Responding to Electronic Editing

Last week I wrote about what writers can expect when their manuscripts are edited on screen with the changes tracked electronically. This week I’ll explain what a copy editor can expect from writers in return.

(Of course, your editor will tell you in an e-mail or cover letter exactly what she expects, which might differ from my advice here. But knowing the odds of a writer actually reading a cover letter and following instructions, I’ll carry on.)

If the e-files you receive are not locked, you will be able to accept or reject the editor’s tracked changes. It’s quite possible that you are not supposed to do this. Read the cover letter to find out. If that is indeed your charge, however, then make sure that the Track Changes feature is turned on, and use the Review menu to vet the changes one by one, clicking Accept or Reject for each one. (It’s best never to click Accept All Changes in Document, because that would render invisible your own new insertions and deletions, which your editor needs to see.)

If the files are locked, you will not be able to accept or reject the editing as you read.* Rather, the idea is to add a layer of your own tracked additions and deletions. Everything you type will appear in a color different from that of the editor’s changes. If you don’t like a deletion the editor made, you can type it back in or write “Stet” beside it; if you don’t like an insertion, you can strike through it. In this way, your original version, the copy editor’s editing, and your current changes will all remain visible.


Because all this typing can get messy, learn how to hide all the noise in order to check the final version:


A key command for toggling between the two versions makes this easy.**

Whichever method you use, please don’t get creative trying to buck the system. One of my authors sent back his locked redlined manuscript with all his corrections marked, but instead of trusting the tracking feature, which automatically strikes through any words deleted by means of the Backspace or Delete keys, he indicated deletions by adding strikethrough formatting to the words. This meant that when I accepted a “deletion,” the words didn’t disappear from the manuscript. They remained there, like this, because it was in fact an insertion (of formatting), instead of a deletion.***

When you reject editing by marking it “Stet,” be mindful that the editor saw a problem there, and that stetting it doesn’t fix it. You can explain why you wrote it the way you did, but if you don’t want to go another round on the issue, figure out what the problem was and suggest another way to solve it.

If the editor has written questions and comments by means of the Comments feature or by attaching footnotes or endnotes, you can type answers within the comment or note without worrying that your typing will end up in the published document. Some editors prefer to type queries in the line of text in bold or with highlighting, as in the examples above; in this case, it’s a good idea to type your answers within the bold or highlighting so they are searchable and can be easily deleted along with the query. (It’s startling to receive page proofs that include lines like “I can’t find the exact citation, but the article is so idiotic I love to quote it.”)

If, in spite of my fun toggling command, working this way fills you with despair and rage, ask your editor if you can print hard copy and mark it with a pencil. Print in color if possible, since the black-and-white marks are less easy to read. And beware: Your editor will have to type in all your pencil markings, so there’s added risk that errors will be introduced in the process.


*Don’t be offended if the files are locked. It’s usual. A significant part of preproduction work involves time-consuming but invisible cleaning and coding that have nothing to do with how great a writer you are. The thought of turning a writer loose on a cleaned MS would make many a copy editor turn in her red pencil.

**Explained here.

***I quickly learned to take the extra step of locking the formatting before sending a manuscript to an author.

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