Saturday, February 27, 2010


Every profession seems to have its special irritations. When you have writers for friends, you can hear a lot of grumbling about various aspects of getting a manuscript into print, grumbling that has very little to do with the actual writing. Several of my friends are currently at the copy edit stage and I've been hearing shrieks of outrage about the injuries inflicted by copy editors.

Most houses use free-lancers for this job and I should make it clear that I have been very pleased with the copy editors my current publishers have hired over the years.

The only time I had a problem was at another house with Bloody Kin, my first explicitly Southern book. The manuscript was assigned to a New Englander who had obviously never read anything set below Connecticut. Almost every page had a post-it and some pages had five or six: “Dialect?” “Idiomatic?” were the two most common queries, along with a recurring and increasingly plaintive “Sense?”—as in “I don’t understand this.”

Now, I've never been a prima donna when questioned about points of grammar and punctuation. I don’t consider my words engraved in stone and I fully understand that we’re all trying to make the best possible book. Nevertheless, because one is required to either agree or disagree with every single post-it, I did get awfully tired of writing Stet, i.e. “Let it stand.” I was reminded of my late friend Alexandra Ripley who had two rubber stamps made up: One read Stet, the other Stet, Dammit!

Another friend sent this horror story last week:

My last book was so wretchedly, incorrectly 'corrected' throughout. The copyeditor kept changing correct English into incorrect English.

Right before publication, I was informed that the dedication had to be changed because the editorial production manager had declared it ungrammatical. I had written "This--and anything else he wants--is for my new grandson." Believe it or not, the copy editor wanted it to read: "This--and anything else he wants--are for my new grandson."

I flailed and objected, but we had about a three-hour window before it went to press, so I changed it to an entirely new construction, definitely not her suggested change. Then I got in touch with the author of my favorite grammar book, Woe is I (Patricia O'Connor) via her website and asked about it. And yes, I was right: the change the head copywriter wanted would have made it grammatically incorrect.

After listening to my friends’ shrieks of outrage, I realize all over again how lucky I am that the production editor at my house has never once overridden me on points of preference. No need for a Stet dammit! ink stamp while she’s there.

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