JoProfileJoanne Asala is an expert copy editor whose worked on numerous book projects. In this interview, she shares her experiences as an editor and offers some advice for authors.

Joanne, tell us a little bit about what you do at Compass Rose Horizons.

I am the founder and senior editor of Compass Rose Horizons, where I provide pre-publication services for publishers and independent authors, including proofreading, editing, book design, and e-book conversion.


How did you become a professional editor?

I studied English literature and creative writing in college. After graduation, I took a job as an editor, proofreader, and book designer for a small Midwest publisher. I eventually returned to Chicago, where I was born, to expand my opportunities. I worked as an in-house editor, first for an educational publisher and then for a major magazine publisher, where I oversaw the proofreading and design of eleven regional magazines. In 2004, I established Compass Rose and have worked as a freelance professional ever since.


What's one of your favorite books that you've worked on?

My favorite book is probably the one I'm working on now. It's called Culinary Campaign: A History of Military Cuisine with Stories, Songs, and Recipes. My grandfather died before finishing the manuscript, so I am going through his notes and organizing the material to complete the work and see that it is published as he intended. He was a columnist for a Southern Illinois newspaper and had written several history texts; working on his final book project reminds me of the times we would workshop each other's manuscripts. I miss his input and advice. He didn't pull any punches and made me a stronger writer and editor.


How do you think being a professional editor has affected your appreciation of literature?

I don't remember it, of course, but my parents said I was already learning to read when I was two years old. I've always loved literature and storytelling; I think pursuing a career in publishing was just a natural extension of that.

At Light Messages, we often get authors asking us to edit their book and what they really mean is to proofread for typos. Or sometimes we get authors who ask us to proofread, but they really need an editor. Explain to us once and for all, what is the difference between editing and proofreading?

It's easy to understand the confusion, as the line between copy editing and proofreading is growing thin, and these duties are often performed by the same person. Traditionally, copy editing entails correcting spelling and punctuation; fixing grammatical errors; and ensuring the manuscript adheres to a particular publisher's style, that the text flows well, and that the manuscript makes sense. Depending on a client's wishes and budget, a copy edit can be light or heavy.

After the copy editor is done, a manuscript is sent to a book designer for typesetting. A proofreader then reads the typeset copy to detect and correct any last errors. A proofreader is not looking to improve the quality of the manuscript at this stage. A proofreader is only concerned with the accuracy of the text.

When most of my clients request "proofreading," what they are really looking for is someone to correct their typos and basic grammar. Those requesting "copy editing" would like an editor to take a deeper look at the manuscript, reviewing general structure and clarity as well as proofing for typos.


Do you think every author should hire a professional proofreader?

Every author needs a proofreader because every manuscript requires proofreading, and an author is simply too close to a project to see any potential pitfalls.

How do you work with an author who's resistant to making the changes you suggest?

I am always willing to explain why I made a change, but the decision to accept or reject an edit I've made to a document ultimately rests with the author.


As a professional, I'm sure you've seen more than your fair share of common errors. What would you say are the top three mistakes for which authors should be on the lookout?

That's really hard to say, as each manuscript––and each author––is different. In practice, I've found that a particular author might have a certain weakness and will make the same mistake over and over again in a manuscript. The best advice I can give is to purchase a basic grammar and style guide and to keep it close at hand when you're working.

Do you have a personal proofreading pet peeve––a grammatical sin that sets your teeth on edge?

I've been in this game long enough that very little bothers me anymore. I just correct the errors as I see them and move on.

Be honest--do you ever catch yourself proofreading cereal boxes at the grocery store or emails from friends? How do you "turn it off"?

I proofread everything; it's impossible to "turn it off." However, I don't see that as a liability. If I'm reading a novel, part of me is following along with the punctuation or keeping mental notes on the overall structure. If I encounter an error (and it does happen, even in professionally published works), I'll stop and review the sentence or paragraph to see what might have gone wrong. It's excellent practice to help keep my own skills sharp.

If you could give any one piece of advice to new authors, what would it be?

Just keep writing. Like any skill, it takes practice, so don't stress out if you receive any criticism. Oftentimes, looking at your work again through "fresh" eyes, seeing it as others see it, will help you improve your talent and make you a better writer.


To learn more about Joanne and her copy editing services, visit Compass Rose Horizons.

So tell us, what grammatical errors or typos do you catch yourself making over and over again? Do you have a proofreading pet peeve?

Please Note: This interview is part of our Third Friday Industry Expert interview series. We published a little late this round since we were feeding our brains at the PLA conference in Philadelphia, PA.

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