Your role in the editorial process

Finally, the copy-edited manuscript is returned to you. If it’s on paper, you may notice the red ink oozing out between the pages.

Some authors are pathetically grateful for the editorial work done on their manuscript. Others react quite differently. Rage, offence, incredulity and humiliation: these are some of the emotions that can swamp an author when confronted with copy-editing changes for the first time.

Try to avoid an emotional response. Take a deep breath. Realize that no one is perfect (not even you), and accept that someone coming from the outside with a fresh eye will always find details to query in a text. Believe it or not, your copy editor is not out to get you – as Michael Corleone put it: ‘It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.’

That said, don’t take the copy-edit lying down. Copy editors know about language and grammar, and they have a sense of what works for the reader. But they are not specialists in your subject – and they are human. It is not uncommon for me to agree with an author that a copy-editing or proofing change is gratuitous, the result of the editor becoming irritated with something in the text, so irritated that she cannot stand the sight of it (say, with endless repetition of a word or phrase that in some instances is still the best to use). The irony here is that a typo or other real error can escape the editor’s notice while she slashes at the 99th occurrence of ‘inasmuch as’.

The best response may be to go over each proposed change and accept all those that you do not have strong feelings against, thus concentrating on the few changes that you do have issues with. On the other hand, the text has to feel right, and it must still feel to be yours. As such, be assertive, use your judgement, put your hard-won analytical skills to work.

Unfortunately, whatever your response, there won’t be much time for you to contemplate the edit (or launch into a protracted debate about each change). The publisher’s wheels of production grind inexorably on.

On receipt of the copy-edited manuscript, normally you will be given a tight deadline (often only a few weeks) to review the changes and indicate any disagreements. Your main jobs are to:

  • Check the copy-editing changes. Are they correct? Consistent? Appropriate to conventions/discourse in your field?
  • Answer any queries.
  • (If possible) check the marking-up of text elements for typesetting.

Remember, too, that this is your last chance to make sure that the text is just as you want it. From this point onwards, any changes to your text will be met with the greatest reluctance by your editor. Slowly but irrevocably, the book – your baby – is slipping beyond your grasp.

As such, if you want to make substantial changes at this late point, you will need to talk to your editor urgently, and certainly before making/requesting any wide-ranging changes.

There is another issue, however: if the editing has been done on paper, who is to key the changes? Some publishers expect their authors to carry out this task, thus saving on editorial/production costs; others are horrified at the risk of authors introducing new errors into the text. Your publisher should have made their position clear on this back when the contract was negotiated.

One last thing: if it is a paper copy of the edited manuscript that you’ve received and must return as corrected final pages to your production editor, then make a copy before doing so. That way, you can check these final pages against the page proofs that you’ll receive later.

Whether or not it is you who keys the text changes, after you have returned the edited text, your production editor will make a last check before signing off the final text file. Editing of your manuscript is finished (so too the active engagement of the editorial department).

Now, at last, design and typesetting of the book can begin.

(Post #5 of the Editorial section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

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One Response to Your role in the editorial process

  1. […] You. The big finger is pointing directly at you. Just as probably it was you who had to key the copy-editing changes, you who maybe got to help design the cover, and you who definitely had to do the proofing, so too […]

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