On Copy Editing. (An author and bear meet once more.)
Thursday, 13 April 2017
Once again, in the following dialogue I play the part of Sarah, an Unbound author who remains really, truly, tremendously grateful for the support she has received over the course of the past months. Our second interlocutor is Aloysius, quondam bear of Sebastian Flyte.
Aloysius: Hello. I haven't seen you for a while.
Sarah: I've been busy. Things have been progressing apace.
Aloysius: Would you care to elaborate?
Sarah: Well, as you may know, the development edit was finished some time ago, which means the telling of the story has been finely honed.
Aloysius: Sort of, artisanally crafted?
Sarah: Except it's not coffee, and I don't have a beard.
Aloysius: But you do play the ukulele. [aside] Badly.
Sarah: Well yes then, if you must: artisanally crafted. Anyway... The manuscript then passed from the very talented Liz to the equally talented Anna Simpson, who sent it to Sarah-Jane.
Aloysius: The companion from "Doctor Who"?
Sarah: No. The editor from South-West England, who did a fantastic job of copy-editing the manuscript.
Aloysius: Spelling mistakes, that sort of thing?
Sarah: It’s a bit more complex than that.
Aloysius: Was that an obscure “Spaced” reference?
Sarah: Perhaps. In fact, responding to the copy-edit notes, and to a few additional problems I found during my own read-through, took longer than I expected.
Sarah: The copy edit dealt with spelling mistakes, repeated words, questions of grammar—
Sarah: There was a fruitful exchange about the mandative subjunctive. But this edit also checked references to the sixty-odd artworks in the book, and the poems, and historical facts, and what-have-you. And then I did some extra checking, to respond to the comments. And then any mistakes had to be corrected.
Aloysius: Well, how long can that take?
Sarah: A surprising amount of the time, because—
Aloysius: You're slow?
Sarah: Careful, Aloysius, or I see a future in which you buy your own ice cream.
Aloysius (with a subtle bow of the head): Pray, continue.
Sarah: —because at this stage everything is very carefully interwoven, so a change on one page may affect something a hundred pages further on. That's true of both the plot and the language. If I've overused a certain word—
Aloysius (a gleam in his eyes): Like "chocolate"?
Sarah: —a certain word, like "chocolate", I can't change it to something else without making sure I haven't overused that other word, or used it within nearby sentences.
Aloysius: Although, technically, I believe I'm right in saying that one can't have too much "chocolate".
Sarah: Perhaps, although I'm sure there are many parents who could offer nauseated children as a counterpoint.
Aloysius: We bears are more robust.
Sarah: Hmmm. Anyway, the language problem is exacerbated—
Sarah: That's enough of that. You know what it means. —exacerbated by the use of vernacular Victorian English in the chapters about Penny. Replacing a word or phrase also meant checking dictionaries, Google ngrams, and various books in order to make sure it wasn’t anachronistic.
Aloysius: Like in that early draft when you seemed to imply that Penny was going to use the telephone?
Sarah: We don't talk about that. I was tired.
Aloysius: Sure. But everything’s done now?
Sarah: It is. Errors have been fixed, three or four paragraphs have been rewritten, the rare occurrences of Greek, Latin, French and German have been double-checked.
Aloysius: And now?
Sarah: And now Anna is doing a final read-through and if there are any questions we'll resolve them. But the next big stages are typesetting, proof-reading, cover design, printing, publicity, fame and fortune.
Aloysius (a naturally sceptical bear): Fame and fortune?
Sarah: I got carried away. Sorry.
Aloysius: You know it's Easter, right?
Sarah: I do. And we can buy you an egg.
Aloysius (who now sports a contented smile): All is well with the world. Now tell them about your social media presence so we can go.
Aloysius: Grab an umbrella. It looks like rain.
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