Monday, October 04, 2010

A Necessary Evil

Here it is: Candy's predictable, semi-annual rant about the copyediting process. If you're curious, you can click on the screenshots I've included and get a better look at the process in action. (You'll also get a sneak preview of a few snippets from later scenes in Where Shadows Dance, but I promise there are no spoilers.)

I've had some copyeditors from hell in the course of my career, but this seems to be my year to luck out with copyeditors. This one was both thorough and sane, which meant that the process wasn’t anywhere near as painful as it can be. But that doesn’t mean it was painless. First of all, this stage is now all done electronically, which means that instead of curling up on my porch swing with the manuscript and a pencil, I now spend days and days sitting at my desk and staring at a computer screen, something I really, really hate. Plus, gone are the days of Post-it notes, so that once I stick my changes/comments in the margin, too, things can get quite colorful--and crowded. (If you want to get a better view of the page, just click on the screenshot and you'll get a much bigger, clearer image.)

I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the fact that when it comes to things like capitalization and punctuation, I may as well simply go with the flow (me and the dead fish). Yes, there are rules in grammar. But different houses have different rules and, I’ve learned, different copyeditors within the same house can have different rules, too. They want an accent in Napoleon? Fine, they can put it in there. They don’t want an accent in NapolĂ©on? Fine; take it out. Ditto with the comma in “Now, he wasn’t so sure.” Make that, Now he wasn’t so sure. Is it, The Colonel stood at the top of the stairs? Or, The colonel stood at the top of the stairs? It depends, evidently, on the phases of the moon.

And then we have the issue of historical accuracy. Scrambled eggs were called buttered eggs in the early nineteenth century. Okay, I’ll happily change that, even though no one will know what kind of eggs Sebastian is spooning onto his plate. But when I write “direction” for address, as was done in the Regency, I’m told readers may misunderstand and think it’s a typo that should be “directions.” A Regency Englishman walked out the house; he did not walk out of the house. But I’ve never found a copyeditor yet who didn’t insist on putting that of in there.

One of a copyeditor's tasks is to tell me when she doesn't quite follow the action in the story, as in:

That's fine; I seriously appreciate it. She can also save me from some really, really silly mistakes, as in:


If I were lazy, I could just skim through the manuscript, stopping only where I see the little blue bubbles. But this is my last chance to change anything in the manuscript before it goes to the typesetters, so I actually read over it three times. On the final pass, I reversed one significant change that I'd made at the editing stage at the request of my editor. It has bothered me ever since I did it, and so with my editor's blessing I put it back the way it was. And no, you can't see that page, because it would be a spoiler!


Charles Gramlich said...

I believe my stuff could have used a more careful editing like this. Alas, most small presses don't have anyone to really do this.

Steve Malley said...

That was pretty cool! I really enjoyed that peek behind the curtain.

Barbara Caridad Ferrer said...

Haven't had Track Changes copyedits yet. I think I would dearly miss sitting with bits of the manuscript and my colored pencils.

cs harris said...

Charles, as much as I grumble, I am very thankful that I have copyeditors. It never ceases to amaze me, the things that slip past me.

Steve, I thought y'all might find it interesting!

Barbara, I really, really miss the Good Ole Days.

Pax Deux said...

I must be in an odd mood, but I loved the sextant vs. housekeeper exchange! Seemed right out of Monty Python. Perhaps they'd throw in the Virger for good measure.

And yes, good copy editors are not only good interlocutors, they are the best anti-embarrassment inoculation.

orannia said...

This is fascinating - thank you Candy! Hmmm. I need a grammar refresher course :)

RevMelinda said...

I loved this glimpse into the editing process.

In my own writing (mostly sermons, LOL) I always go through an intermediate stage where I print out and then do editing and additions by hand--I have always found it difficult to "see" errors (and opportunities for improvement) on a computer screen, and there's something so satisfying about wielding a pencil, crossing things out and adding them, making a physical change. . .

Good luck with your editing and thanks again for the sneak peeks. . .

Anonymous said...

Sigh - the snippets are not enough and none with Hero. I think you should rant some more about editing and put in many more snippet examples. Thanks for the little bits there were. Sabena

le fleur said...

That was very cool. Thanks for sharing that. It is nice to know that I'm not that only one that has trouble with all the many grammar rules, etc.
Also, I agree, nice to have someone to point out everything to you.

Queen Lizz said...

I showed your blog entry to my husband, who is an aspiring fantasy author. I figured since he is in the middle of writing his first book, that he should get an idea of a honest to goodness copy-edit process. He doesn't sound too thrilled... *SIGH*

cs harris said...

Pax Deux, I have to admit parts of this book might belong in a Monty Python movie!

Orannia, I've given up.

Melinda, I MUST run my scenes off and then edit them by hand. Prose reads so differently on the screen.

Sabena, sorry! I had an amazingly hard time finding bits that didn't give things away.

Le fleur, I just wish they would all get together and decide what they want. I'm getting whiplash from the constant back and forth.

Queen Liz, this book was actually fairly clean. I edited it over and over so many times myself, that I caught more than I normally do.

Chap O'Keefe said...

I've recently become acquainted with the Track Changes system you mention, also not entirely happily. In the first place, it works best if the writer uses the same word processing software as the copy editor, and I don't intend to buy and use Word other than in read mode. Luckily, you can cope for the most part with Open Office.

Whatever system you use, copy editors are still copy editors. Though we rely on them, it's exactly as you say. They have human quirks, house style quirks, sometimes they're inconsistent, and sometimes they are from hell!

What do you do when you encounter a copy editor who wants to use a synonym for every time you use "said"?

What do you do when you encounter another who deletes your villain's misogynistic views, expressed in his dialog, because they annoy her?

In my case, I proposed and reached agreement with the publisher to ditch the contract for an ebook which had been accepted by their submissions editor with the words that it had been "thoroughly enjoyed."

The same day, I re-submitted the book, as originally written, to another ebook publisher who has been in the business since 2005 and with whom I'd corresponded a couple of months earlier.

He replied in a matter of hours:

"Thanks for coming back to us. I'm sorry you had this experience. From the example you gave me I can't understand what their problem is unless they are being ultra-politically correct. I'll start work on your submission later today and we should have it ready for publishing sometime next week. If I hit any problems I'll let you know, but I doubt that will be the case... I hope [we] restore your faith in publishers!"