Proportion? What’s That?

danorbit. /Stock Photos

There are several times during the publishing process when one is tempted to lose all sense of proportion, heave everything out the window, and go be a plumber instead. (Or a stock-car driver. Or a rubbish collector. Anything other than a wordmonkey.) The one I’m currently in now is copyedits.

Copyeditors are those brave souls who descend upon one’s manuscript and pick through it with a fine-tooth comb. Punctuation. Grammar. Internal consistency. Formatting. Everything. As you might guess, these people are quiet heroes. I can tell you that if I had to copyedit, I would quickly reach the point of flinging myself off a bridge. It takes a keen eye and a lot of patience.

Getting copyedits back is like failing a test. The sheer amount of markup even on a light copyedit (i.e., a manuscript that didn’t need “much” in the way of corrections) is stunning the way an iron club to the head is stunning. Queries in the margins need to be stetted (“stet” means “let it stand”; “STET GODDAMMIT” means “the writer is a cranky little panda right now and should probably be asleep instead of crouched over this goddamn manuscript, unwashed and hungry, at 3AM.” I’ll let you figure out what “STET MOTHERFUCKER STET” means.) or answered; decisions need to be made, things need to be cross-checked and made consistent. Every single glaring writerly flaw one possesses is highlighted, in neon. Ten feet tall.

It’s amazing a writer has any ego left after this sort of thing. But I suppose a writer’s ego is like a Weeble. Or like cockroaches. Gas ’em, dust ’em, smash ’em, but they just keep coming back. Maybe it’s because being addicted to the sweet crack of wordslinging insulates us. Or because we’re stupid-crazy.

Guess which one my money’s on?

So yeah. Sense of proportion: gone. Sanity: never much to begin with. More coffee: brewing. Copyedits: Going down.

Over and out.

  • martianmooncrab

    and they still dont think the Author Is Right… then delete randome sentances.

  • Morgan

    Once upon a time there was a book written by a New Zealander who swore that her book, oddball punctuation, spelling, and all, would only be published AS IS GODDAMMIT and encased in a block of perspex if necessary and used as a doorstop before it would submit to normalization.

    Her novel won the Pegasus Prize for Literature in 1983 and is one of the most amazing, lyrical, wondrous books I’ve ever read (and those terms are faint praise). It’s by Keri Hulme and is called “The Bone People.”

    Which is all to say that sometimes the copyedits need to stand, because they shape the book in meaningful, cognitive ways, and sometimes they don’t.

    But if you haven’t read “The Bone People,” I hope you do, for I predict it will bring you much joy.

  • Wolf Lahti

    Copy editors serve one of the most vital functions of the publication process.

    It’s too bad that at most publishing houses they’ve been replaced by accountants.

  • Lizzie Lewis

    I always thought I would make a good copyeditor. Took an AP Style class in college, loved being asked to go through friends’ term papers. Got a perverted sense of pleasure from seeing self-inflicted markups on my own first drafts.

  • Agent_MeerKat

    ‘Tis true – nobody loves a copy editor. Here we are in our cramped little rooms, struggling to make the grammar, the punctuation, the continuity work – Trying to point them out as gently as possible, realizing the author never meant to do that & it all took place in the frenzy of creativity.
    And knowing there are voodoo dolls with our likeness with pins sticking out of them all over our published world.

  • I wouldn’t say that no one loves a copyeditor. I absolutely treasure the ones I had for the WebMage series. I thanked them repeatedly in my acknowledgments because they were made of awesome with a awesome-sauce on the side. Good copyedits are wonderous things that make the book shine. Merely competent copyedits are also pretty spiffy, and leave me with a warm feeling inside despite the bruises. Then, there are the other kind.