Copy Editing Atomic Design

I’m in the process of wrapping up the manuscript of Atomic Designand it’s time to begin the copy editing process.

Up until this point this book project has been a solo endeavor. Writing this book in the open has been fantastic so far, as its immediately gotten the book’s content in front of people. And because of this, I’ve had people contribute and point out issues with the text, which I think is freaking awesome!

But I’m now to a point in the process where I need make sure what I’m saying makes any damn sense and jives with the basic rules of the English language. This is a job for a professional. That’s why I’ve enlisted the help of editor extraordinaire, Owen Gregory, to help me with these tasks. In the spirit of openness, Owen’s kindly agreed to conduct his copy editing his work in the open. We’ve published his edits here, and we’ve been keeping track of everything in an edits branch on Github.

Doing this kind of work in the open is a bit different than the usual behind-the-scenes copy editing process. To speak to that, here’s Owen himself with his thoughts on this process:

A Word from Owen Gregory

When Brad asked me to provide copy-editing services for Atomic Design he also asked if I would be happy for my work, like his, to be shown in public while in progress. Against all my instincts, I agreed. I’m used to working behind the scenes and with a certain degree of anonymity: it’s the author’s name on the cover, not mine. Perhaps drawing back the curtain would reveal me, like Oz the Great and Powerful, to be humbug, pettifogging over serial commas, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

But as Brad has proved, there’s value in openness. Books don’t spring whole from a writer’s forehead, and public collaboration is one of the web’s killer features.

To some, particularly other authors I’ve worked with, it might seem that I’ve edited with a very light touch. Dozens of paragraphs go by without so much as a murmur. But much of the work I’ve done on Brad’s book remains invisible. What would have made a word-processed document heavy with tracked changes can be found only (at this point) in the GitHub repo’s history. (Editing in GitHub, without the features of a word-processor, has been uncomfortable.) There has been plenty of line editing: shifting punctuation, correcting typos, capping up and down, recasting sentences, sifting and tidying both general and particular.

These are the mainstays of copy-editing. Brad was pretty sure of his structure, themes and content; his voice, honed from years of writing, speaking and bringing death to bullshit, was already strong. He wasn’t asking for structural or development editing. What remains visible in these chapters-in-progress are my comments and queries. Brad sometimes returns to the same phrases again and again, so I pick up on repetition that’s habitual rather than rhetorical. Facts are checked, US English patterns verified (I’m British), assertions challenged, new words and forms suggested – and even interpolated, though transparently.

I try to do all this with gentle encouragement, kindness and humour, and in a spirit of editorial rigour. No doubt my raised eyebrow, tongue-filled cheek and ironical tone are easily lost in a little yellow box, but my intent is always to help improve the book, acting as one kind of ideal reader, on behalf of other readers.

I’ll reserve judgement on open copy-editing for the time being, at least until I’ve seen how Brad responds to my comments. Until then, there’s more editing to be done. Always more editing. Have you seen the state of the internet? Horrifying.

Follow Along

Hey there, Brad again. This is an exciting process, and I’m super excited Owen is along for the ride to help me bring the book home. If you want to follow along with the process you can:

Thanks so much!