What Needs to Change

The consequences for editors of being invisible.

A silver fountain pen rests across two columns of text marked up with red ink.

By Karen Yin • March 15, 2016


With editorial styles continuously evolving to reflect shifts in needs, sensibilities, technologies, and markets, it is just as important to notice what hasn’t changed. What stood out for me after reviewing 25 years of style changes is that, as a whole, we copyeditors resist changing our own style of thinking about our profession. Specifically, we’ve held on to a core, almost sacred, belief that editors must be invisible.

This attitude—that we must toil in the shadows—served copyeditors in the past yet cries for reappraisal in these unusual times. We pride ourselves on letting the writer have the spotlight, yet we wonder why our profession has lost relevance. We wonder why readers, who are also potential clients or employers, are oblivious to our impact behind the scenes and don’t recognize our value.

Editing itself should be invisible—copyeditors can no longer afford to be.

Many copyeditors still find the notion of public acknowledgment distasteful, but the consequences of being invisible have been felt throughout the industry. For the sake of not being judged as ostentatious, we—the gatekeepers and content shapers—have lost our footing in trying to preserve a romantic ideal that has failed us. How long can we eke out a living on an old model of professionalism when media itself has changed in drastic, fundamental ways?

We are charged with nipping libel suits, stereotypes, off-brand language, and plain ol’ BS in the bud. To do our jobs, we become historians, quality controllers, trend experts, ghost writers, and diplomats. Each assertion and correction is an act of bravery. But I don’t want a medal or token gesture; I want to educate people on why copyeditors are a reader’s and writer’s strongest allies and to revitalize this beleaguered profession. A perpetual byline strike protests nothing, and continued anonymity is suicide. Editing itself should be invisible—copyeditors can no longer afford to be.

Karen has long wavy hair and is smiling into the camera. She's wearing a gray T-shirt and an aquamarine pendant.Karen Yin is the author of the upcoming book Conscious Language (Little, Brown Spark) and founder of Conscious Style Guide, a resource for inclusive, empowering, and respectful language; Editors of Color, tools for diversifying your staff and sources; and AP vs. Chicago, an irreverent language blog for anyone who “gives a dollar sign, ampersand, exclamation point, and pound sign about style.” She received the 2017 ACES Robinson Prize for furthering the craft of professional editing.


Note: This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter and is reproduced with permission from the Pilcrow Group. Photo by Nic McPhee used under CC BY 4.0.

White type on sky-blue background.


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