The Publishing Process, Writing Advice

What’s it like: Copy Editing (or taking constructive criticism when you don’t expect it).

Space for where my book will one day sit!
Space for where my book will one day sit!

I’ve done it, more-or-less. More of Me is finished – there’ll be the possibility of minor tweaks when the proof copies are ready but all the tough writing stuff is done, including the final stage, COPY EDITS.

My Facebook pals, and worse, my Twitter followers (why don’t they let you edit tweets? I never see my mistakes until it’s too late!) will suspect any copy editor  of mine deserves a medal. My typos are disgraceful but I was very careful with my script. I spell checked until my fingers bled before I sent it off, but there were still things that came back needing correction. Some of which, for the first time since the edit process began, rankled.

It wasn’t the formatting things:

‘Speech marks’ should be “speech marks”.

Indentations should be


It was questions like this, “Why is Teva pretending to be dyslexic”:

She’s supposed to be good at English – offering to help Ollie and agreeing to help Tommo – not the most convincing excuse?

Now, if Sarah, my wonderful editor, had written that, it wouldn’t have bothered me at all – so why did I have a niggle of irritation?

Maybe because I’m vainer than I think? And also, more stupid? Sarah tempered her critiques with  a lot of back patting so, even if her comments meant a ton of work, I didn’t mind. We were making a better book. It was all good.  There was no back patting from the  copy editor. This was a sweep through the mansucript picking up any outstanding issues. And instead of being grateful for this last chance to get things right, this fresh pair of eyes on my work,  I was thinking:

“But you don’t know me, you don’t know my book.”

I was, to put it bluntly, being an arse. Everything the copy editor raised was valid – how could it not be, it was her professional opinion? And I needed it – if she didn’t understand what I was trying to say, I had better go back over it and work out why.  So I did, and quite often she was right – and now, of course, I’m grateful to her attention to detail.

I’m grateful, too, that it got me thinking about my own response to constructive criticism. I’ve always thought I was pretty good at it – you know, not too precious but fairly steady in my own self belief. Clearly, not so much.

This was timely in more ways than one. My beloved SCBWI critique group has been having a heart to heart – when we started out, none of us were published. We had no real deadlines and no one to please but ourselves. We could be gentle with our critiques, and rightly so – the first rule of critique is:

Do No Harm

But now many of us have, or nearly have, agents and publishers and a firm, critical, honest eye might be the difference between success and failure – or a shed load of work further down the line. We’ve moved up a level and our critiques need to follow or we aren’t being fair to each other.

There comes a point when you  need to lift your chin  and listen.You might not agree with what’s being said, and that’s fine, but do listen, then take a breath, and listen again. It’s quite likely, no matter how hard it is to take, that there’s something you should be hearing.

Critque group meeting
A rare meet up of some of my YA Critique Group


12 thoughts on “What’s it like: Copy Editing (or taking constructive criticism when you don’t expect it).”

  1. Yes, it’s sometimes hard to take or accept what other people say about our work. I think to begin with we fight it or consider it harsh, but you have to open up to other people having more experience and knowledge about what is right, correct or indeed wrong.

  2. We never grow unless we’re shown where we need to grow. Just like life often sends us the toughest of knocks to teach us, so critiques and editor feedback do the same. It’s always well meant, even if it first feels like a blow to the gut – or the head – or the heart.

  3. ‘But you don’t know me, you don’t know my book’. This rings so true with me. I’m always on the defensive even when DH may suggest something. After all, what does he know, he’s not a writer (!). It’s just so hard to take when you’ve put your heart and soul into something. I shall be at that stage very soon… (grits teeth).

    1. It is hard but I honestly think that letting of that feeling is the only way to make a better book. Good luck!

  4. Currently editing a book for someone and thinking I might have had this as a job — but does it always feel this anal??

    1. I’m not sure how it feels from the other side but I think there’s something neat and joy making about tightening everything up. I think I may have become and edit junkie.

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