What Does A Copy Edit Pass Looks Like? Gail Carriger’s Internal Dialogue

Copy edits (AKA CE) always seem to take longer than I think they should.

The following occurred, gentle reader while working on Prudence but many of my CEs are like this.

So I decided, yesterday afternoon to keep track, for a few hours, of why that might be the case. This isn’t an exact record of every fix I made during that time, but more a glimpse into what my brain looks like as it contemplates the greater sins that distract me more than they should.

So, Gentle Reader, I offer unto you this insight into the mind of a copy editing writer ~ or at least this particular copy editing writer…

  • Mutterings about attempted elimination of the Oxford Comma. Pause to look up use of Oxford Comma, learn it is also called Serial Comma and Harvard Comma. Get distracted thinking of comedy inherent in the idea of a cereal comma.
  • Editor questions whether certain word choice is too modern. Hunt to prove it is not modern, but find a more vintage sounding word anyway. If it kicked her out of the story it may do other readers.
  • Decide minor steampunk transport mechanism needs to be more bug like. Brian freeze over use of word antenna vs antennae. Idly wonder about entomology, must be Latin. Distracted by coolness of Latin for a while.
  • Editor questions American nature of word, suggests alternative. Author Beast spins off into actual nature of word, end up with different better under-appreciated word anyway. (Sensing a theme?)
  • Decide one character overuses specific diminutive. Over half hour spent researching new possible terms of endearment. Try to decide between one which has (contested) funny meaning, and one which sounds funny right off the bat. Settle on the first, but also chivvy in the second in a different scene. Victory for the Author Beast!
  • Wince over obvious spelling errors I always make and should have known to catch before handing in.
  • Editor questions use of a Victorian term. Google comes up blank. Half hour spent crawling through all notes as well as possible primary and secondary print sources from which I might have drawn this particular vocabulary. No dice. Change to a different term, less funny, but at least I can back it up.
  • Amusement over fact that I did a full Find/Replace to make my own vocabulary less British in certain ways and ticks, yet editor is turning it all back.
  • More removed Oxford Commas. Shakes tiny fist.
  • Double check CE notes to self that I’m not forgetting anything. Forgot something. Go back and fix it. A dozen residual fixes result, more time wasted.
  • Editor concerned over pluralization of newly introduced vocabulary. Legitimate concern to do with my consistency throughout rest of book. I TK the text and do a massive Find check of use of word throughout book. Decision made to pluralize in modern way, word fixed throughout. Stupid author beast. Am now concerned over consistency of other, even more commonly used new vocabulary word. Have to check that throughout as well. It seems fine.
  • Decide to modify scene to include a friend’s steampunk gadget. Jump over to FB to inform said friend. Find picture of friend wearing gadget to post with said comment. Pleased with self. Hope friend doesn’t mind. Or if he does, says something before deadline.
  • Millionth decision as to whether to change the semicolon back to a comma, use an em-dash, or create two punchy fragment-ish sentences. I make this choice at least once a page. Editors love colons and semicolons, I loathe them, particularly in speech. Choices, choices.
  • Wait forever while word processing program auto-saves. It doesn’t like all the track changes in such a long document. Reminded I should do a save and a back up. Do them both. Think nice thoughts about Scrivener, sad the publishing industry won’t shift off .docx.
  • Pause to make tea.
  • Chuffed to find editor has added in ellipses. Much as I hate the colon family, I love ellipses. Always feel I overuse them so it’s a joy to find them included by someone else.
  • Annoyed with request for clarification and specificity on plot. I feel I’m being clear enough. Don’t I explain everything in the next few paragraphs? Write snide margin comment about non-genre readers being unable to suspend disbelief. Think better on it. She’s probably right. Fix sentence structure for clarity with a few simple words. Delete comment. Feel ashamed.
  • Thrilled to make use of word knackered. I’ve been having fun fixing one character’s speech so many of her words have secondary animal-pun meaning – like using shrewd instead of crafty. “Shrew-d” you see? No one will notice but I think I’m so clever. Thus having another character describe this one as knackered is quite sinister. Knacker’s yard for horses is a bad association for animal-centered person.
  • Find yet more redundancy vocabulary (= too many of the same/similar root words used within the same few paragraphs). Half the time the editor catches them, other half of the time I do. Thesaurus used to fix most of the time, rewrite or delete sentences the rest of the time.
  • Constant deleting of modifier words (e.g. seemed) and phrases (e.g. looked like she felt). Rewording while still avoiding break in POV = good times. Sigh. Annoyed with English language.
  • Immensely pleased with self at finding typo that the editor missed. Also terrified, if she missed one did she miss others? Oh noes! Book will not be perfect. Crisis. Trauma.
  • Reword sentence just because it doesn’t read exactly right. Delighted with nuances of English language.
  • Reflect, philosophically, on the nature of confusion. I need to make my main character’s confusion clear without her seeming dumb, or making the reader too confused. Difficult to write… confusion.
  • Realize I have ceded defeat on the matter of capitalization after dialogue breaks, tags, and quotation marks. I’m never going to figure out what the publisher wants (let alone what is correct) and I’m OK with that.
  • Accept that as nefariously as anything is the correct phrase, but nefarious as anything sounds better to my ear. Sad with life.
  • Wait while saving… again.
  • Make self laugh with own cliche use of old Victorian romantic language. Ha! I kill me.
  • Add in modifier word because it works so well, feel guilty about it.
  • Add in point of clarification of plot that should have been included last edit pass. Delighted I remembered and caught it before production.
  • Realize it is pitch black in the room, I’ve forgotten to eat, I’m out of water, and I have a headache. Also it’s almost bedtime and I haven’t even managed half of the assigned pages for today. Bad author beast. Yet, I must be close to the end of this chapter, I’ll just get there. Annoyed by lack of water. Stretch hands and arms a bit. Continue.
  • Ten minutes spent dithering over use of it or them when referring back, as a direct object, to the subject their enemy. Decide them sounds better, whether grammatically correct or not. Put in margin note articulating my distress in this matter, beg for help.
  • Wonder if specific food stuff was still cooked in that way back in 1800s. Or if it even existed. Spend 20 minutes trying to find source dates. First recorded evidence seems to be around 1910s. It was popularized by a restaurant but seems to have been around before that, although likely under a different name. (I never name it, so that’s OK.) Food notoriously hard to date, since few think to write about it historically. I figure only a few food historians would know the truth in my book’s case. Decide to take a risk on offended emails for the sake of humor inherent in Victorian shock at said food. All that distraction and I leave the section untouched. Sad to say this kind of second guessing happens all too often.
  • More redundancy vocabulary words to replace. Sigh.
  • Shocked by a character’s rude dialogue, add please to make character sound nicer. How could I have thought it OK?
  • Realize I can’t use the term soda water, for soaking feet. I mean to say baking soda (AKA bicarbonate of soda) mixed in water but that won’t work either ~ too cumbersome. Settle for rose water instead. Then rose water comes up in a later chapter and have to change it to lavender water, otherwise risk deluding reader into thinking rose water significant/connected through repetition, when it isn’t.
  • Switch my family to the family then decide that’s too mobster. Switch it back.
  • It’s gotten too late. I must stop, zoning out and no more quality work likely to happen. Am a chapter behind. Guess I’m working even more this weekend. Contemplate fact that copy edits may be the death of me.
  • Save. Close. Collapse on couch staring up at darkness.

So on a purely emotional level the following is what copy edits look like each day, every day, over and over again. So if I’m not online all that much right now, it’s because I am constantly going through cycles of…

Annoyance, distraction, righteousness, ambition, exploration, victory, self loathing, disgruntlement, acceptance, amusement, aggravation, forgetfulness, concern, stupidity, pride, silliness, indecision, impatience, affection, TEA, pleasure, exasperation, clarification, shame, self congratulation, repetition, irritation, self gratification, crisis, trauma, delight, philosophical reflection, confusion, sadness, frustration, amusement, self congratulation, guilt, success, dithering, distress, wonder, resignation, shock, duty, uselessness, contemplation, complacency.

Which explains why I’m so exhausted each night.

So how’s your day looking?

{What is Gail’s Book Group reading for September? Children of the Night by Mercedes Lackey}

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Posted by Gail Carriger

 Comments are closed


  1. Jess said:

    Yikes! My days are now filled with a four-month-old kitten and trying to keep my adult kitty happy. They'll love each other eventually… 🙂

  2. Ceejay Writer said:

    I've returned to this entry many times now – I keep having to hunt it up to share with writer friends. It's funny, encouraging, accurate, eye-roll-worthy, and as worthy as a good cup of tea.

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