Monday, March 30, 2009

The Copyedit

One of the crazy things about this publishing biz is the way the corporate machine sometimes chews up the authors that it works with. I've just been chewed. A small chew. A good one. No lasting harm done. All in the name of my career and betterment of my work, etc. But still, I've spent the last week with the copyedited version of The Other Lands (which is what you see to the left here). And it was a doozy of an edit.

I should mention that the copy edit part of production happens after the standard editor has approved the book. It's accepted. Money is released. Oh happy day! But then the book goes to the copy editor, and a whole new level of torture is inflicted on the manuscript (and the author).

I don't know how it is for other authors, but in my experience the copy edited manuscript of a novel arrives one day, with a note saying it has to be back in NY like... uh... four days later. Four days! That's what happened this time. In the past I'd managed this fine, but this time there was more work to be done, and staying up all night wasn't gonna be the magic fix.

The other thing is that the copy edit is both incredibly intimate and yet also cold and official. On one hand you've got all these marks, queries, red lines, incredulous comments about your lack of logic, the pointing out of glaring mistakes, the questioning of your understanding of basic laws of physics and human anatomy... I'm serious. I mean EVERY page gets torn up, and that's when the book is in fairly polished condition. So you get tons of critical comments but never, ever, ever, in any way does the copy editor make a positive comment. Nothing. All the red ink, but not one, "Nice use of active verbs". The whole thing is a rather daunting experience. (I imagine some of my students hooting with glee at this.)

The good news is that I've now been through this five times. Can't complain about that. I have returned the much improved manuscript of the book to Doubleday, and hopefully we're back to smooth sailing. Lest I sound ungrateful, I'm happy to admit that the copy editor did a wonderful job, and I can't thank her enough for tearing up my pages so thoroughly. I just want you all to know that I've spent a week in a state of coffee-jazzed fear and loathing. Glad that's behind me. Onward, now, to dreams of massive success and accolades!

We all have to dream.

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Blogger Meghan said...

"On one hand you've got all these marks, queries, red lines, incredulous comments about your lack of logic, the pointing out of glaring mistakes, the questioning of your understanding of basic laws of physics and human anatomy... I'm serious"

Wow. That's just...brutal. The things I learn on this blog. Good to know for the future (I love how some people advise not to take criticism personally...but how can you NOT sometimes??)

Congrats on getting THAT nightmare out of the way! Can't wait to see the finished product!

3:39 PM  
Anonymous Stephe said...

Great God Almighty. Every page torn up? O_O

That massive pile strangely reminds me of the huge black escarpment rising out of the sea on ACACIA's Italian cover. At least you're done climbing now. My Lord.

4:43 PM  
Blogger A. Hartman Adams said...

Sounds exhausting...but somehow wonderful. Bold words coming from a green girl such as myself. I just got some pages back from the mini-Stonecoasters online crit group, and I'm cringing at those comments alone. Clearly, I'm full of it.

Either way, glad you got through it.

6:08 PM  
Anonymous Etan Iktho said...

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger", said a syphilitic philosopher some time ago.

As a writer, who could kill your talent ?

So you're just stronger as a writer.

Simple as that.

"Got to get away from the complicated life", said Raymond Douglas Davies.

6:59 PM  
Blogger Mary Robinette Kowal said...

You do know how to put fear into the heart of a new author.

7:54 PM  
Blogger Kate Elliott said...

I actually love the copy edit stage. But I think that's mostly because I'm kind of a sloppy sentence by sentence writer (the big picture is more my strength), so I always feel like a good copy editor saves me from myself and from whatever my editor didn't catch while dealing with the big picture.

Also, on Crossroads 3 the copy editor tentatively suggested a rewording having to do with horse breeding that was SO PERFECT (although very minor in the great scheme of things) that I could not help but love her for it.

10:23 PM  
Blogger Kate Elliott said...

By the way, nice stack of pages there.

10:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for going through the pain. I'm looking forward to seeing the book on the shelves. If it's any consolation.... I've never read a book written by your editors.

Love your work... Keep it coming!

11:43 PM  
Anonymous Sengei Tawn said...

David, It's awesome for you to share that. It's a very real part of writing and shows that the best of authors hones and hones till the story shines.

Personally, I love getting edits. It shows someone has really taken my writing seriously and wants me to look my best.

I just wish I could unlearn some of those bad habits of mine...argh.

6:42 AM  
Blogger Bryan Russell said...

"Ah, I love the smell of red ink in the morning..."

(It works better with the burning village in the background, I admit - or, in this case, the glowing red pages.)

My best,

10:54 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

A day later and I'm starting to recover. Ah...

As tough as it was this time, I do agree, Kate, that in the past I've enjoyed the process more. This time, though, with deadlines looming and the pressure on a bit more, the manuscript got to copyediting rougher than it has in the past. So the knife cut often and cut deeper than usual.

Again, though, I'm glad for it. The only thing scarier than facing all those marked up pages is the prospect of skipping the stage and not having a real copyedit. That's the stuff of nightmares...

12:09 PM  
Blogger Kate Elliott said...

I have to admit that I was a little freaked out by my last copyedit (last month), because I was given almost 3 weeks to turn it around. It felt like a harbinger of the end of the world, or something. I kept thinking I had misread the due date.

1:55 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Three weeks? Wow. What a luxury...

Of course, I didn't actually make my four day deadline. Had to add three days. I hate missing deadlines so that was another part of my stress.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Strength/Courage/Wisdom said...

I’m so eager for this book that I actually zoomed in on the picture to see if I could get a sneak peek! But all I got to see was a little form letter from the copy editor. * Sigh * Anyway, I’m glad things went well. Can’t wait to see it on the bookshelves!

3:56 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

It's not without design that I didn't get too close to the actual pages. I'm willing to share to some extent, but there are some aspects of an author's shame that must remain between him and his editors. Good thing, too.

4:40 PM  
Blogger slkcivil said...

Wow! You really were not kidding in class, that's amazing. Congrats on getting it done. Talk about Balance in life and writing...great example. Great job!

Good to know about the copy editor role too. Any word on STET??? ;-)

2:15 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

From Wikipedia...

"Stet is a Latin word (meaning "let it stand") used by proofreaders to instruct the writer to disregard a change the editor had previously marked."

That's not quite what it means to me in terms of the specifics, but that Latin bit makes sense.

2:23 AM  
Anonymous Dave said...

That's great news, David! But wow, four days! I guess we'll all have to join you in that coffee-jazzed state and finish it in four days as soon as it's released, too! :-)

10:13 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


Nah, take you're time. Relax. Live in the world a little. Ah... Doesn't that sound nice?

4:50 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Relax, with The Other Lands? :-) You don't understand! This is like a new Steven Erikson or GRRM or Robert Jordan! Think I'll blitz through it, drugged up so I won't sleep, and then savor it. :-)

9:48 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Ah... Steven Erikson or GRRM or Robert Jordan...

There's more pressure.

4:48 PM  
Blogger chapter11studios said...

Thanks for nudging opening that little window into the publishing world. I also have to agree with what another poster said: My level of excitement for The Other Lands is right up there with what I feel when I hear about a new GRRM or Tad Williams novel. So, you know, no pressure or anything. ;-)

10:47 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Now you throw in Tad Williams?

Ah, man...

8:05 PM  

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