By Kristi Belcamino
When I received the copyedited version of Blessed are the Dead this last week it was super exciting. Here was my baby all laid out pretty with my name and the dedication up front like a real book. Woohoo! A dream come true.
But that excitement soon faded as I sat down to look at what the copyeditor had done. My task involved reviewing every sentence highlighted in purple to indicate the copyeditor had made a change. I needed to look at the change and either accept it or reject it.
It didn’t take me long to realize that nearly every page of my 297 page novel had some purple on it. That’s cool, I told myself. I love editors. I am the biggest fan of editors because nine times out of ten they make you look better than you really are. True story.
But as I read on, I realized I much prefer working with my HarperCollins editor versus working on changes from a contracted copy editor. I’m sure he or she is a lovely person. And it’s obvious he or she is extremely talented, catching so many little things I didn’t. But I can’t deny what soon became glaringly obvious in reading the changes — I don’t have a clue how to use a comma. Really.
Even though I’ve had a career as a newspaper reporter and have written three novels, this basic skill has somehow eluded me for 40-some years.
It wasn’t easy coming to this realization. I mean, at first, I denied it, telling myself, “Well, the copyeditor obviously likes commas more than me.”
But that is probably less likely than the fact that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing when it comes to comma use.
As I went on, I saw that probably 98 percent of the edits from the copyeditor were adding or subtracting a comma. Mostly adding.
Thank God, the publisher contracts this work out and I don’t have to face this copyeditor in person one day, hanging my head in shame. (By the way, is that comma I just used in the right place? Now I’m doubting each and every comma I use!)
So, the comma thing was the toughest part of being copyedited.
But there were some fun parts, as well. Heck, I’d even call them educational.
For instance, I learned all kinds of cool things about some of my favorite words.
I learned that “douche bag” is actually two words. Who knew?
Here are some others you might not know or realize:
Goddamn - one word
Barstool - one word.
Supertight – one word
Wineglass – one word
And by the way, hard-asses is hyphenated.
I, also, got a little education on the word “nod.”
I’ll share it with you as a helpful hint of the day just in case you didn’t know. (Although there is a good chance everyone else on the planet knows this but me, but in the off chance there is one other person who doesn’t know this, well here you go.):
You can only nod your head. You can’t nod any other body part. You don’t nod your foot, only your head. So saying someone nods his head = Redundant. (And possibly ignorant, when it comes down to it.) Who knew? Oh yeah — everyone but me.
You nod. Not your head. You just simply nod.
There you go. You’re welcome.
The further along in the copyedits, the less intelligent I felt. Hell, I don’t even know if “further” is the right word anymore? Is it farther? See, I’ve lost any ability to write at all. My worst fear has finally happened.
I’m, also, starting to wonder if the copyeditor ended up hating me by the end of the novel. I mean, maybe he or she was so disgusted by my flagrant misuse of commas that by the end of the manuscript, he or she was seething with resentment and irritation. I can just imagine him or her at the bar after a day spent copyediting my novel, telling a friend, “Man, I’ll be so glad to get done with this novel because that writer doesn’t know a comma from a hole in the ground.”
At the same time, I’m incredibly grateful that this expert — this person who is smart about commas — is making my book look so —well — smart.
Hey, here’s a little hint for any other writers out there who feel like they might be getting a little cocky or arrogant or thinking they are too cool – just have a copyeditor read your novel! Voila! Suddenly, you will slip right off your high horse and join the rest of us hacks. You might even feel a little bit of writing insecurity creep up you because after all, the truth is you really have no clue how to use a comma. Wait — that’s just me.