#SaystheEditor: Copy Editing Controversy


Last week, there was this meme going around Facebook. Maybe it’s still there; I’m writing on a day that’s today for me but last week for you guys. Maybe even longer, but I hope not.

It’s a clickbait and it’s purported to be pictures taken at a conference for copy editors (and held in my backyard, without me in attendance. What the heck? Oh, yeah. I had clients who needed me to work on their manuscripts), and the copy editors were asked to write down their biggest pet peeve and share it for the camera. I say purported because there’s nothing identifying any of these people. They could be models for all we know.

I know, I know. If it’s on the Internet, it must be true.

Back to the content of the meme. Not surprisingly, there were people who see the English language differently. This is actually a subjective field, despite the dependence many have on the Chicago Manual of Style. CMOS was originally written as a style guide for the University of Chicago Press, back in the 1890s. They published scholarly works, not fiction. Yet many in the fiction world have glommed on to it as their bible, too.

Because it wasn’t written for fiction, it doesn’t cover a lot of elements of the art and craft of fiction writing. And that leads us back to my statement that English is a subjective field.

When I work on a client’s manuscript (because you know this post has to be all about me), I consider the narrative voice, the past works of the author (If I’ve worked on any), the style of the piece — which yes, can be different from narrative voice — and other factors. What I may tag in Steve’s manuscript may get a pass in Stevie’s.

After all, you expect me to preserve your unique voice. And I do strive to. But, of course, there are pet peeves. I love the Oxford comma and make no apologies for that. I think it makes fiction ten times more readable. I hate the phrase from where; it can always be written around in a way that results in a stronger sentence or visual. And don’t get me started on suddenly, clearly, or obviously!

So what’s the point here? Well, it’s that if you’re shopping for an editor, you need to get a sample and try that person on. Let them try you on, too. It’s that the English language is both precise as a sharply honed knife and dense as a good fog over a snow pack. It’s an evolving language and we editors contribute to its evolution.

Good editing is an art. Even though if it’s on the Internet, it must be true, I would be very sad to hear any of my clients come to me and say, “Why did you do that? I saw this thing on Facebook and those editors said…”

It’s about what’s right for YOU and what’s right for YOUR manuscript.

Remember that.

Write on, write well, and ignore the peanut gallery that’s about to flood the comments (yes, that’s an invitation and a dare!).


1 Comment

  1. Dana Griffin

    April 13, 2015 1:27 pm

    Suddenly I felt the urge to comment from where I’m sitting. 🙂 Sorry, I couldn’t help that.

    The thing about editing that frustrates the heck out of me is comma usage. I get the so called experts from my critique group who tell me to put commas here or there, and take them away here. Then another comma expert says something completely different. What this hack has learned from all this, put them where I want and you’ll correct me.

    For someone who hated English in school, I find your comments smile evoking that its use in fiction is subjective when the experts on the internet argue differently. I guess they’ve clamored onto the Chicago Manual of Style, or their own egos.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *