Today’s post is by Ariel Lawhon, the author of THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS (Doubleday), a reimagining of a scandalous mystery that rocked the nation in 1930—Justice Joseph Crater’s infamous disappearance—as seen through the eyes of the three women who knew him best.
People magazine has this to say:
As rumors swirl about political corruption, an N.Y.C. judge disappears in 1930 without a trace. Caught in the scandal are his wife and showgirl mistress—plus his dutiful maid, whose detective husband is investigating the case. Inspired by a real-life unsolved mystery, this mesmerizing novel features characters that make a lasting impression.
Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, and she’s a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.
Four Ways to Survive the Copy Edit Gauntlet
Copy edits were the one part of the editorial process that most caught me by surprise. I knew they were coming. And I knew they would be tedious. But I was not prepared for the amount of work involved. Of my 412-page manuscript only one page remained unmarked. The fact that I write historical fiction exacerbated this problem. Not only was my copy editor looking for typical grammar issues, repetitive phrases, and gaps in consistency, she followed up on every single historical detail. Dates. Times. Events. People. Locations. Among other things I had to verify that in 1930 August 17th fell on a Monday (it didn’t, and I had to change the date for that scene), the Globe Theater in Atlantic City had a drinking fountain (it did), and that over seven hundred buildings in Manhattan were under construction (also true). Everything was double-checked.
[pullquote]Copy edits were the one part of the editorial process that most caught me by surprise. I knew they were coming. And I knew they would be tedious. But I was not prepared for the amount of work involved.[/pullquote]
A good copy editor (mine was brilliant) will pick up on your individual writing tics. By the time my novel made it to this stage in the process I had easily read it ninety times. But I never noticed that all my characters were addicted to leaning against things. They leaned on each other. They leaned on car doors. Walls. Sinks. They leaned out of windows and over counters. My copy editor pointed this out immediately and I was very thankful.
Like me, your copy edits might focus on verifying historical details. Or maybe you’ll get hammered on grammar and semantics. Regardless, here are five ways to survive this part of the editorial process:
Prepare in Advance. Every novelist I know performs research of some kind. It doesn’t matter whether you write historical, medical thrillers, science fiction, psychological dramas, or any other genre. We all research. We scour libraries and Google documents. We pour over maps and blueprints. We interview relatives and eyewitnesses. And the easiest way to save time and sanity once a manuscript gets to the copy edit stage is to have this information accessible. One option is to keep your physical research organized and within reach until your book goes to press. Another is to use the footnote option in Microsoft Word every time you include research in your manuscript. (I prefer this option since it saves a great deal of time and desk space) Your copy editor will follow up on your research, and planning ahead will save hours, if not days, during this stage of the editing process.
Take Small Bites. The amount of time given to complete copy edits varies with each publisher. I had two weeks. And since my edits were quite intense I tackled thirty pages a day. Any more than that and my brain turned to soup. If you divide the edits into smaller, daily chunks the entire process will be easier.
STET Is Your Friend (But Use It with Discretion). According to Julia Armstrong, author of Copyediting and Proofreading, a copy editor’s job is to make the text “clear, correct, concise, comprehensive, and consistent.” Copy editors exist so that we don’t look stupid in print. They make sure that our Hero doesn’t have blue eyes in one chapter and brown eyes in the next. They follow up on the tiniest points of research. Don’t want hate mail from nit-picky readers? Then trust your copy editor on all the technical issues.
That said, a copy editor’s job is not to edit your manuscript. She shouldn’t make suggestions on plot or character development or narrative. We’ve all heard the horror stories of an over-zealous copy editor who rewrites portions of a manuscript or critiques the writing. Your copy editor should not do this. But if it happens to you, feel free to use STET—an editorial notation in the margins that means, “let it stand.”
If you know your research is correct and can back it up, STET. If she changed dialogue that is accurate to the time and setting of your novel, STET. If she runs rough-shod over your manuscript, STET. Don’t be afraid to use this tool, but be selective. Make it count.
Have Fun with It. Keep your sense of humor. Understand that we all have odd grammatical tics that need correction. Drink a lot of coffee. Find a copy-editing soundtrack (I liked the Mumford and Sons station on Pandora) Look for a copy editing guru: I follow Benjamin Dreyer on Twitter (@BCdryer). He’s a copy edit chief at Random House and offers fun, snarky commentary on copy edits. If you use the hashtag #AskCopyChief he’ll even answer your questions.
Have you ever walked the copy edit gauntlet? How was your experience?