Seanan McGuire Versus A Copyeditor

A couple of months ago, Seanan McGuire live Tweeted the revision process on a new manuscript and ended up venting her spleen about the decisions her copyeditor was making. Someone originally shared this with the Editors of Earth group on Facebook, which is how I originally came across it (as opposed to in my own Twitter feed). I can only hope that WordPress won’t mangle the following Storify code:


I’ve actually been aware of McGuire for years, via her blog and also my friends’ taste in novels, so I know (vaguely) who she is and what she writes without actually having read a proper book by her. In other words, I had something like context for the above Tweets, as did some other members. Some of my fellow copyeditors on Facebook, however, did not instantly recognize the name. The mix of the two made the discussion interesting and I should have saved the link, as the combination of months’ worth of subsequent posts in a prolific group and Facebook’s less-than-stellar group search feature is making it hard for me to find the post again and refresh my memory.

As a whole, group members were more or less forgiving of the anonymous copyeditor in question, though there was a lively discussion about celebrity author responsibility, anonymity, and the specific changes McGuire vents her spleen about. (Merriam-Webster actually lists “chain saw” and not “chainsaw,” for example.) I’m surprised, then, that a Google search at this time doesn’t really yield any blog posts from any aforementioned group members; many of the people commenting on this Facebook post were noted copyediting rockstars (if the field has such a thing!) who blog prolifically on all things editorial. Maybe they just didn’t find it interesting? Who knows.

Sometimes bad copyedits happen. That’s just how it is. Sometimes what’s bad about a particular copyedit is subjective (differing tastes of the editor and the author and the audience), and sometimes there are objectively bad practices and/or changes (not tracking changes, introducing errors). And while some of the changes McGuire takes issue with sound like they were probably for the better (egregious abuse of synonyms for “said” is one of my pet peeves so even without context I’m pretty sure I stand with the anonymous copyeditor on this one), and I can imagine plenty of extenuating circumstances (original writing that wasn’t as awesome as McGuire would believe; idiosyncrasies of the house rules and given style sheet; etc.) for others, some of the changes she mentions on Twitter are almost definitely of the objectively bad variety—every professional I’ve spoken with has long since made peace with singular “they,” for example, so reading about that kind of change being made was genuinely surprising and also secondhand embarrassing.

Basically, some small exceptions aside, I’m willing to believe that this was not a great copyedit. Was it the worst copyedit ever? That I can’t know without access to the manuscript in question, so some mysteries will just have to remain unsolved. My point in this post is not to suggest that McGuire didn’t appreciate the genius of her copyeditor.

I think this episode touches on one of the flaws of the modern book/author/”content creator” market. Whatever your preferred form of social media, it seems to be almost mandatory for authors to double as personalities or entertainers. (There is a cynical part of me that wants to suggest this personality cult model of marketing is why so many big-name authors these days sell mind-bogglingly well despite underwhelming books, but those are thoughts for an entirely different post.) I think this model is bad news for a class of people who have felt drawn to what is a largely isolated, or at least selectively social, profession. Fame is hard to manage for anyone, but public attention and accolade is probably easier to navigate when public performances, and not relative isolation, are the meat and potatoes of your craft. In this respect, I think McGuire dropped the ball. The kind of thing you can get away with texting to a group of friends to let off steam is not the same kind of thing you should, especially as a celebrity, publicly broadcast; there should be a balance between wanting to engage with your fans on a personal and/or funny level and realizing how you come off.

(I admit to a predisposition to be biased in favor of the anonymous copyeditor, for fairly obvious reasons.)

I don’t think a single lousy copyedit deserves the “point and laugh” Twitter treatment. A lousy copyedit isn’t really deserving of any commentary at all, unless it points to larger socio-linguistic trends or cultural norms. I’d rather read a single thoughtful blog post on a wide-ranging and pervasive issue from a general perspective, maybe like the publishing industry’s reluctance to embrace singular “they,” than a scattershot of complaints ranging from valid to trifling quibbles about a specific person’s work in between reaction gifs and pictures of cats.

This is the kind of thing that reads as acceptable because McGuire is an established author of no small amount of acclaim. Now imagine a Twitter account with only a handful of followers and a janky, amateur banner promoting a self-published  book with equally janky and amateur cover art giving that same rant. If it didn’t just get lost in the thoughtstream void that is Twitter, it might help propel sales and establish the writer’s career. Might. It might also turn off any prospective copyediting clients the author would like to hire in the future, because who wants to work for someone who doesn’t seem to appreciate the training or nuance behind the work that you do?

This seems to be a one-off incident; I don’t think McGuire is famously egotistical about her own work or derisive of all of the people who work on a manuscript to bring it to book life. But it still chafes a bit. I guess this whole post was a lot of words to say: I didn’t think this thing was funny that a lot of other thought was funny.

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