In Others' WordsIn Others' Words

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Neutral Corner: Six Things I've Learned between Rounds of Editing My Manuscript

Someone just rang the bell on Round Two of editing my debut novel.
That someone was me.
I dragged myself to a neutral corner, where I'll wait for the bell to ring again, signalling the commencement of Round Three.
If you're wondering who won the last round, my manuscript is the one bleeding red ...
Sorry. Lousy editor humor.
And, truth be told, my publisher included a green colored pencil with my manuscript, along with strict "do not use anything but this pencil to make changes" instructions. I dubbed it my "magic" pencil and warned my family not to touch it.
Like a boxer in between rounds, I'm catching my breath and gathering my strength for getting back in the fight. I know there's another round of edits, and I want to be ready. I'm reviewing what I learned as I read through the copy editor's notes. (Think: trainer.) Why make the same mistake twice? Here's a few of my observations while I catch my breath in the neutral corner:

  1. Weasel Words can be invisible. We all have words we overuse. Mine are but and just. As a writer/editor, I focus on hunting down and killing those weasel words. However, the copy editor found them alive and well in my manuscript. Gasp! All I can figure is those blasted weasels were invisible.
  2. Saying, "I'm not an editor" is a cop-out. You are a writer. You expect someone else to edit your manuscript. Maybe it's someone in your critique group. Maybe you're banking on that sainted copy editor at your publishing house. Sorry. If you're a professional writer, this means you need a basic understanding of book editing. (Can you say Chicago Manual of Style?)
  3. It's okay to ask questions--but be nice about it. Even though I'm an editor, I didn't understand all the copy editor's marks on my manuscript. I also didn't understand why she changed some things. The solution? I asked questions. However, I'm aiming for a long-term relationship with Howard Books, my publisher. Alienating my copy editor isn't going to help me win friends and influence people. So when I asked questions, I started off by saying thank you for all the work she'd put into my manuscript.
  4. Know your publisher's style standards. Book publishing is governed by the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS.) Is something italicized? Capitalized? Is the period inside the quote marks or outside the quote marks? Ask the great and wonderful Oz ... I mean, refer to CMOS. You also need to realize that publishers develop their own in-house style standards that may differ from CMOS. Find out.
  5. Invest in the necessary tools. I own two dictionaries: both the 4th and the 11th editions of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. Why? I use the 4th edition when I edit magazines. I found out that Howard Books uses the 11th edition. Time to double-up on dictionaries.
  6. Take editing one round at a time. Editing is tough. Exhausting. Sometimes you want to say, "That's good enough" and quit. But just like a prize fighter wants his gloved fist to be thrust in the air as he claims victory, you want to succeed. You want your book to be a winner. You need to go the distance, one round at a time. When the bell rings, go to your neutral corner. Rest up. Review you what you learned in the last round, and be ready to get out there when the bell rings again.
In Your Words: What's your attitude toward editing? Are you ready to jump in the ring and mix it up? Or do you hang on the ropes and wish someone else would fight for you? What tips would you add to my list?

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At 5:27 AM, Blogger Patricia said...

This is very helpful, Beth. Thank you!

At 6:37 AM, Blogger Katie Ganshert said...

Love this, Beth! And just is one of my weasel words too!! I can't believe you're on copy edits already!

At 7:56 AM, Blogger Donna said...

Beth, I love your sense of humor and willing to learn reflected throughout your post. Go get those edits!! Magic pencil and all. Blessings!

At 8:49 AM, Blogger Beth K. Vogt said...

Here's the funny thing: It's not like I had major re-writes. Lots of little things to learn, in the middle of real life, which there is no "pause" button for. And the purple copy editor's marks were like a foreign language to me--and I know proofreader's marks!

At 9:52 AM, Blogger Keli Gwyn said...

Ooh, Beth, we're kindred spirits. I love, love, love editing. In fact, I prefer it to writing a first draft. Call me an odd duck, but I get a thrill from weeding out weasel words or rooting out repetitions and redundancies. Watching my story improve right before my eyes is so rewarding.

At 10:49 AM, Blogger Tamara Marnell said...

"Weasel Words"...I just can't shake those 'howevers'!

My biggest problem is resisting the urge to edit constantly. During the first rounds I believe you should just write without worrying about your little literary quirks. Of course, when I finally get to the editing ring, if anyone's going to knock the teeth out of my precious child, I'd rather it be me than a backspace-happy editor in another state.

At 11:00 AM, Blogger Jeanne T said...

Beth, great post. It's fun to gain a little insight about the process you're going through. Maybe we'll all have that privilege one day. Oh, that I may have your teachable spirit when it's my turn. :)

At 12:35 PM, Blogger Melissa Tagg said...

My attitude toward editing: Love it. Why? Because it means I've passed the stage of rough draft writing. No more scary white screen. :) Fun post, Beth...loved the term "weasel words."

At 1:33 PM, Blogger Lisa Jordan said...

I was so excited to get my copy edits--more proof that the past eight months have not been some crazy dream. :)

Just is one of my weasel words too but sometimes it fits. I have to weigh the context before I kill it.

I learned a lot by doing my copy edits, including my publisher has a house style in addition to CMOS. I phoned my agent who, once again, waved her fairy godmother wand and helped me to understand some differences. Over all, it was a great experience.

At 3:04 PM, Blogger Beth K. Vogt said...

I just may do a blog post on "weasel words."
And I love editing too--the more rounds, the better, I say. At some point, you have to let the ms go. But I like running my editorial fingers through the pages as many times as I can ... and I like others' expertise too.

At 7:19 PM, Anonymous Lucille Zimmerman said...

Beth, do you think most publishers refer to the Chicago Manual of Style? I am wondering if I should purchase one now or wait (and hope to get an offer) and see which manual my publisher uses.

At 10:03 PM, Blogger Beth K. Vogt said...

Lucille, most book publishers use CMOS. I use the online version ( I find the APStylebook easier to use, but that may just be me.
Also, I emailed my editor and asked for a copy of their in-house stylebook. Most publishers have them. I should have thought to do this before now. Lisa Jordan suggested this. (Waving at Lisa.)


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