May 15, 2011
Editing – Part IV: the First Pass
June 4, 2011
Show all

Editing– Part III: the copyedit

Several months ago I posted on the process of editing. Today, I follow up with the happy news that I have finished my final edit for The Territory. Following is a basic description of the first-steps to publication, and what a major role editing plays in the process. It helps to understand the organization of a publishing house, how the various departments work within the house, and most importantly – what is expected of the author.

The first step to publication is obviously connecting to a publisher who is interested in the work. Authors can submit directly to the publisher, or more commonly, submit to an agent first. Once an agent has signed an author, they take care of selling the book to the most appropriate publisher. The agent typically charges 10-15% commission. Many publishing companies will no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts directly from authors; they only want work that has been deemed appropriate for their company by a reputable agent.

The agent will submit the work to an acquisitions editor who will determine if a manuscript is worth acquiring.

If the publishing house in interested in the work the author will sign a contract (see Author Questionnaire post for more information on contracts). Depending on the size of the company, the author will then go through several edits with the acquisitions editor, then move to fact checkers and finally, to the copy editor. (See Editing – Part I)

While the editing is taking place, the design process for the book cover, typography and inside matter for the book is progressing in another department. At some point between the final edit and the final copyedit, advanced copies of the book are printed. The publisher mails these copies to authors who agree to read the book, and if they feel so inclined, they will write a blurb. Writers are approached who write within the same genre as the book you have written. Once the manuscript is finished, the copyeditor makes the final grammatical and style changes necessary to get the book ready for print.

This past month I received the final copyedit for The Territory. It was a much faster process than the original edits. The majority of my errors were embarrassing – capitalizing the words sheriff, mayor and police when they were not being used as proper nouns. I find myself doing this in emails to emphasize a point. I’ve noticed that in email people feel free to adopt their own set of grammatical rules and spellings. This isn’t too much of a problem until the rules bleed over into more formal writing. Lately, I’ve made a conscious effort in my emails, both at home and work, to make sure they are grammatically correct.

Something else the copyeditor caught was my tendency to repeatedly use certain motions:

“gestured with his hand,” or

“put a hand in the air,” or

“motioned with his hand,” or

“pointed with her hand.”

I realized I use these as a quick physical response to throw into a scene with dialogue. To cure my habit, I have been focusing on movements people make during conversations. I always carry a small notebook and pen in my purse, but now I’m carrying it everywhere. I have been surprised at the number of physical descriptions I’ve picked up while sitting at a meeting at work, or waiting at the hairdresser, or sitting in a restaurant. Looking for bored – watch people at an airport. Animated – a nightclub or theatre. Brain-dead – the grocery. You get the idea.

Along the same lines, watch for repeated words. I had never picked up on the fact that I do this until the copy editor found several examples. As I’m writing my second book I find myself catching multiple uses of a word within a paragraph. I’m becoming much more adept at self-editing. This is another reason for writer’s groups. Until someone has pointed out your mistakes (and sometimes it takes multiple pointings) it’s hard to know they are there.

Galley proofs are next. It will be exciting to finally see the book in print. I’m beginning to understand the reason a project takes a year from start to finish.

Next week – writing the first draft