Countdown to BREAKOUT: Copy edits and proofreading

Countdown to Breakout is a 23-day blog series about the three-year writing process for BREAKOUT, which earned starred reviews from both School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. It’s about a small-town prison break and manhunt that change the way three kids see their neighbors and the place they call home. Why a 23-day series? Because this book was inspired by the 2015 Clinton Correctional Facility prison break that led to a 23-day manhunt in June of 2015.

Copy Edits and Proofreading

Because BREAKOUT is a complicated book, written entirely in documents that turned the project into a great big puzzle, my editor and I went back and forth with revisions even more than usual. But finally, I sent back a revised draft and got the note that authors wait for: “Great! I’m sending this off to copy edits now!”

Copy edits happen at the end of revisions but before the book is laid out as a pdf for printing. A professional copy editor – someone who’s really great with details, grammar, spelling, and punctuation – reads the manuscript and makes notes about any issues. Sometimes, that’s done with colored pencil on a paper copy, and sometimes, it’s done electronically, using “Track Changes” and the “Comments” feature in Microsoft Word. That was the case for BREAKOUT.

This is the very first page of the story, and you’ll notice that the copy editor has made several different kinds of suggestions here. She’s corrected my capitalization from an upper to a lower-case i on Post-it Notes, since that’s a brand name and the i isn’t capitalized. (Clearly, I did not retain this knowledge, as I’m pretty sure I capitalized it again in one of the blog posts in this series.) They’ve noted that I used the word “all” twice in the same sentence and asked if I’d like to delete one of those (yes, please). Copy editors also note continuity errors – like if it’s Friday on one page but then only one day passes and somehow it’s Monday on the next page.

Once the copy editor and my original editor have gone through the whole manuscript to make these notes, it’s sent back to me. As the author, it’s my job to approve the suggested changes, address any queries the copy editor posed, and make any other eleventh hour changes I’d like to make to the manuscript. This is the last stage of the publishing process where major changes are supposed to be made.

Kids at school visits sometimes ask what happens if I don’t like the suggested changes, and that does happen from time to time. When it does, I slow down, read the sentence again, and ask myself why the copy editor made that suggestion. If it’s a situation where there are good reasons not to make the change, I mark that suggestion with the word STET, which means “nope – please leave this as it was.”

Once I’ve reviewed the whole manuscript and addressed all of the suggestions and queries, I send it back to my editor. Sometimes it comes back again with additional queries, so we go through the process again. Then the book goes to the design team, which is normally a relatively simple process of laying out the pages, designing chapter headings, and designing the title page. In the case of BREAKOUT, though, it was a lot more complicated because every page was a different document that needed to be designed differently. (I owe the BREAKOUT design team a LOT of chocolate because their efforts on this monster of a book were heroic.) Tomorrow (book release day!!!) we’ll talk about that last element – design, and how the team turns a story into a beautiful book that you can hold in your hands.

Today’s Assignment: When you’re proofreading a manuscript, it helps to know the common mistakes you tend to make. My personal weaknesses are overuse of the word “just” and not knowing whether or not to hyphenate a compound word. Spend a couple of minutes brainstorming the kinds of errors you tend to make; it’ll help you keep an eye out for those issues the next time you’re proofreading!

Thanks for joining me on this part of the Breakout writing-process journey! If you’d like to read the other posts in this series once they’re all posted, you can find them here.  

Breakout cover image






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