Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Subtitle: A Brief Foray into the Realm of Copyediting

In the life of an author, the most magical phrase in time is “Congratulations! We would like to publish your book!” This phrase, of course, leads to jumping up and down, the scooping of cats and/or young children, and giddy spinning.

Lesser known, but also worthy of giddy spinning, is the following phrase:

“Dear author, I sent your manuscript on to the copyeditor.”


Spinning. Blurry backgrounds. And the ecstasy of knowing one is done making hard decisions about why your character insisted upon throwing him or herself off a cliff. Life is good.

Unless, of course, one happens to be doing the copyediting.

As I was last weekend.

This year I am mentoring a former student on her senior writing project.

She is very like me. As is her writing. Wings and magical realms and special descriptive phrases that abound in the world of young adult fantasy. You know, fun stuff! I’m good with that.

Apparently what I am not good at is highlighting.

Click on the yellow color. Highlight the excessive use of “was.” Click on the red color. Explain why “was” is highlighted.

Click on the yellow color. Highlight the two contradictory terms. Click on the red. Explain that people don’t “pound on things silently.”

Click on the yellow color. Highlight the use of an unclear pronoun. Click on the red. Explain that “they”—rather than referring to the two characters in the paragraph—is technically referring to the purple socks which were mentioned in the same line.



Click. Reclick. And on and on and on.

I am not a fan of highlighting.

As a teacher, I can sit down one-on-one with students and explain two or three details about conventions during the dissection of one paper.

A copy-editor doesn’t have this privilege. They have to mark everything.

Don’t get me wrong.

I have always valued copyeditors.

After this weekend, though, I must give them a shout-out! And impart to them the imaginary scepter of ultimate appreciation.

For their mind-blowing knowledge of the English language.

Their incredible attention to detail.

And their extraordinary patience with highlighters.

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