LevGrossman

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

The Accidental Poetry of the Copy Editor’s Style Sheet

On the schedule it looks like nothing. You send the publisher the book; a copy-editor fixes grammar and typos and whatnot and sends it back; you have a week to look over the changes and OK them or not; the end.

JefferiesTube

But in practice when you’re dealing with a novel-in-progress, no contact is ever minor. Any time you can make changes to the book means you’re going to end up rereading the whole thing, rethinking it, staying up late agonizing over a line, the whole agony-of-creation business. That’s been my last week.

Fortunately it’s now over. The text I handed in yesterday morning is the text that will be bound in Advance Readers Copies, when they get printed. It’s not final, but a lot of reviewers work off those advance copies, so it has to be pretty good.

The best part about this phase is that once your book has been copy-edited, they send you the “style sheet.” I’ve never known exactly what a style sheet is for, but it seems to be a list of all the slightly eccentric non-standard words you use in your book, in alphabetical order. Just that. It’s sort of a linguistic fingerprint—it reads like somebody took your book and reduced it in a sauté pan to just its sticky essence.

This for instance is what’s under “d” in the Magician’s Land style sheet:

dammit
Darkling Woods
Darras House
deal-breaker
dearticulated
décor
Deeper Magic
deorbiting
de trop
Discipline
Dockery House
Dodgson, Charles (Lewis Carroll)
doppelgängers
DoubleTree (hotel chain)
dream-city
dream-logic
Drowned Garden, the
dwarfs

Or here’s an excerpt from “c”:

cosm
counterspell
course-load
craquelure
Crom
Crusader tank
cryptomancy
Cthulhu
Cunard–White Star Line

I think I cut “cosm” from the finished book—it was de trop even for me—but still, it’s a weirdly evocative list. As a last example, here’s the oddly poignant entry under “j,” in its entirety:

Jefferies tube
Jersey Turnpike

Kind of says it all, doesn’t it?

I’ll see you at the 92nd St Y on March 2 for my talk with Lauren Oliver. Or at this excellent panel at the New York Public Library on March 17. Or at a couple of other things I haven’t announced yet.


11 comments on “The Accidental Poetry of the Copy Editor’s Style Sheet

  1. Timothy says:

    How does one get an ARC? :)

  2. Jaimie says:

    You said Jefferies Tube in your novel?! SALE.

  3. Leverus says:

    I spelled it wrong first time around. I guess that’s what copy editors are for.

  4. Leverus says:

    @Timothy The keepers of the list are Viking’s PR department. Even I only get a couple of copies.

  5. Sam M-B says:

    “Or at a couple of other things I haven’t announced yet.” Tell me more… World Fantasy this October in DC? I’m considering.

  6. John Crowley says:

    I remember being astonished at this artifact when I first received one. I wasn’ sure it wasn’t some kind of reproach — don’t use these weird words! Now I no longer get them (or much if any other copyediting) and I miss them.

  7. Jaimie says:

    I started to spell it wrong in the comment. I’m guessing we did Jeffries. That’s how it’s spoken. *not our fault*

  8. Evan says:

    My head is now spinning, trying to connect these words to things that happened in the two previous books. Where is the Deeper Magic from? What is it? How does Lewis Carroll relate to Fillory? Darras House and Dockery House, are those like Julia’s safe houses? Crom, as in Crom Cruach!? If Cthulhu is in the style sheet, that means it’s in the book more than once, so it’s probably not just mentioned as a passing joke. Hmmmm.

    Oh, my.

  9. I am so thrilled that there will be a third book…I really loved the first two and just happened to think of ‘Magician King’ the other day, so I Googled it to see if you were planning another and lo, here it is!

    I do believe I will treat myself to a re-read of the first two to build up a proper suspense for the release of the third!

    Brilliant series!

  10. Moose says:

    COSM?

    Circle Of Sequestered Magicks from Knights of the Dinner Table?

    That’s a pretty amazing reference. :)

  11. Je vais finir de lire tout ça dans la semaine

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