Loving the Copyeditor

Update: My copyeditor has given me permission to use her name. She’s Alison Miller, and she’s great. 🙂

As I write this, I am deep into the copyedits on Hero-Type, and I wanted to take a moment to say something.

I [heart] my copyeditor.

It wasn’t always this way. When I first received the copyedits for Fanboy, I think the sight of all those corrections and suggestions sent me into some sort of shock. It took me a week or so of carefully examining the changes before I came to understand exactly how important this was.

I doubt she knows this because I stet a bunch of stuff, but it’s true. She’s great. She catches so many of the stupid, boneheaded things I do.

Since my books so far have all been written in first-person, present tense, I tend to, uh, suspend a lot of the rules of grammar as I need to. If it “feels” like something the character would think on the spur of the moment, I ignore what grammar tells me and I go with it. My copyeditor (and I’m deliberately not using her name because she doesn’t know I’m posting this and for all I know she’s a very private person who would rather not be named on my blog) dutifully fixes the most egregious examples of this.

Sometimes I decide I like things broken and leave them that way.

Sometimes — on second thought — I realize she’s right.

Of course, there’s no way for HER to know which way I’m going to lean at any given moment, so she’s stuck fixing all of them, spending her time and wearing down her brown colored pencil when she could be playing Xbox or something. And then I come along and — whimsically, I’m sure it seems — stet some of them and leave others.

I wish I had an explanation for it. But I don’t. I just chalk it up to “it FEELS right” and I hope that the readers agree with me in the end.

This can be vexing to the other folks in the process, though, I admit.

Here’s an example: In Boy Toy, there are two sections of the book titled “Flashbacks, Not Flickers.” On the title pages for those sections, I differentiated them with parenthetical Roman numerals, so that they looked like this:

Flashbacks, Not Flickers
Flashbacks, Not Flickers

When the copyedits came through, the copyeditor removed the parentheses. They were, after all, unnecessary.

But when I saw the final page proofs, I put them back in. “Why?” my editor wanted to know.

“I don’t know why,” I told her. “It just LOOKS right that way.”

And I really had no better explanation.

Stuff like that probably drives editors and copyeditors insane.

As does stuff like this: I know the rule about capitalization after a colon. I swear to God, I know it. Or, rather, my BRAIN knows it. But my fingers, apparently, don’t. And my fingers, unfortunately, do the typing. So my copyeditor ends up fixing those times where I screw up capitalization after a colon. Which is a LOT.

I sort of figure my copyeditor thinks I’m an idiot. Because I make dopey mistakes, but I also intentionally do things wrong. Like in my next book, I have a moment where the main character’s mom leaves him a voice-mail. She asks him to call her back because she has something to tell him and she wants to do it “in person,” not on voice mail.

My copyeditor dutifully pointed out that talking to someone on the phone is NOT “in person.” Which, like, I knew, but I was thinking of how people say stuff like that all the time without being precise or right about it, so it didn’t bother me.

But here’s the thing — she’s right. Because you can abstract too much from your characters and remove yourself too many layers from the reader. It’s asking too much for the reader to make those multiple leaps of logic, to assume and to understand that Mom is just prattling off the cuff here and not speaking precisely. Just because people do that in real life doesn’t make it acceptable in fiction. Not if it throws the reader.

So anyway, I [heart] my copyeditor because she finds dumb things that I do and she makes sure they don’t slip through the cracks.

If you’re interested in copyediting, I urge you to check out Deanna Hoak’s blog. Deanna is a well-respected copyeditor (focusing mainly on the SF/F field, but not exclusively) and her blog archives are a wealth of information on the art and science of copyediting.

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