Checking for Commas, by Jennifer Adams Grillone

When people find out I’m a book editor for a living, I can’t tell you how many of them say, “Oh, so you read through stuff and check for commas?” or some version of that. As important as a correctly placed comma may be, it is such a small part of what I do. So I thought I’d write about a fairly typical day in my life as an editor.

Head out on my forty-minute commute to the office. Stop for Dr. Pepper at my local gas station—caffeine a definite prerequisite for job. Arrive at work. Sort through forty-two emails, deleting those for male enhancement products. One nice email from a friend, one funny or smartass or flirtatious email from a coworker, and at least two emails indicating imminent disaster on book projects. Deal with disaster-is-pending emails, which takes a couple of hours. Check out Shelf Awareness, New York Times, and Publisher’s Weekly. Note more layoffs in book industry and another bookstore closed, along with more major magazines that have folded. Look for trends. Wonder when people will be sick of cupcakes.

Acquisitions meeting. Four different people have ten different opinions about what should be published and when. Try to come to some common ground in order to offer contracts to authors for books. Hope people haven’t read the latest article that says the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife got a $5 million dollar advance for her second book. Know I will be explaining to unknown, first-time authors with books written to niche markets that their audience, print run, and sales in no way resemble a New York Times fiction best-seller, though God knows we all wish they did.

Review index for another editor and help finish her training on indexing. Word automatic sort option is a good thing.

Lunch with my favorite photographer at a restaurant where he’s done the photos for the table topper menus. Talk about his trip to the Cayman Islands, my job, and the publishing industry shifting to the digital world. Will print magazines still exist in ten years? Will printed books? Remind myself that book publishing is an art, that it has never really been a good way to make money, that we are part of this anachronistic world because we love it.

Back at office, call author to see if they have adjusted to new trim size for their book. Larger discussion with team has taken place on whether market can bear the book at $24.99 instead of $19.99.

Angry email from agent on why their client has not been paid on delivery and acceptance of materials. After researching, appears all materials have not been delivered and are therefore not accepted.

Review printer proofs on four titles in a little gift book series. Check text, printing quality, and color. Must be turned in twenty-four hours to make up for late schedule, when editorial couldn’t decide if we wanted the books illustrated with original art or designed with more patterns and graphic elements. Decided on the latter, which I think is the correct choice in this case.

Hunker down for some real cookbook editing time. This involves making sure the instructions make sense, that the ingredients are listed in the order they appear in the instructions, that consistent measurements are used (1/2 cup shredded cheese, 1/2 cup cheese, shredded, 8 ounces grated cheese, etc.), that if the title of the recipe is Chocolate Delight it actually has chocolate in it, and so forth. Check readability, clarity, structure, grammar, spelling. Ten pages an hour is good progress and industry standard. Oh yeah, and check for commas.

Fairly mellow day in that I did not have to talk any authors or designers off a cliff, tell a photographer they had to reshoot a whole round of images, tell an author their book has been pushed out a whole year to a different publication season, tell an author they can’t have the title they wanted for the book, argue with sales about a price point or package for a title, meet with my supervisor to discuss the twenty-two things not finished on my to-do list instead of the two that are, or get yelled at by any variety of someones because emotions are high and deadlines are tight and people care about their books and don’t you know this has been their whole life for the past ten years goddammit!

At the very end of the day, a finished book is delivered. Take it out of the box and hold it in my hands. Smell that new-book inky smell, run my fingers over the spot gloss varnish on the front of the cover, see that the purple headband perfectly matches the tiny purple stripes we designed for the endsheets. I am holding a beautiful object that has taken years to create—from an idea, to an author I paired it with, to negotiating a contract, to commissioning the photography, to helping style the photos, to coaching the writing, to working with the designer on multiple rounds of layouts, to picking the cover image, to deciding it’s a jacketless hardback, to figuring out the pricing and budgets and margins, to looking at every single word on every single page multiple times. I have made a book. A thought or idea or little flash of insight is now a physical object in my hand. I’ve helped create something real and something beautiful and something that will last. Nothing beats that. It’s even worth checking for commas.

Jennifer Adams Grillone is the author of seven books and has worked as a writer and editor for fifteen years. She is currently senior editor for the publisher Gibbs Smith, where she manages the cookbook line. You can see books she had edited and books she has written by visiting her website at