Sunday, December 02, 2012

In Praise of Copy Editors

My self-imposed deadline for publishing my first novel came and went yesterday. I'm a little disappointed, but I'd rather publish a good book a little bit late than an okay book on time. One of the reasons it's going to be late is because of my copy editor, Christina Miller. Oh, not because of her computer problems, although that contributed a few days. It was what she did with my manuscript. I suppose it's really not her fault I'm late. But I'll get back to that later.

When I decided to self-publish my book, I realized that I could spend anywhere from zero to several thousand dollars. It all depends on how much money you have available and how much work you want to do yourself. You can whip up a cover in PowerPoint or you can pay a cover designer anywhere from fifty to a thousand dollars. You can learn how to format your book to upload or hire a book formatter to do it for you. And you can trust that what you remember from eighth grade English class will be sufficient to produce professional prose, or you can hire an editor to go over your work.

I'm old. Eighth grade was a long time ago. So, even though I thought I was fairly expert at grammar and usage, I decided to invest a not-insignificant amount of money to hire a professional editor.

It was with fear and trepidation that I opened the Word document Christy returned to me. I had no idea what kinds of things she would find. Oh, I had a few areas I was uncertain about, like when to italicize internal thoughts and how to format the combination of dialogue and action mixed in a paragraph, which is why I wanted an editor to begin with. Would she fix these things for me or would I still be confused when she was done? What other things would she change or question?

What she did was totally awesome!

 This was definitely a case of I didn't know what I didn't know. I know I have a tendency to over-use the word "that." I didn't realize "just" and "so" and "really" were also some of my favorite "weasel words." I regularly use "like" when I should use "as if."

She added lots of commas and took some out. This sent me to my copy of The Chicago Manual of Style and searching the Internet for why she put a comma before "and." (Not the serial or Oxford comma, although I missed a few of those, too. I'd forgotten that when "and" links two independent clauses, it requires a comma, like "but.")

She highlighted repeated words, which sent me to my two thesauri looking for alternatives.

She caught at least two misplaced modifiers which read perfectly fine to me when I wrote and edited them, but were howlers after she pointed them out.

Based on her changes, I researched "toward" versus "towards," "sneaked" versus "snuck," and "health care" versus "healthcare." Time for the dictionary.

I even used The Christian Writer's Manual of Style to figure out when to capitalize pronouns referring to God and Jesus based on Christy's editing.

That pile of books at the top of this page? It's mine. As you can see, I had to take them off the shelf to use them in the process of going through this copy edit. (Or should that be copyedit? Another word where the research results are ambiguous.)

I haven't always accepted her changes. A few times, based on my research, she was wrong. (Not often.) Sometimes, even though she changed a sentence to be technically correct, I felt the original, weasel words and all, fit better. Sometimes she changed the wording of a sentence and I didn't like it, but it pointed out the weakness in what I originally wrote. I've tossed both versions and rewritten the sentence so it sounds better to me.

She frequently explains the reasons for her changes in the mark-up. Between that and my reference books, I've learned a lot in the past couple of weeks.

However, doing this edit is taking a lot longer than I imagined it would. I'm only about half-way through the manuscript and it's taken twice as long as I estimated it would take to edit the whole thing.

I'm not complaining. I feel confident my book will be a whole lot better than it would have been without my editor. My prose is stronger thanks to her. She's been worth every penny I've paid her. And will I use her for my next book?

Heck, yes!

PS: I also hired a cover designer, since I can't draw a straight line with a ruler, but you'll have to wait to hear about that until the book comes out.

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