Friday, March 06, 2009


In Praise of Copy Editors

I'm always impressed by someone who does something well. A few days ago, I received my copy-edited manuscript in the mail, and sat down to get to work. After examining all the papers in my packet, I sat back and thought: Whoah. This isn't exactly going to be easy after all.

I think that the term "copy edit" isn't really accurate. A good copy editor is much more than someone who simply fixes commas and hyphens--two things which I am in the habit of abusing quite regularly. A good copy editor is an extraordinary kind of reader, like an editor, but with an eye for things other than overall plot lines, and character development.

Yes, my manuscript has been marked up to demonstrate where I forgot to capitalize something, or got all German and capitalized a noun that didn't need to be. But this copy editor also included a series of notes for me. She writes, for example, that I have a tendency to use the following words:

"smiled, grinned, very, sighed, a little bit"

She suggested I run a global word search to see just how often my characters smile (a lot, I guess) and to decide if I really want them looking like this. It's fascinating. Almost like a little psychology test where we see what Marie thinks her characters do all the time which, the difficult material aside, involves looking happy.

She did all the things you dream a careful reader will do for you--noting where I might have screwed up a season, wondering if the inclusion of a detail was supposed to mean something ("wearing indigo and straw hats"--were the hats made of indigo and straw? Were the clothes indigo colored and the hats of straw?), checking all the Japanese terms that are familiar to the west--excuse me, the West--and those that are not. I was fascinated. And flattered that someone would put this much work into something I had created.

God bless copy editors. It's a rare and important skill for anyone who cares about turning out a good book. Long after the deep editing phase of this publication process has finished, I find myself wanting to try to make the book even better for another person I have never met, but who has given it her professional all to try to make me better. So, thank you, mysterious person!

(Edited to add: Apologies to the copy editor for all the typos and errors in this and other posts on my blog.)

This seems fascinating indeed.
Very cool :) Those are the sorts of things I would look at when I used to copy-edit for people. It's been a long time, though.
Thanks! I thought it was interesting--a whole new way to read.

The first time I tried to tackle the copy edits, I was intimidated, but it's going better now. Mostly, I'm just fascinated by how good the editor actually is.

And Heather--I bet you would be good at this kind of thing.
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