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Q&A with Copyeditor Jim Reilly

We usually get to enjoy the insights of authors and book editors, but there are a whole lot of other people who also put in work to get books into readers’ hands. We wanted to get a fresh perspective on the publishing process, and copyeditor Jim Reilly was generous enough to volunteer! We asked Jim a few questions about his life as a freelance editor, with all the trials and rewards that come with it.

Q: How did you get into copyediting in the first place? What do you enjoy about it?

A: I was an English major at Cornell University, and though my graduate degree is an MFA in Acting from Indiana University, that “other” area of study actually enhanced my appreciation of the English language. To delve into great works of dramatic literature—works of Shakespeare, Shaw, Noel Coward, Arthur Miller—develops an understanding of what makes communication clear, economical, and effective. My first work as an editor was helping friends—later paying clients—with school papers, theses, and dissertations. My wife, Nancy Candea, is a teacher and author, and I’ve had the honor of editing her work. When Trevor Lipscombe offered me a chance to edit a manuscript for the CUA Press a few years ago, I jumped at the chance.

Editing appeals to a part of my mind that desires order, and responds positively to pattern recognition. You start with a series of rules (just look at how thick the Chicago Manual of Style is!) You apply those rules to a manuscript. But it also ties back to what I said about clear communication. If I read a sentence, and it has me “barking up the wrong tree” about what the writer means, or if I have to read it two or three times, that’s my cue to suggest a change. I stand in for the educated generalist; if the author can reach that person, they’re probably in good shape.

Q: What are your favorite types of projects to work on? What are some books you’ve worked on for the CUA Press that you remember fondly?

A: I enjoy manuscripts about history, including religious history, since religion has been a driver of so many things. Sure, it can be more simple & pleasurable to read a manuscript with few errors—but ultimately it’s more satisfying to help a work to overcome challenges. I guess the most challenging manuscripts are the ones that continually cause me to say, “Wait. What??”

I’ve enjoyed all of them for different reasons. The revised edition of Faithful Fictions helped me to understand the historical sweep of British Catholic fiction. President Garvey’s The Virtues was short, needed very little work—and I consult it occasionally. And my most recent project, Colors and Textures of Roman North Africa, gave me a glimpse into the action of Christianity in the late Roman Empire.

Q: What would be your #1 piece of advice for people just starting out in editing?

A: Keep notes. Specifically, make checklists of things that you need to correct for in every manuscript, and tailor that list for each project according to the directions from the client.

Q: You also have a prolific career as an actor, on stage, in front of a camera, and even in the recording booth, participating in works like Person of Interest, Red Dead Redemption 2, and an international tour of West Side Story. How does the creativity and physicality of acting balance with the sedentary, fastidious work of copyediting?

A: They balance each other nicely. It feels good to work your emotions and your body in an intensely social activity—and then sit down and focus on a screen that is a dialogue of a different sort, with an author that you may never meet. And I’ve been blessed in my CUA Press work to interact with editors like Trevor Lipscombe and Trevor Crowell.

Q: What’s one play or show that you’d really like to be cast in someday? What mediums are you most excited to act for right now?

A: My dream role is Leontes in The Winter’s Tale. The casting would have to skew a little older at this point in my life! But theatre is full of surprises. And acting for a video game is a fascinating experience. Not only delivering a line and a physical performance, but a variety of lines at a variety of intensities—so no matter what the player does, you will have a response that’s appropriate. And then months later to have a friend say, I was playing the game, I was in such-and-such a town inside the game, and I found you!

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