Polishing a Print Publication: Four Lessons Learned the Hard Way

For editors like me — who usually work in Microsoft Word — jumping into the management of a designed publication can be a shock.

That’s what happened to me when I took over Tracking Changes, the journal of ACES: The Society for Editing. I knew all the must-dos for print publishing theoretically, but it had been a long time since I had put them into practice. And the results were humbling. Here are just a few errors that appeared in the first issue:

  • Copydesk.com instead of Copydesk.org
  • Copyeditor used sometimes, and copy editor others
  • A discussion of the importance of accuracy and verificatona

Of course, I was embarrassed.

The lesson? It doesn’t matter if you’re a big-time business owner or sit on the board of ACES. The basics still apply to you. If you don’t follow them carefully, you’re going to pay the price—in humiliation.

Here’s what I realized I need to do on every issue of Tracking Changes to have the faintest hope of catching all the typos. These rules may be old hat … but I’d rather wear an old hat than do an editorial walk of shame.

  1. Do a substantive edit first—then a copyedit. Several stories that were submitted needed heavy revision. I revised them myself, but I forgot that heavy editing usually leaves typos behind. I should have had a copyeditor go behind me to tidy up the text.
  2. Copyedit your text in Word, before you put it into design. This is so obvious. But I didn’t do it. I was too excited to see what the copy would look like “in layout.” The result was a lot of unnecessary cycles and redrawing of pages.
  3. Double-proof your designed file. A great editor can catch every mistake in one pass, right? Wrong. If you’re looking for anything close to error-free copy, double-proofing is essential. That means your designed file goes to two separate human beings who proofread it independently. Many errors will be caught by both proofreaders. But each person will catch a handful that the other missed.
  4. Comparison proof every change. It would be nice to believe that if you work with an awesome designer, you never have to proof behind them. That’s a fantasy. No matter how careful your designer, if you give them a set of corrections to make, they will miss something. It’s just human nature. So if you don’t want typos left in your text—or new errors introduced—you must proof behind your designer and check every correction. Yes, it’s a pain. Yes, it takes time. But it must be done.

Perfection can often feel elusive, even for the most diligent of editors. But by putting these steps into place, every time you publish, you’ll have a fighting chance of getting there.
This post was written by Dragonfly president Samantha Enslen. It was originally published on Copyediting.com.

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