Confessions of a Copyeditrix

“What separates me from your average copyeditor is that I am also paid to humiliate and/or physically abuse my clients throughout the revision process.”


Illustration courtesy of Bob May

Please allow me to introduce myself. My professional name is Lady Strike, and I’m what they call a copyeditrix. That is, I edit manuscripts for spelling, grammatical, and formatting mistakes, as well as for sense and clarity. This includes fact-checking the text, querying the author, and commenting on broader organizational issues. I am familiar with Chicago, AP, and MLA styles and would best describe my editing approach as “meticulously supple.” What separates me from your average copyeditor is that I am also paid to humiliate and/or physically abuse my clients throughout the revision process.

Let me be perfectly clear. I am neither a prostitute nor, strictly speaking, a dominatrix. Copyeditrixing really isn’t about sex. These men and women — writers, book publishers, entrepreneurs, scholars — are just looking for a release from the daily stress of making tough editorial decisions. Maybe I remind them of their third-grade teacher or their mom correcting their homework. Perhaps my harsh rebukes and occasional spankings bring to mind that first transgressive thrill of seeing a misspelled word underlined. I don’t particularly care as long as they pay me up front and don’t attempt to defend their steaming pile of malodorous prose while I edit it.

Under my basic package, I make all the edits with the “Track Changes” feature, using the “Comments” section to chide the authors for being so naughty. You know, standard dirty talk about dangling modifiers. I also make it clear that I will reward those who click on “Accept All Changes” and severely punish those who don’t — what I call the caret and the stick method.

With my premium package, clients pay extra to have me manually blue-pencil them. Sometimes I chain authors to the desk as I check for stylistic consistency, give them a rap on the knuckles when they don’t provide satisfactory responses to my queries, or make them lick up my eraser shavings if they’ve been particularly careless. Oh, there’s no real danger. We establish ground rules from the start: a style sheet, preference for or against the Oxford comma, and always a safe word, “Stet,” if things get too heated.

I’ve seen it all — the literary superstars, bloggers, celebrity memoirists, chapbook poets — though the real freaks are over at the big publishing houses. Must be Bertelsmann’s Germanic influence. There’s an editor at Random House who has me introduce errors before his manuscripts are sent to the printer and then begs me to correct them. I make him squirm until right before the deadline, shoving the marred proofs in his face and luridly describing all the errata slips he’ll have to print. I charge him double.

Some closing advice for freelancers looking to get into the profession: Never show up to a university press job without a bodyguard. Don’t neglect your copyediting fundamentals — an eagle eye for detail and legible proofing marks — during the excitement of an intense bondage session. And finally: latex, whips, ball gags, stilettos, and handcuffs are all essential, but for most clients, nothing is as kinky as a paperback copy of Strunk & White.

Matt Seidel's writing can be found at his website.