The Study

Coming Down off the Copy Editing Ledge

Copy edits. They cut to the core, don't they?

Getting your manuscript back from your copy editor can be a hugely deflating event. After pouring your heart and soul into a painstakingly crafted narrative told in 75,000 meticulously chosen words, it's easy to think that your book is basically done. But when you open the copy edited file, you see edits. Lots of edits. Tons of edits. Billions and trillions and gajillions of edits, edits spilling across the pages and filling the margins and taking over the manuscript and oh, good heavens, why did I even bother trying to write a book in the first place?!

But take a deep breath. Maybe take three. Okay, you're pretty worked up, take ten. Ten solid breaths. And try to relax. Because guess what! Even the best writers' manuscripts come back from the editor like that. Every best-seller in the world has seen its fair share of red marks. The number of edits (and therefore the amount of revision work) can seem truly daunting, but it's important to remember that edits are a good thing! They are what take your work from a manuscript into a book. Not just a book, but, like, a book. You know? A book that the world will swoon over.

Before your next manuscript comes back from the copy editor, I want you to look at the image below. It's a way-zoomed-out screen shot of my most recent work, Mabel Gray and the Wizard Who Swallowed the Sun. All those green lines and boxes? Those are the copy edits.

The first draft of Mabel was, without a doubt, the cleanest first draft I'd ever written. But even so, when the manuscript came back, it looked like a leprechaun had thrown up all over it. And yes, the revisions were daunting, and yes, it took a lot of time to filter through the story and do some retooling, some realigning, some overall restructuring. But when it was all said and done, Mabel wasn't a manuscript anymore; it was a book. 

Your next manuscript will be a book too. Those annoying, frustrating, heartbreaking little copy edits will help get it there. 

So come down off the ledge. Come here to the center of the roof, where it's safe, and it's warm, and you get a good view of the sunrise on the horizon. Because copy edits just mean a new day is dawning for your novel, and in the center of the copy edit roof, every other writer in the world is here to enjoy the view with you.

Clayton SmithComment