Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Are You Sick and Tired of Editing Yet?

By the copyediting stage of a manuscript, I'm thoroughly sick and tired of editing. No offense to authors, but as the acquisitions/development editor, after a manuscript has received a thorough macro edit and a substantive/content edit, I'm ready to move on--waaaayyyy on. At this stage looking for errors reminds me of a scientist in a lab searching for a virus under the microscope.

The next step of the editorial process is copyediting. Copyeditors are a different breed. They are detail people. They love searching for misplaced commas, punctuation errors, and misspelled words. They scour through each word of a manuscript as though looking for a flaw in a near flawless diamond.

Just as our macro and substantive editors use the Chicago Manual of Style and Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, so do our copyeditors and proofreaders. [More on proofreaders in another blog post.] As an author you'll never out-edit a copyeditor. I can't, and I've been at this for **muffle, muffle** years. Of course, when I was a newspaper editor, I used AP style (Associated Press) and in my master's program, MLA was the style guide of choice.

Learn to love copyeditors because if a reader finds an ambiguous or wrong word choice, you'll hear about it. Some readers love finding errors in books so they can write and tell you how much smarter they are than you. In the South we seethe on the inside, smile, and say, "Bless their darlin' hearts." In the North an editor or author might yell, "Get a life!" Either works for me.

Remember, folks, this is a two-way conversation, so if anything strikes a chord, let me know about it in the comments section. In the meantime, think about the title of Richard Carlson's book that made its debut in 1996: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff . . . and it's all small stuff.


  1. Barbara, Having just completed the final, final, final edit of the pdf copy for my next novel, I agree. Sometimes you just want to say, "If there's an error there, let it stay!" Thank goodness for copyeditors and proofreaders...and for the numerous cups of coffee it took to get me through the process myself.

  2. I love copyediting, but I've never considered myself a detail person. When I taught English, it was so difficult not to mark every error. One thing I've noticed, though, is how tired I am of my own manuscript. I use Truman Capote's method: "There's no such thing as good writing, only good RE-writing!"

  3. In thinking about all the phases a novel goes through to final copy, made me think of when my husband Paul makes a guitar. At the point where the paint is applied, it is buffed, then sanded, then buffed again with layers of hard polish. He goes through this process several times until the guitar body has an ultra sheen. It's the same with our manuscripts.

    I hope more aspiring writers read your posts, Barbara. I've talked to some that think not even an editor should touch a single word or comma of their manuscript. They are doing themselves a disservice.

  4. I’ve never reached the point where I was tired of my own manuscript. But I’ve never reach perfection either. On the bright side, Word’s grammar checker seems to work better than it did. Of course, a grammar checker is somewhat limited, so I can see the benefits of a detail oriented editor.

  5. I enjoyed this blog, Barbara. It reminded me of my former boss at my university's writing center. Have you ever seen the infamous Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld? That is pretty much this woman, except a grammar version. She's instilled such a sensitivity to detail in me, but also a slight paranoia. :) Thank goodness people enjoy copyediting.

  6. Barbara, I'm benefitting from the posts and the comments on the various stages in editing. I appreciate hearing about the experiences from published writers here. Thanks so much for enlightening me as a yet unpublished novelist. I've been critiqued by other writers, had a professional edit and I've received feedback from contests that I entered. Each time that I revisited my story and followed most of the advice I received, I found the story only improved. So while seeking publication I'll do the rewrites to make my work shine. I've been blessed to have a hubby who is a wordsmith and
    reads extensively, too.

  7. You've all made such good points. If it's my own manuscript, I'm such a perfectionist that someone needs to rip it out of my hands before I ruin it.

    As for the infamous Soup Nazi, that's one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes. When I was a lowly intern writing obituaries at a regional newspaper, if our managing editor found the slightest mistake in our copy, he would yell at us from across the newsroom. We'd run and skid to a stop in front of his giant desk and then tremble. The reporters got a big kick out of it.

    Then I became an editor and a story about the symphony passed through another editor's hands. He failed to notice that one of the selections was written by none other than the famous "Rock Maninoff." Thank goodness for tough editors! It made me a little paranoid too. LOL

  8. Rock Maninoff? I thought he played right guard for the Green Bay Packers back in the 60's.
    Oh, well. I don't want to alienate the Editor, or I might hear, "No contract for you. Next!"

  9. LOL We all had a good laugh in the newsroom that night, but the editor who missed that it was really spelled "Rachmaninoff" was a little red-faced.

  10. It's fun to get the inside scoop, especially since I'm smack in the middle of the process!

    You gotta love those detail oriented people who find every misplaced comma, punctuation errors, and misspelled words!

    Sherry Kyle

  11. Since I've been editing my own manuscripts, I'll forever bless copyeditors and never point out tiny mistakes that slip through! (Never did before either.)

    Since I'm from the south, I guess I'll remember the "bless their darlin' hearts" and think on the inside "get a life!"

    And I'm going to remember your **muffle, muffle** age comment! LOL

  12. While I'm not a reader who delights in finding errors in books, I am a writer who cringes when I see them. I not only read errors in the written word, I HEAR errors in the spoken word. And, that, by people who should know better!

    Okay, maybe I'll try and get a life. I just hope my new life is in a place where good English is both written and spoken!! :D

  13. Oh, Barbara, I can relate to that point of screaming when you've looked at a manuscript so many times you just want the process over with as quickly as possible, and then you catch another mistake, thank God you caught it and breathe in more oxygen before carrying on. Editors need a LOT of patience and "Persistence" is their second name.