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Copyediting: Get your red pencil out!

The UPS man handed me a typical UPS shipping box last week with a surprise inside—the copyedited manuscript for my upcoming book, CHOCOLATE & VICODIN (in stores February 2011)!


It is certainly thrilling to see my book printed on paper and adorned with a cover letter on official publishing-house stationery. It makes me realize that the Word document I’ve slaved over for so long is soon going to put on its best clothes for its coming-out party at bookstores. However, it also means I have to review the copyediting, which is by far my least favorite part of the publishing process. I am not detail-oriented by nature, and copyediting is all about details. I’ve trained myself to be more detail-oriented in my work because it’s a necessary skill, but it’s definitely something I have to work at. It doesn’t come as naturally to me as other things.

By the time you get to copyediting, you’ve already submitted your manuscript and completed any revisions requested by your editor. The book is then printed, double-spaced, and given to a copyeditor who will make you feel like you failed second-grade English. But you should be grateful for your copyeditor because s/he will make you look much more skilled with the nuts and bolts of the English language than you actually are.

The copyeditor marks up your book with lots of proofreading marks, which look like Egyptian hieroglyphics, or occasionally like the new Geico mascot:

Proofreader's marks or the Gieco logo?

The copyeditor makes grammatical corrections and also points out any logical errors or contradictions in your text. For instance, mine pointed out that marijuana and hash aren’t necessarily the same thing. Good to know! S/he also marks what part of the text is italicized, bolded, and set in other styles, which helps the book designer typeset the book properly.

Because I only encounter professional proofreading marks once every two years or so, I had to search Google for a guide. I found a helpful PDF here and printed it out. After that, I had to spend about 9-10 hours rereading the book critically, making sure no typos were overlooked and that I was okay with any corrections. This is a bit more difficult when a cat keeps jumping on your lap, threatening to scatter hundreds of unbound pages randomly across the floor. The fun bit is that they sent me green pencils so all my marks were color-coded. My editor’s marks were in blue and the copyeditor’s were in red, so it was a colorful mishmash of grammatical goodness by the final page!

I also try to learn from my mistakes, so I found the Grammar Girl website extremely helpful. It explained several trouble areas for me, including:

Much to my happiness, I wasn’t marked up for any errors with the past subjunctive tense! Woo-hoo! The copyeditor on my last book schooled me on that one, so now I know to say “If I were taller, I’d be a baller,” instead of “If I was taller, I’d be a baller.”

I also learned that it’s not okay to use “OK.” Use “okay,” okay? But you can use “OK” in notes to the author in the margin, which is okay because “OK” is shorter, okay? There were also several two-word phrases that I thought were compound words, and several compound words that I thought were two-word phrases:

Compound words that I thought were two-word phrases

Two-word phrases that I thought were compound words
Love seat
Slide show
Hard core
Health care
Boom box
Land mine
Voice mail (though my phone disagrees on this one)

Sprint says it's voicemail

Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go Away

Want second helpings? Devour more entries in the archives.

Man looking into telescope

Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JennetteFulda.com now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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"What distinguishes us one from another is our dreams and what we do to make them come about." - Joseph Epstein

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