Dec. 16, 2017 – And just like that, Under the Shadows is done. I just emailed the really-truly-final tweaks to Midnight Ink copy editor Sandy Sullivan, who deserves to perch atop the highest pedestal in the land.

dohI never make a timeline. (Bad, bad writer.) Sandy always does – and then points out the necessary adjustments throughout the book. She reminds me that a character is drinking from a glass on one page, and sipping from a straw on the next. She points out that I’ve used the same distinctive word twice in two paragraphs.

Reading Sandy’s notes damn near results in a trip to the ER because I smack my head so often. Why she doesn’t address her emails to me as “Dear Idiot” is beyond me.

Copy editors, people. Worship them.

The last thing I wanted to do, with the timebomb of a deadline ticking away, was take a break from revisions.

But that’s what a family reunion mandated. Sure, I could’ve ducked away for awhile every day, but – no excuses here – chose not to. Left the laptop at home so I wouldn’t be tempted. And then, of course, fretted about my choice for five whole days.

Until I got back, and turned a fresh eye on the ms. Holy cow. Inconsistences everywhere. As scary as it was when each new one popped up, it felt even better to find them and fix them – sort of like literary Whack-A-Mole. I know exactly how that guy in the video feels.

I’m crediting the break with the fresh eyes, and the new well of energy. It’ll be fast depleted, of course. But for now, I’m actually enjoying it. Whack!


clapperboardMay 18, 2017 – It’s May in Montana, which means there’s fresh snow on the daffodils. Good weather for writing, right? Or, these days, editing.

I’m deep in a ms. full of track changes from my editor, and one comment comes up over and over again:

“Stay in scene.”

Apparently my writing wanders off track as often as my thoughts. Anyhow, it’s a great reminder, one with applications well beyond writing.

axApril 24, 2017 – And now, my favorite part of writing – editing.

Because 99 percent of the time, writing is just a slog. Every so often you get that paragraph that works from the get-go – at which point, you stop and sacrifice a small helpless animal to the writing gods. But now the slog is over. The first (okay, zillionth) draft is done, and now I get to make it better. Much more to the point, I’m no longer working alone.

scissorsThis week, I got the proposed revisions for the WIP from my editor, in the form of five single-spaced pages of conceptual edits, and the ms. with line edits. Many, many line edits. I hear enough complaining about editors that I guess some people don’t like this part. Me, I love it. It’s as though someone just handed me a road map that shows a very clear path to a better book.

scalpelThat path involves cutting through a lot of underbrush of passive voice, confusing passages, inadequate scenes, etc. Some of that will involve an ax. Some, scissors. By the time I send it back to the editor, I hope to be wielding only a scalpel. Hear that faint screaming? It’s the summary execution of darlings. Good riddance, I say.


Dec. 12, 2016, three days to deadline – Once, just once in my writing life, I’d like to have the goddamn chapter count come out right the first time. That is all.





Nov. 29, 2016 – No sentences worth reading today, and certainly none worth writing. This is how I felt at work all day after last night’s proofing/revising slog. Tomorrow, though, back to Book 5. Woo freaking hoo.



Nov. 28, 2016 (my dad’s 90th birthday!) – Some might celebrate by eating cake. Me, I hit “send” on the proofs and revisions. Now, whiskey. Any old amateur can eat cake.



Nov. 27, 2016 – All day with the editing, first fixing the typos and little glitches, then on to the more substantive stuff. You think by now, I’d know it was a good idea to make a timeline before I wrote the book, or even as I was writing it. That way, I wouldn’t get questions on this ms. – just as I did on the last one, come to think of it – such as “Wouldn’t this happen on a weekend? And then wouldn’t the office be closed?” Thank all the gods ever worshipped in the history of humankind for copy editors. They catch my word crimes.


Without copy editors, too many sentences in too many books wuodl look liek htis.

 Copy editors occupy a narrow and sadly unheralded niche in both book and newspaper publishing hierarchies. At the top is an editor—the big picture person, who first reads a manuscript or story and (please God) points out the gaping holes, the unsupported leaps in logic, and the boring stuff that should have succumbed to the machete. I’m very lucky to work with Judy Sternlight Literary Services. Judy ever so gently nudges my manuscripts not just to the next level, but a few levels beyond.

The proofreader is at the other end of the process, the final set of eyes, focusing strictly on spelling and grammatical errors.

Somewhere in between lies the copy editor. A proofreader, yes, but oh so much more. The dictionary, ho-hum, calls a copy editor “the person who edits a manuscript for publication.” In plainer language (something a copy editor might have suggested), the dictionary could have said, “A copy editor Saves Your Sorry Ass.”

Full disclosure: I spent a significant portion of my newspaper career as a copy editor. I liked editing the stories, but never managed to master the art of headlines. I’ve also worked as an editor, when copy editors Saved My Sorry Ass by catching things I missed, and as a reporter, where, well, ditto. Because of my time on various copy desks, I know the difference between gantlet/gauntlet, effect/affect and that yes, “accommodation” really does have all those letters in it. These days newspaper companies are cutting copy editing jobs like crazy, reasoning (although reason appears to have little to do with it) that reporters and editors can catch their own mistakes. Even though most reporters and writers know from hard experience that a second—or third, or fourth—set of eyes will always, always find things they missed. Boo to newspapers for doing this.

Now I’m dealing with copy editors in the book world. Barbara Anderson is the copy editor for The Permanent Press, and when she gets tired of combing through manuscripts, she should become a homicide detective. The cold case files would vanish overnight. This woman leaves nothing unturned. I both dread/anticipate her long, single-spaced lists of every single issue—from proper capitalization (High Plains, who knew?) to logistical glitches—she finds in my manuscripts.

 Dread, because sometimes the only answer I have to an item that basically asks, “What were you thinking here?” is, “Damned if I know.” Anticipation, because by the time we’re finished, the book is a lot better.

 So hurray for copy editors. Maybe that dictionary definition should simply read Kings and Queens of the Universe.

Filed Under: Editing