Jane/Susannah, from deep in the copy editing cave…
Hey, Wicked People. Hope you’re all staying cool and watching early summer things grow. (Yes, I know it’s not quite officially summer yet, but it’s close enough)
This past week I’ve been working on copy edits for Olive and Let Die, Book 2 of the Greek to Me Mysteries. Now, for those of you who might not know exactly what copy edits are, this is the stage in a manuscript’s publication process where the prose gets cleaned up, inconsistencies are noted (did your heroine’s eyes change from blue at the beginning of the story to green at the end—and you’re not writing an urban fantasy or sci-fi?), spellings and capitalizations of names and places are standardized, and those pesky hyphenated words get checked against Merriam-Webster and the Chicago Manual of Style.
It’s a fussy process for the copy editor (who is not your editor at the publishing house—you know, the person who bought your book and helped you fix the plot and characterization problems—but another person entirely), and it’s a fussy process for the author. Me? I use this time as an opportunity to go through the entire manuscript, word by word, again. I find that the copy editor is usually correct and I keep her/his changes.
I also usually find a lot more stuff to fix, which baffles me. Because, you see, I have a copy editing business of my own (Crazy Diamond Editing), and I do this work for other people. (You can read my blog post about it here) And I’ve already gone through the manuscript thoroughly, word by word, before I even think about turning it in to my editor. So you’d think I’d have the cleanest prose anyone at the publishing house has ever seen. “It’s the manuscript I’ve been waiting for all my life! A-plus-plus-plus-plus!” I picture Miss Shields from A Christmas Story here, and my writer friends all cheering me on and pumping their fists in the air. So when those copy edits come back, it’s always a little bit of a letdown. Hmmm. Not perfect, after all.
Now, this manuscript was turned in more than a year ago, and, confession time, I haven’t looked at it since then. So as I went through it again, I was able to read it more like a reader than a writer. I realized a couple of things. One, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared. In fact, I rather liked it. And two, my characters did an inordinate amount of sighing. I took out thirty–yes, you read that correctly–sighs that I had missed the first time around. And I took out a bunch of nodding, too. Now Bonaparte Bay is a lot less angsty and a lot less agreeable.
And now, I know what one of my pet words is. Every author has them, and the more I copy edit for other people, the more sensitive I am to these repeated words, phrases, and actions in my own work. So maybe I’m getting closer to that perfect manuscript. In my rich fantasy life, some future copy editor is going to throw up her hands and say, “I can’t find a thing to fix!” I nod and sigh in satisfaction, then nod and sigh some more.
What are your pet words and phrases?