On editing, take 2. Never say that publishers don’t edit anymore. In the best houses, they still do. Not just for content, either. I’d thought that I was done when finally the manuscript had been accepted. I danced, I raised a glass, I wilted with relief. Until a few weeks later, when a file arrived from Harper’s copy editor. Her version of my manuscript bore inflamed and swollen growths on nearly every right-hand margin: red balloons of query, comment, doubt, and the occasional rebuke. At first I seethed, and then I read them through. She was a pro, this editor, a stickler as all copy-editors must be.
I’ve been a copy editor myself, and know the writer has to hear those painful truths and act upon them. You have to swallow the mistakes, repair what you can, and not lose heart. The copy editor is there to save you from yourself, your lazy moments, and the errors that, unchecked, reveal you as an utter fool.
Her main complaint was that I’d freely fished among the many versions of the Bible to supply my characters with Scripture they might quote. Guilty as charged, I knew. Through all my many drafts, I’d drifted here and there, from Vulgate to Douay-Reims to the King James, and back. Like my hero, Peter Schoeffer, I wanted “phrasings of felicity”, and when I didn’t like one version, I would choose another. In a scene in which Peter and the master joust over the value of women, for example, I liked the Proverb rendered in the King James version as “her value is far more than corals.” The Vulgate was impossibly clunky: “Who shall find a valiant woman? Far, and from the uttermost coasts is the price of her.” What to do? Reluctantly I conceded that the Bible from which my 15th century printers must quote would be the version then in use, the Latin Vulgate. I dug and found a different proverb: “Strength and beauty are her clothing, and she shall laugh in the latter day.”
I wasn’t laughing then—but I can now. Long live the copy editor, the unsung savior of us all.