Monday, January 29, 2007

An interesting view of copy editors

Just back from the ACES Southeast regional meeting in Chapel Hill (thanks to all who came out -- great sessions! -- and to the work of Maurreen, Holly, Emily and Lynn for putting it together) and a Google alert today points me to a blog posting from last week about copy editors.

It's worth reading, because it comes not from some ill-tempered group of newspaper reporters, but from a group of book writers on the First Offenders blog. (First Offenders is a blog centered on four mystery writers -- Lori G. Armstrong, Karen E. Olson, Jeff Shelby and Alison Gaylin -- but attracts many other authors to share their thoughts and experiences). This particular post, "Copy Editors Anonymous," is by "Karen" and captures well, I think, the ambivalent relationship editors and authors often have:

It’s not good being a copy editor when you’re also a writer. You might think it helps, but it doesn’t. I hate being copy edited, because it points out that I have that dreaded disease: itotallysuckitis.

I just got my copyedited manuscript back. This is one step beyond my editor, who points out inconsistencies, character and plot problems. The copy editor is much more nitpicky about punctuation, spelling and grammar and other issues. These problems are marked in red, small marks that pepper the manuscript like measles. When I look at this, I no longer see my lovely prose, but the same word or phrase over and over, my apparent ignorance about which streets are where in New Haven, Caffe Bottega has two fs and apparently Hagrid the Giant is really only a half-giant. Who knew that, besides Harry Potter know-it-alls?

Who are these faceless copy editors who insert commas and semi-colons in some places and take them away in others? Who are they who point out that we’ve made myriad errors, feeding into our itotallysuckitis?

I was not an anonymous copy editor at the newspaper. I came face-to-face with my victims (and married one of them). I explained why I was changing things, told reporters when their work was good (my husband was a very good investigative reporter but can’t spell). But there were times I got yelled at, patronized and one reporter told me he had writer’s block after a planning and zoning meeting. I was rarely thanked.

So to all those anonymous copy editors at publishing houses: Thank you for making us not look like idiots. But it might be nice that in the midst of all those red marks, you could insert “this is good” every now and then to keep us from breaking out into itotallysuckitis.
The comments on the post are good reading, too. Here's one I especially liked from Gaylin:
The copy editor on HIDE YOUR EYES got a copy of the Yiddish dictionary and gave me four different spellings of keinahora in the margin, asking me to circle whichever one I wanted -- or specify if I wanted to use my own (incorrectly spelled) version. I never met this person, but fell deeply in love.
That's the way it's supposed to happen.

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