Couldn’t I Have Said That Better? Editing, Galleys and Errors

Fortunate Harbor ARC.jpgThere are people out there (and you know who you are) who live to catch errors on the printed page.  As obsessed as I am with making sure there are none, I still hear from this sacred sisterhood from time to time. 

“Don’t I know that people “pore” over the printed page, not pour?”  Well, yes, I do.  And so do my editor and copy editor, but all of us goof from time to time.  In the rush to create I often type what I “hear” and homophones (look it up) can drive me crazy during editing.

“Have I marketed a new calendar in which Ash Wednesday comes during the week before Easter?”  No, I haven’t, but now that you mention it, that would really shorten Lent.  All of us could actually give up something important for four days instead of forty and stick to it.  Somebody get Hallmark on the phone.

Some of the comments I receive are valid, and some aren’t.  Publishing houses have style manuals they adhere to, and even if you don’t agree with them, that’s what you’ll get if you buy their novels. Different houses use different manuals or style sheets.  I write for two publishers.  For instance, Mira asks that I write “blond,” unless I’m using the word as a noun: “That blonde in the green T-shirt.”  Berkley uses “blonde” as an adjective when a woman is described.  “She had blonde hair the color of ripening wheat.”  If I forget?  That’s where editors come in.

In addition to all the edits I do before I send my books to New York, two editors pore over my work afterwards.  My enviably fabulous line editors, Leslie Wainger for Mira and Cindy Hwang for Berkley, have the first looks.  They’re in charge of the big stuff, like cuts or additions, story inconsistencies, anything that’s not working.  In addition they fix little things, too, when they find them.  Then, after I’ve had a glance and a chance to scream in the silence of my study, I respond, more edits are done on my end, and the novel heads to the copy editor. 

The copy editor fixes whatever the editor didn’t, elements like punctuation and grammar, timelines and consistency within the story.  Since my mysteries are a series, the Berkley copy editor has to worry about the other books in the series, too.  I’ve described a character one way in book one, and slightly differently in book five.  Has she changed, or am I simply a doofus?  It’s usually a fifty-fifty split.

About this time, the Advanced Reading Copy (fondly known as the ARC) is printed for reviewers and booksellers.  The photo above is a particularly lovely ARC of Fortunate Harbor, my next release for Mira Books, which for multiple reasons actually went to this stage without any editing at all.  “Advance uncorrected proof” is completely accurate.  So is the “Not For Sale” above it. So if you see ARCs on eBay or elsewhere with a price attached?  Somebody is bending the law and the law is squealing.

Recently I had the “fun” of going over the galleys for Fortunate Harbor.  This is the final stage before printing copies for sale.  Both line editor and copy editor have made their changes, and I’ve had the opportunity to make changes myself, or ask that the original be honored.  This is my final chance to look for errors and make one more round of corrections.

Remember now, at this point, two talented professionals have seen and worked on the book in addition to me.  There should be no problems left, correct?

Picture me faxing 40 pages with changes back to New York on Tuesday.  Problems with the internal calendar of the story.  Sentences that were or weren’t deleted. Even an exchange of dialogue that directly contradicts one earlier in the story.  Oh, and a word that’s not supposed to be capitalized in one context but should be in another, that somehow ended up in capitals every time.  Ever have cheese and Crackers?  Hopefully, now the characters in my novel won’t, either.

How does this happen, you ask?  It’s simple.  Fortunate Harbor is a long book, with lots of characters, scenes, dialogue, and plot lines.  Three people have worked on it, which in and of itself, can cause copy problems.  Most important, as hard as we work, and as experienced as we are, we are also human.  We just can’t keep every single word of more than a hundred thousand straight, no matter how hard we try.

The good news?  We manage 99.99% of them with aplomb. So enjoy the novel when it comes out in July.  We earned it.



  1. Marna on March 8, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    I’ve never aritten to an author to report and error. I am, though, one of Those People who notice misplaced commas and misspelled words. I won’t hold them against you, though! Hooray for authors and editors and the books they create.

  2. Su on March 15, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    My newest undertaking is as a copyeditor/proofreader. I love the job and so wish I could work on one of your novels. Alas, Mira uses only people in Toronto. I have yet to nail down a project from Berkley/Penguin. I’m a happy reader!

Leave a Comment