Oh boy, how many of you have ever thought YOU were right and your copyeditor wrong? Nan Reinhardt is here to tell us why that just might not be so…
You’ve sent your editor what you believe is the best manuscript you’ve ever written. It’s a great story, full of passionate characters and deep POV, wonderful action and sensual love scenes. You’ve been over it numerous times and sent it through Word’s Grammar and Spell Checkers. You’ve written and rewritten passages, making them better each time. Your beta readers have given you feedback and you’ve used what you found helpful and dumped the rest. Your mom read the book and pronounced it perfect in every way. You’re basking in that lovely glow of accomplishment . . . feels great, doesn’t it?
Well, except for that little niggling in the back of your mind—did I remember to change the heroine’s brother’s name in every scene he appeared in? Did I use “though” too many times when I should have switched it up a bit more and used “although” or “even though” or “but”? Maybe I should’ve done a search for word echoes because I do use “look” a lot . . . and adverbs? Too many? Yikes!!
A couple of weeks later, the email from your editor arrives. Your copyedited manuscript is attached. If you’re like most authors, you clutch just a little because you know that copy editor has found all the stuff you and your betas and your mom missed. You open the file and ack! It looks like someone bled all over your beautiful story! Tracked changes are everywhere and according to the Reviewing Pane, there are 2,679 revisions and 34 comments.
Okay, don’t panic. First, go get a cup of coffee or tea or water. Seriously, go get a beverage. Then sit down at your computer, take several deep breaths, and repeat “My copy editor is my friend” three times. And remember, this is your book, so you make the calls about what edits you accept and what edits you reject. Now, let’s get started.
As a copy editor and one who’s actually put as many as six thousand tracked changes into a manuscript, I recommend you start with the comments. If I was your CE, there’s a good chance that at least half of them are highly complimentary because I want my authors to know when their story is working, not just when they’ve made errors. So you’ll see “Wow! Already love this guy!” or “LOL!” (at a time when it’s appropriate) or “What gorgeous imagery!” or “You got me, I’m crying,” (again at a time when that’s appropriate). I also comment when an author is echoing words, “You’ve used this word 78 times in the first five chapters of your story—how about trying . . .” and I’ll offer some synonyms that might work.
Comments may also include questions about sentences that don’t make sense or something that a character might say that seems like a non sequitur—what he’s saying doesn’t fit with the rest of the scene. I’ll point out anachronisms, like a bi-plane in a Regency novel. (That’s extreme, I know, but you get the picture!). POV glitches: When the heroine’s point of view is suddenly part of the hero’s thought process, that will generate a comment. So will tense switches—started the story in past tense and now we’re in present. What happened here?
I sometimes explain why I’m making an edit, for example, “We don’t always have to use a dialogue tag like said or replied; often just the action is enough, so I’m taking out extraneous dialogue tags, okay?” That comment will probably generate at least 600 tracked changes as I go through and get rid of unnecessary dialogue tags. See how it works? I’ll question the use of song lyrics because you need permission from the owner of the music to quote even one word of a lyric in a book. Most songwriters don’t give permission for that or if they do, you will pay handsomely for the privilege. And yes, if you call the heroine’s brother both Jim and John, I’ll put in a comment asking you to pick one.
Okay, so those are a few examples of comments your copy editor might make. See? Not so bad, huh? Now, on to the actual edits—deleted and added punctuation, fixed spellings, changed words, smoothed out sentences, etc. As a firm believer in the Oxford comma, I will put a comma before the conjunction in a series every single time. If you haven’t used a series comma, that could account for hundreds of tracked changes in your manuscript. Trust me, though, it belongs there. Accept it.
Sometimes, your em dashes are two hyphens with spaces around them. Nope. I’ll make them into an actual em dash with no spaces. There’s another 200 or so edits. Oh goodness, you forgot to add a period at the end of that sentence—I’ll fix it, don’t worry. You’ve capitalized “father” every time you use it, but CMS says only capitalize it when it’s direct address or used as a name. So, there’s several more edits as I lowercase “my father” each time you speak of him. Numbers are spelled out, so if you’ve used numerals, I’ll fix that, too.
There are a bunch of other examples, but I think you’re probably getting the idea—just because your manuscript came back covered in Tracked Changes doesn’t mean your copy editor actually changed your story. She didn’t mess with your voice or your plot (unless there was a glaring hole in it, which she should point out, but not fix). She found the inconsistencies, the inevitable misspellings, the punctuation errors that happen to all of us, and the rough awkward sentences that flow so much more smoothly if you just turn them around.
So the short answer, is yes, listen to your copy editor, unless she has just totally trashed your manuscript. Don’t be intimidated by the tracked changes. Your copy editor wants your book to be as close to perfect as it can be so your readers won’t get stopped by a glaring error. When a story is well edited, readers stay engaged and isn’t that what we’re all hoping for in the first place?
Holy cow! Laurie Schnebly Campbell is in the house on Friday! Don’t miss it!
Bio: Nan Reinhardt has been a copyeditor and proofreader for over 25 years, and currently works on romantic fiction titles for a variety of clients, including Avon Books, St. Martin’s Press, Kensington Books, Tule Publishing, and Entangled Publishing, as well as for many indie authors.
Nan is also writer of romantic fiction for women in their prime. Yeah, women still fall in love and have sex, even after 45! Imagine! She is a wife, a mom, a mother-in-law, and a grandmother. She’s been an antiques dealer, a bank teller, a stay-at-home mom, a secretary, and for the last 20 years, she’s earned her living as a freelance copyeditor and proofreader.
But writing is Nan’s first and most enduring passion. She can’t remember a time in her life when she wasn’t writing—she wrote her first romance novel at the age of ten, a love story between the most sophisticated person she knew at the time, her older sister (who was in high school and had a driver’s license!), and a member of Herman’s Hermits. If you remember who they are, you are Nan’s audience! She’s still writing romance, but now from the viewpoint of a wiser, slightly rumpled, menopausal woman who believes that love never ages, women only grow more interesting, and everybody needs a little sexy romance.
Visit Nan’s website at www.nanreinhardt.com, where you’ll find links to all her books as well as blogs about writing, being a Baby Boomer, and aging gracefully…mostly. Nan also blogs every Tuesday at Word Wranglers, sharing the spotlight with four other romance authors.
Talk to Nan at: email@example.com
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