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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

From Sale to Shelf: Part 3

So I've finished revisions and mailed in a new manuscript. Now I'll usually go on to writing the sequel or whatever is next on the schedule. Some authors end up in multiple revision rounds, but fortunately, I've never had to do that. The principal work on this book is done, but not everything. So what comes next?

Many people are under the misapprehension that what editors do is correct grammar and spelling mistakes in a manuscript. Back in Part 2 of this post, I hope I gave a better idea of what an involved editor brings to the table. But someone still has to look at the details.

At some time a few weeks or months after I've submitted my revisions, I'll receive a fat package in the mail which is the exactly the same thick parcel I sent in with my revisions. My editor may have made a few changes as she read - I've never seen much more than a few sentence alterations, usually in regular gray pencil. But someone has gone in and made red marks all over the place. That person is a copyeditor.

Copyeditors are detail people who have three main tasks:

  1. to read for spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Thanks to some great teachers and boring homework back in my school days, I don't have much problem with these, though I'll say that figuring out whether a compound word is actually two words (half sister), hyphenated (half-hearted), or a single word (halfbreed) is my weakness. The CE will make her own dictionary of names and made-up words so that she can make sure they're always spelled and capitalized consistently, too.

  2. to mark up the manuscript for the typesetter, using traditional typesetter's markings to denote things like chapter or section headings, italics, ellipses, em- or en-dashes, specially formatted sections like letters, poetry passage, or epigraphs. This ensures such things are handled consistently throughout the book and enforces the publishers' particular typesetting "style."

  3. to read for continuity, eg. making sure a character doesn't have green eyes on one page and brown eyes on the next.

A good copyeditor will note other things she runs across during this very detailed read, and write a query in the margins about anything that seems problematical. I've had CEs catch errors that no one else has.

Once I receive the copyedited manuscript, my job is to answer all queries to make sure the CE hasn't uncovered a logic error or some such, and to review every change and mark the CE has made to ensure they are correct. I can undo any of them by writing stet in the margin. I'm not supposed to change "stylistic things" like how the chapter headings are to be typeset or how ellipses or em-dashes are handled.

But I occasionally have reasons to violate certain rules, and I want to make sure they remain as I wrote them. For example, you'll notice that even when Aleksander is referred to as "the Prince," Prince is always capitalized. Usually prince would only be capitalized when used in conjunction with his name, as in Prince Aleksander. I did this to reinforce the narrator Seyonne's view of Aleksander (you'll have to read the rai-kirah books to find out what that view is!) And sometimes my worldbuilding will mandate certain word usage or spelling that is not standard English. That's why I get to review.

Something else happens at copyedit time. In reviewing copyedits, I always sit down and read the whole story from start to finish one more time. And this is my last chance to make any wholesale change to the text. I've always got sentence or word changes to make, and because of my tendency toward wordiness, every pass demands I trim and tighten. So I end up removing a lot of words and phrases. Occasionally some larger issue arises. For example, when I realized that The Soul Weaver was not the end of the D'Arnath series, but the third of four books, I went back in at copyedit time and rewrote the ending.

I usually have about a week to ten days to do this review, and, in truth, it rarely takes that long. It involves one good detailed read with my green or blue pencil in hand (don't want to confuse my marks with the CEs marks). I also keep my handy-dandy Webster's Guide to Punctuation, my Oxford English dictionary (to confirm those compound words as CE's sometimes get them wrong, too), and a list of typesetter's marks close by. Any change I make has to be marked for the typesetter, too.

One always hears horror stories about copyeditors who change things they shouldn't or even rewrite pieces of the story. I did have one copyeditor who "corrected" a few long sentences by chopping them up and entirely changing their meaning, but those were easily fixed. The motivation was good, but the execution flawed! Thank goodness, all my other experiences have been great.

So are we there yet?

Not quite. Tune in for Part 4...


Unknown said...

These posts have been really interesting. I'm learning a lot about things that I never knew I wanted to know!

carolwriter said...

Great! That's exactly the point.