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Copyediting and...stuff... [Sep. 12th, 2007|09:02 am]
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Few are the writers who tremble with  eagerness when the copyedited manuscript arrives for their perusal.  Fewer yet those who are still smiling eight hours later.   Most of us have had one copyediting horror story, and even if this isn't one of the bad ones, past trauma leaves us twitchy and edgy at every red mark on the page.

If it's a good copyeditor, most of the red marks will have nothing to do with us....the copyeditor's job is to mark the manuscript for the typesetter, so that things we can't do (or shouldn't do) on the computer are made clear: which set of all-caps should be small caps, which line break is just a line break and which gets a little squiggly bit of decorative stuff in it, what size the chapter heads should be, and so on.   The writer's eye glides easily over the page when all the red marks are that sort of red mark.

But those others--!  Copyeditors also have authority to mark for correction our misspellings (the wail of "But I checked  it four times!" goes unheard by the copyeditor...if there's a "teh" left, they're supposed to find it and mark it.)   If there's a missing set of quotation marks you didn't notice...if you ended a sentence with a comma and not a period, if there's a space missing between words...all those typo-related things.   Well...that's not too bad, if they get them all right.    But then...then the famous treading on authorial toes begins.  

Did you use the same word twice in the same paragraph (or even, nearby paragraphs?)    That's an "echo" and the CE will mark it and may even be bold enough to pencil in his/her idea of a good substitute.   Sometimes the CE fixes one echo only to create another.  Or sometimes the suggested word is wrong--in meaning, in tone, in sound (for instance, creates a row of long-i sounds, or has too many syllables and breaks the flow.)   Unintentional echoes should, of course, be dealt with...but most of the time, in my experience, the CE's suggestion isn't the best.   

CEs seem to be the last line of junior high grammarian defense against standard usage on things like expletives in dialogue (they want it all spelled out properly: Damn it, not Dammit...which, by the way, is read differently and *feels* different.)   They are particularly strict on word division, combination, and hyphenation, even when the words in question were created for a science fiction universe set in a galaxy far, far away and centuries hence.  They insist on inserting unnecessary (easily understood by the average reader) relative pronouns, so sentences begin to sound like something designed for sentence diagram exercises.  They want to flatten all to the current standard for American business, which  is, for a fiction writer, pretty damn (they want damned) flat.  

The bad CEs (not the one I'm currently dealing with, but last year's, and another one who gave a friend fits this year)  decide to rewrite the book,  changing words, phrases, and punctuation (and sometimes characters and action) with a lavish disregard for whose name is on the cover of said book.  

It is the writer's job to return the copyedited manuscript in a tearing hurry and in a form clearly understandable by the typesetter.  The "stet" should line up with what you're stetting; the underline for the "leave this alone"section needs to be obvious.  But if the CE has written all over that line, offering corrections of dubious worth, and filled the margins with a long explanation of why he/she made that change...where the !**@! are you supposed to put the "stet"?  (You aren't supposed to erase the CE's marks...the entire history of marks should be visible to the typesetter, I've been told.) 

I don't mind if CEs question something...a neat red question mark with one or two  words is fine.  I would rather have the question mark than a suggested correction.  Let *me* decide which of the echoed words should be changed, and to what.  I don't mind if the CEs mark an inconsistency (in fact, I'm glad it was caught) but again I would prefer a question mark, a short (not paragraph long) explanation, and the chance to fix it myself, so I'm not trying to write even tinier in blue or green pencil (only the CE gets to use red pencil and nobody uses ink) in and around the red stuff.  I would like CEs to realize that a lot of people have read this before they have, and the main editing and line editing have already been done.  It's not their job to fix what they think are plot problems, because those aren't plot problems:  those are problems caused by reading like a CE (which they're supposed to do) and not like a reader.  Particularly in SF/fantasy, where the world the writer is creating for the reader may be far from 21st century everyday, the CE should be wary of idly changing words, phrases, capitalization, etc.  All we writers have, to create these strangenesses, are the words we use and the order in which we use them.  Every word either sharpens or blurs the focus we're trying to create.  No one expects the CE to "get the vision"....but CEs need to know that the vision exists, that they don't get it, and thus they should tread warily (use the question mark, rather than crossing out a word and writing in their own.)

The writer who raises a stink about a CE is always at risk of being considered a problem child, someone hard to work with.   Unless the CE has been very bad indeed,  the writer's protest that the CE's correction ruined the feel or the flow may be seen as fussy and arbitrary.   So the writer faced with a lot of copyedited manuscript to get through in the typically short time allowed (because at this stage the writer does not have the option of taking a few more days to work on it--the book is on a production schedule and must arrive at the typesetter's on time) may be tempted to give up and let it all go.  

That's a mistake.  Whose name is on the cover of the book?  Not the copyeditor's.  Whose style is going to be savaged by reviewers?  Not the copyeditor's.  In fact, the average reader will never know who the copyeditor was (many times, neither does the writer), or what the copyeditor did, or even that changes made by the writer can be un-made in production (it happens. I'm not the only writer who's discovered that an earlier draft was used instead of the final one.   For me, only once.)

So the copyedited manuscript is...a strain in the life of every writer, no matter how good the CE is this time, and the memory of the horrors another time never really disappears.

And again, ritual disclaimer, the one I'm working through now is not that bad.


[User Picture]From: touchstone
2007-09-12 03:41 pm (UTC)
It seems like if the CE /wants/ to offer a long explanation of their reasoning behind the correction, there ought to be some other way of doing that than scribbling it in the margin and getting in the way of the actual edit marks (and subsequent revisions). Numbered endnote comments, maybe?

So the writer faced with a lot of copyedited manuscript to get through in the typically short time allowed (because at this stage the writer does not have the option of taking a few more days to work on it--the book is on a production schedule and must arrive at the typesetter's on time) may be tempted to give up and let it all go.

This sounds familiar. It's axiomatic that software testing never gets done until it's too late to fix most of the problems that are found. Of course, in your case it's more a matter of it not being done until it's too late to UNfix the 'problems' that were found. I understand the need to have a firm schedule, but it feels awfully shortsighted sometimes.
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[User Picture]From: desperance
2007-09-12 03:51 pm (UTC)
Is true. Go you. Except - the CEs who worked on my books at my last publisher were fabulous: scrupulous in their given tasks and utterly unintrusive elsewhere. We write each other fan letters, and I am desperately hoping that I can inveigle my new publisher into using them when this book's at that stage.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2007-09-12 04:03 pm (UTC)
I've had some really, really good ones, too. They are worth their weight in gold, IMO.

And then there was last year's....
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[User Picture]From: domynoe
2007-09-12 03:57 pm (UTC)
Really interesting from both side of the issue for me. I have yet to get a silly book done enough to submit anywhere, but I can imagine the feeling of receiving a manuscript back all marked in red.

On the other side of the coin, I've just started working as an editor at a very small, new, press so am still learning that dividing line. So far I've been lucky and my authors have liked what I've suggested. It also helps, i think, that this is not marked physically on paper but done electronically.

Definitely some interesting points to think about though! :)
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2007-09-12 04:29 pm (UTC)
Well...I don't know about small houses, but in large houses the in-house editor isn't usually the copyeditor--the in-house editor handles true revisions and maybe line-editing (which overlaps copyediting in other houses.) I've had editors who did no line editing themselves, and others who did it in a separate pass, like my current one. Copyeditors are usually (in my experience only, I hasten to add) outside people who work on contract. The good ones are incredible--I had one spot an error (a real error) in a ms. being brought out in a new format, an error that had slipped past everyone (me, readers, editors, previous copyeditors) in all earlier editions. The bad ones are incredible in a different way.

I've never had a problem (well, only once or twice) with my editors handling revision...all praise to them, and my books have been improved (some of them no doubt saved) by good editors. But my feeling is that when the book's actual editor says it's finished (in terms of revisions), then it's done: the copyeditor should limit his/her input to typo-level errors, or at most put up the question mark. Copyeditors who get too involved in rewriting a book often miss the very errors they were hired to find...it's *hard* to hold your attention on the word by word, letter by letter, kind of proofreading, and as soon as attention switches to book-level reading, copyeditors' eyes can glide past a "teh" just as easily as anyone else's eyes.

As for electronic v. on-paper...there's good and bad both ways. I like electronic for line-editing (if only my editor's version of Word and mine were identical...and if only Word were a decent program to start with, she mutters...) as it's definitely quicker than sending the ms. back and forth, and it's easy then to have one's own copy of the final version. Had that experience for the first time this summer. Anything done in computers, though, has the potential to go *poof* with a variety of accidents. I don't know if anyone's doing copy-editing electronically--my editor indicated that it wasn't being done at my publisher's. There are special typesetting symbols the CE would have to be able to insert (like the 1 over the m for an em dash.) One writer/editor I know tells writers who submit to her to use a format I'm not familiar with (not the standard typing I was taught) to make life easier for the typesetter.

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