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Dani Zahoran

English 606

Research Paper

Brian Ballentine

3 May 2010

Editors of the Revolution
: Editing during the Digital Age.


Editing is an old profession, coming into existence well before the modern era of publishing,
preceding even
the invention of movab
le type and the printing press

as seen in the
additions and

by scribes to early religious texts that have survived. Since the time of scribes and handwritten
books, of course, the field of publishing has evolved greatly, to t
he point where owning an actual,
printed, bound book is an almost universal experience and not a mark of any great wealth
, status,

privilege. Today, we can walk into a Barnes and Noble and browse through shelves filled with thousands
of books and magaz
ines, or log online to Amazon.com and browse a database containing

millions of
books, ranging from books in the process of being published to those published decades ago.
Newspapers and magazines are so common and affordable that most readers throw them i
n the trash
(or recycling bin) after they’ve read them

just once

Somewhere in the evolution of publishing, between scribes painstakingly marking leaves of
papyrus and the printing press of today, editing for grammar, mechanics, cohesion, and content beca
a standard part of the publishing process. According to Marc Aronson, who created and taught a course
on the history of publishing at New York University’s Publishing Institute, modern editing in America
came about around 1898,
when Ripley Hitchcock t
ook the manuscript of
David Harum

and, by moving
around some chapters, making cuts, and revising for style, turned it into the number
one selling book of
1899 (11).

More than a century has passed, then, since editing became a recognized part of the publi
process in America, which means that, like any other profession, it has had to evolve with the changing

times. Editors in the
and early twentieth

for instance, had to edit for morals if
they wanted the books to sell, using
“the [presumed] virginal sensibility of the typical teenage girl as the
gauge for their publications”; by the1960s, the works of “radicals” meant sales instead of societal
outrage (Aronson 13, 18). Editors have had to change to fit the times and the desir
es of each time
s readers, as well as learn to work with modern authors and modern book types, such as the
trade paperback. So far the field has not only survived, but thrived.

However, according to some, the publishing industry is about to underg
o (or has begun to
undergo) a revolution, an “epochal event, comparable to the impact of movable type on European
civilization half a millennium ago, but on a worldwide scale” (
). They are, of course, referring to

the advent of

, such

as A
mazon’s Kindle, the Sony Reader, Barnes and Noble’s nook, and most
recently, Apple’s iPad.
Unlike past

in the publishing, however, there is growing speculation
that publishers and editors will not survive this revolution unscathed.

The E
book “R

In the publishing world, one cannot escape the talk of e
books, whether the company you work
for is publishing them or not. Even beyond the realm’s of the publishing world, the term “e
book” has
become quite the buzzword

everyone knows someone
who just got an e
Although the word
book” immediately brings to mind a book read on an e
reader like the Kindle or the nook, or perhaps
on a cell phone, the term has become a catch
all that refers to “a variety of reading experiences and
s for packaging and distributing digital content” (Long 29). In 2004, as e
books begin to hit the
market, one information technology expert stated that the e
book could be defined “as a text in digital
form; as a book converted into digital form; as digit
al reading material; as a book in a computer file
format or electronic file of words; or as images with unique identifiers,” which means that even the

books available online at many university library websites and read on the computer screen by students
re just as much e
books as the ones purchased for use on a Kindle (Rao 364).

Traditionalists (myself included), may toss their heads and say they’ll never forsake the
pleasures inherent in a “real” book

the scent of paper, the tactile experiences, the joy
in browsing

but the fact remains that e
books and e
readers are selling. The Kindle, by Amazon, is
probably the best
known e
reader on the market today, with some analysts suggesting that it accounts

for 60% of e
reader sales (Gons
alves). Whi
le Amazon is notorious for refusing to release sales figures for
the Kindle, the compa
ny’s chief executive, Jeff Bezo

claimed in February 2010 that “millions of people
now own Kindles,” and said that e
book sales are catching up to print book sales, with

Amazon selling six
books for every ten print books (Gonsalves).

Despite the above
mentioned pleasures and wider availability of print books, e
books are not
some crazy fad

they, too, have their perks. E
readers have improved since their somewhat weak

inception, to the point where Kindle owners claim “you’ll soon forget you’re reading plastic rather than
paper” (Manjoo). Beyond that
statement, though, lie advantages over the tra
printed text. One of the most common arguments in t
heir favor is their portability: “e
book reading
devices can hold a number of volumes in one fairly lightweight unit” (Long 30); the Kindle 2 is able to
hold about 1500 books, a number of books no one would consider stuffing in their suitcase or carrying
n the bus. At the moment, e
books are cheaper as well, “the majority selling for $9.99 or less,” an

concern in the current economy

(Manjoo). E
books can be downloaded immediately, without
the reader needing to browse through she
lves or even lea
ve their desk; they are customizable, with the
ability to change the font size or screen lighting (the current Kindle even reads books aloud!), and while
not available on all platforms, e
books open up the opportunity for multimedia texts that contain
es, video, and audio (Rao 365



However, do all these advantages really mean the death of the printed text, as some
doomsayers predict? The jury is still out on the future of the book, but the voices that say print books
will continue to exist are st
arting to be heard. “The hype overshadows the cold reality of business,”
suggests analyst James McQuivy, pointing out that e
books only make up a small fraction of book sales
and publishing figures (Neary).

Even if
books and e
readers are “
the future

of publishing,” embracing the future doesn’t
always entail erasing the past (Manjoo).

As author Anna Quindlen points out, “the invention of
television led to predictions about the demise of radio. The making of movies was to be the death knell
of live th
eater; recorded music, the end of concerts. All these forms still exist

overshadowed by their siblings, but not smothered by them.” The printed book, too, may survive this
revolution. Regardless of what happens to the printed text, though, it’
s probably a safe bet that e
books are here to stay.

Editing in the Digital Age

Even if e
books are destined to become a major player in the publishing world, the industry has
not yet reached that point. At this point, it’s still

to say that mo
st of the books published today
are published in print form

and many of those released as a digital text have a print counterpart
published as well
. E
books or not, publishing is not the same industry it was when the iconic Maxwell

helped transfo
rm F. Scott Fitz
gerald’s writing into a popular nove
; it’s not even quite the same
as it was ten years ago. For instance, it’s a given these days that an editor will have a computer, most
likely with a high
speed Internet connection and Microsoft Office l
oaded on it, on his desk beside his
Chicago Manual of Style (or AP Stylebook, depending on the genre) and Webster’s Dictionary.

That seemingly basic commonality that can be found in offices of all editors, whether they work
in trade, scholarly, corporate
, or journalistic publication, is a clear sign of what editors are facing today:

a publishing world where the old, faithful technology (if it can be called that) of the CMS and the red pen
are meeting the new, exciting technology of online style guides and

automated markup systems. Unlike
the editors of
the past
, today’s editors have to be multiliterate, able to perform their jobs efficiently and
accurately with both sets of tools and be able to effectively combine those skill sets when necessary.


is b
ecoming more and more common for e
ditors to receive the works they

are to edit in the
form of Microsoft Word documents (.doc or .docx) or in the form of Adobe Portable Format Documents
(.pdf), better known as PDFs.
What happens after that is up to the edi
tor, or decided by an agreement
between the editor and author. An editor’s responsibility to the text has not changed with the
technology so far; they are expected to, at the most basic level, check for grammatical and factual
errors, ensure stylistic and

mechanical consistency, and generally prepare the text to be published.

How the editor goes about those
tasks though
, is changing.
A 1999 survey by David Dayton,
who studies and teaches technical communication, showed that only 53.6 percent of editors

primarily on paper
copy markup as their primary editing format (Dayton 86). That was eleven years

it’s not much
a mental jump to realize that the number has probably shrunk in the time since
the survey was completed. At the time, even the s
light majority who use

copy markup didn’t
necessarily use it exclusively; 70 percent of respondents “edited others electronically at least
occasionally” (Dayton 86).

What all these numbers mean is that editors have to be prepared to work both on pa
per copy
and electronic copy, and a basic understanding of markup practices isn’t enough.
Consider Microsoft
Word’s Track Change function, which Dayton asserts to b
e the “best on
screen markup
readily available
to technical communicators” (90). It’s easy

to turn on the function

the editor only needs to click a
button on the reviewing toolbar and all changes made to the document will be marked: insertions with
underlines, deletions with strikethroughs, moved
or reformatted
text with colored font. A mere c
lick of
a button isn’t enough to provide
screen editing, though. An editor needs to be educated

(whether through training or through serious consideration of the choice

available), to use even a
simple on
screen editorial tool like Track Changes.

For instance, if an editor allows the program to mark
every change, the document can become cluttered and confusing, making a review of the changes “a
difficult and unpleasant chore” for the author or another reviewer (Dayton 99). For instance, when
yediting, I often find myself replacing hyphens with en dashes. Track Changes would both add

the hyphen and insert the en dash, creating what appears to be one long red dash. To
avoid confusing the author or implying an em dash, I turn off T
rack Changes when I delete the hyphen so
that the strikethrough doesn’t appear. It took me time and experience to figure this little trick out and
since then, I have developed several other similar procedures for particular types of edits.

That’s just
one small example of the considerations that need to be taken up when considering
electronic editing, but my point is that editors need to be made aware of such considerations. Most
editors are accustomed to working on a variety of projects with a variet
y of authors, so adjusting their
style to fit the situation is nothing new to them; however, too often, people new to technological
programs (like Track Changes or other on
screen markup programs) don’t consider them flexible and
avoid changing them in any

way. As more and more books never leave the screen, even during the
editing process, editors need to be educated in the use of electronic markup programs, and they need to
learn to adapt the programs to their own needs and styles

after all, the computer
is not the editor, the
user is!

screen editing is, of course, only one challenge faced by editor
s adapting to the digital age
Another “survival skill” that editors need to be taught or acquire is a basic understanding of Extensible
Markup Language (XM
L) and Extensible Hypertext Markup Language (XHTML). This is particularly
important for editors who may edit e
books, which, as discussed above, will probably include most, if
not all, editors at some point as e
books and e
readers continue to flourish.
Currently, the “skill
and mind
sets that effective XML editors need have limited overlap with those needed by literary and

more traditional production editors”

et al.).

This gap is not the fault of the editors, at least not
entirely; there ex
ists “a cultural disconnect between traditional editorial and production processes (the
ones most of us know intimately) and the ways computing people have approached things” (Maxwell et
al.). If editors are to navigate their way through the realm of e
ks and e
publishing, that divide can
no longer exist. Some software creators are seeking ways to bridge the gap already, with Adobe’s CS4
allowing the creation of InCopy files as XML

. With InDesign, another Creative Suite program,
increasingly serv
ing as the design program in publishing, Adobe took what “computer people” saw as
the next natural step. This new element means that “the book’s content could potentially be written
and edited entirely online, as Web content, and then automatically poured

into an InDesign template at
proof time,” an idea that was proved
not only
, but efficient

a group at Simon Fraser
University’s Masters of Publishing program (Maxwell et al.).

This concept, presented in brief above, requires two major skill se
ts from editors. First, they
need to be comfortable with XML /XHTML and at least somewhat adept at navigating the code. Yes,
large publishing companies will probably employ computer
oriented staff to smooth this process along,
but as editing moves to the
Web, which seems to be not only a possible, but likely path for editing to
take in the near future, editors need to able to perform their tasks on the Web, understand how their
changes affect the XML, and understand how t
o implement their changes. All

these require at least
some familiarity with XML and XHTML

neither of which most editors would claim
knowledge of


The second skill set required of editors facing the possibility (or reality!) of Web
workflows is simply keeping an open

ind. Editors deal with rules and instill structure, so I don’t mean
this as a
lighthearted aside; instead, I consider open
mindedness and creativity a skill to be cultured by
have to be willing to rethink their editing practices and their a
common avoidance of
technology. John Maxwell, who led the group at Simon



It means, fundamentally, taking the Web seriously as a content platform, rather than
thinking of it as something you need to get content out to, somehow. It noth
ing else,
the Web represents an opportunity to think about editorial and production from outside
the shrink
wrapped Desktop Publishing paradigm.

To survive the “e
book” revolution, it is this change in our way of thinking that we
, as editors,

need to

and prepare for.

Beyond a Web
based workflow, knowledge of or familiarity with XML and XHMTL is valuable to
editors for other reasons.
A primary one is that most texts meant to be released as e
books need to be
coded with XML in order to work on e
While it is true that many large presses are able to hire
people whose duties focus on tagging text with XML, small presses do not have the resources to do so,
placing the burden on the editors at such presses as the need to prepare books for e
increases. Regardless of the size and staffing capabilities of any press, editors must be able to
communicate effectively and knowledgably with those who must tag
the text for e
publication, as
editors remain

responsible for getting the book in top

condition for publication and they are often the
individuals most familiar with a text, excluding the author.

It’s important to

remember, too, that e
and cell phones with e
reader capabilities
have Internet access as one of their fea

After all, the e
book i
s a medium of the digital
age, and it is becoming apparent that “no serious new medium [can] exist without a close connection to
the Internet” (Brooks and Sissors 369).

Even as the trend moves away from
reading text on paper

texts on smaller, portable devices, the ability of the reader to interact with the text increases.
More texts are now designed so that the reader can jump to a particular section in a book (particularly
useful for research) or can jump outside
the text to another, related source,

much as we do all the time
on W

As one editor put it

“the Internet is the world’s largest library. Links enable the online
editor to take advantage of that,” (Brooks and Sissors 360). For

text to contain
useful hyperlinks,

though, those links have to be placed by an editor
, as most texts, be they books or article, do not come
equipped (as of yet) with links by the author.
While many content management systems allow for
building a link without much knowledg
e of HTML or XHTML, editors who work with online texts agree
that “some basic knowledge of HTML does come in handy” (Alysen et al. 224).

n editor
in the digital
age must be prepared
to take on the challenge of building hyperlinks within a text
, as the dem
and for
interactive texts grows

While all of the skills mentioned above are important, they are restricted to dealing primarily
with text, a restriction that is no longer practical in today’s world. Editing for online media, which is
expanding to include

books, means editing all sorts of media. Texts no longer nee
d to stand alone;
they can
be accompanie
d by images, video, and audio.
Many editors are probably already familiar with
still images;
for instance,
as an editorial assistant, I recently spent
almost two weeks sorting through
hundreds of pictures and finding the best location for each of them in a book I had just finished editing.
However, video and audio are more recent additions to the world of text publishing because of the

practicality of producing such multimedia aspects for printed texts. As I have said
many times already, though, the realm of publishing has moved beyond print alone.

When editing an e
book or an online text, “the editor has at his or her command all the

necessary tools to tell the story in
the best way possible. But the online editor has to be a jack
all trades” (Brooks and Sissors 360).
arenas, the responsibility for editing different types of media may be parceled out, but in the

house, the editor must make sure it all fits together. Whether or not they are editing the
video and audio themselves, editors must be prepared to do so if needed and to familiarize themselves


Making a text a hypertext by adding links not originally designated by the author brings up s
ome interesting
questions about authorship and authority that I unfortunately do not have the space to discuss here. For more on
this subject, see
“Traditional Theory and Innovative Practice: The Editor as Post
structuralist Reader” by Philip E.
Doss in
e Literary Text in the Digital Age.

(Compl ete publ i cati on i nformati on can be found i n the works ci ted l i st
at the end of thi s essay.


with the media and media editing tools so that, as with taggi
ng texts with XML, they can communicate
effectively with those responsible for the multimedia aspects of a publication.

From editing on
screen to implement a Web
based workflow to considering the opportunities of
online links and multimedia, today’s edi
tor must be ready to dive into the digital age and develop the
tools he or she needs to be competent in all of those areas and more. By developing the skills I’ve
discussed, editors have a chance to continue making their mark by improving the texts that
end up in
readers’ hands, whether on paper or a screen.


In 1993, Aronson predicted that “editing would come to mean anything that could be done for a
book on a computer, including turning it into a multimedia extravaganza” and that future edit
ions of
Editors on Editing

would be “transmitted to your hand
held electronic page” (20).

It seems that we have reached the future that Aronson saw, and
editors must be ready to take
on that world.
The world of readers and books
is changing quickly and p
ublishers are rushing to keep up.
Editors, too, must keep up
and with the realm of publishing evolving so quickly,

perhaps creativity and
an open
mind are the most important and useful skills discussed in this essay. However, the other skill
sets are ess
ential to today’s editors

and our educatio
n of today’s editing students must reflect the
necessity of learning such skills. I am finishing up my education as a technical writer and editor as I write
this, yet my graduate editing course barely touched on
electronic editing, and did not delve into
concept of e
books at all. This must change if editors are to make valuable contributions to publishing.

Beyond those skill sets, editors also need to be aware of their changing role in today’s publishing
ronment. As they begin to use new technology, they may have to take on the role of teacher in
order to explain the technology to authors who are unfamiliar with it. Also, while we think of editors as
always editing another’s work,
jobs where editors “’on
ly edit’ have become rarer” (Dayton 85). In

technical communication fields in particular, editors are often expected to both write and edit, but as
I’ve discussed, even editing no longer means merely checking the text for flow, grammatical consistency,
d format. Those elements are not any less important, but they are now part of a larger job that can
include setting up the text for e
reading capabilities, melding text and other media, and setting up
hyperlinks, among other tech
based tasks.

Will the di
gital revolution epitomized by the Kindle leave modern editors in the dust? I doubt it,
as long as editing education programs begin to adapt with the field

and editors cultivate the new skills
they might need instead of clinging to past concepts of editi
ng. An editor in front of a computer screen
is just as much an editor as their neighbor with a red pen in hand, and even e
books need editing.
right information and the right education
, we have the opportunity to make texts even better and
get t
hem out to audiences who rarely walk into a bookstore or library. If we are willing to see the so
called revolution as an opportunity instead of a threat for publishing, editors can not only survive the
changes in the field, but become “the masters of mul
timedia, the captains of the cyberstream, the
editors of the future” (Aronson 21).


Works Cited

Alyson, Barbara, et al.
Reporting in a Multimedia World.
Crows Nest NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin,

2003. 222


Aronson, Marc. “The Evolution of

the American Editor.”
Editors on Editing
, 3

ed. Ed. Gerald Gross.

New York: Grove Press, 1993. 10


Brooks, Brian S. and Jack Z. Sissors, eds. “Editing for New Media.”

The Art of Editing
, 7

ed. Boston:

Allyn and Bacon, 2001. 357


Dayton, D
avid. “Electronic Editing.”
Technical Editing, 4


Ed. Carolyn D. Rude. New York: Pearson

Education, 2006. 83


Doss, Philip E. “Traditional Theory and Innovative Practice: The Electronic Editor as Postructuralist

The Literary Text in t
he Digital Age
. Ed. Richard J. Finneran. Ann Arbor: University

of Michigan Press, 1996. 213


Epstein, Jason. “Reading: The Digital Future.”
The New York Review of Books.

5 July 2001. 19 April 2010.


Gonsalves, Antonio. “Amazon Kindle Sales Push Profits Up 71%.”
Information Week.
1 February 2010.

19 April 2010. <


Long, Sarah
Ann. “The Case for E
books: An Introduction.”
New Library World

104.118 (2003). 29


Manjoo, Farhad. “Fear the Kindle” Amazon’s Amazing E
book Reader is Bad News for the Publishing



26 February 2009. 19 April 2010. <


Maxwell, John W., et al. “XML Production Workflows? Start with the Web.”
Journal of Electronic


13.1 (2010). <


Neary, Lynn. “No Ink,

No Paper: What’s the Value of an E

12 March 2010. National Public

Radio. 19 April 2010. <


Quindlen, Anna. “Turning the Page: The Future of Reading is Backlit and Bright.”


(2010). 52.

Rao, Siriginidi Subba. “Electronic Book Technologies: An Overview of the Present Situation.”


53.7 (2004). 363