Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Sandra here with a special guest from behind the scenes of the publishing world. I am pleased to introduce Margaret Birth who is a freelance proofreader and copy editor for major publishing houses. She has some wonderful insight into our world from both sides of the fence.

Good morning Margaret. We hope you enjoy your day here in Seekerville. We'll start out with some questions.

1. Can you tell us exactly what being a proofreader for a major publisher involves?

It depends on the publisher.

Some publishers send only a set of galleys, and want corrections directly on the galleys. (In case anyone doesn’t know, galleys—also known as galley proofs—are the printed version of a book, the way it will appear once the book is bound, except that the book pages are centered on loose [unbound] sheets of 8 ½-by-11 copy paper, to leave plenty of white space to the left and right for copy editing or proofreading marks or notes.) You can find examples of the marks at: http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_proof.html.

Some publishers give a proofreader both the author’s original manuscript, which has been marked up by a copy editor, and the galleys; they want the galleys proofed, but they also want the proofreader to check the galleys against the copy edited manuscript so that a tally can be made to tell how many changes made have been due to printer’s errors (PE) versus author’s errors (AE). This is because, at the galley stage, changes can be troublesome and/or expensive to make. (Imagine the potential headache of repagination!)

And some publishers have proofreaders mark galleys without reference to PE or AE, but still send an electronic copy of the copy edited manuscript to the proofreader, in case there’s any question about what a copy editor may have changed or not. This is because a proofreader always works on a manuscript after a copy editor. The copy editor is supposed to catch any big problems with a manuscript (I’ll explain more about this in a bit), while the proofreader is supposed to clean up the little glitches in punctuation and grammar.

Some publishers want corrections to be made in ink, and some in colored pencil. Preferred colors—for ink or pencil—are generally green, purple, or red, but it’s always best for a new proofreader or copy editor to check with the publisher.

Many publishers do what’s called a “first pass” proofread, which hopefully catches any glaring errors that may have escaped a copy editor’s notice; the galleys get corrected; and then they do a “second pass” proofread, to be on the safe side and make sure that the book is as error-free as possible.

Both proofreaders and copy editors need to be respectful of publishers’ deadlines; both kinds of work typically involve a turnaround time of somewhere between two and four weeks per manuscript, maximum.

2. Can you tell us exactly what a copy editor does for a major publisher?

Some copy editors make changes directly on the pages of an author’s manuscript (usually in colored pencil); others receive a manuscript electronically (in a .pdf attachment to an e-mail, perhaps) and make changes directly onscreen. (That’s when you turn on “track changes” in a word processing program and mark changes and note queries directly on a manuscript as it appears on a computer screen.)
I’m definitely a hands-on-the-printed-page copy editor! More and more publishers—perhaps most, at this point—prefer electronic copy editing because it supposedly speeds up the publishing process. (No one has to manually input a copy editor’s corrections anymore—because the copy editor has already typed them in himself or herself.) I am the way I am, though, because a copy editor is supposed to catch big problems, along with punctuation and grammar flubs, and I just don’t feel that I do that as effectively on a computer screen as on a printed manuscript; and I know that I do a really effective job when I can sit down with the printed words on the page, a Chicago Manual of Style within arm’s reach, and a sharpened carmine red Prismacolor Col-Erase pencil in my hand! ☺
A manuscript comes to a copy editor once a book’s editor is satisfied that an author has fixed any big-picture issues that may have needed addressing, such as characterization or plot issues—the sorts of issues that are often addressed in a revision letter. A copy editor does consider more than the mechanics of grammar, spelling and punctuation, though.
Style is important. Did the author use the same adjective twice in the same short paragraph? One might get changed or even deleted, with a circled note in the margin that says “repetitive.” Do those three sentences work well together when split into two super-short paragraphs, or does the visual choppiness confuse the reader? Then a copy editor might make a squiggly sort of line from the end of one paragraph to the start of the next one and write a circled note that says “run in,” in the margin. In the end, a good copy editor works for a balance between maintaining an author’s unique voice and making a book easy and understandable (and hopefully pleasurable) to read.
Another thing that a good copy editor should do is keep track of characters’ names, physical characteristics, personal history, and story timeline. Copy editors make what is called a style sheet for each book on which they work; for a novel, a style sheet should minimally include characters’ names, place names, and the correct spellings (and pages at first occurrence) of any words they felt the need to look up. Style sheets may also include style notes, such as “Author prefers to use serial comma,” or character descriptions, as in “Marcie Jones, heroine, blue eyes, black hair (2).” (That “2” would be the first page on which she appeared.)
By referring to the notes on a style sheet, a copy editor can make sure that the heroine’s eyes, which were blue on page 2, don’t suddenly turn brown on page 63 (unless, of course, she’s trying to disguise herself by using contact lenses), or that it’s Wednesday the fifth on page 44 but Tuesday the fourth on page 45 (unless it’s supposed to be a flashback). A copy editor’s style sheet gets passed along to any proofreaders, who may then add to it or change it as they see the need. As with first- and second-pass proofreads, the creating and sharing of a style sheet is a way that publishers make every effort to create a well-put-together product.

3. What is the difference between the two and which do you prefer? Why?

Honestly, I can never decide which I prefer!
I’m a nit-picker, a real detail-oriented person. (You know that saying: “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Right? Well, I do sweat the small stuff—especially when I know it’ll get into print.) For that reason, proofreading is a great fit for me.
Even though copy editors are also supposed to check the spelling of any word of which they’re not sure in a manuscript, I still check a lot of words in every manuscript I read. One of the most common things I find myself checking is whether a word is a closed compound (“backyard”), an open compound or phrase (“eye to eye”), or a hyphenate word or phrase (“good-naturedly”), as well as capitalization with common words that may actually be related to brands (such as “Kleenex,” which is always written with an uppercase K, and “saltine,” which is written with a lowercase s.)
My husband has sometimes called me the Comma Queen—but I go a lot lighter with the commas now than I used to (really!) because light use of commas is the current style. (In other words, only use them when grammatically necessary, as when introducing a quotation in dialogue.)
But then, every time I think, Man, I love proofreading! there eventually comes along a manuscript that someone else copy edited—badly. I’ve had manuscripts come to me that made me wonder if all the copy editor did was turn on spell-check and grammar-check and then correct all those errors. If that was sufficient, though, there’d be no need for copy editors in the first place!
I saw a poem used in the galleys of a historical novel once, and the former English major in me thought, This poem looks late-Victorian in style—but this story is set in the early-Victorian period. Uh oh—this would be an anachronism! The copy editor hadn’t picked up on this. I did some research and came up with an early-Victorian poem on the same topic, with similar imagery, with the same number of lines in length, and included a copy of the poem I’d found when I returned the manuscript to the publisher, in case the project editor wanted to make the substitution.
Another time, a copy editor had changed the spelling of a foreign word that was in the book’s title; I researched it, and then called one of my husband’s academic colleagues to verify my findings . . . before I told the production editor that, yes indeed, if the book was published with the title spelling changed as the copy editor had done, the foreign word would translate as “evil fairy”—but if the spelling was returned to what the author had originally had, the word would translate as “honored elder.”
It’s at times like those that I think, Man, I should’ve copy edited this one! I see fact checking as being part of a copy editor’s job too, along with making sure that there aren’t any plot holes—basically, anything that could create a big problem unless it gets rewritten before it makes it to the galley stage should be on a copy editor’s radar. And I do love the fact checking and minor style tweaking that a copy editor can do—and that a proofreader shouldn’t have the need to do.

4. Are these positions advertized publicly and if so, where do you find out about this kind of job?

I’ve never found one of my freelance reading, proofreading, or copy editing jobs through an ad.
I did some nonfiction freelance proofreading and copy editing when my husband was in graduate school, and built up my résumé that way. (I made cold calls to publishers and to businesses’ public relations departments to drum up those freelance projects.)
After we moved cross-country and started a family and I joined RWA (Romance Writers of America), I learned about freelance manuscript reading from a writing friend who’d done it for years. She suggested that I call a publisher’s production department and ask if they could use any freelance manuscript readers. I was interviewed over the phone, then sent a manuscript to write a summary and a detailed literary analysis of; I passed that test, and worked for that publisher for seven years.
After seven years of reading over-the-transom manuscripts that ranged from brilliantly written to depressingly bad, I was ready for a change. So I looked for publishers’ phone numbers in one of the writer’s market–type books and made cold calls once again—this time asking if these publishers of fiction could use any freelance proofreaders.
I quickly found a couple of publishers that were interested and that, after reading my résumé, sent me proofreading tests—which, again, I passed—and I’ve been proofreading and/or copy editing fiction ever since.

5. Do you find each publisher has their own set of copy edit requirements? Or are they pretty much the same?

Most publishers do have their own style requirements; if a freelancer—proofreader or copy editor—starts work for a publisher and doesn’t automatically receive a copy of an in-house style “bible,” they should ask if one exists. That being said, however, the most common references used are the Chicago Manual of Style (there’s a newly released 16th edition, but the publisher I’m working for these days still prefers the 15th) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (the dictionary preferred by the Chicago Manual of Style), preferably the 9th or a later edition which includes the first known use of a word (which is very helpful for avoiding anachronistic vocabulary in historical manuscripts). Words into Type is an acceptable back-up reference.

6. I understand you are a writer as well. How has working as a proofreader and copy editor influenced you as a writer?

About a year after I started work as a freelance manuscript reader, I began to write a column, called “The Write Stuff,” for my local RWA chapter’s monthly newsletter. Having to analyze other writers’ as-yet-unedited (also, as-yet-not-accepted) manuscripts taught me a lot about what worked and didn’t work in romance novel writing; it almost felt like I learned by osmosis—suddenly I realized that I could focus on the parts of a story and understand what worked or didn’t work, and if it didn’t work I could often figure out a way to fix it. That was a revelation to me. Until then, there were times I felt almost paralyzed by the uncertainty of whether my writing was good or not, and how I could tell; but analyzing others’ writing taught me to analyze—and fix—my own. I continued my column when I segued from freelance reading to freelance proofreading and copy editing, and only ended it after ten years and sixty individual column articles.
Now I write occasional articles for my RWA chapter’s blog (http://www.rwanycblogginginthebigapple.blogspot.com/—or, if you’d prefer to read just my articles, which do tend to be writing lessons of sorts, they’re at http://rwanycblogginginthebigapple.blogspot.com/search/label/Margaret%20Birth).
These short nonfiction pieces provide a wonderful bridge between my writing and editing interests. I enjoy sharing the lessons I’ve learned as a freelance reader, proofreader and copy editor by writing about them.
But I also love to write my own fiction—and poetry. Besides having learned how to analyze and fix stories—whether someone else’s or my own—I’ve also developed an appreciation for trying to write a manuscript that is as nearly production-ready as I can make it. I make my own style sheets to go with my book manuscripts that I have in progress; I check my own spelling and grammar and facts and make notes about it on my style sheets. Perhaps better than anyone who’s only on the writing side of the desk or only on the editing side of the desk, I see fully what a competitive field publishing is—particularly in our current economy—and I understand that anything a writer can do to create an entertaining story that needs as little editing as possible is likely to be beneficial to the writer and to his or her editor and publisher.

7. Can you give us any tips to help us improve our writing?

Practice active reading. Pleasure reading is usually pretty passive. Active reading requires analysis. Even if you don’t make written notes, force yourself to remain aware of issues such as pacing, internal conflict, dialogue, and so on, as you read. If you like a book, ask yourself what specific characteristics lead you to feel that way. If not, what’s the problem, and how would you fix it? Get as specific as you can. Does the dialogue feel choppy, the pace rushed? Maybe it’s because the characters speak more in phrases than in complete sentences, and because most of the scenes are brief and filled with short paragraphs. Does the heroine strike you as too stupid to be believed? Maybe it’s because her actions are told about, but there’s not much physical description beyond that and no depth of emotion. Play editor and analyze books you read for their big-picture issues (plot, characterization, and so on); and play proofreader and analyze what works and doesn’t work in the mechanics at the sentence level. It’s far easier to be objective about someone else’s writing than it is about your own; by practicing active reading of other writers’ work, you can learn to be more objectively analytical when you look at your own.
Perhaps surprisingly, I’m not going to urge anyone to become a grammar and punctuation fanatic (unless, of course, they also want to proofread or copy edit!)—instead, I’m simply going to suggest that you write the best story that you’re capable of writing. Do your own research; verify your own facts; and turn in the neatest manuscript you can (mechanics-wise). This way, you’ll increase your odds of publication—and will make any proofreaders, copy editors, and editors you work with happy that they’re working with you.

Margaret Birth is a Christian writer who has been widely published in short fiction, short nonfiction, and poetry, both in the U.S. and abroad. Her short fiction ranges from the commercial (confession magazines) to the literary; her nonfiction is primarily dedicated to Christian devotionals and articles encouraging fellow writers to develop their craft; and her poetry has appeared in Christian magazines and literary journals, and was honored with a Pushcart Prize nomination in 1994. She also currently has a mystery novel with romantic elements under consideration at a publisher. She publishes her romance fiction under the name Maggie Adams and her literary fiction and poetry under the name Margaret Adams Birth. In addition to working as a freelance writer, she's spent over a decade freelancing for multiple publishers as a manuscript reader, proofreader, and copy editor.

Margaret and her husband love to order chocolate from Chocosphere.com. So we logged on and have a huge selection from their site to nibble on all day. And of course I have chocolate velvet coffee to sip on.

Comment today with a question for Margaret or tell us your favorite chocolate and have a chance to win a Seeker book of your choice or one of Sandra's children books of your choice. Winner will be announced in the Weekend Edition.


Virginia said...

I love the details! But even so, I think this job would be beyond my ability. :O
Margaret, what do you think of this: My daughter just got a book from the library tonight, part of the Redwall series by Jacques. The inside front flap says something about the 'evil cat will bring every animal in the kingdom to its whimpering knees'. My 11 year old laughed and laughed, saying their knees must be squeek toys. It sure sounds weird, but this is a classic book and I would think someone would have caught that one if it's actually wrong. My daughter said it should be 'will bring every animal whimpering to its knees.'
What say you?

Abbi Hart (gatorade635) said...

I don't really have a question but it was cool to learn more about what those job titles entail. My favorite chocolate is white. The best are Hershey's Cookies n' Cream and White Choc. Reese's Cups

Helen Gray said...

Uh, oh, this is one of those posts that I need to go back and reread, maybe several times, to glean and absorb all the tips.

I love turtles. You know, those pecans covered with caramel and chocolate!!

Coffee's ready.


Janet Kerr said...

Hello Margaret.

This sounds like a challenging job with great eye for detail.

As for me, dark chocolate, the darker the better to get those endorphins going.

Thank you for all the information,
Jan K.

Mary Cline said...

Virginia, I don't use LOL very much but whimpering knees made me LOL!
My favorite Chocolate is any Lindt Truffle.
Great,very helpful post.
Oh, I must have capitalized Chocolate out of respect.

Anonymous said...

Virginia, it sounds like your daughter would make a great proofreader!

Janet, you're right--either of these jobs does require a good eye for detail. I do "sweat the small stuff"--proudly! ;-)


Jackie said...

That's a lot of chocolate to look at this early in the morning.
Godiva is my favorite.
Thanks for sharing with us this morning, it's amazing what all you do.
I hope you have a nice Thanksgiving!
Jackie Layton

Glynna Kaye said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Margaret! And thank you for an insider's view into the mysterious world of proofreading and copy edits! I definitely plan to print this one out and read it again!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, all, for the warm words and kind welcome here at (in???) Seekerville--Abbi, Helen, Mary, Jackie, Glynna, and of course Virginia and Janet (to whom I already responded). This has long been one of my favorite writing blogs and was one of the first that I bookmarked on my computer, so I feel very honored to have been asked to participate today.

I have to say that I'm still chuckling to myself about those "whimpering knees" that Virginia's daughter mentioned. Unless those animals in the Redwall series are arthritic--in which case, I could well imagine whimpering (or at least creaking) knees!--Virginia's daughter knows how to write more-literate cover copy than whoever did that one!

Abbi, Abbi, Abbi, if you think Hershey's chocolate is yummy, you REALLY need to try something from Chocosphere! (I say this even though my husband grew up near Hershey, and we feel a certain sentimentality about the town with its street lamps that look like alternating wrapped and unwrapped Hershey Kisses.)

I am delighted if this interview brings you all new and helpful insights. That's exactly what doing the jobs of freelance manuscript reader, proofreader and copy editor have done for me in what I consider my main profession...as a writer.


Sandra Leesmith said...

Good morning Margaret and Seekerville,

Its great to have you here and already a great discussion about our favorite subject-chocolate.

Virginia, I love that your daughter finds humor in grammar. Margaret and the Grammar Queen will be impressed. I am. smile

I'm with Glynna on having this information printed out. Its very helpful to know what that final copy edit will entail.

Margaret, thanks again for joining us today.

Rose said...

Sandy and Margaret,

This is so interesting!

I love to know what goes on behind the scenes to make a book.

My favorite chocolate....hmmmm....I really like Russel Stover's dark chocolate coconut creme Santa's....

Sandra Leesmith said...

Mary C. You are tooo funny.
I'm glad you have the proper respect. smile

Helen, thanks for the coffee.

Abbi, I've always wondered if white chocolate has less caffeine? Anybody know?

Happy Thanksgiving to you also Jackie.

Bridgett Henson said...

Good morning, Margaret.

What an interesting job you have!

My love/hate relationship with commas laughed at the thought of me working a copy editor.

But to get paid to read? Oh yeah! That's my dream job.

Bridgett Henson said...

Helen, Thanks so much for the coffee this morning. You have no idea how bad I needed some caffeine.

Oh and chocolate? I'm not too picky, as long as it's sweet. No dark stuff for me.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Rose, It is interesting isn't it? There is so much more to publishing than we realize.

Hi Bridgett, I'm with you on the love/hate for commas and anything grammatical. I'm even nervous about posting, but hey, blogs don't count do they? oops. I guess everything we write counts. smile

My favorite chocolate are Sees Candies' soft centers, especially those with the orange and lemon flavored centers.

I have to admit that Margaret opened up a whole new world for me with Chocosphere.

Glynna Kaye said...

It would be fun to see my edits in color to know which "role" made which changes or suggestions. Mine come only in black and white.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Glynna, I've had both.

The color does make it easier to see.

Margaret, I'm sure it makes it easier for you also. It is wonderful that you have so much fun with your job.

Sara Goff said...

I have to admit that I usually skim over blogs, simply because there are so many to read! Well, you had my attention, beginning to end. I think it is so important for writers to know how much hard work goes into a book after the author gives it to the publisher.

Consider yourself blessed, Margaret, to have both a technical and creative mind! Are you ambidextrous, as well? :) Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

Cara Marsi said...

Very interesting blog. I didn't realize all that goes into copy editing and proof reading. My favorite chocolate is any dark chocolate by Godiva.

Salena Stormo said...

What great information! It really shows that you are not in this alone. There are a lot of people behind the scenes that contribute to a good book! :)

Sandra Leesmith said...

Sara, great question because those are right and left brain skills. We'll see what Margaret says. Should be interesting.

Cara M. Thanks for sharing.

Salena, its amazing isn't it. So many people and we haven't even touched on the marketing aspect.

Janet Dean said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Margaret! I really enjoyed the leap to your side of the publication fence. Thanks for the fascinating post!

I'm not surprised that your job has benefited your writing.

I write historical romances and check my Webster Collegiate Dictionary and American Heritage Idiom Dictionary to make sure words and phrases were in usage during the time of my story. Still mistakes do happen. I'm thankful someone like you has my back.

Love the chocolate!

And Sandra's children's books!


Melanie Dickerson said...

Wow, this is VERY interesting, Margaret! I didn't know copy editors were supposed to do all that. I thought they just proof-read for minor errors in punctuation, or obvious typos. And some of what you said made me very nervous. For instance, I am very particular about where my paragraphs begin and end, so having someone else combine two paragraphs would probably upset me. And the thought that I might not have the absolute last say in all of this makes me quite nervous. But, on the other hand, I am grateful to have all the help in editing that the publisher is willing to give my book. Especially since I'm not the most detail oriented person, although I do want everything to be perfect in the end product! I go into meticulous mode when I'm editing.

Thanks, Margaret, for this glimpse into this part of the publishing process!

And I love subscribing to the Collegiate Dictionary online. It is wonderful for finding out when a word was first used.

Melanie Dickerson said...

I bet Julie thought the same thing I did when she read the part about combining paragraphs! LOL!

Mary Cline, Lindt truffles are my favorite chocolate too!!! They are divine, and I consider myself something of a chocolate connoisseur. I prefer European chocolate, because it is much smoother and richer compared to American chocolate. (Sorry, Hershey fans.)

Anonymous said...

What wonderful responses we're getting here today--both about the writing and proofreading/copy editing and about the chocolate!

Sara, no, I'm not ambidextrous--I'm a rightie--but maybe 12 years of piano lessons, working left and right hands together, not to mention all the years of typing (!), make me a little ambidextrous in the sense that there are some activities for which I use both left and right hands--and maybe that gets me using both left and right hemispheres in my brain more than the average person might do!

Sandy, thanks for inviting me to do the interview. This is such a great blog--I read it often, and learn something new every time.

As to Rose and Sandy's comments about their love/hate relationship with grammar and punctuation: that's okay, as long as you're willing to take an editor's, copy editor's and/or proofreader's critiques and corrections under consideration. Back when I worked as a manuscript reader, there were manuscripts I'd read that showed real promise but that needed a few big revisions before they should be accepted; I would share my suggestions with the editor, who would usually pass them along in a revision letter--not an acceptance letter, but a suggestion to revise and resubmit. Many, many authors never revised or resubmitted--I don't know if they took the revision letter as an out-and-out rejection, or if they thought they weren't equal to the task, or what. A few resubmitted without revising; even if another manuscript reader got the resubmission, the fact is that the same problems remained--and then the manuscripts really did get rejected. The best professional writers I've seen aren't necessarily the ones with the best mechanical skills, but are the ones who aren't too proud to take correction and to continue learning their craft.

As to chocolate...oh, my, there are so many good ones! I'm mostly a fan of milk chocolate--El Rey "Caoba," or Valrhona "Jivara"; but I also like what I think of as semi-dark chocolate, such as Valrhona "Manjari" (64% cocoa content) or "Caraibe" (66% cocoa content); and I am hooked on Michel Cluizel's specialty chocolates--their "Coffee Cups" (dark chocolate filled with coffee ganache), "Les Champignons" (caramel and almond crunch-filled mushroom-shaped candies surrounded by a dark- and white-chocolate shell), and the variety of handmade chocolates in their "Ambiance" Ballotin box (forget the Whitman's Sampler!!!)


Tina Radcliffe said...

Chocosphere? OMG, Margaret I love you!!!!

Dark chocolate with a touch of sea salt.

Copy editors are our friends. I salute you.

Tina Radcliffe said...

"The best professional writers I've seen aren't necessarily the ones with the best mechanical skills, but are the ones who aren't too proud to take correction and to continue learning their craft."


You nailed it!

This is the key and a strong set of knuckles to keep knocking on doors.

The persistent shall see inside the promised land.


Tina Radcliffe said...

Cara, we are sisters of chocolate.

Try Lindt dark with a hint of sea salt.

It will spoil you for any other.

Jan Drexler said...

Does anyone else feel like you're in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory? Something new around every corner? Every time I think I've gotten a handle on this publishing stuff, someone comes along and opens another door.

Thanks, Margaret! I knew copy editors and proof-readers had different functions, but never knew exactly what they were. I found myself thinking maybe someone would pay ME to read...but then I remembered how I get so caught up in stories I have trouble reading actively, let alone concentrate on details. So I'll leave the editing and proofing to the pros.


I gravitate toward dark and European, but I'm not too fussy.

And no, I'm not talking about romance novel heroes!

Jan Drexler said...

I just popped over to Chocosphere.com.

Mmm hmm, this is my new favorite web-site. They carry both Toblerone and Ritter Sport, plus Lindt and a few others I'd love to try.

I wonder how I can sneak the web address to my husband without looking too obvious?

On the other hand, why not be obvious?

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Wow! This is interesting information. Thanks for the insight! :-)

Holly said...

Very fun to read more about the proofreading vs. copy editing. My favorite chocolate is chocolate with peanut butter or raspberry. I used to think Reese's Peanut Butter Cups were the be all and end all of chocolate until I discovered Dove Promises with Peanut Butter. Those things are Reese's on steroids!


Anonymous said...

Melanie, don't let the idea of a copy editor combining or splitting up paragraphs scare you. Sometimes another set of eyes sees things in a way that you can't, because you're so close to your own story. (Remember, I understand this from a writer's perspective too. Maybe I'm funny, but I get a lot more touchy about having my poetry edited than I am about having my fiction or nonfiction edited; thankfully, I've only had one literary journal editor make changes to a poem of mine unilaterally, without giving me any warning or any say in the matter--others have done the courtesy of checking with me first.) But also keep in mind that most publishers will send you a set of galleys to approve before publication. If you get a set of galleys and you read through them and everything looks fine to you, and it seems like the story is still flowing fine, still making sense, and nothing is leaping off the page as an egregious change, I'd be happy. If, on the other hand, you discover that it looks like a copy editor rewrote major chunks of your story and it's not satisfactory to you, or a proofreader changed something (like some foreign dialogue, for example) and made it wrong (leaving accent marks off of foreign words that should have them), then, by all means, you should let your editor know.

As several have noted in their comments here, writers should feel reassured that so many people work together to make a book the best it can be.

It is true, though, that not every copy editor or proofreader does as careful a job or knows as much about the job as they should. Sometimes they get rushed--a freelancer needs to take on a lot of jobs to make more than a nice little supplement to the family income. Sometimes they get distracted--they get sick, their kids get sick, their elderly parents have a crisis--the same as authors do. Sometimes they just don't know quite as much as they should in order to do the job well; both jobs definitely have a learning curve, just as writing does.

The best copy editors won't change your voice as a writer and won't change your story except for the better; the best proofreaders will have everyone's back with the nit-picky grammar and punctuation stuff.

For better or for worse, that's why it's so important to keep the lines of communication open with your editor. An editor and/or production editor will act as a conduit between an author and a copy editor or proofreader if problems or questions arise. Ultimately, although we're all imperfect human beings, I like to think that most of us do the best jobs we're capable of doing--whether we're writers, editors, copy editors, proofreaders, or something else--and that we also do our best to get along with everyone with whom we work, and just want everyone to be happy in the end.


PatriciaW said...

Thanks for a very informative post, Margaret. I think it help writers to know what editors and proofreaders will do with their work, although I agree with Melanie that some changes, like paragraphing, might be offputting. I've read books where the paragraphing didn't seem quite right in places, and as a reader, it made me stop and consider it. I always thought it was the publisher trying to save space, and now I realize it probably is, although maybe not for that reason.

Anything dark chocolate and particularly dark chocolate with nuts works for me.

travelingstacey said...

Hi Margaret...I didn't really know what a copy editor did until reading this post. I have a big admiration for the skill and knowledge it takes to do the job as well as you do! My grammar skills definitely need some sharpening! : ) You mentioned getting a wide range of manuscripts...so what do you do when you get a terrible one?! In your position, do you just edit it as best you can and move on? I saw chocolate was part of the drawing today...please count me in! : ) I'm very easy to please when it comes to chocolate, but I do love milk chocolate with coconut. Truffles are good, too. God bless~Stacey

Anonymous said...

Good morning, I really enjoyed reading this post about proofreading it has always been a job I thought I could do since I love reading so much, it was interesting to hear all about it. I have started eating dk chocolate since it is supposed to be healthy for you, I sure hope so because it sure taste good. thanks for sharing with us today. Paula O(kyflo130@yahoo.com)

Sandra Leesmith said...

Wow Margaret, I'm loving your comments as much as your post. Very informative and reassuring for us authors.

I agree with you about our main goal and purpose. We all want the best possible product in the end. I have found that most suggestions for change from editors and copy editors have amazing results toward improvement of the story.

I did have one incident with a Spanish word, but certainly no argument from the copy editor about the change. Like you said, we're all about the end result being as perfect as possible.

Your comment about distractions and deadlines is so true. Sometimes I haven't had much time to go through galleys and know I probably missed stuff. Sure enough when it came to reading the published work, I found an error or two.

And life does happen. We have all experienced that.

Thanks again, Margaret.

Tammy Doherty said...

Margaret is always helpful to her ACFW loopee-friends :-) I loved getting an insightful peek at what copy editors and proofreaders do. Sometimes I think I'd like to try being a copy editor, but I've got more than enough on my plate! The work involved - love Margaret and those who do the editing even more!

Blessings always,

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Janet and Tina, I knew you'd like this post.

Not to mention Chocoshpere. LOL

Melanie, have you tried Canadian chocolate? Oh my. Cadberry is lovely for a quick candy bar.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Jan, its never a bad thing to let dh know about those special websites.

Holly, I'll have to try those. I do like just plain Dove chocolate.

Thanks Gwendolyn, Paula, Stacey, Patricia and Tammy for joining us. This has been fun.

Anonymous said...

Patricia, let me reassure you that, no, changes to paragraphing are not about saving space on the printed page (at least, not that I've ever seen). As a copy editor, though, I've seen instances where a writer had two characters speaking in the same paragraph--and I don't mean something like: "'And that's why you and I can't stay together,' Mindy told Brent. 'Huh?' he replied, and she rolled her eyes. 'Exactly what I was talking about,' she muttered." In that case, it works okay in one paragraph because even the one word Brent speaks is only part of a sentence of which Mindy is the main focus, as she is the focus in the entire paragraph. On the other hand, if Brent were to make a much longer reply, like, "Well, that just goes to show how well you understand me!" then the paragraph should be split up with a different paragraph each time the speaker changes. Sometimes I've encountered the exact opposite problem: short, choppy paragraphs. Sometimes, yes, they're called for--shorter paragraphs speed up the pacing (visually), and suggest a certain liveliness in the narrator or the characters in the scene. But sometimes they can also confuse. Sometimes the reader's eye needs to be able to follow easily from one idea to the next in order to understand it better; it really can be a visual thing that makes the difference between reader comprehension and confusion. I never suggest a change in paragraphing (either breaking apart a long paragraph or combining short ones) unless I think there's a very good reason related to grammar or readability.


Mary Connealy said...

I'm always amazed and humbled by the work editors do.

They know so much and just catch so many mistakes. And I make so many mistakes. I swear I need one to write a grocery list...not to mention blog post comments!!!

Anonymous said...

TravelingStacey, I read a wide range of manuscripts back when I was doing freelance manuscript reading for a major publisher. The job entailed reading manuscripts that came in over-the-transom (i.e., not only those that were written by authors who'd previously sent a query letter to an editor and been encouraged to submit their manuscripts, but also those who sent their manuscripts without any previous contact with the publisher), writing a summary of each story I read, and then writing a detailed technical analysis of the story (characterization, conflict, dialogue, etc.), and giving my opinion about whether the manuscript should be accepted, recommended for revision, or rejected. Mine was not the last word on any manuscript, though--merely the first level of review.

I left that work behind after seven years, and have been doing freelance proofreading and copy editing ever since. All of the books I now see have already been accepted for publication, so they automatically start out at a consistently higher level of quality than did the manuscripts I read as a freelance manuscript reader. Occasionally, I do still catch a big problem with a manuscript--hopefully in the copy edit stage, and not when I'm proofreading something that's already gone to galleys!

Probably the most common big problem I catch is one with timing--if, for example, chapter four begins with a scene showing the heroine getting ready for bed after a date with the hero, and then the next scene starts with the heroine at her mother's bedside earlier that afternoon and it's not written as a flashback. What happens if I find a big problem like that? Well, if I'm copy editing and I can figure out a way to make it a smooth transition--maybe insert a few words that show the second scene as a flashback, if it works with the rest of the story--I'll make the changes, but will also make a note to the production editor to let her know what I've done and that it should be run by the author for approval. If I'm proofreading a set of galleys and discover a problem like that, then I generally don't change a thing, but carefully mark the pages with colorful Post-It Notes sticking out, and write a detailed note to the editor so that she can work with the author on a re-write of that section--that's when a second-pass proofread and sometimes an extra, in-house, proofread become vital!

Aww, Tammy, you're sweet! I do love our ACFW loop!


Melanie Dickerson said...

I agree with you 100%, Margaret! I know I make a lot of mistakes. My editor is wonderful, and she gives me LOTS of feedback, and I incorporate almost everything she suggests. And I am thankful for copy editors and proofreaders too. Extra sets of eyes are always good and I'm thankful for the work they do. The only thing that makes me freak out is when I feel like they've changed something that I considered a stylistic thing, something that I'd carefully considered and thought through. And that did happen with semi-colons and colons with my first book. But my editor knew I didn't want a whole bunch of semi-colons and colons and she ended up taking them out, twice, after copy editors had inserted a whole bunch of them. It's a long story and not quite so simple, but I had used other ways to create the effect I wanted, either with two short sentences, or the use of em dashes, or other ways, and yet the copy editor changed them all. With my second book, the same thing happened, but I just took out a few of them when I went through the galley and just sighed and left the rest of them in. I know it's more trouble to make changes by that point, so I compromised my style and left in the colons and semi-colons. It hurt. A little. But at that point, I didn't want to throw a fit about it. I tried to tell myself I didn't mind. But part of me really does mind!

Eva Maria Hamilton said...

Thanks for showing us the other side!

Eva Maria Hamilton at gmail dot com

Virginia said...

I love home made fudge, its the best.

Anonymous said...

Melanie, you bring up a very, very important point: sometimes an author has his or her own reasons for wanting things a certain way. For instance, whenever I use a pronoun to refer to God, Jesus, or Lord, I always prefer it to be spelled uppercase: He, His, Him. I know, though, that a lot of publishers (even Christian publishers) have stopped automatically using the uppercase H in these instances. That's why, when an author has a specific stylistic request, it's important to tell your editor, and to ask your editor to please pass along this information to any copy editor or proofreader who works on your manuscript. You CAN do this! (I don't know how many authors realize they can make such a request.) In your case, you could tell your editor, "I've thought carefully about the places I want semi-colons and colons in my manuscript. Would it be possible to ask whoever copy edits or proofreads my manuscript not to change the semi-colons and colons--unless, of course, they're clear typos?" I've had a production editor tell me something as basic as, "This author prefers to omit the serial comma." I respect that--and then I just make sure that the author's preferred style is kept consistent throughout the manuscript.


Stephanie Queen Ludwig said...

Very informative, Margaret. Thanks for letting us glimpse more behind-the-scenes action!

I don't really have a favorite chocolate, because all of it has hit the spot at one time or another. I've always loved Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I'll be making chocolate mint pies for Thanksgiving dessert tomorrow night, so that's what's calling my name right now. My family is non-traditional: forget the pumpkin or pecan, everyone wants a piece of chocolate mint pie for Thanksgiving! There was a near-riot one year when only ONE pie was made instead of two!

Connie Queen said...

I'm so glad there are people out who sweat the small stuff!

I dislike commas very much. About the time I think I have a rule down, someone will tell me I'm wrong. Grr.

I love any kind of Hershey. A long time ago I read an artricle about the history of Hershey and I've been a loyal customer ever since. I would love to visit Hershey someday.

Julie Lessman said...


WELCOME TO SEEKERVILLE, Margaret, and may I just say how much I respect and admire what you do. I have an absolutely FABULOUS copy editor, but that wasn't always the case. The first one I was assigned made the experience so awful, that it opened my eyes up BIG TIME at how important your job is.

Also, I used to be a travel writer and as such, had to proof for a living, which is NOT easy!! Once my job-share partner asked me to "proof" a very high-profile corporate piece that she and a number of other people had already proofed, including the VP of Communications where I worked. I'm sure it's NO surprise to you that I found at least 15 typos/errors after all of them had already been through it with a fine-tooth comb, which just goes to show how difficult it is to do. To do it correctly, I always had to proof it a number of times, taking a different approach each time -- once looking for typos, next looking for grammar and punctuation and then finally a third time for just plain making sense. :)

Anyway, thanks for your invaluable insight!


Jackie S. said...

Great post! I enjoy Riesen's chewy chocolate caramels, covered in rich European chocolate! And I DO limit myself to ONE piece per day (kinda allergic to chocolate)!

EC Spurlock said...

Thank you for being with us today, Margaret. It's always helpful to see how things work on the other side of the editorial desk. I have been trying to break into freelance proofreading (I was previously an editor of nonfiction DIY publications for 9 years before my company went under)and I appreciate your overview of what to expect.

And I'm a dark chocolate girl all the way! ;-)

Vince said...

Hi Margaret:

It’s been said you can’t be a good writer without being a good editor. How true do you think this statement is?

I used to be a copy editor and I would read copy backwards so it didn’t make sense. I was looking for given mistakes. This way my brain could not anticipate and correct mistakes for me. I would also ‘edit for’ very common mistakes. For example, I would scan a page very quickly looking for two words in a row. (This was before a computer underlined the second word.) For full page newspaper ads, I would hold the page up to the light and squint my eyes -- often errors would appear that I would miss with my eyes fully focused.

Do you have any editing tricks to add that we could use?

Thanks for your post. It brought back a lot of fond memories from my editing days.

Good luck on your book now with a publisher.


P.S. I’d love a chance to win one of Sandra’s children’s books. vmres(at) swbell (dot) net.

Melanie Dickerson said...

That's very good advice, Margaret! That is exactly what I should have done. And that is exactly what I will do from now on! Thanks so much for the great insight and for your experience! God bless you, and thanks for being a great copy editor and proofreader!

Mary Cline said...

When I talk (sorry this might be long) there would be so many parentheses, commas semi colons. It would be almost impossible to diagram a sentence not that people really do that anymore, although my son did learn to do that in the Christian school he attended. (See what I mean?) I think it is entertaining for some people to listen to me but I know I lose some if I am talking to a group, just conversationally, I try to include everybody with an aside or explanation. It is fun, but I know that in writing it just won't work.
Another thing, when sitting around together sometimes my family sort of make fun of people with poor grammar. (I know, not nice) but well one son has a PhD in speech a daughter with a journalism degree a son who is a minister and our youngest son a Senior is just plain picky. The in- law kids are just the same, or just as bad/good which ever way you want to look at it. So we just can't help it. (Yea, right.)
So here is my big question. How do I get my story out while worrying about all these things or somebody laughing at my punctuation or grammar? After all you do reap what you sow.
If this is too long or involved or too late for the blog anyone can answer me or comment by e mail.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi folks. Had to leave for a bit. I love all these comments.

Melanie and Margaret-Very informative dialogue. I didn't know you could let your editor advise the copy editor of your preferences. I would never do that because I'm shamefully unskilled in grammar. I shudder every time the Grammar Queen shows up.

Vince, I have heard of reading backward to catch spelling errors. It works as I've tried it. But the other tricks--interesting. I'm going to have to try those.

I did go to a workshop once where we printed our wip in the smallest font, then highlighted the active voice sections one color. We highlighted dialogue another and I think it was emotions another color. Then we laid out our manuscripts on the floor and you could visually see the big holes in plot. I'm not sure if that is something a copy editor naturally notices, but it helped me.

Julie-good tips to consider when proofing your work before sending it out.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Mary, to create a story, you need to turn the left brain off and focus on the right brain. The right brain is the creative side.

Debby, Glynna and others use the Alphasmart to write the first draft because you can't edit easily on it. I do that also. It helps me stay focused on creating the story. Then I go back and turn on the left brain and edit the first draft after I have downloaded it into Word.

Anonymous said...

EC, it sounds like you'd make an excellent freelance proofreader! Don't feel daunted if you haven't proofread fiction before. There is a learning curve to this work, but if you love to read fiction and you've got this other experience in your background, I'd be hard pressed to imagine a publisher that wouldn't be willing to at least take a look at you. I proofread and copy edited nonfiction when my husband was in graduate school; and I still proofread and copy edit his scholarly articles and books before he submits them.

Vince, you sound like a real pro proofreader/copy editor!

When I started out, one editor suggested to me that I might find it easiest to concentrate on the words by placing a ruler under each line as I read it. I tried that, and quickly abandoned it; the ruler slowed me down and I found it harder to mentally make the connection between the grammar at the beginning of a sentence I'd already read and that at the end of a sentence if I'd kept part of the sentence covered by a ruler.

Another editor suggested the read-the-lines-backward trick that you mentioned. For me, that only works if I'm reading for typos.

I wish I could suggest some quick-and-easy tricks to make proofreading or copy editing easier than it is for many people to do! Maybe it's because I've always loved reading and go stir crazy if I'm not in the midst of reading a book--even if it's one I'm re-reading (as I'm currently doing--for the third time, I might add--with Tracey Bateman's sassy yet poignant "Claire" trilogy!); maybe it's because I'm somehow wired to troubleshoot (as a vocational- aptitude test I took in junior high said that troubleshooting and detail work were two of my strengths--which apparently made me uniquely qualified for quality-control-type jobs!); or maybe it's simply because I've been blessed to work at a wonderful variety of jobs within publishing, besides being a writer, and I've taken those opportunities and worked hard to learn from them; but, for whatever reason, I do my best proofreading and copy editing when reading a manuscript at a comfortable pace, on the printed page.

At this point, if you stick a manuscript in front of me and tell me that I can mark it up however I need to, my brain automatically looks for everything at once: typos, facts that need checking, plot points that I need to make sure are followed through later in the story (for instance, when I read mysteries, I need to make sure that the villain or villainess is a logical choice, and that there wasn't something written about him or her earlier in the book that would contradict this character being in that role).

One of the few "tricks" I have--if you could call it a trick--is that I don't stop proofreading or copy editing to check a spelling or a fact every time I have a question; instead, I put a Post-It Note sticking out of the margin of the page with a short, often cryptic (except to me) note on it, to remind myself what to check later. Then, after I'm done marking all the changes I'm sure about, I go back and verify spellings at http://www.merriam-webster.com/, and I first check grammar and style rules in the publisher's guidelines and then in the Chicago Manual of Style, and I use various reference books and Web sites (particularly company Web sites and .edu Web sites) to fact check.

As I already mentioned in my interview, I also make good use of a style sheet. When I'm a copy editor on a project, I make the style sheet for a book from scratch; when I'm a proofreader, I add to the style sheet that the copy editor created.

I'd like to think that I've become a better writer since I've begun my other publishing-related freelance work. I've certainly had a lot of short stories and short nonfiction published during these last several years! As to the book-length projects...well, only an editor could tell me that! :-)


Annie Rains said...

Thank you for posting! It takes a special person to do the job you described, although I LOVE to catch the grammar errors and misspellings in published books when I find them. I just want to tell someone, as if I've found this great treasure.

Alot of work really does go into bringing a book to the shelf. Thanks for sharing some of those details.

Anonymous said...

Melanie, I'm glad my comment about talking to your editor about grammar/punctuation preferences helped!

Mary, what Sandy said about needing to "turn off" the analytical thinking and focus on the creative thinking, when writing a story, was on-the-mark advice! Write it first. Get the words onto the page. You can always proofread and edit yourself later. I type my stories directly onto my computer and don't start to edit until I have at least a complete chapter or short story.

I've found that eating a little piece of high-quality chocolate inspires the creative process! (Either that, or it gives me a sugar buzz that deludes me into thinking I've suddenly become brilliantly creative!) :-)


Audra Harders said...

Margaret, so glad you could join us in Seekerville today! Editing pros are always welcome.

I commend you on being able to nitpik details in the manuscripts of so many strangers! Truth be told, I had a hard enough time trying to keep my crit partners ms. straight, and I only had 3 of them!

Thank you for sharing your wonderful insight and expertise. Taking the mystery out of any aspect of the publishing process receives a gold star from me!

Virginia said...

Wow, there are some really great tips in here!
Sandra, marking dialogue and emotions in color sounds like somrthing I'd heard before, but I thought they ahd done it on the screen, like highlighting, and I just couldn't see how that would help me. Now, printing it out sounds a lot more beneficial. I must be a tactile learner.
Vince, you made me laugh! I thought you were joking for much of that post. Unbelievable how our brains 'cover up' our mistakes. I'll have to try the reading backward... but the thought of reading 320 pages that way makes my brain hurt. I'd rather hand it off. :O

Virginia said...

My daughter, Isabel, is clapping with joy and feels very vidicated. I had told her it was probably just the way she read the sentence. (You know, the 'blue chalk woman' can be read two ways.)

P.S. She probably won't mind my saying this, since it's relevant, but she's dyslexic and it took her 3 years to learn how to read fluently. Like Vince's squinting, maybe this is why she catches so many more mistakes than I do. Her eyes and brain work differently.

Glenda Parker Fiction Writer said...

My favorite chocolate is chocolate filled truffles. I appreciate the post. I learned a lot and plan to go to the sights that were posted. I appreciate all the help and will start actively reading. I do know what I like and will start taking notes. Do you have style sheets you could share with us. I would love to have a copy of one.
Glenda Parker

Anonymous said...

Virginia, your daughter sounds delightful--and oh, so bright!

Glenda, I can't really share a style sheet at this time. As far as style sheets for other writers' projects go, I keep those (for those few that I have photocopies of, for my own records--in case an editor wants to ask me a question after I've returned a manuscript)confidential. As to the style sheets I make for myself, those are for projects that are currently in progress, which I wouldn't be comfortable sharing--at least, not yet.

Just think in terms of categories: Characters, Settings, Vocabulary, Style--those are the four major ones I use.

Under Characters and Settings, write the name of the character or place spelled just as you want it spelled throughout the book, and then write the first page on which the name occurs; you may wish to write a description of the character or setting--anytime you give specific information (such as eye color, or favorite food) is a good time to add that information to your style sheet, so that you don't contradict yourself at some later point in your writing. The names can be either in alphabetical order or order of first appearance.

Under Vocabulary, write an alphabetized list of those words you felt the need to look up in the dictionary as you wrote or as you edited yourself; this is a quick way to check a word whenever you use it again in the manuscript.

Under Style, make any notes about preferences you have, like uppercase or lowercase H when referring to pronouns for God.

That's pretty much it!


Missy Tippens said...

Margaret, what a great post! I learned so much!! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.

Now I'm wondering if you've ever proofed or edited one of my manuscripts! :)

I'm impressed at how you knocked on doors going after the job you wanted. Love that gumption!! :)

Missy Tippens said...

I've got to go feed my family but will read comments later. I see you answered lots of questions and look forward to reading!

By the way, my son is home!!!! Woo hoo! :)

Carol Moncado said...

I think my eyes have glazed over ;).

Sometimes I love that close attention to detail but I don't know that I could make a living at it :D.

Thank you for sharing with us!

Favorite chocolate... Hershey's bar. Or Peanut Butter Twix. One of the two ;).

carolmoncado at gmail dot com

Vince said...

Hi Margaret:

I’d like to add reading out loud (if no one has mentioned this already) in order to hear the voice of the major characters. Visually dialog may look different but still actually sound like another character speaking.

Ideally, a reader should be able to tell which major character is speaking by the use of words and how those words sound when spoken aloud.

I also believe that a sentence which does not read well out loud, is not well written either.

One question about the colon: I like it. I used it all the time in advertising copy. It says, ‘read on’ and not ‘stop’. I don’t often see the colon in fiction today and I think that is a shame. What do you think of the colon?

One other thing: I feel that the most dangerous page to edit in a book is the first page. This page is often rewritten so many times and reviewed so many times by the critique partners that it can be terrible and still not be noticed.

The author and critique partners know everyone and everything that happens in the book. Things that make no sense to a reader, who has not read the book yet, can make perfect sense to the author. Sometimes I have to read a first page several times to make sense out of it. The more times the first page has been rewritten, the more likely this is to happen. I suggest to authors that they have a special test of the first page: have someone who knows nothing about the book read the first page and then comment on it. (This is a pet peeve of mine.) : )


P.S. Virginia: I only read a page backwards as a last editing pass before moving on to the next page. I would not try to read a whole book from the last page to the first page backwards. That would be odd even for me. : )

P.P.S. I just finished my NaNo Novel and I wrote it so fast that I didn’t need as many words. Now I have to go back an layer in 3,500 words.

Anonymous said...

Vince, yes, reading out loud, especially for dialogue, is helpful--but I don't do this when I'm copy editing or proofreading another author's manuscript, only my own. First, that would take way too much time--and it would definitely distract me from the visual checks I need to make. Second, it is a matter of voice, and I think that's something the author needs to determine; as a copy editor or proofreader, it's not my place to change an author's voice.

As to colons...I like visual interest in punctuation. Yes, they do imply "read on" to the reader. I also like semi-colons, M-dashes, and ellipses--but all used correctly (along with other punctuation marks) and within reason.


Ausjenny said...

I have to say I love Cadbury's dairy milk chocolate although I dont eat as much as I use to. for a snack will often just have a freddo frog. its small but I get my chocolate fix.

The Grammar Queen said...

Margaret, darling, how utterly delightful to make your acquaintance!

Despite whatever rumors certain Seekerville residents and visitors may have promulgated, my sole purpose in life is to promote proper grammar and thus ensure effective communication through the written word.

Bless you for joining me in the cause!

Linnette R Mullin said...

Wow! What a load of info! Thanks for sharing. :D I always wondered about copy editors and how you would land such a job and what would be required. Very interesting and something to keep in mind.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

I'm late to this party but I can say already that I love being on the author end way more than the editing end... But that polish makes all the difference!

Virginia, I'm voting with your daughter.... Noisy knees are the scourge of the old. But I'm the one whimpering, not my joints, LOL!

Anonymous said...

Thank you all for your lovely welcome to Seekerville today. And thank you, Grammar Queen, for your kind words--I'm honored if I meet with your approval! ;-)


Ausjenny said...

need to google promulgated. Ok googled I understand.
Oh by the way when you see me us an s in a word like realise its because its the Australian or English way of writing the word. Its not that I constantly have errors its the different spellings.
Virginia, Your daughter would go well in Australia here we are very quick to pick up on double meanings and with the evil cat I would go with what your daughter said.

Cindy W. said...

I love learning...and today I gleaned a lot of information. Thank you so much.

My favorite chocolate is from See's Candies but unfortunately I can't get it here in Indiana. They brought it into Kiosks in the mall a few years ago and also a few selections at Macy's but nothing since. There is a local chocolate company that everyone here loves (DeBrands) but I just don't think it's as good as See's. If I were to chose something off the shelf, I love Hershey's kisses and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Yummo...I would love to savor a piece right now! :)

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.


Anonymous said...

Cindy and all, I'm so glad if I was able to help you learn something today! I have had a fun time sharing the lessons I, myself, have learned with all of you.

Early as it is, though, now it's time for me to say "good night." Mornings come very early in our household.

If anyone cares to comment any further tonight, I'll check in again sometime tomorrow and see what you wrote!

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Margaret (who is thankful for Seekerville--among the many blessings of her life)

Missy Tippens said...

Vince, that's excellent!! congrats on finishing!!

Sandra Leesmith said...

Wow, Its late for me too and I'm with Carol. My eyes are glazed over with all this info. LOVE IT!

Hi Grammar Queen. I knew you would love Margaret.
Hasn't she been great?

Thanks all of you for commenting and making Margaret feel welcome. It has been a great and informative day.

Don't forget to check the weekend edition for the winner of a Children's Book by Sandy or a Seeker delight.

Pass the Sees. I'm with you Cindy W. We need to get Kiosk's everywhere.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Vince, Congrats on finishing your novel. And with time to spare. woo hooo

Anyone else out there doing NaNo?

Iola said...

Great post, Margaret! I'm another detail-minded perfectionist, and get so annoyed with errors in books (I once stopped reading a non-fiction title after two pages, because it used the word 'depredation' instead of 'deprivation'. They sound similar, but have quite different meanings!)

If I may address Melanie regarding semi-colons vs. short sentences etc. Personally, I find it a little disconcerting to read a historical novel with a very modern writing style. I don't have a problem with very short sentences in contemporary fiction, but it grates a bit in historical fiction because I don't think it true to the period. I understand your first novel was set in 1386 - so I see why your copy-editors changed things.

But Margaret is correct - if, as the author, you have a strong opinion, share it with the editor and copy-editor. At least then you can all discuss it and agree on a compromise.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Iola, thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Margaret.

Talk about informative. I do some editing, but no where to depth you do. I doubt my eye is so calibrated.

I found the Active reading points interesting

How many books do you go through in a month?

As a side note, I love chocolate, but Dove is among my favs.

Tina Pinson

Anonymous said...

Hi Margaret,
Thanks for your time discussing these potential freelance opportunities. I've been hired to update guides books. I love that work, but the short deadlines always freak me out a bit. I can hardly sleep until I get the work done. Do you struggle with deadlines or are you able to negotiate those dates? I find I'm usually locked in with no room to spare.


Katie Hart - Freelance Writer said...

I would love to be a freelance manuscript reader! With my extensive history in reviewing and judging novels, I think that would be a perfect job for me. Is that type of job still available, or have publishers pushed it off on agents now?

I enjoy just about every type of chocolate (chocolate chip cookies HAVE to have semi-sweet chips and not milk chocolate, though), and my favorite is cookies and cream (white chocolate with cookie bits mixed in).

Debra E. Marvin said...

Sorry I'm late, but my pies are done.
This is really interesting, Margaret. I'm very thankful for the experience of proofreaders and copy editors as so few of us can KNOW all the things to watch out for, much less catch them.
When I grow up, I want you on my team!

And an extra special shout out to Margaret and other loopers from the ACFW NE Zone.

I am definitely with you on the hard copy pencil in hand editing. It seems to engage my brain much better. I have a two foot stack of paper (printed on both sides now) next to my desk to prove it. And that's just a year's worth.

I know. Fire Hazard. I actually fold it and use it for another job so I'm doubly recycling it back to mother earth. It's all good.

Margaret, your insights are much appreciated (and so was that chocolate website, I see!)

Anonymous said...

Tina and Lyndee, I typically proofread or copy edit one to two books a month--it depends in part on the publisher's schedule (how many manuscripts they have that need working on, at the time) and in part on mine. One manuscript every two to three weeks is a really comfortable pace for me because I still want to fit in my own writing and I have a busy family life, besides. So that one manuscript every two to three weeks is premised on my having only one or two hours a day, most days, to devote to the work; I also devote another two to three hours a day, most days, to my writing; I'm a stay-at-home wife and mom, so the rest of my time is devoted to running errands, cooking, cleaning, keeping the household accounts, staying in touch with my husband's and my elderly parents (who live in other states), and volunteer work and other activities in our church and our community.

I'm really blessed that, whenever a publisher has offered me a freelance proofreading or copy editing job, they've e-mailed me to ask if I'd be available to do it by such-and-such date. I look at my calendar and if I don't think it's doable, I ask if there's any wiggle room in the deadline. If not, I don't take that job, but tell them that I'd be available if I could have that little bit of extra time with another manuscript--and sometimes I get another offer soon after, and sometimes I don't.

I'm also blessed that my husband supports my desire to write as well as to proofread and copy edit. I could probably work at a LOT faster pace and make significantly more money than I do if I took on multiple projects from multiple publishing houses and just did the freelance proofreading and copy editing full time. When I'm offered a proofreading or copy editing project, I know I'll get paid in the end! And that's seldom been true with my writing. It was true when I wrote a handful of comic books, back in the early '90s, and it was true back when confession magazines were still big business and I'd occasionally get a call from one of the editors who regularly published me, asking if I could write a story about a particular topic; but, otherwise, everything I've written, I've had to submit and wait (and sometimes wait, and wait, and then wait some more) to see whether or not it got accepted and I got paid for it. My writing helps motivate me to do the freelance proofreading and copy editing--and the freelance proofreading and copy editing help motivate me in my writing; I am very, very thankful to have been able to work out what, for me, feels like a perfect balance with my publishing-related projects.

Either way, though--with writing or with proofreading/copy editing--one needs to be self-motivated, because it's never easy to make a deadline if you're not motivated to work at the project regularly.

Katie, with regard to the freelance manuscript reading, there are still at least one or two publishers who hire readers, but I'm under the impression that it's now mainly agents who hire them. Just be aware, if you're a member of the Romance Writers of America, that becoming a manuscript reader (and therefore having some say in the editorial acquisition process) might put you into a different category of membership than General Member, which might take away certain writing and chapter governance opportunities from you. Good luck!


Sally said...

I loved this post! I started freelance editing when a local author asked me to help edit his next book. Editing is so much fun.Yes, I am an English major! This post sounded just like me. I look up words, make a note of characters' descriptions, and look at punctuation. Thanks for the great advice! I have wondered how to find more work. Just by calling and asking I now edit for three authors and a monthly magazine. I would love to do more with it though. It is fun watching my resume grow with references. Thanks again for a wonderful post!

Anonymous said...

Sally, thanks for the good words! Sounds like we're kindred spirits with the writing/editing stuff! :-)