Thursday, January 29, 2009

Dear World: I Want To Be A Copy Editor!

image Do you remember when I had that awkward moment with one of my pubs over comma usage? Do you remember me pontificating on the merits of “spare” comma usage? Do you remember me calling myself a “spare” comma user?

Guess what?

I AM NORMAL! I am not spare. I am a normal comma user. I am a 100 percent correct comma user! I am an A-plus comma user! I am a PERFECT comma user!

Me and commas? We ROCK!

I haven’t been to sleep yet. I’ve been up all night long taking little practice copy-editing quizzes all over the internet.

No one told me copy editing was fun! No one told me the ways of grammar, punctuation, and style were beautiful! 

So last year: 

My one pub edits without giving authors a STET opportunity. When I stumbled across an excerpt of one of my stories, I was deeply embarrassed by incorrect comma punctuation with my name on it. I just knew I hadn’t placed those commas there!

Turned out, I hadn’t.

I dashed off an email to my pub. I was careful to word it diplomatically. I think I asked if we could discuss commas after they had been inserted in my story, because I’d discovered a “few” incorrect commas.

(It wasn’t actually a few: It was a few per sentence.)

The new owner tends to come across abrasively, so I’m not sure if she was annoyed, if she thought me a prima donna, or if she was just being helpful when she said, “I’ll just tell him not to add commas to your manuscripts.”

I’m pretty sure she was a bit annoyed. I’m pretty sure she didn’t even look and assumed I was wrong, but didn’t have the time to deal with it.

image(I should mention I ADORE the person who edits. As a person, I think the world of him.)

But you have to understand: Bad commas were advertising my stories! It was embarrassing! They were changing my meaning! It wasn’t just a couple here and there! They were ALL OVER!

Anyway, this created a deep insecurity about punctuation in me. Not only did I read all four shelves of grammar and stylebooks in Borders, but I contacted an editor I knew at a reputable house and asked her to reiterate what she’d told our RWA chapter about commas. She sent me her stylebook, which I studied.

And yet, 30 grammar and style books, three publishing house stylebooks, my instinct, my knowledge, and looking at proof of my correctness STILL did not manage to reassure me! (*insert eye roll*)

I assumed he was old-school, and I was being “modern.” I assumed I was being risqué in my comma usage. I assumed that, when I found proof of my correctness, I was only paying attention to that which confirmed my beliefs.

But the tests? I am convinced! I am relieved! I am redeemed! Nothing beats an A+!

Please don’t get me wrong: I love being edited. It’s such a relief. It’s just, well, this one situation. 

Anyway, I’ve decided I want to be a copy editor. It kinda crept up on me, like writing did. I didn’t realize I enjoyed it, even though I’d read the grammar section twice over. And then Jon talked about doing it, and I thought it sounded like a blast.

So I’m off to study. It doesn’t even feel like studying. I can’t believe they don’t have a game that lets you play with this stuff, like Typer Shark for touch typing. They should have Copy Editor Shark. (They don’t. I googled copy-editing software games for thirty minutes.)

imageAnd I’ve run out of online quizzes and tests. I WANT TO PLAY! But I must get myself to sleep.

Do you have fun with copy editing? Do you enjoy studying the way punctuation and the like work? Ever feel insecure about something you know to be correct?

Ever want to redeem yourself, to show someone you weren’t being crazy, but know that would make it worse? Ever just want to kick yourself for self-doubt?

I probably shouldn’t have been so diplomatic. I probably should have just pointed to the commas and cited proof of why the inserted commas were wrong. I should have said I found X number of incorrect commas in a chapter. I really have to get over the whole I-don’t-want-to-hurt-their-feelings bit. I don’t know.

What would you have done?

37 bonus scribbles:

spyscribbler 1/29/2009 06:29:00 AM  

Oopsy. That's "Googled." And take out that serial comma, and...

I said I was perfect on the tests, not in a 5am blog post! More study. After sleep.


Mary Moore 1/29/2009 08:39:00 AM  

I would have done the same as you. ALthough I used to be an editor in my last life... :o)

Edie 1/29/2009 08:53:00 AM  

I probably would have included a couple of examples, but that's because I feel insecure on the subject. You obviously felt more secure.

I never knew there were grammar tests on the internet. I took a short comma test and got them all right. Yay!

Janna Qualman 1/29/2009 08:57:00 AM  

I love love love to copy edit!

Maybe I'll go find me a comma test. I've always thought I overuse 'em, but then, they go along way (in fiction) in expressing one's voice, what with pauses and inflection and all. You know?

Susan Helene Gottfried 1/29/2009 09:17:00 AM  

You know I used to freelance as a copy editor, right?

I have read books by authors I REALLY like, but the books have had such bad punctuation that I could barely read them.

I'm glad you spoke up.

Realmcovet 1/29/2009 09:41:00 AM  

You are so much like me. I don't like to hurt others, or sound like I'm condescending, so I go out of my way to make sure I'm saying everything just right so that it doesn't feel that way. Sometimes it just doesn't matter how you say it though, there's always that "one guy/gal" out there that is going to take offense, no matter how much sugar you put on the spoon. But that's cool that you are such a punctuation guru. I myself am an avid comma abuser, methinks. I totally think you should go for the copy editor dream. :)

Richmond Writer 1/29/2009 09:41:00 AM  

My high school teacher gave you an automatic F if you did a comma splice. He said he would rather read a paper with no commas at all than find one with a comma splice. So I learned to write without a single comma not even the ones that divide "we went to the store yard barn and house."

It's been a bear unlearning that one.

StarvingWriteNow 1/29/2009 11:14:00 AM  

I would have kicked his ass into next week. But that's just me.

Seriously, you only, need, commas when you, pause, naturally, to take, a breath.

Maybe your copy editor dude has emphysema or something?

Robin 1/29/2009 11:28:00 AM  

I'd like to think of myself as a good editor, but I don't think I am. Commas and I have a so-so relationship. My problem is that I don't overuse them, I underuse (is that a word?) them. Guess that means my characters don't need to breath while talking. lol I think you handled the situation perfectly.

Aimless Writer 1/29/2009 02:23:00 PM  

I think I would have felt violated if someone did that to my work and then put it up for all to see.
Now I want to go find those tests.
Go get some sleep.

Robin 1/29/2009 06:33:00 PM  

I think you handled it perfectly! It's always good to be diplomatic, especially with someone with whom you're going to have a long term relationship. (I was going to be sloppy and write, "who you're going to have a long term relationship with", but now that you're an editor-in-training, I'm sort of scared.)

Anonymous,  1/29/2009 06:38:00 PM  

I hate copyedits, but I know they're a necessary evil. As long as someone else is doing it to my manuscript, then I'm fine with it. I'm sure I have comma misplacements (among other things), too, but I couldn't tell you were they are. I just remember the comma rules they taught me in high school and hope they still apply. ;-)

spyscribbler 1/29/2009 09:36:00 PM  

Maybe I did do the right thing, then! Thanks, Mary!

spyscribbler 1/29/2009 09:37:00 PM  

Isn't it a blast, Edie?!

I didn't feel secure, LOL... I felt shy! And worried! And embarrassed! And afraid to look like a diva! But there's a point. *sigh*

spyscribbler 1/29/2009 09:39:00 PM  

Janna, I'm just now learning how fun it is! What a blast!

I'd rather have too few commas than too many, but I'll take a ton of semi-colons! And colons!

spyscribbler 1/29/2009 09:44:00 PM  

I didn't, Susan! That is so cool! I'm pretty easy-going when I read, unless it makes my eyes glaze over and I have to re-read sentences. That drives me nuts!

Kate S 1/29/2009 09:45:00 PM  

LOL, I also love editing. Of course, you wouldn't know it by my blogs, but I never claimed to edit my casual writing.

As for "what I would have done" - ask anybody I've worked with - I'd have been a b*tch about it. LOL

Well, actually, I would have just pointed out (tactfully) how it should have been done.

And I don't think your publisher's response was helpful, either. Just tell him not to put any in?! The last publisher/editor I worked for would die before she'd let shoddy work get past her. She was tough, but I loved her for it.

Good luck with the new career plan. :)

Barbara Martin 1/30/2009 02:31:00 AM  

For someone to put commas where they don't belong in a manuscript, then dear, get yourself a new editor. One who knows what they're doing.

Dal Jeanis 1/30/2009 12:39:00 PM  

Richmond - "store yard barn and house" - Is that two places - the house, and the barn where you store your yards? Or should that be "store-yard", meaning the barn in the direction of the store?

Robin - it's okay unless you misunderuse them.

Spy - seems like you handled it right. And the response - that she'll ask him not to add any commas to your writing, is ideal in this case. If you know the guy, you can tell him personally that if there's something that really needs one, he can ask you. ;)

BY THE WAY, Can you post a pointer to all the tests you found? Sounds like a blast!

spyscribbler 1/30/2009 12:59:00 PM  

Realmcovet, I am the same way! Way too sensitive. Way too worried about how other people will feel, and I forget to worry about how I will!

I'm no punctuation guru, though! I just love this stuff. :-)

spyscribbler 1/30/2009 01:02:00 PM  

Richmond, that is CRIMINAL! Criminal! Wow, I sometimes teach my students "wrong" technique in order to get them to a normal place, but that is just beyond!

spyscribbler 1/30/2009 01:07:00 PM  

Writenow, I think a few things throw him off. Like prepositions. If he sees a preposition, he puts in a comma.

And he'll let you start a sentence with a conjuction, but he'd punctuate this sentence in this way:

And, he'll let you start a sentence, with a conjunction, but he'd punctuate this sentence, in this way.

spyscribbler 1/30/2009 01:09:00 PM  

Robin, I think underusing them is an excellent strategy. And I'm a big fan of less commas, so even though I know where a comma should go, I won't put it there if I can get away with it. :-)

Lauren 1/30/2009 01:10:00 PM  

I hope you find an editor who knows his/her commas. I'm glad you are an expert comma user :)

I'm usually pretty good at grammar. I was homeschooled and my mother is borderline obsessed with grammar so needless to say, I got lots of grammar worksheets and constant edits.

I was always taught to read the line out loud and, if you feel yourself pausing, throw a comma in there!

spyscribbler 1/30/2009 01:13:00 PM  

Marcia, I always keep in mind that while you can place commas correctly according to the various styles, comma rules are not a 1+1=2 thing. Their purpose is to clarify
language, not to serve rules. :-)

So whatever works. :-)

spyscribbler 1/30/2009 01:14:00 PM  

Aimless, I think I was mostly horrified and embarrassed, and thinking of all the people who thought I would punctuate in that way.

spyscribbler 1/30/2009 01:19:00 PM  

LOL, Robin! Think of the comment section as a cafe. No one would ever say "whom" around a coffee table. :-)

That's good advice. Okay! I'm glad I handled it that way, then!

spyscribbler 1/30/2009 01:22:00 PM  

"Well, actually, I would have just pointed out (tactfully) how it should have been done."

Wait, Kate, I change my answer. I think I should have done it that way. :-)

I hate hindsight!

She's really focused on profit, which I can understand. On the other hand, I don't know. I guess it's okay. I wouldn't want to make less money so I could be more professionally edited.

So I'm focused on profit, too. :-)

spyscribbler 1/30/2009 01:23:00 PM  

Barbara, there's only one. And they're paying me, so I don't get to choose, LOL. If I were paying them, I'm sure it would be a different story, LOL!

spyscribbler 1/30/2009 01:25:00 PM  

Dal Jeanis, you're right. It is actually ideal in this case. :-) So I shouldn't worry about it anymore, LOL.

Definitely! I'll put them in my blog today!

spyscribbler 1/30/2009 01:26:00 PM  

Lauren, that is so cool! I want to homeschool my children, so I'd love to hear your thoughts some day!

Angie 1/30/2009 03:48:00 PM  

When my first publication was in the pipeline, I was very hesitant about arguing with the editor. I looked at the edits, decided there wasn't anything I absolutely could not live with (although wow, they added a lot of commas! LOL!) and just sent a note to my editor saying it looked fine.

Since then I've gained a bit more confidence and I squawk edits all the time. Not every one, of course, because I do a lot of facepalming, or "Hmm, why didn't I think of that?" and whatever, but there are times when no, I really did want it the way I had it, and I'll say so, and explain my thinking. I've never had an editor get upset over it; it's just part of the process.


Zoe Winters 1/31/2009 09:19:00 PM  

Okay, what are your rates? I might be needing a comma genius when we get closer to the print release for the novella trilogy.

Also, where can I take a copy-editing quiz? I'd love to see how bad/good I am at it so far.

spyscribbler 2/01/2009 04:46:00 PM  

Angie, I'm afraid it's not part of their process. Maybe it has become so. I hope it has. :-)

Because it's a small place, the owners are the decidors and the editors. *sigh* It makes it awkward, imo.

spyscribbler 2/01/2009 04:47:00 PM  

LOL, Zoe! I'm just learning at the moment. I haven't even set rates!

Angie 2/01/2009 05:11:00 PM  

SS -- umm, yuck. :/ I wouldn't submit there if I didn't get to look over and comment on edits, and get a real and significant chance to stet the ones I disagreed with.


Melanie Avila 2/02/2009 11:59:00 AM  

Spy, I keep thinking that I'd like to get into the editing side of things. I'll be curious to see how it goes for you.