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6 Ways Copyeditors Make Your Book Better

25 May 2012

Editor Linda Jay Geldens speaks to indie authors:

You’ve spent months (or possibly years) writing the manuscript that will one day be your book. You’ve distilled all those handwritten notes from pages or scraps of paper, those often-incoherent e-mails to yourself, and those ideas racing around in your brain, and typed every one of them into the computer, in some loosely organized format that vaguely resembles a book. Then one day… hooray… it occurs to you that… you’re done!

Now you can’t wait to get your little gem “OUT THERE” for all the world to marvel at. You are indeed a writer (which nobody can deny, which nobody can deny)!

Oh, yes, you’ve given a sneak peek at your masterpiece to a few people whose opinion you trust—relatives, longtime friends, business colleagues. And, sure, they may have spotted a few misspellings, or a weird sentence construction here or there, but what the hey—everybody makes mistakes.

. . . .

But if you submit (interesting, the ramifications of that word “submission” when it refers to sending in a manuscript, isn’t it?) your pages to the hyper-scrutiny of a nitpicky copyeditor, won’t your authentic voice be changed or deleted or mangled beyond recognition?

The answer is… no, not if you properly vet the copyeditor to make sure you can work together well, and if the copyeditor stipulates that one of his or her goals is to make your manuscript publisher-ready… but not change your unique voice.

. . . .

A good copyeditor brings so much to the party. He or she can:

  1. go over grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure with a fine-tooth comb;
  2. check for consistency of verb tense, tone, and mood;
  3. find instances where sentences or paragraphs could be moved to make more logical sense;
  4. ask questions about clarity of idea, or accuracy of fact;
  5. call attention to parts of the text that could be tightened, expanded, livened up or deleted;
  6. make suggestions — synonyms for overused words, deletions of redundant words or phrases

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

Editing, Joel Friedlander

12 Comments to “6 Ways Copyeditors Make Your Book Better”

  1. Is there a reason so many people talk to writers as if they’re preschool children? Nobody can deny! Hooray!

  2. Brute force proof-reading can’t replace a good copy-editor.

  3. Anne Rice described initial difficulty with her copy editor for “Interview With The Vampire” (see 4:00 mark):


  4. Yeah, if only Jane Austen and Charles Dickens had had access to a copy editor…lucky really they didn’t know what they were missing.

    • They both did have excellent editors. John Forster edited much of Dickens work and William Gifford edited some of Austen’s work (although the kerfluffle a couple of years ago about his influence on her style was rather silly).

    • in re: Jane Austen: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130838304

      tl;dr – Jane Austen couldn’t spell; her editor could.

      The job of the Editor and Copy-editor is not to edit The Story, but rather to clarify the story the Writer wants to tell, removing the distractions or grammar and spelling (and, for the Editor, catching misplaced plot lines).

      I will always have an editor and a copy-editor. But it will always be my Story.

  5. That was an interesting piece by Anne Rice. She was lucky to find a good editor that loved her work. I think that is very important in an editor when your looking for one and you certainly don’t want a copy editor rewriting your work either.

    • No copy editor should ever rewrite anything. If something needs to be rewritten it should go back to the writer with a note that says, “Needs some work. Here’s why.” (For instance, I sent a manuscript back to a writer with some cliches highlighted. I told her she could come up with something better. She did. No problem.)

      When I copy edit, I trim, strike redundancies, clean up weak grammar, and will sometimes rearrange sentences or paragraphs to put them in a more readable, sensible order. Anything that requires adjustments to the meaning or characters or setting, that’s the writer’s job. A properly copy edited story should sound like the writer, should say exactly what the writer originally said, only cleaner and tighter. Ideally, when first looking at a copy edited manuscript, the writer should be thinking, “Okay, I know she did something, but what?”

      • No copy editor should ever rewrite anything.

        Yes… but this:

        trim, strike redundancies, clean up weak grammar, and will sometimes rearrange sentences or paragraphs

        IS rewriting by my standards. Now, just where the threshold for what constitutes “rewriting” falls is probably an individual thing, but a copy editor who sends me back a manuscript where I can’t tell what they’ve done is a copy editor who is fired. You want to send me back a manuscript awash in red suggesting every single one of those things, yes, please. Change one single letter, comma or space on your own? Thanks, but no thanks.

  6. An investment in your brand. Choose wisely. Find one that fits the genre you wrie in, it makes all the difference in the world.

    Cora Blu

  7. My copy editor and my proofreader are absolute gems. I wouldn’t dream of sending anything out into the world without their valuable contributions. Bring on the red pen!

  8. There is a blurring of the lines here between a copyeditor and an editor.
    Often copyeditors are profs at colleges or librarians. They will check your grammar, although sometimes they suggest a semi-colon in dialog or something that you might not want to use.
    A good copyeditor will notice inconsistencies. A really good one will notice them between books in a series.
    A copyeditor does not look at the overall tone, arc, ways to enliven scenes, etc.
    Many of the items listed above are in the realm of an editor, not a copyeditor–the two are not to be confused.

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