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Hehe - I like that quote (for its awfulness) and think that there must be plenty of sloppy sentences out there. I know the bad sex award is always well contested!


Hi Karen,
It's Lorraine from Scrievers here! Saw your post on FBook and because I should be working, thought I'd reply.
Have you ever done any copy editing? I only ask because a) you'd probably be good at it, and b) this is the sort of thing that can come up.
The 'problem' is that copy editing fiction is, as you'd expect, an area where subjectivity and taste are to the fore. My approach, over the (too) many years I've been doing this, is pretty hands-off, and I probably wouldn't have queried either of the instances you've quoted for the following reasons:
-- they look deliberate
-- they're probably all through the book
-- as you say yourself, you know what she's getting at
I'm often curious, though, about what other copy editors do, and I wonder if she was queried on this and knocked it back? You never know, you see. It's, in my opinion, a very little discussed aspect of the journey a book makes from the writer's fingers to the reader's eyes. To be blunt, most readers think that what they read is what the author wrote, whereas what they're reading has in most cases been influenced by an agent, shaped by an editor, and then polished and ridded of embarrassing lapses and oversights by a copy editor and at least two proofreaders. (And there are STILL mistakes sometimes!!)
Anyway, starting to ramble. Interesting post. Hope you're well,

Simon T

The one which made me stop reading We Have To Talk About Kevin was when the woman, worried that her hot-water tank might break while she had a bath, says 'it permeated my ablutions with disquiet'. (!!!)


Hi Lorraine, lovely to hear from you!
No, I've never done any copy-editing, though my fingers itch for the chance sometimes. You're absolutely right about similar words throughout the book, and I'm really interested in what you say about the extent of the general editing process - it came up on the blog the other day and Amanda Craig commented on the terrible lack of good editors nowadays.
One thing I do know: you would not have written those lines!!




Do please be pedantic, if that's what you are being. Bad writing is bad news.


Lorraine's comment is interesting by the way because she implies that you think these are mistakes which should have been picked up -- at least I assume that's what she means by "they look deliberate". Yes indeed of course they are deliberate and that's what's a bit bothersome about them -- KM obviously thinks this is good writing and that she has created some great and original metaphors, but they appear to you (and me and others) to be rather cheesy. So we may know what she's getting at but we may still not like the way she has expressed herself. Of course this immediately plunges one into deep water -- it is the copy editor's job to police writing which the writer thinks is good? And is it in the end a subjective judgment? After all, Dan Brown writes the most consistently execrable prose and yet nobody apart from a handful of people ever appears to object to it, let along copy-edit it out of his books. Sorry to go on -- this is a real hobby horse of mine!


Go on by all means, Harriet! I think it's an important subject and one that should be aired.

Susan in TX

Oh, stop, stop, stop. Just kidding! You should absolutely keep this up. I only request the stop because I'm sick and I got to laughing so hard that I sent myself into a coughing fit! Mercy! Between the "literate dust" (and yes, this is what sent me over the top -- I just refer to my dust as "my ancestors" but now I have a new name for it) and Simon's addition of "permeating the ablutions with disquiet" I wasn't sure I was going to be able to breathe. :)

This is absolutely an important subject, and may I add that it is even WORSE in young adult literature? That genre is so "dumbed-down" it's not worth the paper it's printed on, for the most part. I haven't figured out if that is bad editing, though, or worse still, pandering to the ever-decreasing quality of the education available - at least over here in the US. BUT, that's a whole other issue and I don't want to sidetrack the discussion with that can of worms.

Thank you, Cornflower for bringing these topics up and keeping them out there to (hopefully) be noticed by more and more publishers (we can certainly pray that they are taking notice!). Now I'm off for more tea and cough drops... :)

Susan Campbell

In producing issues of our local newspaper, my work involves being reporter, copy-editor, and proofreader. This means checking both submitted articles and my own writing, which is the most difficult task of all.
Our brains often have us 'read' the words we believe we wrote, although the text in question may contain, or indeed lack, quite different words.
When writing fiction, the same trick of mind seems to apply. One for authors to be aware and beware of.


I do agree with you, Susan, we can be blind to our own mistakes; all the more reason to have a second pair of eyes check the work where possible.


Get well soon, Susan.

Susie Vereker

I don't think a copy editor is going to argue with a writer as successful as KM. She is a young woman and may grow out of some of these fancy metaphors. Anyway she's more of a popular commercial fiction writer than a literary one, imo. A good storyteller who sells.
(By the way, Cornflower Books never remembers me whereas Cornflower Original does.)

Dark Puss

You want the chance to copy-edit? Boy can I give some work then! Let me know your rate per hour please!

Susie Vereker

Also there's a great deal of pressure from publishers on currently popular writers to write the next book as quickly as possible, not much time for editing. Kate has written 3 long books recently (and she does have two children.)

Dark Puss

Harriet, I don't know what she means in her use of "mediated". Perhaps I need some other sentences to show me what the pool lies between or what it is reconciling. I know that "mediated" as an adjective means "being in a middle position", but we are told that this pool is in the centre so I'm still baffled.

I found some "bad-lines" in our next CBG book, but I'm not going to share them here as the discussion date is not yet passed.


It's meditated, isn't it, not mediated, DP. I suppose she means it sat there looking all calm and peaceful!


The word KM uses re. the pool is "meditated" (see post).


Sorry about the not remembering, Susie - I don't know why that should be, but there may be some box in the depths of Typepad that I haven't ticked.
Re. the editing, KM is telling a good story here and it's not literary fiction. I wonder how much/how well her first novel was edited, that is before she became the success she is?
Should anyone think this is 'get at Kate Morton day', it's not! It just so happens that it's a book of hers I'm reading and in which I've found some examples, but there are many other books from which I might have quoted.

Dark Puss

Ah stupid, stupid me - well now you know why I'm offering you a job as a copy editor! I have no qualms about offering alternative suggestions for phrases, but then I'm not working with "literature".

"Meditated", well it's not quite as bad as mediated ...

Dark Puss

No one reading Cornflower thinks it is "get at KM" day, you just chose a particular example that has resonance because of a previous, recent post. I'm happy to provide some poor writing examples from my own works if you'd like them as balance.

Dark Puss

Yes you are of course correct! My incompetence in reading just shows why I'd like to give Karen the copy-editing work she seems to crave!


Yes I see. How much will you pay for copy editing? Would I like to do it?

Susie Vereker

I know you aren't getting at KM in particular, but, even for the successful, it really is painful having one's writing pulled apart. (Admittedly I'd never have a pool that meditated!) It's exhausting reading a typescript over and over again, and still after the damn thing has been edited, copyedited and published there are mistakes, which a reader kindly or not so kindly points out. I suppose I feel that it is OK to criticise something like Booker prize winner Wolf Hall (which I will when I eventually, eventually finish it!) but I tend to be kinder to young writers.

B R Wombat

What an interesting discussion. As one who knows virtually nothing about the book trade, can anyone tell me whose job it is to correct actual mistakes in books as opposed to trying to sort out bad writing?

I ask as I had to give up reading A. S. Byatt's much praised The Children's Book as it was full of factual errors. I emailed the publishers but didn't get a reply. Obviously this is still irking me, well over a year later, as I'm bringing it up here.

Apart from all that, one cliche which really annoys me is when a character "punches" a number onto a mobile phone. Nobody really punches a phone, do they? I'm reading Snowdrops just now and there the characters punch their way into flats, using the intercom thingy - I'm just as bad as A. S. Byatt as I can't remember the proper word for it.

Sorry to ramble on.


That's an interesting point, Susie, and it's valuable to hear about this from your side of things as an author. Knowing how difficult it can be to judge one's own work and spot errors, I'm just surprised that the various 'gatekeepers' in the publishing process don't seem to be able to perform that function more fully, but then I don't know all the ins and outs of it and the constraints (of time and money) which apply.


I would love to know more about the processes a manuscript goes through so that - in theory, at least - errors of all kinds are spotted and corrected. From simple typographical ones, to errors of continuity or fact (as you mention), to lack of care within a sentence (as highlighted here) or major changes required by cutting and shaping, all seem to need an eye other than the author's own, but perhaps few readers care enough any more for publishers to provide this service for their writers?

Dark Puss

I fear, and I keep hoping one of the many publishers you know will give us some hints here, that we the readers are just not prepared to pay the costs of "properly" edited books.


"Literate dust" is just awful (though I think I can imagine situations - mainly parody or archness - where it would be appropriate). But aren't you being rather hard on "meditated"? I have an immediate and instinctive understanding of what she means, and it conjurs up a strong visual image - though of course there is no guarantee that my "understanding" is correct, if by "correct" we mean the same impression or meaning or image that the author had. You wouldn't think twice about such a word use in poetry, though you still might not like it.

Dark Puss

Name your price! (actually, I can tell you - about £15 per hour).

Dark Puss

Hi Lindsay! What about if it had been "mediated"? ;-)


Riches! Tell me more.

Dark Puss

Susie, surely we owe it all writers, providing we do it the right, positive spirit, to be critical. To say what we love, what worked for us and to say what we felt was less than well written. To make it clear to readers what might hit our particular bete noir and what might be more generally felt to be a weakness.

I am no literary author but I have had had tens of thousands of pages of my writing "pulled apart" over the last 30 years and it has been always (well almost!)been done in the best spirit of criticism, that is with the aim of helping me to communicate my ideas and opinions to my audience better.

Dark Puss

You serious? I'll phone you soon. P xx


BR Wombat, that is also the copy editor's job. Unfortunately publishers these days often don't employ good copy editors any more so errors do get into published texts. I have had books very thoroughly pulled apart for factual errors and very glad I was to have them picked up!


What is it that you want copy edited, anyway? Email me if you want to talk further on this -- if Karen doesn't want to do it, that is!

Margaret Powling

What a great discussion! No you are not being pedantic, bad writing is bad writing. I sometimes read a book with a pencil and mark passages and words which irritate. Two of my main irritants are when someone says "compared to" when the correct form is "compared with" and also the use of "off of" as in "Susan got off of the bus." No she didn't! She got off the bus, the "of" is unnecessary.
One of my other quibbles is when American novelists set their stories in the UK. I have no problem with American spelling, color, harbor (although I don't know why lupines needs the addition of an 'e') but I do object to the incorrect words, such as sidewalk for pavement, stoop for step, railroad for railway, cane for walking stick, vest for waistcoat, and so forth. If I were writing (as an English woman) a novel set in the USA, I'd not talk about pavements, but sidewalks. Surely, the correct words would surely make the book more authentic for the (mainly) American audience? Sadly, several American novelists, who are otherwise excellent writers, are guilty of this.

Margaret Powling

PS If characters always "punch" mobiles they also "throw on" coats when, surely, it is far more likely they would throw them off! A character in a book I have recently read threw on not only her coat but also her wellington boots. I think that might be rather difficult.

B R Wombat

Thank you. Now at least I can blame the guilty party.


It may not make rational sense, Margaret, but my family (and others I know) have been using this expression for over fifty years to mean "put on in a hurry without much care" - inaccurate logically, but good reportage of the demotic!


Can I support Lindsay. Punch in and throw on or off are just good descriptive metaphors and certainly not meant to be taken literally. However, I agree with all the discussion re bad editing etc. and you are not being pedantic Cornflower.

B R Wombat

I'm sorry, but you cannot persuade me to abandon my dislike of punching mobiles. Maybe once in a while, when one is hurried or distraught, the action could be described as punching, but I have read books where this is the only verb used in regard to phones - sloppy writing and very annoying.

Margaret Powling

Re B R Wombat ... I agree with you re punching mobiles. A daft expression. "Thumbing" them might be more appropriate. I still find throwing on a coat odd. Grabbing a coat, yes, plunging into a coat, yes, but I would throw one off, not on. But we're straying from the point: sloppy writing is, as B R Wombat says, is just very annoying.


An excellent discussion, Cornflower. I usually get caught up in the story, so for me to notice something it has to be very obvious. Perhaps I really should start paying more attention to the text.


Just a few more thoughts, in case anyone's interested.

In my opinion, a good copy editor doesn't 'argue' with an author at all. Books are written by their *authors*, not by copy editors, and certainly not by proofreaders. All I ever do is point out when something looks wrong or strikes me as odd or suboptimal. It's up to them whether they take it on board.

As for being 'easy' on young or new writers, that's a no-go for me too. Everyone gets the same deal with me, unless I'm given a specific brief from the in-house editor.

The responsibility for fact-checking in a historical novel is really the author's, unless the publisher hires a specialist copy-editor and briefs them to do that job. I've copy edited many, many books in fields I know next to nothing about, so maybe you're right that publishers don't want to pay extra for specialists. Or maybe the buck *does* just rest with the writer to know their stuff?

The vast majority of authors I've worked with have been delightful. But I have to say there is almost an inverse relationship between the stature of the writer and their preciousness about their work. One of the most famous writers in the world was a sweetie pie, while an obscure Scottish one was a surly prig.


Susie Vereker

Well, maybe I'm a softie, but since I've been at the sharp end (cliche alert), I now know how painful these criticisms can be.
Odd thing is 50 people can praise your novel but one cutting remark sears one's soul.
You ask about the process, Cornflower. What happens is you submit the novel then (if you're hugely lucky) main editor says yes, like it, love it, whatever. But she says I'd like more from X's point of view. So you make the changes (having already rewritten it endless times). Then it goes to copy edit which is mainly house style, commas, minor suggestions. You receive the copy edits, look at all the red marks on line and change some of them back again to blue - time consuming. But when copy editor spots a howler or awkward phrase you are relieved and grateful. Copy editor occasionally makes more general editorial point eg. is there really a bank there? or says there's too much with the cat, you say but Main Editor liked that bit. Presumably somebody checks your re-edits if you don't agree with copy editors. So then typescript goes to printer and you are thrilled when real bk arrives, and you hope people like it. Mainly readers are very kind but authors needs to acquire a thick skin. I suppose in 4 books I've only had one harsh (amateur) review, but that's the one I remember!


Particular thanks to Lorraine and Susie for their comments based on their experience in the business. It's great to hear more from the inside.

Dark Puss

Let me add my thanks to Lorraine and Susie too. I'm still interested to know something more about the economics - any offers?

Julie Fredericksen

As a former newspaper reporter, copyeditor and proofreader, it has been great fun reading these comments. As a proofreader, I was ruthless. I was known as The Word Nazi (like Seinfeld's Soup Nazi) at the Tribune. I once got into an argument with a young reporter over nauseated and nauseous. The words don't have the same meaning. To be nauseated is to feel ill, whereas nauseous means causing nausea(sickening
or disgusting). I finally agreed with her that yes, she was nauseous(because indeed, she made me ill).

I was much less harsh regarding my own work, of course, and it stung to be corrected. It's just so much harder to see it when you're the writer. I, like my fellow reporters, were constantly being told to not be so in love with our own "brilliant" words. I like to think I am better now.

And then, as several people mentioned, there are YOUR editors. Sometimes they fix terrible mistakes, but they can also make things worse. I've had copyeditors change the word physiatrist to psychiatrist and the word Gallic to Gaelic, and some jerk added millions of extra dollars to the sum of a construction project I had written about, taking only one second to destroy trust I had been building up for a long time.

Even when one has repeatedly proofread one's writing, mistakes can still appear. You are so right, Cornflower - one always needs a second pair of eyes. What with writers, proofreaders and editors all having input, it's no wonder we find errors in the printed word. As they say, "There's many a slip twixt cup and lip." At least, newspapers only last as long as the next day. I found a couple of blatant mistakes in "To Kill A Mockingbird" when I read it last summer for the anniversary celebration. You'd think they'd have fixed them after 50 years!

Mike Faulkner

This discussion has been great fun, I'm sorry I wasn't around yesterday!

As an author I feel the pain of anyone who has had their words dissected after the event, because for the most part you've done your best, and it's too late to do anything about it. From this point of view, a good copy-editor who (tactfully) picks you up on your more outrageous lapses is your best friend: a) your book will be the better for it, and b) you learn to look at your own work more critically in the future.

Having said that, if you know how to tell a really good story (ref Harriet Devine's comment on Dan Brown), then the copy-editor can go and have a cup of tea because no amount of tweaking is going to stop millions of people from enjoying the read. My favourite example of this is Robert James Waller's The Bridges of Madison County, which was originally self-published, so presumably wasn't formally edited, and went on to sell over twenty million copies. Some of the more extravagantly florid passages have been torn apart - in his book, The Writer's Block, Jason Rekulak rather unkindly suggests that if you ever feel discouraged by your own efforts, you can cheer yourself up by reading random passages from Bridges - but Waller has had the last laugh!

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