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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Copy-editing Harry Potter was a top-secret job

From the State-Journal Register, of Springfield, Illinois, comes an illuminating story

Some people get jobs that yield a life-time's worth of dinner-table stories, as Dave Bakke reports after interviewing copy-editor and proof-reader Susan Jeffers (pictured right).

Susan, employed by Scholastic, was a proof-reader for Harry Potter books one-through-three, and copy-edited all the rest, save book four.

What is astounding about her stories is the secrecy involved.  "We had a secret location in which we would work on the book," she said. "Several people had access to that room.  Nobody else knew where we were or who was involved."  As she admits, "I still feel funny talking about it.  The secrecy was so ingrained in me."

None of the people involved kept the manuscript in their possession very long.  Though each was more than 1,000 pages long, it had to be copy-edited in two weeks, before being passed onto the next step in production.  And there were no electronic copies.  It was all printed manuscript. None of the editing was on computer, as it would have been too easy to forward an electronic version.

Some months after the final book was published, she said, she was sitting in a New York subway car, and saw half a dozen adults eagerly reading the story she had read many months earlier.

As Bakke observes, she could be excused for enjoying a quiet private grin.


M S said...

Why are there so many comma issues in the Harry Potter novels? Were comma splices and run-ons just not on the list of things you edited for?

Joan Druett said...

I've no idea. But I am fast coming to the conclusion that copy-editing is a dying art. And I decided long ago that nobody bothers editing a bestselling author. Why bother? People are going to buy the book anyway. It's a crying shame, as bestselling authors are writing guides for their young readers, which means lack of good editing contributes to a rapid decline of standards.