Copy Editing

September 29th, 2009 by Max Allan Collins

Very soon you will be able to leave comments as these updates become more like a regular blog. But it’s my intention only to post once a week. It would be very easy for me to abuse the blog format and write a bunch of stuff for free every day.

This week found me plugging away at Heller, nearing the half-way mark on the new novel. I also did some work on RETURN TO PERDITION, as Terry Beatty has started on the artwork, and my job is to stay out ahead of him. I played a Crusin’ band job Saturday night.

In addition, Matt Clemens and I spent a day comparing notes, and preparing to send back to our publisher, the copy-edited manuscript of YOU CAN’T STOP ME. There is no part of the writing process that I like less than dealing with a copy-edited manuscript. Copy editing should be restricted to preparing the manuscript for typesetting, correcting typos, correcting spelling, noting missing words, pointing out inconsistencies (i.e., a character starts out with red hair and becomes brown-haired by the end), pointing out word repetition, and flagging unclear sentences or passages (for the author to rewrite). About one out of three copy-edited manuscripts I receive seems to have been attacked by a well-meaning soul who anoints him-or-herself as my co-author. I’ve been at this professionally since 1971. I have taught college English, and countless writing seminars. Yet they constantly “correct” and “improve” me.

What do they correct? How about “fixing” grammar in dialogue? How do they improve me? How about turning long run-on sentences in action scenes, designed to hold the reader down into the fray, into a bunch of short, choppy ones? For me a major problem with such copy editors is my use of punctuation, which I view as a tool and use for sound and effect. Style seems to bewilder some copy editors.

Putting Humpty Dumpty back together is a task I have had to undertake many times. This despite the fact that I usually include a note to the copy editor (very politely stated) that lists my preferences and eccentricities. Understand that the copy editor’s real functions (listed above) are crucial, and I am as often grateful to them as I am, well, not grateful….

The other aspect of the copy-edited manuscript that is frustrating to writers is its arrival at inopportune times — these manuscripts (and galley proofs are the same) frequently arrive with little or no warning, with a crazy turn-around-time, even as a short as a couple of days.

I find, when I’m working on a novel that losing days to this necessary but unexpected work can really slow me down. I build up a certain momentum, and these interruptions — again, a necessary part of the process — cause me trouble. For me, writing a novel is akin to reading one. And I like to stay immersed.


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