Business Musings: The Copyedit from Heck

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In late February, I was scrambling to clear the decks for last week’s anthology workshop , I got an email from an editor who had kindly bought one of my stories for a major traditionally published anthology that will appear in November. Attached to the email was the copyedited story, along with a deadline of this week.

No problem. All I had to do was move that copyedit into the proper file on my writing computer so I could work on the manuscript when the workshop was over. However, I have learned that the first thing to do with any file that includes track changes is open the file and make sure the track changes are visible on both my e-mail computer and my writing computer.

I did just that—and hit the ceiling.

Two hours and a lot of invective later, I had completed the copyedit and returned it to the editor at the traditional publishing house, while copying the anthology editor (as per instructions). I wrote the editor at the trad pub house a polite letter that I have written a version of a lot in my career.

Dear Editor,

I have enclosed the copyedit for my story. The copyeditor took the voice out of the story. I have stetted almost all of her changes. I do apologize for the tone of my comments in track changes as I got deeper into the manuscript. It became clear to me that the copyeditor had no concept of a writer’s personal style.

I have run two separate publishing companies, won awards for my editing, and have trained copyeditors over my thirty-year career. I am hoping that this particular copyeditor saw my opening three lines and decided that I did not know how to punctuate dialogue. Because if the copyeditor treated the other manuscripts in this stellar anthology the way that mine was treated, you have a problem.

I’m stunned that this copyeditor was chosen for an urban fantasy anthology. Urban fantasy is voice- and style-heavy, and should be copyedited with a light hand.

I do hope that you will ensure that my corrections make it into the final volume. …

I received a kind letter in reply from the editor, who works for Random Penguin. She said she forwarded my letter to the managing editor who hired the copyeditor, and promised to make sure the changes were in the volume.

The letter came before last week’s bloodbath at Random Penguin, where most of the mass market division NAL/Berkley is being “repurposed.” Last week, according to Publisher’s Marketplace:

Other outlets and Twitter conversations indicate at least four editors and other support staff have been let go, and that title cuts at the Ace and Roc science fiction and fantasy imprints are on the way.

Note that it says “title cuts.” That means books already purchased will be cut and the contracts canceled. I’ll deal with that in a future blog. For the purposes of this one, though, my letter from less than a month ago is probably like pissing in the wind.

I have no idea if the editor I dealt with still has a job. I have no idea if the managing editor still has a job. I’m assuming the copyeditor from heck isn’t employed with that company, since most traditional publishers’ copyeditors these days are freelancers.

I do know that the volume will appear in November as promised, since the book is available for preorder. I am now braced for a voiceless version of my story to hit print, since I doubt there’s anyone remaining at the company to oversee this volume.

Such is life. In a few months or years after publication (whatever my contract says), I will publish the author’s preferred edition. I do so love the modern era.

I know many of the writers in that volume and was exchanging emails with them on another project. I found out that several of them had had a harsh copyedit too. Some didn’t care (I never read copyedits, one told me), but some got as angry as I did. Of the ones who got angry, only one other writer (that I know of) actually restored the original version. The others told me that the copyeditor knew better.

Nope. No. Not at all. The copyeditor knew the style manual better. The writer knew how to tell a story with an authentic voice better than that copyeditor ever would.

Let me show you why I noticed the problem the moment I opened the file.

My version starts like this:

He said: Our love is deep and powerful, epic.

He said: It will last for all time.

He said: Forever.

The copyeditor changed the opening to this:

He said, Our love is deep and powerful, epic.

He said, It will last for all time.

He said, Forever.

Why did I get my undies in a bundle over colons and commas? Because I wrote that opening for effect. The punctuation gives the story that effect.

Again, let me explain substituting the effect (in bold) for the punctuation.

He said (Big, dramatic pause) Our love is deep and powerful, epic.

He said (Big, dramatic pause) It will last for all time.

He said (Big, dramatic pause) Forever.

Copyeditor version, with effect in bold:

He said, Our love is deep and powerful, epic. (No pause. Tone normal.)

He said, It will last for all time. (No pause. Tone normal.)

He said, Forever. (No pause. Tone normal.)

In the copyeditor version, the emphasis is on the words spoken.

In my version, the emphasis is on the fact that “he” said those words. My version is forceful, the tone either angry or strong or both. The copyeditor’s version is just normal, remembered conversation.

Except…that the copyeditor’s changes are stylistically confusing. When I line edit (which is different from copyediting), I suggest changes that will make a writer’s intent clearer. Here, the copyedit makes my intent muddy.

If the copyeditor thought about clarity, they would have changed the opening three lines to this:

He said, “Our love is deep and powerful, epic.”

He said, “It will last for all time.”

He said, “Forever.”

Now we’re in a flashback, and we don’t struggle against the words. But the copyeditor only did a half-assed job, apparently thinking that I did not know the standard rules for punctuating dialogue.

However, the copyeditor should have had some clues that I did know what I was doing (beside my bio and the fact that I’m in the volume). First, the title “Sales. Force” should have been a clue. There’s punctuation in the title. On purpose.

Second, the paragraph following that opening also has bizarre punctuation.

He died on a Thursday afternoon in midwinter, in Kaylee’s arms, in a stupid hospital room with stupid white walls and a stupid brown blanket covering half of him, on a stupid hospital bed with stupid rails that dug into her back, and stupid machines that beep-beep-beeped, then beepbeepbeepbeeped before the stupid alarm sounded and the stupid doctors and nurses ran into the room with the stupid crash cart that did absolutely nothing.

The copyeditor left that punctuation alone. The corrections to my voice throughout the manuscript seemed random after that, and told me this copyeditor didn’t know what they were doing, despite their understanding of the rules of grammar.

Am I telling you all of this so that you can feel sorry for me if (when) the story comes out with the incorrect and confusing punctuation? Nope. I’m telling you this because some of the writers in that volume that I talked to said they never look at copyedits. These are traditionally published writers. Color me horrified.

I’ve had copyedits from traditional publishers that are much worse than this one, including one young copyeditor who rewrote every sentence of my 100,000 word novel. I’m not the only writer this has happened to. A traditionally published friend of mine just dealt with the same thing last year on one of his novels.

Back in the 1980s, when I was visiting Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm, Kate came out of the kitchen as angry as I had ever seen her. She had written a mystery set in a courtroom, and the copyeditor had written every single line of dialogue into grammatical English. Kate was repairing the entire manuscript. This was in the days before track changes, so everything was being done with different color pencil and notes paperclipped to the pages.

On my delightful document, someone had shut off the approve/reject track changes, so I had to go through and write big all-caps comments, hoping my wishes will be noticed.

I wasn’t kidding when I told the editor at Random Penguin that I used to train copyeditors. I still train them sometimes, although less often now. When I had published my novels traditionally, every single company I worked for used my manuscripts as a litmus test for their copyeditors.

My manuscripts were exceptionally clean. The editors would tell me (one or two novels in) that they were sending my manuscript to a new copyeditor, with a recommendation for a light copyedit. If the manuscript came back with hundreds of changes in the first chapter, that copyeditor never worked again.

The copyedit was sometimes tossed away, and we would let the proofreader catch the typos. It was easier than doing repair.

Nowadays, indie writers hire their own copyeditors. And worry that the copyeditor knows more about details of grammar than the indie writers do. Chances are the copyeditor does know more about the details of grammar than the writer does. Chances are the copyeditor even knows the parts of speech.

I had a rather horrifying discussion last week with one of the grammar goddesses at WMG as she explained how many years she spent diagramming sentences. I had one year of sentence diagramming in the seventh grade from Birdlegs Anderson (yeah, seventh graders are cruel), and I never wanted to do anything like that again. Ever. It was one of the worst experiences of my schooling. (It doesn’t help that I’m dyslexic—which they didn’t diagnose back then—and spatial relations are no more my friend than spelling is.)

Our grammar goddess, however, loves diagramming sentences. More power to her. I’m so glad. Because she does know how to use it to advantage. She also knows when and how to leave a writer’s voice alone.

When I teach writers, I teach them how to use punctuation and paragraphing to great advantage. I teach them to use sentence fragments and repeated words. I teach them to trust their storytelling instincts.

The best way to learn how to tell a story properly is to read for enjoyment. NOT critically. If you read for enjoyment, you’re getting the same effect that the readers are. When you’re done with that story or novel, figure out if you enjoyed the story. If you liked the voice, or the story startled you somewhere, go back and figure out why.

If the copyeditor had read through the manuscript first for enjoyment, they might have figured out that I meant to do 99% of what I did in that manuscript. (The copyeditor found two actual errors in the 500 changes they made to an 8,000 word story. Those numbers are actual numbers. I just checked.)

Copyeditors, necessary as they are, are not the person who decides how a manuscript should read. The writer is.

If you hire a copyeditor who substantially changes your voice, toss that copyedit, and hire someone else. Never hire that copyeditor again. You’re not compatible.

Yes, that means you’ll spend more money. Cue the violins. You do need copyeditors to find the smaller errors. I would love to have one on this blog today, because I’m trying to use the correct modern usage of “copyeditor.” Somewhere along the way, the word “copyeditor” became a compound noun. When I started, it was two words. “Copy editor.” I get paranoid when I write about copyediting, because the very words have changed.

Copyediting is a dynamic profession, filled with changes. In my lifetime, the shorthand for microphone went from “mike” (spelled like it sounds) to “mic.” “Mic” is logical on the page, but not verbally. It looks like “mick” to me, not “mike.”

A good copyeditor knows all of that. They will correct for errors like that while leaving the language alone. (My use of “they” in that sentence became accepted practice just in the last few months, by the way.)

You need a good copyeditor to clean up the random errors that kick readers out of your book. Make sure you test a copyeditor before you hire them, by having them test edit a few pages of your manuscript. Copyeditors are not created equal, and a good copyeditor for me might be a terrible one for you.

As I went online to make sure I found the right version of the word “copyeditor,” I discovered a website that sells line editing and copyediting services. The site has a good definition of the differences between line editing and copyediting, and I was about to link to it, until I read the examples of what these people do.

Before I continue, though, let me explain the differences between a copyeditor and a line editor. (I discussed all of this in more depth in a post from three years ago called “Hiring Editors.”)

A copyeditor’s job is all about consistency. Consistency in spelling, hyphenation, numerals, fonts, and capitalization. A good copyeditor also puts everything in house style. (Some publishers capitalize after a colon; others do not.) A copyeditor flags tiny nits—such as if a character’s eye color changes between the mention on page five and the mention on page one hundred.

A good copyeditor also looks up factual information to make sure that the writer gets names right or facts right. This is particularly important in nonfiction, but also has a place in fiction.

For example, I live in Lincoln City, Oregon. Not Lincoln, Oregon, or the City of Lincoln, Oregon. In fact, the people who work in city government here work for (wait for it) The City of Lincoln City. It’s up to a copyeditor to make sure that I am not being redundant when I refer to The City of Lincoln City in that last sentence. I am being accurate (as well as redundant).

Good copyeditors do all of that, while understanding small things. No casual visitor to my little town will call it The City of Lincoln City. That visitor will call it Lincoln City or, if that person is not paying attention, Lincoln. A good copyeditor will not change all mentions to the “correct” mention, but will leave the “incorrect” mentions where the writer intends them to be.

A good line editor edits for clarity. That’s all. The line editor should read the manuscript first, flagging places where she’s confused as to what really happened, but not digging in. The line editor, like every other editor, should read for enjoyment before tackling the prose. Once she goes back, she knows the intent of the manuscript.

Sometimes a writer intends to confuse the reader. There’s a scene in Silence of the Lambs where Thomas Harris’s prose is deliberately muddy. He’s hiding a detail in plain sight, but not cheating. I caught it on the first read, but I’m a line editor. I wondered how that “mistake” got through. Then I made it to the end of the chapter and realized that he meant to use imprecise language so we wouldn’t catch what he was doing.

A bad line editor would have fixed that. (And, I’ll bet, one tried, only to have Harris stet the correction.)

If a paragraph is unclear, a line editor will suggest revisions for clarity. Sometimes the writer might hate those revisions. Doing it the line editor’s way doesn’t matter, as long as the clarity issue gets addressed.

Line editing is a particular skill, and very few people possess it. The skill is this: the line editor must maintain the integrity of the voice while suggesting changes. Editing out the voice is the worst solution, and every writer should reject those changes.

I generally advise indie writers to skip the line editing, because so few line editors do it well. (The same goes for content or developmental editors. See that post I listed above.)

It is better to have no line editing at all than to accept a bad line edit.

Let me use just one of the horrible examples from that website which offers line editing and copy editing services. I am not going to link to them because I don’t want any of you to hire them. Ever. Nor am I going to name them for that reason.

Here’s the line editing example they posted:

The writer’s original text

She reluctantly handed over her purse, and nervously waited to have it placed back in to her hands. She felt a rush of relief as the Security Guard finished his search after 30 seconds and handed it back to her.

The line edit from this company

She was reluctant to hand over her purse, and felt a rush of relief as the Security Guard finished his search and placed it back in to her hands 30 seconds later.

Note: They did not fix the nits because they left that for their copyedit example.

Frankly, any line editor that left the obvious mistakes—such as the capitals on “security guard”—isn’t worth her salt.

I’d fire that line editor for failing to fix the small mistakes.

However, that’s not the biggest failing of this line edit. The biggest failing is that the line editor harmed voice and characterization in her quest to make the passage read “more fluidly.”

The character nervously waited. That’s characterization, and it’s important. The characterization also takes time to read, just like nervously waiting takes time.

The line editor did not catch the unclear antecedent. “It” in the second sentence of the author’s original text refers to the search, not to the purse. The line editor’s revision left that error in place.

The unclear antecedent is the only mistake I would have flagged if I were line editing. I would have suggested repeating the words “the purse” even though they were used in the previous sentence. Clarity, clarity, clarity. That’s the important thing, not “fluidity.”

What you see in this short line edit is how “serious writer voice” develops. I talked about “serious writer voice” in a recent post.  Essentially, serious writer voice unifies the tone of every story written and gets rid of the author’s individual voice. A lot of stories I read this past year, while good, were in “serious writer voice.”

If you didn’t believe me about serious writer voice, then maybe you’ll believe The Atlantic. In an article entitled “How Has the MFA Changed the Contemporary Novel?”, Richard Jean So and Andrew Piper used data to show that an MFA leaches the voice from its graduates, making their work sound like everyone else’s.

So and Piper didn’t just eyeball this stuff and make a judgment.

We began by looking at writers’ diction: whether the words used by MFA writers are noticeably different than those of their non-MFA counterparts. Using a process known as machine learning, we first taught a computer to recognize the words that are unique to each of our groups and then asked it to guess whether a novel (that it hasn’t seen before) was written by someone with an MFA. When we did this, the computer was successful only about 67 percent of the time at guessing correctly. You don’t need a degree in statistics to know this isn’t very good—you can be right 50 percent of the time just by accident.

The article’s dry prose includes some shocking turns of phrase: “Erasure of voice,” “lack of diversity” and “lack of distinction.”

Toward the end, the authors state their conclusion:

When we look at the data, the MFA seems to be helping people sound like everyone else.

Just like that line edit, above.

Just like the copyedit I received last month.

I called last month’s copyedit “the copyedit from heck” because I’ve had copyedits from hell that have cost me weeks of my time to correct. This one only cost me a few hours.

It also gave me this blog post, which, I hope, will save you indie writers money and time. Believe in yourself. Believe in your voice. Believe in your work.

Yep, sometimes you must defend three colons against three commas. Sometimes you pay for something (like a copyedit) and throw it away.

If I could have, I would have sent that manuscript back to the publisher with all changes rejected. I couldn’t do that. (Clearly they’ve had this problem before.) So I complained. Politely.

In the past—before the ebook revolution—I would have had to suck it up and pray that the restoration I had done would survive all the editing changes at Random Penguin. These days, I know that I will be able to reprint the correct version in the future, even if the survivors of the bloodletting screw up my little tale of grief, magic, and heartbreak.

Will I continue to send my short stories to traditional markets? Of course. The benefits, in exposure, advertising, and sheer fun, are marvelous.

But I no longer sell my novels to the big traditional publishers, because the copyedit problem I mention here is just one of a thousand. Right now, a whole bunch of writers are being informed that their contracts are being canceled. Others probably have the copyeditor from hell and are afraid to speak up. Still others have lost their editor and champion to the layoffs.

I am glad to be away from those problems, and happy to be able to hire my own copyeditors, people who respect a writer’s work and voice, rather than trying to change it into some rule-bound “serious writer voice.”

Not that anyone has ever managed to change me or my voice.

I’m too stubborn for that.

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“Business Musings: The Copyedit from Heck,” copyright © 2016 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © 2016 by Canstock Photo/bradcalkins.

44 thoughts on “Business Musings: The Copyedit from Heck

  1. “Most indie writers believe if they’ve hired “an expert” they have to take the expert’s opinion, no matter if they disagree or not. I’m trying hard to stop that practice.”
    I appreciate this article, and your comments on it, so much. Getting my notes back from my editor was the biggest, final hurdle in my process. It didn’t help that she gave me unwanted developmental edits, too. I plan to share this article with my writer friends so that they can see just how important it is to find the right editor for their projects.

  2. Amen. I just left a publisher that prides itself on ist strong editing (in an industry where “editing” often means just putting commas in the right place), but they strangled the joy out of my writing. Every time I got edits (up to 30 passes per manuscript, from devs to lines to proofing), I dreaded it. Devs invariably meant working 5-10 days on the manuscript (depending on length), rewriting scenes. Lines at least another 3 solid days as I evaluated every comment.

    A couple years ago, I submitted a 150-page story, which came back (late, already chewing the deadline) with 1,800+ comments. Comments, not changes. This was the FIRST pass. (The book was ca 50k.) It took me several passes to hack my way through the editing jungle and just understand why one paragraph would trigger fifty comments. The editor in question also made me spell out everything that went on, best “Show don’t tell” style, with nothing left to the imagination or interpretation. She also tried to force me to cut every passage that was building up resonance, and she did absolutely not understand any metpahorical use of language, again hitting me with “show don’t tell”. Suddenly I was writing for 3-year-olds.

    Net effect of that was that I DREADED submitting anything to the publisher, which made a successful (and profitable) series stall out and cut my output in that year by 80%. I only left that publisher when, almost despite myself, I wrote a novel that completely relies on metaphor and resonance and I was still so traumatised by their heavy-handed, voice-murdering edits and couldn’t bear the thought of them even touching it.

    Hired my own editor(s), one who has respect for slightly more advanced fiction techniques, and a light-handed proofreader/line editor, left the publisher and am now exclusively self-publishing. With many of my books still stuck at the “proud to rip out every word in your manuscript and then put most of them back in” publisher, I’m in the process of getting my books back. Most of all, through, I’ve already been more productive since going it alone than I’ve been in the last two years with them.

    By which I mean, yes, I think I was being ridiculously over-edited, and it nearly destroyed the book (I still can’t re-read it) and my joy in writing. I think after 25+ years of publishing, I roughly know what I’m doing.

  3. Excellent point, I shall keep it in mind, and thank you. I still think there is a balance to be struck, though – thorough redundancy for clarity is one of those things that will throw me out of a book. (I have been tempted, on occasion, to contact the writer to find out if they had the same English teacher I did…)

    I have seen few people with more trouble on their website. You just got it cleaned up from the last disaster, and now the host is going funky. I hope everything clears up soon for you on all techie fronts (these are a horrible distraction from doing the real business).

    Meh. I’m probably just blind on the moderation flag. Ah well, happened before, will happen again…

  4. I have two editors, one a developmental/content editor (“DevEd”) and one copyeditor (“CopyEd”). Both are male as I personally like the kind of balance they bring to the job. They are both non-intrusive, suggest rather than dictate, and are willing to discuss any/all of their comments. They are worth their weight in gold to me.

    Before I found them, I went looking for editors and came across one (male), with boatloads of experience, who said something like, “If I don’t find a single error on a manuscript page, you get that page for free.” And I thought to myself, wow, is he an editor or executioner! I imagined in my head some arrogant arsehole with a permanent smirk on his face and moved on. Glad I did! Thanks for the vindication. 🙂

  5. Kris – Wow, weren’t the editors aware you are an award winning editor?
    But if I were copy editing your post I’d suggest a track change for “Random Penguin” to “Randy Penguin” because it sounds funnier.

  6. Interesting… I’ve not been thrown into moderation here before (I don’t think I’ve been a bad boy in the past).

    If you have now added it, OK – but it is possible you have also lost your “approved posters” list.

  7. Hmmm. Must remember to not hire you as an editor… (grin). The example of an ambiguous antecedent that you would have flagged, while a technically correct correction – is unnecessary. A “search” is not an “it” that you “hand back” to someone – it is quite clear in the sentence that the purse was the item handed back to the character.

    On the other hand, depending on the other characterization of the woman – I might have picked this up as a opportunity to shove even more into this sentence. I know women who can reach blindly into their purse and pull out the exact shade of lipstick they want, from a half dozen identically shaped containers (yes, they are current or former operating room nurses). Others, well, they really should also carry around a good-sized table to turn the entire contents of the purse out onto…

    So I would have (potentially) added something about a “now thoroughly disorganized” or “not that she could tell the difference” bit about the purse to that sentence.

    Different topic. I saw the website problem comments. Sigh, I feel for you. Two more – your book images “wobble” up and down, depending on whether the mouse is over their areas. Not a big thing, but on page loading, the top one actually jittered quite annoyingly. The second one is that the captions for the “notify of new posts” and “notify of new comments on this post” check boxes are missing.

    1. Yes, a reader can figure out the difference between “the search” and “the purse.” Readers are smart, if they’re reading closely. But most readers don’t. They read on their phones while standing in line at the bank. They read while their spouses watch TV. They read while sitting in restaurants. That’s why clarity is important. The last thing you want is for your reader to stop, and think, “What?” then backtrack and start a section over. The more that happens, the less the reader is in the story. The less the reader is in the story, the more likely they are to quit reading that story and read something else.

      On the website issues, my IP provider is having a hell of a time. It might be necessary to switch. I couldn’t even log onto their site Thursday to complain…

  8. I LOVE this phrase: “tin-eared.” I grok this!

    I think this might be the core issue with authors and the “___” editors — they can’t ‘hear’ the writer’s voice. Everybody is different – not everyone is on the same frequency.

    I learn so much from reading these posts — but sometimes I’m afraid to read the comments. This was worth it!


  9. well, as you can see there, at the end, I caint spell rite. That’s why i knead not a paid line/copy editor, but a beta reader who works in exchange for laughter, group comraderie and for my phantastik home cooking. Sure, Hatch chili, hot enough to ream any sickness outa yas. Golden massa to sooth you right back down again.

  10. Ok, here we go… pawing the ground, coming back from ancient ages to comment.

    I am sorry that happened Kris. It is SUCH a drain on a writer’s time to read vapid scolds. Been there also, and being stripped of voice is the mark of a person who lives too small, imo. It seems some are dedicated to taking the ‘pizen’ of good jalapeños out of the chili, and not searing in the juice under high heat for the meat… so one winds up with pale gray boiled hamburger floating about like ‘baby’s first efforts’ in a pale puce broth. Ack. lol.

    So, to no one in particular, just this, in affirmation of your, Kris, assertions here.

    I had to laugh at the idea of editor as collaborator. There is NO “collaboration” with editors/ copy editors/ line editors by most authors’ sights. The past ‘made up out of whole cloth’ ways of so-called ‘editing’ are DEAD. Rotting, rolling dead. We are in a time wherein many an author has awakened fully and is no slavering beggar who hopes to be allowed to live by the pub powers that be. That time, engineered as drama by far too many in trad pub, is fast evaporating. And will continue to fall apart as more see behind the now tattered curtain of ‘business practices’ that are unjust and unaudited.

    Contract terms alone have made the difference. 8-12% net wholesale paid twice a year with lifetime locks and returns and undecipherable roy statements vs 70% of price paid monthly, no lifetime lock and no misguided ‘editor’ who strips voice. Do eds, vps, other trad pub staff get paid twice a year? Of course not. Why not? Therein is the straightaway to how colonization begins.

    Discussions, articles, posts broadcasting far and wide– by authors– about the invasions and efforts by trad pub employees and those who have been fired, let go, left to go freelance and who continue to attempt to colonize writers… and starve authors — the ways and means of that are visible now. Highly. And resisted.

    The known ‘body scrapers’ [trust we have our own lists of names that are passed around as a list of ‘do not employ’] as in this case with Kris, who is a Hugo award-winning EDITOR re “Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine,” too often continue to strip voice by carrying some addled idea that SOME persons who sit in nyc at their desks all day, somehow can know our literally millions of readers who would rather live most anywhere else but where such editors live…

    ‘Value added’ by trad pub is near nil as Borders closed and B&N may be on life support. I have many dear friends inside trad pub, I hope they will survive. But also have dear author friends, many well known, some not yet known… and when I see c like this happening [again], and the absurdist hubris by some ‘editors’ who think editing is supposed to be some kind of ‘collaboration’ — which infantilizes writers, which is completely unacceptable , colonizing, and uninvited– I and others will continue to encourage writers to leave trad pub in droves, to take the lion’s share they deserve as makers… instead of leaving it to those who want to control rather than preserve and learn… from the writer. Many of us, with good success, have encouraged all writers who wish, to use beta readers for free, who read deeply in their genre, rather than paying someone who has motives that are not about clarity of voice, but rather severing voice… which incidentally is what dictators do when overseeing many tribal groups; they declare a ‘national language’ and strip others of their natal languages. Ya basta..

    Authors are far far more educated about what used to be opaque in trad pub. No longer is all the trad pubs’ chisme and de-voicing and demeaning of authors by certain editors, ed assts, vps, sales, merch, publicity, and publishers and managing execs — under the covers. Neither is knowledge of a persistent bias in trad pub about ‘ made up’ matters re ‘editing.’ For the author’s ‘own good ‘of course. Which is complete BS. De-voicing and conformity, or else, being the way of thugs across history.

    Authors like Kris and Dean, myself and others who have been on the inside of trad pub for decades… do tell. And will continue to expose the rot and false personas and double-mouths in the whole publishing chain that like Centrillo, barks, ‘there will be no stars’ at Randy Penguin. Her trope is control and uniformity, and Dohle likes it that way as does the Mohn family.

    Many of us have been lucky to have had angelic editors, but most of us have also had ego-sotted, self-important, preening, ‘wanna be writers’ editors –who career-climb on others’ backs [including their own colleagues] and wouldnt know how to write and publish a book from scratch if their life depended on it.

    Some eds. stuck in old-timey edit-by-rote, have been and continue to be resolute in their ineffective and outdated ways in 2016 publishing — that is NO longer the clubby, tiny crowd of 1950s publishing with phony Maxwellian tropes offered in thrall, and much effort to be twee about litter-a-chure. Given that Vitale and now Dohle have funnily [like that? I’ll keep it, thanks, lol] ‘stripped’ editorial and other departments of their fancy digs, no longer have ‘coming out parties’ [you’d have to be Rushdie or higher], fired and pushed early retirement of some of the very venerable best eds, leaving many pikers who bow and scrape to mgt., meaning heart/mind in wrong place. Handmaiden to mgt is not midwife to writers. Cant be. Conflict of interest and can cause one to lose one’s job.

    What many of us now indie authors [I’m published by three of the so-called ‘big five’] seeks in an editor is personal decency and respect which will be reciprocal, and a sense of business that is spoken aloud without smoky motives as in the past. We’ no longer bow to severances of our voices. This merde about stripping voice is unacceptible for many reasons, but esp to those of us who have strong ethnic voices, strongly unique voices as the magneto of our art. Keep your anemic-izing mitts off our rages and darks and depths and soarings. Not yours to change. Not yours to ‘collaborate.’ Not even close.

    Many of us seek not ‘editors’ too fancy a word, nor ‘find error’ but rather responders, so we can listen to their respectful feedback to see for ourselves what might be useful. To us. To our work. To OUR voices, NOT the editor’s sense. If an editor wants to collaborate, I’d encourage: write your own book with a co-writer. Go do the dueces hard hard work and develop your own star.

    Outside editors will struggle to make a living in the indie publishing market which is burgeoning, IF they dont look and see and listen, but instead stay stuck in the trough trad pub said was just the thing. It isnt ‘just the thing.’ It’s the most ineffective and wrong headed thing.

    And Randy Penguin [and HC and H and other trad pubs] are firing editors left and right: they have become expendable, and TOO expensive you know, with all their pesky needs of a weekly income with health bennies, etc.

    Re my own editors who I value so, they know I dont want THEIR ideas. I just want reaction. I have enough ideaas, forms, patterns, and know the ways home, to last ten lifetimes. So does Kris. Her body of work is beyond prodigious, and of highest quality.

    There’s no need to conflate an editor’s ego. My best editors over the 47 years I’ve been publishing have become friends. Why? Reciprocal respect, editor asks and listens. There is NO collaboration. lol Frankly, that’s laughable. Also, an author has every right NOT to acknowledge an editor in their work, when editor has overstepped in arrogance and absurdist persona, and sees artist as ‘in need of improving.’ That is a touchy issue with many of use. FOr too long, we have been targeted because of our heritages and backgrounds, as ‘needing improvement,; whilst the teachers of such improvements thinnk they themselves need no improvment.

    Nuf said. Kris, carry on. You shine for many many.

  11. One of the reasons I was always a little nervous about using editors in the fiction world is that the relationship between editor and writer in my full-time profession (technical writer) seems to be a little different, and I was always afraid my ingrained habits would work against me.

    In my full time job, whenever there was an editor in the bullpen the editor would be in charge (similar to newspapers, I guess, though I have no direct experience with newspapers). If we were writing a large technical manual, the editor would assign specific topics to specific writers, and then would have the task of making sure all the writing meshed together in the final project. In that respect, one of our jobs was to adopt a writing style that was relatively interchangeable so whoever was using the manual wouldn’t be thrown by an abrupt change of voice.

    One of our OTHER jobs was to know our topic and be the advocate for it, because the editor would occasionally make entirely reasonable decisions, based on what he or she knew, that would be wrong, because it would change the information we sent in to a degree that it misrepresented the subject. At that point, the job of the writer was to dig in his or her heels, tell the editor he or she was wrong, and fight hard to preserve the integrity of the information.

    The editors I enjoyed working with most and respected the most were the ones I fought the hardest. I won some fights, lost some fights, and some of those fights stung, but we’d still head out to lunch and hang out and all that. Part of our jobs were adversarial because the Editor knew how the whole document had work, and I didn’t, but I knew how my part was supposed to work, and the Editor didn’t to the degree I did.

    So… when I started writing fiction and thinking about how to work with editors, one of the things I did was read editors blogs, and I found out that the relationship was… well, it was apparently less adversarial, and that if I were to confront an editor on something as strongly as I did in my day-job-professional-life I’d probably get marked as trouble. Which was good information to have, but I’ve been doing my day-job-professional-life so long that disagreeing with an editor is almost as instinctive as breathing. It’s just what one does. 🙂 It’s almost a trial by combat: if the editor is right, then God will show favor, and the editor will win.

    Anyway, I’ve been trying to find a way to temper that reaction and I’ve had some success so far but part of that probably comes from the simple fact that I’m publishing independently and I’m paying for the editors out of my own pocket, so the balance of power is very clearly defined: I’m paying for their work, so I’m not beholden to it… but I am paying, so I should at least try to figure out why they’re doing what they’re doing.

    But then, I’ve never had a situation like the one you described in this post. Lord help me if I do, a black mark will be placed next to my name and I’ll be entered into the Book of Shunned Writers, underlined twice, with a frowny-face etched in the margin…

  12. Preach it!

    I’ve been looking through a list of recommended editors, trying to find one I’d hire. I’ve added a few to my mental blacklist because they come across as wanting to impose the One True Way upon writers. I don’t want a copy editor who doesn’t understand about colons. Or one who doesn’t understand that an ellipsis in a line of dialogue is indicating that a character’s voice is trailing off. I don’t want someone who is determined to impose the “Gospel of Serious Writer Voice” upon storytellers. ‘Tis a heretical faith, and I want to write, not play inquisitor.

    I’ve had copyedits from traditional publishers that are much worse than this one, including one young copyeditor who rewrote every sentence of my 100,000 word novel.


    Thank you for speaking out about this.

  13. Oh, yes–you’ve made sure that the fact cannot be missed. That’s one of the reasons that the clear animus toward editors has me quite puzzled.

  14. “Well, nmheckel, I’m not discussing critique here. I’m discussing editing. The fact that you can’t seem to understand the difference is a problem from the get-go.”
    What made you think I don’t know the difference between the two? I was considering the problematic wider implications of a statement like that, which are pretty significant, and dismaying to hear from a writer. Don’t assume that I was just talking about copyediting–the statement you made went beyond the scope of criticizing a copy-editor, and I responded to that.

    “Your use of the word “we” tells me that you sell editing services. The fact that you have not understood anything in my post, and that you confuse critique with editing tells me your services are not any I would hire or recommend.”
    You’re rather fond of throwing out insulting assumptions about what people do and don’t know, aren’t you? Not a good way to win people over to your side. What is with this oppositional attitude toward editors, anyway? I haven’t yet seen such intent to misread from any of the writers I’ve worked with; I guess I must be lucky. They also don’t think I’m some kind of rule-giving “god” when it comes to writing, nor do I act as such, so maybe that’s where the problem lies.

  15. Kris, I’d love to read a about the canceled contracts mentioned. I know you said you’d write about it some other time, but I wanted to leave this comment in hopes that it will be soon. 🙂 Call me naive, but I didn’t know book contracts could be canceled! The more I learn about traditional publishing, the more glad I am that indie publishing exists now.

  16. “From someone who doesn’t tell stories for a living? Nope.”

    By this logic, no one can critique or evaluate narrative elements at all if they’re not also a published writer. It also implies that readers’ responses to and interpretations of writing is invalid, because they’re not published writers, and therefore cannot possibly understand what good writing is. It makes me wonder: who are you writing for? Yourself and other published writers only? Or readers? If it’s the former, your logic stands. If it’s the latter, then the statement I quoted is problematic in many ways, especially if you’re assuming that most editors don’t approach a text as readers first, rather than petty pedants. Either way, you’re doing your indie writer readers a disservice by discouraging them from finding a good editor to work with on developmental and line editing–particularly for beginning writers, we can help them out immensely just by taking on the role of careful and critical readers.

    On a side note, your use of that line editing example is irresponsible and taken out of context, as well as a misrepresentation of what line editing is. Correcting niggling grammar/capitalization details in a line edit is often an exercise in futility due to the expectation that further polishing may cut the wording entirely. Those sorts of mechanics elements don’t need to be caught until further down the line.

    1. Well, nmheckel, I’m not discussing critique here. I’m discussing editing. The fact that you can’t seem to understand the difference is a problem from the get-go. When I pay for and/or receive a copyedit, I want someone to follow the rules of copyediting, not to give me a critique. I have trusted readers for the critique, and by the time I get to the copyedit, I am done with critique.

      The line editing example comes from a website that sells line editing and copyediting services. You can Google it using the example, if you like. I did not make up the example. And I acknowledged that they left the mechanical errors in the line edit so that they could show what a copyedit is. However, I stand by my statement. The line editor should fix niggling errors if she sees them.

      Your use of the word “we” tells me that you sell editing services. The fact that you have not understood anything in my post, and that you confuse critique with editing tells me your services are not any I would hire or recommend.

  17. I think also matches what Dean said over on his blog about critiques. Way too many writers come into a critique expecting that their story is terrible, so they assume that if someone gives a critique, there must be something wrong if they’re getting the comment. Thus, a critique or a copy edit (or for that matter a developmental edit) becomes an automatic call for action, even when it shouldn’t be.

    I just did copy edits for my novel. I’m always I bit horrified, because I try to be careful, and she’ll still catch stuff where I’m going, “Do-ah!” But I do run into some edits where my immediate response is “nope!” because it’s not what I intended for the story. You have to really have a sense of who you are and what your writing is, and a lot of writers don’t.

  18. I love that you called it Random Penguin.

    And incorrect antecedent, wrong caps and all, the original example is MUCH better at giving me a sense of the person and the scene.

  19. I am wary of relying on people’s marked changes – it’s too easy for people to make changes with marked changes off then turn marked changes back on later. I prefer using the compare files function in my word processing software to generate a file with marked changes by comparing the new and old. This is much safer if your paranoid like me 😉

    Regarding sentence diagramming, I had to look it up. It was never part of the teaching here in New Zealand when I was a kid. So it goes.

  20. There’s a lot to unpack here, so I’ll hit on a couple of points.

    “Nor do I think writing and editing are a collaboration. The writer rules.”

    Almost all of my clients have been authors rather than publishers. They pay me. They have final say. Collaboration can still happen in that context. The trick is for the writer and editor to be on the same page, so to speak, about the goals of the editing.

    “There is no set style and no way most editors can help a writer with her ‘style.'”

    There is no set style. That’s true. But there are absolutely ways that an editor can help a writer with style. The trick is in avoiding overreach, tweaking the wording where necessary while retaining the voice. It can be a fine line, and every writer has a different sense of where the line is.

    1. The fact that you are aware of this, Susan, and you say “avoiding overreach” makes you an editor I would consider working with. So many copyeditors and others believe that there are Rules That Must Be Obeyed. Those are the ones I’m trying to stop.

      As I said in the piece, I use copyeditors and line editors for my work. One of them even commented here, although I won’t out that person since I don’t want a deluge to hit their offices. And yes, every writer is different. (Thank heavens!)

      As long as the copyeditor knows that they’re editing existing copy to make it consistent, they’re good. If they want to revise, revise, revise, they shouldn’t be copyediting. And line editors–I’ve only encountered a few good ones, and I treasure them. (And hire them.)

  21. Well, after recently editing a number of indie novels by newbie writers, I have decided to focus on nonfiction.

    Voice is important in nonfiction, but clarity of presentation holds equal place in that universe. And these guys don’t expect their work to sub for six years of psychotherapy. Thank heaven.

    I edit for K. W. who arguably has a quirky writing style. I have even been known to jump in and say things like, “Where did Kim’s voice go here?” But, like you, Kris, K. W. has his own strong voice. You and many others in your circle are experienced artists and professionals.

    This is so different from editing a first novel where the writer basically craps all over the English language, not through a stylistic choice, but through sheer incompetence. The books I often see haven’t been workshopped enough, not too much.

    Granted, this isn’t the case with all first novels. I have a friend who writes a fun mystery series. Could they do with a bit of polishing — sure. But if I were to copyedit for her, I would adjust a few commas in compound predicates, change some “thats” to “whos,” and correct a few product and place spelling errors. That’s it. Her voice has been clear from the start. Wouldn’t mess with it. She never has workshopped her books or had Beta readers suggest anything — didn’t really need to.

    So, while I understand your frustration with tin-eared copyediting, indie publishing has brought forward new editor headaches, along with the increased opportunities for writers and copyeditors.

  22. I admit one editor whodoes the copyedits for the anthology my story made it into to, had a mistake that was not what I wrte originally. But of my ghost book through this nonfiction book publisher, I was glad to get back the editor I had for my first two books. She understands me and is good. She made sure the copyeditor and the designers knew to make sure the book was done right. The other two had an editor that was not so good. At least the second one I fought to get what I wanted said and she did that one right. Except where one place was, which she left in the wrong area. Still it, and the latest book with the editor I like has gotten great reviews and no complaints.

  23. Yes, yes, yes—and I say that coming from both sides of the desk, as a professional writer and a professional copyeditor.

    As a writer, I think I once got a copyeditor fired. TONS of unnecessary changes, including running many, many paragraphs together. And introducing new errors.

    As a copyeditor, I edit with as light a hand I can on fiction. Because I worked for a scholarly publisher in the past, I had to untrain myself on a lot of things, and that’s okay. 🙂 I hope my work as a writer makes me a better copyeditor, and vice versa…

  24. Whenever I read things like this, I’m thankful for my editor. She does line and copyediting without trying to change my voice. In the last edit I got back, she added a word to the beginning of a sentence — I think it was “okay”– because she said it made the dialogue sound more like the character. Granted, this is the third book in the series so she knows this character by now, but I love that she has that kind of nuance in her edits. Not “this flows better” or “this is more correct” but “this sounds more like the character“.

  25. Your links are working now, Kris. I’m sorry about your struggles with the site. I’m sure it’ll be resolved soon, though. Thank you again for sharing your knowledge with us. 🙂

  26. Several things,

    One, I assume those writers, both the “I don’t read edits” and the “but they’re right” crowd consider themselves pros, yes?

    Then I checked what seems to benthe US standard for diagrams… Quirky. Mine where different kinds of inverted trees, some more useful than others. Can’t recall how many years I did those, but I think it was 7. I was science branch. Mind you, these are more ‘science’ than art, but…

    And the example on the copyedit agency… It looks like someone tried to cram a whole lot of elements in, precisely, a diagram test for high school. That’s the first that came to me.

    How do those go from ‘suggestion’ to ‘modification’? Why woukd a writer accept someone else, who doesn’t put his name on the line, graft his ideas in like that and create a misformed Frankie?

    Take care. Tell us when that comes out. The comparison should be nice.

    Oh, a query, can you publish a previously published edited work or do you have to start from your own original?

    Now’s real. Take care

  27. While I agree that great line/content/development editors are rare, they are out there. When you have an Editor run a small publishing house (successfully, over many years), you will probably find that they are one of these rare great editors. And even with the legends, you will find examples of Authors fighting with them and disagreeing with the changes.

  28. Nicely said! I had a similar problem once with a nonfiction book I wrote. It was a technical book and, interestingly, was publishing through an arm of the exact same company you deal with in the post here. The copyedits (and none of my dictionaries online or in Word) were invasive and I didn’t take them well. It was also interesting because I’d discovered some of those edits took the manuscript outside the style guide. Huh.

    Anyway, I know someone else has likely told you this, but the links to the Hiring an Editor post render a database error when I click them. It could be only me though.

  29. I can’t read the blog today. Everything is blacked out except a few links inserted in the blog. I can’t tell if anyone has told you yet because I can only see select parts of the webpage. I keep getting an error code when I try to go to the contact page.

    Seems to be a lot of odd stuff going on in the blogospere today. PG over at TPV is missing the letter i in all his comments.

    I love reading your business musings. I hope this gets fixed soon.

  30. Thank you for pointing this out. So many folks assume that editors necessarily know better than they do, when actually, many modern line editors and copyeditors got started because they like reading and “know” when something’s wrong. Many start without even knowing the differences between various grammar handbooks and dictionaries. (I know this because I’ve had to explain it to many. And then some have turned around and told me that I don’t know what I’m doing because I “give writers too much credit” for voice.)

    If you actually read the grammar handbook, it explicitly allows a lot of things that such line editors and copyeditors tend to freak out about. (It’s also a “handbook”, not a “rulebook”. Hello, logic.)

    That copyeditor who worked on your story actually doesn’t even know the grammar handbook all that well. For example, colons are explicitly acceptable in that context you quoted (Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed., ref 13.18). That faulty capitalization on that website example is a common item that I’ve been outright hired to correct in others’ work, before. :-/

    Thanks again for daring to speak out about this issue.

  31. The biggest takeaway I get from your piece is that an environment where you can discuss edits with your editor is favorable for you both. You can ask your editor to clarify why she made certain edits and may even be swayed to her point of view. With open communication, she can also discuss your voice and writing style with you if needed before or during the edit. This results in a collaboration instead of miles of invective about changes over which the author has no say.

    In traditional publishing, copyeditors and authors are often completely separated from each other (with the publisher as the middle man) and can only do the best they can with what they have. Authors may not realize that what they are seeing is not “bad editing” but what the publisher (her client in this case) requested from the editor.

    As an author and freelance editor myself, I may disagree if an author reverts my edits, but when the author is my client, she has the last say on her manuscript, and I make that clear from the beginning. However, when the author has an open mind to listen and consider changes that might improve her writing and her writing style, she stands to benefit from the years of experience of a professional reader (a.k.a. the editor).

    When an author, however, is righteously indignant over every change an editor makes, don’t be surprised if the editor quietly asks not to be credited on the book for work that was essentially undone.

    1. I don’t feel like I need to defend my writing to someone, Janelle. Nor do I think writing and editing are a collaboration. The writer rules. I say this after decades of working with editors and copy editors and everyone else in publishing. I currently pay several copy editors and line editors and others at various businesses.

      I will train them so that they respect style. Not just mine, but all writers’ styles, since I also edit anthologies. Anyone who feels they have the right to collaborate with the author does not get hired by me or my staff. If they do get hired, they will not get hired a second time.

      Clarification is good, however, especially if it points to house style or the fact that the writer consistently misuses something (lay/lie for me). But arguing over sentences? To improve the writing? From someone who doesn’t tell stories for a living? Nope. That’s how you end up with serious writer voice.

      I am fully aware of the sheets publishers send to their copyeditors, requesting a light edit or a heavy edit or a complete revision. I will agree those sheets are problematic. When I tell you I trained copyeditors, I did. And when I tell you that trad pub houses used my work to train copyeditors, they did. And they sent me the request sheet along with the copyedited manuscript, so I saw that a light edit was requested and a heavy edit was what we got in return.

      Most indie writers believe if they’ve hired “an expert” they have to take the expert’s opinion, no matter if they disagree or not. I’m trying hard to stop that practice. I’d love to stop this attitude too: However, when the author has an open mind to listen and consider changes that might improve her writing and her writing style, she stands to benefit from the years of experience of a professional reader (a.k.a. the editor).

      There is no set style and no way most editors can help a writer with her “style.” A writer’s voice is hard to get to, and even harder for someone who is not reading for enjoyment to understand. I speak from the experience of trying to train “professional” editors to accept quirky writers like Ray Vukcevich or Douglas Adams. In fact, one traditional editor who works for one of the Big 5 (3? 4?) told me Adams wouldn’t have sold in this environment.

      And an editor credited on a book? An editor who edited words, and did not put an anthology together? Wow. That’s wrong in so many ways. It’s the writer’s book. An editor who line edited or copyedited should never be credited in the book.

      Perhaps, if a writer is righteously indignant over the work an editor did, the editor should look at what she did, and maybe realize she took out voice and style in the name of “editing.” Because every time I’ve seen a writer angry over an editor’s work, the editor is the one who screwed up.

      And btw, everyone in this upcoming anthology has been writing and publishing bestsellers for decades. No copyeditor should touch our voices. Period.

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