I’m back amongst the living again…my copyedits have been handed in and I’m back to outlining and doing research for—oops, almost spilled the title of the new Karen Vail novel I’m working on. (If you’re new to my blog, rewind…or, rather, click on the link to the right that’s called “Prior entries” [if you’re reading on Amazon, go to my website, www.AlanJacobson.com.] I’m documenting the behind-the-scenes process of publishing my forthcoming novel, Crush.) This stuff is unedited to save time…which is better spent writing new novels, right?

So what, exactly, is copyediting? Standard editing involves reading the book with an ear to evaluating the plot, the characters, the pacing, the story, etc. A good editor is astute about the genre in which the author writes and understands what he’s trying to accomplish. The editor may suggest changes that tighten the story by cutting a scene (or a sentence), or suggesting you draw out the suspense by withholding a piece of information longer, etc. (Standard editing has become a rarity the past decade or so because of its cost; fortunately, my publisher still employs the services of astute editors.)

Copyediting, however, is more mechanical: a copyeditor looks at grammar, down to the word level, and looks for consistency (the black car on page 24 didn’t become midnight blue on page 300). He/she also brings the manuscript in line with the “style manual” that the publisher uses for all its books. This gives them consistency across their catalogue.

Depending on the style manual used, the copyeditor will change words and terms in the manuscript. Thus, if it’s a “down style,” words I might write with an uppercase initial letter may be changed because the style manual dictates it be lowercase. Example: I used the term Secret Service in Crush—meaning that branch of Homeland Security that protects the president, etc. The style manual dictates it be “secret service.” (That looked odd and jarring to me, as if really was a secret service—so I asked that it be left capitalized.)

In addition, the copyeditor may ask the author questions embedded within the manuscript. We use Microsoft Word with markup turned on, meaning my copyeditor includes questions within the sentence. Thus, her remark to me may be

<<AU: did you mean the percentage should be 85% or 75%? Earlier, you mentioned 85%>>

I would then reply:

<<CE: I meant 75%, because the percentage I mentioned earlier pertained to something different. Leave as is.>>

In addition, a copyeditor develops a style sheet for each author. This style sheet stays with the author while he’s at that publishing house. It gets amended, or added to, with each novel. Thus, if I write “x-ray” in The 7th Victim, it’ll stay “x-ray” in Crush. (There are different ways of writing x-ray, depending on style manuals. Because of my medical training, I prefer that format. Some style manuals would say it should be “X ray” or “X-ray.”)

During the course of 400 pages and 120,000 words, there are a ton of decisions to make. Leave it as I had it, or change it to match the style manual? Plus, no matter how many times you go through a manuscript, and no matter how many different people read it, there are errors that are going to be missed. The brain compensates and doesn’t catch transposed or omitted words. Thus, done properly, going through your copyedited manuscript is a very intense process requiring hours upon hours of focus, day after day. And keeping all your facts straight if your story is complex (as mine tend to be) is another thing the copyeditor (and I) have to carefully watch for consistency.

The copyediting stage is the last opportunity to make substantive changes to the manuscript. The galleys, or page proofs, are printed from this copyedited document, so the goal is to have it be as error free as possible. It’s not always the case, however. For The 7th Victim, I ended up making over 100 changes/corrections after the galleys (Advance Reader’s Copies) were printed and bound.

When all was said and done, I emailed the copyedited Word docs back to my project editor and the copyeditor. The copyeditor is now reviewing all my notes and changes. My project editor will then run the manuscript through special publishing software that checks it for extra spacings/returns, oddities, and leftover markup.

At the next phase, the unbound galley page proofs are sent to a proofreader and…back to me, of course. We then go through it yet again, trying to catch errors. Part of the problem is that the galley is the first time you’re seeing the story in that format. There’s something about seeing it in the font and formatting of a real book that changes the way the brain receives the words, and you end up catching things you didn’t see previously.

If changes are made, the inserted portion should match the deleted portion in number of characters (characters are letters, spaces, and punctuation marks). That way, the formatting doesn’t change and the entire manuscript doesn’t need to be reformatted—which is very expensive. So if I make changes, I count characters. With The 7th Victim, I counted every character to ensure they were swapped out one-for-one.

That’s it for now…I’ve got some more research to do for the new Karen Vail novel, then some refinements to make to the outline…

Alan

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