I'm not, so thank goodness for people who are.
Last week, the copyedited manuscript of The Good, the Bad, and the Emus landed on my doorstep. The copyedit is the next-to-last time the writer sees the book before it goes to print--there's still the typeset galley to come--and for most of us, opening the fat envelope containing the marked up manuscript is one of the most stressful moments of the publication process. (These days, sometimes the writer opens up an electronic copy of the manuscript, in which the copyeditor has marked his or her corrections using the track changes feature, but for the time being Minotaur is still sending hard copy, and I'm happy they do.)
Sometimes you hold your breath as you flip through the pages, wondering what the publishing gods have given you this time. A stern but wise copyeditor who methodically corrects your mistakes and firmly but gently queries you about the improbabilities and inconsistencies? A do-nothing copyeditor who marks all the M-dashes and doesn't even catch typos that leap off the page at you? An overzealous copyeditor who tries to change colloquial dialogue into stilted, formal academic English? Or, worst of all, a copyeditor who seems to be a frustrated writer, interested not in perfecting your book but in rewriting it in his or her own style. I've had all of those. I've had the copyedit so bad I seriously thought of having a rubber stamp made that set simply, in tiny letters, "stet." Which is Latin for "let it stand," and is the word we writers use when we want to indicate that no, we don't agree with that particular change. (Some of us have been known to write "stet!!" or even "stet, dammit!" when confronted with particularly egregious changes.)
To my relief, this copyeditor seems sane and meticulous. As I leaf through the pages, it appears that my biggest sin as a writer is not knowing which compound terms should be spelled solid, as a single word; which should be hyphenated; and which should be two separate words.
I also carelessly confuse commas and periods more often than I'd expect. Some of it arises from the fact that their keys are adjacent on the keyboard. And others, I can tell, happened when I add or delete a dialogue tag. Changing "Yes," he said to simply "Yes," without also changing the comma to a period.
I love learning things from my copyedits. For example, that there is an accent on the second a in Galapagos, though I have no idea how to make it show up here.
I'm pretty happy with this copyedit. I won't get any new copyediting horror stories out of it to share with writer friends around the virtual campfire. I'll have to stick to the old ones.
Like the the copyeditor who, in Murder with Peacocks, made an editorial note in the margin saying something like "Why are all these brides having outdoor weddings in the south? And wearing velvet?"
The copyeditor who changed a line of dialogue in which Michael, my heroine's husband, said something like "Not something I'd ever thought of." She changed it to "Not something of which I'd ever thought." And wrote in the margin, something like "Michael is a professor! Surely he would say this!" I wrote "stet" beside her change, and wrote, beneath her comment, "Yes, but he's not a pedant. Colloquial usage."
I've had a copyeditor who read a passage that said "I must have told him that at least a million times" and told me how unlikely it was that Meg could really have done so. Hello? Hyperbole, anyone? A copyeditor who had never heard of--and couldn't be bothered to look up--News of the Weird.
The worst copyedit I've ever survived was for You've Got Murder, the first of my Turing Hopper books with Berkley Prime Crime. In the Turing books, Turing's first person narration sometimes uses present tense, as if we were reading entries in an electronic journal that she is writing as the action happens. The copyeditor did not seem to like this stylistic decision, and attempted to change every single one of these sections to past tense. A passage reading something like "Tim and Maude are in danger! I'm trying to signal them, and they're not answering. What can I do?" would be changed to "Tim and Maude were in danger. I was trying to signal them, and they were not answering. What could I do?" Which completely undermined the effect I was trying, quite deliberately, to achieve. And to add insult to injury, the copyeditor missed about one in five verbs, resulting in hideously ungrammatical passages. I stetted vigorously. I probably tore holes in the paper with some of those stets.
I hope I complained to my editor about that copyeditor. Most copyeditors are freelancers, and sometimes the editors may not realize how good or bad their work is unless the writers make it clear.
Thinking back over the Ghosts of Copyeditors Past, I'm appreciating this one. Maybe I should have known that it's Allegheny County, Pennsylvania but Alleghany County, Virginia. Or that it's spessartite or spessartine garnets, not spessertine. But I didn't, and thank goodness he did. Or knew enough to look them up. When it comes to copyediting, knowing you need to look something up is just as good as knowing it to begin with.
I'll be sending this manuscript back tomorrow just a little cleaner and tighter. And without any places where I was tempted to say "stet, dammit!" And that makes me happy.
And for all you aspiring copyeditors out there, here's a quiz. Which is correct--using Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary, The Chicago Manual of Style 16, and The Bedford Handbook for Writers.
1. Race car, race-car, or racecar?
2. Back yard, back-yard, or backyard?
3. Semi retired, semi-retired, or semiretired?
4. Hmph or humph?
5. Back to the states or back to the States?
6. Bird feeders, bird-feeders, or birdfeeders?
7. Wrought iron brackets, wrought-iron brackets, or wroughtiron brackets?
8. Love seat, love-seat, or loveseat?
9. Home made ice cream, home-made ice cream, or homemade ice cream?
10. Non lethal toads, non-lethal toads, or nonlethal toads?