As you know if you’ve been following this series on copyediting, copyeditor Sandra Spicher is an important member of the editorial team that is bringing you The General’s Women, my upcoming (March 2017) biographical/historical novel. I've just spent a rather intense but enjoyable few days reviewing Sandra's work on the manuscript I sent her a couple of weeks ago.
I might have enjoyed a few (quite a few?) glasses of wine while I was writing this book, but it wasn't written drunk. It is definitely being edited sober, however. The copyediting stage of the project isn’t quite finished: Sandra still has to do a final run-through of the whole thing and make sure it is clean and ready to go the formatter. But we’re almost there. And I enjoyed (really truly!) working through the manuscript carefully, line by line, paying close attention to Sandra’s suggestions. Readers deserve a text that's free of errors, so I’m very glad for her help.
I've been writing for decades and I like to think that my work is pretty clean, but I'm always surprised at the things that get past me. Here are several examples of the kind of suggestions Sandra made. My responses are in italic.
- Suggest using British spelling “grey” for “gray.” This was a major choice in the very beginning, since one of the point-of-view characters is British. My decision: stay with American spelling and punctuation throughout.
- Instead of “in Brompton Road,” should it be “on Brompton Road”? Decided to stay with “in Brompton Road,” as a dialect marker for Kay, the British character. There are several other British markers: smashing, jolly, bloody.
- He lit his cigarette at the top of this page [correcting a second cigarette lighting]. Ack. Why didn’t I catch this? So careless!
- There are several ways to handle headlines. Suggest small caps—but whatever you decide, make it consistent. Right. Small caps it is, throughout.
- You might have another way to get around the parentheses (or you might decide to keep them). Sandra feels that parentheses interrupt the reader’s flow of thought and helped me see when I was using them unnecessarily. Usually, I could restructure the sentence to get rid of the interruptions (but not always).
- Brand names aren’t usually italicized. I’m glad that copyeditors know things like this, so I don’t have to remember.
- Be careful with the timing of this one [mention of the U.S. Air Force, in 1944] : the U.S. Air Force didn’t exist as a separate service until 1947. Before that, it was called the U.S. Army Air Forces. Yikes! Sandra is right! I’m so glad she caught my anachronism.
- “Soberly” isn’t wrong, but some people think it is (meaning “not drunkenly”), so I usually suggest changing to “somberly.” Excellent suggestion. I like the way Sandra reads the text with the reader in mind.
- Parker ‘51. The pen was named for Route 51 and the company’s 51st anniversary, so no apostrophe is needed. Another interesting factoid. Now I know!
Working through the copyedited manuscript of this long (125,000-word) book took four full seven-hour days, but it was enjoyable work that took me back into the text. I deeply appreciated Sandra’s critical engagement, her intelligence, and her experience. Her work made this book much better, and I’m grateful.
Another blog post coming soon: Developing the cover for this author-published book.
Reading note: Discriminating readers look for reasons to trust a writer and reasons not to. Sloppy expression and carelessness in the details are two reasons not to. The copy editor’s job, then, is to ferret out such infelicities. We do this in order to help the writer forge a connection with the reader based on trust— trust that the writer is intelligent and responsible, and that her work is a reliable source. We do it to help craft an article that pleases, a report that allows the reader to coast along through its ideas without slowing for red lights at every corner. And we do it— don’t we?— because we derive satisfaction and pride from knowing how.--Carol Fisher Saller,The Subversive Copy Editor