TEXT Review

Brown Paper Packages and How to Open Them

review by Rosemary Williamson



The Australian Editing Handbook, second edition
Elizabeth Flann and Beryl Hill
John Wiley & Sons Australia, 2005
ISBN 1 74031 088 8
358pp. Pb AU$44.95


In her memoir, Stet: An Editor's Life, Diana Athill tells how she once edited a manuscript so extensively that she reworked every paragraph and rewrote almost every sentence, relaying it back and forth between herself and the bad-tempered author. Nevertheless, she found it an enjoyable task: 'It was like removing layers of crumpled brown paper from an awkwardly shaped parcel, and revealing the attractive present which it contained...' The book was published and received an excellent review in the Times Literary Supplement, with a comment that it was 'beautifully written'. The author sent Athill a note: 'You will observe the comment about the writing which confirms what I have thought all along, that none of that fuss about it was necessary' (37-38).

Is the 'fuss' necessary? Of course it is. Is it enjoyable? For some undoubtedly it is, but for others, getting rid of that crumpled brown paper can be a complex, frustrating, thankless and underpaid job, particularly when faced by the challenges now presented by e-publishing. Like many editors, however, I keep coming back for more. I have been involved in editing corporate and academic publications, had my own writing subjected to the editor's pen (and mouse), been a student of writing and editing and, most recently, begun to teach writing and editing. The Australian Editing Handbook did not exist when I began editing, and it certainly would have helped to make sense of what I essentially learned on the job over many years.

The Australian Editing Handbook was first published in 1994 by the Australian Government Publishing Service before being reprinted in 2001 by Common Ground Publishing and then by Wiley in 2003. The long-awaited, fully revised and updated second edition comes to us from Wiley, who also publish the current, sixth edition of the Australian Government's Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers (2002, reprinted in 2003). Presented as a companion to the current Style Manual, the Handbook has adopted the same size and format and has a new, distinctive cover in autumnal tones that provide a subtle visual link with the Manual. The editors of the Handbook have taken care not to duplicate material from the Manual, but have cross-referenced it appropriately. For those who wish to learn more about particular aspects of editing, the Handbook has a bibliography, based on that found in the first edition but updated and supplemented by reputable online references which, hopefully, will remain current until the next edition appears. A useful list of organisations and contact details that may be helpful to editors also appears at the end of the book.

The glossary of publishing terms in the opening pages of the first edition has disappeared and been replaced in this second edition with a running glossary of marginal definitions in the contrasting red type that has always characterised the Handbook and contributes to its high level of visual appeal. At times I found the repetition of definitions in different parts of the book irritating; my eye was drawn too frequently by the red type to definitions that I remembered from earlier parts of the book, or with which I was already familiar ('indent' or 'house style', for example). Rather than being a fault, however, this points to the suitability of the Handbook for the less experienced editor, for whom the explanation of key words used in the text will be a helpful aid to understanding and learning.

Indeed, in the preface to the second edition, the editors clearly define their primary target audience as 'both inexperienced editors and publishing students'. The editors also comment, quite rightly, on the usefulness of the Handbook to more experienced editors whose training was informal or incomplete. To that I would add other potential readerships: all who are grappling with the demands of e-publishing, and authors who wish to acquire an understanding of editorial roles and processes in the contemporary publishing industry.

With the expansion of electronic media, the editing profession has become significantly more complex. The Handbook editors have managed, however, to arrange a vast amount of information into three logical parts, each comprising a number of chapters. Part 1, 'Introduction to publishing', outlines the responsibilities of those employed by, or associated with, a publishing company, and also addresses project management and the production process. Part 2 is entitled 'The basics of editing' and contains chapters on the editor's role, the mechanics of marking up copy, the specific structural elements of a book (pages preceding the main text, for example), illustrations, proofreading, what happens in the final stages of a project (such as indexing), and the specialist editing of materials, including mathematics and science books. Part 3, 'The editor in the electronic age', covers on-screen editing and electronic publications.

The first two parts largely update material from the first edition, although there are some noteworthy additions. The section on project management is completely new and reflects the importance of project managers in publishing environments in which freelance and contract work have increased. There is also a new section on workplace health and safety that emphasises the need for ergonomically sound work environments and practices. The specialist editing chapter, which also appeared in the first edition, has added sections on medical and legal publications, academic publications (journals, conference papers, teaching and learning materials, scholarly books), and newspapers and magazines. While no attempt has been made to be exhaustive, the summaries in this chapter serve not only to describe salient aspects of these specialised professional areas, but also to draw the aspiring editor's attention to the broad range of career opportunities available.

It is Part 3, 'The editor in the electronic age', however, that really sets the second edition apart from its predecessor. The first chapter sets out the basics of on-screen editing and covers such topics as the differences between on-screen and hard-copy editing, the special responsibilities involved in on-screen editing, file management, formatting, tracking changes, templates and styles, proofreading, and the index. Many straightforward instructions for the functions commonly used in electronic editing are provided in this chapter, as well as examples drawn directly from Microsoft Word using a PC platform (perhaps a little disappointing to Apple Macintosh devotees). The second chapter deals with editing electronic publications and contains information on websites, electronic repackaging of publications, designing electronic publications for multiple uses, e-books, e-journals and e-newsletters. As an editor with more experience in hard-copy than on-line editing, I found Part 3 to contain the most interesting material in the new Handbook because of its comprehensive, practical and useful demonstration of the capabilities of this relatively new field of editing.

One of the strengths of this edition is the increased number and range of examples and illustrations to complement the text, particularly the well-chosen examples of online editing. Checklists that can be applied in the workplace or adapted to particular projects are suggested, as they were in the first edition, but this version has more of them and they are now visually distinctive and easier to find. The book also includes diagrams that simplify some aspects of publishing that can be difficult to explain. While not a new feature, again these have been updated and supplemented.

Elizabeth Flann and Beryl Hill are experienced editors who, through the Australian Editing Handbook, have made a valuable contribution to their profession. The Handbook is an excellent resource for students of editing and publishing, and for inexperienced editors, whatever their professional context, as well as for those who wish to update their skills in the electronic age. It brims with relevant information that is sensibly organised and, through the selective inclusion of bullet points, tips, examples and illustrations, is easy to locate and understand. Comprehensive and attractive, the Handbook is a reference that readers will consult time and time again.

My only misgiving is that after reading this book, I was left with the impression that if I understand what everyone in publishing does, if I am organised, know what I am doing and have coffee to hand, all will be well. When I began editing I was, to the contrary, struck by the number of obstacles I faced that were beyond my control. There were people who dismissed my deadlines as bureaucratic pettiness, tense negotiations about proposed changes to text, technology that failed at the eleventh hour, pay cheques that did not arrive on time, mysterious muddles and quarrelsome commotions. Editing projects involve many types of collaboration between many types of people, some of whom have an enormous personal investment in their work. As Diana Athill no doubt found, sometimes the most challenging - and rewarding - part of the job is dealing with such issues and still producing a successful publication. While an outstanding resource, the Handbook will, therefore, only help fledgling editors to reach their full potential if they are also provided with good training, mentoring and workplace experience.


Rosemary Williamson is completing a PhD in the School of English, Communication and Theatre, University of New England. Her thesis studies special interest magazine publication in Australia, particularly patchwork/quilting magazines, and the ways in which the magazines foster the personal and professional development of their readers both as individuals and as members of extended communities.


Return to Contents Page
Return to Home Page

Vol 10 No 1 April 2006
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Jen Webb