Apr 7, 2014

Adventures in Copyediting

Last week I got the copyedited manuscript for One Witch at a Time, which will be published in February 2015. (Ten months and counting!)

My editor still works on paper, which is very comforting if you don't take all the little stickies and margin-notes too personally.  Here is what it looked like:

But of course you DO take it personally. In fact it feels like a small stab with a heart-fork* because I've revised and revised and revised already, and my editor said she was happy with my revisions. So why is my ms. marked up AGAIN?

Here is where I explain what copyediting is:

Actually, it's a few things:

1. It's marking up the ms. for the typesetter and designer. Stuff like where to include chapter openers, nonbreaking spaces, dashes, ellipses, etc. Probably half of the red marks on the pages are stuff the author can ignore.

2. Nuts and bolts I might have missed: a repeated word, misspellings, incorrect use of commas or semicolons, etc.

I try to clean this up as much as possible before I turn in my ms, but I do miss a few things. Mostly this step consists of writing a line of dots under the deleted commas marked by the copyeditor. (A line of dots means to "stet" or "let stand" the original text, and ignore the copyeditor's mark.) I do a LOT of stetting of commas. I like my commas where they are, and I like an occasional run-on sentence, even if it breaks the rules of commas. But I suppose the copyeditor can't assume that, so she points out the rules and leaves it up to me to decide I actually DO want to break the rules sometimes. Easy enough, dot dot dot.

3. Consistency and logic. This is where a good copyeditor saves an author's bacon. She notices that you wrote "the dairy has only three cows" on page 14 but "the dairy's last two cows" on page 58. She will also tell you where she had trouble picturing what you described, and do you want to reword some passages? Sometimes she might even draw a picture:

This is where the heart-fork twists a bit, because the description seems clear enough to YOU (because you're the one who wrote it!), and rewording might cause that riveting scene to suddenly go CLUNK. But sometimes the copyeditor is right, and it needs to be done.

Sometimes, though, the copyeditor is wrong, and it's important to take a deep breath and remember that. The copyeditor is not marking your ms. to show you all the places where she is right and you are wrong. She is only asking questions, knowing that sometimes the answer to the question will be NOPE, or STET. But if she doesn't ask, how can you be sure of your writing? And how can you catch the two cow/three cow problem? And so she asks, and it's up to you to not take it personally.

And so I extracted the fork from my heart and forged through the ms-that-was-not-quite-perfect, and sent it back, pretty confident that now it's as perfect as I can make it.

*Heart-fork: Perfect, pithy term stolen from sports columnist Jason Gay.


  1. I love this! Every writer should read it; it's a good reminder about how to take what we used to call "constructive criticism."

    1. Thanks, Jennifer. "Constructive criticism" = "fork to the heart." ;)

  2. Drawn pictures?! I want drawn pictures! Great piece--thanks for sharing! Ten months...that seems like a long time to ask us to wait.

    1. If you remind me, I will send a note to your editor asking for pictures on your next ms. It does help take the sting out of the commentary!