Ahhh copy edits. I personally think that the very lovely lady who handles the copy editing at Orbit, must roll her eyes whenever she has to send anything to me. For a start, it always tends to have a very tight deadline on it anyway (the one I’m currently editing has a comically tight deadline, considering it’s not published for another seven months…) and whenever it arrives on my desk there’s inevitably a reply from me that goes…
“Dear Copy Editor,
Thank you for my edited manuscript, I shall get reading and check the changes. I got to say, though, that I flipping hate doing editorial notes on screen, and though I know you want this back by Friday of next week, I’ve got three shows to light, two novels to finish and am doing my final exam in angry shark baiting tomorrow, so it may be a bit late. Sorry.
lotsa love, Kate.”
Make no mistake – I’m absurdly grateful to my copy editor for noticing all the stuff that I’ve been too dumb (or too involved) to spot, ranging from commas in stupid places, through to whole sentences that just don’t make any flipping sense. That said, the editorial process can be fickle, and you don’t always have the same person reading the books for an entire series. Thus, I occasionally get notes in the margins of the Urban Magic books which read – ‘The Midnight Mayor? Is this a reference to a previous work?’ or, my personal all-time favourite editorial note left in the margin of a paragraph involving, I personally think, a really groovy spell and an underground ticket… ‘are you sure this would happen?’ To which the answer was: yes. Yes I am. See my confident literary face? That’s how sure I am.
I can’t believe I can say this, but when I first started out in scribbling (back in the heady days of 2000), all copy edits were done on paper, and this was what I got used to. From my Mum I learned all sorts of obscure pencil marks to indicate notions ranging from ‘delete’ through to ‘take this part of the sentence over to the next line like this because actually, where you’ve broken the word ‘legend’ in two now gives the impression that the character in question is a leg end, and this won’t do’. My favourite mark, of course, was ‘stet’ which translates as ‘let it stand’ and was of course the author’s way of circling an editor’s correction and saying, in so many words, ‘hell no! That’s a beautiful sentence you’ve just tried to ruin with your unwelcome exclamation mark, what on earth are you thinking, this is my art, my art, my ART!’ Well, maybe not quite that mad… though after 500 pages you could be getting there…
Now, of course, all editing is done on screen, and this really upsets me. I know that it saves the planet, is good for the environment etc., but I just find novels harder to read when they’re sat glaring at you from Microsoft Word. Worst of all, I hate, but I loathe track changes. Is the comma with the line under it a new thing, or a deleted thing? Is the red blob on the left a valid change, or merely a suggestion, and why are all the comments in such an exasperatingly small font? I’m sure that as a 26 year old lighting designer, I should be all in favour of technology conquering the world, but in much the same way that, as a lighting designer I still love the tungsten bulb, as a writer I still love the feel of paper in my hand. Screw the digital revolution; bring back the HB pencil and doing your editorials in the park, say I.