Step 6 – Copy Editors

Copy editors

After working through the feedback from the developmental editor, it’s time to look for a copy editor.

To someone who’s never been through the editing process before, 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.

Copy editors look for issues such as:

  • Spelling and grammar issues.
  • Monitor syntax and punctuation, style and voice.
  • Highlight sticky sentences.
  • Remove redundant, repeated or unnecessary words.
  • Ensure the manuscript is consistent regarding spelling, numerals, fonts, capitalisation, and names.
  • Fact checking (fiction and non-fiction) for things such as locations, dates, etc.
  • Highlight inconsistencies like character descriptions, personality traits, scene settings, and plot issues.

Copy editor vs Developmental editor

To use a crude analogy:

The author designs and builds the car.

The developmental editor checks the car has all the major components like wheels, brakes, steering wheel, seat, etc.

And the copy editor checks they are the right size wheels, the correct breaks, and that the logo on the steering wheel is the same as the one on the hood.

Then, when all the faults have been found by the editors and fixed by the author, the author then takes the car out for a drive to show it off (marketing).

Cost of a copy editor

 UKUSA
Per 1000 words£15.00 – £20.00$20.00 – $30.00
*Per hour£20.00 – £25.00$30.00 – $40.00
*Figures taken from the Editorial Freelance Association at http://www.the-efa.org

Before you go off to research potential editors, please remember that copy editors don’t re-write parts of your story. They highlight and suggest changes.

Most editors will give you a quote based on a sample. But that figure could change.

Much like the developmental editor, the more you do before you send off your MS, the less time it takes. And in order to give them the best starting point, you should to fix as many of the issues as possible before it goes to a copy editor.

This will allow your 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.

Copy editing and polishing your MS
Copy editing and polishing your MS

Spelling and grammar

It may seem straight forward, but this is actually a very tricky part of self-editing.

Up until this point, your mind’s eye has been taking over every time you (unconsciously) see a spelling mistake. They become invisible to you.

But the copy editor is actively looking for them.

Your copy editor will also take note of things like your use of 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 if not addressed properly.

This is when the meaning of the words can be changed or misinterpreted due to their position within a sentence or phrase.

For example:

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.

Sticky sentences

Sentences are made up of working words and glue words.

Working words are the main points. And glue words join them together.

Example:

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.

Sticky sentences
Sticky sentences

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

OR

The words should flow for easy reading. Revised

Redundant, repeated or unnecessary words

The majority of these should have been found during the self-edit, or by your developmental editor. However, it will be something your copy editor will be looking for.

If a character nods, we can assume that it’s with their head. You don’t need to say, “nodded her head.” Likewise, if a character sits on a sofa, we can omit the word ‘down.’

Repeated words are a bit harder to see, but you hear them when read aloud. A copy editor will highlight places where you use the same word too many times in a paragraph or page.

Unnecessary words are words that ‘pad out’ a sentence. Often, these words add no benefit to the story or scene and can be removed without negatively impacting the narrative.

Technically correct and consistent

If your novel is using US English, then you must remain consistent throughout the manuscript.

Spelling ‘neighbor’ is correct for the US but writing ‘colour’ later in the book means you mixed US and UK English.

Equally, things such as numerals, font, should remain consistent. As well as your use of character/place names, and the use of capitalisation.

The copy editor will check for consistent usage throughout the MS and highlight variations. They may also suggest changes to better suit the narrative.

An example being:

The butcher sliced the meat from the bone.

This is fine if the butcher is just a butcher doing his job. However, if the butcher is a serial killer and his nickname is “The Butcher,”, capitalising the word adds definition.

The Butcher sliced the meat from the bone.

Fact checking

This is where your story can unravel if you (and your editor) are not careful.

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.

Copy editing and Fact checking
Copy editing and Fact checking

But every lie is anchored in reality, and if you get something wrong that is normally accepted as a universal truth, the illusion is broken.

This can rip the reader from the story.

An example could be something like a British police detective carrying a personal weapon, or saying that New York is next door to California.  

Your copy editor understands 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 challenge. 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, it’s perfectly acceptable because they have evolved.   

Make a list of copy editors

Research potential copy editors like you did for developmental editors.

Read some books they’ve 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.

Trust your copy editor
Trust your copy editor

Acting on feedback

My copy editor sent me a word document which contained Tracked Changes.

Basic things like spelling and punctuation were straight forward changes. But things like phrasing, syntax, repetition, and inconsistencies, were all highlighted and accompanied by a comment.

This gave me the chance to understand what was wrong.

But when a point confused me, 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.


Finally

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.

We should celebrate editors. And when your book is published, make sure to thank them and get them on your Christmas Card list.

Good luck

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