Tracking Bubbles

Since the subject line here says “tracking bubbles,” some of you, especially parents, are probably thinking about those little things used to dip into a bottle of “bubble juice” before blowing air through it, to watch masses of transparent bubbles float skyward. If that’s what you’re thinking, nice try but no cigar. The tracking bubbles referenced here are of another sort entirely.

If this blog is a “window on my life,” then the past week has been devoted to the chore of copy-editing. In the “old” days, the UPS guy would drop a heavy envelope on the front porch, and inside would be a paper copy of the manuscript for my next book with almost every page flagged with a Post-It note. I would do the work with a sharpened pencil and send it back, a one or two day job at most.

Copy-editing is actually the third stage of editing. The first is before the manuscript goes to New York and is done primarily by my husband and my agent. The second is the “editorial letter stage.” The editor sends the manuscript back to me with his or her suggestions for changes. This is actually the “big change” stage of editing.

I can remember my first editorial letter for Beaumont # 1 almost verbatim:

Until Proven Guilty takes place at the end of April and through the early part of May. All days are consecutive; no days are skipped. Unfortunately between Tuesday May 2 and Wednesday May 3 there is an extra unnamed day. Please fix.

I did. It took a lot of work. I had to take everything that happened on that extra day and duct tape those scenes into other places in the book. One, a scene I loved, never made it into the published book at all because it happened at night, and the book had run out of nights.

That’s editing stage two. Which brings us to stage three. Think of copy-editing as coming from your most demanding English teacher ever. For me that would be Mrs. Anne Medigovich from Bisbee High School. Written papers turned in to her came back with a grade at the top and penciled red marks all over them along with incisive and occasionally snide comments designed to put upstart students in their proper place. (By the way, getting an A in Medi’s senior English class usually meant that when you went on to college you’d wind up in the Honors English course. I did both–got the A and went to Honors English, and I’m still grateful.)

Speaking of Bisbee High, there’s another part of my high school experience that plays a part in this blog because, it turns out, everything is connected. I learned typing under Mr. Biba’s and Miss Franklin’s tutelage some fifty-odd years ago. Back in those “dark ages” we were taught to put two spaces behind the punctuation at the end of each sentence. Bear that in mind. Times have changed, but my fingers have not. If you don’t believe me, check the sentences in this blog. You’ll find two spaces behind EVERY period. And that, my dear reader, brings us to this week.

On Thursday a week ago, my editor’s new assistant called from New York to let me know that although my editor was on vacation, the copy-edited manuscript for Moving Target was ready to go. Did I want to have it sent in paper or did I want to do the copy-editing electronically? I was at a point where I could go to work on it right then. I had never done electronic copy-editing before, but how bad could it be? “Send me the file,” I said, and she did.

The file came with two sets of directions, one for PC users and one for Macs. I read every word. The first instruction said this: You MUST have Tracking Bubbles on.” Which is exactly what I did. When I opened the file, there appeared on the lefthand side of the manuscript a solid purple column of “tracking bubbles.” Each bubble contained a written account of what the copy-editor had done, and from each bubble a small purple line led to the affected location in the the text. My changes showed up in blue boxes with blue lines, and that’s where my typing history caught up with me.

It turns out times have changed. Putting two spaces at the end of each sentence is no longer in fashion. Now it’s only one, and the copy editor had helpfully removed a single space from the end of every sentence which, with the tracking bubbles, made every page of the manuscript look like a complicated purple cobweb. The many bubbles and lines made the file as big as one containing architectural drawings. The sheer mass of the tracking display meant that there were more bubbles on each page than could possibly show on each page which meant that I couldn’t see lots of them anyway. The resulting mishmash drove me nuts and the first time I tried to save the file after making a couple of changes, things started going downhill.

If you’re a PC user, you’re familiar with that pesky egg-timer that shows up on your screen and stays there saying: YOU HAVE DONE SOMETHING TO MAKE ME MAD, AND YOUR COMPUTER IS CURRENTLY OFF LIMITS! In the end, either your file will return and you’ll be able to continue, or your computer will quit (something referred to in the tech world as a ‘Crash,’) If your computer crashes, you will have to restart your computer having lost whatever work you’ve just done. (PC users no doubt already know this!)

There is no egg-timer in the Mac world. There’s a little rainbow colored circle that spins around. After years of working on Macs, I had hardly ever seen that brightly colored circle. Until this week! It came on every time I saved the copy-edited file. Every time I hit save, the computer locked up for a minute to a minute and a half. Mac types out there reading this are probably shaking their heads because they already know the solution. I didn’t, and I was far too stubborn to ask for help.

I struggled on, and it turned copy-editing into a slow, tedious process. A job that, done in colored pencil and paper, used to take one or two days took five: Thursday; Friday; Saturday; Sunday; Monday! Then, late Monday evening, things got even worse.

I had managed to work my way through the book until I was one hundred pages from the end, when my brand new MacBook Air started crashing. Occasionally I could do a little work and save it, but as the evening wore on my computer stopped saving and started crashing over and over, SIXTEEN TIMES. (I did mention I’m stubborn.) I went to bed at one o’clock in the morning, despairing, because I knew that five days’ worth of work were gone. I couldn’t save the file; I couldn’t print it; I couldn’t export it.

On Tuesday morning I was on the phone with New York in panic, meltdown mode. It was the day before my copy-editing deadline, and I couldn’t send them anything. At all. I was still on the phone with production, yelling in frustration and trying to sort out a solution, when my husband and hero, the retired electronics guy, quietly stepped into the fray. He asked to look at the computer. He studied the screen. He turned the Bubble Track Switch from on to off and voila! The purple column disappeared from the left hand side of the page. The purple lines disappeared from the typed manuscript. All that was left were some tiny triangles that said the copy-editor had done something. I could no longer tell what, but who cares? Once the tracking trail was gone, Bill was able to save my file. And my life. And my deadline.

I finished copyediting the last 100 pages of Moving Target without seeing a single hint of that rainbow hangup bauble. Now I’m on my way back to Joanna 16.

I believe I’m much older now than I was a week ago. I’m sure there are a few more gray hairs. And next time? When they tell me I MUST have the Tracking Bubbles on? I’ll tell them:

Hell no! Those tracking bubbles have to go!

In the meantime, I’ll do my best to remember only one space at the end of each sentence, but it’s hard to teach an old typist new tricks.

15 thoughts on “Tracking Bubbles

  1. Thanks, I learned something new today, I always double space after a period and single space after commas, etc. i guess I’ll have to try and change my ways but I think I’m too old for new tricks.

  2. I’m from the old school, also. Alway 2 spaces. But in the last couple years I learned it was now one space. It just seems wrong or I’m just old!

  3. You will never tear 2 spaces away from me. I like being a throwback and it assures me my memory still works! I had one book I could not even read, not yours, it looked as if it were all run together with thin ink and taller letters. “Old Eyes” do not like that 1 space treatment. There is a reason the e readers are all the rage at senior centers, to make that print larger. The senior age group buys an awful lot of books, regular, e and otherwise. It is always the seniors I see cruising the book tables at Costco.
    I never would have guessed there was that much work writing, especially when you figured you were done. What an ego crusher.

  4. You “made my day.” (2 spaces) As I read your new book and reread older ones, I will visualize the bubbles, double spacing, and laugh again. You are just the best.

  5. What a wonderful in-depth study of copy-editing. I’ve never used tracking bubbles and was not aware of them. The single space is also something new to me, which means I now have to re-edit my own work again.
    You are such a delight to ‘listen’ to via emails. It’s almost as though you were here telling us of your life or explaining things. OOPS, I double spaced again. You’re right, old habits die hard. Thanks for the tips.

  6. Find and Replace could be your friend in this case. I still use it to switch l and 1, um the number one and lowercase L, a habit I have from my Royal typewriter days.

    In my word processor I can enter a period followed by two spaces and tell in to replace all with a period followed by one space. That way I can just put in what I want, and fix it afterward. A little tougher in the case of L and one, I have to say yea or nay each time.

    Your mileage may vary.

  7. The easy way to get rid of the two spaces (so they get what they want) without having to retrain yourself: search and replace the two spaces with a single space when you’re finished. I double-space too, out of habit. Most blogs, by the way, don’t post double spaces even if you use them; the HTML (most of the time) renders it as a single space.

  8. I started to read this blog, but gave up after a bit. Will go back and read it later. I, too, learned to type in high school. On a Royal manual that had the keys covered so you didn’t know what letters they were. That was on a chart on the wall. I’m going to continue to type two spaces after a period. That’s the way I learned it and it is automatic. So there.

  9. Many books are using smaller and smaller print fonts. More lines crammed on less pages. Funny, I read that the population was aging. Guess the editors/publishers aren’t interested.

    I have read a lot of mysteries in my lifetime (75) and I do not ever remember so many with slanted social comments. Maybe it’s the editor, not the author. Hmmm. I appreciate yours very much. One of my favorites brags about living in blue dots in the middle of red states, thank goodness and that is fine. However, I looked at her blog page and I couldn’t believe the insults and nastiness regarding people with different political stances than hers. One less author to buy. I’m sure she would claim right to free speech. I’m also sure she doesn’t think others have rights. All this from a lifetime of living in Arkansas, no less.

  10. I do my old double space after and period, then go back and do edit replace. This dog is too stubborn for her own good, but it was easier than having to go back and find each time I messed up. I love your blog writing as much as your books.

  11. Well, how about that! Until this very moment, I still thought you put two spaces after the period at the end of a sentence. They say you are never too old to learn, but now my concern is that I’m too old to remember! It kills me not to use an abundance of commas, too!

  12. As a retired Business Ed teacher, I appreciate your comments about your teachers and about the punctuation. As a PC user mostly, adapting to the Apple world, the learning curve is still a journey, save often on either! Love your books!

  13. We are close to the same age I’m sure. I took typying in HS also and never learned to do 2 spaces after a period. I took typing in about 1956 or 1957. Was never taught that one. Why? Would one?
    Good post though. Always enjoy them.

  14. I thoroughly enjoyed your blog (and the comments) and sympathized fully. I learnt to type when I was seven. I had the privilege of typing up various would be authors over the years. My education was broadened by the experience. I suppose the worst was when I handed over one typed manuscript and the would be author promptly had a heart attack/stroke. We could do nothing more than call an ambulance for him.
    I was completely unaware of the punctuation changes over the years but that does explain some things. Luckily I have never run across “Tracking bubbles” and I hope I never do. If so, I will immediately look for the off switch.
    Your tour is nowhere near my city but I will place an order and hope it doesn’t take too long to arrive.
    Thank you for your work over the years.
    The final thing was computer problems that seemed to be unsolvable and even if the e-mail function could be restored it would promptly disappear again! My saviour was my daughter who solved it with the aid of her I-phone and so far the patch has held.

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