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Friday, March 02, 2001

American Gods Blog, Post 12

One longish, quite funny, entry on the mechanics of copy editing was eaten by Blogger a couple of days ago, and I was too busy copy editing the novel to re-enter it. And then February did that thing that February does, where it stops suddenly just as you were getting the hang of it, and the time alotted by the publisher to copy editing was done. I spent one last day trying to input all of the major and minor revisions to the computer, so I had a file that was more or less the same as the version that was to be printed, and then had to drive at silly speeds down icy country roads to make it to the FedEx drop-off in time, which (deep sigh of relief here) I did.

And the manuscript is safely at Harper Collins, and now I just have to figure out the best way of doing the UK copy edit for the Hodder edition (as I discovered when they sent me their list of queries, the biggest problem with sending electronic files of books around the world rather than printouts is that page numbers change depending on things like your default font size and the type of paper you're using -- so my sending them a list of changes of the "delete comma after the word of on page 16 line 12" variety would be somewhere beyond useless).

The strangest thing about doing a copyedit is how much you learn. About the world, and about writing. Before I start I grab a pile of dictionaries, English and American, and a bunch of books on usage -- Fowler's, and the Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage, and Bill Bryson's lovely Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words -- and the Chicago Manual of Style, and wade in.

Is blowjob one word or two? Judgement or judgment? Wintry or wintery? Why has the copy editor crossed out 'hessian' and replaced it with 'burlap'? Aren't they two different fabrics? -- twenty minutes of research and I figure out that they may be two different fabrics in the UK, but they stopped using the word hessian for rough hairy sack-type jute or hemp cloth in the US about two hundred years ago. Good...

I'd written "none of the passengers were hurt" and the copy editor's changed it to "none of the passengers was hurt" -- Fowler's English Usage, the American English Usage, Harpers and Bill Bryson all agree that the idea that 'None' is a singular noun is based on the misconception that it's a contraction of no one, which it isn't, and tell me it's plural if I want it to be. Good. I do.

Now, when I write dialogue I try and punctuate it to give some kind of indication of the rhythms of speech. As far as I'm concerned "Hi, Mike" and "Hi Mike" are two different things. The copy editor likes the first, and assumes that wherever I've put the second, it's because I've forgotten the comma. And I like to spell out "mister" if it occurs in dialogue. I just do. He's replaced them all with "Mr." and I stet each one back the way it was, and fix a few that I've forgotten...

He's changed dumpster to Dumpster. Check. Yup, it's a trade-mark. Good call. Okay. He's changed the one ocurrence of 'whisky' to 'whiskey'. Nope, it's a good scotch (Laphroaig), and that's how they spell it. Leave it. And here's Diet Coke changed to diet Coke. Is that right? Yup. Good man.

He's changed a sixteen wheeler to an eighteen wheeler in a metaphor but not when there are a cluster of them parked outside a strip club. I add another two wheels to the ones parked outside the Best Peap Show In Town...

Why has the copy editor changed "it's the objective case" to "it's the dative case" in a (very) short conversation about 'who' vs 'whom'? Do we even have a dative case in English? My schoolboy Latin, Greek and German are of little use, but none of the refence books seems to think that there's anything other than subject and object going on here, and I write STET.

And on, and on, for six hundred and fifty pages. And if all this seems pedantic, on the copy editor's part or on mine... well, yes. That's the point. He's paid not to see the wood for the trees. Actually he's paid to look up at the wood now and again, but mostly to keep track of all the leaves, and especially to make sure that Missy Gunther on page 253 isn't Missie Gunther when she returns on page 400.

(And as I type this, looking down to my assistant Lorraine's Xena mouse pad, I've just noticed that the copy editor corrected Xena: Warrior Princess to Xena the Warrior Princess, and I let it pass as I assumed that was the official trademark, but nope, I was right originally -- quick phone call to Harper Collins "in chapter five, just before the bank robbery, there's a Xena: Warrior Princess harem doll in the bankrupt stock store -- can you fix it back the way it was?")

Meanwhile, there's a list of queries in from the UK, only one of which is the same as the US copy edits (a twenty-five minute long half an hour I'd managed to create. Don't ask.)

I decide to lose the quote from a Blur song (Magic America) (which doesn't say very much, but which was in my head when I started the book, along with Elvis Costello's American Without Tears) and replace it with a quote from Lord Carlisle written just after the War of Independence about the hugeness of America and the way even their losses and disasters occurred on a massive scale....

And now it's over and done. For three weeks, anyway, when the galleys will come back and I'll read it through a microscope for the second time, making sure that every comma is where it's meant to be...

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