September 14 – 20: “Consistency, logic, commas?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week we sit down with ITW Members Lisa von Biela, Baron R. Birthcher, Lynn Cahoon, Stephanie Gayle and Shane Gericke, and ask: “What do you value most in a copy editor? Consistency, logic, commas?”




THE FURY coverShane Gericke, whose last name is improbably pronounced YER-kee, spent two decades as a newspaper editor, most prominently at the Chicago Sun-Times, before turning to fiction. He keeps his hand in nonfiction by writing for digital media. An original member of International Thriller Writers, he was chairman of the ThrillerFest literary festival in New York City and founding director of its agent-author matching program, PitchFest. He’s judged the Edgar, Thriller, MWA, and St. Martin’s awards, and belongs to Mystery Writers of America and the Society of Midland Authors.


Idyll Threats_coverStephanie Gayle (Arlington, MA) is the author of My Summer of Southern Discomfort, which was chosen as one of Redbook’s Top Ten Summer Reads and was a Book Sense monthly pick. Gayle has also published stories and narrative nonfiction pieces, including two Pushcart Prize nominees.



hard Latitudes CoverBaron R. Birtcher spent a number of years as a professional musician, and founded an independent record label and management company. Critics have hailed his writing as “The real deal” (Publishers Weekly) and his plots as “Taut, gritty and powerfully controlled” (Kirkus Reviews). His first two Mike Travis novels, Roadhouse Blues and Ruby Tuesday were Los Angeles Times and IMBA bestsellers. Angels Fall, the third installment of the acclaimed series, was nominated for the “Lefty” Award by Left Coast Crime. Rain Dogs, his first stand-alone, was nominated for both the Claymore and Silver Falchion Awards.


killer runNew York Times and USA Today best-selling author, Lynn Cahoon is an Idaho expat. She grew up living the small town life she now loves to write about. Currently, she’s living with her husband and two fur babies in a small historic town on the banks of the Mississippi river where her imagination tends to wander. Guidebook to Murder, Book 1 of the Tourist Trap series won the 2015 Reader’s Crown award for Mystery Fiction.



BROKEN CHAIN COVERLisa von Biela began writing dark fiction just after the turn of the century.  Her very first short story appeared in The Edge in 2002.  After working in IT for 25 years, Lisa dropped out of everything—including writing—to attend the University of Minnesota Law School.  She graduated magna cum laude in 2009, and now practices law and writes in the Seattle area.  On the writing front, she’s made up for lost time since law school and is now the author of the novels THE GENESIS CODE, THE JANUS LEGACY, BLOCKBUSTER, and BROKEN CHAIN, as well as the novellas ASH AND BONE and SKINSHIFT.


  1. Prior to becoming a writer, I was very active in the music business as an Artist Manager and Executive Producer. One of the things most people don’t know about is the importance of the working relationship between an artist and their producer and engineer in the studio. Many of us have heard “demo”versions of some of our favorite songs and marveled at how different they sound from the finished, more familiar product as it finally appeared on record. That’s a reflection of the artist and producer working together to craft a “sound” that takes a rough version of a song and turning it into a visceral experience.

    In the recording studio, the producer helps guide the artist toward getting the most from their material. The engineer is responsible for making sure the microphones are properly placed, sound levels are perfected, and all the mechanical elements of the recording process are all functioning.

    Writing is very similar. A good editor is your “producer” and a good copy editor is your “engineer.”

    A great copy editor will not only catch punctuation and spelling glitches, but can also be invaluable in pointing out those irritating little situations where we might have used a particular word a bit too often, or started a short scene in broad daylight and somehow ended it at night. We all know how distracting it can be to trip over those sorts of errors when we’re reading someone else’s work.

    So, for me, I appreciate the work of a good copy editor as much for helping to catch the grammatical issues as for their comments with respect (to borrow an expression from the film industry) to “continuity” matters. And truly great editors and copy editors must do so without intruding in any way upon the author’s voice or the story’s tone. If they do — time to find a new one.

  2. I most value a copyeditor’s ability to understand the tone of the book and allow the grammar and style to match it. In my novel, Idyll Threats, my protagonist, Thomas, rarely speaks in complete sentences. My copyeditor, Jade, never corrected that. She noted that although spelling out the “and” in Smith and Wesson might be more correct, it looked and felt weird. So we kept it Smith & Wesson. She also kept the ten codes that cop speak, such as “10-4,” as numbers, because to spell them out would look strange. Jade created a style sheet for me that tracked these “unique features” so that in sequels we can just check the sheet for our rules. I also value a copy editor’s ability to pay attention to both high level and minute details, everything from the story’s timing to whether a “said” should be an “asked.” Copy editors make writers’ stories better, and I’m so grateful for mine!

  3. Good morning…

    Well, since the question appears to differentiate between editor and copy editor, I’ll segregate my answer. As far as editing, I rely on the editor to make sure things “work.” In one of my books, the editor suggested a change to the final scene. The very same “thing” happened, but cast with more sympathetic characters/setting, I think it worked far better than my original. As far as copy editors, I rely on their fresh and sharp eyes to catch that last inconsistency that slipped by, and also to create a harmonic style (without changing my voice). I mix up “blond” and “blonde” all the time, but I’m getting better! I’ve been very fortunate at DarkFuse–they edit me well, but they don’t change my voice. They’ve been great to work with!

  4. Honesty. I want someone to say, “I really didn’t relate to your heroine.” Now, it doesn’t mean I’m going to change her entire character arc, but it may mean I need to rethink how she relates to the rest of the cast.

    Currently, I’m working with my traditional publishing team and a self pub editor. I love the style guides from the traditional house, it saves me so much time looking up full names. 🙂

    This wasn’t part of the question, but I have to admit, I was shocked at how many people have their hands on and in your story before it’s done. I’m a “I’ll do it myself” kind of girl, so learning a more collaborative style of working with an editor has been a big curve for me. But a great one. I’m a better writer today because of my editors.

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