Monday, January 28, 2008

STET Please

Yarn Harlot, aka nonfiction author Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, has an informative post on correcting proofs and answering reader questions that made me laugh out loud (and thanks to Kaplooey Mom for the link.) If you check it out, be sure to read the part about color and colour.

Copyeditors should probably get combat pay for working on my manuscripts. I seriously dislike ellipses (and if you see them appear more than twice in one of my books, an editor or copyeditor likely put them there.) I coin words freely, disdain ordinary names and draw on archaic terms whenever I feel like it, so my style sheets tend to be small novels on their own. I echo and capitalize words incessantly, and I overuse and abuse pronouns in dialogue tags. And we just won't talk about my penchant for beginning sentences with conjunctions. Story is more important to me than anything, and I hated nearly every English teacher I had in school, so when I'm writing I will happily shove any inconvenient grammar rule or accepted writing practice out of my way.

That said, my favorite copyeditors are the ones who are unrelenting. They're tough on me and don't let anything slide. I learn from copy-edits like that. If the correction is very obvious and really stings, I'll try to remember it when I'm writing my next novel (although I'll probably never get the whole lay-lie thing burned into my brain.)

I don't think I'm the worst author in the world to copy-edit, but I might be runner up and capable of carrying out the duties should s/he be unable to submit a manuscript. I doubt my publishers' copyeditors are drawing straws to see who has to work on one of my books (yet) but I could probably be a bit nicer to them when I correct a proof and pen please next to my STETs. If only to keep my author pic off the NAL copyeditor lounge dartboard.


  1. I am the English teacher you should have had! However, given you missed that boat, I offer the following:

    Shawn’s amazing Learn Half—Know All rule. When faced with a choice between two rules of grammar, like lie/lay or I/me or affect/effect, choose one of the two, and commit all of the times that one choice fits. Once you’ve done that, you can assess the writing situation and decide if the one you know applies: if it doesn’t, you know you go with its partner.

    Here’s how to amaze yourself and your friends with LIE and LAY:

    The initial confusion is often in remembering whether it’s LIE or LAY that means to put or place versus to recline.

    LIE = to recLInE (the word “lie” is right there in recline.)

    LAY = to put or place

    Now, the conjugations are next, and this is where people get really confused:

    LIE = Lie | Lay | Lain (Note how the past tense of “lie” is “lay”? Yikes!)

    LAY= Lay | Laid | Laid

    Remembering the conjugations is pretty simple:
    Lie goes to the other verb (lay) which goes to the word no one uses (lain).
    Lay goes straight to the eggs—which have been laid—twice.

    The Learn Half-Know All comes in because I suggest keeping LIE on the tip of one’s tongue: it’s easier to remember the definition because of the recLInE issue, and there’s really only one word to remember (lain) in the conjugation.

  2. I'm always getting lay-lie incorrect too, but in common usage people don't use such proper grammar. So I figure it's just being in character, whether it's dialog or internal. Same for were-was. Where "were" is correct, a real person will say "was". Usually.

  3. Shawn's explanation is much more useful, but the way I learned it (for grammar geeks) is that "lie" is intransitive (cannot take a direct object) and "lay" is transitive (can and pretty much always does take an object).

    Of course, having learned my grammar through language classes rather than in English like normal people, I tend to like rules and odd corners.

    What's wrong with ellipses?

  4. I suck at all grammar. I'm not even sure what a conjunction is. Yet strangely, I did greta in English in school, and I'm a writer. lol

    Oh, and a Canadian, so I LOVED the color/colour on Yarn Harlot's blog.

  5. Anonymous3:20 PM

    I use ellipses too much. And I use too many adverbs.

    And I'm bossy so I'm not very easy to work with.

    The first time I got edits from Berkley, I drove the editor nuts because I was constantly emailing

    ~what do i need to do here?
    ~what do i do if i really don't want to change something?
    ~am i allowed to NOT want to change something?
    ~what does stet mean?
    ~what's this weird squiggle?


    I'm an airhead, what can I say?

  6. Shawn,thank you. I actually understood your explanation of lay/lie. Care to tackle who/whom?

  7. I'm a lie-lay screw-up, too. But I adore abusing them...even in posts. LOL

  8. Thank you, Shawn. The lay/lie keeps biting me, and your explanation should help a lot.

  9. Shawn wrote: I am the English teacher you should have had!

    Good Lord, yes, thank you. That's the first time anyone has ever explained this to me in a way it might stick. Without making my face twitch or sending me to the dean's office, no less.

    I bow to you, Maestra.

  10. Sasha wrote: Oh, and a Canadian, so I LOVED the color/colour on Yarn Harlot's blog.

    Someday I hope Americans in general will wake up and see Canadians are not aliens from another planet -- and maybe then they'll realize how very smart, funny and patient you all are with your southern neighbors. :)

  11. Shiloh wrote: The first time I got edits from Berkley, I drove the editor nuts...

    I did the exact opposite. I signed off on everything they wanted to change without a murmur. Mostly because I had no freaking idea what all those weird squiggly marks were. I figured out some over time, but others? No clue.

    Twenty novels later (no joke) I quietly, desperately begged one of my editors for a translation of all those squiggly marks. She kindly sent me a symbol-key glossary that I now keep taped to my office desk.

  12. Speaking with my copyeditor hat on for a moment, there's no way you're even remotely the worst to copyedit. The clue?

    >>I learn from copy-edits like that. If the correction is very obvious and really stings, I'll try to remember it when I'm writing my next novel

    The worst to copyedit questions every change, demands huge explanations of everything, and then stets them anyway, even when they are basic grammatical errors that in no way improve the writing. Then turns in the next manuscript with the same errors and the process repeats.

    I've been pretty lucky, but I've also talked to other copyeditors.

    The biggest tip for dealing with copyeditors I learned (from the opposite side of the table) is the exact same one I had to learn in parenting...(<--note the ellipsis)choose your battles. Make when you stet something count and mean something. Then you'll end up with a happier copyeditor and a smoother process going forward.

    And yes, having a cheat sheet for the marks (and they might differ by copyeditor) is smart. That or get the changes electronically.

  13. Margaret wrote: Speaking with my copyeditor hat on for a moment, there's no way you're even remotely the worst to copyedit.

    You guys at NAL heard that, right? Ha.

    Thank you, ma'am.

  14. I'm glad to have helped some of you. Often the really geeky English stuff in my head feels like wasted space, and while deep down I know it's not, passing it out once in awhile relieves the pressure--LOL.

    (Darlene, I sent you an e-mail about who/whom.)

  15. GReat Blog. Very informative. As for starting sentences with conjunctions, all my favorite novelists do it, from Updike to King to Robbins to Vonnegut. If it's good enough for them, then it's good enough for me. I also can't write without constant dashes. Style sheets are guidelines for me, nothing more. I agree with you. The story is pre-eminent. -:) (I'm gonna throw up a link to your site on my Chapter and Verse blog if ya don't mind--that sounds a bit weird, throwin' up a link.)


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