The Copy Editor is Not Your Enemy!

More than Just Proofreading

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A publishable manuscript has to go through several edits and editors. There are developmental editors, line editors, substantive editors, and copy editors. Their job is to make your manuscript shine.

Indeed, they are not your enemy. Although some of my writer friends may disagree.

Contrary to popular opinion, the copy editor is more than a proofreader. They review and correct writing material for grammar errors, syntax, punctuation, and style. Moreover, they check for inconsistencies and omissions.

Before the digital era, they use to make corrections in red ink pens. Yes, your beloved manuscript would end up looking a bloody mess.

The truth is most beginning writers and indie writers are not used to having their work edited. How do you deal with that? By keeping an open mind. As in better the copy editor catches the mistakes before the reader does.

Copy Editing Common Mistakes

image: Deque

Ask any copy editor what are their main pet peeves.

They will cite most of the following:

  • You are working for two clients; the author and the publishing house. It is hard to please both.
  • Less than half the re-writes requests come back in publishable form.
  • The most common problem is a story going on for too long.
  • Punctuation and verb tenses are inconsistent.
  • An extra burden of editing science fiction and fantasy is that every detail has to be documented, particularly in book series.

Wow! Those poor copy editors do not have it so easy. Remember, they are not trying to be mean or disrespect your work. They are trying to improve it.

Remember, the more professional your work looks the more your reader will trust you.

What can writers do?

corrections by copy editor in red ink

Again, the copy editor is not our enemy. Think of him or her as a friend or supporter. They take their job seriously and they get paid for making our work better.

There are a few things we can and must do.

For example, a writer should:

  • Change your thinking. The copy editor is not our enemy. They are our allies.
  • Google or Bing everything. Do not assume, especially with proper and real names and places.
  • Betta readers are wonderful. Use them! Listen to their feedback.
  • Check your verb tenses for inconsistencies. (Guilty!)
  • Self-edit. Ask yourself, honestly, does this makes sense? Will my readers understand it?
  • If your story (and paragraphs) are going too long, cut at least 10%. Less is more.

See? Authors are not as powerless as they think.

Final Thoughts

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To conclude, we need to keep an open mind when dealing with editors. They understand the readers and the industry better than us. Copy editors, in particular, get paid to fix those typos and inconsistencies which would be embarrassing in the final product.

We cannot spot the errors in your own writing. A first-rate copy editor could be a luxury but also a necessity. For people like me who are not native English speakers, it is a must.

Do you remember the ABCs of Writing? I mentioned editors are our gatekeepers. Make sure they help us cross those gates.

Finally, let’s remember reading is like a trance state. Do not break it! Readers may forgive a typo or two. Too many on one page will pull them off the story and turn them away from your book.

My advice? Make the copy editor your friend. And if not a friend, at least a collaborator. Trust your copy editor.

Reader, what are your experiences with the copy editing process?

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March 2023