A short time ago, I received an e-mail from one of my editors informing me that my novella “The Stars Look Down,” for the anthology Star Trek Vanguard: Declassified, would be digitally copy-edited. At long last, Simon & Schuster’s production process had arrived in the 21st century.
No more stacks of paper with red penciled marks and queries on sticky notes taped to the back and folded over the right edge. No more frantic scribbling of “STET” or covering my dining table in eraser debris to expunge undesired changes. This was change for the better.
However, it was change, which (predictably) made me anxious.
Fortunately, once I acclimated to annotating the PDF file with my changes or STET notes, I realized how much I liked this new method. Suddenly, marking up a global change was easy: use the “search” function and find all instances of the word(s) to be changed, mark them, and move on. Inserting copy? Use the “add text” feature and just type it in above the line to be replaced, and then select the original line and select “strike through” to cross it out.
However, I’ve heard from other authors who either don’t like, or are technologically unable, to work with PDF files in this manner. (Apparently, the ability to annotate PDF files, which I took for granted while using Preview on my Mac Pro, is a feature native to Mac OS X, and is not easily replicated on non-Mac systems.) Some authors prefer to receive the edited MS Word file with “Track Changes” activated and make their corrections there, while rejecting the copy edits they wish to STET. I see the value in that system, though I have to admit that I find the “Track Changes” feature in Word both confusing and aggravating.
Regardless of which method I use on future projects, it feels like both progress and a loss of a great tradition. I remember being trained in paste-up layout as a teenager, and those were skills I used into my twenties, until desktop publishing and full digital pre-press made traditional paste-up layout obsolete.
Though I’ve often mocked the publishing industry for being “behind the times” with its devotion to hard copy manuscripts, pencil copy editing, manually entered corrections, etc., a part of me will miss this “hands on” feeling to writing and editing. There was a certain romance to the labor of sitting at a dining table, hunched over pages with a pencil and an eraser, studying the printed words on the page, and parsing the code of proofreader’s and copy editor’s notations.
As Billy Pilgrim said, “So it goes.” The industry marches into the future, and we writers have to follow. At least now we don’t have to carry all those pencils and Post-Its™.