Studies in Romanticism: An Assistant’s Perspective

By Talia Vestri

This post discusses some of my experiences as an Editorial Assistant for Studies in Romanticism since 2012. These are, of course, my own experiences in journal publishing, and all journals probably work differently, having their assistants focus on different tasks. Below, I offer some reflections about the job and my copyediting projects. In my next posting, I’ll offer a follow-up conversation with SiR editors, including some advice on the publishing process and insights for grad students—so stay tuned!
Once upon a time, university libraries used to subscribe to journals—the hard copies, that is. Believe it or not, you could wander into the stacks one sunny afternoon, peruse the “recently received” shelves of the periodical section, and pick up the latest edition of PMLA or Studies in Romanticism in wonderful booklet form. Nowadays, more likely than not, most of our schools’ libraries have migrated, along with the publishing world itself, into the digital realm. They purchase subscriptions to J-STOR, Project Muse, and other database clearinghouses rather than subscribe to the journals themselves.
These resources make our lives as scholars immensely easier, of course. The downside to this, perhaps, is that we rarely look at an issue of a journal in its entirety. That’s where being an Editorial Assistant has its perks. Instead of finding and reading a journal article in isolation, only when it’s related to my current research, I have the opportunity of skimming through entire issues and volumes of a journal. This not only allows me to find exciting and unexpected overlaps and perspectives, but gives me a sense of the journal’s own interests, the kinds of research and arguments that it publishes.
As the Editorial Assistant for Studies in Romanticism over for the past three years (I now don the official title of “Senior” assistant), I have been tasked with several proofreading and copyediting tasks. Originally, my work involved reviewing the publisher’s proofs of an issue that was about to be printed and meticulously proofreading the entire document. I would check everything from accidental misspellings to missing footnote citations to inconsistent character names. In fact, I was so overzealous in my first go-around that I circled every single comma or apostrophe that was accidentally italicized only because it was attached to a book title. Since each change that the printer makes at this stage costs the journal money, I’m sure the managing editor let those 100+ commas slide. Since we’ve fixed that glitch, I now mostly watch out for inconsistencies and printer mistakes.
As Senior Editorial Assistant since January, I’ve now handed off the proofing to someone else and taken on the role of copyediting essays prior to them going to the printers. At this stage in the process, the managing editor, author, and myself all review the essay once again and correct any issues of inconsistency or error, either in the footnotes, bibliography, or the text itself. Most often, these are issues of citation consistency. SiR uses Chicago style, so I often have to amend each essay for correct and consistent usage of this citational formatting. I also ensure that all the essays apply the same rules, like hyphenating joint-adjectives or capitalizing Romanticism. I also check textual citations, too, making sure that each major quotation from a source is accurate—and you’d be surprised how many times there are mistakes!
Overall, this experience has made me keenly aware of my own writing’s imperfections, and I have become much more staunchly diligent about proofing my own work. And while I recognize that full-time faculty have their own constraints of both time and mental energy, I am still surprised by the number of things that can seem to look like laziness in a final document that they’ve sent to a publication.
Here, then, are my few tips of advice for final things to check before you send something in:

  • Make sure that all author names (including critics) and also character names are spelled correctly and consistently throughout your essay.
  • Edit all punctuation carefully. All quotation marks, parentheses, dashes, and periods should be in their right and proper places.
  • Use the Oxford comma! (Okay that one is a personal preference, but… just do it!)
  • Be consistent with your citation formatting. Adhere to the journal’s preferred style and make sure you know how to use it accurately.
  • Even if you fail at accuracy, succeed at consistency. Do the same thing the same way every time. Think about issues like how you use short-hands in footnotes or include hyperlinks in the same format.
  • Don’t mix it up. Don’t use some European-style dates and some American-style dates. Don’t use British punctuation style for an American journal, or American punctuation for a British journal.
  • Double-check your footnotes against your bibliography to make sure sources are cited consistently between the two.
  • Don’t cite a primary source incorrectly!

Of course, journals have enrolled copyeditors for the sole purpose of remedying any of these and other kinds of oversights that you might make. However, it’s my guess that an essay would be much more likely to be well received by your anonymous readers evaluating the essay for publication in the first place if it does not have a smattering of these minor issues. They’re distracting. Don’t be distracting.

In addition to learning these ins and outs of obsessive copyediting, what I have also gained is the value of skimming through periodicals in our field. Reading through these collections, one issue at a time, has often led me to some quite fun and exciting connections–connections among essays in a single issue as well as connections with my own work. For that alone, I would recommend picking up a journal issue every now and then and reading it in its entirety, even if just at a superficial level.
In fact, I still recall two particularly sensational tidbits that I never would have stumbled across otherwise, and I will leave you with them:

  • Keats imagined, in writing to his brother and sister-in-law, George and Georgiana, in America, that they might engage in a kind of transatlantic mental telegraphy. He envisioned a sort of synchronized reading, whereby each brother would think of the other if they were, at the very same moment, each reading the same text at the same time. The author of the essay writes, “One might even be tempted to call Keats’s scenario Shakespearean Skype.” I have done so ever since.

(Yohei Igarashi, “Keats’s Ways: The Dark Passages of Mediation and Why He Gives Up Hyperion,” Summer 2014)

  • Apparently, there’s an online digital resource on Mary Shelley’s masterpiece called FrankenMOO. The MOO part is not a cow-related onomatopoeia but rather a digital humanities term for “Multi-User Dimension, Object Oriented.” I have yet to check out this fascinating project in full, but who can really resist the appeal of this playful title?

(Andrew Burkett, “Mediating Monstrosity: Media, Information, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,” Winter 2012)
Knowing these facts, my life is now more complete.
So, as I look forward to reading more of these enlightening essays over the summer months, I will mention one final thing. The Editorial Assistant positions at SiR did not, in fact, exist until three years ago. They were created in response to the persistent inquiries of myself and a few other graduate students who were hoping to get involved in the journal in some way. So, if there is to be any universal take-away from my own experiences, in addition to what I’ve already said above, it is this: don’t be afraid to ask for things! Sometimes faculty are so busy doing what they’re doing that they forget there’s help to be had from eager and willing workers. And it just might be that curious (perhaps even nagging) young master’s-year student who ends up getting to place “Senior Editorial Assistant” on her CV a few years later.