Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Reader's Perspective: Indie Publishing: Copy Editors

Yep, the reader in me is still talking about issues that can make or break an indie-published book for her.

#4 on the list of vital matters: copy editing.

I am not so fond of my copy editors as I am my editors. I've had some great ones; I've had some not so great ones. But they're still necessary.

Here is my hard-and-fast, never-bend, never-break rule number one for any kind of publishing: Words should be spelled properly, sentences should be punctuated properly, and words should be used properly.

We are writers. Words are our stock in trade. At the very least, we owe it to our readers to know how to spell them, punctuate and use them. Can you imagine a surgeon who doesn't bother to learn how to use a scalpel or saw? A cashier who can ring up your order but can't make change? A bus driver who's great with Drive and Reverse but hasn't figured out Stop?
I believe it's fair to say that Americans' ability to spell and punctuate has gone downhill over the last three generations, particularly with the popularity of the Internet. Sloppiness rules. Can't spell a word? Close is good enough. The biggest English nerd in the world can't diagram the messes that pass for your sentences? oh well, lol.

When you want to have a career as a professional writer, close is not good enough. LOL doesn't cut it. You need to know all that boring stuff you turned out in school about sentence structure, grammar, spelling, etc. And if you won't or can't learn it yourself, you need someone who does know it: a copy editor.

Don't assume because you don't know where the commas go, your readers don't, either. A lot of us do. A lot of us know that carpicious and capacious aren't interchangeable. A lot of us know that as a general rule, sentences require nouns and verbs and action and that there are standard forms for their structure.

 And a lot of us are getting really tired of reading books where the author didn't care enough to present us with her absolute best work.

Google copy editors with a body of work to back up their claiming the title. Hire a retired persnickety English or compostion teacher. Memorize Strunk & White. Clean up that book before you publish it.

{My apologies for the change in fonts here. I've edited this post a dozen times, and whatever code is causing the problem is well hidden from me. Ironic, huh?)


  1. As a contest judge who is insecure in my grammarical abilities, I usually highlight sentences that are wrong, and comment 'awkward' or 'rework'.

    Just this last week, I was judging a contest entry and knew something was wrong. The sentence didn't make sense. Part of the sentence was talking about a waistcoat, but the description referred back to the gentleman's waist. The modifier was . . . misplaced! OMG! I actually KNEW what a misplaced modifier is!!

    Trust me, this is a break-through! Some of this grammar stuff was finally sinking in!

    1. LOL, Margaret, I know how tough it's been for you.

      I've always said that I don't know the proper names/terms for this stuff, but I know what's right. A few weeks ago, I read a discussion about how authors have an obligation to know grammar, punctuation, etc., or to know someone who does, and the woman (a bestselling author of a, um, certain age) commented that for those of us who went to public school during the years when English as a subject was begun in 4th grade and continued through high school, it's very common to not know the terminology. Her explanation is that we heard language spoken properly most of the time that we knew what sounded "right" without having to know the explanation why it was right. Makes sense to me.

    2. "that we heard language spoken properly most of the time that we knew"

      SO we knew.


  2. As a lifelong reader and professional smarty-pants (as evidenced by the extra letters after my name and that huge student loan I'm still paying off), I was shocked at how hard it was (and still is) to construct a quality sentence. Subject/verb agreement, past-perfect tense, adverbs and gerunds weren't topics I'd pondered much as an adult.

    Within weeks of starting my first book I knew I needed a refresher course. Strunk and White helped, as did EATS, SHOOTS, and LEAVES.

    Now, when I'm stuck I do an internet search. Thesaurus dot com is another great resource.

    1. Good point, Jen: the resources ARE out there. It's just a matter of looking.

      I was one of those kids who had English grammar, etc., from grade school to 11th grade. I nailed it by 5th grade, but they kept drumming it into me each year after, so it's really second nature to me. It was literally learning the language as it was meant to be spoken.

      Today I generally have trouble deliberately MISusing the language, even though I know it's often required in dialogue, depending on the character.