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Copy Editors


The history of book editing is tied closely to the history of book and bookmaking and the history of the printing process. The 15th-century invention of the printing press by German goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg and the introduction of movable type in the West revolutionized the craft of bookmaking. Books could now be mass-produced. It also became more feasible to make changes to copy before a book was put into production. Printing had been invented hundreds of years earlier in Asia, but books did not proliferate there as quickly as they did in the West, which saw millions of copies in print by 1500.

In the early days of publishing, authors worked directly with the printer, and the printer was often the publisher and seller of the author's work. However, booksellers began to work directly with the authors and eventually took over the role of publisher. The publisher then became the middleman between author and printer.

The publisher worked closely with the author and sometimes acted as the editor. The word editor, in fact, derives from the Latin word edere or editum and means "supervising or directing the preparation of text." Eventually, specialists were hired to perform the editing function. These editors, who were also called advisers or literary advisers in the 19th century, became an integral part of the publishing business.

The editor, also called the sponsor in some houses, sought out the best authors, worked with them, and became their advocate in the publishing house. Some editors became so important that their very presence in a publishing house could determine the quality of author that might be published there. Some author-editor collaborations (e.g., Maxwell Perkins and Thomas Wolfe, Michael Pietsch and David Foster Wallace) have become legendary. The field has grown through the 20th and 21st century, with computers greatly speeding up the process by which copy editors and other editorial professionals move copy to the printer.

In 1997, the American Copy Editors Society was formed to represent the professional interests of copy editors. It is now known as ACES: The Society for Editing.

In recent years, copy editors have made the transition from working on paper manuscripts to editing digital files onscreen, requiring them to master new technical skills and take advantage of new technology.

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