The True Editor's Lexicon
January is almost over, holy crap how did that happen….
Alright, holidays are done, we’re all back at work and having NO FUN and it’s time to get back into the swing of things.
Aside from last-minute minor tweaks, I’ve pretty much finished edits on STORMDANCER. These edits began back in (checks mail) early March 2011. Ergo, I’ve been million-monkeying this Book Thing of mine forrrrr (checks calculator) ten months. I’ve also been scribbling the sequel on napkins in crayon between fugue states, but still: Ten months. There have been wars fought quicker than that. The Anglo-Zanzibar war took 45 minutes FFS. You know when you read writerly advice that tells you ‘Write what you love?’ Well, they tell you that because you’re going to end up reading the frackin’ thing 4,298 times before you’re done.
I found talking to other authors about edits melted my tiny brain a little confusing, because people use different terms for the same process, and every house is different. SO, in order to prevent you aspiring author types from generating the same aura of dipshittery that has haunted me this past year, I present unto thee a lexicon of editing terminology.
Note: this is the way Editing staff at SMP & Tor UK speak – other houses might use different terms. Editors at Gollancz might refer to ‘copy edits’ as ‘swinging on the golden love-truncheon’ for all I know. Actually, that would be pretty awesome…
Second note: this all takes place after your agent has done their own edits/recommendations/convinced you not to brutally murder your protagonist in the finale of book 1 in a planned trilogy (true story).
STORY EDITS – Also called ‘the Editor’s Letter’ or ‘Editor’s Notes’. You’re as excitable as a crack-baby about your book getting sold, and this puppy lands in your inbox and fills you with all the pep and spunk of a Real Writer™ (ewwwww). If you’re lucky, these Edits are a sunshine-filled cruise through Happyland with scantily-clad hotties in a time-travelling hovercar. If you’re in the 99%, this is where your editor kicks you square in the junk and screams “THAT’S RIGHT I AM THE GODDAMN BATMAN.”
Plot, characters, world building (or demolishing), structure, finale, opening pages, pacing – Story Edits are where it all comes under the chainsaw like so many sexually promiscuous teens in an Eli Roth movie. I had it pretty easy, but a few of my colleagues received novella-length letters that made them seriously wonder why the hells the editor bought the book in the first place. Worse, this stage is sometimes repeated until you ‘get it right’. At your next writer’s convention, make a game of whispering ‘Fourth round story edits’ into the ears of random authors, and see who drops to the ground in fetal position and starts voiding their bowels.
Note: You may notice random compliments scattered among the huge gouges of red pen through your manuscript at this stage, eg “I love the way you use this comma, YOU ARE SO GOOD AT THE COMMA THING”. Your editors do this to stop your fragile ego shattering like glass while they tear you a new orifice. Just roll with it and take the compliments where you can get them.
LINE EDITS – Sometimes Line Edits are conducted at the same time as Story Edits. Sometimes not. This is where you realize you have all the writing chops of a flaming bag of monkey jizz*. Things like sentence structure, word choice, tone, ‘voice’ – all of it falls prey to the Red Pen of Doom™.
Sometimes it’ll be your Regular Editor who does line edits. Sometimes it’ll be your Copy Editor. ‘What’s a Copy Editor, Jay?’ you might find yourself asking aloud, in which case you should stop talking to your computer because I can’t really hear you. It’s not a frackin’ telephone.
COPY EDITS – Ah, the sweet pain of Copy Edits. This is where you pick up a pair of tweezers and comb the mangy nethers of your manuscript in search of lice. Typos and missing words; spelling mistakes (trust me, it happens even at this stage) ; your inexplicable; and improper; use; of ;;semi-colons, and
We’re down to the minutiae here, folks. On our hands and knees, eyes all blurry, searching for the literary equivalent of lost contact lenses on a bar floor littered with $2 tequila and strip-club flyers.
At this point, you might find yourself agonizing over the placement of colons, deleting and re-inserting the same comma twenty times, reading the same sentence aloud until you can see through time, your dreams haunted by rampaging flash mobs of apostrophes and exclamation marks hungering for the sweet, gamey tang of human flesh.
This is all totally normal.
GALLEY PROOFING – Some people call these ‘First pass pages’, ‘Unbound galleys’ or just ‘Proofs’. This is where the editors send your book pages, all typeset and laid out how it will look in the Real World. Many writers will ‘squeeeeeeee’ uncontrollably at this point – I prefer to rock a little air guitar, maybe bounce around the room terrifying the dog for a bit, but whatever works for you. Sometimes they’ll send you hardcopy pages, but some houses are wise to the fact that we live in the age of the interwebz, all rocket-packed and collagen injected and whatnot, and they’ll use email instead.
At this stage you’re trying to hunt down the errors that have somehow eluded you on your previous 374 read-throughs. And verily, thou shalt find them in abundance. It’s around this point where you’ll realize that mistakes are going to slip through, even if your copy editor is a former navy seal sharpshooter who once killed a Shetland pony (not the poneeee!) with a paperclip at 200 yards. My copy of the Hunger Games is a 78th edition printing or something, and it still has typos in it – I KNOW I WAS AS SHOCKED AS YOU ARE, WTF COLLINS.
Do your best. But don’t lose sleep.
Paper or Plastic? As mentioned, some houses send physical copies of your work at various stages of this game. Some editors still literally use a Red Pen of Doom on real bonafide paper, and some authors I know do too. They’ll use all kinds of weird editing dashes and symbols and wtfthatsnotinanydictionaryieverheardof words like ‘STET’. Being a bit of a cityboy, not to mention living on the opposite side of the world from my editors where the postmen roam an apocalyptic wasteland with shotguns fending off hordes of mutated man-eating koala bears**, I prefer electronic format. But, whatever works, work it.
That’s all for today, kittens. You may go about your business. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.
*It’s been one of my lifelong goals to use the words ‘flaming bag of monkey jizz’ in a coherent sentence. For giving me this opportunity, I thank you.