After working through the feedback from the developmental editor, it’s time for copy editing.
Before you go researching potential editors, please remember this – it’s not your editor’s job to write or re-write your book. You should do as much as you can beforehand.
Use the points below and try to fix as many of the issues as possible.
This will allow your copy editor to really focus on technical aspects of your work. But if you bombard them with a MS full of problems, they will be stretched thin.
Learn about these points, try to tackle them yourself, and then employ a copy editor to polish it.
What are Copy editors?
To someone who’s never been through this process, they could be forgiven for thinking a copy editor is someone who looks for spelling mistakes. But this over simplification is quite insulting.
The copy editor dives deep into the words on the page and fine tunes every aspect of your novel. They will not re-write things for you, but they will suggest things to help your readers understand and follow your story.
What do copy editors look for?
- Copy editors will check for spelling and grammar issues.
- Remove redundant, repeated and unnecessary words.
- Monitor syntax and punctuation, style and voice.
- Sticky sentences.
- They’ll ensure the manuscript is technically consistent. Looking at spelling, numerals, font, capitalisation and character names.
- Fact checking (fiction and non-fiction) for things such as locations, dates, etc.
- Highlight inconsistencies like character descriptions, scene settings, plot issues to name a few.
- Character descriptions and personality traits.
These are just a few main points that I can think of, but the way I compare a copy editor to a developmental editor is this:
The author designs and builds the car. The dev editor checks the car has all the major requirements like wheels, brakes, steering wheel. But the copy editor checks they are the right wheels, the right breaks, and that the logo on the steering wheel is the same as the one on the hood.
Spelling and grammar
It may seem straight forward, but this is actually very tricky. Up until this point, your mind’s eye has been taking over every time you (unconsciously) see a spelling mistake. It has become invisible to you. But the copy editor is actively looking for them.
They will also take note of things like the Oxford comma and other traits you show as a writer. Then, they will keep you consistent in your writing.
Syntax and punctuation
Syntax is something that will confuse the hell out of a reader. The meaning of the words can be changed or misinterpreted due to their position within a sentence or phrase.
The boy rode the stallion with a rose gripped between his teeth.
What do you picture here? Well, it should be obvious that the boy is holding a rose between his teeth whilst riding a horse. But the stallion is the last masculine subject mentioned before the rose. Therefore, the teeth belong to the stallion.
A copy editor would suggest revising this sentence to something like:
The boy gripped the rose between his teeth as he rode the stallion.
I hope this example gets my point across. Try writing with improper syntax on a piece of paper. By doing it the wrong way a few times, you should quickly understand how it can cause confusion. But if my example doesn’t work for you, try THIS link for in-depth examples.
Sentences are made up of working words and glue words. Working words are the main points.
Carl kicked the ball from the halfway line and watched it fly.
The working words are Carl kicked the ball from the halfway line and watched it fly.
The glue words are Carl kicked the ball from the halfway line and watched it fly.
Working words hold the information and the glue words stick them together.
If a sentence is grammatically correct but holds too many glue words, it becomes complicated and “sticky.” Your editor will highlight this and probably suggest fragmenting the sentence into smaller ones.
The idea is to allow the words to flow so the reader can read them with ease. Sticky
The words should flow for easy reading. Revised
If your novel is using American English, then you must remain consistent throughout the manuscript. Spelling ‘neighbor’ is correct for the US but if you were to write ‘colour’ later in the book; you just mixed US and UK English.
This also leads into numerals, font, and capitalisation. The copy editor will check for consistent usage throughout the MS and highlight variations. They may also suggest which variation suits the narrative better and adds substance to it.
An example being:
The butcher sliced the meat from the bone.
But if the butcher is a serial killer, capitalising the word adds definition.
The Butcher sliced the meat from the bone.
This is where your story can unravel if you (and your editor) are not careful. It’s also a great reason to employ a copy editor.
If you write about a subject, or inject a topic into your novel that you are unfamiliar with, you run the risk of revealing the lie to your reader.
Revealing the lie? Exactly that. A piece of fiction by definition is one big lie. But the reader knows this and is happy to indulge you for entertainment purposes. But every lie is anchored in reality. And if you get something wrong that is a universal truth such as a profession, a real place, etc, the illusion is broken. And that can rip the reader from the story.
Your copy editor knows this and will investigate any claim you make to keep you within the realms of accuracy.
Character personality inconsistencies
All characters grow throughout the narrative. That’s one of the ideas of the story. The hero begins one way, but the journey changes them so they can overcome a problem. But inconsistencies are problematic.
Your copy editor will likely make themselves a character chart when they begin their work. They will list obvious traits of your characters to create an idea of what that character is capable of.
If your character is quiet, reserved, nervous etc, but on chapter six, they deliver a public speech with confidence and clarity; your reader will be left asking “is this the same person?”
However, if the story arc forces that character to develop those skills, and at the end, they give a heroic speech to inspire their followers; then it’s perfectly acceptable because they have evolved.
Make a list
Research potential copy editors like you did for dev editors. Read some books that you know they worked on. And again, approach fellow authors if you can.
A good copy editor will help you buff-out all of the small blemishes within your novel, and help turn it into a professional piece.
Acting on feedback
My copy editor sent me a word document which contain Tracked Changes.
Basic things like spelling and punctuation were straight forward changes. But things like phrasing, syntax, repetition, inconsistencies; were all highlighted and accompanied by a comment. This gave me the chance to understand what was wrong.
Also, any point that I found confusing; I simply made a list and called my editor. She was happy to explain the rationale behind the suggestions and we talked through the technicalities.
I suggest you take a look at THIS video on copy editing. It breaks down some keys points that will help you grow as a writer.
Also, your copy editor is the last person to work on the actual story with you. They will help you polish the manuscript to a professional standard before it goes to formatting and book design.
However, like the developmental editor; you don’t have to make every single change suggested. Most points will need to be addressed, but some things are subjective. If in doubt, speak to your editor and discuss your thoughts. But don’t argue with them.
You should celebrate editors. And when your book is published, make sure to thank them and get them on your Christmas Card list.