Sunday, August 16, 2015

Copyediting WHEN FALCONS FALL

I always like receiving the copyedits for my next book because it means the book is that much closer to publication. But that's about the only thing I like about copyedits (especially now that they're done electronically with Track Changes, rather than the old-fashioned way on paper). In fact, copyedits are my least favorite part of the entire writing/publishing process.


The reasons are myriad. A story read in fits and starts while constantly stopping to study little bubbles in the margins and endlessly analyzing word choices inevitably ends up sounding stilted and less than engaging; as a result, I start to worry ("OMG; this book is terrible!"). In fact, there's an entire gamut of emotions that accompanies the copyediting process, everything from humiliation ("I can't believe I wrote then instead of than! Where was my brain? How could I have done that?") to frustration ("Doesn't that %$#@ copyeditor know that the 'r' in River Teme is capitalized? Are you telling me I need to comb through this entire manuscript to find all the places she 'fixed' it so I can change them all back? Grrrr.") to fear ("Oh, my God; I wrote Jacobin instead of Jacobite and SHE DIDN'T CATCH IT! If she missed that, what else did she miss?") In other words, it's flat out painful. And it takes forever: I've now been at this for twenty-five hours and counting. (Yes, I'm counting. And I want my weekend back.)

I appreciate copyeditors--I truly do. They save me from the humiliation of having the world see that I somehow typed Normand rather than Norman. They make sure Flanagan doesn't drift into Flannigan by the end of the book and that the character whose name I changed from Isabella to Grace is always Grace.

But there are other changes that irritate the expletive deleted out of me. I still think Major Weston should be referred to as the Major rather than the major, because that's what they taught back in the Dark Ages when I was in school. At some point, NAL decided that Napoleon will now be NapolĂ©on, which I personally think comes off looking like an affectation. But I gave up fighting those sorts of battles long ago.  In fact, I now let my copyeditors change all sorts of things I once would have queried, which is why a close reader will notice that this series, which is supposed to have its own style sheet, is actually all over the place.

I've have copyeditors who changed the Squire to the squire. So in the next book, I'll type "the squire." Then I'll get a copyeditor who changes it to the Squire. Some copyeditors will change a character's musings from "But . . . why? to "But . . . Why? "  Others will carefully change "But . . . Why?" to "But . . . why?" I give up.

And then there are these lovely little blue bubbles that really make my heart seize up:


("Au: Per the publisher's preferred dictionary, this term was first used as a verb around 1976; reword?")

She's right, of course; disconnect, especially used in this sense, is very modern, and I know it must be changed. The problem is, it perfectly captures what I want to say. I can flail around forever trying to come up with a substitute, and I'm rarely happy with what I eventually choose. In this instance, I changed it to "... the painful sense of being a stranger to himself, and the questions, remained." But that really isn't what I wanted to say because it lacks that sense of, well, disconnect.

It's at times like this that I start muttering, "I want to write contemporaries."

33 comments:

Lynne said...

OMG - I'm surprised they haven't checked you into an asylum. Those little bubbles and stupid corrections would have driven me over the edge in a heartbeat. I think you might deserve sainthood. I know I'm getting old but this crap makes me yearn for the old days of silly handwritten corrections that actually made sense. And never knowing if it will be "Squire" or "squire"?? I don't know if I can leave out my expletive - do I have to? It's interesting to me that. as a society, we seem to think that a computer can do anything when in fact, real people still do some things much better. Your post is a real eye-opener. If I lived nearby I'd come over and we could invent bad words to use...over coffee...or wine:).

cs harris said...

Lynne, I feel like I belong in an asylum! At one point I was ranting and throwing things (ahem, the batteries of my mouse, which was acting up) to the point my husband quietly got up and went outside to work on the trellis in 90 degree heat! And definitely WINE!

Szuanne said...

What amazes me is that the copy editor nit picks so much about little things like the major and squire business, but then when the book is published the publisher will print it with American spelling. That always seems very odd to me when I read books set in England but published in America. As soon as I read color, instead of colour, I think well, that's "complete" authenticity out the window. Does anybody else have views on this?

Barbara Butler McCoy said...

This sounds truly excruciating, and I agree wholeheartedly with Lynne: there are some things people do much better than computers. As for some of the spelling errors, could it be autocorrect or spell checker in action? How many 'greats' would there be before their name if you wrote a contemporary about one of Sebastian and Hero's descendants ;-/

cs harris said...

Suzanne, I have a hard enough time getting them to leave in non-contemporary American patterns of speech; I would never get British spelling to fly! I can't even get them to let me write "dreamt" unless it slips past them.

Barbara, I suspect they save a ton of money having the copyeditor and I both use Track Changes, but the program was really acting up on me


yesterday, which was giving me fits. And yes, autocorrect is part of the problem. But I also have a tendency to think one thing and type another when my mind is on the story. I actually am toying with the idea of a contemporary about a descendant of Jamie Knox!

cs harris said...

Angel did that! He hit return just as I hit post.

Anonymous said...

Candy - I agree with Lynne I would never be able to handle correcting anything with those little bubble pop ups. I have had to work on some legal documents like that in my job - it sucks - plain english. Drinking wine would be mandatory for me. I would think the most important issue would be for someone doing copy edit is to find actual spelling and grammar errors and things like Grace or Isabella. Not whether your style is modern or non-modern (??) As long as it makes sense to the story why should it matter. Shows you just how little I know about writing books. This process must be incredibly painful to say the least. And I don't read many contemporaries but if you wrote one I certainly would. Best, Ali

Charles Gramlich said...

That's a problem with reading groups reading sections of a novel as well. It just doesn't hang together in the microcosm.

JustWingingIt said...

I suppose, as with most things in life, we must take the good with the bad. Keep your chin up and know that your readers love what you do, whether it be Squire or squire. ;-)

Veronica

Anonymous said...

Well said Veronica!
Ali

Susan J. said...

It sounds an absolute nightmare! I've noticed this thing about using capitals or not using them these days, like 'the Major or the major'. I end up not knowing what's correct and what's not. I don't mind American spelling if the book was published in America but it does jarr a bit when the book has been published later in Britain, as many of Mary Balogh's have been, particularly as she is British, even if she lives in Canada now.
Anyway, good luck with it all, I'm sure the finished book will be up to your usual standards.

cs harris said...

Ali, I will confess to printing the whole damn book out and sitting down to read it that way. The problem is, that in order to fit on a page with those bubbles, the print is teeny-tiny. In the past I could handle it; this year I kept reaching for my magnifying glass! I do appreciate my copyeditors; I just wish they could be consistent. In an ideal world, I'd get the same one every year.

Charles, yes; the only books that do well that way are episodic.

Veronica, it's nice to be appreciated! :)

Susan, if my books were printed in England I would so want someone to edit them again for spelling and language usage! I've been told the rules on capitalization are changing because newspapers discovered that caps slow readers down, making them more likely to stop reading an article; now everyone is now adopting the newspaper rules.

Rachel Walsh said...

Candy, I'm in the process of line editing my own manuscript (final draft of an historical mystery I'll be sending out on submission as soon as I'm done) and that's driving me bonkers enough! The prospect of one day having to deal with copy edits both excites and completely terrifies me ...

Keep up the hard work, and know that your readers appreciate it so very much! :-)

Suzanne said...

It must be a nightmare getting a new copy editor every year, you wouldn't get the chance to know how they work, what sort of things they jump all over and so on. It is a hard enough job already without having to break in a new one every year. I really feel for you.

Lynne said...

Candy - your comment to Susan about caps really irks me - journalism is not the same as writing fiction. I'm not an expert but that was a basic we learned in journalism class years and year ago. Dumb! That said, I'll agree with Veronica - I read fast enough that little things aren't that important. The things that set my teeth on edge are run-on sentences and grammar - neither of which are you guilty. I just finished reading an e-book written by a Christian pastor that was so badly done I wrote a review on Amazon that was very negative. His whole very powerful message was lost because his sentences just made no sense and were grammatically incorrect. Yes, I feel a bit guilty and a lot like the grammar Nazi but those are the noticeable things in writing. To your credit, your books always flow very well and are so readable that I can't put them down.

Gee, wouldn't it be fun if we could all get together for wine and whine?

Anonymous said...

I'm in for whining with wine. I have to admit though, as a contracts lawyer I deal with the bubbles and redlined all day long. The hard part, as you say, is when something can be written multiple ways and many times it is just a style issue. With multiple copy editors, the multiple styles are killing you. It is the same if you are working with one attorney and all of a sudden they are switched out and you have to redo things already agreed upon once, or new totally different things get changed as those are the particular hot button for that specific attorney. Agree with Lynne, I read so fast the small stuff usually escapes me. It is the past tenses that bug me... why can't you say dreamt or leapt, etch. It's how I learned them and the other way is always jarring to me. Hope you are done soon. Sabena

Anonymous said...

Argh... auto correct. I obviously have issues there too. I changed redlined back to redlines twice and it changed it.... sigh. Sabena

cs harris said...

Rachel, I read my books over dozens of times, and it always amazes me the things that slip past. The author's mind sees what she meant to write, not what's actually there on the page. It's so frustrating. Good luck with your submission!

Suzanne, yes, one of the perks of being a Big Name is being able to request the same copyeditor.

Lynne, was it self-published? If so, it's too bad he didn't hire an editor and copyeditor. They really are necessary.

Sabena, yes, it's the inconsistency and the resultant time lost that for some reason sent me through the roof this time. I would gladly conform if we could just pick a style and stick with it.

Lynne said...

Candy - Not sure if it was self-published and I should have looked, although I noticed on Amazon that the man has a ton of books. Yes, he should have had an editor - an unbiased eye catches so much more than the author can.

Susan J. said...

Can't believe that about the newspapers! What is this world coming to when people can't even have enough concentration to get to the end of an article without being baby fed? What gets me is these people, usually younger than forty, have often been to university, yet they seem as ignorant as hell! I did not, like many English people of my generation have the chance to go to university, except as an adult student, on a part time basis. I do not, however, need to have my reading matter fed to me in easy doses, thank you very much! It makes me sick when I watch TV quiz shows where you get some young thing who is embarrassingly ignorant, particularly about literature and history, yet went to university and has some fancy sounding job. One week they had a team of older dustmen (garbage collectors) who were better informed!

cs harris said...

Lynne, there is a reason I really do appreciate my copyeditor, as much as I complain.

Susan, I know; I could climb up on a soapbox and rant for hours. And that's funny about the team of dustmen!

Lynne said...

Uh-oh! Susan is trying to climb on that soapbox with you and me, Candy! Susan, you are so right! And I like the dustmen story, too. We have a trivia show called Jeopardy on US tv and I'm continually horrified at the simple things people don't know. Oh, dear...we could go on and on...

cs harris said...

Lynne, ha! I suspect that could be a very crowded soapbox!

Susan J. said...

Shall we all meet at Hyde Park Corner? Do people still make speeches on soap boxes there?

Maureen said...

I did a little sleuthing and Googling on capitalization of titles. Guidance seems to be all over the map unless the title comes directly before the name of the person, as in Major Joe Smith. One site did say that if major is used alone to refer to the Major Smith then it should be capitalized. As retired military myself I would agree with that and might be willing to fall on my sword over it. But I can understand how in the interests of time and effort, you have to pick your battles. And whether the Major or the major is used probably doesn't really change the story or the atmosphere or mood of a scene...maybe that is why not being able to use 'disconnect' is such a shame...it explains much about what the character is feeling or may/might/did react to the action, it is part of the story and necessary.

On the track changes, I have written documents for the US military and when you get multiple people changing a document, it gets really fun. I agree it can be frustrating, though I believe it is a necessary evil and in my experience does speed along getting documents edited and formatted according to standard (the US govt publishes oodles of guidance on editing standards and how to format).

The result is that when we readers read books that have not been copy edited very well, we notice and it can be jarring.

So...thank you for the hours you spend reviewing the copy edits. We appreciate your writing and love your stories and all your hard work which create the early 19th century ambience and sense of place that pervades your books. Please do NOT write contemporaries!.

Anonymous said...

Hi Candy, I am so enjoying the insights you give to the whole research, writing, editing, proofreading process. These 'behind the scene' glimpses help me to appreciate all the hard work, (blood sweat, tears, grey hairs, high blood pressure, increased coffee and wine consumption etc!) that you put into making your books easy to read, easy in the sense that they always seems to flow smoothly, no jarring irritants and inconsistencies that catch my attention and distract from the storytelling. Obviously all of this does not come without tensions along the way, but I do think you achieve that smooth flow. And the inconsistencies between copy editors must make you want to scream. (I would go for 'the Major' and 'the Squire' and I can't think of a word or phrase that so succinctly describes the idea of disconnect with any brevity) From now on I will try and be more patient after I read your book and then realise I have another 12 months to wait for the next instalment, knowing all the hard work that goes into each creation. The thing is, you know where it is all going over the next few books, i.e. next few years, and I want to know now! Okay, so I have to work on my impatience issues. Just know that I am looking forward to March 2016 (and March 2017 and ......)
Cheers, Rhonda

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