Put yearbook copy in the hands of a good copy editor

Written by Shannon Palka

As years go by, yearbooks become more than what they were on the day of distribution. The initial excitement of finding yourself and your friends fades away, as do memories from the year. The facts and names blur together as new facts and new names become increasingly important.

But when nostalgia sets in and yearbooks are pulled off book shelves 20 or 30 or 60 years after their original distribution date, everything printed on those pages is true, whether or not it was true the day of distribution.

Good-copy-editorsCopy editing and fact checking are crucial to the production of a strong yearbook. Accurate copy editing could mean the difference between a winning or losing season to a varsity athlete, or the difference between looking at a picture of your friend Jim or your friend Tim in an academic spread, who could be either a junior or a senior. The littlest details in a yearbook often prove to be the most important.

Responsibility for keeping these details accurate belongs to the copy editor. On most staffs, the editor-in-chief is usually too busy overseeing production, deadlines and the staff to attend to the grammatical and historical accuracy of the copy on every page.

In addition to maintaining continuity and accuracy, it is the job of the copy editor to assist the staff in copy writing. A staff that does not know how to produce a good copy, or is not motivated to produce a good copy, will not turn in any writing worth publishing. A good copy editor works with his or her staff to educate and motivate them so they are capable of producing their best work.

Our staff spent two weeks training before editors assigned spreads at the start of the year. After that, my job was supervising: sitting in on interviews and watching copy come together. About a week before the first deadline, we were making good progress compared to past years, but to give our writers an extra push in the right direction, I promised them a party day while our adviser was at the JEA/NSPA Fall National High School Journalism Convention in Kansas City, Mo. – with his approval, of course – complete with Mrs. Fields cookies and “The Lion King.”

Copy editors: establish good relations with your staff. Let them know you on a personal level instead of only a professional level. They will be more likely to give you what you ask of them. Editors-in-chief: if your staff is not producing strong copy, have a talk with your copy editor about ways to improve the quality. Copy quality is just as important to a strong yearbook as copy accuracy. Without interesting writing, the accuracy of a spread is unimportant. Once a reader decides the copy is uninteresting, usually within the first paragraphs, he will not bother with the rest, rendering the hours of fact-checking and proofreading useless.

There are those who say no one reads the yearbook regardless. I disagree. People read what’s worth reading. Make a book worth reading. Take pictures worth reminiscing over. Tell the story of a year worth reliving.

  • Gabriella

    Hey, im going to be copy editor next year and im really nervous can you give details of what exactly I need to to be be a good copy editor… I am assistant to the copy editor now but all I do is name check… Please help….

Shannon Palka