What copy editors want writers to know: Part 1
Perhaps the most valuable service we offer at eFrog Press is copyediting and proofreading. Until you have worked with a professional copy editor, you have no idea how much value he or she can add to your book. Indie authors are often reluctant to spend money on editing. After all, their neighbor was an English major or their friend offered to edit their book for free. Sometimes you get what you pay for. Serious readers are offended by grammatical errors and typos.
Today you get to hear from our behind-the-scene folks–our copy editors. Authors we work with have praised their skill and speed. I have asked them to share their experience with you.
“A copy editor can transform a manuscript from good to great without leaving any fingerprints.” MA
1. What is copyediting and why is it important (or even necessary) in this era of spell check and grammar check?
JP: Copyediting is the art of fine-tuning your writing to make it into the best reading experience possible for your readers — without losing the all-important author’s voice. It goes beyond just a simple spell check or grammar check (which often isn’t even correct in most word processing programs!) to checking for plot and character consistency, correct word usage (especially in younger books, when vocabulary must be age appropriate), and adherence to a consistent style (in the publishing world, it’s almost always the Chicago Manual of Style).
SC: Copyediting is a process where each word and sentence is analyzed for proper usage and meaning. A copy editor is painstakingly analytical and will look for things in a sentence that make it grammatically incorrect or misleading, and then suggest ways to fix it. Spell check and grammar check can only do so much; they will not fix words that are correctly spelled but inaccurately used (i.e., farther/further). It will also not find missing words (i.e., The dog went to park). A copy editor also often finds plot inconsistencies or spelling inconsistencies that are sometimes overlooked by the author. For example, I just copyedited a manuscript that alternated the spelling of one character’s name (Sylvia vs. Silvia).
MA: An author goes through so many revisions before the final draft, it’s inevitable that details will fall through the cracks: continuity, spelling, style, etc. It’s imperative to enlist an objective professional to focus on those details. When a reader stumbles across a mistake while absorbed in a story, they momentarily disengage from the experience. A few mistakes can mar the integrity of the entire book. One of the best investments an author can make is in a good copy editor. It will grant them the freedom to focus purely on creativity and the peace of mind that their manuscript will be of the highest quality. A copy editor can transform a manuscript from good to great without leaving any fingerprints.
2. What would you like writers to do before sending you their manuscript?
JP: Read through it yourself first and try to see it from an objective point of view. It can really help to read it out loud and you will find areas that may have seemed clear to you before, but suddenly are muddled. And always spell check, spell check, spell check.
SC: All that being said above [about not relying on spell check] doing a spell check is helpful. Also making sure that only one space follows ending punctuation is HUGE. That way those more technical edits will be taken care of, leaving more time and energy for the bigger ones. Other things, like double spacing the manuscript and indenting paragraphs are nice.
MA: The most basic request is that the manuscript be double spaced and in a 12-point font (preferably Times New Roman). Enlisting the help of a good editor is essential, if at all possible. An editor can see the big picture and guide a authors to reveal their best work. When a manuscript comes to a copyeditor, the author should feel it is already in its final form. It also helps a lot if anyone other than the author or editor has read the final draft before it goes to copyediting. Getting feedback from readers (your ultimate audience) is invaluable.
3. What is the most (or one of the most) common error(s) that you see when copyediting?
JP: Misuse of you’re/your and their/there/they’re is incredibly common as is misuse of which/that and affect/effect. But it’s not the author’s job to know the difference; that’s why there are copy editors!
SC: Misplaced modifiers and hyphenated words! These are the most tricky to understand, which makes it even more essential to have a professional read the manuscript and correct mistakes. Also using caps for generic proper nouns (the President vs. the president).
MA: Surprisingly, one of the most consistent mistakes I correct in manuscripts is the misspelling of proper names—even very common or famous ones. When it comes to the names of real people or places, it always pays to double-check.
Please share. Have you used a professional copy editor before? Have you published an ebook and then wished you had used a copy editor?