What You Can Expect from Your Copyeditor
In Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, I take authors through the complete publishing process. Each chapter includes a section on what you can expect and what is expected of you. The following excerpt is from the chapter “Cleaning Up Your Manuscript: Copyediting and Query Resolution.”
What You Can Expect from Your Copyeditor
Copyeditors tend to be practical, straightforward people, and that’s generally the approach they take to editing. Your CE will be reading the manuscript with the intent of cleaning up errors of punctuation, grammar, syntax, and word choice. That means correcting comma errors, fixing such problems as dangling or misplaced modifiers, rewriting convoluted sentences, and replacing words that have been used incorrectly.
CEs also read for flow and style. Correcting flow means fixing or querying transition problems, rearranging paragraphs if needed, and adjusting sentences so that one thought flows naturally from the one before it. Style refers to either the house style, if the book is published through a press, or an agreed-on style for self-publishers. Quite often editing for style means selecting one of two equally valid options, and it ensures consistency throughout the manuscript. Most trade books follow The Chicago Manual of Style, although there are plenty of others to choose from. If you hire a copyeditor, be sure he or she is familiar with this style guide or the guide of your choice.
Points of style to keep in mind include whether or not to spell out numbers between ten and one hundred, whether or not to use the serial comma (i.e., the comma before the conjunction in a list of three or more items), and the spelling or capitalization of specific terms related to your field or, in the case of fiction, created universe. Traditional publishers will have a stable of freelancers who are familiar with their house style. Self-publishers should plan to discuss which style to use with their copyeditor before editing begins.
Finally, CEs read for sense and consistency. Sense, of course, means that what you are trying to say is what you actually are saying with the words you have chosen and that your plot or argument—whatever it may be—stands up to reasonable evaluation. Consistency covers a range of problem areas, from consistent spelling and treatment of special terms to consistent characterization and time line in a novel.
All of these changes, from grammar and punctuation to sense and consistency, are key in getting your book ready for publication. To find out whether editing, or a lack of it, affects sales, you need only to read reviews on Amazon to see that readers do notice and will deter others from buying books that contain these basic errors. In your quest for a high-quality book that sells, copyediting is essential.
Your copyeditor will also be on the lookout for passages that may require permission. Ideally you have already secured permission for long excerpts or any quotes from poetry and music. Those who worked with a developmental editor have probably at least begun this long process. If not, you will be asked to start now or else rework the text to eliminate the material requiring permission.
Writers of fiction and creative nonfiction may find the copyediting they receive to be much lighter than what a business, sports, or self-help author may experience. This is due to the creative nature of the work. These writers will still find plenty of changes to grammar and punctuation when clarity is at stake, but allowances are made for the author’s voice and the voice of the characters. Some authors are concerned that a copyeditor will change dialogue from pidgin to standard English, for example, or otherwise take out the flavor of a character’s way of speaking. Generally, these fears are unfounded. Good copyeditors understand the difference between what is intentionally incorrect and what is a mistake on the part of the author. And if it is not apparent, the CE will ask for clarification. For those who are self-publishing, a sample edit from your prospective copyeditor will allow you to determine whether he or she will change the voice of your characters.
As mentioned in the previous chapter, editing can be an emotional experience. Do your best not to take it personally when the CE changes your words. If you didn’t go through development, it’s possible that the CE has made significant changes: moving paragraphs, rewriting sentences, and adding transitions. If this gets your ire up, be sure to go through the manuscript a second time before returning it, so that you can temper your angry notes to the copyeditor. If you are working with a production editor, or PE, remember that the PE is not the person who made these changes and therefore should not be the target of your hurt feelings. All in all, publishing a book requires a thick skin; use yours now.
It bears noting that for traditionally published authors, the copyediting stage is often your last chance to make major changes to the manuscript. If you went through development already or performed the tasks outlined in the Potholes for Chapters 1–3, as well as the two at the end of this chapter, you should have a minimum of large changes to make. Even still, consider any global changes as well as the smaller points you want to fix when reviewing the copyediting. As I told countless authors when I worked in-house, “Making changes later in the process is costly and time-consuming.” If you don’t make the changes now, they likely will not be made at all.
Like this blog? Find more advice and insights in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through Hop On Publishing, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Left Bank Books, and other fine retailers