There are 3 reasons graphic designers should never edit books, despite your genuinely good intentions in doing so. So many do this as a form of “value add” for the clients who hire you to design their books. What you don’t realize is that you may be causing more harm than good.
#1 of 3 Reasons Graphic Designers Should Never Edit Books: All Editors Edit Differently
While it’s in all authors’ best interests to have as many different pairs of eyes as possible on their books, to catch as many of those last-minute typos as possible before publication, this practice also comes with its challenges. This is because they can give the same work to three different editors, and each one of those people will copy edit it differently from the others. Every single time. Without exception. And then the proofreader will make even more changes that will seem to contradict these editors’ recommendations … unless authors specify which editorial style guide they should all be using right from the very start. In other words, there’s no “one right way” to do this, which can be very confusing/frustrating for authors at times.
That’s why simplicity and consistency in editing is so important to every author’s sanity and why graphic designers should stick to designing alone. Otherwise, you’re just adding one more opinion to an already-complicated group of opinions. Believe me, it can be more confusing than helpful.
#2 of 3 Reasons Graphic Designers Should Never Edit Books: Editorial Style Guides
To take this a step further, English is far from being a simple, straightforward language. That’s much of the reason why editors and proofreaders sometimes contradict each other. There are many different editorial style guides associated with the English language. In fact, each different English region has its own: the UK, Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. We all have different ways of spelling and punctuating the English language, so we each use different style guides.
To achieve the desired simplicity and consistency mentioned earlier, my company now creates a customized editorial style sheet for every single one of our authors. The styles are driven, first and foremost, by each author’s preference (if any) as to which primary guide we should use (e.g., The Oxford Style Manual for British authors, The Chicago Manual of Style for American authors, a special blend of the two for Canadian authors, et cetera). From there, the customized editorial style sheet is created by the primary editor. All other proofreaders and editors follow that editor’s lead for every book published by that author going forward. Since most graphic designers are not privy to which style guides are being used, you are not in a position to make any changes to the books.
#3 of 3 Reasons Graphic Designers Should Never Edit Books: Stick With Your Specialty
Editors would never recommend graphic design changes to a book; they know that’s the graphic designer’s specialty. That respect should go both ways. Editors know their jobs best and are most familiar with which style guide will work best for a particular project. So, when graphic designers see things that you think might be wrong, I recommend you leave it be. It’s okay to send a note to the publisher or author questioning a certain word, phrase, or punctuation mark. But never change it on your own. You may just be changing something that was correct exactly the way it was and undermining the agreements made between the editor, proofreader, and author. It’s best to just stick with your own specialty and let the editors stick to theirs.
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