July 29th, 2018

Copyediting vs. Being awful

Hello Frenz,

I would like to talk about the world of finding errors in text today. It is a subject dear to my heart and one in which I have considerable expertise. I feel that, perhaps because among my favourite kinds of jokes are the self-deprecating kind, my expertise is occasionally devalued a little bit when I offer it, so although it feels awkward, I would like to assert that I am smart enough for all normal purposes. A normal purpose is one like earning a living, and finding errors in text is one of the things I earn a living at, and have for many years. So that is my credential. Make of it what you will.

SO, as a person who has been proofreading and copyediting and supervising proofreaders and copyeditors for a decade and a half, I would like to say this: if you cannot win an argument without resorting to correcting someone’s spelling, grammar, or punctuation, you cannot win the argument. The only exception to this rule is arguments that are actually about spelling and grammar. If the argument is about racism or gun control or #metoo or whatever intense and freighted topic and someone’s rebuttal is a grammatical critique, they have nothing left to offer the conversation and should be ignored as surely as if they had resorted to a stream of obscenities–neither contributes to a useful dialogue. I would like to see this method of “debate” never ever again on Twitter or Facebook. I would like people to stop correcting ME on Facebook–can we assume I know how to spell and punctuate, and that I enjoy my time off with the occasional dangling modifier, much as a professional chef might like a little Kraft Dinner on a night off? Or assume I don’t know how to modify, and that I should have even more imposter syndrome than I do–you’re not going to re-eduate me in my replies. My main thing is that I would like folks to stop trying to shut down arguments this way, as if someone who has conjugation problems couldn’t possibly have anything to say worth reckoning with substantively.

Why? Because it’s classist–everyone has a different education and lexicon, and everyone comes to social media with a different idea of the formality of the diction. Just because someone has expressed their ideas in an ungrammatical way doesn’t mean they don’t understand the grammar AND even if they didn’t understand the grammar doesn’t mean the ideas themselves are not valuable. Obsessing about saying it “right” is another form of tone-policing, just like saying everyone has to meet a certain imaginary standard of politeness before they can be allowed to participate in the discussion.

It is not a coincidence that of the many friends I have met in the editorial community over the years, I have almost never seen a copyeditor or proofreader come aboard of anyone for this type of thing–we know our work is valuable up until a point and that point does not include disrupting social interaction. If a friend were consistently misspelling or misconstructing something in a noticeable way I might discreetly take them aside, if I felt it genuinely would be noticed by others–like by someone who wasn’t looking for gotcha errors. This is a spinach in your teeth situation–you say something to your friends so that a stranger won’t. But I would never do it in public.

Seriously. Stop it. Knock it off. The sentence would have to be really garbled before you can claim to not understand. Don’t give yourself a giggly self-diagnosis of “OCD about these things” (NOPE–now you’re being awful in two ways). Read what’s being discussed. Think about it. See if you’d like to respond to the content. No? That’s cool. We don’t always have to have something to say.


June 16th, 2011

What Happens When a Literary Submission Gets Published in a Journal/Magazine

I don’t know how many Rose-coloured readers, if any, are aspiring writers, but it seems like there are a lot of articles out there designed to helps us cope with rejection of our  literary work. A useful skill, no doubt, but I don’t see a lot of guides to help us deal with acceptance of said work, which, while a much more cheerful circumstance, can also be quite confusing. In an effort to stay on the Rose-coloured path, I have assembled my humble experiences with acceptance (never as many as one would like, though still not inconsiderable) into a Rose-coloured Guide to Coping with Acceptance in journals and magazines:

How long should you wait for an acceptance? There is no standard answer except: longer than you think. If the submissions guidelines list wait times, go with that plus a few weeks. If they don’t…hopefully less than a year. It is true of many (not all) lit journals that a yes takes longer than a no. For a no, many journals just need several negative reviews from first readers, and into the rejection envelope it goes, while positively reviewed pieces get passed up the food chain, read again, discussed in a meeting, possibly held over for a future meeting, and eventually accepted. And then someone has to get round to writing you a personalized note (these are lovely) accepting the piece. These things take time. It’s not always the case that no news is good news–some mags are just backlogged and slow–but good things definitely take time.

Will I get an acceptance in my self-addressed stamped envelope? Nope. I have received 100% of my story acceptances via email, even when I’ve sent a SASE. I think editors just want to get the process started at that point–they need to make sure the story hasn’t been submitted/accepted elsewhere, discuss edits, sign a contract, etc.–and email is faster.

What if I *did* submit it elsewhere? If you submitted somewhere that accepts simultaneous submissions, just drop them a note and say, “I have to withdraw my piece as it has been accepted elsewhere”–no harm, no foul. If you did submit simultaneously when the journal asked submitters not to, your email will have to be a bit more cryptic. And no, the editors of the scorned journal *probably* won’t see your piece elsewhere, realize you broke the rules, and blackball you forevermore from their journal…probably. I don’t have experience in this, though, as simultaneous submissions remain a chance I’m not willing to take.

Will I have to sign a contract? What if I don’t understand it? Maybe. Most of the bigger journals have them; smaller/newer ones mainly don’t. I find them very simple–generally it just promises a period of time in which the piece will be published and an amount of money they’ll give you. Journals and magazines should generally be asking for “First serial rights”–they’ll put it in a periodical before anyone else. If a print journal wants to put some materials on the web, they need to stipulate that and you can generally say no to that part without refusing the print part. Sometimes a journal will ask that you wait a bit of time (1 year, maybe?) before republishing, but the odds of ever being able to republish something are slim anyways. If you find yourself het up about a contract, sleep on it, then reread. If still worried, get a writer who has published a lot to look it over, or just query whoever sent it to you about what things mean. I have almost never had an issue with these contracts; they are usually nothing to worry about. Just send’em in on time.

When do the edits come? Will they be scary? Short answer–no, usually not scary. But the long answer is very long, as no two pieces of writing need the exact same things editingwise. Let’s go through some broad categories:
Revise and resubmit–This is technically not an acceptance, but I’m putting it here because it often looks like one and writers get confused. An experienced editor will word an R&RS really carefully to be clear–“Sorry that we cannot accept but…” or the like, but others don’t, and then a letter full of feedback starts to look like editing advice. What an R&RS is is an editor’s very positive reaction to a piece of writing with (what s/he perceives as) some serious flaws. S/he doesn’t know if the writer is capable of doing the work to fix these problems or would want to, so has just sent his/her thoughts. If you act on the suggestions, the ed would be interested in rereading the work and *possibly* accepting it.


If the feedback doesn’t seem useful to you, or nothing you’d be interested in acting on, sleep on it, and if you still feel that way, tell the editor thank you and that if you make use of their suggestions you’ll be sure to resend the work. Doesn’t matter if you never do–it’s their time and energy you appreciate. I would not argue or debate what is essentially just someone’s opinion; however, if you don’t understand something, by all means ask–might as well get all you can from the advice.

If you want to act on the feedback, send an immediate thank you and, unless the editor asks for the work for a given deadline, *take your time*. It is too exciting when you get helpful thoughtful engagement with your work for the first time, and very tempting to rewrite it overnight and send it off at dawn. Don’t do that–take your work through another draft, have others read it, sit on it for a while, then read it again and send it off. Why not give it your best shot?

Conditional acceptance–this is pretty rare with creative work–it’s a term carried over from academia, where you can ask a writer to add more data or examples or whatever in specific ways and know that you will like the result. It’s very hard for an poetry/fiction/creative nonfic editor to suggest edits so specifically that s/he knows that the piece will be acceptable after those edits have been done. Basically, I’ve seen this only applied to cuts–“We’d love to take this piece, but we’d like to remove the 7 pages in the middle that are exclusively about cats. Ok?”

If you don’t feel comfortable with the edit requested, it is totally fine to offer an alternative change–“How about just 6 pages?” “How about the dog section goes instead?”–keeping in mind they might say no. Some in the industry would call this “push back,” or simply “engaging with the editorial process.” Whatever, it’s normal. You might offer a brief explanation for why you prefer your alternative change. Also, if you feel you can’t make the change suggested nor any other, say so politely and with a brief set of reasons. Unless of course your reasons are that your work is inviolate and no one is allowed to edit it; in that case, you shouldn’t be submitting to publications run by non-relatives.
Acceptance, with some edits. You might get an enthusiastic acceptance with a small suggestion to re-examine your ending to make sure it’s totally clear (this is something I’ve heard several times) or to strengthen some bit of character development, etc. etc. As with all of the above, my advice is the same: think about it, sleep on it, try doing what’s been suggested and, if it really doesn’t work for you, propose an alternative and say why. Remember: editors have been doing this a long time, and more often than not wouldn’t waste their time offering you bad advice.

Will the editors make any changes I don’t know about? One would hope not. The major edits mentioned above should come in an email (or notes on a hard-copy, if you have a time machine). Then there will be a copyedit later on–in track changes in a Word file (or equivalent), a list of changes and locations in an email, or perhaps markup on a PDF of the typeset file (or again, hard-copy markup in the mail, but that’s so rare as to almost be not worth mentioning). Most copyediting should have to do with spelling, grammar, punctuation, continuity errors (this person used to have green eyes and now they’re blue; didn’t the main character already get his marriage license on page 8?) Some copyeds will try to help with awkward or confusing phrasings. You should get a chance to review the copyedit, and likely accept most of it; anything you don’t agree with you can stet (editorial speak for reject).

*Sometimes* if the copyedit is very light–just spelling and punctuation–you won’t be given it for review. I’ve generally found this fine, though everyone has heard the story of the copyeditor incorrectly changing a comma in a pivotal spot and thus changing a meaning. Don’t make yourself crazy over this one–it’s almost unheard of. Also, some small-staff journals just don’t do a copyedit, and they’ll publish your piece warts and all. You can simply ask, when your work gets accepted, “Should I expect to see the copyedit? If so, when? I’ll be sure to make time to review it.” And then you’ll know where you stand.

I have never run across a case–for my own work or anyone else’s–where an editor made content changes and then just ran the piece without the author’s approval. That would be pretty unheard of, as well as ghastly. More common, although still pretty rare, is to be sent a document containing your edited work with no indication of where the edits have been made (ie., no track changes or markup). I hate that! If it’s in Word, you can just run a “compare documents” with your original work (I’m sure there are equivalents in other word-processors, but I don’t know what they are). Compare documents is a hot mess to view, especially if the changes are extensive, but you can get through it, see what’s been changed, and send a list to the editor of what you want further altered or stetted. You might mention what a hassle it is for these changes to be made invisibly–maybe it never occurred to them.
Now what? You might get to review a PDF of the typeset pages–good time to check for typos one last time, as well as weird word breaks or loss of formatting (italics disappears in typesetting pretty regularly). Follow the deadlines the eds give you for these, or your changes probably won’t be included. This step might not happen at some journals, and I wouldn’t worry too much about it–you can’t, anyway, because when you realize that you didn’t get to proof pages is usually when you get your printed copy in the mail. Assume that they’ve proofread really carefully themselves.
Do I get to read at the launch? Maybe! Consider it a compliment if you get invited to do so! And even if you don’t get asked to read, do attend the launch if you can, and bring your friends–it is so fun to celebrate your work with others who like it too. If you live far away from the home of the publication, send your best for the launch–and certainly volunteer if you’ll be on vacation nearby and would like to stop in. Not every journal has launches, or not for every issue–especially if it’s online and the contributers/editors very dispersed. But if you get a chance to go, I’m pretty sure you’ll have fun.
When will it be in stores? If you have received your contributor’s copies, probably soon–you could ask the editor or the distro person at the journal and find out not only when but where: not every literary journal is stocked in every bookstore (sigh). Folks are usually very helpful in finding you places to buy their wares. And you could always ask for your journal by name, and encourage others to do the same. Some shops will order something in if there is a groundswell of support for it.

Something’s gone wrong: my piece isn’t in the issue it was slated for; I didn’t get my contributor’s copies; I didn’t get paid; etc. Sigh. Give everybody the benefit of the doubt: life is confusing and many journals are swamped and understaffed. Just ask, very politely, when you should expect A to happen, and/or why B is happening instead. If you don’t get a response, or the response tells you something will happen that then doesn’t, just keep sending polite emails on a regular basis. If your publication keeps getting put off, you can decide when it’s appropriate to withdraw the piece and do so–only the writer can really know when a given publication has become more trouble than it is worth. Once it’s published, that’s not an option–but really, I’ve never *not* been sent my $$ or contributor’s copies, though it’s sometimes taken much longer than I’ve expected. Gentle friendly nagging is, I’ve found, the best (and only) option.

Wow, this piece is more than 2000 words long, and covers some stressful situations. If you’ve not published work before, I don’t mean to scare you–it really is usually as fun and lovely as you’ve been hoping. But the procedures are so varied, and as a novice it’s easy to feel you don’t get to say anything or ask any questions. A few times recently, folks have asked me some of the questions listed above, but I’m hardly an expert on anything–if other people have different experiences or opinions, please do share. Really, everyone who has read this far is to be congratulated!

December 2nd, 2009

Editors: who are these people?

The weird doppleganger-y fact that I work in book publishing and also myself wrote a book that was published has minimal impact. I was perhaps slightly calmer about certain aspects of the process because I already knew them from the other side, or at least from publishing school, and I already had some publishing friends when I started going to industry events. But that’s about it. Most my knowledge is about pretty specific types of books and situations, or else it’s the sort of fun trivia that doesn’t really help with anything.

But I am extremely fond of the book world, because it is my world twice-over, and because it produces one of the things I like best. So I like to talk about it, and encourage others to talk about it correctly. Statements like “Editing must be such a cushy job, just sitting around and reading” and “I should be an editor, because I always find typos in the Canadian Tire flier” always make me cringe.

So, though I don’t think any aspiring-to-be-published writer *needs* any of these terms below (everyone will introduce themselves with whatever title they prefer), all these jobs are interesting and knowing about them conveys respect for the work done. So:

What Happens to Books that Get Published, Who Does What, and Why
(note: this is book stuff only. If you are publishing in a newspaper, journal, magazine or on the web, the processes are substantially different).

At the very beginning of the publishing process, the book gets acquired by the acquisitions editor. That’s not a real exclusive position in most (all?) Canadian publishing houses–most books here are acquired by senior editorial staff who may edit some titles and pass on others to more junior staff. Publishers, editors-in-chief, and editors may all acquire. And then again, given the structure of a given house, some of these people may not acquire, or those positions might not even exist. And then there’s the exception to everything, college and university textbooks, which are often acquired by sales reps. It’s complicated.

Your book is substantively edited. This is what it sounds like: substantial changes like, “Should this character be a man? I think the third chapter would be a great ending–what do you think? And if possible the book should be about 150 pages shorter.” These changes can come from one or max two people–your book’s editor. Depending on how big the house and your book’s important, you could get someone with a fancier title, someone subject specific or, occasionally, a freelancer. Someone with the title assistant editor would edit books too, but likely smaller projects, and with some oversight.

Whoever is doing the work, these changes will come in the form of a conversation. Suggestions will be made–in person or over the phone, or else in a “notes” letter or email–but no one will rewrite your book. They will suggest how *you* could rewrite it, sometimes alot (or a little; often it’s more along the lines of, “Maybe combine chapters 2 and 3,” or “Could there be only a few cheerleaders described, rather than the whole squad?”)

Interestingly, this process *could* happen *before* acquisitions, if you happen to have an agent who is good at substantive editing. Most will have some suggestions, I think, before they are ready to take a manuscript out into the world under their name. But even after an agent has fine-tuned things, an editor is definitely going to have a go at the work.

This process could last a month or years, depending on your style, your editor’s style, and how much work the book needs. And remember, editors read every draft you send, carefully, and they are doing this for many books at the same time.

Some books are then line edited. Again, could be freelanced out or done by one of the in-house people above. A single editor really shouldn’t do two steps in the process because they lose the ability to see details, but given finances and deadlines, that might happen and likely it’ll be fine.

A line-edit is an interrogation of how the book is written, line by line. A line editor questions or sometimes rewrites (authors get a chance to approve) awkward, unclear, or infelitous sentences, deletes redundancies, questions continuity and factual errors, and cleans up cluttered prose.

Most “literary” books aren’t really line-edited–the words are supposed to be the *point* with literary novels and short-stories, and if there are a lot of problems with the prose, the house likely just wouldn’t take it on. But with an action thriller, a textbook, or a biography of a dead president, often the writer is very good at or knowledgeable about something necessary that is not writing. The line editor saves them from themselves, and they appreciate the efforts, while many literary authors would throw themselves on their swords if they received their manuscript back with many of the words changed.

Everything in prose gets copyedited. Poetry gets the substantive-edit conversations above and the proofread below–but no one actually messes with the words much. I think it’s assumed that poems are a bit too precise and personal for an editor to tinker with. They might suggest a new way of thinking about it, or *possibly* a new wording or structure that *might* improve things, but poets generally have few enough words that they are thought to have a firm bead on all of them.

Not so much us prosists. Copyedits are for spelling, grammar, house style rules, and, if there wasn’t a line edit, continuity and factual errors, as well as the occasional sentence that, in the cold light of day, doesn’t make much sense. Unlike the above processes, copyedits are (almost always) *not* a conversation. You should get to see it, mind, when it is complete, and veto any changes you disagree with, but copyeditors and writers almost never get to interact.

Either at this point or just before the copyedit (depending on the company) the manuscript has made the jump from the editorial department to production. Post-copyedit, the manuscript and those copyediting changes have any art, photos, illustrations, or other weird stuff added to them. Then they are passed to a page compositor or typesetter who makes that scribbled over manuscript into something that looks like pages of a book, only a bit sloppy and printed on 8.5×11 paper.

Then someone hires a proofreader (this is almost always freelance) to check the typeset pages against the copyedited manuscript to make sure a) everything got in, b) the pages are formatted correctly, and c) the copyeditor didn’t miss anything. Authors do not generally see proofreads, as no major changes are being made at this point, and likely the whole project is running late (well, usually).

Unless, of course, the author is asked to *do* the proofread, which happens often with scholarly books (both because the publishers lack budgets and because it is hard to get a proofreader knowledgeable enough in an esoteric fields (and when you are at the point of publishing a full-length academic book, all fields are esoteric). This is good and bad: good, in that the writer usually cares more about the project than anyone else possibly could, and will therefore be extremely vigilant. Bad, because the author knows his/her own material well enough to not really see typos–s/he imagines it is correct because the version in her/his head is what is actually being seen, and that is perfect. Also, most authors tend not to know too much about page formatting. But this usually works out.

A time-and-money saver is to postphone the copyedit until after the pages have been composed and then the copyeditor can check for format issues too. This will only work if it is a very light copyedit, as all altered pages are just going to have to be checked again. This is what was done with *Once*, which of course had very very few errors in it, so it worked just fine.

After this point, mainly, with many exceptions and irregularities, the computer files that constitute the book are checked in various ways and then sent to the printers (out of house, almost always), along with cover files. And from this, the printers manufacture an actual concrete physical item that is the book.

In an effort to make this post not insanely boring and of reasonably length, I’ve left out lots of people from this process: managing and production editors (that’s me!), interns, administrative assistants, and executive types. And there are legions of other folks at the actual print shop, and once it’s done, sales reps to get it stores, marketing people, publicity people, in-house finance and tech support and those guys who get the boxes from the warehouse. And the people who work in the stores!! It’s an amazing network, and even though yesterday I put some 11×17 pages around my head like a bonnet in an unconscious stress reaction, I am still proud to be a part of it. Mainly.

Soldier on!

July 9th, 2008

Proof of art

I am now in possession of the final page proofs of Once, along with an absurdly lovely Advanced Reading Copy. I was really thrilled to get this stuff, waiting to see what the copy-edit looked like and HOLD A BOUND BOOK IN MY HANDS, and yet as soon as it arrived, I felt a strange sensation of doom.

Why? The pages are gorgeous, the copy-edit thorough and sensitive. As someone who has worked for several years in book production, I not only knew ahead of time what to expect, I have made several resolutions over the years as to how I would behave.

My resolutions in terms of dealing with page proofs and copy-edits are myriad but that basically boil down to: don’t be a lunatic. The end of the publishing process, when the manuscript starts to a) look like a book, and b) be more the responsibility of the publishing house than the author, is generally when writers start to lose their minds. They might think their artistic integrity is being degraded by the insertion of a hyphen into the word “email.” They wonder if “couch” shouldn’t really be “sofa,” if the text wouldn’t look better in Verdanah font, if the serial comma isn’t sort of fascist, and, most importantly, if the book doesn’t suck and couldn’t just be rewritten now, in just a few extra days, with a pen over the proofs.

These are, of course, hysterical displacement activities, busywork for a mind that has been deeply immersed in, and totally in control of, a project that is about to float out of range. It’s as good as you could make it, but faced with losing the opportunity for good-making, you lose faith. You fear the unknown, the time-after-book. I think this is why people cry at weddings and graduations.

It’s a legit emotional reaction (well, that’s what I’m going with, anyway) if you recognize it as such. I mean, with all this knowledge, I’m surprised that I’m feeling the hysteria of hating most of the book right now, but I’m not going to displace that hysteria in the above-mentioned ways. I’m sure there are some problems, but who knows if, in my hysterical state, those are the ones I’m seeing right now. I’ve watched tonnes of authors rework paragraphs and pages at the last minute, only to turn in marginally improved, or marginally degraded, work.

So I’m going to get by proofs back to Biblioasis on time, with few disagreements and minimal changes. A bad book is not going to become a good one at page proofs–no margin is that wide, never mind that a production person will come after you with a tire iron. Even though I’m not seeing it right now, I’ll just have to take it on faith that I wasn’t crazy all those months and years I worked on this, and that it’s probably going to be just fine. That’s what I’m going with, anyway.

How could I forget you / how could I forget you?

December 16th, 2007

Worst typo ever

as he lifted the forkful of eyewhites to his mouth


I meant *egg*whites, obviously.

Hand in hand / to the witness stand

So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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