I’ve been lucky enough to work with a really good copy-editor this week so I thought I would share my thoughts on what it was like and what you can expect.
After The Beggar’s Opera was accepted by Penguin Canada, it was sent off to the copy-editor, Alex. He went through the manuscript line by line. He made a list of words as he went along so that he could ensure they were spelled consistently (they often weren’t). He checked for spelling errors. I learned that I have been spelling ‘stomach’ as ‘stomache’ all my life, not knowing that was incorrect, and ‘no-one’ instead of ‘no one. He also checked for grammatical errors and places where I’d used stilted language or wasn’t completely clear.
But what was breathtaking was how he found the plot gaps in the story that dozens of other people had missed.
I have one character calling the police station to talk to the inspector but he’s out. She talks to a detective instead of leaving a message. A few chapters later, the inspector refers to getting her message.
Where was the message? Alex asked. Damn good question. I’d read and re-read those passages at least 1oo times and never noticed. Neither had anyone else. I audibly gasped when I saw that comment.
At one point in the book, the ghost (a boy) approaches a hamster cage. Where did the hamster come from? he asked. Where do hamsters usually come from, I thought, a bit annoyed, until I exchanged a few emails with him and realized that he meant where was it situated in the room.
In my mind’s eye, the cage and its placement was clear. In the book, both the ghost and a very real hamster materialize out of thin air. An easy fix, but that’s the kind of detail Alex went into.
At comment 408, Alex referred to a paragraph as a “wonderful touch.” It was the first (and only) compliment he made in his editorial comments but it was like finding an unexpected Christmas present under the tree.
There were 550+ editorial comments to deal with plus deletions, corrections and formatting changes. It was a huge job. I started some 52 hours ago and have only just finished. It was, in many ways, like one long working day, interrupted with brief periods of sleep.
The book is so much better as a result of the changes. Not one of the comments was arbitrary or capricious: even if I disagreed with them, the suggestions all made sense. Sometimes we’d go back and forth quite a few times over a change. Alex had his reasons for wanting it; I had mine for wanting to keep the wording the way it was. But each time, we worked it out.
We exchanged over one hundred emails in the past several days, so you can imagine the intensity of it. I feel as if I’ve not only found an editor I can work with, and trust, but a friend.
Thank you, Alex. Job well done.