Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

The Red: Trials / Copyediting Primer

April 4th, 2014


Or … I am done pending feedback from my copyeditor, Chaz Brenchley.

What does a copyeditor do?
A good copyeditor will read through the manuscript, attending to the nitty-gritty details of grammar, spelling, capitalization, and consistency of story elements.

Some examples:

* look for typos, missing words, missing punctuation, misspelled words

* look for incorrect punctuation

* make sure there is consistency in the way words are spelled and capitalized. For example, I always use “nightvision” instead of “night vision.” And where abbreviations and acronyms are used, I tend to skip the periods, so “US Army” or “Washington DC.”

* make sure that characters’ names and physical attributes are consistent throughout (except of course where those physical attributes change).

* make sure characters are where they are supposed to be and have not magically transported elsewhere.

Copyediting is a tough, demanding job. Part of the skill set is to know when an author has deliberately and effectively violated the rules of grammar. For example, I might use a comma splice on occasion to rush the action forward. Is it an effective use? The copyeditor might have an opinion on that.

Sometimes copyeditors–not Chaz!–go overboard. Hang out with any group of experienced writers and you will hear copyeditor horror stories. I never had any truly bad experiences, but I do remember one CE who was correcting grammar in dialogue, noting that my character should have said “whom” instead of “who.” Er…no. That character would never have said “whom.”

In traditional publishing, the copyeditor will produce what’s called a stylesheet. This notes the page on which each character first appears, preferred spellings, place names, etc. With the last two novels I’ve begun to assemble my own stylesheet as I write. Included on it are character names and descriptions; lists of who is on what squad, when, where; place names with proper spelling; words like “nightvision” that might have variable spelling, so I note the version I’m using; abbreviations, showing how they should be handled; section names (this would be handled in a table of contents if I were using standard chapters); and lists of facts that are part of the story, so I can use them consistently without going back to look them up.

As I’m writing, I also create a timeline of events, with dates. Both the stylesheet and the timeline have been sent to Chaz, hopefully making his job a little easier.

I suppose I should add one more bit to this post:
What does a copyeditor NOT do?

There are likely different opinions on this, but a copyeditor does not address the overall story in the way that a regular editor would. So, for example, if a copyeditor comes across an action sequence that he thinks is *really stupid*, that’s too bad! Just fix the typos, please. Now, I trust Chaz to tell me if he comes across something that’s just unacceptable, but hopefully my beta readers and my editor have already dealt with any potential issue of that nature.

The other thing a copyeditor should never do is try to rewrite the style a story is told in. I’ve never had this happen to me, but I’ve heard stories…

At any rate, while copyediting takes time, I’m not anticipating big changes when the manuscript comes back to me (fingers crossed). So I’m still looking forward to publication on May 20.

Posted on: Friday, April 4th, 2014 at 1:36 pm
Categories: Publishing.
Tags: , , ,

2 Responses to “The Red: Trials / Copyediting Primer”

  1. Doug Farren Says:

    Well written – very informative. I am looking forward to getting a copy from you. I’m going to put a link to this in my blog post on Sunday as I think it has great benefit to new writers. I am lucky in that my wife does my copyediting, but I’m going to have her read this to help her improve how she does my own novels.

  2. Linda Says:

    Thanks Doug. I’m glad it was useful.