Re: RARA-AVIS: Fact checkers

From: Joy Matkowski (
Date: 16 Apr 2002

The facts of a book are the responsibility of the author. The acquiring editor is responsible for making sure the author knows the subject. The responsibility of a copyeditor--for example, me--is to fix wrong spelling and punctuation, standardize things that can vary (numeral 10 or word ten?), structure the manuscript for the "typesetter" ("Fig. 4.2 goes about here"), and improve the writing as specified (usually "light edit," meaning fix conspicuous bad grammar but do not rewrite anything). A good copyeditor, given the leeway, verifies proper name spellings of people and towns and companies, checks URLs, queries the author (who is the expert) about dubious facts (recently, the importance of the Constitution during the Revolutionary War), and generally tries to make the book better (yesterday, pointing out a paragraph duplicated within a chapter).
    Spelling checkers are helpful, but a lot of authors don't seem to have used them. Those who have used them still may not know when to use "affect" and when to use "effect."
    I don't work on fiction. In fact, I don't work on many trade books.
(I'll tell you why if you really want to know.) Mostly, I work on academic and scholarly books and sometimes college-level textbooks. Often the books are peer-reviewed before they're accepted for publication. I see lots of footnotes, endnotes, reference lists, and bibliographies. My specialties may skew my views of authors' responsibilities. Nevertheless, how much money can the publisher budget to check up on an author?
    OK. I was wound up. Now I'm wound down and can get back to work.

Joy, defensively

Various people said: "Too bad his editor didn't hire some fact
> >> checkers too."
> >>
> >> Usually the copy-editor checks things like that, and I'm
> >> surprised it was missed.
> >
> > Yes, but copy editing appears to be a dying profession. These days it
> > that copy-editing, for most books, means a quick run through the
> > spell-checker.

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