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September 16, 2009

The pleasure of line-editing: the pleasure of re-reading

For anyone who's ever wondered what editors do (and why they do it!) when they're not working on big-picture story editing:

After the (more or less final) words and pictures of a graphic novel have been turned over to our stalwart design department (aka Colleen), she creates a mechanical and begins working on the design for the book. Then the first "pass" of a First Second graphic novel hies its merry way off to a copy editor. The copy editor reads through this complete print-out, corrects any typos or errors, queries things she finds unclear, and creates a style sheet for the project.

Then it all comes back to the editor, who reads it, approving or canceling the copy editor's corrections, and adding her own. Any substantive changes go to the author/creator, for review and approval. (Or disapproval!)

Corrections go back to design, who inputs them, and a new, clean, corrected pass is created. Second pass is read only by the editor, as is third and (if necessary) fourth. Why so many read-throughs? Because one is never enough.

I catch a new error or awkwardness on nearly every pass. I know a book is ready to go to the printer when I only find five or ten corrections out of 200 pages. (Left to my own devices, I would continue reading most of our books, tweaking little oddments here and there, ad infinitum, and no books would ever be published, and everyone would probably be very unhappy. It's just as well I'm not left to my own devices, I suppose...)

This all may sound like dull work -- carefully reading the same book again and again, scrutinizing the same words and pictures over and over -- but that's one of the benefits of publishing really good books. Each new reading is a new pleasure.

As a child, I re-read my favorite books obsessively, losing myself in those familiar worlds again and again. But now, when I re-read a book I'm editing, I can't let myself get lost in the story -- because that would distract me from what I'm actually supposed to be doing. I have to consciously note every line of art, every pane of color, every folio, every panel, every gutter, every word, every letter, every balloon, well, you get the idea. It's a kind of reading so technical and draining that you'd expect it to be a fairly joyless experience.

But it isn't. Instead, with a really great book, a close line-edit can be incredibly fun. Look at how beautifully this line is lettered! Look at that sweet coloring job on that background character (is his belt the same color as it was last panel?)! What a great choice of words, here. What a nice transition between pages. Every technical choice made by an author/artist comes under the microscope, and when those choices are good--no, great--no, brilliant!, well, a line-edit can yield as much appreciation of great art as an immersive, uncritical read.

It's an underrated pleasure, perhaps because it only really works when the book in question is truly a strong enough work to stand up to that kind of close attention. Which is why I'm personally grateful on a daily basis that First Second creators are so very, very good at what they do. They make my job -- not easy -- but fun.

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