How to make your CE’s job, and your own, easier

This is as much for my own records as anything else, but it might be useful to others, so I’m posting it here.

When preparing a list of names and terms to send your copy-editor, it helps a lot to do the following.

  • Open the file in a different word processor from the one you normally use. Doesn’t matter which one; it just needs to be a program that will flag every word it doesn’t recognize. (If you aren’t the sort of person who normally teaches your usual program all the major names, you can skip this step.)
  • Start skimming, looking for those flags. When you find a name or term specific to your novel, check the spelling, put it in a list for the CE (helps to sort by characters, locations, world terms, etc.), then add that word to the program’s dictionary so the flags go away. Note that you’ll probably have to add it again for the possessive, though the CE list won’t need that specified. (Plurals, however, might need to be mentioned on the CE list.)
  • If that word shows up again, it might be misspelled, or your program might do things like say “ACK THERE’S PUNCTUATION AFTER IT NOW IS THAT A NEW WORD???” If it’s spelled correctly, add it to the dictionary again so the program will stop yelling at you. Over time, this will mean that the number of flags you have to scan for goes way down.
  • When you encounter things that aren’t novel-specific terms, like compound words or variant spellings, add them to the CE list if you definitely want them a certain way (you’ll change my strong preterites over my dead body); otherwise, add them to the program’s dictionary so you won’t have to look at them again, and leave finessing things like hyphens to the CE and their style guide.
  • By the way, you’ll also catch a lot of typos.
  • Finish going through the manuscript. Hey presto, you have now — probably — found all the words you need to list for your CE.
  • Might also do your CE a favor by adding notes about who people are, what they look like, where in the city certain buildings are located, and other basic details of continuity. This doubles as a favor to yourself later on, if you’re writing a series!

If you are writing a series:

  • For book two, open your CE list from book one. Add a 1 in front of every term, then search on the non-obvious ones to see if they’re used again in book two. If so, add a 2 as well, so you get things like “1,2 Ren — half-Vraszenian con artist” (etc).
  • Save this as your master CE list for the series.
  • Repeat the above process for adding to the program dictionary and CE list. Anything new goes in with a 2 in front of it, e.g. “2 Mede Galbiondi — suitor with a strong arm.”
  • Save a new copy as your CE list for book two. Then delete every item that has only a 1, i.e. doesn’t appear in book two.
  • Delete the numbers from in front of your remaining items so your CE doesn’t wonder what the heck those are for.
  • Rinse and repeat for book 3 et sequelae, starting with the master list and searching to see which existing names and terms show up again.

I learned at the CE stage of The Liar’s Knot to create the master list. I learned at the CE stage of Labyrinth’s Heart that I should have been numbering all the items so I’d know whether a lack of numbers meant that it showed up in both of the first two books, or that it got introduced for the first time in book two. (That part probably isn’t necessary, but my brain wants it.)

You could probably just inflict the whole master list on your copy-editor each time around, but given how much these names and terms pile up, I feel like it’s better to give them only the relevant selection, without cruft leftover from previous books.

Or, I mean — you don’t even have to make a list. I didn’t for my first I don’t know how many novels, until I heard this was a helpful thing to do. It’s especially useful to you as a writer when you’re writing more than one book, because of how it can double as a minimalist series bible. And if you’re going to make such a list, this workflow minimizes the amount of mental effort that goes into finding all the names and terms. It’s still time-consuming, but it isn’t hard.

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