Monday, April 10, 2006

Copyediting: the final frontier

I sent the manuscript off to Chennai at noon today. I won’t see it again for six weeks when it will be in proofs. Finally, my publishers took note of my grousing and asked their own people in New York to look at the job that was done. They agreed with my assessment that, for every error the copyeditor found, she missed two. The NYC production manager even offered a list of corrections to three of the pages. These run along lines like this:
  • page 31, line 2: should be “beliefs” not “belief”
  • page 31, line 4: clause unclear, ask author for clarification. Perhaps “and at her”?
  • page 32, line 3: comma required after “see”

In short, they look like copyediting. Of the eight or so items on his list, I had caught six or seven, so I am not such a bad copyeditor. Still, this means that roughly one per cent of my manuscript has now been properly copyedited by my press.

Now, anyone who writes a scholarly book would be deluded to think that the world waits with bated breath for its arrival. However, it hurts to have that worldly indifference enacted so flagrantly by one’s own publisher. Still, I do think there are good things in my book and even occasionally enjoyed revisiting some of the ideas I tease out. In short, as utterly demoralizing as this experience has been—and it’s been one of the worst, if not the single worst, writing experiences of my life—I am striving not to turn my animus on the book itself.

There is good news, however. The press—or its contracted agency—will input all my corrections and print them out again. This corrected typescript will then be given to a senior copyeditor at the same company who will copyedit it a second time. These corrections will then be set to proof. I will receive a copy of the second round of copyediting alongside the proofs. This way, the proofs will be as clean as possible and I’ll get to see for sure what the senior copyeditor has changed. They have assured me, too, that I won’t be charged for changes at the proof stage.

I’m putting this all behind me as of now. But I have enjoyed reading others’ stories of the road to publication and I thought my sad little tale might make for some good schadenfreude among my readers. My experience is certainly different from Michael Berube’s, who got to copyedit his book in the UNC Press offices where people actually seemed to care about his getting idioms right:
I’m still in a copyediting frenzy, and my plane for State College leaves in two hours. I finished the page proofs for What’s Liberal about the Liberal Arts? last night, having spent the entire day slogging through the first copyedit of Rhetorical Occasions. But I had the odd experience of copyediting a book for the University of North Carolina Press in the offices of the University of North Carolina Press, surrounded by the people who’ve been working on the book for the past year. That was cool. Also extremely efficient. Whenever I ran into a snag, I would just holler randomly down the hall: “hey,” I hollered randomly, “is ‘cohort of theorists’ singular or plural”? This launched a learned debate about whether “cohort” implies the kind of collectivity and loss of individuality one associates with “herd,” since of course “herd” is singular. It was finally decided by a 17-12 vote that “cohort” is plural, which suggests that the staff of the UNC Press are a cohort rather than a herd.

But then, I’m no Michael Berube.

10 comments:

Dave Munger said...

Yes, Berube definitely got the star treatment. I've had the good fortune to copy edit as a team before -- back when I had an assistant, one of us would read aloud and the other would make corrections. It was most definitely a pleasant experience.

One of the worst copy editors I've ever had was actually a future Pulitzer prize winner, making rent money before he hit the big time. Not that he's paying attention, but I'll be discreet and not mention his name.

Jenny D said...

I am so sorry your experience was so dire! I think I told you already my roughly comparable story of a somewhat insane and elusive copy-editor who introduced far more errors than she fixed--I too had to insist on getting a second set of proofs, I felt obnoxious but really!.... Anyway, I feel sure that the book is going to look great in the end and that this horrible period will be erased from your memory!

(NB not to be snarky given post topic, my blog posts always have lots of typos, but I believe that is "bated breath"!)

Lucy Tartan said...

The Mansfield Park edition was copyedited very badly by subcontractors employed by Cambridge. It had to be done again, at the last very moment, and caused great angst.

I'm afraid the editor perhaps felt a bit the way you are feeling, about it being the worst writing experience ever. But I'm sure that in time that feeling will go away.

So yes, what Jenny said!

Anne said...

of course, it IS bated breath.

I feel so like a dead fish that I made the error.

Sigh.

Michelle said...

An author I know whose first novel received a big push from her publisher (so you'd think they would've put some time into copyediting) told me a couple of days ago that the errors in the first printing of her book were so ghastly that both the copyeditor and the typesetter in charge of her book at St. Martin's were fired. She said there was a major gaffe on EVERY page. (This by way of trying to make you feel better, although, okay, maybe it doesn't).

Anonymous said...

Actually, it wasn't star treatment. I just happened to be in Chapel Hill that day, and I'm not entirely sure that the UNC Press was thrilled to have one of their authors show up and query the edits. Especially because I took issue with the editor changing "so much as" to "as much as" and "for instance" to "for example" at every opportunity. (I mean, really, "there isn't so much as an x" is perfectly acceptable usage.)

But good luck with your book! I'm sorry to hear that the process has been such a royal pain. Personally, I go with "counterpublic sphere," but you don't need to hear that at the moment.

--Michael Bérubé

Anne said...

I was right about the schadenfreude--your anecdotes and vaguely encouraging remarks are doing the trick--amusing me and reminding me of where this all stands in the grand scheme.

I do think I'll be able to celebrate the book come September when it's out.

As for "counterpublic," well, that IS nice but, yes, you're right, Michael--today is not the day to consider strangely neglected option 3. (I do think the hyphen best for my argument--funny how, before a word settles into its meaning, there can still be nuances to the spelling of it...)

Deanna Hoak said...

Hi. I'm so sorry you had a bad copyediting experience! I'm a copyeditor, so I always hate to hear stories that show the rest of us in a bad light. :-(

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