The Death of Copyediting

I’ve heard about the death of copy editing many times, both from authors and librarians, lamenting the lack of time for copy edits and the multiplicity of errors in books. I can only speak from my own books at Random House, but in my experience copy editing is alive and well—distressingly so.

This might not be everyone’s experience. Perhaps it’s just my own manuscripts that go out emblazoned with the words Not Written By An English Major upon their foreheads. My most recent manuscript was copy edited by no less than three people—each with her own color of pencil. As I read through it was clear to me that Violet and Indigo did not like each other very much, but Green, obviously the middle child of the group, was there to say, “Come on, girls. Can’t we get along? It’s just a hyphen!”

I was left with my highly-embarrassed Scarlet pencil to follow after my much wiser sisters of syntax who marked no less than a dozen items on every single page of a manuscript that ran longer than 160 pages. It’s nearly 2,000 copy edit marks!

My job for and entire week was to think about every single one of those marks and make a decision. Often it was the fairly easy. “Duh, of course the comma goes there. Why didn’t I notice that ages ago?”

Although to be honest, sometimes it’s more like, “Fine, what ever you say! Who cares if concertmaster is one word or two?”

And I confess that from time to time it’s even, “Seriously? There’s a rule about that? Dang! I should have been paying attention in English.”  Lucky for me Violet, Indigo, and Green were paying attention. In fact, they were the honors students, I’m sure of it.

Every now and then I have to say, “Now look, I know your suggestion is technically superior in every way but no kid would say or think this. Ever. Not in any century or any other planet. Sorry.” For reasons I do not begin to understand this is abbreviated STET.

I can see why copy edits get neglected. It’s difficult, often tedious work, it requires not just technical excellence from the copy editor, but also artistic sensibility, and it is frequently accomplished on a tight deadline.

And so, dear Violet, Indigo and Green, Thank you for your diligence. Thank you for your depth of knowledge in English, and for this book, German, French, Russian and (no kidding) Estonian. I am completely dazzled that you found a speaker of Estonian! Go Violet! Thank you for your probing questions, your willingness to hunt up accurate maps and even do the math on rates of exchange. I’ll never make fun of an English major again! Most of all thank you for respecting my reader enough to help me make Second Fiddle the best book it can be.


5 thoughts on “The Death of Copyediting

  1. Hannah Holt

    Thank goodness for Green! Merriam-Webster’s sometimes drives me crazy with it’s love of compound words, like concertmaster. lightbulb, and fancywork.
    I’ve never heard Estonian spoken, but that’s exciting that your book is being translated in so many languages. And yes, thank heavens for copy editors (which M-W agrees is two words)! They are a life saver!

  2. Rosanne Parry Post author

    Yes, thank goodness for Green–the secret identity of Chelsea Eberly, associate editor at Random House.

    This book hasn’t been translated yet though. Because the girls are traveling in Berlin and Paris they meet people who speak German, French, Russian, and Estonian. Which is why my poor copy editors had such work on their hands.

  3. Dan Patterson

    I remember being a nerdy kid of about 10 and finding a miss-print (uh-oh, did I spell that right?)fro the first time in a book. It might have even been the Homer Price and the never-ending doughnut machine story as published in an anthology. Anyway, I showed my dad and he said, “Dan, you found a miss-print!” I was so proud. It was like I’d won the lottery (if I’d known what the lottery was). Now I’ve found hundreds, but I really do appreciate careful editing.

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