Meet the Editor, What Does an Editor Do?

What Does an Editor Do? – The Copy Edit

I can edit to a number of styles including Standard British, Australian and well as Chicago.

Welcome, avid reader, to the second instalment in the What Does an Editor Do? series. Today, I’ll be talking about the most pernickety of edits: the Copy Edit. 

The role of a Copy Edit is to ensure that your manuscript is publication ready. You’ve done all the hard work of writing, redrafting, shaping, and revising again and you’ve now reached the Holy Grail. A manuscript that you’re happy with!

But what next? You could just go ahead and publish it, but often in the creative process of forming your manuscript, you have been concentrating so hard on the whole story, getting your characters right, putting words down on the page that you may not have been paying attention to some of the smaller details, such as whether your character is called Sarah the entire way through the novel, or does she switch to Sara after Chapter 5? What about your timelines? Did they find the body on Tuesday, but the police don’t arrive until Thursday?

So what does a Copy Edit do?

Essentially the Copy Edit is all about the nitty-gritty details.

A copy editor’s role is to check for:

  • correct punctuation, spelling and grammar
  • clunky phrasing, very long sentences
  • overuse of italics, bold, capitals and exclamation marks
  • consistency
  • and accuracy.

It is the tidying-up process to ensure that a manuscript is ready for publication. In traditional publishing, the Copy Edit occurs just before the manuscript is typeset. In this way, by the time the edit is finished, you should be looking at a manuscript that is as error-free as possible.

Copy editing is quite a specialised form of editing as it requires a deep understanding of grammar rules, spelling and other technical knowledge that we often don’t think about in our day to day use of language. In this way, I would recommend that this is one of the services that you do not try and do yourself. As an independent author, it is understandable that you want to keep your budget low, but if you only have the funds for one service, I would recommend having a Copy Edit done. When considering wider themes and arcs of the story, an author can revise their manuscript themselves a number of times, but if you have reread your manuscript who-knows-how-many times during the redrafting process, it’s quite likely that when it comes to the Copy-Edit level checks, your familiarity with the text will hinder you. Your brain will see what it remembers or expects to see, not necessarily what is actually there.

This is where a copy editor comes in with their magnifying glass and fine-tooth comb; they are on the lookout for just those things, that verb cases agree, character names aren’t confused, and that dialogue is attributed correctly. It is a very technical edit and requires a lot of detailed work, zooming both in and out on a manuscript but when done correctly, the readability of a manuscript vastly increases. In short, a good copy editor’s work should be invisible in the finished product. 

No Editor is Infallible: However, one important thing to note is that as much as it is a copy editor’s job to find and correct errors and mistakes in a manuscript, they are also human. Editors are aiming for error-free manuscripts – but no editor can guarantee it (and if they are, be wary …).

What a Copy Edit is not:

A copy edit focuses on the details of a manuscript as opposed to the big picture. Although most copy editors will highlight if there is a glaring hole in your plot, such as a wonky timeline – that falls under consistency – they won’t be looking at shaping your manuscript. This is not the stage to be making major plot or structural changes if it can be helped.

At what stage will I need a Copy Edit and what will I come out with after the edit?

The Copy Edit comes after all the developmental and line edits are completed, so essentially when the author is happy with their story, their manuscript. It is the penultimate stage in the editorial publication process (followed only by the proofread after the manuscript has been set for printing/uploading).

The Copy Edit takes place on-screen following the style of your choice, e.g. Chicago, New Harts Rules, etc, using MS Word Track Changes and comments in Microsoft Word so that the author can see what changes have been suggested and what queries have been flagged. Alongside the marked-up manuscript, the author will also receive a style guide. This is a reference document that includes details of the significant characters, places, words used in the novel as well as any specific vocabulary – particularly useful in sci-fi, fantasy or historical fiction – or punctuation that has been used. This is particularly useful if the manuscript is part of a series, so that consistency can be maintained not only within the novel itself but across the series of titles.

How much does it cost? How long does it take? Do you have availability?

Each one of my quotations is bespoke, as I tailor each package to the individual author’s needs. So if you’re interested, do get in touch either via the contact form or email for a no-obligation quotation. I’d love to hear more about your project and discuss how we can work together.

One of the top gripes of reviews of independently published books is the number of typos in them. Don’t let your reviews suffer because your manuscript hasn’t been checked thoroughly enough.