Um…no thanks.

I got the funniest e-mail ever through my contact page today:

Hi Deanna,

Hope you are doing great.

This is [name redacted] from Delhi, representing a company, which provides publishing service to Education and magazine publishers, including Sage, Pearson,
Elsevier, Taylor and Francis.

May I propose you to outsource your all work so that we can work for each other for mutual benefits.

Best Regards,

[name redacted]

Edit and Create.

(Book Designing, Graphics, Illustrations, Typesetting, Copy Editing, Book Writing)

Uh-huh. Yeah, there are reasons I never outsource my work. :-)

“Copyeditor” vs. “copy editor”

I said a long while back that I’d talk about my preference for “copyeditor” over “copy editor,” and now seems as good a time as any to do so.

For my field, “copy editor” as two words has never made much sense to me, for a number of reasons. First, nothing I edit is referred to as “copy”; I edit manuscripts. Thus, the term refers not to what I edit (as might be the case with “newspaper editor” or “fiction editor”), but to what I do, which is “copyedit”—and according to Merriam Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition (Web11), the dictionary most often used by fiction publishers, that verb is one word.

It’s puzzling, then, that Web11 specifies the noun “copy editor” as two words, despite the fact that they have “proofreader” as one word and lo and behold even have “copywriter.” Why “copyeditor” is treated differently than those terms is completely beyond me. Even the editors over at The Chicago Manual of Style seem to show frustration with it when they note, “Finally, a caveat: as our own preference for “copyeditor” has shown (Webster’s lists “copyedit” [v.] but “copy editor” [n.]), it is not always easy for a specialist community to impose its own usage on the rest of the world.”

For a long time, I had “copy editor” on my cards and blog, even though I never liked the spelling, because I feared turning off potential employers. As I became more confident in my skill, though, I decided it was quite likely that any managing editor who took issue with “copyeditor” was unlikely to be happy with other exceptions I allow—exceptions based on logic and sound and common use, just as “copyeditor” is. Thus, for instance, even though most SF authors prefer “airlock” to “air lock”—and even though the single word makes perfect sense and is incredibly unlikely to bother any reader and even though the authors don’t want the copyeditor to change it—such a person might have an issue with my leaving it as one word, since Web11 specifies otherwise. Using “copyeditor” is, for me, one way of letting such people know my stances right up front.

The danger, of course, is that someone might assume I don’t know any better rather than that I made a conscious decision–but they would likely assume that about other exceptions as well. And as to that…well, my credentials speak for themselves, and many authors who feel I’ve helped and respected their work have spoken for me to add to that voice. I’m content with the decisions I’ve made. :-)

World Fantasy Award short list

I’ve made the World Fantasy Award short list for my copyediting. Wow. I think I’m the first copyeditor ever to be nominated in the “Special Award: Professional” category. I’m massively happy and touched.

A huge thank-you to Paul Cornell for organizing the campaign to get me nominated, and to all those who voted for me and offered quotes about my work. It really means a lot to me.

And congratulations, too, to everyone else on the list, especially Scott Lynch for The Lies of Locke Lamora. I copyedited that one, so I love it that it’s on the ballot in the same year I am. :-)

ETA: Oops! I almost missed one! I also copyedited one of the offerings in the novella category–Kim Newman’s “The Man Who Got off the Ghost Train.” :-)

Grats to everyone!

Budgets and manuscript pages

Someone wrote to ask me what I meant in the last post about the budgets being kept artificially low by having books set in Times New Roman rather than Courier.

Here’s what happens at many publishers (big publishers are worse about this than small ones, generally, simply because they’ve been doing things the same way for so long): The production budget—copyediting, typesetting, proofreading, etc.—is set based on the number of pages in the manuscript, not on the number of words or characters or anything that would be sensible in the computer age. Just the number of pages. That might make sense if those publishers required a certain format for manuscripts, but they don’t. I get manuscripts from them in all kinds of fonts and point sizes and spacing. So a 100,000-word manuscript that is set in Times gets a lower production budget than a 100,000-word manuscript that is set in Courier.

Now, do the people in production know that this doesn’t make sense? Well, the ones I’ve asked about it certainly do. It’s just that publishing is very hidebound that way.

For myself, if I know that a manuscript is set in Times New Roman (or line-and-a-half spacing or 10-point type or whatever else), and if I know that the publisher will give me grief about going beyond the ten pages per hour they generally expect, I simply won’t take the project. I will spend the time on the book that it needs, and I turn down enough work that I’m just not willing to eat those extra hours.

Font, yet again

There have been quite a few posts commenting on the best fonts for manuscripts lately. Jay Lake posted in favor of 12-point Courier New (which, by the way, I have talked him into), and then C. E. Petit posted that there is no universally “correct” way of formatting, and then Cheryl Klein praised and linked a number of my posts, including the one on helping your copyeditor, but noted that she doesn’t particularly like Courier. Additionally, I know that some agents set things in Times.

So, let’s address a few things. First, there are a number of reasons that agents or editors might prefer manuscripts to be in Times, and all of them relate to the fact that Times squeezes half again as many words onto a page as Courier does. It therefore saves postage and copying, and it can speed up reading.

However, you don’t want to speed up reading when you’re copyediting—you need to go slowly in order to catch mistakes. The space between letters in Courier helps the mistakes stand out, and the punctuation, as I’ve noted before, is far, far more clear. Additionally–and this is a critical factor with me–almost all fiction publishers expect copyeditors to edit at a rate of about ten pages per hour. The number of words in a standard-manuscript-format (SMF) page is about 250 words. The ten-pages-per-hour rate that copyeditors are expected to follow is based on SMF, as a holdover from typewriter days.

Listen closely: With many (most!) publishers, when a 1000-page manuscript that one would expect to be about 250,000 words turns out to be set in Times and is therefore 375,000 words, the copyeditor is still expected to copyedit the book in the same amount of time, or get permission to take longer! Does this sound crazy? Well, it is. Does it happen? Yes, it does. It happened to me most recently—with almost those exact numbers–just a few months ago. Sometimes, sadly enough, it even happens intentionally, in order to keep the book budget artificially down, with little regard for the freelancer or the quality of the copyedit; other times, the editor just doesn’t think about it and/or goes with whatever the author sent. Agents, in general, just aren’t aware that this happens; I’ve talked to a number of them about it, and all were surprised.

I have no problem with editors or agents preferring to read in Times. However, the manuscript really should be set in Courier (or at least another monospaced font) before being sent out to the copyeditor—I’d think that even without the monetary issue. Despite the fact that it would be easy to do so, though, that simply does not happen; whatever font the author submits in is what comes to the copyeditor. At a minimum, the “ten-pages-an-hour” requirement needs to be ditched in favor of “2500 words per hour”; going by pages is ridiculously antiquated in this day when authors can adjust not just font and line spacing but even kerning with just a few clicks. Do I think that will happen anytime soon, though? No. Therefore, I still prefer Courier, even though I’m aware I’ll seldom get it.

Fonts again

So I have a long post planned on why, again, I so much prefer manuscripts to be set in Courier New rather than in Times Roman. I’ll make it as soon as I can do so without ranting, which might yet be a while.

However, let’s start here: In which of these do you think it’s easier to see that the punctuation is a semicolon?




Really, I shouldn’t have to note any more than that, though I’m sure I will.

Why it’s so difficult to edit your own work

I think everyone who’s done any writing at all knows how incredibly difficult it is to edit your own work. The problem is particularly vexing for editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders because we damn well know what’s right, but we’re no more immune from making typos or leaving out words or letters than anyone else is. And…well, you know, it’s just more embarrassing for us. :-) You would think we would spot a mistake in our own writing right away, but the brain simply doesn’t work that way.

During my eye appointment the other day, I experienced the strongest illustration I’ve ever seen as to why that is. Bascom Palmer has very nice equipment, and instead of the projected eye charts to which I’m accustomed, they had flat-screen computer monitors on the wall. The typical letters appeared on them, and the assistant was testing the vision in my bad eye, with my good eye covered. I wasn’t doing all that badly, really; the letters were fuzzy, but I was making them out. I mentioned, though, that it felt hard not to cheat because I know that chart so well. I’ve been in and out of eye doctors since I was two, and I’ve read that chart hundreds of times; they haven’t changed it, though I did see one variation one time.

Anyway, when I mentioned that, the assistant said, right away, “Oh, I can fix that!” She hit a button on her computer, and the letters randomized.

Do you know, I couldn’t make out a damn thing on the line I’d been doing somewhat okay on? She put up the type size I’d already done, and I couldn’t make out those letters either. Neither could I do so on the line above that.

The thing is, I would have sworn to anyone that my bad eye had been seeing those letters, fuzzy though they were. But that’s what our brains do: They fill things in for us. (This is in fact the very reason for that randomizing eye chart–my problem is not even slightly atypical.) When you write something, you know what’s supposed to be there. You know what you meant. If you’re missing a letter or even a whole word or you’ve transposed something, your brain’s going to do you the “favor” of fixing it for you as you see it. Chances are quite good that you’ll never notice it isn’t right.

Copyeditors face this even when looking at a stranger’s work. We know what’s supposed to be in the sentence, and if we’re not careful our brains will simply skip over a mistake. We develop habits and tricks to combat that, but some of them (such as putting your pencil down on every single word) take up enough time that they aren’t really practical outside work. :-)

So it’s interesting. I’ve had people say that they hate to write me because they’re worried about making mistakes. I laugh and say that they can’t possibly be more paranoid about making them than I am–I have a rep to maintain!

Anyone who has done this very long knows that they’re not immune from making mistakes, though. Not being able to spot them easily in our own work is unfortunately, believe it or not, just part of our brain doing its job. :-)

Author praise

Alexis Glynn Latner was nice enough to contact me through my website last week to let me know how much she appreciated the job I did on her novel Hurricane Moon (which is wonderful hard SF with a romantic twist):

I e-mailed the MSS back today, much improved, thanks to you! I attached a cover letter reiterating important changes I made in response to your excellent questions. Thank you again! Great information about copyediting here under Best Of, and I plan to direct students’ attention to the URL this spring when I teach an editing class.

When I wrote back to thank her for the kind words, she shared that she had also written the following to the editor:

Deanna has done marvelous, meticulous, astute work and I’m so glad she’s in the process. It’s like a safety net so a whole raft of glitches, typos and murky sentences are not going to be out there for the world to see.

And she had written to the production editor about the job, as well:

Deanna caught tons of glitches and asked many questions that made me clarify things. And she really has an ear for clear, flowing prose. I’m extremely glad to be working with such an astute copyeditor.

It’s really wonderful when authors take the time to let you and others know they’re happy with your work. Thanks, Alexis!

ETA: Oh, and she also has nice things to say about me on her shared blog, No Fear of the Future.

The Americanization of novels

I’ve been neglecting my blog lately (I’ve been neglecting your blogs lately, too, so if you have something you’d like me to know, please by all means drop me a note). I wanted to make up for that by providing some actual content. :-)

Thus let’s talk about the Americanization of novels written by UK authors. This is a surprisingly controversial topic, and I have an opinion on it just like everyone else does.

Americanization includes changing punctuation (closing em dashes and reversing the order of quotation marks) but can also include altering vocabulary as well as spelling. First, though, let me tell you that the decision to Americanize is very seldom the copyeditor’s call. A few editors will ask my opinion, but for the most part my instructions arrive with the manuscript.

Let me also note that if a book does need Americanized, it almost never happens–and by that I mean that I’ve never once seen it in fifteen years of publishing–that production allows extra time or money for it in the copyediting budget, even though it might result in as many as say ten extra changes per page. That sucks for us. So when I tell you–as I will below–that I often think altering the spelling is a good idea, know that I’m definitely not saying so for my benefit; I truly think it’s in the best interest of the book.

Now you’ll notice I said “often.” As with most copyediting concerns, I believe in looking at each book individually rather than in following any hard-and-fast rules. Let me address some of the most common issues I think should play into a decision, though.

The first two questions, of course, are whether the characters are from the UK and whether the setting is in the UK. If a UK author is presenting a book to an American audience and the book contains neither UK characters nor a UK setting, there is seldom much sense in keeping the UK spelling and vocabulary–they can cause the reader to stumble unnecessarily. If the term is out of place in the country and among the characters of the novel, the reader has to stop and say “What? Oh, yeah…UK author.” You want them focused on the story.

If the book does utilize UK characters, though, it makes sense that those characters would use UK slang–I seldom like changing vocabulary in such an instance, though I do prefer that the meaning be clear from the context just so the reader doesn’t have to stop reading to search the net for the words. (Twenty years ago the reader wouldn’t have been able to look up slang, but I think we can assume that most readers these days have ready Internet access.)

There are exceptions to my thinking in that regard, especially when the slang word already means something completely different in American English. In that case, the reader will almost never realize that the British term is different until something else in the book tips them off and they have a WTF moment. I very clearly remember a scene where a British character searched a desk and found a “rubber.” I altered that term because I guarantee you that damn few Americans were going to realize it was an eraser, and the mix-up would have…changed the feel of the story substantially in those readers’ minds. I consider a large part of my job to be saving the reader from having those “WTF?!” moments and instead keeping them focused on the story.

Despite thinking that UK vocabulary should often stay when presented to an American audience, I seldom (exceptions will follow) think that the spelling should. Almost every American is going to know that “honour” is a British variant, but plenty of them will have a split-second stop at such terms as “realise” and “manouevre.” Why cause them that? Again, let them get caught up in your story; there’s no need to interrupt them.

If the spelling actually reflects the way in which the characters say words, however, I’m inclined to leave it; I like the reader to be able to hear the characters’ voices and accents. The popular theory in publishing is that “towards” is a UK variant (though I know scads of Americans who use it, and I think that notion’s ridiculous), and so I would not remove the “s” from that spelling.

And as I said before, I don’t believe in hard-line rules. If a novel with UK characters contains a lot of text that is presented as actual writing–notes and diary entries and such–I prefer to keep the UK spelling intact, because UK characters simply aren’t going to write with American spelling; that would be silly.

Most of the actual text in a book is not writing by the characters, though. It’s their thoughts and their narrative and their spoken words, and the spelling doesn’t make a difference to it. But a lot of die-hard “Keep the book intact!” fans believe that preserving the UK spelling is necessary to maintain the “feel” of a novel–and in a few cases I agree with them. China Miéville’s Bas-Lag definitely evokes a British feel (I’ve seen reviewers hypothesize that New Crobuzon is an alternate London), and I prefer to keep the British spelling in those books in order to maintain that feel to the fullest extent possible. Not every fictional place evokes that, though.

As with most other decisions in copyediting, it all depends on the book, and even seemingly small decisions as Americanizing spelling can make a difference in a reader’s perception of a work: I analyze each novel individually and make any changes or recommendations based on that analysis. I want to keep your readers in the world you’ve created, which is not necessarily the one in which you live–or the one in which they live.