I just finished going over the copy-edited manuscript of SHORT CHANGE, my third novel due out July 3, 2007. I have a new copy editor this time around. His name is Frank and he’s amazing. For those of you who aren’t familiar with how the publishing world works, your editor is the first to read your manuscript. She gives you her broad, sweeping visions of how the book can be improved. When you've made all of the necessary changes, she tells you, “Now it’s perfect!!!!!!!!!!” That makes you really happy.
But not for long. Then she sends your manuscript to the copy editor. He’s the guy who fills those perfect pages with red pencil marks highlighting how abysmally you’ve failed Commas 101. (Mims, should there be a comma after “marks”?) When I’m confronted with that sea of red, I get flashbacks to primary school essays I wrote on how I spent my summer vacation. Honestly, did the teacher want to know that I collected seashells at the beach or did she want Hemingway?
Michael was the copy editor for my first two books. He took exception to the way I used commas. There were simply too many of them and they were all in the wrong places. I learned a lot from him and eventually found myself pausing before every one of those innocuous little swooshes to ask myself: What would Michael do? Michael taught me well because on this third manuscript I saw whole pages without any red marks at all. (Michael, I was itching to use a comma in this paragraph but I resisted for your sake).
I have a new man now—Frank. He knows amazing things. Often we writers don’t think about that one little plural noun we use in a throwaway sentence. Then here comes somebody like Frank, gently reminding us that a Quarter Pounder has only one meat patty, not two.
Frank knows instinctively when to use blond or blonde, that Rhinestone is not capitalized despite what your computer spell-checker tells you. He notices that you’ve echoed the same phrase on the page. He knows the official names of songs, that “loony tune” isn’t “looney-tune” even though you looked that one up and were sure it was correct. He even tells you when you’ve spelled the name of a minor character in different ways throughout the manuscript. Honestly, Frank, picky, pickie, pickee.
Of course, Frank doesn’t force his views on me. Sometimes he writes, “Ok?” next to the change. Usually, I write “ok” back at him. I only used “stet” a couple of times because despite what Webster says, Eugene would say “up the ying-yang” not “yin-yang.” But fair is fair. I let Frank change racquet to racket. Both are acceptable spellings but racket is listed as first choice. I didn’t know that. Sometimes scrutiny is a good thing.
One of the best things about Frank is he draws happy faces next to sentences he likes. Well…most of them are clearly happy. One of them looks somewhat shocked, hopefully it’s because Frank was surprised about a plot twist not because I used a comma instead of a colon, although, now that I think about it maybe a colon would have been better. Whatever. Those happy faces (or is it Happy Faces?) make me feel really really good.
There are a lot of unsung heroes in the publishing business. Copy editors are right up there at the top. I’ve worked with two great guys now and for that I’m grateful. I have only one question. Did anybody but me think barbecue was spelled barbeque?
p.s. Thanks to Groupie for the great pictures:o) And to Jeff, so sorry about your car :o(