Think you’d like to be a REPTILES magazine editor?
Honduran milksnake…err…milk snake.
I’ve had reptile-loving people tell me they wish they could have my job. I suspect some think I get to spend a lot of time with reptiles and herping with the world’s leading reptile experts in exotic lands around the world. I do get to do some pretty cool things and visit some pretty cool places sometimes. The majority of my job, however, is spent doing what I’m sure many of you do: sitting at a desk, staring at a computer. My job duties include all of the usual chores typical of a white-collar position: creating budgets, answering questions, initiating procedures, conducting performance evaluations, brainstorming and attending meetings. Meetings — many of my waking hours at work (sure, I take an occasional nap under my desk…but let’s keep that between us) are spent attending meetings. What would the world be without them?
Of course, there are some things I have to think about that are specific to an editorial position on REPTILES magazine. For instance, most other standard white-collar positions, including other editors here at BowTie, do not need to concern themselves with the phrase “captive bred milksnake.” But REPTILES and Reptiles USA editors obviously do. The only other editors here who might need to think about this phrase would be those working on our trade title, Pet Product News International, because that magazine includes a section called “Reptile Marketplace,” and maybe Veterinary Practice News. I strongly doubt that the editors of Dog Fancy, Cat Fancy, Hobby Farms, Horse Illustrated, Bird Talk, Aquarium Fish International, or any of our many other titles would need to give the phrase “captive bred milksnake” another thought.
To give you a tiny taste of what a REPTILES editor must think about, let’s examine the phrase “captive bred milksnake” more closely. If an author were to turn in an article containing the phrase that is likely how it would be written: “captive bred milksnake.” However, this is incorrect for a couple of reasons. “Captive bred,” for one, is being used as a compound adjective, and compound adjectives, in most instances, are supposed to include a hyphen. Thus, “captive bred” becomes “captive-bred.” I say in most instances because if the first word in the phrase ends in “ly” the compound adjective would not include a hyphen (“actively biting turtle” would be correct, but not “actively-biting turtle”).
Editors have to know this kind of thrilling stuff.
Then there’s the word “milksnake.” This word has caused REPTILES editors headaches since the magazine’s inception. The headaches stem from trying to determine whether “milksnake” should be one word or two. How many words do you think it should be? Do you even care? Well, if you want to be a REPTILES editor, you must.
This is where a magazine’s style guide comes into play. Guides such as The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style are jumping-off points for journalists regarding general rules (such as the above “compound adjectives with hyphens” rule), but most magazines also utilize a personalized style guide. This style guide is a list of words, phrases and grammar rules that will be used in the magazine fairly regularly and that are not covered in the AP or Chicago guides. Neither of those guides provides guidance as to the correct use of the word “milksnake.” Therefore, we had to do some research and decide how the word would be represented in BowTie’s reptile magazines.
You could look on the Internet for the proper spelling, but you’ll see it being used both ways, interchangeably, over thousands of instances. So that’s not helpful. Our first go-to for common spellings is Webster’s New World College Dictionary. If you look up the word in there, it’s two words: milk snake. For reptile names that are not in the dictionary, we generally favor the Peterson’s guides as well as the reptile database at the J. Craig Venter Institute website (www.jcvi.org/reptiles/search.php). In the case of milk snake, the Peterson guide has it as two words, and the Venter Institute website has it as one. So two of our three primary sources have it as two words, and thus REPTILES magazine does, too.
Us editors often pause when we encounter common snake names that actually end with the word “snake.” We frequently look them up to ensure we’re following our preferred guides, even if sometimes the reasoning seems cloudy. Why, for instance, would milk snake be two words while kingsnake is one? Gopher snake is two words, yet bullsnake is one. Rattlesnake is one word, yet garter snake is two. This is the kind of stuff that can drive editors nuts. And of course it’s always extra fun when an author subscribes to the one-word version of an animal’s name and questions as to why, when editing his or her article, we changed it to two words. We’ve had many a discussion with authors about this very thing.
Taxonomy and Latin names bring on a whole other set of concerns. While common names may vary depending on different parts of the world or regions of a country, the Latin name is meant to be consistent. The problem comes when someone wants to reclassify an animal or a genus, and not everyone agrees. Some may decide to publish a new name while others refuse to acknowledge it. Taxonomy is a tricky business and because REPTILES does utilize Latin names, we sometimes find ourselves caught in the middle of warring factions who think differently about what an animal’s Latin name should be. All we REPTILES editors really look to do is remain consistent – just hopefully not consistently incorrect.
All this is in regard to something as simple as an animal’s name, and much dickering around over this sort of thing takes place. That said I hope I’m not giving the impression that I don’t like my job. I wouldn’t still be here after more than 16 years if I didn’t. I enjoy the act of creation and everything that goes with it: the brainstorming sessions, working with a great group of people (editors, yes, but many other people in other departments, too), the fact that I can have both a Lava Lamp and a Rat Fink bobblehead in my office…these things add up to a job that it’s a pleasure to drive 30 miles to every morning.
After all these years my favorite moments remain the ones when I first see the magazine layouts after they come back from the art director and, of course, when I meet or hear from people who are enjoying the time they spend with the magazines I work on. The latter is why people who are so inclined should wish they had my job, if you ask me. And, hey, I’m getting on in years — maybe one of them will some day!