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Copy Editor Cayce Berryman and the True Adventures of Gidon Lev

I am a developmental or story editor. That means that I work with writers on the style, flow, and narrative of their fiction or creative nonfiction. How the manuscript all works together to weave a story. Whether the writer's logic is working and the writing style is effective. Whether the manuscript is embedded with themes and leitmotifs. Whether the manuscript is unique, compelling, and entertaining, compared to other works like it that already exist. Whether the manuscript is "readable" and the chapters are not too long or too short. Whether what the writer intended is really showing up on the page and having a cumulative effect on the reader. Where the writer can do better, in other words, to cast that beautiful storytelling spell.

But what I do not do is copy editing. That is another skill set entirely and not one that I feel comfortable with. Because the True Adventures of Gidon Lev was such a labor of love and because Gidon and I both hope that very many people will read it, we knew that we needed the manuscript to not only be emotionally moving and factually correct - but that it also had to adhere to the rules and regulations of the Chicago Manual of Style. After working so hard on a manuscript, the last thing a writer needs is errors and inconsistencies.

Copy editors are like surgeons. They make sure that the spelling, grammar, punctuation, and all of those pesky details are correct. Copy editors also let us writers know when we've written a sentence that sounded beautiful in our heads but that is actually three paragraphs long, with eight commas and a misused semi-colon. They let us know that we've used the word "astounding" three times in one chapter. They ask us if we are sure about a fact or the regional usage of a word.

The True Adventures of Gidon Lev had a challenge. That challenge was that as the manuscript was already being copy-edited by the wonderful and amazing Kelli Christiansen, there was a global pandemic and during that time, I started recording the audio version of the manuscript. Nothing makes you change your mind about paragraphs or see mistakes like reading aloud. I began to rewrite the manuscript while it was being copy-edited. That was a huge mistake. Then I realized that actually, the audiobook script was really a different "manuscript" unto itself - yet there was cross over in many chapters. OY VEY did I create a mess for myself.

Kelli turned in her work and did an amazing job - yet the manuscript had changed, significantly. And now I had a looming deadline for the print manuscript. What to do?! Cayce Berryman was able to step in at the very last moment. The entire project was new to her and we'd never met. We had a lovely Zoom conversation that took place out on Cayce's back porch in Texas, where I got to "meet' her pygmy goats. Instantly, I liked her Texan sense of humor. It was clear to me that Cayce had the grit to approach a last-minute copy edit on a complex manuscript written on the other side of the world about a person she had never met and historical events and cultures that were, for her, only from the pages of textbooks or films. She was up to the task.

Over the course of working together, Cayce and I had many side-conversations within the comments in the manuscript, weighing what was effective here but not there, discussing the thorny issues of transliteration, and just who The Blessed Gerard is and what his Tinder page might look like. We made each other laugh, in other words, even while Cayce held my feet to the fire and caught me out on many errors.

I wanted to know more about Cayce and the art and craft of copy editing:

Where are you from, originally?

South Texas! I was born and raised here, but I moved to Kentucky for a short while as a result of a work thing. I worked for the USA TODAY NETWORK (Gannett), and that's where they sent me. August 2019, I moved back home to help my grandmother, see about a flame, and be closer to family. Some say moving away is an experience, and that's true, but there's something unique about how you change and how things and people change around you when you move back home.

What led you to become a copy editor?

This is one of those long stories. Let's see how short I can make it. I was in a dark place for a while, not knowing where to go with college, how to afford it, or even what to do that would lead to some worthwhile profession. I'd gone through a lot of personal issues around that time, and I'd been using writing as a way to cope. But I'm the type who can't just hobby (pretend that's a verb). I'm a know-it-all of sorts. So I wanted to learn more about what I was doing and how to do it right.

At the local community college, I hoped to start working toward a degree in literature, English, writing—something that would help me understand writing on a more sophisticated level. Or something. Honestly, I wasn't sure what I was looking for. As it turned out, none of those things existed there, but the journalism adviser (and professor of every journalism class) all but drafted me into the degree plan. I learned how to write for the newspaper, how to take photos like a reporter, and—when I asked what else I could do—how to edit stories and proof pages before they went to print. And how to design, but that came later.

Ironically, I always pitied the poor soul proofing pages, but when I held that red pen, I fell in love—not with the pen, though I do love those pens. It was fun to read and to be part of streamlining a sentence, finding errors that would have been unfortunate to see on hundreds of newspapers, and learning the writers' different styles. Even learning AP style was interesting to me. After a while, I found myself bridging the gap between my hobby writing and my newspaper editing. I started learning more about the publishing style (Chicago) so I could expand my hobby and edit for others. It became something I wanted to do, so I continued learning until I earned a bachelor's degree in creative writing and English, then I earned an editing certificate from the University of Chicago Graham School.

I've been working toward the goal of editing full-time ever since 2014. Now that I'm here, it's strange to leave journalism behind; it was where it began, after all.

Can you describe the art and the craft of copyediting, for those who are unfamiliar with your profession?

Copyediting, I suppose, is an adaptable profession. An academic copy editor will not perform the same function as a fiction copy editor. And even under the same umbrella, every editor is different. Opinions, experiences, preferences, and even how an editor was trained contribute to their style as an editor. And, like business partners or good friends, editors are meant to mesh with a story and its author so the editor can do right by the project and the author's vision. So, as an art, I'd say copyediting is something that changes: What I focus on for one author will not be what I focus on for another. Authorial styles determine how I read things and what I change. There's a reason online editing software doesn't work: It doesn't see how certain elements enhance a sentence or hurt a sentence. It doesn't adapt the way a real editor can.

As a craft, copyediting isn't just about spelling and the occasional comma. Did you remember to make sure you used toward/towards consistently? Do you have less apples or fewer apples? Copyediting is a learning experience, and there will never be a copy editor who knows all there is to know. I recently learned what parallel construction was, which explained to me a change I knew to make but never knew why. Every project should teach an editor something, and an editor should always be learning. It's not enough to know a few grammar basics; you have to keep training yourself and always improve your craft.

How did you come upon The True Adventures of Gidon Lev project?

In an online editing group! Julie was looking for another pair of eyes. The book she was talking about intrigued me a great deal. I'm a fiction editor, but I love the occasional memoir or general nonfiction (I'm not one to enjoy editing bibliographies and in-text citations, and don't you dare look at me with that appendix). I like to read about people's experiences and their lives. So this project's material had my heart, and I did something I try not to do because I feel like people hate it: I messaged her. I had a service that seemed to fit what she wanted, though I assured her I wasn't trying to force her into anything. It was simply an option if she was interested, and if she was, I already knew how much I wanted to take on the project.

What was it like working on this particular project, emotionally, intellectually, and professionally?

I'll start with intellectually—hard! You weren't supposed to have citations, Julie! It's okay, though. It was a challenge for my brain to work with the multiple narratives in that way. Switching between current-day, book-creation progression, historical progression, and Gidon's past. It worked, for sure, but it wasn't something I'd worked with before, so to figure out where certain things needed to go (like space breaks) meant I needed to use my head, and it fought back sometimes. Remember that thing about adapting? And then there was a "ghost in the machine." It yelled at Julie then tried to trick me.

Emotionally, well, that was a ride. I'm an empathetic person. Journalism helped me to control my emotions a little (you can't just cry in front of someone you're interviewing), but when you're editing a book in which so many painful things happen, you can't not cry. Especially when it actually happened. I had moments when I stared at certain sentences or paragraphs, just thinking about what people were thinking or feeling. It's hard to believe sometimes. But I feel like I learned a lot about Gidon and Julie, and it was an experience I won't forget. I loved reading their snippets of dialogue and seeing how they interact. It was, as a whole, an adventure to read and one I am honored to have shared in some minuscule way.

Professionally, ha! I mean, ahem. Anyone who works with me gets the initial professional Cayce Berryman. But I like to make friends if my clients let me, and because Julie and I talked at length before the project began, we were able to have a blast communicating through it all (I think so, anyway). Don't get me wrong—I was professional. Deadlines, questions, assertions, reminders, and put-your-foot-downers. But we became friends. And I think that's how it should be. Protocol and all.

What advice would you give to writers in choosing a copy editor to work with?

Don't make demands; make requests. Copy editors are meant to help you, but we also have our own schedules to follow. If you come to an editor with a two-week deadline, your only hope is that a client canceled or that the editor doesn't have a full schedule. Often, I ask my authors to plan months in advance if they can, and this was before I started editing full-time (though now I have more open slots as a result of said full-time status). If you do have a deadline like that, expect a fee to expedite the project!

Another thing: don't take our feedback to heart, and don't lash out at us. And don't be afraid to vent to your editor. Julie's word of choice after a few instances of deciding not to do something? "Rebellion!" And it was funny. Remember, this might be our job, but we don't do it to make you feel bad, so don't try to make us feel bad, either. We're people, too. If you have a mean editor, which is possible, try talking to them to see if they're actually being mean or if that's simply their editing style. You're meeting a person, not a robot. Never forget it. We like hugs. And coffee. Or tea. Oh, and for the record, I don't think I'm a mean editor. I hope. I'm honest, though.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in becoming a copy editor?

Learn, learn, learn. It's so easy to go into this thinking you have the skills you need to do it right, but if you haven't sharpened your skills and had some type of training, there's a good chance you have a lot to learn first. Learn how to use Microsoft Word and all its tools (macros are amazing, and I have a basic post on Track Changes if you know nothing about using it), learn what has changed in the grammar world, and don't be afraid to edit short stories and things for free every now and again. I'm not saying you should give away your services, but when you get started, it doesn't hurt to put your knowledge to the test and offer your new-editor status up to someone in exchange for the experience. It's how I started editing books; I wouldn't have thought twice about doing it for free at the time. I knew I couldn't possibly know enough to make someone pay me. Not a chance. It's how you learn before you mold your business around your process.

So don't be in a rush to make it big and fill up your client list. I saw how long others worked independently before doing it full-time and dreaded the thought of waiting so long. But let that time be your adventure. Use that time to learn, refine your specialty, and create your list of genres. Learn whether you want to work with new authors or experienced ones, or both. Figure out whether you want to work with publishers or magazines or blogs. Take a grammar course. Glare at someone's Facebook post when they talk about how cute their "baby's" are. Meet new authors. Don't give up. Because one day, you'll realize that you have to raise your prices; you've grown and your prices have to reflect that. One day, you'll have to turn down a project because their deadline is next month, and you happen to be full of projects for the month despite having the rest of the year free. One day, you'll almost have a full year of at least one project because you found an author who writes a lot. One day, you'll have to send an author elsewhere because you can't fit them in.

One day, you'll get where you want to go. But be patient. Do it the right way.

What was the most memorable aspect of copy editing The True Adventures of Gidon Lev?

Hehe. The deadline. Again, I am recently (as of June 28, 2020) a full-time editor. With this project, I overbooked; I wanted to work on this badly. Not only did I overbook, but Julie needed to give me the book later in the month, which meant I had less time to work on it. So, I had to organize my projects in a way that both prioritized all my clients and didn't force me to miss any deadlines. The weird thing was that it worked.

But I want to mention another memorable thing (person): Julie. I can't describe how much more fun a project becomes when the author is equally as gregarious as I am. Julie and I were able to talk, laugh, vent, and have fun despite both of us panicking with our freakish deadlines. She was communicative and easy to talk to, and we were both experiencing this new style together for the first time, which made it easier to cope when we were trying to figure something out, like whether to use accents on something because Google wasn't showing us what we wanted.

Stories are always memorable in their own ways, but the process of reading and editing offers its own memories, too, and I prefer not to forget those.

You own pygmy goats—what's up with that? What are their names? What got you started doing that?

I work with a typesetter and subcontract her often, and we've known each other for a long time. She has many animals. One of her sheep had babies and one couldn't use its legs, so I'd offered to take it. It didn't survive the week, so I never got it. But a relative of hers raised pygmies, and by then I had been so set on a sheep, even a goat seemed like it would be worth a try, so I ended up with my first, Pan. Pan was a bottle-fed kid, so when it came time to wean him and make him an outside goat (yes, he was a house goat), I needed to get him friends. They are actually Nigerian Dwarf goats, and their names are Echo and Fable. Pan is black, white, and gray; Fable is brown and black; and Echo is white and brown.

Writers, if you are looking for a great copy editor, obviously I recommend Cayce whole-heartedly. You can find her website here, and also her Twitter and Facebook pages.


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