No Bread Sticks in Your Trenchcoat: Lessons From My Copy Editor

“Draft Final Signpost Means Writing Rewriting And Editing” by Stuart Miles from freedigitalphotos.netI’ve been getting The Perils of Panacea back from my copy editor in chunks this week, so that’s exciting. My husband asked, “Does she find a lot of stuff?” She’s reviewing a post-beta read final draft, which I’d like to think is reasonably clean. The answer is still, “Yes, she finds a crap-ton of stuff.” Okay, that might be exaggerating a little, but it’s amazing how many things slipped past me over the course of 100K+ words. Some were typos or awkward phrasing that I’d read too many times to notice. I’d introduced mistakes making changes after the beta reads. And I’d done things consistently wrong. I now have a sticky note (possibly a Post-It) to remind me of the proper formatting for an ellipsis, and another to generally spell out numbers less than 101. I also have a fondness for rendering sounds phonetically (be forewarned, should we ever meet, that I occasionally do the speaking version of this, too—a little like a Batman episode). Those need to be italicized (for example, the chuk that one’s throat makes trying not to breath underwater).

I thought I’d share a few of the other random things I’ve learned from my copy editor this week, specifically in the realm of spelling. I’m a pretty decent speller, but I was thwarted by several compound words and whether they are hyphenated, separated, or just stuck together. I love the wily hyphen example Strunk & White give of the merger of two Chattanooga newspapers—the News and the Free Press. The unfortunate result was the Chattanooga News-Free Press. (I don’t think that newspaper is exclusive to Chattanooga anymore.) None of mine are that delicious, but here are a few of my own words gone astray:

  • “Bread In Basket” by Witthaya Phonsawat from freedigitalphotos.netA teenager’s parent hopes that he or she is unacquainted with the backseat of a pickup, not the back seat of a pick-up; ditto for a shag carpet-lined van (which is not shag-carpet-lined). In the front, the gearshift can get in the way (but not the gear shift)
  • If the parent lies in wait at the local romantic overlook, hiding behind longleaf pines (not long leaf or long-leaf), the teenager may complain of a setup, not a set-up
  • The aesthetic of low-rent business areas is often marred by cinderblock, not cinder block, construction (I ran into this one multiple times; as usual my investigator Sydney Brennan is frequenting some high-class establishments)
  • If you happen to write a scene that takes place at The Olive Garden, your characters will be eating (or perhaps brandishing) breadsticks, not bread sticks
  • And yet, a running back can crab walk in the end zone wearing a trench coat (if he doesn’t mind a fine or getting his butt kicked the next time he takes the field), but a runningback cannot crab-walk there in his trenchcoat

May these tips keep you from some future embarrassment (or help you embarrass someone else who really has it coming). By the way, let me know if you’re familiar with the correct possessive form of shorts, as in short pants, because that one stumped us. (Personally, I’m just impressed with myself for creating a sentence that needed the possessive form of shorts.)

[“Draft Final Signpost Means Writing Rewriting And Editing” by Stuart Miles and “Bread In Basket” by Witthaya Phonsawat from]