Right now Edge of Eternity is being copy edited. This painstaking process is tremendously valuable to me.
A regular editor has to find good authors and help them write good books. A copy editor is something quite different. She looks for mistakes. (They are usually women, don’t ask me why.)
First she checks spelling and punctuation. Now, my spelling is not bad, and I always look up difficult words such as Khrushchev (three aitches) or Willy Brandt (not Willi Brand). But she always finds some errors.
Then she checks consistency, just like the continuity person on a movie set, who makes sure that if the actor is wearing a green sweater when he goes to the front door, he’s wearing the same sweater two weeks later when they film him coming out of the house. A copy editor makes a note that Rebecca is thirty in 1961, and checks that when we get to 1971 I don’t absent-mindedly say she’s forty-five.
The copy editor looks for inadvertent repetitions. If I come up with a description I like, such as sparkling sea-green eyes, I might think of it again three months later, forgetting that I’ve already used it.
Do these little mistakes matter? Yes—because you, the readers, notice them. There you are, sitting by the fireside, completely absorbed in the story, anxious or sad or indignant about what the characters are doing, when suddenly you look up and frown, thinking: Wait a minute, Follett’s got that wrong! And the spell is broken.
In case you haven’t already guessed, copy editors are nit-pickers, and they drive me up the wall. But they save me from breaking the spell. That’s why I love them.