Friday, February 18, 2011

Just a Few STETs, Please

The copy edited manuscript for my forthcoming memoir, The Memory of All That, arrived on my doorstep this morning. Working with this, I have to complete all final revising in the next few days, because from here it goes to typesetting. Next time I see these words they will be set in first pass pages (those are the pages from which galleys are made and sent to reviewers), and no further changes will be possible beyond the corrections of typesetting errors.

I have been anxious about the copy edit because, frankly, strictly entre nous, I had some very terrible copy editing on my last two books. Great copy editing is an elegant, subtle art. I absolutely love skilled copy editing which helps the author say and mean what she means to say. Copy editing is essential. It saves the author from repetitions and other artifacts of revision and rewriting, and it saves the author from her own weaknesses. (I have a tin ear for "that" and "which," no matter how many times I check Strunk and White.)

Bad copy editing, on the other hand, introduces new errors while overlooking existing errors. Bad copy editing cites Wikipedia as a definitive source. Bad copy editing betrays cluelessness about the author's tone and style while revealing far too much about the copy editor's own limitations (and, perhaps, failed ambitions). Bad copy editing is painful. It takes time and is horribly enervating. Bad copy editing causes one to wear out pencils writing STET over and over. Stet is Latin for "let it stand," which is to say, it is a veto of a correction. But if you have to write it too many times on a manuscript you begin to think it is actually the Latin for "fuck off."

The fantastic news of the day is that I had a fabulous copy editor for this manuscript! The copy edits are reasonable, attentive, thorough, and intelligent. They are also respectful of the author's intentions, for which I am profoundly grateful. I have work to do, the kind of work I love, and I am diving in now.