05 November 2005 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 2 comments

Copyediting is an integral part of the publishing process.

Let’s get this way out of the way first. EVERYONE needs the services of a good editor. I don’t care who you are, or how good a writer you may think you are….you’re not as good as you think you are. That includes me too, by the way. I am painfully aware of my own shortcomings as a writer. I have always had a tendency to overuse the passive voice, and it’s a constant, and never-ending battle for me to keep that particular problem under control. I also am occasionally prone to using unduly long and unnecessarily complex sentence structures when there are times that simpler is clearly better.

Let’s also be clear about this: a good copy editor can make or break a book. Poor copy editing and poor proof reading is embarrassing. It says that product quality is not important, just getting it out there (that, by the way, is my primary complaint with White Mane). Poor production values can trash the credibility of what otherwise might be a worthy and worthwhile project. It’s absolutely guaranteed to bring about terrible reviews, and hurt the sales of the book, and harm the credibility of the author.

The job of the copy editor is to work with the author and the author’s work product and make it better while maintaining the fundamental integrity of the work. In other words, the best editor is the one who has the ability to take the author’s existing product and make it the best it can possibly be. The best editor will clean things up, point out inconsistencies, ask pertinent questions to resolve inconsistencies or to clear up that which is unclear, and will definitely maintain the fundamental essence of what the author has written. For historical works like the ones I write, a good working knowledge of the subject is absolutely critical. Otherwise, how can the editor do an effective job of determining what the author was trying to say, or be able to tell whether the author’s got it right or wrong?

I had an editor on one of my projects–I won’t name the book or the publisher to protect the guilty–who was atrocious. This fellow didn’t know the first thing about the subject and also violated the cardinal rule–instead of working with my style, which is uniquely my own, he insisted in injecting himself into the book. Mix in the multitude of idiotic questions he asked, and by the time I got through the draft, I was ready to blow a gasket and was also ready to throttle the clown. I told the editor in chief of that particular press that if they ever let this guy near one of my manuscripts again, I would refuse to work with him, even if it meant that I terminated the contract with the publisher. He made it a thoroughly unpleasant experience, to the point that I was prepared to pull the plug with the publisher if that’s what it took. The compromise was that we would finish the project with the guy, as unpleasant of a prospect as that might have been, but that he would never come anywhere near another one of my projects again, no matter what.

I was extremely fortunate to have an excellent editor for my next book. He is actually a friend of mine and is familiar with my style. He has a good working knowledge of the events that are the subject of the book, and he knows better than to try to interject himself into my work. Instead, he works hard at making me the best I can be, and I am very grateful to him for that.

I’ve been an editor myself, and I know how difficult it can be not to interject yourself into the work. I respect anyone who can. And I definitely respect and appreciate those editors who have helped to make my work the best that it can be.

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  1. Bill
    Mon 07th Nov 2005 at 11:40 am

    I am a medical copyeditor, but Civil War reading is one of my hobbies. I try not to factcheck or copyedit a book as I read it, but naturally my day job often intrudes: I notice simple errors all the time, even in the best-written books. Bothersome ones that crop up the most seem to be simple errors of compass direction (eg, an author writes “east” when he means “west”). Also, I’ve noticed that, even when a publisher spends money on good copyediting of the text, they often fail to edit the maps to be consistent with it. Perhaps this is because the maps aren’t finalized before the manuscript is edited, and thus, the copyeditor is not given them to check. Or maybe, given a tight deadline, there is not time to go back and have the cartographer fix the maps, which is more expensive and time-consuming than fixing text. Map editing is given short shrift by most publishers, it seems.

  2. Mon 07th Nov 2005 at 10:10 pm


    That’s an excellent point.

    My next book has some detailed maps that are pretty ground breaking, and I’ve been fortunate that my copy editor spent some very significant time reviewing and commenting upon them in order to make sure that they are as accurate and as correct as they can possibly be.

    But I realize that’s the exception and not the rule.

    Thanks for writing.


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