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Publishing Note: When CE-Lery Stalks Talk


Strong relationships are the bedrock of successful publishing and communication is a keystone of strong relationships. In a (mostly) post-pandemic world, we may commute to company offices, stay at home/work remotely, or do a hybrid balancing act for our work. While technology can greatly enable communication—in fact, it’s absolutely indispensable—it’s not the same as meeting and communicating in person. An email thread from a long-running ListServ group for editors recently reminded me how a throwback technology prepared us to navigate the pandemic, work remotely, and most importantly communicate with one another.

The Copyediting List or CE-L (http://www.copyediting-l.info/) has been around for a long time (started in 1992, I believe). Members can peruse the archives and read posts from a couple decades ago, or the latest ones. For those born after roughly 1990, if you can believe it there was actually a time before online social media platforms existed. In those ancient days, email lists allowed people with special interests to communicate directly, in close to real time, about topics of mutual concern. Subscribers to the CE-L could send emails to the list, which were then forwarded to list members, who could reply to the list, so everyone on the list could see and join in the back-and-forth. List shorthand refers to the list as “CE-Lery”—all Copyediting-L listmates collectively (a vegetable joke based on the nickname CE-L). Given our quirky editorial humor, members call themselves stalks (i.e., of celery). Stalks are full-time and part-time freelance editors plying their trade around the world in every sector of publishing, in-house editors, editors working for production houses, and other curious publishing folks. This list is a multidecade conversation among colleagues who have become friends.

Celery stalks talk often about a wide range of topics. Mainly, conversation centers on arcane editorial questions, solving challenges with technology, issues related to running a freelance editorial business, offering help and advice when needed, arguing fine points of grammar, syntax, diction, and the like. While the CE-L is an invaluable resource for anyone in the publishing business that deals with editing and editorial work (i.e., everyone in publishing), what makes the celery patch so valuable to its stalks is the relationships we’ve been able to develop, mostly remotely or virtually but sometimes in person at conferences or meet-ups.

Conversations about how to edit turn to personal and family issues, then to offers to take a project off the plate of someone who received a diagnosis of cancer and needs to go through radiation treatments. Every so often stalks meet in person at a conference where bonds grow stronger and appreciation for colleagues deepens to meaningful friendships. Off-list emails and personal phone calls supplement on-list posts. At one point, the list even created its own cookbook of favorite recipes from around the world. When the COVID pandemic hit in 2020, stalks had a headstart on working remotely, because we’ve been doing it for decades but not alone. The robust CE-L was a vital lifeline for maintaining our businesses, for dealing with the stress, for sharing the pain of losing loved ones and colleagues, and our sanity. Stalks were well prepared, because the CE-L provided us a venue to talk and friends to lean on.

What makes the celery patch special is how supportive and collegial stalks are. We may disagree on this and that editorial issue. That’s no different than sports fans arguing over which team is the best or political activists arguing for and against legislation or a given candidate. Though technically we may be competitors vying for business from the same clients, we genuinely are rooting for each colleague to succeed. Stalks freely share our expertise. Literally, it is free; no one gets paid and no one receives a commission or percentage of revenue. Underlying all the professional interchanges and heady discussions are the relationships binding stalks together.

For newcomers to the publishing world, you need not feel like you are an island, because a community of professional colleagues surrounds you. While the technology continues to change, the practice of communicating and developing relationships remains the same. Stalks value the CE-L email list of old, while we actively operate in the world inundated by social media. No matter the medium, what matters is how it facilitates communication and enables like-minded individuals of similar careers to develop meaningful, healthy relationships.

For authors writing and publishing books, some first-timers and others as published authors multiple times over, hopefully, reading this post will shape your perception of an industry often cast in jaded and cynical hues. Publishing professionals are people, just like you. We strive to excel at our jobs, to treat people with respect, to produce books of the highest quality, and make the world a better place by means of how we operate, as well as the products we sell in the marketplace. Relationships across the industry, particularly with authors, is of utmost importance to us. Shedding light on the personal side of the industry provides insight into the interpersonal side of what can seem like a ruthless business. When celery stalks talk, what they say is only part of the story. Celery stalk talks lay the foundation of enduring relationships. Publishing is all the better for them.