I haven't posted in a few days because I've been busy with copy edits. I'm basically looking over manuscripts that have already been published and swapped to different formats so they can be published in a new edition. So I'm looking for errors that might've existed in the original text, or that were put in by the format switches. It takes me about three times as long to edit text as it does to read it, and then I go over it a second or third time, depending on how time-sensitive the project is. I'm currently on page 215 of 325 on the first of 6 manuscripts. Phew.
So, while I'm working on this editing project, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about what I look for when I'm doing this level of editing. The biggest issue I keep running into is consistency.
Now, this book was originally published in 1954. Grammar rules have changed since then. Spelling rules have changed since then. Also, the dialogue is rendered colloquially (to very good effect), it's science fiction so names are weird, and the author uses words my spell checker has never heard of before.
I don't turn off my spell check entirely, by the way. That can call my attention to a lot of things I might have missed, otherwise. But, if something isn't an error, I add it to my spell checker's dictionary, because that red squiggle is damn distracting when you're trying to look at a whole page of text.
I've been maintaining a glossary of sorts, so that names that might be reused later can be checked against the glossary to make sure they're spelled the same way every time.
In any case, I don't want to iron out all of the text's quirks. I don't want it to read like something written in 2011. I do, however, want the grammar rules to be consistent. That means going to the level of detail where I hunt down every last ellipsis to make sure it looks the same as all the others (not 4 dots, not dots without the space . . .). Chapters begin with three words in all-caps, so I made sure that all the chapters begin that way. A compound word that doesn't exist in any online dictionary shows up multiple times, and so I make sure it's spelled the same way every time, and leave it where it is.
The trick isn't following all of the grammar rules and marching lockstep with modern spelling rules. If I had written this book, I could decide how everything is spelled and laid out on the page. But this author is using his poetic license, telling the story his way. I could smoosh the sentences flat to fit what the Manual of Style says they should look like, but then the flow of the language would be lost.
When in doubt, I'm relying on my familiarity with spelling and grammar. But if I'm "correcting" something that shows up the same way every time without my help, I'm doing more harm than good.
It makes the editing process go that much longer, to track my editing changes to make sure I'm not changing things I shouldn't. But I'd much rather take longer to do it right than to leave too heavy a footprint on something that isn't mine.