Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Make Up Your Minds Already!


Going over copyedited manuscripts always puts me in a cranky mood. Going over two copyedited manuscripts, one right after the other, when I can hardly think straight thanks to the flu has put me in an ubercranky mood. (So you’ve been warned.)

Now, I’m not one of those writers who see copyeditors as the enemy. I know I do incredibly stupid stuff when I’m writing. When my brain is flying along in creative mode, I write ‘sat’ when I should use ‘set,’ and ‘discrete’ when I should use ‘discreet,’ and a dozen other strange permutations of the English language. A car that is black in one chapter suddenly becomes red. A character named Yates suddenly becomes Yardley. And no matter how many times I go over a manuscript, I still miss those pesky little mistakes. Lots of them. So thank god and publishers for copyeditors.

But there’s nothing like going over two copyedited manuscripts back to back to make you appreciate that this is not an exact science. I feel like screaming, Okay, guys! How about if y’all get together and make up your pedantic little comma-obsessed minds?

Do we say: Now, she knew she was wrong. Or do we say: Now she knew she was wrong.

Because you see, if it’s so important that you guys feel the need to take out a comma—or put it in—then shouldn’t you all agree, especially since you claim to be using the same style guides? Obviously not.

Or here’s another one/Or, here’s another one: What I want to know is, Do I capitalize the D? Or should I say, do I capitalize the d? One copywriter says, no. The other says, Yes. Ghrrr.

And don’t get me started on capitalization. Back in the dark ages when I went to school, if you wrote, “the Secretary of State [as in, Clinton] walked across the room,” the office-as-placeholder-for-the-name was capitalized. But it seems that in the decades since, newspapers discovered that such capitalizations slow down their readers, so they stopped using them. Now (,) everyone (including certain New York publishing houses) is following the newspapers’ lead. The problem with that approach is that if you have a character who is constantly referred to as “the Colonel” or “the General,” then I think it’s less confusing for readers if the old rule is followed. So I have stuck to my guns on this one. But believe me, it’s exhausting. As in parenting, one must pick their battles.

Now (,) you might think I could just jot down some notes about house rules and make the effort to have my next manuscript conform. But apart from the fact that I don’t need one more distraction, these aren’t house rules; these are individual copyeditors’ rules. I looked up previous manuscripts. And you know what? I started sticking those bloody commas in after the “now” and the “once” because a previous copyeditor with the same house insisted they were needed!

So, I give up. Or is that, so I give up? Or should I have said, Or is that, So I give up? Or…


Chap O'Keefe said...

And you haven't even started on the hyphens, Candy! There the modern copy(-)editor's rule is definitely: "If you've put one in I'll take it out; if you haven't, I will."

Steve Malley said...

I gave a speech on Sunday to a group of romance writers-- two copy editors among them. Mingling with the crowd in the break beforehand (helps to have a few familiar-ish faces, even if they are of recent acquaintance), I knew the copy editors at five paces.

They were the ones bemoaning the loss of the semicolon!

laughingwolf said...

i'm with you, candy... do it your way, it is YOUR tale... things you insist stay as you wrote them, add STET in the margins... they are copy editors, they're not authors of your mss

Chen said...

On a slightly different topic, I just saw a pre-order page on Amazon for the 5th Sebatian St. Cry mystery, What Remains of Heaven. Is that really the cover? Or is that a "stand-in" until a cover is finalized?
I'm hoping it's the latter. Otherwise it gives it too much of a "romance novel" feel. I am really enjoying this series and I guess I'd like to see the book to have just the right look. That's how I am when I get caught up with a series. Go figure! Anyways, I hope that's not the final cover.

Charles Gramlich said...

I recently reread the Taleran series and wished I'd had a copy editor.

cs harris said...

Chap, I give up on the hyphens. That's one battle I'm not fighting!

Steve,one of my very good friends (an English teacher, of course) writes a column called the Grammar Queen of New Orleans. Fortunately, she has dialup and never reads my blog.

Laughingwolf, I frequently regret afterwards that i didn't fight some things. Especially now that I've realized that these "rules" become set in concrete once they're proclaimed "series style."

Alas, Chen, that's the cover. It's better than the first version, which looked like Sarah Jessica Parker in a corset being chased by a ghost. I kid you not. I wept and wailed and hollered, and got a few changes, but was finally just told to shut up. Now that they've unveiled the disaster, I may do a blog entry on it.

Charles, believe me, I appreciate what copyeditors do. I guess it's in their nature not to know when to stop. Ironically, my worst offender this time missed A LOT of things. She was too busy focusing on commas to notice that the black car turned red, or that Saturday became Friday.

Charles Gramlich said...

I noticed in my rereads I changed the name of the Taleran hours, changed spelling in one name midstream, changed the time when dawn occurs on the planet. I noted 'em all down in case they're ever republished. But yeah, a good copyeditor should pay more attention to those kinds of issues than minor comma choices like you mentioned.

Chen said...

Maybe it's another testament to the tough economic times we're experiencing. Everyone is so afraid for their jobs, so they're doing everything possible to prove their worth and value to the company. These copyeditors just happen to latch on to the comma as a means to show how valuable they are to the company. To me, the comma is like fresh ground pepper. Sometimes it's necessary. Other times it's just personal taste.
I say fire the cover artist! He/she is responsible for "plating" the book and this person needs to be taken to task for an unimaginative presentation! Can you tell I'm a still a tad hung up about the cover (chuckle)?