I finished a month-long workshop on copyediting last week and learned a few new things. I was also relieved to find that I haven’t been making too many mistakes in my own writing. So what exactly does a copyeditor do? And what’s the difference between editing, copyediting and proofreading?
Copyeditors work in the world of publishing, whether it be book, newspaper, magazine publishing, or online publishing. Any industry which requires written material will need a copyeditor. The copyeditor will perform his or her complex set of tasks behind the scenes: fixing awkward sentences, correcting mistakes in grammar, punctuation and spelling, and checking that titles and other proper names are accurate. Copyediting is much more than proof reading; it requires a mastery of the rules of grammar and a desire to make the written word shine. A copyeditor will transform an awkward or clumsy sentence into one that is as smooth and graceful as a choreographed dancer.
The process begins with the writer producing the article, feature or novel. This raw material is presented to the editor, who reads it with an eye to the story and structure of the piece. The changes they may recommend will include: plot modifications, character adaptations; and in nonfiction pieces, adding additional resource material. After the writer has made the changes and the editor has approved the manuscript, deeming it to be ready, the piece will passed on to the copyeditor.
Using the company stylebook, Chicago Manual of Style or the Associated Press Stylebook, the copy editor reads the manuscript with an eye toward lucidity, consistency, and errors. He will closely scrutinize punctuation and spelling, check the accuracy of titles and other proper names, and modify sloppy or lazy sentences. When changes are made, the copyeditor does so while keeping in tact the author’s voice and meaning. If the author’s meaning is unclear, the copyeditor will include a note asking for clarification. When the changes made are satisfactory to the writer, editor and copyeditor, the manuscript is passed along to the proof reader to check for typos or other errors that may have sneaked into the copy. The manuscript is nearly ready for publication and if the editor and copyeditor have done their jobs, the piece is now the best it can be.
I’m sure you can see how learning the basics of copyediting would be beneficial to an aspiring author. A submitted manuscript that is clean, free of errors and smoothly written will be much more attractive to potential agents and publishers than one that is sloppy and clumsily written. And especially for the Indie author going the self-publishing route, having a copyeditor’s eye is absolutely essential!