Copy Editors

I'm having the strangest time going through my older books, getting them ready for re-issues.  The first batch went out without revision because we were in some kind of rush, but I've discovered there's nothing better than fixing old stuff and making it shiny and new again.

One of the most surprising things I've noticed is how lax the copy editing was, and back in the day we used to bitch like crazy about the copy editors, feeling they were incredibly intrusive and calling them (whispering) copy idiots.  I don't know if we scared them off, Horrible Raging Romance Writers that we were, or whether they just had so much contempt for us that they didn't think it mattered.

My favorite copy-edit comments were in TANGLED LIES. First off, I said my hero was wearing Ralph Lauren turquoise jockey shorts.  Back then we called briefs by the generic jockey shorts, even though those were actually a trade name.  My copy editor, in a tone of voice that somehow managed to sound snooty even though it was a written comment, said that Bill Blass designed for Jockey, not Lauren. Ooooh-kay.  How do you design jockey shorts?  But I digress.

Later in the mss., when the hero and heroine finally make love, the hero mutters "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."  The copy editor said "is this is a quote from somewhere?"

How could a copy editor know who designs underwear and yet not know the first words spoken on the moon?  A friend of mine, the late Trish Jensen, had a copy editor turn a little boy into a raccoon (pretty good trick if he could do it in real life), and another demanded that the writer Danielle Harmon have her hero have a bottle of black ink fall on his head because they'd accidentally done the cover with a dark-haired hero rather than a blonde one.

Nowadays I love copy editors.  I even dedicated one of my recent books to one.  I go through the comments and cringe at the stupid mistakes I've made, the ridiculous goofs.  In general I'm not too hard on myself -- with 90,000 to 100,000 words it only makes sense that a handful of them have to be wrong.  But when it's really dumb all I can do is thank God someone caught it.

With my older books they seemed to ignore obvious stuff, like my very bad habit of too many sentence fragments (a few are okay, but I went overboard), or my tendency to end each chapter with a sentence beginning with "and."  As for words re-used in a paragraph -- fuggedaboudit!  (Is that the way to spell that?).  I could say "drive" five times in one paragraph and no one noticed.

My one indie book, ON THIN ICE, didn't need an editor.  I knew what I was doing, after all these years I know story structure, etc., and I'd been desperate to write that book for years.  In fact, it's the only book I wrote without a contract in more than 35 years.  I went over it and over it for typos, and then I had my mother (admittedly, she was 95, but sharp as a tack and she'd been an editor in her earlier years) and my god-daughter, who was taking a course in copy-editing, go over the mss.  Between the three of us we should have gotten it right.

And then I listened to the divine Xe Sands read it and wanted to weep.  Mind you, Xe is so good that she made the repeated words practically disappear, but I was hyper-sensitive.  I adored that book, and thank God Xe was brilliant enough at what she does to make it sound like I'd never re-used a word too often, but I still cringed every now and then.

That's one problem with indie publishing.  I think a good critique group could probably stand in for an editor, but no one can stand in for a good copy editor.  They're worth their weight in gold.

Except for back in the 80s and 90s, when they were smoking too much crack or simply didn't like romances.

I still get a little snappish, mentally, with some questions from copyeditors, but in general I couldn't live without them.  Now my only problem is to find a good one for my next indie book, Brandon and Emma's story.

Which goes to show the writing life is always an uneasy alliance between the left brain and right brain people, between art and commerce.  As for me, I think there's a place for all of them.  Someone once said publishing isn't a business, it's a casino.  Truer words were never spoken, but you need all the odds on your side to begin with, and having the right copy editor is better than a rabbit's foot any day.