Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"My Degeneration" Festinates a Step Closer to Publication

OK, show of hands, what is the difference between the two pages below, excerpted from the manuscript of my forthcoming book about living with young-onset Parkinson's Disease?        

The top is the way the page looked when I thought it was finished. The bottom is the way the page looks after encountering orthographic ninja Laura Reed-Morrisson, copy editor for Penn State University Press.

Laura lopped an apostrophe off the slang contraction "Didja" (Second panel) and plucked the extra "L" from "Skillful"  (Bottom of page). So, big deal, I made a couple small errors. What's the point? This: those little errors can quickly add up in the reader's mind to doubt about the author's credibility. As the little mistakes pile on, you eventually reach the dreaded tipping point, where the reader decides that if you are incapable of writing simple English, you certainly are not mentally equipped to plumb the murky depths and infernal complexities of neurology.

Laura found similar little errors on at least 25 pages of the manuscript. That's 25 pages I had been over countless times, looking for these kinds of problems. And it was more than just usage or spelling questions. She also caught continuity problems in the drawings (a sequence in which I left a tone out of a drawing resulting in prematurely gray hair for three panels, after which it mysteriously reverted to  my normal reddish-brown,) and a misquote of Henry David Thoreau, as well,  (it's "I have travelled a good deal in Concord," not "I have travelled extensively in Concord.") And if you are worried about the spelling of "travelled" with two of the letter "l," relax. Laura found precedent in editions of Thoreau out of both Yale and Cambridge.

Just to spice things up, my copy of Photoshop became mildly hysterical, and decided I could not save documents under the same name name once they had been edited. It would protest "Cannot save. This document was left open or is being used by another program" when the file in question clearly was not in play. So I was forced to save the document under a different name, then go to the directory where the file was, and change it back to the original name. Some of the changes did not  survive this cumbersome process and had to be redone. To complicate things further, our page numbers were skewed by one page due to the addition of a table of contents late in the game, Laura was working with the table of contents as page one, while my page one was the first page of the actual story. So I would have to correct the numbers as we went. This is a recipe for disaster, or at least feelings of rage and frustration.

Laura never cracked. Her emails were invariably clear, good-humored, polite and exquisitely patient. The book will be substantially more... substantial, thanks to her sharp eyes and disciplined brain. If I sound a little awe-struck, it's only because I am.


Pico Alaska said...

Copy-editors and other editors can be a nuisance sometimes, as when they edit errors INTO your story, as has happened to me on occasion. But more often, they save your precious butt, as Laura did for you, Pete. For that, I have learned to cherish them.... Meanwhile, based on this page, the book looks to be a very good one indeed.

Peter Dunlap-Shohl said...

Pico, you are the Alaska Arts Fairy Godfather, sprinkling encouragement dust on artist's dreams, and blowing on the coals of creativity in a way that cannot be refused. Thank you,