Professional Development – Copyediting Fiction


A couple of weeks ago I participated in a webinar run by the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) on copyediting fiction. It was taught by Amy Schneider, who has been copyediting for over two decades. This was my first foray into editing-specific professional development, and I was pleased with the course. Amy described it as “a look over one editor’s shoulders,” which was right on target.

My primary take-away from the webinar is that I am intuitively good at copyediting. (Yup, I just patted myself on the back.) My mind just works the right way for the job, which is probably why I enjoy it so much. Much of Amy’s process and the things she says to look for I already do – I’ve learned it on the job. For instance, when I first started out I didn’t pre-read a manuscript before beginning to edit. I quickly realized I would be much more effective if I did so; this is something Amy described as standard practice for her. Additionally, looking for inconsistencies throughout the document (such as “e-mail” or “email”?) seemed to me to be just an obvious part of the job and something I do when proofreading as well.

Second, the presentation sort of cemented what I had previously only grudgingly accepted but now welcome with open arms: fiction writing is not bound by the same style conventions as nonfiction. Sure, I can use the Chicago Manual of Style as a guide, but hard-and-fast grammar rules just don’t really exist in fiction. Each author has his own voice, and it’s my job as an editor to ensure that voice is consistent throughout, not to, as Amy called it, “edit the life out of the prose.”

Finally, I learned a lot about editorial efficiency. I already do some of the process things Amy mentioned (though without the official-sounding names she had for them), but I can certainly benefit from learning about tools like Microsoft Word macros that can speed up the process. Though I charge by word and not by hour, my clients and I each benefit if I can be more efficient.

In sum, I enjoyed the webinar and will certainly look at taking more of the EFA’s courses in the future. And: I rock as a copyeditor.

Superlative vs. Comparative – Getting all grammar-y!

So I acknowledge that I am sort of uptight about grammar (which I get from my dad), so I’m usually surprised and a bit disappointed in myself when someone corrects my grammar. So recently I had a little text convo with my parents where I described my 6-year-old as the baby’s “oldest sister” (she has two sisters, both older than she is). My dad texted back, “older.” And I said, “isn’t it ‘oldest’ so it can be clear which sister I’m talking about?” He said no, so I had to look it up.

Apparently, according to traditional grammar rules, my dad is right: the superlative form (-est) is reserved for comparing groups of three or more. Since I was speaking of only two of my girls, the comparative form (-er) would have been more appropriate.

Really, I should have known my dad was right; he usually is about these things. I just don’t like to be corrected.

That said, this seems to be one of those rules that is frequently broken – so now it’s more of a “rule.” There are discussion boards galore of people going back and forth trying to figure out when to use the superlative vs. the comparative, and really my original way of saying it has become pretty common in spoken English. I even double checked The Elephants of Style (my review here) to see what Bill Walsh has to say about it, but it’s actually not covered in the book.

Basically, I’m left with this: The superlative should be reserved for comparisons among groups of three or more items; however, that will sometimes lead to confusion, and so many people are going to choose clarity over grammatical-correctness and break the rule.

Now that I have ineloquently shown myself to be a HUGE grammar nerd, please – weigh in! Tell me what YOU think!