Copy Edits, Take 2

For me, working on copy edits means having all the following at hand (or just down the hall):  dictionary, Chicago Manual of Style, directions and notes from publisher (I manage to screw up at least once anyway, but I try not to),  the mechanical pencil (because it stays sharp) and a spare,  and of course layout space on the kitchen table, so I can arrange three stacks–the unread, the stack I’m working on (100 pages at a time), and the stack of “first round done” pages.  Reserve dictionaries and the online references are also around, but not on the kitchen table.

Hands washed, no food or drink on the table, clean dishtowels ready to lay over the “open” pages any time I get up and at night.

That’s ideal.  For me.   Then there’s what happens while you’re making plans.  Saturday, first day, went well.  200 pages got their first run-through; I made notes for questions to Editor (not many) and went to bed not too late.  Woke up at 4 am hot and sweaty and thought “Am I coming down with something?”  No, the AC was giving up.   This is not a good thing to have happen on the margin of August in Central Texas, with predictions topping 100F (and heat indices higher) for the next week.  Or so.

Obviously–as this was the weekend with no actual repair available until at least Monday, probably later–Plan B needed to be instituted.  Husband & son went off to church.  I went to the other house (where son stays on weekends, where Houseguest stayed in late June), and turned on the AC there, which is used only when we have guests (son doesn’t use AC in his apartment in the city, and could use it here but usually doesn’t.  Ah, youth. When I was his age, I didn’t use AC in hot weather either.  70+ is not early 30s.  Worked in this house (as it got steadily hotter) until the other one was cool enough, then started lugging the necessities (other than computer, which is embedded, so to speak, in this room) over there.

The books.  The 710 pages of ms plus publisher notes & directions.   The reference books.   A few necessities so I could stay over there, maximizing the work time (and minimizing the “sweating too much to touch the papers without leaving spots” time.)

Then it’s the page by page look at every mark the CE made (many of them are markups for Production) and considering those that are actual editing marks (aimed at what I wrote.)  I’m also looking for the problems I didn’t see earlier (caught a big one.)   Like most fiction writers (not sure about nonfiction writers) I have a love/less-love relationship with CEs.   When they find the typo, I love ’em.  When they find that a whole phrase (without which the sentence doesn’t make sense) is missing, I love ’em.    When they point out that eleven people on one page turned into ten people on the next, I love ’em.  When they mess with the rhythm of my sentences…not so much.  When they confuse an order or an explanation with a question and stick ? on the end, not so much.   When they are inconsistent themselves in applying one of their more arcane rules, not so much becomes almost not at all.

I try to start with the attitude that if they’re bothered, maybe readers would be.   Although SF readers, and military SF readers in particular, are bothered by things that do not upset CEs, and not bothered (usually) by “correct” grammar that is disappearing rapidly from both spoken and written material.  (“Whom”–and that’s a word I like–is one example of a rapidly disappearing word in American English.)   I’ve had both good and less good copy editors (and I’m sure they feel the same way about writers!)    What is “good?”  For me, someone whose choices make sense, in light of the references I use.   I’m not a perfect writer (no one is!)  and am generally amenable to informed guidance…if the copy editor understands what kind of book it is.   What kind of characters are speaking (and thus why they may habitually use nonstandard or at least imperfect grammar.)    Of course, CEs usually work on more than one kind of book, and they’re working on tight deadlines, too, just as I am, so they don’t have time for a leisurely read through and contemplation of my (or another writer’s) full intent.  So I’m lenient, or try to be.   I try to understand why they marked a word or punctuation mark or passage and see if their correction is something I can accept.

Sometimes it is.  Sometimes I agree that there was a problem, but don’t like their way of fixing the problem.  Sometimes I don’t think there’s a problem even after reading the entire page (and maybe another) out loud, and silently, several times.   If it’s their fix I don’t like,  I draw a line through theirs and fix it my way.   If I don’t think there’s a problem, I draw a line through their line and STET the whole thing.  But I give them the careful reading I want them to give me, including surrounding text.  This often produces side benefits, like finding out that I had conflated two cities on two different continents, and had characters traveling to one and arriving at the other (on the wrong continent.)  Careful reading through, many times…eyes on the page…makes books better.  (How I missed the one where apparently I fell asleep and landed an elbow on the keyboard…have no idea.  Glad the CE spotted it.  It did stick out.   Unless something glitched in the emailing of it.)

So now I’m in Phase 2 of the process…going back over the pages again, this time back to front, to check for anything I missed in the first round, and considering the pages turned sideways, whose more complex problems I now have to work on.   Two of three of these may require referring to Editor, this time, but perhaps,  with computer access full time now, I can solve them myself.   Compared to some in the past, this has been an easy set of copy edits (aside from the burnt-out part in the AC.)

2 thoughts on “Copy Edits, Take 2

  1. I really enjoy this insights into how the whole writing process works for you! And living in Florida, I can empathize with you on the intermittent A/C… whew!

  2. Dale: I can only hope that all the years we didn’t use AC make up for the years we really need it in old age.

    Glad you’re enjoying the writing process stuff. It’s individual, a one-woman’s-experience, not a rulebook, but there are commonalities because the more the book gets hooked into the Publishing Process, the more the same things need to be accomplished by somebody.

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