Don’t pass me by


The AP Stylebook plays an important role in my editing courses at UNC-Chapel Hill. Students use it to take quizzes and complete assignments, and they may consult either the print or online version of the stylebook.

My goal is not for students to memorize style entries but to have them learn how to identify potential problems and use a reliable resource to resolve them. Everything is open stylebook.

In class, we discuss how and why style guidelines evolve. Each year, the stylebook changes. One of the signature events of the national conference of ACES: The Society for Editing is the announcement from AP editors about new, deleted and revised entries.

The headline-grabbing updates this year included a new entry on race and a change from percent to % in most uses. These changes, which went into effect immediately, were topics of conversation at the conference and on social media.

I overlooked one update, however, and it affected my class, at least in a small way.
Shortly after the conference, my students edited and posted stories to the Durham VOICE website, which covers news in a section of Durham, North Carolina. One of the stories mentioned “passersby,” and I docked the student editor a few points for not making it “passers-by,” as the stylebook has long recommended.

After class, the student asked me about the grading of her assignment. She showed me that the freshly updated digital version of the stylebook has “passerby” as one word. My print edition of the 2018 stylebook still had it with a hyphen, of course.

The student and I weren’t on the same page anymore. After verifying that the AP editors had made this update, I refunded the points to the student and thanked her for pointing out the change.

Here’s a rule to remember: Don’t let your stylebook pass you by.

This post also appears in the summer 2019 edition of Tracking Changes, the quarterly journal of ACES: The Society for Editing. The journal is one of the many benefits of ACES membership.

Q&A with freelance editor Sea Chapman

Sea Chapman is a freelance editor who works with a wide range of material while specializing in fiction, including thrillers, mysteries and fantasy. She lives in central Arizona with her family. In this interview, conducted by email, Chapman discusses how she got into editing and her life as a freelancer.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?

A. I have been working as an editor since April 2006. From book manuscripts and audio transcripts to press releases and ELL programs, I’ve worked on a little bit of everything. I have specialized in editing creative writing for the last seven years.

I offer various levels of editing for creative fiction and nonfiction writing. I specialize in editing thriller, mystery, historical fiction, and speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy) manuscripts. I do edit graphic novels, visual novel and narrative game scripts, and comics (web or print) sometimes, too. I also love to edit essays and articles about anthropology, archaeology, and history; constructed languages (conlangs); death and grieving across cultures; international humanities and art history; and travel.

Additionally, I also enjoy speaking at events and teaching workshops on various subjects, as well as being involved with the publishing community in other ways. I was one of the jurors for the Speculative Literature Foundation‘s 2016 Working-Class Writers Grant, and I was one of the judges for the 2017 Writing Contest hosted by the Society of Southwestern Authors. Freelancing affords me the schedule flexibility to pursue those kinds of opportunities.

All that said, my typical workday is nothing glamorous or exciting, I’m afraid. On weekdays, after starting my day helping family members prepare for school or work, I do some chores around the house—dishes, laundry, general cleaning and tidying up, tending to my dogs—and then settle in with some breakfast to go through emails, social media, news sites, schedules, and checklists. Thirty minutes or so later, I start editing.

I usually edit for about two or three hours before taking a lunch break and possibly running some errands, and then I edit again for another two to three hours. In the late afternoon, I have more family obligations and chores, though I sometimes have what I call “live editing demos” scheduled, where a client and I access a Google Document at the same time and I talk them through the editing or revisions process in real time. Then, when needed and if time permits, I might work for a few more hours before going to bed. I do try to avoid editing more than four to six hours a day if I can help it, though.

I do most of my administrative tasks on weekends, as well as web design work and brand consulting on the rare occasions I take on those kinds of projects.

To be honest, my schedule hasn’t been as orderly or straightforward as what I’ve described above since I returned to school a couple years ago. I also used to have more flexibility and time each day for pursuits like learning to play musical instruments, learning new languages, researching topics of interest to me, and going out with friends. Now, more than not, I am usually at home working on an editorial project or two while also completing a comparable amount of school work. I have to schedule my time out weeks in advance just to ensure I can meet up with a friend for lunch every so often or go to the library and get out of the house. Balancing school, work, and more is difficult, and my hat goes off to your students.

Q. What attracted you to a career in editing?

A. I have always loved reading, writing, language, and storytelling, but editing itself as a career fell into my lap unexpectedly. I had edited résumés as a side gig for over a year by the time I ended up working as the project manager at a design firm in Los Angeles. I was also working a second job as a supervisor at an indie bookstore in Pasadena. The managing editor for the firm’s popular design webzine left abruptly, and my boss needed to find a quick replacement for her. I offered to take on the editing work on top of my regular duties, because what Angelino doesn’t work three jobs at some point or another, right?

After undergoing a steep learning curve and numerous challenges, I found my groove and loved my time editing the webzine. That opportunity changed my whole career path. I’m fortunate to have had some wonderful mentors along the way who’ve helped me understand my goals and opportunities for growth as my life, worldview, and priorities changed over time.

Editing isn’t necessarily this Instagram-worthy job set against a colorful backdrop of bookshelves, typewriters, and tea mugs. There are as many unpleasant or frustrating days as there are pleasant or thrilling ones. As I once wrote in an editing group on Facebook a few years ago: Grant me the serenity to accept the things the author will not change, the courage to keep editing the things I can, and the wisdom to remain a descriptivist. I will always enjoy the intellectual and creative challenge editing offers me, though, and I love helping writers shape their stories.

Q. You edit both fiction and nonfiction, including graphic novels and comics. How do you shift gears between genres and formats?

A. I prefer to keep my work schedule simple because the rest of my life and schedule are not always consistent. I try to avoid booking more than two projects at any given time, and I try to work on the same formats at the same time — that is, I try to book novel manuscripts at the same time while booking comics at the same time and so on — because it’s easier for me to maintain a state of flow when I don’t have to shift gears too much.

Booking editing projects that way isn’t always possible, and when it’s not, I dedicate shifts to each project each day—mornings for one project, afternoons or evenings for another. Often, because different applications, tools, and style guides are being used for each project, it’s easy enough to get into a work rhythm.

However, if I find that I am getting too distracted by the differences in projects being worked at the same time, I may alternate days spent working on each and contact clients to revise milestones and deadlines if needed. Sometimes other tricks, like listening to specific music genres only while working on specific genres of writing, can help me settle into my editing rhythm a bit faster and more smoothly.

Q. You are active in ACES: The Society for Editing, including leading a session at its most recent conference. How is ACES valuable to you?

A. I’ve found community and camaraderie in ACES that isn’t always possible to achieve on my own as a freelancer who lives on the rural outskirts of a major metropolis. Attending ACES conferences has made it possible for me to expand my friendships with editors I’ve only known online otherwise. Those conferences have also given me amazing opportunities to be taught by some of the most brilliant people in publishing, new media, and journalism.

I prioritize attending the ACES conference each year over all other forms of professional development because it is that valuable of an experience for me. Sadly, I won’t be able to attend next year, and I am genuinely heartbroken about it. ACES conferences are such validating, enriching experiences that I think every editor needs, whether freelance or in-house, especially when our work is sometimes trivialized by various organizations or people in power.

Q. What advice do you have for people interested in freelance editing?

A. I wrote a listicle about this in 2017—don’t laugh! Listicles were popular back then. You can find it at this link:

Freelancing and in-house work each have their advantages and disadvantages. Freelancing is much more involved than many people expect. You have to handle scheduling, project management, bookkeeping, taxes, marketing, finding clients, writing contracts, sending job bids, subcontracting work out or taking on subcontracted work, and more. There is so much administrative stuff to do, and it eats up a lot of your time. You also have to keep up with regular changes and updates to style guides, dictionaries, and other reference texts. Professional development never ends because language is fluid and constantly evolving, so we as editors have to be teachable and adaptable.

Freelancing can be very isolating, too. You need to actively engage with the editorial community online if you cannot do that in-person. If you are fortunate enough to have access to local association chapter meetings, like those offered by the EFA or Editors Canada, attend those and participate as often as possible.

Speaking of editing associations, join a few and take advantage of the training, networking, benefits, and events they offer. As your own boss, you have to find those opportunities for yourself.

Last thing, I promise: Checklists are your friend. Use them for everything in your business. They make freelancing so much easier.

Learn more about Sea Chapman on her website and follow her on Twitter.

Student guest post: Style changes debut at ACES conference

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 15th of those posts. Johnny Sobczak is a UNC-Chapel Hill junior from Fayetteville, North Carolina. He is majoring in journalism, with a concentration in reporting, and minoring in global cinema. He writes for the Durham VOICE. He is most strongly interested in the film industry and writes about film on his personal blog. He hopes to pursue a career in film journalism after college.

Anyone involved in the journalism industry knows AP style like the back of his or her hand. From reporters to editors, it’s the standardized style and usage maintained by American journalists that work in connection with The Associated Press. Every year since 1997, ACES: The Society for Editing has held a conference to improve their editing skills, learn about style and usage trends, and meet fellow editors from across the country. One of the conference’s most interesting and discussed events is the AP’s reveal of the changes to the stylebook.

The most significant change this year was the addition of a new section that will attempt to improve race-related coverage by pulling together similar, scattered entries, updating AP guidance, and attaching more importance to the topic, according to Paula Froke, lead editor of the AP Stylebook. My colleague writes about those race-related style changes here, so I want to discuss a couple of the other notable changes made for 2019. As a student reporter and editor, my colleagues and professors are constantly debating the merit of AP Stylebook choices. It’s important to not only know the style, but the reasoning behind the choices, and I think most of the AP’s changes are for the better.

One of the AP style choices that has always baffled me was the decision to forego the % sign. To me, journalistic writing is about conciseness and communicating information as effectively as possible, so spelling out “percent” in every instance seemed antithetical. To remember it, I began forcing myself to type out “percent” in every context, whether it was a text to my mom or a Twitter message to a friend. Thankfully, the AP has come around and is now allowing the use of the % sign when paired with a numeral, with no space, in most cases. In casual uses, the word will still be preferred, such as in “he has zero percent chance of winning.”

The hyphen is another point of contention that has been cleared up this year. As most of my fellow students know, the use of the hyphen with modifiers can be tricky business. The previous rule made phrases like “third-grade teacher” and “first-quarter touchdown” standard. Now, the AP is suggesting that no hyphen is necessary if the modifiers are commonly recognized as one phrase, such as “chocolate chip cookie” or “early morning transaction.”

I feel like this is another example of a good, common sense move to improve clarity. Of course, this still means using the hyphen when it’ll help make things easier to understand for the reader. Recently, I was editing a piece and was about to leave out a hyphen for “small business owner.” My editing professor reminded me that we wouldn’t want any readers thinking the business owner was small in stature, so I opted to leave it in. The elimination of superfluous hyphens is also being extended to combinations with double-e construction, such as “reelect” and “preexisting.”

As I have grown increasingly familiar with AP style, I think it’s fair to say I’ve at times also grown increasingly frustrated. Some of the style choices might seem arbitrary or confusing, but the ultimate goal of the AP is to recognize which are most troublesome and improve as much as possible each year. These new style changes are just two of many that will make my work, and the work of journalists across the country, a little bit easier.

How you can help students who have an interest in editing

This piece by stitch artist Olisa Corcoran of Durham, North Carolina, will be among the items at the ACES silent auction this week.

The national conference of ACES: The Society for Editing takes place this week in Providence, Rhode Island. If you are among the several hundred editors attending this gathering, here’s how you can help students who are interested in careers in editing while you are there.

  • Attend or compete at the spelling bee on Wednesday. The format is similar to the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee. It costs $25 to participate and $10 to watch.
  • Browse and bid at the silent auction on Friday. Items typically include books, clothing, original artwork and collectibles with a word-related themes.

Proceeds from both events go to the ACES Education Fund, which oversees a scholarship program for college students interested in editing. The fund offers six scholarships each year. (Disclosure: I am a member of the Education Fund board.)

If you won’t be in Providence for the conference, you can support the scholarship fund by contributing online anytime. Thank you for helping student editors!

How I will spend spring break

UNC-Chapel Hill is on spring break this week. It’s a welcome respite for students and faculty alike.

Although I am not teaching any classes this week, I have plenty to keep me busy. Here’s how I am spending my spring break:

  • grading midterm exams and other assignments, including guest posts for this site
  • preparing presentations and assignments for class for next week
  • reviewing applications for an online master’s program in digital communication
  • preparing for a workshop on headline writing at the national conference of ACES: The Society for Editing

Best wishes to my students and colleagues on a refreshing break. See you back on campus on Monday morning.

Let’s meet in Rhode Island for #ACES2019


The 23rd national conference of ACES: The Society for Editing will take place March 28-30 in Providence, Rhode Island. I’ll be there.

The conference includes sessions that will appeal to editors across disciplines. We’ll learn who won the headline contest, enjoy a spelling bee and honor scholarship recipients. Spontaneous games of Scrabble in the hotel bar are also likely.

Online registration ends March 7. If you cannot attend, you can follow the fun on social media with the hashtag #ACES2019.

An editor for life

In 1999, I first joined ACES: the Society for Editing. The organization was then called the American Copy Editors Society, and it was made up mostly of editors from newspapers.

Since then, ACES has evolved into an organization of editors of all kinds. Freelancers make up the bulk of its membership. That diversity has strengthened the organization; ACES is better than ever.

I had the opportunity to serve ACES as a member of its Executive Committee from 2009-2013. I’m a current member of its Education Fund board, which oversees scholarships for students interested in careers in editing.

Over the years, I have learned a great deal from ACES thanks to its annual conferences, regional bootcamps and its newsletter, Tracking Changes. I’ve also made many friends.

This month, with my membership coming due, I have decided to become a lifetime member of ACES. It’s overdue, frankly, but I still have many years ahead as a teacher and practitioner of editing. With the help of ACES, I plan to make the best of them.