The Compilation Edit

I’ve had the pleasure of serving a one-year tenure as the managing editor of Ooligan Press, and now that I’ve reached the end of my time in this position, I’ve had an opportunity to reflect on how singular this experience has been. Ooligan is a general trade publisher with a national distribution, but we also operate as a teaching press. We’re staffed by students pursuing master’s degrees, and leadership positions are entrusted each year to a new team of second-year students. With yearly transitions in the management team, the people interacting with our authors is almost certain to change at some juncture.

In addition to the yearly management turnover, Ooligan’s status as a teaching press is at the center of everything we do, meaning that we involve as many students as possible in each project. Our system has its advantages; students obtain valuable experience before graduating and entering the workforce, and the press enjoys a constant introduction of new ideas. It does, however, present some challenges in terms of maintaining consistency—especially for the editorial department.

Students enter Ooligan with a variety of different skill sets and backgrounds, and part of the job of the managing editor is to ensure that editors are assigned to projects within their abilities that still allow them to grow. Giving new editors a chance to hone their skills while maintaining a high-quality editorial process is the main goal of the Ooligan editorial department, and it’s made possible by using an approach we call the compilation edit.

A compilation edit is the best method we’ve found to make manuscript editing a collaborative process. For every editing round, a team of editors is assembled and briefed on the project. The approach varies depending on the book project and type of editing needed, but team sizes usually range from three to eight editors. Editors are then assigned individual tasks that often include focusing on a specific section. After each team member submits their work, an editorial department manager implements the team’s notes and cleans up comments to send to the author that will maintain a consistent voice and line of communication. Having a manager review and adjust a team’s edits is the most important part of a successful compilation edit. By establishing a dependable tone and methodology across the board, communication with our authors is much smoother and more efficient for all involved.

I’ve spent the last year looking over and compiling work from more than twenty-five editors, and I’ve gained some insights that can be applied to almost any editing task. Here are a few things that combining editorial comments from a team of editors into cohesive documents has taught me about editing:

  • Establish consistency: I can’t stress enough how important it is to establish consistency in manuscript editing, and this includes creating a style sheet specific to each book project as early as possible. An Ooligan style sheet is a living, collaborative document that evolves with a manuscript. Even if an editing team changes from one editing round to the next, the style sheet remains a fixture that helps guide future editing decisions.
  • Be flexible: Editorial suggestions are often subjective in nature. For example, I’d sometimes assign two editors to the same section and receive two entirely different edits that I’d need to vet and then harmonize together. This helped me understand that—as with writers—all editors have unique backgrounds and styles that influence their work.
  • Serve the text: A successfully edited manuscript usually comes down to making judgment calls that keep the author’s intentions at the forefront. Often I’d understand why an editor made a choice, but as the managing editor, I was usually familiar enough with the author’s intentions to understand when a change wouldn’t serve the text in the best possible way.

The compilation edit is unique to the operations of our teaching press, but coordinating this type of edit has been an invaluable learning experience for me as an editing professional. Editorial work is often more of a flexible art than a task that follows a standard procedure, as there are many ways to work with an author to bring out the best in their work. Although I will likely edit most projects on my own after I leave Ooligan, I will continue to carry with me the voices of all the talented editors I’ve collaborated with this year.