The Law of Unintended Edits

Recently, I had reason to read through my first three novels, (THE GLASSWRIGHTS’ APPRENTICE, THE GLASSWRIGHTS’ PROGRESS, and THE GLASSWRIGHTS’ JOURNEYMAN), comparing my final word processing files to the text as it was ultimately published.  The experience was … edifying.

For the first two books, I found a handful of minor changes – one or two words in each chapter, almost always made when I had re-used a word in sentences that were  close to each other.  I was pleased in virtually every case of modification — my editor saved me from making mistakes.

In the third book, however, the changes were very different.  On the first page of text, for example, there were ten words changed, and the trend continued throughout the novel (to a slightly lesser degree).  The changes were almost all minor — use of a synonym (“she balked” became “she hesitated”), dropping a character’s name in dialog (“Really, Rai, do you think that’s true?” became “Really, do you think that’s true?”), etc.  Sometimes, an entire sentence of explanatory text was dropped or added.

JOURNEYMAN was published in June 2002; the book was written almost two years before that, and it was in production for almost a year before release.  I wrote the book using WordPerfect word processing software, and I submitted the manuscript to my editor on paper.  I never received an edit letter for JOURNEYMAN; the book went straight from my draft to copy edits.  The copy editor made her notes on my paper copy, and I had a chance to “stet” any changes.  That copy edited manuscript, complete with noted changes, went into production, where the entire manuscript was re-keyed.  I received paper copies of galley proofs, pages that looked identical to those in the final book, and I had a few days to read through them, noting any corrections.

Given this now-antiquated, paper-based mode of production, I assume that the edits that I recently discovered were introduced by my editor, some time after I read the copy edits, and some time before the galley proofs issued.

Annoyed as I am by the changes, I have to accept one very basic fact:  I did not recognize any  modifications when I read through the galley proofs.  No changes leaped out at me as unacceptable, as distortions of my original storytelling, as inappropriate modifications to my manuscript.  I might be disturbed by them now, but there were no wholesale verbal massacres that sent my Spidey-sense tingling.

So.  Writers – have you had the same or similar experience?  Back in the olden days, when you reviewed galleys on paper, did you compare, word for word, the galleys with your original text?

And readers – do you feel cheated, in any way, when you hear this story?  Are you intrigued by the notion of an “Author’s Definitive Edition” to read the actual words that I wrote?

Mindy, still mulling

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  1. 1. Deborah Blake

    That’s an interesting story. My gut feeling is that –in the scope of an entire (very good) book–the changes are probably so small that a reader wouldn’t notice the difference.

    As an author, however, it makes me twitch :-)

  2. 2. Daenib

    As a reader, I’m not really bothered. I don’t by a novel because “every word was written by the genius author X”.

    As somebody who’s trying to get back into creative writing, I find it odd that they wouldn’t at least run those changes past you explicitly.

  3. 3. JJ

    I wish I had some editing in anything I’ve published. Most of it are grammar, spelling and things like that. So, no problem (some embarrasment, maybe) about that.

  4. 4. CC

    I’d rather, as a reader and writer, have those changes. When I read, and I see something and point and say, “It should be (insert correction here)” it makes my frustration at being unpublished a little less.
    After all: if I can see an error, how good is the publishing? (not to be offensive, it’s more of a tactic to pick up my self-esteem)
    As a writer, and unpublished, I don’t know. I’ll get back to you on that.

  5. 5. Mac

    As a copyeditor, I find this appalling. Really bloody appalling. My job is to correct actual errors and make suggestions about things I find questionable, not to outright rewrite. It’s not my story!

    I find things like the “balked” to “hesitated” change nightmarish. That’s not like “yolk” versus “yoke” (an unintentionally hilarious error that I found, repeatedly, in a fairly popular recent library book) which is actively wrong. This is a change that has no reason, it isn’t NEEDED. Yuck. Just, ew. I’m sorry.

Author Information

Mindy Klasky

Mindy Klasky is the author of eleven novels, including WHEN GOOD WISHES GO BAD and HOW NOT TO MAKE A WISH in the As You Wish Series. She also wrote GIRL'S GUIDE TO WITCHCRAFT, SORCERY AND THE SINGLE GIRL, and MAGIC AND THE MODERN GIRL, about a librarian who finds out she's a witch. Mindy also wrote the award-winning, best-selling Glasswrights series and the stand-alone fantasy novel, SEASON OF SACRIFICE. Visit site.

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