From Manuscript to Book: The Copyeditor


Part 1 in this series, The Copyedit, is here. This is Part 2.

The Copyeditor

As a traditionally published author, I’ve worked with many copyeditors, but I never get to know their names, since we only meet via the manuscript. In fact, because they work on contract for the publisher, I rarely get the same copyeditor twice. One of the pleasures of publishing my own work is the privilege of working directly with the people who help me produce the book you’ll hold in your hand or read digitally.

For The General’s Women (coming March 2017), I have a new copyeditor, Sandra Spicher, who comes with a great deal of experience and a top recommendation from my (now-retired) editor at the University of Texas Press. I thought you might like to meet her.


About herself, Sandra says that she was “one of those kids who drooled over those old ads in the back of comics and magazines: ‘Get paid to read books!'” As a freelance writer and copyeditor, she’s living the dream. She tries to leave time for her own projects, but a good book can usually tempt her. “If a manuscript sparks my interest,” she says, “I can’t say no. I work on a mix of fiction and nonfiction, but my heart belongs to fiction. I’m especially drawn to complicated stories that feature female, LGBTQ, and POC protagonists.”

As a copyeditor, Sandra is radically eclectic:

Because I’m fluent in Spanish, publishers often treat me to books that are written at least partially in Spanish or have some Latin American affinity. Recent projects I’ve copyedited or indexed include a translation of a colonial Spanish religious official’s investigation into the deaths of priests in Florida, an architect’s loving description of colonial churches in Mexico, a view of syncretism in Guatemala, and the relationship between art and literacy in colonial Peru. An offshoot of that has been books set in the Middle East, either historical or contemporary. Besides Latin American and Middle Eastern studies, film and TV, race relations, aviation history, and literary criticism are some of the subjects that crop up in the nonfiction books publishers send me.

But Sandra isn’t just a copyeditor. The General’s Women won’t require an index, but if it did, she’s the person I’d turn to. “I also enjoy the process of indexing,” she says, and tells us why:

It requires a deep engagement with the text to choose what headings and subheadings will most serve a particular book’s varied audiences. I recently indexed a book about the HBO seriesThe Wire that made me want to watch the whole thing again. Books about race in Brazil and post-Katrina New Orleans have left me gasping for breath at their insights. After indexing the revised edition of Philip Naylor’s North Africa, I sense that George R. R. Martin might have had a peek at something like it while writing A Song of Ice and Fire. There’s certainly some precedent for the Red Wedding.

I’ve asked Sandra to tell us something about a day in the life of a copyeditor. That’s coming in Part 3 of this brief series, so stay tuned.

Reading note: Knowing how to tinker with a broken piece of prose until it hums is a source of contentment known by all who have mastered a worthy craft.― Carol Fisher Saller. The Subversive Copy Editor

From Manuscript to Book: The Copyedit, Part 1


The General’s Women, the third in my series of historical / biographical novels, is now in the production queue. I’ve asked a number of people (historians, a biographer, and other readers) to read it and give me suggestions. The next step is to put together a production team, which includes a copyeditor, a cover designer, and a formatter, in addition to Kerry Sparks, who manages publishing, distribution, and subrights.

I asked an editor, now retired from the University of Texas Press, to recommend someone good–someone who is used to dealing with footnotes. (The epilogue of the novel tells a true story for the first time, so I’ve documented my sources.) My editor friend recommended Sandra Spicher. Sandra and I got acquainted via email. After this preliminary handshake, I sent her my manuscript (in Word). She returned several sample pages, edited. I was delighted, and asked her to join my production team. (More about that in future posts.)

You can meet Sandra via her website. But since I know that many of you are also writers, I thought you’d like to know what a copyeditor does. (The book publishing industry makes copyeditor one word, Sandra tells me; for journalism, it’s two.) Readers may be interested in book production, as well. After all, you’re the final beneficiary of the copyeditor’s work. The copyeditor may be invisible, but she (or he) contributes enormously to the book’s final presentation.

I asked Sandra to send me some of her thoughts, as a copyeditor, about the process of working with an author. Here are her thoughts. (More coming in a later post.)

1. An author usually starts looking for a copyeditor when she has revised the manuscript in response to feedback from herbeta readers and/or a developmental editor and feel that it’s super clean. It just needs fresh eyes and a final polish.

2. An author needs to be sure she’s compatible with her copyeditor, and we want that, too. Ask published authors in your writing groups and on social media for a few recommendations. Out of these, choose two to four prospects who appeal to you, or who have worked on manuscripts similar to yours. Investigate us online, if you like—you’d do that for a person watching your children or pets, right? Your book deserves someone who will treat it with similar tenderness and respect.

3. Approach the copyeditors you’ve selected one at a time (that is, no multiple submissions) with a query similar to what you might send an agent: include word count, a brief description of the book, and how you heard about them. Suggest a schedule and ask about availability. Be frank about the genre, any explicit sex or violence, religious and political themes, and so on.

4. Most copyeditors are glad to provide a brief sample edit at no charge. It’s the way many of us discover whether we’re compatible with an author or manuscript, too, and what our budget should be. It’s best to send your entire manuscript in Microsoft Word so that the copyeditor can choose a few pages to work on. Most of us realize that the first few pages are likely to be the cleanest, and we’ll pick a section from the last half of the book to sample.

5. When you receive the sample copyedit, read through the corrections to get a feel for the kind of things that are marked. You should sense a willingness to explain rules but not necessarily to insist upon them. When I’m editing, I refer constantly to dictionaries, websites, and style guides—and many of those contradict each other.  From the beginning, English has been expanding to fit our world, to the delight of many copyeditors and the dismay of others. When in doubt, an experienced copyeditor will query or let the author’s decision stand. The sample should help you determine which way your copyeditor leans, and whether the two of you are a match.

You’ll hear more from Sandra later, and I’ll also include some of my own observations about working with a copyeditor.

Reading note. Self editing is the path to the dark side. Self editing leads to self delusion, self delusion leads to missed mistakes, missed mistakes lead to bad reviews. Bad reviews are the tools of the dark side.–Eric T. Benoit

In Good Company

Tomorrow afternoon will be the first meeting of the Writing Circle I’m starting in the Houston/Galveston area, and I’m beyond excited. The group is comprised of both old and new friends, including a high school classmate I have not seen for 20+ years. Our ages span from the 30s to the 80s. Just thinking about the stories that can be told by these ladies motivates me to be the best facilitator I can be, and also to be the best writer I can be.

This week I have also submitted four proposals for regional and national writing center conferences. And as I contemplate the possibilities for travel and meeting other professionals in my field, scattered from Las Vegas to Montana to New York, I wonder what new strategies for my students and tutors I can glean from these gatherings; I also wonder how enlightening my own experiences will be for them, and what we can all learn from each other.

What is it about the fellowship of other writers that is so darned exciting?

Whether we write for a living or for ourselves, we often do much of what we do in isolation. The camaraderie with fellow writers is difficult to achieve. As the supervisor of a college writing center, my staff and I are somewhat of our own island. We have fascinating conversations amongst ourselves that no one else on campus would give two shakes of a stick to listen to. And in terms of my personal writing, there are very few people I trust to share it with, so that circle of collaboration is even smaller, tighter, and harder to break through.

But being in the presence of other writers, whether it be the online relationship through Story Circle Network or the professional conferences I attend, encourages me in ways that are difficult to explain to non-writers.

Writers need fellow writers for encouragement, accountability, and inspiration. I recently attended a one day workshop in Austin at The Writing Barn. This Write Away Day gave writers an opportunity to meet and greet, but
also to write in quiet and solitude for an entire day. I’ve never experienced anything like it. I settled into a comfortable chair, plugged in my laptop, and simply wrote, for six straight hours. In those six hours I added about 6,000 words to my novel, I edited several shorter essays, and I simply relished in the presence of other like-minded people.

Yes, I drove 3 ½ hours to spend 6 hours writing, then drove 3 ½ hours home. My husband found it something between laughable and nerdish. And that’s okay. I’ve long accepted the fact that other people just don’t get it.

So I’ll be anxiously awaiting feedback on those proposals, and anxiously awaiting the first Writing Circle meeting tomorrow. And I know I will come away from both experiences a little more certain that yes, I’m a writer, and I have good things to say. Because my fellow writers will say so.

Lisa is a community college writing center supervisor, an adjunct writing instructor at a local university, and a freelance writer. She lives in Santa Fe, Texas, and enjoys traveling and crochet. She looks forward to the day when she can live in a little house in the woods, in the middle of nowhere. Visit her website.

NaNoWriMo 2016

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, begins on November 1st. On that day thousands of people sign on to the website,, and commit to writing 50,000 words in 30 days. The stated goal is to complete the first draft of a novel. However, many folks work on memoir, essays, maybe even expansion of a work in progress. The primary goal is 50,000 words. That’s what you need to complete to be declared a “Winner!”

Yes, you have understood that correctly. The prize for doing this is a little badge that arrives via email that declares you a winner. That is the prize but the reward is much greater. In my four years of participation I wrote 206,575 words, completed three solid first drafts, and over 40 essay starts!

This will be my fifth NaNo. In the first year I worked on my memoir-in-progress. Yes, I began as a NaNo rebel. That is what they call participants who do not adhere closely to 50,000 new words, on a new novel, with no revision. By doing memoir I was outside those parameters. The second year I did write a novel but with a small twist. I had heard many stories about writers who got their 50,000 words but then never finished their book. So I promised myself that at 40,000 words I would stop and write an ending. My logic was that it would be easier to fill in the missing middle or near end if I knew the ending. My third year I wrote a draft of the follow up book to the first novel. I am thinking series. Last year I entitled my project “Life in Brief.” I wrote essay after essay. When I got stuck I simply started another one. This was golden. Writing while knowing I was not going to revise at that moment really freed me and new ideas kept popping up. I still have more than a dozen essay starts left to mine for future pieces.

This year I am back to fiction and have given myself permission to work on a project I have been wanting to do for a very long time. I am writing a Christmas book. It takes place in the same town as the first two novels and some of the characters from those have minor roles in this work.

The photo above shows my preparation work. I have read Christmas or holiday books by some of my favorite authors. I have been watching Hallmark Channel Christmas movies. And I have a very cool, mostly instrumental Christmas Collection CD for a playlist. It is easier to write to music if you are not tempted to sing along!

This year I am going to blog about my NaNo process, sharing what works, and what doesn’t. I hope to edit and assemble the blog posts into an e-book that I can share with NaNo writers next year. Click to go to the blog. Please join me and post any thoughts you think might be helpful for the e-book. And if you have never attempted a NaNo project, maybe this is your year!

Jude Walsh Whelley writes fiction, memoir, and poetry. She lives in Dayton, Ohio. This post was previously published on her blog, Writing Now.

Every Writer Needs a Rita – Talking Yourself Down Off the Ledge

Recently I had an out-of-sorts day and could have easily (I mean easily) headed toward the ledge. Writer’s block. Ugh. But rather than going for the ledge-balancing act, I took a walk to sort out my out-of-sorts condition. One could just go to the hardware store and buy sorts if you find yourself out of sorts, but the only sorts they stock are short term ones.

Sorting works better than ledging.

What exactly is sorting, you ask?

Try a little air, a little movement, and asking yourself questions. Is it real or true? What am I feeling? Where am I feeling it? What is my body saying? Where is my body tight, grumpy, in pain? I stretched my mind as I stretched my legs. I made room for the bad/sad feelings and didn’t focus on forcing them to go away or stuff them.

Stuffing: bad.

Sorting: good.
Through the walking/sorting process, I realized I needed some mothering, some support, and realizing that, I knew what to do. I called on Rita.

Rita is a voice in my head. We all have voices in our heads (quit rolling your eyes). You know what I’m talking about. As goofy as it may sound, I give them names: Priscilla Productivity, Garbage Voice, and Sarah Slacker are probably the most prominent. They are, as you can well imagine, not nice voices, but they can be oh so loud in my head: youre not good at this, youre not doing it right, you should be doing ______ (fill in the blank), youre not good enough.

That voice of “you’re not good at this” sits in a chair next to me when I try to work on my manuscript. Writing my blogs? I can do. Working on my manuscript? The voice of “don’t bother” goes for my jugular every time “we” are at the computer.

But last year a new voice showed up, thank God. It was the one and only Rita. She is my loving protector, takes care of me, nurtures me, watches out for me and always has my back. She’s big, buxom, and bold, and when another voice is giving me a hard time, she gets up in his or her face and politely kicks them to the curb, then helps me down off the ledge.

She has appeared twice now in the flesh, as a SuperShuttle driver last September and last week as a Goodwill employee. I stopped by the Goodwill close to home and dropped off some items. Before I could unpack them out of the back of my car, a woman brought a cart around to the car and helped me with my delivery. We had a great conversation and a good laugh about the items.

She gave me the receipt and then said, “Thank you for making a difference in a life today.” I was so taken aback, I said, “Really?” to which she simply responded, “Yes.”

I asked her if I could hug her, and asked her for her name. Ms. Pat, she informed me as she gave me the best motherly hug I’ve had in quite some time. I told her my name and thanked her for making my day and left.

She was a Rita incarnation if ever I’ve seen one, and a reminder to me to call on Rita whenever I feel the need, but especially when I’m in writer mode. She believes in me. She makes a difference in my life. Who is your Rita? If you don’t have one, it’s time to find one. A little good will goes a long way.

Jeanne Guy Gatherings
Explore~Reframe~Restory Your Life
Reimagining Your Life Through Reflective Writing

Reevaluating Our Writing Goals

As part of my yearly evaluation, I am given the opportunity to review my professional and personal goals for the previous year and comment on whether they were met or not. Last year, I included the personal goal of advancing my creative writing endeavors, and today I was able to look back on those goals and assess my progress.

I realized, in this process, that my writing goals may not have been very realistic.

After reading an article on, I have decided to take a different approach to this year’s writing goals. I will focus on making them measurable, attainable, and meaningful.

One of my goals, which was to “get more involved with The Story Circle Network,” was not as measurable as it could be. I have tweaked it this year so that it reflects specific goals that can be assessed more accurately. This year the goals are “to submit a total of four blog posts per month, and to teach one online writing course for SCN.” These are goals that are less vague, and they will be easier to assess on a continual basis.

The second goal I listed was to host a monthly writing workshop at a local coffee shop in Galveston. I was so excited about this goal, but as I think about it now, it really was not attainable. My schedule can be so fickle
with my job supervising a writing center, and it makes it difficult to keep consistent commitments. Someone calling in sick can change my entire week, and I have to have built-in flexibility for when those times occur. A goal that is more attainable for me this year will instead be “to attend at least one creative writing retreat or workshop.” This, I feel certain, I can do.

Finally, the third goal was “to seek publication opportunities in multiple venues.” This one I’m keeping, because it meets the objective of being meaningful, as well as measurable. I believe that I have stories to tell and
things to say that others would enjoy reading and learn from, yet I’ve always been too fearful to submit my writing for publication. The same fear has made it difficult to even finish writing projects. The past few months, as I have become involved in SCN and seen some of my blog posts published, it has given me great encouragement. I’ve even been motivated to create a website for my freelance writing business. It is a work in progress, but it is sometimes those smaller victories that allow us to have the faith to move on to larger goals.

As writers, we must take time to self-evaluate. Do we know where we are going, and do we know why we want to get there? Perhaps your goals are lofty and grandiose, or maybe they are just tiny little baby steps. Either way,
goals should be spoken out loud, written down, and then evaluated for progress.

When was the last time you reevaluated yours?

Lisa is a community college writing center supervisor, an adjunct writing instructor at a local university, and a freelance writer. She lives in Santa Fe, Texas, and enjoys traveling and crochet. She looks forward to the day when she can live in a little house in the woods, in the middle of nowhere. Visit her website.

Photos and Poems and Quotes, Oh My! How Other Creative Works Can Add to Your Writing

One of the first reviewers of my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, said, “…The poetry and photographs add an extra dimension that is missing from most memoirs like this since as a reader you get much closer to the reality
of what is being described on the page…” (Mark Shelmerdine, CEO, Jeffers Press). Another reviewer said my book is “poetically visceral.” Those statements helped validate any misgivings I had in adding other creative works into my manuscript.

I really hadn’t thought of putting photos in my book until my publisher, suggested it. And of course I was delighted. At first she suggested photos interspersed within the chapters, but my book didn’t lend itself to that. So I picked out photos in groups: of my son Paul–the main subject of the book, of him and his brother, family photos, views of my office, garden, and one of the memorials to Paul–a bench dedicated to him on the greenbelt outside our home. At the time I had no idea what an impact these photos would have on the message of the book. However, I am currently reading Keith Richard’s memoir, Life. It has two photo sections. And I keep going back to these photos as I get to know more about the characters in his book.

Inserting my poems was another story. I never considered leaving them out. They were instrumental in my book’s organization. I had journal entries and other writings to draw from and a poetry manuscript, and I arranged my
book’s chapters according the order of the poems in my poetry manuscript. However, I still worried about what others would think. So many agents state that they don’t look at poetry. A memoir workshop instructor wasn’t keen on the idea. However, one of the people who had read my poems several years ago now says he can relate to them better because of their context in the story. The bottom line is: I was fortunate to find a publisher who not only liked the poems I initially had in the book, but asked for more.

Because I collect quotes–I usually note them down when I read, and I continually post them on my Facebook author page–I decided to insert three quotes in my book–two from books and one from a song. And that turned out to be the biggest problem in finally getting my book to print. Since I felt they were integral to my story I was adamant, but it took months to get the necessary permissions. The main lesson is: if you want to include other authors’ words in your book, start getting permission early.

All in all, I felt it was well worth the extra time it took to include other works in my memoir. My writing is very personal and I feel the photos, poems, and quotes helped deepen the personal message of my words.

For more from Madeline Sharples, visit her blog.