Sunday, February 22, 2009

Copy-Editing Hell

Today my guest is Pat Bertram, debuting author of A Spark of Heavenly Fire. Some of you may know her better as the author of the popular Book Marketing Floozy, and Bertram's Blog . Today she talks about a subject that all Print On Demand authors have to deal with in putting out a high quality and professional book.



I’m afraid that I’m going to be stuck in copy-editing hell for the rest of my life.

When I received my latest proof copy of A Spark of Heavenly Fire and found additional mistakes in the final proof copy, I screamed. Well, it was more of a bleat.

I’ve now decided that perfection at this point really is impossible.

I had the idea that single-handedly I needed to eradicate the POD publishers’ reputation for releasing less than stellar books, but there is a limit to what one (untrained) person can do. I am learning how to copyedit, though, and I do know one thing: however much copy-editors get paid, it is not enough.

The thing with mistakes is that they proliferate when you are not looking. You correct one, and in the process, create another. When I finished my novel, the manuscript was almost perfect — I’d read the thing out loud, so I would be sure to look at every single word, every single punctuation mark. Then . . . I did one final polish, took out all the extra justs and onlys, the particularlys and practicallys, the barelys and hardlys, the began tos, and the wases. The problem is, other words got deleted along the way (don’t ask me how, because I don’t know) and I didn’t catch them. Yikes.

And then there are the choices to be made. Is it ill-prepared or ill prepared? I originally had ill-prepared, but MS word said that was wrong, so I deleted the hyphen. And now I want it back for the simple reason that the hyphen is how it is commonly used. And what about brand new? My dictionary says it’s brand-new, but common usage has it as brand new. So which do I use? I think I’ll leave out the hyphen; that way there will be one less change to make.

Some of the changes that need to be made entail rewriting a sentence. In the proof copy, smelled is on two lines: smell-ed. Smelled can’t be hyphenated, so now I have to decide how to rewrite the sentence so smelled can fit on one line. I had “He fell silent for a moment, savoring the feel of her tee shirt- and jeans-clad body next to his. She smelled clean and fresh, like cucumber, or melon, or pear.” So how do I change the sentence, so that smelled can fit on one line? “savoring the feel of her thinly clad body”? savoring the feel of her tee shirt-clad body”? Neither of those do it for me. But now, writing this, I see what I can change. I can take out “for a moment”. (Yes, I know that the period belongs inside the quotation marks, but this is proofing, and perhaps whoever is making the changes to the print copy will think the period needs to be taken out.) See what I mean?

Copy-editors are not paid enough.

Well, now it’s put up and shut up time. Make the important changes, and try not to sweat the small stuff. I can guarantee, though, that whoever came up with that particular phrase is not a copy-editor. With copy-editing, it’s all about the small stuff.

***
Pat Bertram is a native of Colorado and is the author of A Spark of Heavenly More Deaths and Than One Fire. Bertram's books are now available for pre-order from Second Wind Publishing LLC.

21 comments:

Pat Bertram said...

Thank you for having me as a guest on your blog, Sia. I am truly honored.

I'd leave a longer comment, but I'm afraid that I might drag you down with me into copy-editing hell.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Oh God, Please don't. I face enough of that on my blog articles, lol!

It is I who am honored to have you on my blog Pat! You do so much on line so much with helping so many authors with the information in your blogs!

Judi Fennell said...

ahhh... I'm SO glad to have a copy editor. And I tell her that every time she calls me to discuss another comma she wants in and I want out. :)

No way could I make my deadlines without a copy editor. She makes my stuff look good - and all missing commas are solely my fault when you read the finished product. And I meant them to be (which is also giving Beth fits!)

readwriteandedit said...

Pat, I feel your pain. I want my stuff to be prose perfection. But you're right--we'll never get all the mistakes smoothed out. Not even with several copy editors looking over the work. I once put out my resume listing my middle initial as H or M or something else quite odd since my middle name is Ann. A friend laughed as she pointed it out to me. Nope, I'd overlooked it time and time again.

I'll work hard to get it right, but I'm trying not to obsess. After all, musicians can miss notes when they play. A painter can have a smudge on his canvas. I guess I can put up with imperfection.

As long as no one ever notices it!

jrafferty said...

Pat,

Copy editing is one of those left brain activities that I'm capable of doing, but tends to drive me a bit crazy. I'm parsing through a manuscript in my "free" time and can really empathize with the ordeal you describe.

Zoe said...

Here's what I've noticed. If it's not my writing, I'm able to catch more typos and errors than if I were editing my own writing. Since I've discovered this odd trait, I've sent more and more stuff out to a proofreader or a copy editor.

There really is no such thing as a perfect book, but it is still possible to strive for 99.9% and if you hit it, then when you run across that one dropped letter or missing period, it doesn't sting quite as bad, because it a lonely, lonely typo.

Sherrie Hansen said...

Thanks for the article... good job, I think.

I am shaking in my boots. My proof - hopefully - will be in today's today, and I'm sure I will find things that will send me into a tizzy... It's so disconcerting when you think you've found every last little - or big - thing, only to open to a random page and have something glaringly obvious jump out at you...

A. F. Stewart said...

As a fellow writer using POD publishing, I sympathize. I'm thoroughly convinced typos and errors reproduce when you are not looking.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Kinda like Bunnies, 'eh, AF?

the thing is, Mass Market paperbacks have errors too, don't think they don't. But I have nothing but admiration for the incredible work that goes into Trade paperbacks used by most POD. It's hard to move these quality books put out by dedicated authors, away from the vanity press stigm. But it is happening.

Keep up the good work.

Kat Sheridan said...

Oh, Pat, I feel your pain! Thank goodness for readwriteandedit and her fabulous editing skills (don't let her fool you!) I really thought I knew what I was doing until I got her edits back. YIKES! Don't worry about perfection. Just make it the best it can be, and let it go!

atlantis said...

I abhor editing and I’m really bad at it . Once my idea is out on paper , I lose interest in it , I don’t like tidying up , revising it or even re-reading it .
I submitted my manuscript of short stories to Publish America and they accepted it . They offered full editing service so I’m a happy camper 

~Sia McKye~ said...

My goodness, Adina, how did I miss that?

Editing, I hate it but it's a necessary evil.

ML said...

I gave up editing for Lent. Course, I don't write to begin with so it was easy.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Michael me lad, now I know that statement stretches the truth...

amydetrempe said...

Great article. I was really anxious to get my books, now not so much. Okay, yes, I am still really excited, just a little nervous about what I will find inside. Well, at least I know I am not alone and that almost everyone goes through this.

Nancy L. said...

Pat, being a freelance editor, I feel your pain. It is a tedious, often thankless job.

I recently finished editing a 700+ page historical novel for a client who wants to keep "fixing" it. I told him go ahead, it's your book!

Many people expect editors to be perfect, which of course, we are not. Neither are proof readers, and the "proof" is in the errors you find in almost any published book.

That being said, it's "ill prepared" and "brand-new", but you didn't hear it from me. :)

Happy editing!

Pat Bertram said...

Nancy, now you tell me when it's too late to switch back. Sheesh.

Thank you everyone for stopping by to keep me company in my hours of need.

Sheila Deeth said...

There's not even that many words in my book, but a friend still found a typo weeks later. And I'm sure words edit themselves when I'm not looking.

Christine Husom said...

Sia, Thanks for hosting Pat and Pat, thanks for being persistent--it will pay off! I understand exactly what you are going through. Yes, I too have changed/corrected something and created another problem--no idea how! After correcting my 3rd proof, I promised the publisher I was done going through it, but I am beginning to feel compelled to take another look . . .

Dana Fredsti said...

There are mistakes in MFH, Pat. And it was proofread by a veritable army. Not a lot of mistakes, but still...it's so irritating! I feel your pain.

Yana Olson said...

Being able to understand what an article is about is especially important for any copy editor who must also write display copy such as headlines and captions.



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