Once upon a time, I had such a hard time accepting editorial comments on my work that I resorted to electronic critique sessions. Reading critiques online gave me a chance to wail, gnash my teeth, mutter snarky comments under my breath, and otherwise act in thoroughly unprofessional ways. Then, I could pull myself together, pretend I was a big girl, and respond positively to my critique-mate.
I’ve matured a lot since then, and I can now discuss my evolving stories in person. I still feel the prickles of dismay and disdain, but I shove them down almost immediately, and I move on.
There’s only one exception: Copy edits.
(For those who aren’t certain what I mean: Copy edits occur relatively late in the march to publication. First, I submit my final manuscript to my editor. She reads it and suggests edits. I make changes based on those suggestions. *Then* the manuscript is copy-edited — a professional (not my “editor”, but a different person, the “copy-editor”) reviews the manuscript for grammar errors, factual inconsistencies, narrative flaws (e.g., using the word “word” three times in a sentence, right after the word “word”), conformity to house style (e.g., “gray” as opposed to “grey”, using the serial comma, and other important things), and notes for the typesetter (e.g., specific indications of every instance of italics, em-dashes, chapter headings, etc.))
I completely understand the value of copy edits. A good copy editor smooths over the thousand jagged edges that pull a reader out of a story. (In fact, a large number of self-published novels by otherwise talented authors lose me as a reader because they have not been copy edited.)
Nevertheless, I find it nearly impossible to accept copy edits with grace. I read through the markings (red pencil in the margins of a print manuscript for many projects, although I’ve also received copy edits electronically, using Word’s Track Changes feature…) and a little voice in the back of my head says, “Yeah, right. Like anyone is going to confuse my made-up herb with a trademarked brand of tea.” Or I say, “I don’t *think* it’s been seventeen days since the last full moon, you moron — I note these things in Scrivener for just such an emergency!” Or I say, “No, Fool, I capitalized that character’s title for a very specific reason, which will be revealed on page 213!”
I mutter a lot of other things, too, but I blush to even think about putting them down in print.
The reality is, most copy-editors are almost always right. Sure, legally, the tea manufacturer would never succeed in a trademark infringement suit (trust me, I litigated trademark cases for seven years…) But if a reader is pulled out of the story, thinking about the tea in her cupboard when she should be thinking about my characters’ healing tisane, maybe I should make a change. And it’s just possible that I miscounted the days; there were a lot of changes I made on that last pass through the story. Or maybe, just maybe, I didn’t provide clear enough markers in the text about the passage of time. And those capitalized titles? Well, if they pull a reader out of the text, then maybe I should find a different way to accomplish my big reveal.
Copy-editors aren’t infallible. I know a number of authors — especially those who write speculative fiction (with its worldbuilding, breaking from the convention of Webster’s Third International Dictionary, and the Chicago Manual of Style) — who have had horrific things done to their manuscripts. Those authors become overly familiar with the instruction “stet” — leave it as I wrote it, typesetter. They also tend to submit style sheets with their next manuscripts — careful lists of names, places, and other quirks of their writing.
No, copy-editors aren’t perfect. But I’m not either. And I invest the lion’s share of my energy in the crafting and telling of a story, so I’m always grateful for the grammar-and-continuity experts to follow along behind me, cleaning things up.
I’ll just grumble a bit first. And help myself to a giant pot of non-trademarked tea, to sweeten the blow(s).
How about you? How do you handle receiving edits? If you’ve ever been copy-edited, did you find those notes easier or harder to accept that more substantive edits?
Mindy, who has just finished reviewing the copy edits for DARKBEAST — moving her much closer to the August 28, 2012 release date!
(I’ll have inconsistent access to a computer today, so please forgive late responses to your comments!)