Thursday, May 08, 2008

Copy Edits

Posted by Lynne Griffin

Lisa's story arrived in pictures on Monday, Amy's galley on Tuesday and Hannah's inspiration just yesterday. What did I get in the mail this week? My copy edited manuscript. It is really a thrill to see it, all marked up with purple pencil, with little green Post-its littered throughout.

The process of getting a manuscript through production includes a thorough read by an expert stylist and grammarian. You'd be surprised at how many little details and inconsistencies even the most meticulous writer misses.

Some of you are old pros at this part of the publication process, but for those of you who aren't, let me share how it works.

The manuscript was sent to me via UPS with a tracking number--the mere thought of all that work getting lost is frightening. When it arrived, I pulled it from its envelope and went through each page to get a sense of just how much work there would be to do. You see, my job at this stage is to go through and read the manuscript word-by-word. When I get to a correction made by the copy editor--it could be as simple as to add or delete a comma, or as complex as to change a whole sentence, for readability--I am to decide whether or not to accept the change. If I accept it, I do nothing; just leave it and keep reading. If I disagree with the change (and I would if the change interfered with meaning, or characterization, and the like) I write the word STET next to it, which means leave the material as it was written.

Through the manuscript on Post-it notes, there are what are called queries. The copy editor is in fact asking me questions. They can be easy questions such as, do I like the sentence change, to more complicated ones like would this character really do this? I even had to do a bit of research on some queries, like do certain trees hold their leaves as long as I said they did. Great pick ups like this assure a quality read for readers. My copy editor did an amazing job with another important task--reading for consistency.

Enclosed in the package sent to me, is what is called a style sheet. Imagine a set of directions that covers everything from how unique words will be spelled, (one-two punch & hit and run) how dates and times will be managed, (spell out the quarter hour & use a.m and p.m.) and (this is my favorite) a character listing, one that includes physical traits and plot details. It even includes a brief summary of each chapter. I loved seeing my novel captured this way by a fresh reader.

All of this work done by someone you may never meet, but should certainly thank, is a generous gift. To know that someone who loves books took tons of time to read and fine-tune my manuscript is awe inspiring.

My copy edits are done now and will go back to my editor. She in turn will send it back over to production so that the changes can be incorporated into the manuscript. Next step is galley creation, like the one you saw Amy holding this week. Each of these essential milestones take me closer to publication. It's hard work, but thrilling.

Those of you who've gone through this process, feel free to add info I've left out via the comments section. And if you have questions, feel free to pose them here.


Gail said...

Hi Lynee,

I recently went through copy edits myself and you described it accurately. I loved the style sheet and the little comments that the copy editor made and just felt so grateful that another person took my words seriously enough to care about these tiny details. My only concern was whether making changes would inadvertently create more mistakes... things to worry about launch year in the middle of the night!

Gail said...

oops sorry for the typo on your name Lynne!

Therese said...

Lynne, I'm so excited to see SUMMER getting closer to publication!

My new book (oh, for a title that will stick...) goes to UK copyediting in 10 days, so your post is a timely reminder of how it all works. What I didn't know the first time around was that I could STET anything I wanted. Oh, the power!

Mostly, however, the corrections needed to stand. :)

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Hi Gail,

The only person ever to call me Lynee was my Nana. Thanks for bringing her into my morning.

As for copy edits--you are so right. Every time I made a little change, I worried I was making a mess of the whole thing. At every step of the way, there is something to fret about.

BTW, can't wait to read your memoir. You're almost there.


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...


I may be announcing a title change myself, in a few days. Though not a big one, thank goodness.

As for the power of STET, who knew? To tell you the truth, almost every change suggested was spot on.

Good luck with your next copy edits. It is so hard to believe you are already on book 2!


Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Lynne, How fun for you to be at this stage. It just brings the release date one step closer.

It is amazing, isn't it, to think of all the people who have a hand in getting your book to the readers and on the shelves.


Anonymous said...

Hi Lynne,
I love posts like this that bring us right into the process. I think I'd enjoy the editing - the book is written, so a certain pressure is off as you fine tune? Also, do Copy Edits happen only once, or is manuscript given another once-over? Thanks!

DeAnna Cameron said...

I second Joanne's comments. I really appreciate you sharing what happens after the book sells and before it hits bookstores, and I'm curious, too, if this is the last copy-editing phase.

Lisa said...

This is really fascinating. It makes me realize how many people contribute to what goes into the final book that I read. It also makes me realize that some authors are far more fortunate than others and get excellent, diligent copy editors. I have read quite a few books that didn't seem to get the kind of attention during the copy editing stage that they should have.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Hi Judy,

Yes, it is so fun to be at this point. There is a sense of relief that big shifts and changes can't be made. It is rather freeing.


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Joanne & Deanna,

I'm so glad you like these types of posts. As for your question, no, this won't be the last time I see it. The first step is the editorial edits, which I got back in October and had two months to complete. After the book sells and you know your editor, you are given his/her suggestions. These edits can be small and/or sweeping--it depends. Mine where some where in between. Enough to be pleased my editor took the time to massage the novel, but not enough to be overwhelming.

The next time you see the manuscript is at the copy edit stage. (What I described in today's post.) Then there's what's called first pass pages. That's when you get a draft for a final proof read.

At the copy edit stage you can still make changes--a sentence here an addition there. Still these edits are generally expected to be small. At the first pass stage, only absolutely small and necessary changes should be made. You see each time you make changes, it introduces other potential errors and can throw off the interior layout. So with each pass, you should be doing less changing.

On the galley, which is usually generated between copy edits and first pass pages, it says "uncorrected proof". That way reviewers, blurbers, and the like know to expect a few errors. They realize the manuscript is in the final stages of becoming clean. (Or one hopes!)

Does this help clarify?

The take home message is to make your manuscript real clean from the start. It helps you and your team immeasurably.


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...


Yes, so many people contribute to your book's success. And so many people should be thanked! The beauty of the charming note shouldn't go unrecognized. I sent my production editor and copy editor thank yous this morning.


DeAnna Cameron said...

Thank you for elaborating! :-)

Carleen Brice said...

With Orange Mint and Honey I got a calendar timeline of all the events in the book, which was GREAT. Chronology is not my strong suit, and the copy editor went through and helped make it all work. Thank God for copy editors!!

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