I’ve had a pretty fair number of authors put me in the acknowledgments of their books, which is a rare honor for a copyeditor. Sometimes, though, I don’t even know that they have. :-) I was pleasantly surprised this morning when I tried putting my name in the Google Book Search to come up with two such instances. (I know I’m in more acknowledgments than those, actually, but I’m supposing that the Google Book Search doesn’t have every book in it.)

In case you don’t want to click, W. Michael and Kathleen O’Neal Gear said the following about me.

In The Athena Factor: “To our copy editor, Deanna Hoak, go the highest praises and appreciation. Deanna catches my goofs.”

And in People of the Raven, they thank me for my “superb copyedit.”

I love Mike and Kathy. They’re great to work with, and their novels are always enjoyable.

Questions from a new author

A new author wrote to me yesterday asking for advice on the proper way to deal with his copyedited manuscript (which I was not the copyeditor on). He was very grateful to the copyeditor for catching some embarrassing inconsistencies, but was uncertain about some of the other changes. I offered him my advice and am reprinting it here, with his permission, since he seemed to find it helpful. His questions are in italic; my answers are Roman.

My novel is in first-person, present tense, from the POV of a teenager. So there are a LOT of non-standard usages, simply because — in my opinion — the whole book should be considered to be between quotations marks as one long stream of consciousness monologue. There are a slew of “corrections” that don’t take this into account, making things more grammatical at the expense of the voice. I am stetting these things with no guilty pangs whatsoever. :)

Yep. Stet them.

What baffles me, though, are the changes that seem pointless. Things like changing “goddamned” to “goddamn” or “towards” to “toward” or “showed” to “shown” or “half-sister” to “half sister,” when in every case the original is correct. The CORRECTION is also correct, but why change that? Why go to the trouble?

“Toward” is considered American English, while “towards” is considered British. In reality, I hear either in American speech; copyeditors are taught to Americanize it, though I leave it alone in dialogue. (And probably in yours I would, too.) I wouldn’t have changed goddamned in a first-person.

For hyphenation, publishers prefer that copyeditors use Merriam-Webster’s 11th New Collegiate Dictionary and The Chicago Manual of Style. According to Web11, “half sister” is correct.

On the one hand, I’m tempted to skip these because the correction IS correct, after all. But then I figured that if I spend the time to
stet them, 1) the book remains closer to my original text (while still being correct) and 2) it’s less work for some poor keyboarder
and/or type-setter to do.

My advice in general would be to pick the hills you’ll die on. :-) [And as an aside, I shamelessly stole that notion from ‘s wonderful post “Congratulations: It’s a Baby Novel.”] Leave alone anything that you feel doesn’t directly affect your voice. If you stet too much, your editor won’t know what’s truly important to you. I would note, though, when you send it back, that you’re making so many corrections because of the fact that your book is first person; you’re right about it basically all being dialect in that case.

There you have it, in case it’s of use to anyone else.


Editorial Agreement

Regarding my recent copyediting posts, Tor editor Teresa Nielsen Hayden wrote here that she “emphatically” agrees with almost every particular of them (the one exception being query flags, which publishers differ on), and she adds some interesting commentary of her own.

I’m busy finishing up projects before the World Fantasy Convention. Who else on my f’list is going?

The Copyediting Process

I posted several months ago on how I decide what to leave alone in a novel I’m copyediting. I’ve been meaning ever since to post an article on exactly what my copyediting process is, but I’ve been putting it off because it seems so difficult to condense and codify the steps I take when I work on a manuscript. I’ve decided to give it a try, though.

First things first. When a manuscript comes across my desk, it may or may not have edits from the in-house editor or production editor already on it. If it does, my first step is to go through those edits to get a feel for exactly what the in-house editor sees as a problem: particular sentence structures that bother them, a term or capitalization that they want changed, and so on. (Editors also sometimes include a note detailing such concerns, which is very helpful.) I will follow the in-house editor’s lead on this unless I see that they’ve been inconsistent, in which case I will e-mail a query.

My next step is to begin my first editing pass, which is a painstakingly slow phase. During this pass, I will create a design memo, a manuscript table of contents, and a style sheet (a list of all names, terms, spellings, hyphenations, capitalizations, grammar styles, etc.); keymark items for design; verify all facts; flag for myself any items that I feel the author may have been inconsistent on; look up all spellings and word usage I’m even remotely unsure of; verify all foreign-language use to the extent that I can; apply consistent style guidelines (such as the use of a serial comma, if that has been requested); and query the author on any awkward or unclear phrasing, change of terms, inaccurate facts, inconsistencies, or numerous other things I may find.

Oh, and I edit it, of course. :-)

Most of the above items are self-explanatory, but I’ll expand upon the keymarking and the flags I make for myself.

Keymarking in fiction is usually fairly straightforward, because there are seldom many elements that need special treatment. Basically, however, any element that looks different than plain text gets its own keymark—a set of circled letters such as “CN” for chapter number—that tells the designer it needs to have design specifications written for it. You might typically have part numbers and titles, chapter numbers and titles, epigraphs, ornament breaks, and extracts (verse or prose). I keymark each element and note all the keymarks and examples of their usage on the design memo I create. I make a table of contents for each manuscript I copyedit because a) it enables me to verify that the chapter numbers are correct (they’re very often wrong), and b) it’s useful for designers to know the lengths of the longest and shortest chapter titles when they’re deciding on fonts and sizes. If it is clear from the text that the author wants certain extracts to appear handwritten and others to appear typewritten (and hopefully I have a note to this effect), those elements receive separate keymarks, because of course their specs won’t be the same.

Creating flags for myself that detail the location of potential inconsistencies is an admittedly anal practice I’ve developed over the years, but one I find extremely helpful. I place these flags along the top of the manuscript (flags for authors and editors go along the sides unless I’ve been asked to type them separately), and I go back through them on subsequent passes, so that they’re all removed by the time I’m done. What is a “potential inconsistency”? Well, just about anything. :-) There are particular classes of things, though, where authors are more likely to vary.

First is anything that needs to be correlated to the passage of time in the story. This might include ages, moon phases, seasons, and pregnancy progression. Every time a passage of time is noted, or the progression of something correlated with it is noted (e.g., “the moon was full”), I flag it for myself.

Another class is specific types of items, whether they’re guns, bullets, swords, ships, airplanes, or anything else. If it is mentioned, for instance, that the Sally B is a barkentine, I flag that for myself to make sure it doesn’t later become a brigantine. If the hero is carrying a broadsword, I flag that to make sure it doesn’t later turn into a katana. (And seriously, I edited a book one time where the author had clearly looked up ship in the thesaurus and decided that schooner, galleon, barkentine, and so on could all be used interchangeably. In addition, the ship the author described—the number of sails and masts and decks—didn’t correspond to any type I could verify at all. *sigh* I compare that with, for instance, China Miéville’s The Scar, which was his first work I copyedited. When he started specifying the many ships in Armada, I sighed and said to myself, “He’ll never keep those all straight.” So I dutifully noted them all, and damned if he was never wrong. Not once. I was so impressed! I asked him about this later and found he draws pictures and labels them, actually. :-))

But that’s an aside. Another potential inconsistency one might find comes about when numbers of things are specified: The author states that the hero has eight siblings, but we’re introduced to nine through the course of the book. Or the protag is carrying a six-shooter but fires eight shots over the course of a battle. Or nine missing magical pages are required to read the enchanted tome, but the discoveries of only seven are detailed. All such items—every shot, sibling, page—gets a flag, as does the original reference.

Directions are another problem area. I create a rough map of the world as I edit the book, and I note which way each group is said to go. If the book takes place in the real world, I verify the distances and location of each place if travel in the novel warrants it. When the protagonist travels east for five days, I note that occurrence so I can find it easily later and make sure it doesn’t take him three days’ travel south to get back to where he started—or that he isn’t horseback riding where an ocean was mentioned in Chapter 2.

Physical descriptions of characters, items, and animals are yet another potential inconsistency, particularly if multiple authors are involved. Even with a single author, though, items such as eye color or the shade of a horse are very likely to end up changed over the course of the book.

Are you getting the impression I’m rather anal about my work? Well, yeah, it comes with the job description. I tend to end up with a lot of queries for both myself and the author.

At long last, though, at the end of all this, I’ve finished my first pass through the project. At this point, to be quite honest, I’m not particularly fond of even the very best manuscripts that cross my desk. However, I then get to embark on the second read, which is much more enjoyable. :-)

It isn’t until the second read that I really get a feel for the book as a story. I’ve done all the starting and stopping and painstaking note-taking, and I can enjoy the book as a whole. It is at this point that I find most plot inconsistencies, since I’ve been through the book once already, and it is during this read that I’m able to pinpoint sections that might not accomplish what the author intended. I check my editing, finish applying whatever styles I hadn’t completely decided on during my first pass, and then, when I’ve made whatever queries are appropriate, I go back through the manuscript to look specifically at the flags I’ve made for myself and correlate them with each other. If necessary, I go back through the manuscript again to check them.

So…that’s the process, for any who are curious. I’ve given short shrift to my second read and could delve more deeply into any number of items, but this post has gotten long enough. Perhaps another time.

Proofreading vs. Copyediting

Folks seemed to get enough out of my take on copyediting that I thought I’d talk a little bit about proofreading.

First, let’s define the terms, because what is called “proofreading” by folks outside the publishing industry is usually copyediting instead. The copyeditor works on the book at the manuscript stage, marking grammatical and spelling mistakes, querying inconsistencies and awkward phrasing, verifying facts, preparing a style sheet, and keymarking the manuscript for design. The proofreader works on the book at the galley proof or page proof stage, comparing every word of the manuscript with every word of the proof, verifying correct word breaks, making sure that all editorial changes were input, and (with some publishers) verifying that elements were set according to design specifications.

Proofreaders are not supposed to make substantive changes to a manuscript (a copyeditor shouldn’t even make substantive changes without querying) or go against the style sheet provided by the copyeditor, but they do serve as an additional reader. No one–no author, editor, copyeditor, or compositor–is perfect, so the proofreader is expected to pick up any mistakes the others missed. While copyeditors are expected to complete about ten manuscript pages an hour, a proofreader (in fiction) is expected to complete ten to twelve book pages an hour–and book pages are usually much more dense than manuscript.

Proofreading is a tough job. Even for someone with a good memory like me, it’s difficult to hold more than a few words in your head at a time without leaving out a comma or mixing any of the words up–confusing an east for a west, for example (a very common compositor error when books are reset)–so you can only read four or five words from the manuscript before comparing it to the proof. It’s intensely time-consuming and tedious.

How do proofreaders manage to do so much in such a short time? Well, perhaps someone out there can truly manage it, but I never could. I haven’t accepted proofreading for years because I ended up spending far more hours than I could charge on every book I did. From years spent conscientiously supervising copyeditors and proofreaders, though, I can verify that many proofreaders make do by simply not proofreading: they read the proofs but trust that they were set from disk and don’t compare the manuscript and proof word for word. This approach is very problematic, though, and can lead to errors because a) it often happens that the disk doesn’t contain quite the same version as the manuscript, for various reasons; b) it’s easy to miss changes that should have been input, because you don’t have a finger each on the manuscript and the proof at all times (the only way I could ever proofread accurately); and c) the book sometimes hasn’t been set from disk at all. I suspect that the proofreaders who don’t take such shortcuts simply resign themselves to losing their butts on wages, the way I did.

So be appreciative of your proofreaders. They are your last line of defense against mistakes in your novel.

Zen and the Art of Copyediting

Every once in a while, I get a request from a production editor that makes me realize how very…Zen, for lack of a better word…my approach to copyediting novels is. I’ve been specializing in fantasy and science fiction for eleven years now–that’s a long time for a freelancer to survive–and I’ve worked hard to build what I’m told is an excellent reputation in the genre. When I approach a novel, my first thought is not how to make it conform to the rules set forth by The Chicago Manual of Style or Words into Type. My first thought is more often, What rules need to be broken in order to make this book as accessible to the reader as possible?

Making a science fiction or fantasy novel accessible–trying to see through the author’s eyes to what he or she wants to accomplish–frequently means not following the rules. Take titles of nobility, for instance. In regular fiction, you have kings and queens and presidents–there’s nothing complex about it, and no reason to have those terms capitalized when they appear all by themselves. In fantasy, however, you frequently have much more unusual titles that might not be clear to the reader as such if the rules are followed. In Charlie Finlay‘s book The Prodigal Troll, for instance, the head of the trolls is called the First. Had I elected to “correctly” lowercase that term when it occurred alone, I would have damaged the readability of the text; I chose to leave his titles capitalized instead. It made sense.

Another item I run into often is the “misuse” of a comma with a compound predicate–two verbs that have the same subject. Every good copyeditor knows that you shouldn’t use a comma in these instances: “He ran toward the gate as it was closing and tossed the artifact through.” However, in fiction, many authors use and in these constructions to mean then–the action is not simultaneous. It’s a perfectly reasonable use of and (I hope like hell that there aren’t any copyeditors out there who would change these to then all the time, though I fear there are), and in those instances, the comma often shows the author’s intent more clearly: “He ran into the woods, and buried himself beneath the leaf litter.” Wil McCarthy, for instance, uses this construction fairly often, and I leave the commas in for the good of the text. (And as a note, the latest edition of CMS allows the use of the comma in these instances to indicate pauses; I was very amused when the last edition came out that several usages I’d been following according to my own rules suddenly became “acceptable” overnight.)

One of the rules I was requested to follow this week deals with the italicization of “foreign” terms in a novel. In a non-genre novel, this is usually a pretty straightforward occurrence: the story is in English, and if you have a French or Spanish word within the text that isn’t in Web11 (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition–the standard for copyediting), you italicize it. In fantasy and science fiction, however (I notice a lot of howevers in my theory of copyediting), the reader is often participating in the illusion that the book is actually written in another language–alien or Elvish or Ancient Greek–because that’s what the character would actually be speaking. In such novels, when a “native” word is interspersed with the English narrative, I do not italicize it if the author hasn’t. Doing so, in my opinion, draws the reader out of that illusion to some small extent, notes that it is a foreign term when in reality it isn’t supposed to be; it floats the reader up from that immersion in the world.

It’s tricky being a copyeditor in instances like this–if you don’t do what you’re asked you won’t be hired again, but you don’t want to do something that you disagree with. When this happens to me, I explain my reasoning to the production editor. If the production editor won’t budge, I often have little choice but to alter the text anyway–I can talk to the author or editor if I feel strongly about the issue, if I know them, but that won’t endear me to the production editor, who is the one giving me the work. It has happened once in my career that I began refusing all work from a particular production editor because I disliked what they were asking me to do (edit to strict CMS) and feared damaging my reputation by continuing to work for the person. That was years ago, though. These days, when almost all my work comes from author or editor requests anyway, I would probably take my concerns up the ladder.

Every single book is different, and every single author has their own particular style. One author may decide not to use a serial comma and have his sentences be perfectly readable, while another author’s style renders the lack awkward. The interesting thing about the approach I’ve developed over the years, though, is that it is often in accord with what the authors themselves have done. They know what they want to accomplish with their books, even if that knowledge is subconscious.

Many production editors are hesitant to use a copyeditor that the author has requested: the general perception in the field is that the author probably only likes the copyeditor because the copyeditor doesn’t change anything. In my case, for a lot of small things, I do go with the author’s preference on a book, because I often agree with it, feel that it makes the most sense for that particular novel, can see through the author’s eyes. I know for my own ego, though, that my authors definitely aren’t favoring me because I do little. I just don’t give a “mechanical” copyedit, because novels are not machines. The things I really focus on–plot holes, inconsistencies, factual errors, passages that are difficult to understand or that pull the reader away from immersion–are things that the authors and editors truly appreciate.

The readers? They appreciate my work, too, though they’ll never know it. It’s an odd job to be invisible. :-)

More nice words

I almost forgot to put in here that I got a very nice note from China Miéville after he won the Clarke Award for Iron Council. He was so delighted and surprised about his win, and he noted in part:

You were such a wonderful reader for that book, made such a difference to it–thank you so much again.

It was a lovely thing to hear, because China had shown me Iron Council in draft form, and I got to make more “editorial”-type suggestions than I do when I just copyedit.

Googling and Personal Privacy

Yesterday I found myself Googling for yet another piece of esoteric information I needed to verify for copyediting, and it struck me how horribly law enforcement would look upon my computer activities.

Yesterday’s search involved how long it would take a body to begin to a) smell and b)bloat–I was verifying for two different bodies, one underwater and one not–and I Googled quite a variety of interesting term combinations before I found what I wanted. (I often use Amazon for searches, too, since the “search inside the book” can work even better than Google [sorry, fellow writers–I know], and the range of items Amazon now thinks I’m interested in is…unusual.)

Anytime I try to verify something, it’s a safe bet the author also tried to verify it, and since most everyone on my f’list is a writer, I wonder how much such searches worry you in this post-9/11 world, where it seems we’ve lost so much privacy.

Because let’s face it: A lot of things we need to verify are going to be weird. If our character has a sprained ankle or a broken bone and we’ve experienced that, there’s little need to research it. But how many of us are going to know off the top of our heads what the onset of putrefaction is for a corpse underwater? Or maybe…how long it would take someone to die if you slit his throat? Or whether a full-term fetus could survive its mother’s four-story fall and death? Those are all searches I’ve done for copyediting.

So does the loss of privacy worry you? Do you think it’s justified?