Since I didn’t do a lot of planning for this particular little series, I’m not actually sure what I’m going to cover. Should I talk more about the working-with-my-editor process, or…?
So what I’m going to do today, anyway, is discuss copyedits. (This is a long, image-heavy post, FYI.)
After edits are complete–often several rounds, including line edits–the ms is printed, and the printout heads to a mysterious, homicidal, troll-like basement-dweller* known as a copyeditor. I always picture them chained to a floor, wearing rags and snarling over desks held together by Duct tape and rage. The copyeditor’s job is to inspect each and every word with a magnifying glass, using at least one grammar reference book, nitpick the hell out of your ms. with the Pencil of Doom, and examine everything with “What if I were a totally stupid person?” and ask questions thusly.*** (For more on this, check out my series from August about the publishing process: How Babies are Made parts one and two.) People often think copyeditors use a red pen; nope. They use a pencil, not always red, and you have to respond in pencil, too. But not a #2 pencil. A colored pencil. As a result, I have colored pencils and artgum erasers all over the place. I digress.
The copyeditor focuses their nasty little eyes on the pages, and starts marking it up with odd and obscure lines and squiggles–some of which I suspect are made up just to fuck with writers–while giggling maniacally.**** They’d rub their hands together if they weren’t so busy drawing bizarre alchemical symbols on the ms.**** Once they’ve sufficiently scribbled all over the book, they send it to the editor, who sends it to the writer.
So. Here are some of my actual copyedited pages. These are from UNHOLY MAGIC (which, as you’ll see on the first page, was originally titled DOWNSIDE GHOSTS. Then we decided to find a new title, and they started calling the series that, but there you go). This is the ms that was sent to me, that I went through page-by-page, printed from my original file–the one I emailed my editor and she approved (I write my books in 12-pt. Dark Courier, so that’s what you’ll see; they don’t even change my font). The copyeditor fixes any minor grammar issues I may have, clarifies things, suggests minor changes,points out factual errors or mistakes, stuff like that.
I had the hubs scan these and send them to me as jpegs, so if you click them twice they’ll go full-size and be very easy to read. You’ll be better able to see them that way, and I’ve added comments to each one to explain what everything is. Sorry, but there are so many images I really need to keep them smaller. I hope it’s not too much of an inconvenience.
Title page (my explanatory comments are in blue, and any explanations of my responses are in red):
So there you see the lines for capitalization, and just how those title pages are laid out. There’s a page for the “Other titles by,” too, and a copyright page–even that is copyedited, yes–and dedications & acknowledgments pages.
Then there’s the ms.
Now. Just as in “regular” edits, you are not obligated to accept every change. If you don’t want to accept the change, you write STET in the margin. Very rarely are comments made IN the ms. Here the CE uses a blue pencil, and mine is green. The checkmarks were made after the fact, presumably as the person entering them finished each one (I’ve cropped this one, and most of the others will be cropped from here on):
Sometimes the CE points out logical errors, or asks for clarifications:
(Since I mention how italics are underlined in that one, let’s discuss that for a second. For a long time the advice to writers was “Underline anything that should be in italics.” Now, since everything is done digitally, I don’t think it’s such a big deal. I know a lot of people still do it, though, and some people still tell you it’s what you should do. I asked my editor about it, if I should start using underlines instead, but she told me it didn’t matter and italics are fine. So that’s my editor’s opinion, anyway, and I don’t worry about it anymore.)
Here’s a page with lots of questions–I’ll do it as two cropped images. Some changes I okay, some I don’t, some questions are just answered, and in the first one I suggest a line that may go into the final ms and may not; I’m happy to leave that up to my editor (who’ll look over these herself) and she can decide which she prefers:
And here are some wording suggestions, and some clarifications (like that Terrible doesn’t wipe his nose, because that’s just not the sort of thing I want to write. Heroes don’t need to wipe their noses):
A clarification that requires me to add more than just a word or two, and an overused word:
Sometimes I catch an error or issue in the course of re-reading, too. Usually the CE is done a few months after the initial edits have been finished, so it’s like reading with fresh eyes. I do a little detail fact-checking during CEs, too:
Of course, the CE also does make changes, and it’s the writer’s job to approve or disapprove–STET–them. Remember, the ms is ultimately the writer’s, and the writer should have approval on everything. You don’t have to accept changes you don’t want. Here I okay a change:
And here I don’t, with explanation. This part, I feel, is a voice issue, and I don’t like anything that interferes with my voice, or with the way the sentences flow:
This last one is just kind of for fun, to show you how the epigrams work. There’s also a couple of wording suggestions, one of which is one of those forehead-smack kinds of things which made me laugh; the kind of thing that makes edits so much fun. I actually enjoy copyedits. It’s page proofs I hate; we’ll do those Wednesday.
I’m sure I could do the chapter heads above the epigrams, but I don’t, because…well, just because, really. As I’ve mentioned before, the epigrams come last; FOUR (which will hopefully have a title this week!) doesn’t have them at all yet, because I add them after edits so they reflect the chapter in some way. They don’t always do it really obviously, but anyway. (Also, in CITY OF GHOSTS there’s a Poltergeist reference in an epigram: the apartment complex in which Erik Van Helm rents his place is called “Cuesta Verde,” which is the name of the subdivision in that movie. I don’t know if anyone’s gotten that one; I know a couple picked up on the Ghostbusters joke/homage with “Tobin’s Spirit Guide.”)
So. Those are copyedits. As I said above, I enjoy them, for several reasons: One, I just enjoy editing in general, because polishing the ms and making it all shiny-clean and perfect makes me happy. Two, because it makes me really realize this is an actual book, and look at all those pages I filled with words! And most importantly, Three, because again as I mentioned, by the time copyedits come I haven’t read the ms in a while. I’m separated from it; I don’t remember it very well. And since I usually dislike my books when they’re done (they’re never as good on the page as they are in my head) I am–not to sound egotistical–always really surprised and pleased to see how good they actually are. All those lines I forgot I wrote that I really like, all the little clues and subtle emotions and stuff that I like slipping in there…it’s fun to read the books as if they’re not actually mine, written by me. Copyedits are where I really become fond of the books, and they’re really the only chance I get to read the book with fresh eyes. (They’re not totally fresh, no, but again it’s the closest I can get to that.)
Some houses do electronic copyedits. I know I had one of those at Ellora’s Cave, but edits and formatting work a bit differently there. I’ve never seen electronic copyedits aside from that, so have no experience with them.
But copyedits are fun (unless you get a bad one, which does occasionally happen to people) and I enjoy them. And they’re very thorough; I see vanity presses claiming that “editors don’t edit anymore” in a bid to get people to pay them for their garage-bound books, and every time I see that I want to grab a sheaf of copyedited pages that wave it in front of them, shouting “Oh yeah? Well what about this, huh? WHAT ABOUT THIS?!”
On the other side of the spectrum are the people who claim they “don’t need to know spelling or grammar, because that’s an editor’s job.” How lazy can you get, really. And sorry, but a ms filled with typos and bad grammar will never get to the copyediting stage, because it’ll be rejected. You’ll notice that in those pages above, I think there was maybe one typo? Of course there are a couple throughout any manuscript, but I frankly pride myself on turning in a book as error-free as possible, and on having my final published book be the same.
And honestly? I kind of think that any writer should; it should be our goal, because we should care about words, what they mean and how they’re used. We should know how to avoid run-on sentences and tense errors. We should know that it’s “grin and bear it” not “grin and bare it,” “bated breath” instead of “baited,” “lose” not “loose,” and “for all intents and purposes” not “for all intensive purposes.” (And any number of other errors like that; they make we want to hit someone, really, I hate them that much.) Those mistaken phrases, btw, are called mondegreens, or more specifically eggcorns, apparently. I had no idea they actually had a name!
And more than knowing, we should care. We should care about words and language. We should care when people get stuff like that wrong; not to the point of being a jerk and correcting them all over the place, but it should annoy us, because words should matter to us. (My favorite these days are the people who insist the word “puritanical” is being used wrong when it refers to someone who’s very uptight/anti-drinking/sex/drugs, because the Puritans were actually rather ribald. They may well have been, but “puritanical” is an actual word [first known use was over 400 years ago], and as such it has a dictionary definition, and that definition is: very strict in moral or religious matters, often excessively so; rigidly austere. / strict in moral or religious outlook, esp in shunning sensual pleasures. / Exaggeratedly proper / Being prim or prudish / being austere, ascetic or straitlaced. Yes, the second definition of “puritanical” is “of or relating to Puritans,” but that absolutely doesn’t mean the first is invalid. So quit being so smug and snide about it because you mistakenly think it makes you look smart and impressive and logical. It doesn’t. It makes you look like a moron who doesn’t know what a dictionary is.)
Anyway, enough of that rant. The point is, copyedits don’t get you off the hook of learning how to communicate properly in writing, and a writer should be abhorred at the very idea, as far as I’m concerned. That’s our job. Communicating through the written word–using those words to express just what we need them to express, playing with them–is our job. Laziness or some kind of cavalier “just throw any damn word in there, whatever” sort of attitude doesn’t belong in our work, and it pisses me off just thinking about people who think it does. Almost as much as people who want to be writers (because they think it’s glamorous and lucrative, I guess) but who–either admittedly or just obviously judging by their work–never read books or go to bookstores.
But copyedits are still necessary, and they’re valuable, and I enjoy them. And that’s what they look like.
So. Any questions? Is there anything you don’t feel like I clarified enough, or showed well enough?
Wednesday I’m going to post some page proof images. I hate page proofs. Sigh. But I think it’ll be interesting to see.
* No, they’re not, they’re just regular non-lizardy/troll-like people
** No, they don’t, I believe most of them work from home (I could be wrong)
*** They’re very smart and necessary, and really are helpful and good and worthy of praise
**** This one may very well be true