Editor Interview #1: Katharine O'Moore-Klopf

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf

Katharine O’Moore-Klopf, ELS, has been in publishing for 27 years, the first 11 as a production editor for various publishers, and since then as a full-time freelance copyeditor. She is a medical editor with a specialty in editing manuscripts written by non-native speakers of English. Her editing has helped researchers in more than 20 nations get published in more than 30 different medical journals. She is also creator and curator of the Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base, which is housed within her business web site. On Twitter, she is @KOKEdit. She blogs at EditorMom.

  1. What is it about editing that drew you to it?

    I’ve loved to read for as long as I can remember. Even at an early age, I spotted spelling errors and what I later learned were errors in syntax and grammar. As a child, I wondered whose job it was to fix those errors, but I didn’t actively seek information about it. When the whole family would ride from our small Texas town to the outskirts of Houston for twice-a-month trips to a big-box grocery store, I’d gaze at a plain building on the way that a small publishing company occupied. For years on those trips, I’d wonder each time what tasks the people in that building did each day as part of their jobs.

    Years later, I earned a journalism degree because no nearby universities that I was aware of offered degrees in publishing; this was in the late 1970s. My first professional job after graduation was as a newspaper journalist, covering the police and health-care beats. But the night hours interfered with having a new baby (my first), so I knew I’d have to find a daytime job. But what kind of work would pay me to write or edit? Oh, yeah–publishing! Eventually, I ended up working in-house as a production editor for a large publisher in Manhattan. What joy to read books, or manuscripts that would become books, every day! I was getting paid to read and to fix errors–or approve the fixes for errors found by freelance copyeditors and proofreaders! What a perfect world!

    Now that I’ve been self-employed for 16 years, I still occasionally look over my shoulder, expecting the fictitious job police to show up and arrest me for having too much fun at work. 🙂

  2. What character/personality trait, if any, do you believe is necessary to edit well?

    I think that four traits are absolutely necessary.

    The first two are a permanent love of details and a constant suspicion that what you’re reading may not be correct. Copyeditors are responsible for working on documents, manuscripts, and online copy to improve their organization, style, accuracy, grammar, syntax, punctuation, spelling, capitalization, usage, consistency, clarity, and coherence; to eliminate errors, repetition, wordiness, and incompleteness; and to point out possible libel, plagiarism, copyright infringement, and biased language. If we have to do all that, we had better love working on details and have an irrepressible urge to look up things, even things we think we know.

    The third and fourth traits or abilities are detachment and mind-reading. We must remember that the material we are editing is not our own; it belongs to the author. It’s important to be detached, or not emotionally invested in the copy that we edit, so that we don’t leave any hint of our personality on the piece but instead ensure that it all sounds uniformly like the author’s voice. It helps to develop the ability to read the author’s mind, so that when we must make changes, they are still in the author’s voice and are what the author would have written if he or she had done yet another draft.

  3. What’s the most common mistake you find when you edit?
    Oh, it’s always dangling participial phrases, and they can help conjure up unintentionally hilarious or even salacious images. Here is a modified example from the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, 5.112:

    Dangling participial phrase: Frequently used in early America, experts suggest that shaming is an effective punishment. (This sentence incorrectly suggests that experts were frequently used in early America.)
    Fixed: Experts suggest that shaming, frequently used in early America, is an effective punishment. (This sentence correctly says that shaming was frequently used.)
  4. What advice would you give aspiring editors or beginning writers?
    1. Read, read, read, read, read. And then read some more, every day of your life and possibly even every waking moment. This will teach you the difference between good and bad writing.
    2. Take writing courses.
    3. Take editing courses.
    4. Write something every day of your life, and get as much of it critiqued as you can. Whether you’re a writer or an editor, get comfortable with being edited, because everyone–even an editor–needs an editor.
    5. Never stop learning
    6. Copyeditors only: Find a mentor or a group of mentors, the latter of which can be in the form of fellow members of a profession-related association (see http://www.kokedit.com/library_CE5.shtml) or in subscribers to a well-run editing-related e-mail list, such as Copyediting-L (see http://www.copyediting-l.info).

  5. Would you share your favorite editing resources with us (books, web sites, conferences, etc.)?
    I have three favorite editing resources:
    1. AMA Manual of Style
    2. The Chicago Manual of Style
    3. The Copyediting-L e-mail list
    For all sorts of editing resources, categorized under 7 topics, I recommend the Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base:
  6. Anything else you’d like to add regarding editing?
    1. Don’t do it if you don’t love it. It’s okay to turn down editing subject matters that don’t appeal to you. If you don’t love editing it, you’ll be doing the copy, its readers, and the authors a disservice, because you won’t do your best work.
    2. Always, always respect the author.
Thank you, Katharine, for our first copyeditor interview. What an amazing resource this is. Everyone thank Katharine in the comments for giving us such a fantastic look into the world of editing.
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