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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Spirit Lens Copyedits: Electronic!

So how is electronic copyediting - as implemented by my particular publisher - different from paper copyediting?


Roc has hooked its electronic copyediting to Microsoft Word 2003's version of Track Changes. [Note: they may also have other varieties for authors who don't use Word, but I do, so this is what I received to work with.] I am familiar with Track Changes, and unlike many who curse it, I find it very useful, especially late in the revision cycle. Say I want to change the personal history of a secondary character at the last minute. I can figure out where I need to thread the needed changes/additions throughout the manuscript and have those things highlighted by Word. I can then read through the appropriate sections, taking a look at how the new work flows. If I decide I don't like it, I can reject the changes. If I like how it reads, I can accept each piece, further modifying as I go, if I wish. Since my manuscripts run 500+ pages - this kind of functionality is really helpful.

I was curious to see how this was going to work for copyediting, which has to be a very precise operation. A copyedited manuscript is, in essence, a set of instructions for how a manuscript should be translated from the author's typed document to a correctly spelled, "grammared," and styled printed page.

The electronically copyedited version of The Spirit Lens is laid out fully justified, with page headers as they would be in the actual book. Titles, chapter heads, extracts [such as letter texts or poems or book extracts], blank lines, and such are attached to Word "styles" that will apply the appropriate fonts and sizes. Ellipses, em-dashes, italics, labels, and so forth are set according to the house rules.

I see the copyeditor's [CE's] changes highlighted throughout the manuscript. Additions to the text are in red. Deletions are shown in "margin bubbles" with dotted lines connection to the text location where they were removed. The CE's questions and comments are in pink margin bubbles attached to the word or phrase to which they are related. I see only a few purple bubbles, which from the initials AS rather than CE, I can tell are comments from my real editor [Anne Sowards]. So far, so good.

So how do I go about interacting with all this?


I get a list of instructions along with the manuscript, which tell me how to set up Track Changes options to be compatible with the file they've sent me. I am also to set up my identity as "Author" and initials as AU. This way, my comments and changes are linked to me, distinguished from those of the CE and AS, (and, I hope, will take precedence over all others!)

My task will be to review all the changes already made, approve or disapprove, and answer any queries the CE has made. In addition, I want to add in all the changes I've decided on in my readthrough.

To add in my own stuff is easy, of course. I just make the alterations in the manuscript. Additions show up as red, deletions in blue bubbles, etc, all with the initials AU attached. I don't take a single pass to do this, but plan to add them in as I step through what the editor and copyeditor have done.

If I agree with the change the CE has made, all I have to do is leave it.

If I want to answer a query, I just click on the colored bubble, click on the "new comment" box on the Track Changes toolbar, and type in my answer. It is labeled with AU and linked to the CE's bubble.

What gets interesting is how to disagree. On a paper manuscript, one put dots under the changed text and wrote stet in the margin. This says "leave the text as is." If I wanted to change that particular piece of text in a different way, I would use my differently colored pencil and change it.


One might assume that I could just use the Track Changes function to "Reject" a change the CE put in, but, in fact, the file has been set up so that the [Accept or Reject Changes] function is turned off. The publisher wants a record of the suggested change, and the author's acceptance or rejection. At first this seems clumsy, but then, they had the same record before - it was just paper and colored pencil marks!

So I can't just reject the CE's changes that I don't agree with. They give me two methods to reject a change.

  1. I can link a comment bubble to the change and type in stet.

  2. Or I can just go into the text and put it back like I want it - or alter it in a different way. The newer change will be labeled with my initials.



The problem with #1, is that it leaves the text in the incorrectly altered state. Somehow this bothers me more than that old paper stuff. On paper, the original text is still present. [Yeah, yeah, the electronic version of the original is still present, but you can't SEE it.] Having the new text actually incorporated into the manuscript seems more "real" somehow, than colored pencil marks on paper, even if the final reviewer [don't know who does this] can just hit reject and it all goes back to the way it was before. And one more thing, some "changes" like rearranging a sentence can result in five "delete bubbles" and two added phrases. I would have to stet each one of them. What a mess if I didn't get them all!

So I choose the second method and put the words back the way I want them in the text, sometimes exactly as they were, sometimes slightly modified. Sometimes I add a comment box to explain why I rejected the change. It is certainly easier to do all this electronically. It's much more readable than anything I penciled on a page. And I can make sure I get the words exactly the right place, rather than using arrows.

So what are the problems I ran into? From a software point of view, this technology is pretty astounding. Keeping all the versions right there so you can see how it was, how it is, and how it would look after the changes are applied, as well as showing all the individual changes and comments is really complicated.

Where the complexity gets in the way is often with [Find and Replace]. It is great to be able to say I want to change all instances of the word Librarian to librarian because the CE didn't understand that this was only a job and not a formal title in this culture. But somehow the change tracking functionality interferes with Find and Replace (probably because it goes off in the weeds adding deletion bubbles and so forth) and it can't find them all. I have to search one at a time. And then switch to just [Find] and then switch back to [Replace]. What a pain.

It is also very difficult to make sure that punctuation marks are correct around a change in the text. All those little dotted lines to connect changes with the bubbles in the margins often cover up periods or commas. To make absolutely sure it's right, I have to switch to Final mode, where it shows me what the text will look like when all the changes are applied. I think there is a lot of room for punctuation errors.

Yet another anxiety (smaller) is that sometimes words that are styled italics, don't show up that way. You have to know to look in the style box on the toolbar. I don't have confidence that they're going to be done right if I can't see it. (I believe in WYSIWYG.) And yet, not having the clues to the installed "styles" means I'm not sure which one to use or even whether I need to do anything.

I wouldn't want to be the person who has to go through all of this to choose which set of changes to use. But I'm guessing it will be easier than sorting through the paper and trying to figure out where the pink arrow goes and decipher people's handwriting.

I guess we'll see when it all comes out in the wash - or the proof pages.

But, of course, the big question with copyedits is: did the CE make good changes or ask good questions or was this a copyeditor who wanted to play god? It sure looked like there were a lot of changes in this "clean" manuscript of mine.

Stay tuned...

2 comments:

Kathy Amen said...

Gee willikers! That sounds complicated! I'm so glad you're that much more organized than I am 8-)

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I too have found track changes to be invaluable when critiquing online, especially in entire manuscripts.

But I'm thinking these complications are one of the reasons I write shorter, leaner books than you do. :) Sometimes I think I'm just not smart enough to keep up with so many pages!