What can I say? Someone posted a link on a writing forum, and I clicked on the link, and then I was appalled by the bad punctuation on a freelance editor’s web page… And if you’re been following my blog for a while, you know what that sort of thing leads to: I had one of my spies send a sample of writing (mine, so I can do whatever the hell I want with it, including using it to test
idjits so-called editors who aren’t qualified to do the work and are making the rest of us look bad), and a few days later… Well, we’ll get to that in just a bit.
It is my intention not to name names, unless the subject of this test makes that necessary by throwing a hissy-cow over me daring to question their “corrections” to the manuscript. I knew, before I sent anything, that there would be… issues. (Anyone who can’t get the punctuation right on their own web page is not likely to get it right elsewhere, and there were punctuation errors there, starting from the very first sentence.) It’s not good science, however, to draw a conclusion without first testing the hypothesis…
This is not the first time I’ve conducted such an experiment, by the way. Last August, I sent a sample from what is now a published short story (“Solitude”) to a new freelance editor, because I wanted to see what would happen… (By the way, I invite any of my fellow Wielders of the Red Pen to do this to me: Send me a small sample of your writing, or that of an author who has given you permission to use it in this fashion, and have me prove my skills as a copyeditor. For that matter, I’m always on the lookout for copyeditors who work with genres outside my focus… Volunteer as a guinea pig, and you could end up with a few more clients sent your way.) If you want to read about that experiment, check out these blog posts:
Now, the results from this time…
Opening lines from the sample:
“I’ve never understood why they call it cold iron.”
“Ask anyone who’s ever touched it.”
The “editor’s” comment on these sentences: Is this one person or two speaking? For one person, you only need one set of quotation marks. They indicated that the closing quotation mark after the second sentence should be deleted.
*rolls eyes so hard they almost fall out*
Um… Yeah. Don’t use two full sets of quotation marks if only one person is talking. Got that already. *sigh* There’s a reason why it’s standard to, y’know, begin a new paragraph when there’s a new speaker. That should have been a pretty good indication that two people are speaking there… And no, I’m not getting rid of the closing quotation mark after the second sentence. (If this were one speaker, and the dialogue was broken into two paragraphs anyway, the closing quotes after the first paragraph would be the ones to be left off.)
If he didn’t pay me so well, if professional pride weren’t involved, if I didn’t sometimes enjoy knowing what no one else knew…
“Editor” says: Three dependent clauses. As none of them are followed by an independent clause I would suggest using ellipsis instead of comma’s
Spelling the plural of comma with an apostrophe? Really? And this person is supposedly more qualified than I am to be an editor ’cause they have a piece of paper saying they studied literature in college? This is why we can’t have nice things… *gibbers for a couple of minutes* Also, it would not be correct or appropriate to replace the commas with ellipses. (Fun fact: the plural of ellipsis is ellipses. Any editor ought to know that.)
Where the hell is the comma that should be before I would suggest in that comment? Do not (incorrectly) lecture me about dependent clauses and then fail to punctuate them properly yourself, ‘kay?
Also, there’s a thing called an incomplete sentence. It shows up sometimes in first-person narration, especially in internal dialogue (character thoughts) in first-person narration, because people don’t always think in complete sentences. The lack of an independent clause in no way makes the incomplete sentence require ellipses instead of commas. (Sorry, but I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around this nonsense. I’ll try to be more coherent in my grammar-ninja outrage, but I make no promises.)
Like the poet said, if is a dangerous word.
The “editor” wants quotation marks around the indirect quote. This is wrong.
Too many people from back home, too many wide-eyed (and round-eared) tourists on their way up to Haefenspoint for the weekend, too many temptations to tell somebody what I’d just spent the last few months doing. Again. On the other hand, this was just about the only place where I could go and not be stared at, at least by half of the people. This is the very Threshold of the Gate, after all, and travel goes both ways. Maybe Terrans think Andover is too full of pointy-eared tourists on their way down to Portland for the weekend
“Editor” says: Repetition is overbearing here.
As that guy who once played a mapmaker in a totally different movie once said, “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.” The repetition is deliberate. (I sometimes find anaphora to be a useful and pleasant-sounding literary device.) A good editor will not demand changes to the narrative voice without providing a reason (as in, something reasonable, more than personal opinion) for the change.
My “finder’s curiosity” had gotten me into far too much trouble in recent years.
“Editor” says: No need or quotation. Everyone knows you’re a finder.
First of all, I really, really don’t like it when someone addresses the author of a work of fiction as if the author were the narrating character. (This happened a lot with one of the critiques I got on another story featuring the same MC. The friend who got this sample edit for me happens to be female, like the MC, but I know that wouldn’t have made any difference. Male author of a story with a female lead? Of course the main character and the author are the same person… *rolls eyes*)
Second, the quotation marks there are used to indicate so-called, and the “editor” (See what I’ve been doing?) says to get rid of them because everyone knows I’m a finder. *rolls eyes*
I thought about it. I thought about it a lot, actually, argued and debated with myself and finally admitted that I was looking too hard for an excuse not to go.
This “editor” really, really hates repetition as a stylistic choice… So much for, “The style of a work is completely up to the author,” as this person says on their website. (Fun fact: respecting an author’s writing style means not trying to suck all the life and individuality out of the narrative voice.)
Besides, they’d been staring through the whole gods-damned voyage, hadn’t they, because they’d never seen an elf before, and they’d never seen dragon-kin before, and they didn’t know how to tell the gods-damned difference.
“Editor” highlighted hadn’t they and insisted that, because it’s a question, it must have a question mark after they.
I know questions embedded within non-question sentences are probably not the sort of thing most people learned in high school English class (even if they attended high school back when anyone bothered teaching punctuation and grammar), so let me quote for you what The Chicago Manual of Style says on this topic.
CMoS, 16th edition, section 6.52: “A question is sometimes included within another sentence either directly or indirectly — not as a quotation but as part of the sentence as a whole. A direct question (unless it comes at the beginning of the sentence), is usually introduced by a comma [emphasis added].”
That seems pretty straightforward, right? When there’s a question as part of a sentence, use a comma or commas to separate it. (If the embedded question comes at the end, use a comma before it and then end the sentence with a question mark, the way I did with the first sentence of this paragraph.)
Conclusion: Once again, we see evidence that someone decided to hang out their shingle as a freelance editor without knowing much about the things they claim to be an expert in. It’s no wonder so many authors think all freelance editors are incompetent.
Y’know what I’d like to do one of these days? Be able to report that another copyeditor is really, really good at this job. I’d like to be able to say, “If you’re looking for a freelance copyeditor who specializes in [some genre that I don’t deal with], I recommend [editor’s name], because they know their stuff.” That would be nice. (Hint: If you volunteer to be my guinea pig, I won’t say anything if you turn out to be a bit disappointing as an editor, and if you’re good, I’ll tell everyone who reads my blog.)