The Work

“But We’ve Never Done It That Way Before”

I’ve told this story so many times, I feel like I need to codify it.

On my second or third day as an editorial assistant at Doubleday, my editor gave me a manuscript to take down to Copy Editing. When I arrived at Harold Grabau’s desk and handed him the manuscript, he flipped through it and said, “It hasn’t been edited yet.”

I said, “Well, my editor said there weren’t going to be many changes, if any, so you can get started with the copy editing.”

Harold looked up at me and blinked. “But we’ve never done it that way before.”

“I’m sorry – that’s just what Jim told me to tell you.”

“But we’ve never done it that way before.”

We continued in this vein for quite a while. Harold’s disbelief was concrete. He called my editor to confirm. When I left his desk, he was shaking his head, still trying to comprehend why it was okay for copy editing to begin at that stage.

He retired, eventually, and moved to Florida and passed away in 2008 – the year Brian O’Leary and I began thinking about agile workflows. I don’t know how he would have confronted XML, a crash publication, or quite frankly anything other than what he had been used to doing for 40 years.

I think about Harold a lot.

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