Copy-Editors and Perfect Punctuation

Last week, I received the copy-edits for my next book THE CHILD THIEF. I always open a copy-edited manuscript with trepidation, dreading the numerous red marks. And when I see them, all stacked up, there’s always the initial sense of indignation. I mean, honestly, how can there be any errors in my writing? I’m ‘captain grammar‘!

But, of course, the copy-editor’s job is to adhere to  a particular house style and to point out EVERYTHING that doesn’t comply with standard rules of grammar and sentence construction. Mind you, with so many quirky writers out there, playing with grammar and construction, it must be a difficult job at times. Any one ever read Cormac McCarthy? I love the way he writes but it’s unique, to say the least. Copy-editors must do the old face-palm if one of his books lands on their desk. Imagine how many red marks, he must get!

Maybe we have to remind ourselves that we’re not in school. The copy-editor is not teacher, and the red marks are not made by the dreaded marking-pen. If writers were to ride with every comment or decision, perhaps their voices and styles would be lost to the straight-jacket of correct punctuation and perfect sentence construction. The ‘feel’ of the book would become generic. Imagine a perfectly punctuated, speech-marked THE ROAD without those incredible words that McCarthy puts together, and without those long sentences ful of ‘and’. Surely it would lose its power and its poetry.

No, the CE is merely drawing attention to things which might need attention and it is up to the author to accept or reject the changes. So that is what I do. If I feel the suggestion breaks the intended rhythm of the prose, or changes the meaning in a subtle way, I just click the ‘reject changes’ button and hope the reader hears the voice as it was intended rather than reeling in horror that a comma is in a non-standard place or that one word has been used instead of another. And while there are points I reject (because I know the punctuation or construction is irregular, but intened it to be that way), there are points that I’m glad have been raised and I duly accept the suggestion.

So here’s to you Mr or Ms copy-editor – you’re doing a great job. You’re all working hard and we writers thank you for it. You’re part of the long process that makes a traditionally published book the beautiful thing that it is, and you deserve to be acknowledged.

In other news, I received some large print copies of DRY SEASON today, and they look fantastic. Hardbacked and with super glossy covers. Sadly, the photo doesn’t do them justice, but they really do look great.


PS. This blog post has not been copy-edited. Apologies for grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Oh, and dodgy sentence construction and . . . oh, whatever.



5 thoughts on “Copy-Editors and Perfect Punctuation

  1. I too get a similar feeling of indignation, with a bit of dread mixed in for good measure, when I receive changes back from my publisher. There’s that head in hands moment where I think, “Oh no, and I thought it was all so GOOD!” Then, of course, reality hits, and I start being sensible and very much appreciate their suggestions, which, I have to say, really are GOOD, because they see things that I often can’t see because I’m to close to it. So yes, you’re right, the are doing a great job!

  2. Great post, Dan. Although I’ve not got to the copy-edit stage yet, I too get that initial feeling of indignation when I receive feedback on my manuscripts… which quickly passes. Having another pair of eyes on your work and getting professional, objective criticism – whatever stage you’re at – is the best thing that can happen to your work. It helps you polish it and make it the best it can possibly be. What could be more exciting than that?

    And congratulations on getting the large print copies of DRY SEASON – they look awesome.

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