Copyediting compliments from Ernest Cline, author of Ready Player One

I’m incredibly fortunate in having a job I truly enjoy, and I never feel more so than when I get to copyedit a book that is exciting and touches on my interests and that I find difficult to put down, even though I’m working. When the author of such a book appreciates my work and takes the time to tell me so, it makes me happier than I can describe.

As a wonderful way to round out 2010 and begin 2011, author Ernest Cline, whose first novel Ready Player One I got to copyedit, sent me such an e-mail, which he has given me permission to quote here:

I finished going over your copyedits today and am writing to tell you how much I appreciate the work you did on my book!

In addition to finding a gazillion typos and grammatical errors that everyone else had missed, your notes and queries were fantastic! They raised all sorts of logical questions that had never occurred to me, and I’m very thankful to you for pointing them out, so that I could address them before the book goes out to the world. I feel incredibly lucky to have had someone with a gamer’s eye for detail copyedit my book. You really did an amazing job, and I hope that I’m lucky enough to work with you again in future.

I honestly loved Ready Player One and encourage you to check it out when you can. (The book is due out from Crown in summer 2011, and the movie rights have sold to Warner Brothers.) It’s a futuristic science fiction novel that’s also chock-full of awesome old-school geekery and was a pleasure to work on.

Author thanks

I just got a thank-you note from Matt Sturges for the copyediting I did on his wonderful book Office of Shadow, forthcoming from Pyr, and thought I’d share:

Just finished reviewing your edit and wanted to tell you thanks for doing such a fine job. You made some really clever catches there, such as noticing that Silverdun’s alias changed from one place to the next. I never would have caught that in a million years. Great work. Thanks!

Matt’s was one of my first copyedits of 2010, and this is a lovely way to start the year. :)

“You smell like Chewbacca”

Wow, two posts in a day! I told you I was going to pick it up. :-)

I came across this post in praise of copyeditors while Twittering “copyediting” and had to share with you. I particularly love the author’s description of how authors feel when they get a copyedited manuscript back:

It was like getting dressed up and brushing one’s hair very carefully and thinking one looks quite respectable indeed, only to have one’s big-mouth best friend show up and say “You can’t go out like that—your skirt is tucked into your underwear and you smell like Chewbacca.” You feel relief that someone caught you in time. Adoration for their superior wisdom and objective eye. Lingering embarrassment, mingled with wounded pride, mingled with overwhelming gratitude.

Every once in a while copyeditors run into an author who gets offended at having these things pointed out, but it luckily doesn’t happen very often. :-)

“The Copy Editor’s Lament”

I found a video called “The Copy Editor’s Lament” on YouTube today. It’s aimed at the newspaper industry (fiction copyeditors don’t go about killing adjectives :-)), but the lyrics are pretty amusing. Freelancers can’t be laid off, obviously, but publishers are finding ways to cut back on copyediting costs regardless. I read a wonderful post in support of copyeditors–and lamenting their current scarcity–on medical writer Debra Gordon’s blog today, too. I particularly liked this bit:

I always know the client I’m working with is a true professional when she has a copy editor standing by for my copy. The ones that scare me are the ones who expect me to copyedit my own writing. I’m a writer, I tell them, not a copy editor. The two are about as similar as a five-star restaurant and a fast-food drive through window. I can edit the copy for hours. . . but that’s not copyediting.

With that in mind, here’s the video I mentioned:

The poor copyeditor should have spelled “support” correctly, though. ;-)

Author thanks and an author/copyeditor link

The past week has been lovely for me, with wonderful words from authors whose books I’ve worked on. Michael and Kathleen Gear, whom I’ve copyedited for many years now, told me that I’d done a wonderful job on their latest book and said that they told their editor they “cherish” me as a copyeditor. They’re fantastic people, and I cherish my working relationship with them, too.

Then Jon Sprunk, whose first novel Shadow’s Son is coming out from Pyr in 2010, received his copyedits and wrote me with the following:

Just received the copyedits today. Wow! I mean, Lou was singing your praises, but… wow! You caught things I would have never seen. The book is going to be a great deal better for it. Thank you SO much!

Copyeditors and authors don’t always get the opportunity to work together, so the relationship can sometimes seem antagonistic to new authors. Truthfully, too, not every copyeditor has the ability to work well with authors. When the relationship does work, however, everyone is happier and the book benefits.

If you’d like to see a wonderful recounting of how an author works with his longtime copyeditor, please check out the entries from November 25 and December 2 of 2009 on Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven journal. I’m not Guy’s copyeditor, but I’m not the only good one out there. :-)


Polite and charming fantasy author Peter V. Brett, whom I hung out with quite a bit at World Fantasy and who has a three-book deal with Del Rey right now (any authors putting off writing for any reason have to read his post about writing his first novel on his cell phone, with his thumbs), asked the following question in my “What would you like?” post:

But that brings me to my topic request: the interrobang.

I like to use them, usually with the question mark first, followed by the exclamation point, because I think the lack of a punctuation mark that adequately covers the instance of a shouted or excited question weakens prose, and the interrobang is a solution embraced by common culture that has become perfectly acceptable even in polite company.

I know that some editors, however, do not agree, saying that it is the equivalent of putting :) in your prose, and it should be relegated to informal IM speak and not a proper-full length novel.

First, as Peter is doing, when I refer to interrobangs here, I’m not referring to the combined punctuation mark shown in the Wikipedia article (I’ve never seen one of those marks in print and don’t think most readers would know what it was) but just to an exclamation point and question mark together. Also, copyeditors are sometimes given instructions by editors or production editors to delete such interrobangs, and if that is the case, I delete them; that’s my job, and the editor knows the book on a different level than the copyeditor can.

My personal opinion on interrobangs is that the way they come across depends quite a bit on your prose. I’ve seen styles where they didn’t seem to fit, and I’ve seen others where they meshed very well. I’ve also seen individual sentences that I thought were made more clear by the interrobang even though the punctuation might not have been appropriate through the whole manuscript.

The solution favored by The Chicago Manual of Style is that if a question really is an exclamation, you use the exclamation point. (I use this rule for questions that really are statements, too, and let the author use a period at the end if the tone clearly calls for that.) Sometimes, though, the sentence isn’t phrased as a question, and so the problem a copyeditor can run into if we have to delete interrobangs wholesale is that further description might be needed in order for the reader to properly “hear” the tone intended. A great example of this is given in the Wikipedia entry linked above: “You’re going out with her?!” The sentence reads very differently if only a question mark or exclamation point is used, and authors who use the interrobang have not always described the tone or the agitation of the speaker otherwise, because the interrobang does that work for you. I do, then, sometimes find it necessary to query an author about clarifying the tone if I’ve been asked to delete the interrobangs. (If I haven’t been asked to delete them, I gauge the need to do so on a case-by-case basis.)

I’ll have more on unusual punctuation in my next post. :)

What would you like?

All right. I was told by an acquaintance today that my site is “cobwebby” (which I knew). I’ve had more than 100 hits in the last hour to that frosting recipe I posted, and while I don’t mind the traffic, I’d rather be getting hits for my publishing information. I know I’ve been awful about blogging, but it seems like I’ve pretty much covered the basics about copyediting, and particulars are…well, delicate, in this business.

So. What would you guys like to hear about, that I can post without talking about specific projects? (Or, if you’re an author I’ve worked on and don’t mind me talking about a specific project, let me know and I’ll run an idea by you.) I’d like to get back to blogging, but I’m a bit bored with personal stuff and am coming up blank on the professional. Give me a hand or drop me a line: my email is just my first name at my site. I promise I’ll choose something to post about.