An innocent-looking package arrived by courier at my home 2 weeks ago. I instantly tore it open to reveal:
The copyedits for my first book! Yay!
But there was a minor problem. When this thing arrived, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Clearly I had to check the copyedits, but what were all those funny marks in green pencil?
Now I know, thanks to lots of help from my friends, and guidance from my ever-supportive agent. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only debut author to have no idea what to do with a copyedit, so herewith is Gary's Guide To Reading A Copyedit.
Here's the first page of my ms:
I'm afraid it's a bit unclear in blogger. You might need to click on it for the details. You'll notice by the way the working title is still in the top left corner. The real title is The Pericles Commission, and it's fixed on the title page.
Everyone who touches the ms uses a different color pencil. Copyeditor used green, so I picked blue. Copyeditor also used red for various instructions to the printer. The CN means Chapter Number, as in, it would be nice to have one here. The 1-13 is the page number, since there is stuff which comes before. Copyeditor has meticulously counted out the starting pages. Earlier sections have FHM which mean Front Header Matter - stuff which comes before the actual story.
But you, Bedazzled Author, can ignore everything in red. It's the stuff in green that matters. Notice the arcs joining face down. That means make it a single word. The arrow coming up underneath left means put a comma there. Have a look at CHAPTER ONE. The triple line under the leading letters means make them caps. The up-and-across lines over the rest of each word means make them lowercase.
Notice the word knelt. There's a tiny but discernible strike through the lt. The strike means what you think it means. The arc followed by eled means join the surviving kne to eled to form kneeled.
Now for the most important lesson in copyedit review that you, Dear Author, need to know. Allow me to introduce you to the word STET.
When I saw this abomination called kneeled I did what any right-thinking author would do: I whinged to my agent. Janet managed to stay calm in the face of my unutterably black ignorance, and told me of the magic word STET. The magic word undoes whatever the copyeditor had done. So my blue magic nullified the green magic, leaving behind only the original text.
There are piles of these interesting green marks. Here's another example:
The lines in the ellipsis mean make the dots evenly spaced. There are zillions of marks like that throughout and they're for the printers, not me. The underline beneath him means make it italics. Using italics in the text isn't sufficient, so again, Copyeditor has laboriously placed printer instructions all over the place.
The question in the box is interesting. Copyeditor wants to change the text, ever so slightly. The =b means print a dash and a small b instead of the B. Apparently the Chicago Manual of Style, which I have never read, calls for it here. But since this changes the text, Copyeditor asks nicely if this is okay with me.
Here's a final one with some lovely exotic marks. The 1 m combination means this is an em-dash. The upper arc means the whole string of characters is joined together. Note Copyeditor spotted the endquote was the wrong way round. OMG. What attention to detail!
The weird symbol through the dash on the second line means delete. The under-arc closes up, and the triple underline means capitalize. All according to the style manual.
There're piles more of this, but you get the idea.
Once I knew about STET, I began to do something stupid: I over-stetted. It took me a while to realize Copyeditor is right far more often than I am. Which is why when I sent back the ms there were lots of faint blue STETs which I'd rubbed out.
I think the basic rule is, Copyeditor is always right about formatting, almost always right about spelling, usually right about usage, and almost never right about word substitution.
A few times Copyeditor wanted to change a phrase. Usually the substitute suggestion damaged the prose rhythm. But equally, in each case Copyeditor had clearly found a phrase that wasn't working. In just about every case I crossed out Copyeditor's text, crossed out my own text, and wrote something else.
The page you see on top in the first picture is the style guide. This is the set of rules for formatting, grammar etc. Copyeditor has applied these rules across the entire ms.
The style guide rules are followed by any unusual words and a complete list of characters. There are 3 pages of style guide. In the top picture you see the rules and the beginning of the unusual words. (I blurred a few terms to avoid spoilers.)
There are 55 characters in my book. I know because Copyeditor counted every one. And listed the page on which each first appears. And listed every variant by which each character is known. Copyeditor found minor characters I'd forgotten even existed. When I went through the list I twice read names that caused me to say, "Who in Hades is that?" Then I turned to the page listed for first appearance and said, "Oh yes! I'd forgotten all about him!" (It may be a bad sign I can't remember characters in my own book, but believe me, when you're writing the third, cameo appearances in the first evaporate from the brain cells.)
I am simply amazed at what Copyeditor did for me.
Copyeditor has read every single word, every single punctuation mark, every single reference, and has made sure everything is right.
Copyeditor has saved me from some embarrassing errors:
- At some point I must have used global replace to turn every "armour" into "amour". I obviously meant to turn armour from its UK spelling to the US spelling armor. Thank you Copyeditor for saving me from looking like a complete idiot.
- There are 8 places where I totally failed to type a necessary word! As in, the word just wasn't there. OMG. Copyeditor saved me.
- I wrote "ordnances" where it should have been "ordinances". I'm amazed Copyeditor spotted that one!
The mechanics of reviewing a copyedit turn out to be simple, even if some of the decisions can be tricky, and it's sort of fun in a bizarre, perverse, masochistic kind of way. While I wouldn't recommend copyedits as a good way to relax, there's no question the copyeditor turns your book into a better book.
There is no way I could possibly have got through the copyedit review without lots of help from my good friends on twitter. The moment I saw the funny marks I was asking questions, and where my North American friends were particularly useful was in helping me with American usage. The nuances are quite amazing when you get into it. I want to save that for another post though, 'cause this one is already way too long, but I do want to say a massively huge THANK YOU to all the kind people who got me through this!
And there's another thank you to be made. I don't know who Copyeditor is, by the way. Editor Kathleen intermediates. I've asked to send on a thank you note because Copyeditor did an excellent job. If by any chance Copyeditor is reading this, thank you so much!