I've spent the past week going over the copy edited manuscript for Midnight in Austenland. I love this part of the process. I really do. In case you don't know, after an author turns in the final draft of a book, it goes to a copy editor (at least if you're published with a professional publishing house). In my experience, the copy editor is freelance, someone I've never met. She goes over the text correcting grammar, spelling, punctuation, and making sure everything is consistent. Copy editors have amazing eye for detail. I'm not bad grammatically. My editor has always told me that my manuscripts come in pretty clean. I do a lot of rewrites and so generally catch my own mistakes. And still, the copy editor marks several changes on every single page.
Oh hooray, hooray for copy editors!
Sometimes the copy editor will mark something as an error that isn't an error. When that happens, I can mark it "stet" (i.e. "leave it as it was"), but usually I take a closer look to see why that text was misread and make a change to make it clearer. If we ever get to the point where e-publishing is so rampant, everyone self-publishes and editors and copy editors are out of work, books are really going to plummet in quality.
Going through a copy edited ms takes me about ten times as long as just reading it straight. I have to stop and think, and I'm used to thinking with a computer keyboard. Thinking with a pencil in hand is foreign to me. I have to draft out replacement sentences with a red pencil, erasing and redoing it again and again. I have to double check facts and reread passages. But I love this last chance to make changes, to take out adverbs and add clarifiers, to spend one last week with my book while it's still mine.
Going into it, I always feel a little nervous. What if I'm unhappy with the book? It's too late to make huge changes. Will I be filled with regret? I'm so happy to report no regret here! I can't wait to share this book.
Not all copy editors are created equal. I've had a couple that made me insane with their weird questions and deletions, and I caught many more mistakes than they did. But that's rare. This copy editor also did The Actor and the Housewife, and she was so good I hoped I'd get her again. As a delicious gift, she broke protocol a few times to comment on parts she thought were funny. And on the last page she wrote "Thanks for another great story with laugh-out-loud moments!" Yay yay yay! I'm going to have to find out who she is and see if I can interview her here. Copy editors, come out of the shadows and take a bow.