Being Copyedited

For the second time during my stint as a copyeditor, one of my literary publications-to-be is being copyedited. It is a funny experience. I went over each change with an eagle eye. I was curious what the author would catch (one brand name that I’ve been spelling wrong for years and a lead/led mistake…oops).

There were two places where she changed the punctuation for clarity. I thought I was writing a list, but she thought it would be better if I wrote “First element—second element and third element.” Left to my druthers, I would have kept it as “First element, second element, and third element,” but I could see that the grammar was a little awkward and her change didn’t actually alter the meaning of the sentence. So I accepted the change.

The second change was a comma where I would not have added a comma. The instructions from the managing editor was to accept the changes I wanted and reject the changes I didn’t. But of course that’s not what I want to do. I want to ask the copyeditor why she put a comma there. I could see how adding two commas might make sense, but one?

But I can’t really justify the conversation. The managing editor is probably not getting paid, neither is the copyeditor. The copyediting is competent. I just want a little shop talk.

What is it like being copyedited?



14 responses to “Being Copyedited

  1. A few years back, I wrote a tech book on an Open Source software project. The publisher was a British company, and they actually had a copyeditor go over what I’d written. Weirdly, I think many of the edits made were incorrect. There were plenty which were just stylistic differences (Oxford commas, commas setting aside what I considered dependent clauses, etc). But some of them just flat out changed the meaning.

    I interpreted these edits as a sign that what I had originally written was unclear, and completely rewrote those sentences (or paragraphs).

    Considering how many people actually bought the book, those revisions probably worked out to about half an hour of rewriting per reader, but that’s a different story entirely.

    • SjG, if you have an English major type copyediting, we often don’t know whether something is badly written or whether science and/or tech have strange ways of saying thing. So props to you for not saying “stet, you ignorant copyeditor!” and actually clarifying jargon, etc.

  2. In my day job I make things look pretty, to entice the buying public to buy. (I have grown to hate American consumers, even the nice ones.) It is my job to visually reach into their pockets, turn them inside out and send them on their way…with full bags and empty wallets. I am very good at what I do so when some hotshot comes along and changes that which I have created, it pisses me off. And my dear, if it looks better, fuck them.

    Regarding copy editing, I know nothing, they are right, you are always right, even Elmer Fudd is right-er than me and he talks funny.

  3. How funny you should ask! In some ways, being copy-edited is like having your pesky little sister running around saying “why are you…?” “how come you’re….?” “can’t I…?” But in other ways, it’s like having a new friend: one with whom you can discuss how to manage gender neutral pronouns, asking him/her what he/she thinks about his/her choices (oh, and all the while avoiding the plural possessive as a cop-out, inelegant option).

    I find being copy-edited thrilling. I shyly ask how my copy-editor finds my writing, and glow when she tells me how little bad stuff she had to do. We’re both tickled about the fact that we are a week ahead of schedule.

    I forgive her for asking me if Dr. Fransisc Whoosiedingy is actually Dr. Fransisco Whoosiedingy or Dr. Francis Whoosiedingy (he/she [yeah, go figure] is actually Dr. Fransisc Whoosiedingy).

    Does that answer your question?

    • Yes. I tried to tell the other story. The one about the textbook you’re working on “Intermediate and Advanced Hamster Grooming” (DP’s contribution), but it wasn’t as good on the page. That or the metaphor didn’t survive the hamsters.

  4. I’m with Averil —- I LOVE being copyedited. And I mean the all-caps kind of love. In my dream life, I want a full-time chef, a driver, and a live-in copyeditor.

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