Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Copyedits and Me

What I'm reading: Sizzling Sixteen, by Janet Evanovich
Thanks again to Mark Danielson for yesterday's post and photos.

Double-duty today. I'm also over at Author Expressions, so you get two blogs for one!

Picking up from Monday’s post:

Quick recap. Some differences between submissions, first-round, and copyedits.
Once your manuscript hits the editing phase, you should be fixing things, not changing things. This isn’t the time to do your searches for overused words, or clunky construction. That should have been done before you sent the manuscript off. When your first round editor sends comments, focus on what she’s said.

What do you do if you DO find a word or phrase keeps popping up as you’re dealing with first round edits? If you’ve got an understanding editor, you can probably make the changes. But do everyone a favor, and make sure those types of problems get noted so you don’t make them again. (Although you’ll find new crutch words will replace the vacuum you’ve created.)

Your first round editor might ask for more significant changes. In When Danger Calls, I’d carefully written around a scene I didn’t want to show on the page—a combat scene, and I wasn’t sure I’d get it right, so I had written a generic “seven minutes later when the gunfire stopped” kind of transition.

Nope, my editor said. She wanted those seven minutes on the page. That required writing, not fixing.

Back to the copyediting. Here’s my process (and it’s pretty much the same for both first round and copyedits):

Go through the manuscript looking at the markups. Get a feel for what needs to be fixed or not fixed. Your editor shouldn’t have the last word; your name goes on the cover of the book. But NEVER assume that the editor has caught everything. Your name goes on the cover, right? So read the whole thing again. Every page.

As I mentioned on Monday, the copyeditors markups were primarily minor—punctuation, italics, hyphens, etc. But there were other suggested wording changes. I dealt with them. Some I agreed with, some I didn’t. In some cases, I decided I didn’t like what I’d had originally, but I didn’t like the copyeditor’s suggestion any better, so I rewrote. We’re talking words here, maybe sentences, but not scenes.

Another point. Choose your battles. If you’d prefer your version, but it’s not really that big a deal, let it ride. Because there’s probably going to be a suggestion down the line that you really, really disagree with. If you’re rejecting every suggested change, you’re likely to irritate the copyeditor,and you don’t really have the same back-and-forth relationship you have with your main editor.

Your copyeditor may question story content. My copyeditor included one question, about how long it would have taken a character to do some background searches. She didn’t think it could have happened as quickly as I wrote it. To address this, I spent much more time explaining my rationale, but it’s possible I’m too close to the work, and she’s seeing something I neglected to write.

After I dealt with all her comments, I went back to page one and started reading. What would have happened if I’d made the assumption that between first round edits and a copyeditor, the manuscript was ready to go?

Well, for one, Dalton’s jeans would have transmogrified into sweats between page 129 and 135. He’d have made a bandana appear from out of nowhere and then disappear on page 284. This is after two editors have gone through the manuscript—probably more than once. We won’t talk about how many times I read it!

Copyedit reading, for me is a balance. Because this is basically your last chance to catch continuity errors, you have to read for content. It’s a matter of balancing how much you can read and pay attention to both content and errors of punctuation, grammar, etc.

I found things where I was second-guessing myself about hyphens, or italics, so I added them my list of fixes, asking the copyeditor to decide—after all, her job is to be intimately acquainted with the Chicago Manual of Style and house style preferences. I’m supposed to write the story.

What’s next? I send my responses back, and they deal with them. One hopes that if we’re too far apart on anything, they’ll come back for clarification. However, things should be cool, since we were fairly close together all the way.

And there is one last chance to catch errors—but only actual errors--spelling, typos, etc., when I get the ARCs, and can read it one last time. For that read 1) I ask Hubster to read it for typos and 2) I’ll read it backward to avoid being caught up in the story (which, I’m happy to say, I’m still enjoying).


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Continuity errors! That's a big one for me and one I frequently don't catch. I've done the inadvertent clothes change you're mentioning a couple of times. :)

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth - in Finding Sarah, she was wearing pants at the beginning of the day, but a skirt later on. Luckily, I found it before the book was published. I think readers are more bothered by continuity errors than the occasional typo -- but I still prefer perfection!

Jemi Fraser said...

I've been caught in the continuity errors by my crit buddies a few times. It's not always easy to see them in our own work.

In a book I read a few weeks ago there was one similar error to the pants/skirt one. Nothing major but it made me smile.

Terry Odell said...

Jemi - once you start writing, you can never read the same way again!

Carol Kilgore said...

No one said it would be easy.

Terry Odell said...

Carol, you're definitely right on with that one. Write on.

Mary Ricksen said...

Editing is absolutely the hardest part for me. Especially without an editor who helps you.
It sure ain't easy is it?

Terry Odell said...

Mary, having an editor to 'share the load' changes the scope of the task. It's not so bad, as I don't have to second guess everything.

Annabelle Ambrosio said...

Now, tell us how to hire an editor.

Terry Odell said...

Ann, I've never hired an editor, so I wouldn't know. I've had great crit groups and my work was accepted by the publishers who then do the edits for publication. Maybe someone else stopping by has suggestions.

Roz Morris aka @Roz_Morris . Blog: Nail Your Novel said...

I've seen this from both sides of the manuscript. I've copyedited and also had copyeditors' comments. I've always been grateful if they've asked a question about whether something is possible, for instance in the time I've allowed in the story - because you can bet a reader will ask.
I agree, Terry, that you have to pick your battles. However, copyeditors are just as human as the rest of us and are sometimes wrong. I had arguments over one book where the editor wanted the possessive of princess to be princess', when it should be princess's. This is a mistake I see everywhere and I was horrified to find a copyeditor trying to introduce it in my work! I'm pretty hot on this because I also sub-edit magazines so I know what I'm talking about.

I'd also like to answer Annabelle's question - if you want a copyeditor for self-publishing that's a good idea, unless you're very good at spotting your own mistakes and producing work to a professional publishable standard. Grammatical mistakes, bad spelling and inconsistency will really undermine the reader's trust. But for sending to agents and publishers as a query, I don't think you have to worry too much. Just be as careful as you can.

Terry Odell said...

Interesting about the princess's/princess'. I go out of my way to avoid giving characters names that end in "S". But I've had different editors/house style guides do things both ways. I think I tried to look it up in the Chicago Manual of Style, but I've never been able to understand anything I find there--assuming I can even find the topic I'm looking for.

Thanks for answering Annabelle.

Kathy Bennett said...

All I can say is thank goodness for my critique partners. They have saved me from wrong clothes on my characters, or worse...having my characters in the wrong place!

Terry Odell said...

Kathy - yes, yes. Crit partners are invaluable.