Nancy's Notes From Florida

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

Posts Tagged ‘manuscript’

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 »

Editorial Pet Peeves

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 18, 2013

At a recent Florida Romance Writers meeting, we heard Senior Editor Callie Lynn Wolfe from The Wild Rose Press and Acquisitions Editor Lisa Manuel from Silver Publishing speak about their pet peeves regarding submissions. Here’s a summary of what they said, subject to my interpretation.writer pencil

Submissions can be really good or really bad. Most fall in the middle, and that’s where your competition lies. If it’s a choice between two manuscripts, an editor is more likely to favor the one with good grammar. Lisa advises writers to “format your work according to our guidelines.” Don’t use fancy fonts, borders, etc. Less is better in terms of formatting.

Callie says when she receives a proposal, she’ll look to see if the author followed their guidelines. By paying attention to formatting, you’re showing the editor you can be cooperative and work within the company’s parameters. She’ll check the mechanics and will evaluate the submission to see if it’s appropriate for the genre. She advises authors to “be unique and be active” to avoid clichés and passive voice.

Do these editors care about prior sales figures for returning authors? TWRP will think about this aspect but Silver Publishing judges each book by itself.

Both publishers expect authors to market themselves. TWRP has a marketing department to help with these efforts. Silver Publishing’s bulk of sales are online. Their genres include YA, mainstream, and M/M and books may be digital and print formats. Age of the author doesn’t matter regarding acquisitions.

You need an engaging hook for your opening scene. Avoid backstory up front. Word and phrase repetition is lazy writing. So is overuse of speech tags other than “said” or “asked”, and even in those cases, action beats and body language are preferable tags.

Callie said avoid animal sounds, i.e. he growled, hissed, barked.

Don’t use passive verbs. Steer clear of “was”, “get” and “got”, as well as “he heard/ saw/felt”. Avoid qualifiers like “really”, “very”, and “just.”

Be wary of head hopping, or changing viewpoints within a scene. Also make sure the viewpoint character is clearly defined. Otherwise, the characterizations will be shallow and the emotional impact lessened. In a romance, stay in deep character most of the time.

Writers will often have characters looking at each other too much before speaking or acting. Watch for this in your own work.

Use active storytelling. Show, don’t tell.

Lack of passion can be a problem. Build your characters so readers can relate emotionally to them. Give them chemistry together.

Give a description of your characters but don’t have them look in a mirror.

Lack of motivation is often evident. What drives the characters? What do they have to gain or lose? What’s at stake for them? Characters should be proactive and not reactive.

Re punctuation, know where to put your commas. Watch out for verb tense agreement, dangling participles, and misplaced modifiers. What’s wrong with this sentence: Walking into the room, the door swung open. [If you don’t know this one, get out your grammar book.]

Clichés to avoid: “He let out the breath he didn’t realize he was holding.”
“His smile didn’t reach his eyes.”
“She was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.”
Realizing she’s in love, she thinks to herself, “Where did that come from?”

Writers shouldn’t work in a void. Participate in conferences, critique groups, workshops, and social networking. This shows you are a dedicated professional.

When you send a submission, make sure the synopsis is complete and not open-ended. Include conflict, character, and resolution.

Lisa says shorter works (20,000-40,000 words) and more frequent releases work well for her publishing house.

TWRP has house standards for turnaround time regarding queries, partials, and fulls.

Silver Publishing:

The Wild Rose Press:

Posted in Business of Writing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , , | 19 Comments »

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