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Editor for Life: Mary Norris, author, query proofreader, and keynote speaker at the Editors Canada Conference 2016

Interview conducted by Jennifer D. Foster

A career as an editor is often a solo adventure, especially if you’re a freelancer. So we thought one way to better connect with fellow editors was to ask them the W5: who, what, where, when, and why. Read on for some thought-provoking, enlightening tidbits from those of us who choose to work with words to earn our keep.

Editor for Life: Mary Norris, author, query proofreader, and keynote speaker at the Editors Canada Conference 2016

Mary, please tell us a little about yourself, the kind of work you do, and how long you’ve been an editor.

I became a copy editor at The New Yorker in 1981, after three years in the editorial library (archive) of the magazine and a year in a department called collating, where I studied the proofs of some legendary proofreaders and copy editors. Copy editing at The New Yorker is a mechanical process: fixing misspellings and imposing house style—there is no room for interpretation. Finally, after what felt like eons—just as the collating department was being superseded by the computer—I moved to Page O.K.’ing, or query proofreading, a job that allows you to express more of your own sensibility. There are five or six O.K.’ers on staff. We shepherd the pieces through the editorial process, doing our best not to introduce errors when making changes. I’ve been doing this job since 1993. It is demanding and satisfying. (more…)

The Nitpicker’s Nook: May’s linguistic links roundup

The Nitpicker’s Nook is a monthly collection of language-related articles, interviews, and blog posts from around the Web. If you read something that would make a good addition, email your suggestion to [email protected].

The Nitpicker's NookBy Robin Marwick

  • PerfectIt, a popular Word add-in that helps you edit faster and more consistently, has just released its third version. Adrienne Montgomerie’s review of PerfectIt 3’s pros and cons may help experienced users decide whether they want to upgrade — and fence-sitters like me decide whether to finally take the plunge. (The Editors’ Weekly)
  • The self-publishing boom is creating a growing niche for independent editors and designers. Simon Owens interviews two editors who have succeeded in the world of indie publishing. (PBS MediaShift)
  • Of course, “traditional” publishers haven’t gone away; in fact, they’re contracting out more work than ever. For editors who are interested in pursuing freelance work with publishers, Louise Harnby has some guidelines for writing “cold” cover letters. (Louise Harnby)

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Book review: Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, by Mary Norris

Norris-cover-By Laura Godfrey

Part memoir and part thoughtful guide to grammar and punctuation, Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen is Mary Norris’s tribute to her decades as a copy editor for The New Yorker. Her new book, which is often funny and personal but also delves deeply into common linguistic challenges (that versus which, restrictive clauses, dangling participles), would make a fine addition to any language lover’s bookshelf, right next to Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves and Carol Fisher Saller’s The Subversive Copy Editor.

Although Norris worked odd jobs in her youth—as a foot checker at a public pool, a milk truck driver, and a mozzarella packager—she has been at The New Yorker for more than 35 years and will likely remain for many more.

“One of the things I like about my job is that it draws on the entire person: not just your knowledge of grammar and punctuation and usage and foreign languages and literature but also your experience of travel, gardening, shipping, singing, plumbing, Catholicism, Midwesternism, mozzarella, the A train, New Jersey,” she writes. “And in turn it feeds you more experience.” (more…)