Friday, November 26, 2010

"Your brilliant book, Always": a copy editing tale

From: Kit

Not really a question; rather, a sincere 'thank you'; I have just read Always while working in Grand Cayman, and I was moved to write you.

You write about love in a way that is more authentic than most; it spoke to me, anyway, directly.

Two small typos in the edition I read (Riverhead, 2007, paperback): psoas is the largest of the hip flexors; the others are ilacus and (for the athletic) the more important rectus femoris. Kick spells this muscle as "soaz"; this is the way it's pronounced (p. 498).

And an "EDL" is an Edit Decision List, rather than "Line"; it is a text file that tells the editing program what to do with the footage, and is what's stored in any non-linear editing program when you save a program file.

Trivial, of course, in the big scheme of things, but inferring your love of precision, thought you may care to know.

I will be buying all your earlier books as soon as I can find them; you are an excellent writer, in my humble opinion.

Anyone who likes my books has excellent taste and, therefore, no need to be humble. By all means, spread the word!

Thanks for the correction regarding EDL. That's absolutely a mistake on my part. So is soaz--though one I get quite cross about.

I knew, when I wrote soaz that I needed to check the spelling. It looked all wrong. It didn't look remotely Greek or Latin. But I was on a roll. I didn't want to stop. I jotted Check this on a sticky note and kept writing. And, of course, lost the sticky note.

Usually these things that the writer forgets to check get pondered and weighed at the copy editing stage. That didn't happen with Always. The process broke down in several places. First of all, I don't know who copy edited the ms, but s/he and I didn't see eye to eye. At all. So as I read through the first pass copy edit I despaired.

I am a truly terrible proof reader, especially of my own work (I try, but I'm hopeless, just useless). Despair makes me even worse. And on top of the despair, I was feeling the crushing weight of time pressure. I'd done a page one rewrite of the novel--absolutely disassembled it, turning three narrative time lines into two--in a very short time frame. I'd turned the final draft in late. Everyone was scrambling. I was exhausted and not making sensible decisions. (In future: I'll put the brakes on. Better delayed publication than faulty product. After all, I'm not J.K. Rowling. Corporate bottom lines and cash flows will not be at risk. A lesson for next time.) On top of that, I was ill. And my mother was dying. Foolishly, I'd also just started a new book (my memoir, a whole new multi-media challenge--but, eh, that's what writers do when our world is falling apart: we write). This combination of factors led to some degree of carelessness on my part.

Anyway, I told myself--as I always do, being lazy and, as I've said, useless at this anyway--there'll be the opportunity to catch the remaining mistakes in the second pass copy edit. Then, when all else fails, the galley proofs.

Oh ha, ha ha ha.

There was no second pass copy edit.

The proofs arrived four or five days before Christmas. Due date: first week of January.

On December 23rd, my mother died.

I did my best but, frankly, my best wasn't very good. It never is, even at the best of time (see above) but this wasn't even close to the best of times. You try doing proofs of a novel you've rewritten a dozen times when exhausted, ill, mad with grief, and on hold with British Airways for emergency flight information over the holidays.

I retained enough sense to tell my publisher, I need more time. They said, There is no more time. (And there wasn't--my fault for delivering late.) Well, then, I said, Check, oh please check, double check, triple check everything because I'm not in my right mind. They said, Of course. I believed them. (It was convenient to believe them. It always is.) I mailed the proofs back.

I can't tell you how awful it felt to open the hardcover and face so many errors. My beautiful book, all wrong. I've never experienced the like. I never want to again. That's my lesson: it's the writer's responsibility. I'm just glad that the paperback edition was cleaned up a bit.

But, hey (she says, with an airy wave of her hand), that's in the past. Hild will be the perfecter then that perfect that ever did perfect...

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