Unsung heroes of publishing

Today I want to write about the unsung heroes of my publications – the copy-editors.

The first time I came across serious copy-editing was when I submitted my second book (and first in English): The Language of Deception. I had always found it easy to write, it had always been pleasure. Moreover, my writing had been considered quite good. And then I wrote the book on deception.

The road to the book was bumpy with the contract cancelled, then reinstated (it probably deserves a separate post), but when I finally submitted the manuscript, I was pretty certain of two things. First, the book’s take on deception was fairly novel, second, that the book was well written, that the publisher would perhaps not be smitten by my writing, but my light pen would be appreciated. Alas, it didn’t exactly work like that. Well, the first of my assumptions panned out alright (the book is still current, it seems), the other…gosh, how wrong can one be?!

So, as confident as I could be, I sent the manuscript to Sage. After a few weeks, I got a letter from the copy editor. Relaxed, I was going through the questions and comments made by the copy-editor, until I came to a comment which read something like that:

On page 24 in line 24, the sentence contradicts the sentence on page 124, line 9.

My jaw dropped, when I read it. You must be kidding me, I thought. But I went to page 24 of the manuscript, then to page 124 and….to my complete and utter amazement in the latter sentence there was a ‘not’ missing. I still cannot believe it how she did it. In comparison, my attention span must fruit-fly-like.

My copy-editor’s name was Alison Binder. When the book was published and I got my copies from the publishers, I actually read it again. And I could not recognize it. Now the book read well, now it was well-written. What I had written was clumsy, half-baked. Alison Binder made my book different. She is the unsung hero of my first book in English, she also made me realise what good copy-editing meant.

Over the years, I have been in touch with many copy-editors. Some of them were excellent, some of them were only OK (in one case it was a disaster) and although none came close to the artistry of Ms Binder, most made whatever I wrote better.

Now, I think that most of the writing I do, happens in my head. I always say that I have written all my books when running. I still think that the best time to do thinking is during the run, as you are on your own, with nobody around, just the rhythmic pounding of your feet which allow you to concentrate on the next chapter. And this writing in my head is about planning, structuring, making sure that the argument line is clear, flowing, that what I write makes sense. The act of writing, combined with the pressure to produce, produce, produce, is the physical embodiment of all that has happened in my head.

But whatever I think about, when I prepare to write a piece, I rarely think about the form. Yes, I hope to avoid my mannerisms, things like ‘in fact’ or ‘quite’, which I realised even more after reading a tweet by Benjamin Dreyer:

Unfortunately, I never do and reading the first draft is painful. Also, I tend to think that my writing is not poetry and the copy-editor will take care of it. And they (mostly) actually do.

And so, here is my heartfelt thank you to all those who get what I write in English (though, sometimes, I am sure, it feels like Ponglish) and make it into readable English. More and more I appreciate your work and when I say that I couldn’t have done it without you, I do mean it.


Loading ...