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March 22nd, 2007

book and glasses

The Game: the copy edit

So. You've signed the contract, and the champagne flowed like a river. You knuckled under and wrote the book, and it was good, and you sat back and closed your eyes and thanked your muse. You sent the manuscript in, it got looked at, it got the "accepted" stamp on it. (You may even have received your on-acceptance check already, if you're lucky.)

Now comes... the Copy Edit.

There are different publishing houses, different editors, different styles and approaches - in some of my books the copy edit was so minor as to be almost negligible. In YA, though, apparently, they are far mroe thorough than that - the second WOrldweavers book is in the copyedit stage, it's spread all over my living room floor festooned with purple post-its and scribbled over in four different species of handwriting (my editor's, the in-house copy editor's, the freelance copy editor's, mine)... and this is invariably the stage of production that makes me hate eveyrthing I've ever written.

Don't get me wrong. I appreciate the thoroughness of this. I appreciate the way minor inconsistencies have been picked up and poked at, the kind of inconsistencies that I wouldn't even have noticed (being too close to the manuscript) but whose addressing makes for a better book. There are places where my editor, who is a real gem of an editor, let me say right now and right here, tweaks a sentence of mine and suddenly makes it sing a far purer note - without changing any actual words, just tightening here and tightening there. It's all completely invaluable, and it all adds immesurably to the final book in a way that I cannot begin to express - and yet and yet and yet in order to get there *four different people including me* have just been through this thing with a fine tooth comb, and then a finer, and the nits are being picked here and there and everywhere, and if you're the author who has the whole bigger picture in your head it can drive you insane to be so closely focused on the fine print. It's like - well - I do tapestry. You know, those printed canvases where you buy the "picture" and then you buy the wool and you do individual colours, or you even do the counted ones where all you have is a schematic and you have to count each stitch of each colour as you do them. It's all detail, detail, detail - I am now doing the BLACK part, I am doing the GREEN part, I am doing the LIGHT RED part and then the DARK RED part and look there I've missed a few stitches of the WHITE part - and you are so consumed with individual stitches that you are almost startled when you're almost done and the entire picture suddenly leaps into focus for you.

It's like that, the copy edit. It's individual stitches. It's the black part and the red part an the yellow part. But that's the copy editor's *job*. And you, the writer, can't help but hold the big picture in your head - and with every ounce of appreciation that goes out to the copyeditor for paying such close attention comes another ounce of frustration that the MS you thought was finished is apparently far, far from it.

And you KNOW that you still have the proofs to come, once the copy edited stuff is input and the final version is printed out.

As much as you love your stories, there comes a time when you start feeling like - well - if you have to read the fricking thing through ONE - MORE - TIME while paying attention to every adjective and every semi-colon, you just know you're going to scream. Loudly.

Deadlines don't help, and copyedits are frequently associated with those, too.

So here I am, in the copy edit stage of The Game. There are sections of this book that still manage to make me sigh or smile, even through the forest of editorial shorthand and commentary, and that's all to the good - and the first book appears to be doing okay so far in terms of response (heck, it's still the first week of its release and already I have five official reviews and a BUNCH of readers' responses which is pretty damn cool) and I'm at the stage of yearning for the day that BOok 2 will be, you know, DOOOOOOONE. (Book 3 is still only one-quarter finished. I kind of need to get back to that. Like, soon. Like, NOW. Argh.)

So. Back to the copyedit.

There are levels to this. Some bits are commentary or suggestion ("delete this? better if the readers infer it for themselves") that require your okay or your stet. Some are close-to-the-bone sentence rearrangements, or the notification to the author that one of his or her characters has just shrugged for the third time on a single MS page, and could we cut down on the shrugging, please. Some of it is content and continuity ("You can't have this character speaking in this bit of dialogue, they left the room three pages earlier.") Some of it is more nebulous ("this is complicated - can you restate it in a simpler way?") and necessitate a special tag which means going back, once the whole thing is complete, and rewriting sentences, paragraphs, sometimes whole sections.

I'm about halfway done. And that's the first pass. Then I have to go back and fix the rewrites, write the summary letter I always send with these things, parcel it all up with the new rewritten sections inserted where they should go.

I am going to be working solidly on this tomorrow, and every moment of the weekend that I am not otherwise occupied (but yes, mareklamo, please please PLEASE drop in on Sunday and save me from myself [grin]). And I will be LUCKY if I get it done by Monday.

You see, there's another aspect to this, and it's reputation. I'm rather proud of mine. I deal with editors on the principle that I want them to remember me in a good way. Every deadline I have been given I have met. I have listened to editorial notes on my books, and I have complied with editorial suggestions on every occasion where I didn't think that it would hurt the structure or the theme of the book - I tossed out an entire ending once and rewrote it to editorial fiat, and did it on time, and did it (I hope) well. The editors who have worked with me hopefully think of me as a professional with whom they can work. And every book, every copy edit, every stage of The Game is a new chance to prove yourself... or fail to. Once you HAVE that good reputation in the field, it's up to you to keep working on keeping it.

So my current copy edit is going to be at least three days late on the original deadline that was requested of me - couldn't be helped, the trip to the East Coast came right slap bang in the middle of the week they sent the MS to me, and the MS needing my attention and I were simply not in the same physical space for nearly a week - and yet I will still get the copy edit in within five days of that deadline. I value that reputation. I will scramble and work like a dog to keep it.

It's going to be a great book. I'll get over the nits. I'll streamline, and final-polish, and buff and shine until I can do no more, and then back it will go to the poor people who are supposed to make SENSE of all the scribbles all over the MS pages in the four different kinds of handwriting. I am in awe of these people and their ability to get it all together. In comparison to that, my own job palls - I am, after all, just the last pair of eyes in a series of editorial passes, and then I'll pass it off to those who have to actually produce coherence out of it all. ANd once they're done... it's going to be a great book.

Even in the forest of nits, in the serried ranks of the trees of grammar and the occasional frustration at American idiom which is doggedly replacing my more British-leaning spelling and phrasing, I can still see the woods, the slant of sunlight through green trees pooling on soft ground, the scent of summer, the sound of birds in the treetops and running water somewhere close and wind in the leaves.It's beautiful. It WILL be beautiful.

But that's the next stage of The Game.