Laurie King, e-dinosaur

Well, friends, we’re one step closer to this:


To my great consternation, the 21st century is nipping at my heels. All these years, I’ve done copyedits on actual pieces of paper: I’ll finish a book and send my editor a lovely clean copy, spa she can take up her pencil and slash it to pieces, adding questions (Oh, those dread little queries that cost me two days to set aright) and remarks (and Oh, how I treasure her Huzzah!s and Love it!s and her hearts) and changes small and large onto the pages.  She then hands the whole thing to the copyeditor, who makes her own changes—in a colored pencil, so when the document comes to me again, I can tell their two comments apart at a glance. I am then given authority to accept, or to override (with STET, exclamation point optional) any of their suggestions, but it makes for a three-way conversation, with each of us suggesting our opinions in how to build a stronger book. (Some writers, I should mention, bitterly resent and battle any incursion on their prose. I am not one of those.)

However, the edit on The Murder of Mary Russell may mark the end of an era in more ways than the title’s (possible) significance: I got it back as an

Now, I’m not a complete dinosaur, so I’ve done e-edits before on short stories, but I loathe the process. (So does my editor, truth to tell. She’s very happy with the pencil-marks-on-dead-trees method, thank you very much.) E-edits are not only impersonal, and risky (I’ve had entire stories fail to register my changes) but they’re really tough to make sense of, either on the screen or a printout. Still, I’ve managed, grumbling all the while. But as I say, for going on two dozen books now, this has been a conversation, a collaboration, a last chance to rescue the book from unclarity and mediocrity. I need to feel the texture of the editorial process.

But I’m not enough of a diva to demand that the thing be sent back to the copyeditor so she can make her changes again in green pencil. I did bitch, and loudly—particularly because for some abominable reason, the thing came with both sets of comments—editor and copyeditor—in the same bilious green, which could not be re-set, so I couldn’t tell them apart without squinting at the attribution.

Once I had bitched and told them that no, I wasn’t going to do the whole thing as an e-doc, I then figured out how to shift the actual typescript portion on the page so it would give me some facsimile of normal-sized font, in spite of the comment-bubbles that took up the right-hand margin, then printed it out to wade my way through it. The first run-through always involves the more or less mechanical changes, accepting them or STETting them, and sticking a Post It wherever there’s a remark I need to deal with. After a few days, the thing looked like this:IMG_1153

It took me ten days or so, to get it to look like thisIMG_1154

then 2 copy

Finally, this not-quite-blind dinosaur tucked 500 pages of manuscript back into the Fed Ex box and sent it back. Yep, The Murder of Mary Russell is off my hands, until I get the pretty typeset Proof pages. When I get those, I’ll read the entire book aloud—and not sotto voce, either—to check for those annoying repeats and odd phrases that have persisted despite our concerted efforts.


[From Garment of Shadows, not The Murder of Mary Russell, in case you were wondering…]

After that….

Well, April 5 will be here before you know it.


  1. Icecat62 on November 9, 2015 at 6:49 am

    Change can be a pain at times, but think of all the paper you won’t have to recycle. Hopefully you have a good editing program, but always remember to save, save, save! I am looking forward to April. January is the Sherlock Christmas Special, then comes The Murder of Mary Russell. I am going to be a very happy person. 🙂

  2. Annette Lessmann on November 9, 2015 at 7:18 am

    Hallelujah! Less than 6 months!

  3. KarenB on November 9, 2015 at 7:56 am

    I edit my daughter’s writing and we use google docs and skype. So the comments show up in the margin and then we can discuss them together. It seems to work well, although I strongly suspect that it would prove to be remarkably unwieldy with a 300 page novel.

  4. Merrily Taylor on November 9, 2015 at 8:01 am

    Laurie, I congratulate you on your technological prowess, even if applied somewhat resentfully. I have no objection to online editing with shorter pieces, but a novel…ugh! Even with the shorter things, multiple comments by co-writers or editors end up piling up and being visually and mentally bewildering. And if you are inserting comments into the manuscript, as I’ve sometimes done, the damn thing just keeps getting longer and longer, with the last page moving farther and farther away. When I’m editing for other folks I still prefer doing it on paper!

  5. Diane Hendricksen on November 9, 2015 at 8:15 am

    You have every right to complain when both comments are the same color since they can set it up to be different colors. I understand the changes not staying; for some unknown reason, Micrsoft Word keeps the edited copy even once all the changes have been accepted/rejected and the document “finalized.” I used to have to save my documents as a brand new document without the editor on; very frustrating and time consuming. I’m with you for doing edits on actual paper.

    Looking forward to the book when it is finished and published.

  6. Kathy Reel on November 9, 2015 at 8:47 am

    In editing work for others, I much prefer dealing with paper, but in helping family members who are no longer at home, it’s been necessary to do online editing. As Karen says, then we can discuss the changes that need to be made, but these are with short documents. A novel would be, well, a whole other story. I do admire your efforts in confronting this new type of editing, Laurie, and I can certainly understand your frustration, too. It just seems that novels should be edited the way of the pen and paper to me, with room for needed explanation. Yet, even as I typed that last sentence, I was imagining ways of coping with all that online. I do, however, think that there should be different colors for different people’s comments. And, I do know that I can’t wait to read The Murder of Mary Russell!

    • Merrily Taylor on November 9, 2015 at 10:50 am

      We’re all definitely with you on that last line, Kathy!

  7. Kate Martino on November 9, 2015 at 10:21 am

    Being a daughter of a journalist, and having the knack for writing (though I doubt myself to ever be as successful and loved as you) I do tend to like the feel of paper between my hands and the interesting dynamics of seeing all comments and queries made in color pencil or in colored pen ink. While I do find the use of computers wonderful for writing out and editing my work with a few taps and clicks, I do my best writing on paper, and to see hand written comments seems to make the connection between you and your editor/reader more real and pleasant always makes the effort more invigorating, because they’re reading along with you.

  8. Susan Tullis on November 9, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    Editing on a digital copy is terrible! For years I have edited various articles for our church newsletter and always on paper. It is possible to find quickly where your edit may have been interrupted! And with more than one editor, it is critical to be able to identify the editor of any comment or markup. (Not that one would prefer one editor’s comment over another’s–that is highly unlikely. Stand your ground.

  9. Lynn Hirshman on November 9, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    I’ve been editing professionally since 1962, and I can’t tell you what a HUGE difference it makes to be able to do it on the computer instead of with hard copy. Since my first experience with WordStar in 1985, I’ve never wanted to look back.

  10. Charlotte Anderson on November 9, 2015 at 7:25 pm

    Doesn’t seem very efficient, does it, to spend precious time and energy deciphering the green comments on the e document? Some times it seems to me that “experts” make changes just for they sake of change. If you and your editor work most efficiently with paper and colored pen that’s how you should work.

  11. Janis Kiehl Harrison on November 9, 2015 at 10:46 pm

    Oh dear! If you’re a dinosaur I must be trilobite! As soon as I recover from my daughter’s sudden death I swear I will make use of my prepaid tutorial on how to use this magic machine more completely. I’ve only been dallying around for a year now, seems like something comes up.

    Incidentally, so sorry to learn of your husband’s passing.

  12. Terra on November 10, 2015 at 11:52 am

    Oh dear, I would have the same reaction you did. Edits on paper are so clear, and not as likely to get lost in a computer glitch. The process sounds a bit frustrating with the 2 editors’ comments hard to tell apart as they were both in bilious green. The title, by the way, makes me worry about Mary!

  13. Meredith Taylor on November 26, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    Thank you for suffering endured!

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