Wednesday, 19 August 2015

In Praise of Copy Editors - Lucy Coats

Although I know some of my fellow authors hate it with a passion, I love the editorial process. When I finish a long novel, it feels a little like giving birth. Suddenly, a new book baby has slid into my hands. It exists. It is alive. I made it with my own body and brain. And I feel drained and exhausted and triumphant, all at the same time. I also feel physically as if I have wrestled a fiery dragon.

The adrenaline rush from that lasts approximately one and a half minutes after I have pressed the send button to my structural editor. Then the worry starts. Is it good enough? What if there are plot holes?

What if she doesn't like it? WHAT IF SHE DOESN'T LIKE IT? WHAT IF SHE DOESN'T LIKE IT? 

These are all normal panics for a writer. But, of course, once your book baby is given to the publisher, it has to grow up very quickly. However much I've tried to make it so, I know my novel child is not perfect. It needs a little outside help to polish the rough edges. I really enjoy being challenged by my Lovely Editor at this structural edit stage. I like being asked questions, I like the fact that someone else has read what I've written with close attention and really thought long and hard about how to make my words work even harder to get my story across. Of course, some things I will fight to keep. In CHOSEN, which comes out next March, there was a long debate about the merits or not of hot camel piss and spilled viscera among other knotty problems. But mostly I am happy to agree, to rewrite, to cut if something is heavy or unnecessary to the main plot. What I like best though, is that I now have someone to whom my characters are as real as they are to me, someone I can discuss them with, who doesn't think I'm mad when I say 'but do you think Khai is really convincing when he says/does that - or does he just look like a needy muppet?'.

After the structural edit stage, my book is a teenager, nearly grown up and ready to hit the world outside publishing. But there's one last effort to make before it's truly an adult. This is where my line and copy-editor comes in. I am going to name names here, and say that I've just been working with the very brilliant Maurice Lyon on CHOSEN. His line and copy-editing skills are no less than wonderful, and it has been such a pleasure to read and act on his minute notes on my new book. A good copy-editor will not only catch grammar and punctuation bloopers, but also inconsistencies and Stuff That Just Doesn't Make Any Sense. If I told you how many times in the last few days I've called myself an idiot for (and this is a VERY small selection) giving people the wrong names, not explaining something clearly enough, or having someone on the ground AND on a camel at the very same time, I'd probably die of shame. What a good copy-editor does, in short is to stop you Being Found Out. Bringing a book to adulthood is a skill which takes time to learn - something many in publishing have little of these days - so I'm delighted to see that Maurice is involved with the fabulous sounding Editors' Course at The Golden Egg Academy. His skills most certainly need passing on to the newest generation - and all us writers will be grateful if they are. A good copy editor is worth his or her weight in great big golden ducats.

OUT NOW from Orchard, Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman

Also out now: new Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review
Lucy's Website Twitter and Facebook 
 Lucy is represented by Sophie Hicks at The Sophie Hicks Agency


Susan Price said...

I'm with you, Lucy! A good editor is worth their weight in gold. I'm currently working with Matrice Hussey on Sterkarm 3, and her input has been invaluable - the questions she's asked have made me work harder to come up with reasons for what I've written - and then I have to find ways to incorporate that thinking into the text.

I love the debates too. In Sterkarm 3 a character dismembers a rabbit - and Matrice was very doubtful about including this. I want it to stay, as I think the scene says various things about the period and the characters. We shall see who wins!

SAM said...

Wow! This was simply amazing. Truly amazing blogs!!