Copy-editing

copy-editingI work as a copy editor for a range of clients, from authors and publishers to organisations and government bodies. Whatever the material, my job is simple: polish language to a publishable standard.

Copy-editing varies in scope, from light editing to improve the odd clumsy sentence through to more comprehensive support to tidy the text. The level of intervention that a copy editor undertakes depends on the state of the material and the client’s preference. 

Whatever the level of copy-editing, I am sensitive in my corrections and constructive in my suggestions. I know which changes are essential, which are preferred and which are simply a matter of taste. My job as copy editor isn’t to be unnecessarily pedantic and trample on an author’s writing style, but to work my magic so that the writing reads well and follows the core rules of English grammar.

Why commission a copy editor?

Can’t you just skip hiring a copy editor and go straight to a proofreader? A lot of authors do this, as a way to reduce costs and speed up the process. Doing so is fine – if you don’t care about the quality of your text.

If your book (ebook or print) is to be clear, accessible, interesting, memorable and effective, the language needs to be of a good standard. A proofreader won’t help you polish language. A proofreader simply corrects errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Some authors need only minimal copy-editing support, while others need more intensive copy-editing; but all authors, no matter how experienced or skilled, can benefit from a copy editor’s input. That’s why every publishing house commissions a copy editor to edit a manuscript before publication.

Copy-editing in the editorial process

Copy-editing is the second stage in the editorial process, after developmental work and before proofreading:

Developmental work

Developmental editing or a book critique.

Language polishing

Copy-editing or intelligent copy-editing.

Final checks

Proofreading before publication.

The copy-editing service

Essentially, copy-editing is language-only editing. The copy editor isn’t interested in developmental issues, such as a plot weakness or lagging pace, but focuses solely on the language. My job as copy editor is to ensure that the language is accurate, consistent, flowing and clear, without undertaking significant rewriting – so sticking as far as possible to the author’s original text.

In a publishing house, all books are copy-edited by one editor and then proofread by at least one separate professional. So if you want to meet the standards of the publishing industry, I recommend that you commission a proofread after the copy-edit.

Copy-editing style

When copy-editing I create a style sheet for the client, to lay down a framework for consistent style and language in the book. The style sheet includes elements like spelling choices, hyphenated terms, capitalised terms and punctuation style, and it’s a great reference for the author.

My work as a copy editor can also involve making some style-based edits throughout the book, according to the client’s wishes. For example:

Copy-editing from US to UK English

Think of this as a translation service. Most people assume that the two forms of English are pretty much the same, but in fact US and UK English differ significantly. ‘He’d gotten his pants stuck in the elevator doors’ becomes ‘He’d got his trousers stuck in the lift doors’.

Copy-editing for plain English

Plain English strips writing down to the minimum, and looks to ensure simplicity, clarity and brevity. ‘It was decided by him, while perusing the wares at what they call a supermarket, to omit purchasing the yellow fruit from the genus Musa’ becomes ‘At the supermarket he decided not to buy bananas’.

Copy-editing to remove passive phrasing

Active phrasing is clearer and more powerful, and is generally regarded as better writing. ‘It was decided’ becomes ‘He decided’.

Copy-editing to change tenses

Some authors decide to shift their book from one tense to another (often present to past). ‘The day is sunny’ becomes ‘The day was sunny’.

Copy-editing to adjust pronouns

When you talk about an individual, do you write ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘he or she’ or ‘they’? Consistency is key. ‘The reader got their book’ becomes ‘The reader got his book’.

Copy-editing to introduce contractions

If you’re going for a conversational tone or want to ensure that your dialogue sounds true to life, you need to use contractions. ‘It is good that you are here’ becomes ‘It’s good that you’re here’.

Copy-editing mark-up

I use Microsoft Word’s Track Changes tool when I copy-edit to mark up my suggested amendments. The marked-up file for copy-editing looks like this:

copy editor mark-up

With Track Changes, you keep complete control of your book. You can clearly see my mark-up, and then choose for yourself which changes to accept or reject.

Copy-editing example: Click to see a sample copy-edit.

Copy-editing rates

Copy-editing costs from £9.50 per 1,000 words. (International clients may use the XE Currency Converter.) If you’re interested in commissioning me to copy-edit your book, please get in touch.

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