I just finished the author alterations on my September book, Protector’s Temptation. This is my last chance to see the manuscript before it goes to print, so my last chance to make any changes. Usually, at this stage, after a line-edit and a copy-edit (and revisions, if necessary), the changes are minor — an occasional typo, something that got cut in revisions that needs to be replaced, etc.

This time I had a whole boatload of changes, and the frustrating thing about it is that 90% of them were unnecessary. (Yes, I did the math.) I had a copy editor on this manuscript who inserted commas wherever struck her fancy — not once in the right place, which means that I had to take them all out again.

Worse, she didn’t like the wayI formatted it when a character remembers a line of earlier dialogue. Every single time but two, she deleted the italics and inserted quotation marks. (Those two times, she left the italics and added the quotation marks.)

Forget that I format it the way I was taught to by earlier CEs. Forget that I’ve formatted this stuff the same way for seventy-plus books. Out with the old way, in with hers. I wrote the darn thing, and I was still utterly confused by her methods, especially when the recollection of earlier dialogue was going on in the middle of a new conversation. Especially when the person who spoke the earlier line isn’t present for the new conversation.

The upshot is that this edit took me about three times longer to finish than it should have. Then there’s the frustration at having to spend so much time undoing what she did wrong when I did it right in the first place. And it didn’t help at all that I can’t type “quotation” even one time without misspelling it. (I sent the corrections back via e-mail.) My eyes are crossed and my tongue is sore from biting it too much.

One time, I got back AAs on a book that mistakenly included the page the editor sends to the copy editor with instructions specifically for that title/author. On it, there were boxes the editor was to choose from: light, moderate or heavy edit, with a brief guideline alongside. My editor checked the box asking for a light edit; the guideline said (I don’t remember verbatim, but this close) “correct only obvious mistakes; author is overly sensitive about her work.”

It was the first and only time I ever saw that letter. When I finished my AAs, I got them ready to mail back, but first I included that sheet. I redlined “overly sensitive about her work” and inserted “almost always right in her use of grammar and punctuation.” My editor got a good laugh from it and admitted that she never looked at the guidelines; she just focused on the “light, moderate, heavy” part.

I got no questions to ask to encourage you to comment — I’m still half brain-dead from the experience — so I’ll end with a slightly-altered old joke.

A married couple, both authors, realized how often they discussed their work in front of their children when they overheard their daughter fussing at their son one day. “You’re stupid!” she cried. “You’re mean! You’re a–a (copy) editor!!”


11 thoughts on “Comma-uppance

  1. So sorry Marilyn. I hear a GRRR! at the end of each sentence. And, I hate to admit it, but it’s kind of funny.

    I can just see you all smiles and easy joking,totally cool as you negotiate, when inside you want to go to the CE’s office to snap every damn writing utensil IN, ON, or AROUND her desk.

    I’d go with you… if you want. 🙂

    • And after all the writing utensils are snapped, it’ll be your job to keep me from going for the neck. Deal?

      It’s one of those things that I’ll find amusing later. Once all the bite marks are gone from inside my mouth. 😉

  2. I’d love to skip the copy edit phase — or at least to have a say in who does it. My early CEs were goddesses. I learned so much from them. Lately . . . sigh . . .

    “The” word? You only have one you can’t type right? There are several for me: “sould” for “soul,” “brother” for “broth,” “Marilynj” for “Marilyn.” Sheesh.

    • LOL. I don’t think I have one that I can’t handle in any format. Though sometimes a word looks funny to me when I write it by hand but looks fine when I type it.

      How about “bathroom” or “commode”? You can spell them, right?

  3. Thanks, Margaret! Maybe I’ll bash her with a copy of Strunk and White or the Chicago style manual. Chicago would leave a bigger mark, but S&W is easier to swing. 😉

  4. My bugaboos are: villian, bulleting, and there’re.

    Marilyn, you HAVE to send that CE a copy of EATS, SHOOTS, AND LEAVES. It’s a howl.

  5. Growing up outside of Washington, D.C. I never knew that TOURIST wasn’t a cuss word. ‘Cause when my dad was driving and started muttering about the TOURISTS, it never sounded good.

    Your modified joke made me think of that.


  6. Marilyn,

    I cannot imagine how frustrating it must be to go back and re-correct something that was right to begin with!

    When I was doing technical writing at the company who shall not be named, I would often have to get approval on a document from 10 or 12 people on a project team… and you got it, they’d change each other’s stuff back and forth. I would have to bring two of them together into a room and negotiate an acceptable compromise…. I had bite marks inside my mouth too. spw

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