How your copy editor can save the day: Part 2

Today you  hear once again from our behind-the-scene folks–our copy editors. Many authors see our copy editors as superheroes who swoop in and save the day–or at least save the manuscript. In Part 2, the eFrog Press copy editors share their experiences over their long careers in publishing. Learn how copyediting can lead to publishing success or, at least, prevent publishing disasters!

Missed Part 1? Read What copy editors want writers to know to learn how a professional copy editor can add value to your book.

“A reader is just like an editor/agent; they will not take your work seriously if you don’t.” JP

“The goal of a copy editor is to make the writing seamless, NOT to change the writing or the words!” SC

How can copyediting lead to publishing success?

Superhero editor to the rescue!

JP: For traditional publishing (i.e., not ebooks) through a traditional publishing house or agency, most editors and agents will usually only read the first few pages of a manuscript to determine if they are interested in pursuing it further. If the writing is sloppy and there are obvious errors, typos, and misspellings, most editors/agents will dismiss the manuscript immediately. A clean copy shows that you are serious about your work and dedicated to making it the best it can possibly be. A good editor will recognize this and know a good working relationship can be forged with the writer for future edits and revisions.

When it comes to ebooks, the editor/agent is usually not in the picture, so a skilled copy editor is even more important to bridge that critical—and hopefully permanent—relationship between author and reader. A reader is just like an editor/agent; they will not take your work seriously if you don’t.

SC: Readers will be drawn to typos and badly constructed sentences! They will remember being stopped by an awkward sentence rather than remembering the plot or a very good moment in the book. If the manuscript is full of grammatical errors, some might not even finish it. Grammar and punctuation should be flowing and insignificant in the reader’s mind; if punctuation or grammar causes pause or confusion, the manuscript has not been copyedited properly. The goal of a copy editor is to make the writing seamless, NOT to change the writing or the words!

There is also the issue of plot inconsistencies. Because the author is so close the work, and has been toiling away on the manuscript for a great deal of time, they oftentimes simply do not see when things don’t add up. A fresh set of professional eyes is necessary to find those things and bring them to the author’s attention.

Thinking back over your career, what error have you corrected that made a big difference in the manuscript? Or what disaster did you prevent?

JP: So many to choose from! One of the biggest areas most authors forget to have proofread or copy edited is the book’s cover, title page, and dedication. The last thing you want is your name misspelled on the book’s cover!

SC: I recently copyedited a manuscript that introduced a twin sibling toward the end of the book. The main character’s paternity had been in question earlier, and there was no mention of the twin then. The writer had forgotten to add the twin’s name at the beginning! Because the plot evolved as the author wrote, that major oversight could have been in the published book, had it not been copyedited.

Another example was a manuscript that was diary-like in structure. The date was at the top of each entry. Halfway through, one date was written incorrectly, so each date following was off in comparison to what was being said in the text. That would have been terribly confusing to any reader, and thankfully corrected during the copyediting process.

MA: I have found that one of the most valuable contributions I make to fictional manuscripts is the ability to clearly and objectively see the timeline of the story. If one plot point, date, or name is changed in any part of the book, it has to be changed in every instance. With multiple rewrites, it’s easy to overlook instances that need to be revised for sense. Inconsistency and confusion can damage the entire story. Correcting these oversights is not only essential, but quite rewarding.

 Your Turn

What experiences have you had with editing? Did an editor ever save the day for you? Please share.

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3 Responses to “How your copy editor can save the day: Part 2”

  1. Philippe de Vosjoli Says:

    As a former magazine publisher and author, I have had experience with all the issues mentioned by the copy editors. A comment that brought a smile to my face referred to book covers (personal memories of a couple of “How could this have happened?” magazine covers). Errors in the cover of a book or magazine are more common than one realizes. If not caught before publication they become the source of great embarrassment, not to mention financial losses (book sellers are unlikely to carry books with blatant cover errors).

    I have also found that many writers assume that a publisher will overlook and take care of ‘minor errors’ as long as their manuscript has interesting content. They fail to realize that spelling mistakes and poor grammar are almost instant causes for rejection. They suggest the writer is an amateur and this right away puts into the question the quality of the contents of a manuscript. Although spell and grammar check programs have played an important role in improving the quality of submitted manuscripts, their editing capacities are rigid and cannot evaluate the contextual intention of authors.

    Beyond straightforward copy editing, I have found that good copy editors often volunteer valuable comments on weaknesses in structure and inconsistencies in writing style or characters. For example, upon the suggestion of a copy editor, I changed the point of view of a children’s book I was writing from that of an adult protagonist to that of his son. It required a complete rewrite but the result was a story that young readers could more readily identify with. Yes, I had to have my story copy-edited a second time but the end result was a more gripping story.

    Copyediting is also important for what I call immersion. A key to success as a fiction writer is creating the framework for immersion in a story, a transport to a parallel internal reality that temporarily dislocates the reader from his/her present physical and mental environment. What a reader will conclude is a good book is often one that has kept her ‘spellbound’. Being successful in weaving that immersion depends on keeping the imagination engaged through the creation of carefully constructed word threads. Spelling and grammatical errors, inconsistencies in the plot, writing style, or in the dialog of the characters, can fracture those threads and break the spell. Copy-editing is one of the important factors that can make the difference between a ‘pretty good book’ and a great one.

    In the current publishing environment where authors often choose to self publish in either print on demand or ebooks, professional copyediting is more than ever an essential step in the writing process and critical for a book’s success.

  2. Tom Slaiter Says:

    I totally agree about the work relationship between the writer and copy editor! It’s sad how people think copy editor’s aren’t really necessary when they’re trying to publish a book, don’t you agree?

    Regards, Tom

  3. LC Says:

    I certainly agree. Copy editors are often seen as an unnecessary expense by indie authors, but their services can result in a professional quality ebook.

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