Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Copy editing . . . still in progress

I love copy editors!

I am told that my writing is very “clean”, but nevertheless there is a pretty good handful of typos.

I think the job of a copy editor is not the same for, say, journalists as for novelists. What a copy editor does for a novel is:

a) look for and correct typos, such as teh instead of the.

b) look for missing or incorrect grammar, such as periods missing from the ends of sentences.

c) look for repeated words, such as “devastated” used twice in three sentences. (I really hate repeated words — well, most of the time — and they can be hard to spot, so I love having another set of eyes looking for them.)

d) Fix actual grammatical errors, such as (for me) changing which to that. (Honestly, I thought I had the back of my brain properly trained for this one, but evidently I still miss it sometimes. Unless gremlins go through my manuscript and introduce errors. Which sometimes seems plausible.)

e) standardize the style to fit the house style — that is, I prefer “Thaddeus’ jacket” to “Thaddeus’s jacket”, but Orbit’s house style dictates the later. I don’t have to worry about this when writing, because the copy editor fixes it.

e) look for inconsistent spelling in the made-up words in the book. Like I spelled a character’s name “Nerenne” 58 times and “Necenne” twice and the copy editor marked every single instance of the name to confirm the correct spelling.

f) look for inconsistent descriptions and stuff. Anybody’s eye color change halfway through? The copy editor will (hopefully!) catch this.

g) mark every single dash and every single bit of italics for the typesetter, even though this stuff is already in place in the manuscript.

What the copy editor does not do:

Mess with the writing. Every single time the copy editor suggests a change to the prose, the change is flagged for author approval. (Usually they are good suggestions.) I think this isn’t necessarily the case for newspaper editorials — I think sometimes copy editors smooth out clunky writing there — and I have no idea whether its the same for nonfiction.

Check for factual accuracy (as far as I know; maybe they’re supposed to but it doesn’t come up much with fantasy novels (I read one fantasy novel, though, where the author referred to a “mink” every time she meant an “ermine” and the error drove me just frantic since the two animals are NOT THE SAME — the ermine is less than half the size of the mink, for one thing — so fact checking is not actually irrelevant to fantasy).

Exercise dictatorial power over my grammar. If I want to break a grammatical rule, which I certainly will do to produce a specific “feel” to the sentence, then I stet it back to the original. But the copy editor makes me think twice and three times about all deliberate nonstandard grammar, which is undoubtedly a good thing.

Critique the writing. Although! My favorite copy editor EVER broke this rule to write “Love this!” in the margin at one point in CITY IN THE LAKE, and believe me, I did not complain. If you’re copy editing for me, feel free to insert compliments!

After this, last chance to remove typos comes with the page proofs. There shouldn’t be ANY TYPOS LEFT, but there will be. (Gremlins, remember?) This is the stage where I ask my Mom to read the manuscript after I’ve gone over it. She’s the sort of reader for whom grammatical errors light up in neon. Plus it expands her horizons as a reader, since she never reads any fantasy but mine.

So . . . all done with the copy edited manuscript! Except I made a few notes about things to look at again and that will take an extra day, but I can’t do it tonight. I’m having a potluck at my house and I’m making all the desserts, so not a chance I’ll get to this!

The desserts:

A cheesecake made with raspberries and rosewater.
An apple cake with cayenne both in the cake itself and the caramel glaze.
A lemon pudding cake.
Brownies with walnuts and an apricot glaze (if I have time).
Chocolate chip cookies, for the non-adventurous. Though it’s an odd recipe. But very good.

The apple cake is just to die for if you like a dessert that bites back. I’ll try to remember to post the recipe.

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6 Comments Copy editing . . . still in progress

  1. Mary Beth

    That apple cake sounds amazing. Definitely post the recipe!

    I minored in Editing, in my undergrad, and copy editing was always my favorite part. I’m the type who notices titchy details like that anyway (I nearly went mad reading one very well-regarded novel because of the author’s use of commas) and it was always fun to work on something that could be easily fixed and didn’t require the author to, say, rewrite half the book.

    Do you have a firm release date yet?

  2. Rachel

    Forgot to have the recipe handy, but I’ll definitely post it this week!

    I know! I am far more bothered by bad grammar now than I used to be — and it always bothered me. My biggest pet peeve is mishandling of verb tenses in first-person stories, which is way too common and drives me simply NUTS.

  3. Mary Beth

    One of my best friends is working on a third-person present-tense story right now, and I’ve had more than a few times reading it when I’ve wanted to sit her down for a grammar lesson about the proper use of the pluperfect. Of course, I only managed to learn it in my French classes–where I learned most of my English grammar, actually. Grammar is really getting the short shaft in middle and high school English classes these days, which is quite sad.

  4. Rachel

    Yes! You have to SWITCH from past to past perfect to present appropriately, and too often it doesn’t happen. Aargh!

    But I learned my grammar the easy way: by absorption. Not just from reading really good prose, either, but apparently by osmosis in utero. Thanks, Mom!

  5. Mary Beth

    The problem with learning grammar by absorption is that I generally have to explain my corrections with Justice Potter’s “I know it when I see it” test — it’s a gut-level reaction, either “This sounds right” or “This doesn’t sound right,” and it’s often hard for me to explain to someone else why that’s so. Which is why I took the fancy grammar classes in college, and then promptly forgot them all… Hey, but at least it helps in my own writing!

    Moms who read are the BEST.

  6. Rachel

    Yes, I get what you mean — I had to learn some of the formal rules in order to explain them, too. Though I try to come up with casual explanations and rules of thumb for students rather than using formal phrasing. Like you can say, “There’s usually a comma before “and”, but not when the “and” is linking items in a two-part list, such as “apples and pears”. That’s easier to remember and apply than “no comma before “and” if the subsequent clause is dependent” or whatever the formal rule is.

    And yep, Moms who read are indeed the best! Once in a library I heard a mother tell her child, “Now, pick the one you want to check out.” I just stared. The ONE you want to check out? Was she kidding? We were only limited by the number we could carry home.

    These days I do sometimes look up details if doing it by feel doesn’t work (the difference between “that” and “which” springs immediately to mind).

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