Manuscript Preparation

Q. Hello. I’m editing a manuscript in which the author frequently uses the conjunction “or” in places where “and” would be more appropriate, usually in run-in lists preceded by “such as.” For example, she writes, “Once a day, use a soothing fragrance- and sulfate-free cream cleanser with anti-inflammatory herbs such as aloe or rose.” She indicated to me that she means one would only use one of these items, either aloe or rose, so I changed “herbs” to the singular, but she objected to this alteration. Can you offer any suggestions? Thank you.

A. Sometimes authors don’t really want their work to be edited. At this point you might write her a note about “loose ends,” or “things that still bother me,” saying that you wonder whether you didn’t explain your editing clearly enough the first time and that you’d like to try again. If the author still won’t make changes, then at least you’ve done your job. (Save the evidence!) The author’s name goes on the title page, so she’s right to defend her manner of expression. But if her writing is ungrammatical, and you feel that your publication’s reputation is at stake, you might have to be more firm and tell her, “Sorry—we don’t feel that these corrections are negotiable.” (Check the author’s contract first to make sure she is obliged to accept the editing.) Ultimately, you have the last say, since you’re the one in control of the manuscript. But it doesn’t do to alienate your writers. In the worst cases, it’s better to compromise on minor points and focus on the more important ones.