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Monday, August 24, 2009

Spirit Lens Copyedits: The Nitty Gritty

As my long ago post noted, I've been fortunate with copyeditors through the years, having only one bad experience - an overzealous copyeditor who worked on Revelation. I had to spend a lot of time undoing what she had done. I've never had any problem getting my copyedit changes accepted, whether I've rejected or altered the CE's suggestions.

One glance at the Spirit Lens manuscript, and I knew this was going to be more complicated than usual.

As you might be able to tell from other postings, I am meticulous about words. I tweak and change, ever searching for the right words to evoke mood, time period, character information, action. The difference between shout and scream is important. Burned and the archaic form, burnt, have a different sound and feel to them, and egads evokes a very different time locale than godamighty or by Grapthar's Hammer. Words are an intricate part of world building. I feel that my job isn't done until I have all the right ones.

I was also well trained in grammar and spelling, and a lot of my craft learning was how to adapt the formal writing rules I learned in school for fiction writing. My manuscripts are long, somewhere between 150, 000 and 180,000 words. By the time I turn it in after revision, most of the words are the ones I want, and almost all spelled right, and put together with every regard for proper grammar. Where the grammar is informal or incorrect, I've chosen it to be that way. Though, to be honest, I am terrible at compound words: sylph-like or sylphlike, mid-afternoon or midafternoon, and so forth.

Words are also a critical component of narrative voice. Is my narrator educated or ignorant? Thirty years old or ten? Is he verbose or terse? Is he a storyteller or is he a librarian converted into a royal investigator? All these things should be revealed not only in the character's dialogue, but also in the narration of the story if it is told in an intimate point-of-view. Sometimes, a character speaks in a rural or uneducated dialect. Sometimes a character speaks in fragments. Sometimes particular archaic or peculiar words show up in a character's voice to evoke a time that is not 21st century USA.

These were the sources of most of the corrections caused the problem with this copyediting experience.

One of the CE's tasks is to make "suggestions" for clarity. I deliberately chose to use the metric system in these books, rather than make up a system of measurement. Because Sabria is in the throes of a scientific explosion akin to the first half of our 17th century, I wanted the feel of a very precise measurement scheme. [And yes, I know the metric system came into use somewhat later than that, but this is not historical Europe! It certainly COULD have been in use in the 17th century!] Sabria is also a kingdom that is very much a Mediterranean-style landscape and feel, so I didn't want to use the US spellings of the metric measurements. I preferred centimetre to centimeter, and litre to liter. The CE kindly changed all the spellings to the US spellings and queried every single measurement as to whether I wouldn't rather use yards, miles, and gallons for measurement. Aarrgh. Lots of "no"s and lots of stets ensued.

Another of the CE's tasks is to correct grammar, and to make sure that a manuscript adheres to the publisher's styleguide with respect to spelling [honor vs honour, backward vs backwards, and so forth]. So I found some words in the narrative, which is Portier's voice, had been corrected. The aforementioned burnt as the past participle of burn. He speaks of ten days previous, rather than ten days ago. I had to stet all those well-intended corrections as well.

Portier also is a librarian, an intensely scholarly and logical man. He thinks in lists. He often speaks and thinks in bullet points. I express this in fragments. Every CE knows that sentence fragments are OK in fiction. Certainly in dialogue. Mostly they leave them alone, resisting the call of their formal English training that says sentence fragments are a no, no. This particular CE was really bothered by Portier's fragmentary thinking and attempted to create complete sentences out of many of them. In a few cases, her point was well taken, as the fragments did not follow logically from the prior sentence (which is what makes them work.) But for the most part, these efforts to neaten up the prose didn't work. That was a LOT of retyping and correction. I was really irritated as I did it.

But once I was done, I mellowed. The CE had been meticulous about the things she caught. Though I wished she had focused on more useful aspects of her tasks, the book was better for our mutual efforts. And that's what counts.
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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...
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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Spirit Lens Copyedits: Readthrough

No sooner had I come off a month of family visits and working on a short story last week, than the copyedited manuscript of The Spirit Lens arrived.

First task? Do a complete read-through without looking at the copyedits. Well, OK, I could have done this the week before the copyedits came, but...did I mention family fun? Short story? A little bout of summer surgery? Updating website? Actually, I wanted to wait until the last possible moment to maximize my distance from the words.

The purpose of a readthrough is not just to "get a feel for the story" again in preparation for final edits. This is the last chance to make any substantial revision. So I want to read carefully, looking for places where the logic doesn't work, getting a feel for the pacing and ferreting out plot holes. I watch for bits that got left out (or duplicated) in the revision process. Yes, I needed to make sure the dark incident in Portier's past was made clear, but maybe I overdid it, put in too much too soon, or some such. I hunted unresolved issues, eg. did I ever mention what became of the haunted guard captain? And I wanted to make sure that the resolution of The Spirit Lens was rock solid, ready to lead in to The Soul Mirror.

So what did I find?

It is amazing how your perspective changes after not looking at the mss. for two months. I found myself pleased with what I was reading. All the warts that I saw when up to my eyes in the details of revision had faded out because of the enforced breathing space. I found that my doubts about whether I had really laid out the chain of events clearly and whether I had belabored certain bits of history overmuch were laid to rest. And indeed, I did not miss those 10,000 words I cut out of it in the least. Nor had I left five thousand ragged edges where I'd pulled them out. It all seemed to work.

One of the best parts was reading those pieces I really labored over during revision. Mostly these were the pivotal scenes, the big changes in direction and emotional upheavals that MUST make sense, and yet only come clear once you've gotten to the end of the story. All of these pieces were much more improved than I remembered. I think the grand mystery - for, as I've said, The Spirit Lens is at heart a murder mystery - unwinds clearly and logically. And I think my three investigators' relationships - which form the primary emotional arc of the story - do the same. Whew! I really expected to need some continued revision, but all I found that needed doing were some word and phrase improvements and some very minor paragraph reordering. I even cut out a sentence here and there - bits I'd clung to, but suddenly stood out as wholly unneeded.

So now it was time to take a look at the copyedits.
[To review what the copyediting cycle is all about, take a look at From Sale to Shelf: Part 3.]

First thing I had to do was get set up. For the first time, I was going to be dealing with electronic copyediting and not a paper manuscript marked with varicolored pencil. OK, technology doesn't bother me. And even though I was given only a week to get the manuscript turned around, I didn't expect any problems
, especially given my feeling that the book was pretty clean. That was before I looked.

Stay tuned...
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Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Lion

Just arrived.

It is lovely. Stone. Heavy. Suitable for bookend. Very nice. Read more of this post!

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Heart's Coda (maybe)

This has been quite a month. The aforementioned medical issue included my first ever surgery - as I said before all with most satisfactory resolution. But I kept wanting to take naps all month - and I hate naps. And then the Song of the Beast story, tentatively titled The Heart's Coda, just ate my brain! Aidan was always such a sweetheart, you know, but he's been out there with the dragons for three very long years...

Oh, did you think I was going to tell you something else?

Since you looked, here's a snippet:

The man towered over me. Senai born, no doubt of it, with such exceptional height, thick, black hair, and strong, lean features. He appeared not so much burnt as angry. Not so much dead as tired and dirty and underfed. Eyes closed, face twisted in effort, he blurted, "Who?"

I swallowed the knots collected in my throat and attempted to bow from my prostrate position which I was not confident enough to alter. No Elhim in the world, not even my progenitor who is exceptionally tall and broad in the back for my race, would reach this man's shoulder. And the shredded garments, and the tangled hair grown out in all directions, even sprouted from his face—which I had been told was not at all his customary aspect—gave MacAllister a savage appearance. Surely living in the wild so long alone with beasts must tax a man's reason.

The speaker, as you may note, is an Elhim named Glyn par Davyn - yes, Davyn's "progeny." And no, the story does not address Elhim procreation. That will be matter for another story.

But thank goodness, the story is now done and sent away. Hooray! I will update with publication news when I have some.
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