Two-Headed Beast: Copyedits and Galleys

by Jeff Abbott on January 4, 2011

I’ve spent much of the past two weeks fighting with the two-headed beast of writing: going through copyedits and going through galleys. For those who aren’t familiar with this process, it is the time when you get, oh joy, to reread your own writing. This can be the Scylla and Charybdis of the writing process: the two heads that you must sail past to get your book to a fully edited, completed state.

A copyedit is the first stage, and I’ve just read the copyedit on the Secret Project. Here,  a copyeditor goes through the manuscript with a very discerning eye and marks punctuation problems, identifies any bits of befuddling prose, notes inconsistencies in plot, character, or timeline, and so on. Basically, good copyeditors keep authors from looking like fools. My favorite phrase from a copyeditor (a British one): “I’ve noted an infelicity in the plot.” Not long ago, all the edits were done by hand on a paper copy of the manuscript, but now they’re often done in Microsoft Word, using Track Changes. If my editor has also made comments in Track Changes, then the copyeditor does, then I do, some pages can look tattooed. I have to reread the entire manuscript, very carefully, either accepting or rejecting the changes (or making additional edits of my own.) This is really your last chance for rewriting sentences, but really only if you must.

A galley is after the copyedited changes have been “set”–the galley looks like a finished book. You get to reread the entire book again, noting any final edits. This isn’t the time for wholescale changes or rewrites, only minor changes. It remains disconcerting to me to see my words “look” like a book. I always fight the urge to rewrite the whole thing. (Prescription companies, you want to make a fortune? Come up with a pill that stifles the rewriting urge.) Again, these edits used to be made on paper copies (and I would only return the pages with edits) but now, at least with my UK publisher, I use Adobe Acrobat Pro to make notes, deletions or additions on a PDF copy of the galley. Right now I’m reading the UK galleys for THE LAST MINUTE, the second Sam Capra novel.

Writers often dread this part of the process, but it’s a necessary one, and you have to bring a real sense of purpose and enthusiasm (your own two-headed beast, as it were) to the work.

And finally: A photo of my dogs, doing their best impression of a two-headed mutant beast:

    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    class factotum January 5, 2011 at 9:44 am

    If only news services used copy editors. I no longer scold about their grammar because I don’t think anyone is paying attention and I have better things to do (although I do really enjoy pointing out errors other people make), but shouldn’t they at least get the facts right?

    CNN apparently has been closely following the political transition in Wisconsin.

    Here’s an excerpt from CNN’s story this morning on Gov. Scott Walker’s inauguration later today.

    “In Wisconsin, Republican Tom Barrett takes over from Democratic Governor Jim Boyle, who is retiring.”

    So lots of breaking news: According to CNN, Barrett is no longer a Democrat, the Milwaukee mayor won the governor’s race and our outgoing governor changed his name.

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