Meg Mitchell Moore: On Being Edited

I love being edited. I love being copyedited too. This might come from the years I spent working for a magazine, where I was variously a copyeditor, an editor and a staff writer; all three are jobs whose expertise I value. I like feeling that the production of a book is a collaborative process.

I don’t have a critique group or early readers aside from my agent, the fabulous Elisabeth Weed. Should I acquire some other early readers? Maybe. I don’t know. It might be nice for Elisabeth if I did; she’s a busy lady. I work in my own little world until I am ready to show a good chunk of my work to her. She’s a very perceptive editor and a wonderful reader, and so too are the two editors (Reagan and Andrea) I’ve worked with at Reagan Arthur Books. I don’t know how these people read the same manuscript again and again and again, but they do it willingly and cheerfully and gracefully, all while reading a thousand other manuscripts simultaneously.

I like the meticulous nature of the copyediting process. I liked it when it was my job, and I like seeing good copyeditors at work. I really value what copyeditors do, and the patience and knowledge they bring to the job. In general, I am a person without a ton of patience. When I was a kid (okay, now too) I wasn’t very good at coloring in the lines. I always rushed it. Sometimes when I cook, I rush things. Jigsaw puzzles? No thank you, not for me. I’m a rusher. But I can sit forever with a sentence or a paragraph, trying to make every word perfect.

I was surprised and delighted to learn, my first time around, how similar copyediting in the book world is to fact checking in the magazine world; the copy editor is there to uphold the rules of grammar and style but also those of truth and logic. (I don’t know how this works for nonfiction books but I’m guessing fact checking is a more laborious process.) I remember that my lovely copyeditor for The Arrivals, Jayne Yaffe Kemp, pointed out that in one scene I had my three-year-old character taking a bath and preparing for bed too late at night. It was okay for the girl to stay up late, she said, but we should acknowledge the fact elsewhere in the scene. I loved that she pointed that out! She also let me know that I had a ridiculous number of characters who started the majority of their sentences with the word “well.” (I think she said it more kindly than that.) We changed most of those, and I am much more aware of that tic of mine as I revise my second book.

I say, bring it on. I don’t think anyone can do this alone. I’ll take all the help I can get.—Meg Mitchell Moore

One Comment

  1. Posted December 7, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Love your post. I live for critiques. How else would I write anything decent. I’m fortunate that way, and also to be dating a copy editor–but I work hard at not burdening him with reading too much of my stuff. Still, it’s a godsend. Thanks again for your post!

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