Geez, I WAS looking forward to copyedits, but now…

Here's an editorial change that worked out well - that new title looks AWESOME.

…OH I’M JUST KIDDING, I’m still looking forward to them, although I admit J. Anderson Coats’s gripping copyedit saga inspired a moment of fleeting-but-intense terror. I was particularly inspired by her unfazed reaction to the overflowing toilet, which is something that tends to put the Jung household at approximately DEFCON 3.

The non-toilet thing that leaped out at me with particular vigor was this: I have to respond to every single comment in some way, even if it’s to say “okay.” Here’s how my mind automatically transmogrified that sentence: You don’t actually have to MAKE all those changes, pinhead! Yippee!

So dude, that means some of the copyedits are potentially optional? Really? That seems like a good thing, eh? Yes, I should probably be more horrorstruck by J’s image of nearly 300 pages of densely packed blue inkmarks, but the idea that you don’t actually have to change everything that gets marked up is new to me.

It’s not new on a grand, conceptual scale, of course – I went through the same information-seeking process as everyone else during the hunt for representation and publication, so I know that one should be ready to find compromises and alternate solutions during the edit letter and line edit stages. One of the first things I did with my editor Arthur Levine was rework the title, in fact, which felt like a decent way to dive right into that dynamic. I am so ready to kill my darlings! Death, oh my darlings! DIE DIE DIE…well, you get the picture.

So yeah, I’ve continued on in that vein through the first couple of editorial stages, butchering words left and right, cheerfully disposing of stuff that my editor suggested is superfluous, feeling pretty darned good about having all this guidance, thinking that copyedits would be a piece of cake, comparatively speaking. After all, the really hard creative decisions will all have been made by then, right? And I haven’t objected to hardly any of it so far! Nope, not a thing, really! It’s all been good! I’ve been very accepting of…

…and of course I went into a bit of a neurotic death spiral and thought, Charlie Brown style, oh good grief, SHOULD I be objecting to more stuff? Am I being TOO ACCEPTING? I’m prone to this kind of absurd, self-sabotaging, navel-gazing lunacy, which probably comes as something less than a shock.

One can always find comfort in the work of the masters.

But hi-dee hi-dee ho, I snapped out of it by reminding myself that Arthur and I want the same things, and that if I trust his judgment on this stuff there’s no good reason to make myself distrust his feedback when I, you know, trust it (and I’m sure there’s a way I could make that sentence into even more of a circular wormhole if I tried). I went and re-read this interview he did for The Purple Crayon (scroll all the way down to the “ author-editor relationship” part), then took a moment to lovingly caress my copy of Millicent Min, Girl Genius, which always reassures me. I talked myself off the ledge! Rah!

And then I read J’s post and thought aaargh, I thought copyedits would require FEWER creative judgment calls! Aargh! Because it’s definitely true that I egotistically break the rules (my rash assumption being that I know the rules, which in reality is probably up for serious debate), and there are likely to be cases where I object to the copyeditor’s very gently delivered suggestions on creative, stylistic grounds. Right?

Or will I? Will be my blithely accepting nature just lead me to following up on all the copyeditor’s suggestions too? And would that be a bad thing? Because while I have as many control freak tendencies as anyone, I don’t think I’m a particularly egregious example of that annoying species, and having specific, detailed feedback to follow up on has been really, really cool.

I just want to be told what to do! Oh wait, that’s bad, I don’t wanna be a freaking doormat! You know what, someone just drop a piano on my head and get it over with. After my book’s released, though. GEEZ, LET ME HAVE THAT ONE MOMENT OF HAPPINESS…

Yours in terrible, writhing, newfound uncertainty,



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6 responses to “Geez, I WAS looking forward to copyedits, but now…

  1. I predict you will read it through once and think. And then the next time through, it won’t seem quite as daunting as it did the first time. And that most of the decisions will be clear, and some won’t be. And I further predict that the next time through, more of the decisions will be clear, leaving only a few, in the end, requiring deep thought. And you can handle that.

    Whether the process itself is pretty or not, I do know that in the end, your book will be closer to the stage the rest of us are all waiting for–the stage where we get to read it. So buck up, young buck!


  2. Oh my gawd, you totally captured my emotional responses to all the different stages of editing. I went through every one of those “states” (including the “I should just roll over on every revision suggestion because, for ^&%$#’s sake, it’s CHERYL KLEIN doing the asking” mode). Another discovery that was a shock–the writhing uncertainty does not end once the book is out (sorry to tell ya–but forewarned is forearmed, right?). It just moves into a whole ‘nother order of worry over things we can’t control–like whether people will read the book at all and if they do, whether they’ll like it. I always enjoy your posts!


  3. beckylevine

    Oh my god, it’s such a relief to read this and know I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE! If nothing else, with this blog post, you have proved to me (and, yes, probably a gazillion other writers!) that I’m not alone in my neurosis. And my book was NONfiction!!!! The editor, a wonderful person in reality, took on a whole separate persona in my brain–one that looked at every comment I accepted, edited around, or DIDN’T use and either gave me a big smile or shook their head in disappointment.
    The thing is–whatever you do, every stage of revision makes your book that much tighter and that much better, Mike. And it’s not JUST because you have a wonderful editor, but also because you are putting the time and emotional commitment (yes, and the raving panic!) into thinking about all of this. I can’t wait to read your book! 🙂


  4. J. Anderson Coats

    Gosh, I never once thought of *not* pushing back. I even fought a heroic, foolish and ultimately futile rearguard action against the Oxford comma.

    And I had a moment of happiness. It came right after I handed off that padded manila envelope to the nice postal employee, savored the sheer wild thrill of making an impossible deadline and had a belt of whiskey at 1:30 in the afternoon.


  5. Cynthia Levinson

    Now that you mention it, Mike, I’m sure there were copyedits I accepted as a part of a silent bargaining process. Like, “Thank you, dear editor, for letting me keep the paragraph you’re not crazy about. In exchange, I’ll let you take out (or put in–I can’t remember which) all the commas before ‘but.'” I’m seeing writing and editing as an economics exchange system, only a primitive one based on bartering. I hope I don’t suffer a trade imbalance.


  6. I usually try to give the editor 90% of what she asks for so that I can cling to that remaining 10% without looking unreasonable.

    I wouldn’t blindly make changes. I’d ask myself WHY she was having problems with a certain section. Sometimes what I wanted to say hadn’t made it onto the page.

    Good luck, Mike!


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