Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

Archive for July, 2013

What are Copyedits?

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 24, 2013

What’s the difference between line editing and copy editing? After your work gets accepted by a publishing house, your story editor will comb through it line by line looking for problems in structure, pacing, continuity, and logic. She’ll ask questions in the margins, make deletions, add lines where appropriate, and suggest improvements to some scenes.

So what does a copyeditor do that is different? This skilled editor focuses on grammar, punctuation, and spelling, as well as providing another set of eyes to detect omissions and errors. A word of advice—don’t use colons or semicolons as they may translate into peculiar characters during digital conversion. Consider an emdash instead. The same warning applies for the ampersand sign. Type out the word “and”.

After you polish your work umpteen times, you’ll have to suffer through three more reads for your story editor, copyeditor, and page proofs. And believe me, you will need each pass-through. I always find things to correct, no matter how many times I polish my stories.

Having just finished the latest set of copyedits for Hanging by a Hair, #11 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries, I’d like to share what I learned. This time, I wrote the changes in a file I’m calling Style Sheet for this particular publisher. Keep in mind that each publishing house will differ in how they like things done. I’m not talking about fonts and line spacing. You can find that info in their submission guidelines. So what do I mean? Let’s take a look at my notes.

Remember when you used to please your teacher back in your school days? Each editor has his or her pet peeves. Learn them.

woman computer

Here are some preferences for my story editor:

Use he said/she said instead of too many action character tags. [Note: my other publisher prefers just the reverse.]

Don’t use “her eyes rounded/bulged/widened” unless your character is looking at someone else. Or say, she felt her eyes widen. [I don’t particularly agree with this, but hey, I aim to please.]

Be wary of making the amateur sleuth appear too nosy.

Avoid phrases like sounds “infiltrated her ears.” Use “she heard.”

Watch “his eyes glittered, blazed, darkened,” and let the dialogue speak for itself instead.

Don’t use Publix or Home Depot. Use supermarket or hardware store.

writer pencil

Now along comes the copyeditor. What sorts of things does she point out?

Capitalize wine types, i.e. Chardonnay [Again, another publisher might not do this.]
It’s a to-do list, not a To-Do list.
Sink into her bed, not onto her bed.
Seasons are not capitalized, i.e. fresh scent of spring, not Spring.
It’s caller I.D., not Caller I.D.
Uh-oh, not Uh, oh. [Again, my other publisher would do it the second way.]

These should be one word rather than two words or hyphenated:
Babysit, Checkout time, Coffeemaker, Doorbell, Doorknob, Fairyland, Hairbrush, Kindhearted, Lampposts, Midair, Peephole, Semisweet, Signposts, Timepiece, Townhouse, Windowsill, Workhorse, Wristwatch.

This should be hyphenated:
Bang-up job, Blow-dried her customer’s hair, Blow-out (as in, cut and blow-out), Boarded-up opening, Bottled-up rage, Cobalt-blue, Community-minded, Cross-referencing, Crime-solving skills, Class-action lawsuit, Crowd-buster, Deep-set eyes, First-timer, Freeze-dried foods, Going-away party, Good-quality wood, Hang-ups, Hard-boiled eggs, Heavy-duty belt, Heavy-set guy, High-rise, Higher-paying, Hurricane-force life, Hurricane-impact windows, Kettle-shaped clock, King-size bed, Last-minute problems, Late-afternoon air, Less-traveled, Lesser-known, Loose-fitting, Miles-long trail, Much-needed break, Next-door neighbor, Non-profit, Older-era movie star, Open-air entertainment, Orange-colored sport coat, Pet-grooming service, Plus-size lady, Put-down (as in, giving a put-down), Ranch-style house, Red-painted fingernails, Second-degree misdemeanor, Second-floor balcony, Short-staffed, Shoulder-length, Somber-faced, Stick-straight hair, Strike-out (as in, another strike-out), Thank-you notes, Three-tiered confection, Wheat-colored hair, Work-related, Wood-planked dance floor.


I’ve printed these out so I can keep them by my side during subsequent drafts or revisions. It helps to know how your publishing house likes things done. You can disagree with suggested changes if they would alter your voice. Plus sometimes copy editors make mistakes. When this happens, point out that the original way stands and perhaps include evidence. For example, one copy editor once changed I-95 to Interstate Ninety-Five. I pointed out that no one here refers to it that way. I-95 stood its ground. In another case, the editor misspelled the name of a car model. I sent back a copy of an ad with the correct spelling. For the most part, though, by making many of these desired word or phrase choices early on, you’ll both be happier.

Posted in The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 48 Comments »

Disney and Dining

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 19, 2013

Last weekend we took a break from our condo duties to enjoy Disney’s Hollywood Studios (

We didn’t get far before thunder and lightning chased us into the Great Movie Ride. I wish they would update this attraction. It’s one of my favorites where you can sit in air-conditioned comfort and ride through classic movie scenes but the pre-show and features could use an update to more current titles. The Indiana Jones scene is the one I like the best. Wish they’d move the whole attraction here that they have in California.

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P1010392 (800x600)  Tower Terror

By the time we left the ride, the rain had stopped. We ate lunch near Star Tours, stopped by the Writer’s Café, and strolled around for our afternoon exercise before leaving the park. We’ve been on most of the rides before so now mainly go to eat and people watch.

That night we dined at Emeril’s Choup Chop ( in the Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando. The colorful décor, excellent service, and artistic food presentation make this a romantic spot for a special occasion. I had roasted duck breast with mashed sweet potatoes.

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The grounds were lovely to walk around. This would be a nice place to stay.

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Another day we walked around Downtown Disney. I was pleased to see parts of Pleasure Island blocked off for renovations. This whole area is supposed to be redesigned along with the Marketplace and renamed Disney Springs. It’ll be years before this gets done from the looks of it. I hope they add more reasonably priced restaurants.

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Now it’s back to work. I have the copyedits for Hanging by a Hair, then I have to do a final read through of Warrior Lord. Our soggy weather has been good for staying indoors and working.

Posted in Disney, Florida Musings, Food, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Determining Theme in Novel Writing

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 15, 2013

Do you know your story’s theme before you begin writing? Many writing coaches will advise you to figure this out ahead of time and work symbolism into your story as you write. But what if you don’t have a clue as to what your theme should be? Sometimes the theme only becomes evident later, after you’ve completed the book. At that stage, a wise observer might point out that you’ve naturally incorporated symbolism into your story.

The point is not to worry about this analytical part of writing if you’d rather write your book in the heat of the moment.


I’ve never set out to craft a story knowing my theme ahead of time. I’ll write a synopsis in my initial stage and do some character development, but heavy analysis would stop me dead. I need to let the story unravel, even though I know where it’s going. Thematic elements are there. I might not have recognized them yet.

Ask yourself this question after you’ve penned a few novels: What are your stories about? What is the core message that comes across? I’ve realized many of my works are about redemption. My heroine sleuth, Marla Shore, seeks to redeem herself for a past mistake. The first Bad Hair Day mystery, Permed to Death, reveals her sense of guilt and what she’s done to assuage it. Guilt is a great motivator. The theme of redemption is also evident in some of my romances where characters seek to redeem their self-respect or reputations.


But is that my only theme? Recently I’ve begun using the self-editing software mentioned below in a previous blog. I have been eliminating repetitive words within my manuscripts. One of my favored words is “just.” This word can also be found in “adjusted” and “justice.” Whoa. Justice?

justice scales

In Died Blonde, Marla goes to Cassadaga, FL and gets a reading from a certified medium. This spiritualist tells Marla the following:

The medium’s eyelids fluttered. “Right now, you’re obsessed with completing your task. You feel the need to pursue justice. Learning the truth will bring you peace.”

A chill captured Marla all the way to her toes. She’d pronounced similar words as part of her Bat Mitzvah speech: Justice, Justice, Shall You Pursue. How could they form on Hazel’s lips?

“Treat yourself fairly as you would treat others,” the medium explained. “Accept who you are, and you’ll find the power within you to move forward. Above all, don’t give up. The truth is just around the horizon.”


These words become Marla’s mantra throughout the series. She seeks truth and justice.

Warrior Lord, book 3 in my paranormal Drift Lords series, also deals with this theme. Lord Magnor has been unjustly accused of a crime. Ditto the hero, a wanted fugitive, in Silver Serenade. Is the pursuit of justice another one of my themes? I believe so, and it’s one I’ve only now realized.

One of my favorite book series is Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth fantasy series. Why? Because Richard Rahl, the protagonist, is the Seeker of Truth. Richard seeks the truth in all matters, as does his love Kahlan, the Mother Confessor. Once under her spell, no one can lie. If you’re not into the books, check out the TV series Legend of the Seeker for swashbuckling adventure, fantasy, and romance.


I didn’t set out to write about this theme, but there it is. So, too, might your theme reveal itself in your body of work.

Do you determine your theme ahead of time? What is your core message?



Posted in The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , | 20 Comments »

Self-Editing Software

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 2, 2013

Recently I did a second read-through of Warrior Lord, #3 in the Drift Lords series. I’d already done a pass for line editing, so I hoped this one would be my last in a sweep for smoothness and repetitions I might have missed. I ended up knocking off 17 pages worth of prose. Oh, no. Did this mean I’d have to read all 460 pages again? I’m too close to the story. It’ll have to be put aside for a month or more, and I’d lose valuable time when I could be submitting it.

While I pondered whether to consider submission now or not, I decided I’d better check for overusage of the word “just”, one of my favorite modifiers.

Uh, oh. I used the word “just” 135 times. This included such words as “adjusted” and “justice of the peace” so I ignored those instances. But on more than one page, I had used “just” twice.

Maybe there were more words like that one. I remembered bookmarking a site online that other authors recommended. It concerned a self-editing program for writers that would pick out problem areas like this, so I downloaded the free trial at

Whoa, my eyes popped at the results. The word “just” wasn’t my only debacle. I used “when” 256 times, “while” 182 times, “like” 235 times, “down” 210 times. Really? Even the word “forward” came up 82 times.

Clearly, more polishing was in order. The program analyzed my sentence starters. I begin sentences with “A” 227 times, “And” 110 times, and “But” 111 times. We all know lots of sentences start with “The”. Mine did so for 545 times. Oh, dear. I’d better pay more attention to varying my sentence structure. How did my earlier novels get by without this amazing software?

Then the program listed all the proper nouns used in the story. I discovered two different spellings for my hero’s homeworld: Agoora and Agora. I made that correction and moved on.

The software also listed all the curse words used in my story. Okay, I didn’t have very many and they weren’t that bad. They can stand, but if you want your work to be a PG rating, this task can be helpful.

It also points out clichés that you use. I didn’t realize I’d said “hands on” 11 times throughout the story. That might not seem like much for a 101,763 word novel, but I hadn’t realized I favored the phrase—as in the heroine puts her “hands on” her hips too many times. Fortunately, I didn’t have too many clichés and some I’d written on purpose so those other ones were okay to leave in.

Next up in the program comes misused words, such as accept/except, anxious/eager, any more/anymore. Hmm, would she be anxious for his approval, or eager for it?

Your dialogue tags don’t escape scrutiny, either. I used “said” 150 times and “asked” 54 times. There are occasions where a character bellows or shouts, but a singular usage in this instance might be acceptable. I’ll take another look to see if the dialogue can stand by itself.

Finally, suspect punctuation like exclamation marks are pointed out along with the story locations where you use them.

Amazed by the value of this program, I decided to sweep it by the non-Marla mystery I’ve been working on. Oh, my. Did I realize I’d used the phrase “my cell phone” 23 times in this 67,000 word manuscript? Yes, the program checks for repeated phrases along with repeated words. Speaking of the latter, favored words in this story were “could”, “like”, “didn’t”, and “time,” among others.

“Hands on” is another favorite cliché of mine is this story, too. I’d better watch out for that phrase hereafter.

Regarding punctuation, I had an extra space before an emdash. Imagine that?

I only ran the free trial for this program. The fully realized version allows you to set customized parameters. For $49.95, you can buy a license to use the program on your desktop and laptop computers running Windows. I don’t have any writing or story construction software, but this program seems essential. You might want to give it a try for yourself.

Now I have more work to do. The book I thought was finished is not done. I had not polished it to perfection as I’d thought. My editor will have to wait weeks more for me to turn in this manuscript, but it’s a service to readers to make it the best it can be.

What writing tools do you use that may be helpful to other writers?

Posted in The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 45 Comments »

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