The Copy-editing Experience

I’ve always had copy-edits from editors who had published my stories. Usually they were small (these were short pieces). No matter how carefully I think I’ve reviewed a manuscript, or how many times, I can never get beyond ten pages without, months later, finding a dropped word, or the same work used twice ( “she reached for her her keys,”) or completely the wrong word, like “any” for “and.” And when I say, “Ten pages,” I probably mean “two.”

I often find typos on this blog, even when I’ve read every post more than once, so there you have it.

Wednesday morning I sent back the manuscript with my changes and comments. I think I had a good copy-editor. Her name is Alisha. I didn’t agree with everything she suggested, but I appreciated her keen eye. And, by the way, let me just say, “I hate Track Changes.”

Some of Alisha’s Deletions/Insertions and Comments had to do with Falstaff’s house style. For instance, I have breaks within chapters that designate shifts in point of view. I separate these sections with one asterisk. Falstaff uses three. Alisha had to find every one of my single asterisks and add two more. Every. Single. Time. And I had to accept them. Every. Single. Time. I could not figure out a way to do something like “Accept All.”

I had a similar experience with a thundering herd of commas. I have been changing my style around commas, and Alisha changed it back. I accepted all those Comma-inserts. And there were lots. Lots.

Yes, I do think that I could have argued about the commas, cited some grammar resource and left them out, but, honestly, I didn’t care that much. It was the tedium that got to me. And if it was tedious for me, think about how it must have been for her.

There were places where she felt a passage was not clear or was badly sequenced. Here, she did not make a change herself, but simply wrote the polite and neutral, “consider revising.” In 90% of those situations I agreed with her and made some sort of change

That left the other 10%, which were often choices of my personal voice and style. In one place, she wrote, “A phrase like [SOMETHING SOMETHING] might go well here,” and I replied, “Not my style.”

In a couple of places I fumed a bit because I was using language to highlight culture differences between my two main characters and I had taken some pains to do that. For instance, in one scene, Trevian, who is not from around here, sees a picture of Erin and her family at a picnic. The tables are festooned with streamers of blue, white and red. I intentionally scrambled the old “red, white and blue” to show the readers that the color order had no real significance for Trevian. Alisha: “This is not the usual order here. Is this intentional?” Me: “YES!!” (Okay, no caps and no exclamation points.)

In one specific place she used a word that is not the acceptable past tense. It isn’t modern, it isn’t second place but acceptable, it’s just wrong. I didn’t accept her change. Since I had about twenty places with erratic spacing between words (two spaces instead of one), several dropped words and the ravening horde of commas, I think she’s entitled to one mistake.

When I didn’t want to accept a change, I wrote “Stet” in the Reply to the Comment. “Stet” means “let it stand.”

I’m not sure what happens when I write “Stet.” It could be that the manuscript comes back with me with a more persuasive argument for change. I suppose, absolute, extreme worst case scenario, the publisher could refuse to publish the piece if I didn’t make a change. (“We like this books, but we really want the phrase, ‘she simpered’ instead of ‘she said,’ here, and we won’t publish until you fix it.”) Somehow I doubt it though.

So, off it went, Wednesday, May 8. And sometimes after this date, we’ll see what we see.

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