Thursday, May 24, 2012

Copyediting: Making Sure Your Trail's What It's Meant to Be

After covering the types of "little picture" editing and delving into what line editing and content editing are, it's time to address copyediting. Some people use "line editing" and "copy editing" synonymously, so let's review how I'm using it:

makes sure your text says what you meant it to say and that its grammar and spelling matches the appropriate house style†

For further explanation of why I need these definitions and what "house style" is, see this post.

How often have you left a blog comment, only to afterwards realize you accidentally said something wrong? Maybe you said Neil Gaiman doesn't write well when you meant to say he does write well. Or maybe you post something, only to have the vast majority of commenters make you realize that you effectively said something other than what you intended to say.

The sentences work. The paragraphs work. The overall post all work grammatically—

But they say the wrong thing.

That nature trail you've worked so hard on isn't the path you wanted it to be.

That's where copyediting comes in. Flagging "Hey, did you mean to say this?" and "Hey, why did this character's hair change from black to red?" Sometimes, it's even verifying that the author used the word they intended in a phrase.

Notice that the point with copyediting is not "This doesn't make sense," though that can sometimes be a part of it. The point is "Is this what you intended to say?"

For example, to briefly describe the terms, discreet means "located subtly"; discrete means "located separately". The former word is more commonly intended than the latter, so if a writer uses discrete, if either word could be used, I'll ask the author if they intended the more common one.

There won't be anything wrong with the sentence, mind you. I'll just be verifying that you used the word you intended, because a lot of folks don't realize the difference between the two words.

Editors aren't telepathic.

Hint: That lack of telepathy is why editors might sometimes screw up a writer's meaning. Yes, some editors go overboard. Yes, some editors' failure to understand the writer is not the writer's fault. But even a good editor might misunderstand a writer and wreck something.

(And since good editors will, yanno, ask when they aren't sure, that means they were sure that the writer meant that other thing, so something was wrong with the original writing.)

Editors aren't jealousy incarnate.

Okay, some editors might be failed writers and therefore jealous. Might.

Some editors might try to replace your writing style with their own. Might. (Hint: Editors aren't supposed to do that. Ghostwriting practice helps an editor avoid that, in my experience.)

And, to be frank, some writers are clueless if not all-around jerks. (On behalf editors everywhere, please do not send your editor a rough draft!)

Now. After that delving into the first half of copyediting—making sure your text says what you meant it to say—let's look at the other half. What's "house style"?

house style
The publisher's grammar, spelling, and formatting.

If you're self-publishing, that means your preferred grammar, spellings, and formatting choices. (Some grammar rules and spellings differ depending on your book—or on your edition of the book. For example, is it "Chris' toy" or "Chris's toy"? Answer differs depending on if you're using Chicago Manual of Style 15th edition or 16th edition.

If you have a publisher, that means your publisher's preferred grammar, spellings, and formatting choices. Not yours. Your publisher's.

Why? For coherency in what is published.

(Your chapter headers' font size, what you put in scene breaks, that your indents are the same size—those are also part of the "house style", though that's traditionally been more the realm of proofreaders than copyeditors, so we'll delve more into that next week.)

And, sadly, a lot of companies have laid off their copyeditors, have combined the job with proofreading or line editing, or have so downsized their editing departments that they struggle to keep up with the volume.

Which explains some things we often see in what we read, actually.

How are you at copyediting? Do you know any copyeditors? Have you read anything lately that you think could've used a copyeditor?

P.S. Anyone else having problems with


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