Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Copyediting for the Twenty-first Century

I'm old-fashioned and willing to admit it, but I didn't realize how far behind the times I was until I began the copyedits on my upcoming release, Unwritten Rules.

In January I announced my plan to self-publish my next book. I loved working with the small press that published my first three books, but I wanted to spread my wings and try something new. My main impetus was the desire to create my own cover and hone my editing skills--both necessary since I plan to start my own business offering those services to other writers as part of my new portfolio career. 

Last week I finalized the cover design and am delighted with the results. Unwritten Rules is my first contemporary romance, and the cover captures the sassy, modern tone of the book perfectly. If only the copyedits were as easy.

For the past several years, I had noticed what appeared to be the demise of punctuation in printed material of all types and assumed it was a question of style and author preference. Turns out I was right. However, those preferences are no longer individual; they have gained the weight of printed authority in no less than The Chicago Manual of Style and other influential style manuals.  

When I began writing decades ago, I used Strunk and White's slim little volume, The Elements of Style. It was chock-full of common sense advice and recommended using commas every place you would normally pause in verbal speech. I added that to my existing arsenal of absolute rules drummed into me by years of junior high and high school English teachers. Unfortunately I graduated from high school a LONG time ago. Practices and standards have changed, and I missed the boat.

Two of my first purchases when I decided to embark on my new portfolio career were The Copyeditor's Handbook by Amy Einsohn and my own copy of The Chicago Manual of Style. I suspected (correctly) I needed updating as well as authoritative references. These resources introduced me to the concept of "open punctuation" and convinced me to give it a try. I can't begin to count the number of commas I've removed from my manuscript: after introductory adverbs, before terminal adverbs, between co-ordinate adjectives. Thank heaven the punctuation gurus still allow serial commas. I need to be allowed to retain a few favorite old habits.

I now recognize the kindness of my previous editors who made no effort to reign in my comma addiction, and I'll do my best--in my own work and that of my clients--to keep modern and up-to-date. Even in the face of near-fatal comma withdrawal. I promise.


  1. *Raises hand sheepishly* Hi. My name is Vonnie Davis and I am a comma ho. If I have to stop to breathe or blink, by golly I'm sticking in a comma. I, too, use the Strunk and Whites book. Guess I better move up to something more modern. But...but I love a good comma, don't you?

    1. I do, Vonnie. I'm trying hard not to miss them.

  2. I had the same comma addiction. I'm over half-way through editing your book and have no comma problems at all! You can give yourself a big pat on the back. Dialogue tags are another issue altogether. **Warning!** I'm about to give you fodder for another post! LOL

    1. Oh, Jannine, you have no idea how many extraneous dialogue tags I already removed during my last round of edits. I was horrified! I'm waiting for your feedback with bated breath. Unwritten Rules was my first contemporary and the first fresh writing I'd done in many years. I think I was struggling to find my voice. Now I have to go back and inject it into an existing manuscript. LOL

  3. I love your new cover, Alison.

    As for commas, they are not my friends. :-) I follow the Oscar Wilde rule of commas: Spend the first half of the day putting them in and the second half taking them out.