations. I always edit the reference list first, to get the heavy lifting out of the way and to ensure that I have the sources correct for checking against the text citations. If there are substantive notes in each chapter, I copy them into one large file, break them up into one source per paragraph, delete “ibids.” and textual content, tag them per chapter, and then sort them alphabetically so “identical” citations are all together. This takes some time and manual cleanup, but then I can use this list as I edit the live files to help me catch a lot of inconsistencies, missing elements, and errors, especially across chapters, that I wouldn’t see if I just edited them from beginning to end.

I do the clean-up edit for Newgen, which most of my other clients do in-house. This process helps make me a better editor. I can see how authors respond to my queries and edits: where I could have explained something more clearly, whether the author accepted my suggested rewording, and how I might change my process to improve it for next time. And knowing that I’ll see the authors’ responses later helps me keep in mind the people at the other end of the Internet who have poured their heart and soul into their work. It can be hard for them to have an unknown freelancer make changes to their content. I hope it makes me more respectful and helps them see me as a collaborator who wants to help them make their work shine: an expert on language and style who “sands off the rough edges” in that area so they can focus on the subject matter in which they are the experts.

Find out more about Amy’s work at

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