Scenes from a copy edit

I’ve just finished the first copy edit for The Visitors. Quercus sent the documents over a fortnight ago, but I didn’t have the time until last week to open the files and survey the damage. College has been relentless lately, and I haven’t had a chance to work on my writing in what feels like forever. At first glance, I was devastated at how much work seemed to be required. Every page of the manuscript was scarred with dozens of red marks, like this:

typos

At first glance, my heart shrivelled in my chest. The thought of that all work was painful – not least as my friend Ali Shaw had already warned me of the perils of copy edits. He explained that I’d need flagons of strong cider to get through it, and I was braced for some late nights.

Thankfully, it hasn’t been too bad. On closer inspection, virtually all the changes are simply a matter of house style – thousands and thousands of “double speech marks” have now become ‘single speech marks’. I had no idea they were allowed – I’ll try writing with single speech marks from now on, but it’s going to take quite some unlearning – hitting shift with the quote key has become hardwired into my typing. Similarly, hundreds of ‘alrights’ and ‘okays’ have become ‘all rights’ and ‘OKs’. Again, I didn’t know these were the preferred form. More startling, I hadn’t realised I used those words so often – especially in dialogue. I cut many of these where the copy edit drew my attention to repetition.

As well as those thousands of standardised changes, there were infrequent issues with capitalisation. I disagreed with some of these. I don’t consider ‘Internet’ to be a proper noun, for example – small things, but they all need looking at.

On top of all that, there were two typos where I’d accidentally omitted a word – which isn’t bad in a 93,000 word manuscript – and a few instances where the copy editor felt certain words (always adverbs – be warned!) didn’t gel. I agreed with all of these, and made the changes.

All in all, it’s been a fascinating process. It took me two days, in the end. I’ve huge respect for copy editors – to be so meticulous and so creative all at once is a massive challenge, but I felt the changes were fair and sensitive. That’s now gone back to Quercus.

This is my half-term from college. I have a few goals for this week. As well as some looking after Dora while Mon has her last week painting before an exhibition in London, I want to write some new work for National Flash Fiction Day, submit something to the Flashbang contest and finish my Drowned Villages poem. Most important, I’d like to spend some time with Grisleymires – I’ve had a month away from my novel, and I miss it.

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