When we first got the notice that spring term would be completely remote due to COVID-19, there was a palpable sense of panic as to how we would operate as a press without our day-to-day interactions. And largely, we’re still navigating a world where launch parties are done virtually, all of our meetings are held on Zoom, and we are unable to access our physical offices on campus.
I was training to become the 2020–2021 Managing Editor for Ooligan during this time, and I was terrified about conducting all of my mentorship online. There’s something concrete about in-person interaction that just isn’t replicated through a laptop screen. However, as I got further into my training, not only were there plenty of benefits to learning how to do editorial work via Zoom, I realized that not much about the editorial process itself has changed because of COVID-19. While many aspects of the publishing industry are still adapting to these evolving circumstances, the way editors utilize programs such as Microsoft Word Track Changes and Google Docs has set them up to not just survive during a pandemic, but thrive.
First of all, most of my communication is done through email for the press. I send out mass emails asking for volunteers to help with editing assignments, and I communicate with my editors through that same medium. Not only that, but email is the primary form of communication I utilize with authors as well. We are fortunate that a couple of our authors live locally, but for our authors who are farther away, Zoom meetings and email chains have leveled the playing field, and location and proximity don’t matter as much anymore.
The Track Changes function in Microsoft Word makes editing a straightforward process for both the editor and author. When you work in Track Changes, all the alterations made to a manuscript are tracked in a different color than the body text, and can either be rejected or accepted. Accepted changes are automatically assimilated into the overall document. Track Changes also allows you to leave comments and make longer suggestions for, or ask clarifying questions to, the author. Using the “Accept” and “Reject” buttons, authors can flow through the suggested changes in sequential order, allowing them to breeze quickly through the document. For a more in-depth understanding of Track Changes and using the feature to work with an editor, check out this great resource from Liminal Pages.
Yet another wonderful asset is the Google Suite of applications, primarily Google Docs and Google Sheets for our press. These documents make collaborative editing so much easier because they’re automatically shared with everyone in our organization, so anybody can access and contribute to them. For each manuscript there is an accompanying style sheet, which details project-specific things to look for or note, and the style sheets are sent out with editorial assignments. Whenever someone finds something new, they can add it to a mass-shared document that all editors will see and be able to implement. Additionally, our editorial timelines are recorded on Google Sheets and all of the managers involved with the editorial process have the capability to see them and make changes as we work through the real timeline of the book.
With all the other responsibilities an editor has (meetings with the press and with authors, overseeing the timeline of each book, possibly editing outward-facing materials for the company), there is little time in the work day for the editing itself. Another benefit to working remotely is subtracting the time expense of a commute and the constant interruptions of in-person office work—there are simply more hours in the day to do the editing work itself. While I miss the physical presence of my cohort, there are a lot of benefits to conducting editorial work remotely, as well as several avenues that make remote editorial work simple and sustainable. Looking forward to a post-COVID day, pursuing a hybridized approach for book editing would be a smart decision: some in-person time to allow for human connection and networking, balanced with a healthy amount of remote hours to allow for focus, streamlined communication, and space to get the work done.