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Book editor Joeth Zucco juggles different projects, responsibilities

"A well edited story should read smoothly," said Joeth Zucco, a senior project editor at the University of Nebraska Press.

By Jordan Kranse
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

“Editing is editing,” Joeth Zucco stressed in an interview when asked the differences between editing for a book publisher and editing for a newspaper. “Good editing, regardless of what is being edited, should be smooth and easy to read.”

Zucco, a senior project editor at the University of Nebraska Press and a graduate of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, understands editing of all kinds first-hand.  Not only does she work with all branches of the University of Nebraska Press (the Press, Bison Books, and  Prairie Schooner, a literary magazine), she also works as a freelance editor with Skateboard Mag, Mountaineers Books and several independent authors. Zucco, who started her career at the Daily Nebraskan, has been at the University of Nebraska Press for almost 10 years.

“It’s a great job,” she said.  “I love working here. I initially wanted to be a writer, but I wouldn’t trade my job for anything.”

Having edited for several kinds of publications, she compared some of the responsibilities of being a book editor  and being a newspaper editor.

She listed six main differences:

  • Responsibilities — “Most of our manuscripts are peer-reviewed, so our copy editors do not need to serve as fact-checkers, although many of our editors do to a degree. I once heard someone say that editors know a little about a lot, and that definitely rings true for me.”
  • Length — “I’ve rarely had to think about length when editing, although I’ve had a few rare projects where I’ve been asked to cut 20,000 words or edit down to a certain number of words. Those situations are pretty rare. We don’t eliminate chapters to make a book fit within parameters. Any cutting or reorganizing is generally done before the project comes to my department. “
  • Pace — “The deadlines are more generous, but of course, the material is much longer. I don’t know if I’d say the pace is slower, probably more relaxed. But considering that both are governed by deadlines and applying style, I think for the most part, editing is editing.”
  • Style — “We use the serial comma, we spell out numbers from one to one hundred and approximations and we spelled out the names of states when used with cities. We don’t use abbreviations such as ‘etc.’ in running text.”
  • Resources — “ The bible of publishing is ‘The Chicago Manual of Style,’ 16th edition. We also use the MLA Style Guide as well as American Anthropology Association and Society of Historical Archaeology, and other guides based on the Chicago Manual of Style. And every publisher has a house style guide, most likely based on the Chicago Manual of Style as well. At the University of Nebraska Press, we also use ‘Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary.’”

As a senior editor for a book publisher, Zucco’s job includes quite a few responsibilities: proofreading, working closely with authors, checking captions and illustrations, preparing  manuscripts for copy editors, helping finalize the title and book cover and more. “At any one time, I’m working on 25  to 30 projects that span three seasons,” she said. Right now, she’s working on at least eight, including a book on Antarctic cuisine, the life story of a Crow Indian written in prose, a book on geometric abstraction in collaboration with the Sheldon Museum of Art and translations of several French authors. Her typical day is busy.

 “A typical day involves a lot of interruptions. On any given day, I’m answering emails from authors and copy editors, book designers and typesetters or talking to acquisitions about projects. Since we work on so many stages at the same time, I could be transferring author corrections, editing or proofreading an index, preparing a project for a freelancer, preparing a project for design, reviewing jackets/covers, doing a pre-proof review or dropping everything to deal with a problem that can’t wait. I guess a typical day is unpredictable.”

Not only does she have these responsibilities for the University of Nebraska Press, but she also has responsibilities for her other freelance editing jobs.

“Thankfully, I’m not working for all of them at the same time,” she said when asked how she juggles multiple editing jobs. “I work as a copy editor and proofreader for a monthly magazine. The work is steady and I have a 24- to 48-hour turnaround. The rest of the work is for other book publishers. I’ve worked for one of them for more than 10 years and they know how busy I am, so they’ll give me as long of a schedule as they can afford to. I work in the mornings for an hour or two, a bit in the evening and as much as I can on the weekends. But like I said, except for the magazine work, it’s sporadic, and when I have a job, I buckle down and do it.”

Having so many different project required her to set up an efficient editing process to optimize her time and edit correctly.

“For copy editing, I normally plan for two passes. On my first pass, I edit onscreen using (Microsoft) Word’s track changes. I concentrate on applying the house style of the publisher that I’m working for. I check for spelling, capitalization, hyphenation, punctuation and consistency, and I insert queries to the author. I also start a style sheet for rules and a word and name list. The style sheet is more for myself, so I can keep track of how words and names are spelled and if it varies throughout the manuscript. I print out the redline (a marked copy of the manuscript) for my second pass (or edit). By this time, I am more aware of what to be on the lookout for as far as consistency, spellings, etc. After I make my second pass on paper, I input those changes and print out a redline for the author.“

Still, amid all of her responsibilities, she manages to find time to read for leisure.

“I’m reading ‘Twilight’ with my daughter right now,” she said, accompanied  by a quick eye roll,.“Stephenie Meyer is an awful writer. I revise her writing as I’m reading it. But it is a relief to just get into a book that I can edit for fun of it.”

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