Recently I've been working with a freelance copyeditor on a book project. She's very good, and she's very nice.
But she is a copyeditor, after all.
And like football placekickers and professional snipers, copyeditors are mostly crazy. Well, not crazy. But they live in an alternative emotional reality—one that allows them, nay condemns them, to look at the best efforts of creators and find as much fault as they possibly can.
That's not natural. But it's necessary. And it must be psychologically troublesome in a very specific way. Becuase, by nature or nurture, all copyeditors share a similar psyche. So if you come to understand one copyeditor well, you find you can deal with them all.
Because I have come to understand copyeditors pretty well, I was neither surpised nor troubled to receive this memo from my book copyeditor the day before the deadline.
Her words in Roman, mine in itals.
Just to check in. Almost done with edits, then will 'run back through' once more.
Copyeditors are big on early check-ins. Like those grade-school girls who were always asking the teacher how they could get extra credit, they want to put you and keep you in awe of their thoroughness even before you see their work. So they send you an omininous note warning you of all the niggling edits you're going to have to deal with when the galleys come in. (And do not doubt: Anyone who puts single quotes around coloquial phrases like 'run back through' will definitely have niggling edits.)
There are extensive corrections (typos, mispellings, garbles, incorrect name spellings, inconsistencies, etc.) and many questions.
Translation: If editorial fuck-ups were bloody, rotting corpses, these galleys would be the battlefield at Antietam. Before you open the PDF, have safety goggles on, a hazmat crew standing by and a bulldozer idling. Content unsuitable for younger or more sensitive viewers.
I might have done more given a wider timeframe, but stopped counting hours at 30 and given the fairly tight deadline, addressed all I could.
You're lucky I only skimmed the book. Had I actually read the Goddamned thing, I probably would have taken a sandblaster to it, and then fanned it with a flamethrower and buried its toxic remains in my backyard under cover of darkness.
It is a wonderful book, incredibly readable and full of wisdom and often profound and often very funny, a pleasure to have read, learned so much. Hate to see it published anything short of perfect …
You've sure have a pretty face. I'd hate to see anything happen to it, if you know what I mean.
… and with all the changes that must be made, I would love to be able to see it again post-fixes (no additional charge) to make sure no errors are left or introduced, a hazard that happens to us all when we go in to change even one small thing, much less hundreds, and there might be a need for small rewrites so there's that too.
I don't trust you farther than I can throw your subfecal* manuscript.
And I might find a stray error I missed first time. I cop to being as imperfect as any human alive (though a devoted and driven copy editor).
And you'll note that there's not a single misspelling, garble, incorrect name spelling or typo in my email. As for inconsistiencies, mine are perfectly consistent with the Passive-Aggressive Style.
Anyhow, just wanted to update you all. Many thanks for the privilege, again, a fine, fine book, kudos all around. I would actually buy this, except I have a copy.
And: I generally don't like to spend my charity money supporting hopeless causes, and we all know that there's no cure for Slovenliness. But thanks for your business. I know you have a choice in copyeditors … except most copyeditors have emotional makeups much like mine, so you might as well use me. I look forward to working with you in the future. As soon as I hose the brown, filthy remnants of your literary masterpiece off my flat shovel.
Postscript: The copyeditor did an absolutely wonderful job on the book, and I will indeed rehire her for another project as soon as I recover from the splitting headache I got from answering all of her utterly incisive queries.
* The late, great, longtime Ragan Report "Typochondriac" words columnist Alden Wood once sent the staff a snarling fax sarcastically thanking us for our copyediting work on his last piece, which he described as "subfecal."