One of the questions I get the most from writers nearing completion of a major writing project is “Should I hire a copyeditor? And if so, how exactly do I DO that?”
In today’s post, I’m going unpack the world of copyediting, and cover a) exactly what copyediting is and what specific feedback writers can expect to receive, b) when working with a copyeditor makes sense, c) tips for working with a copyeditor, and d) ideas for where to find a copyeditor.
So…let’s dive in!
WHAT IS COPYEDITING?
There are many different types of editing in the world of writing: content or developmental editing, line editing, copyediting, proofreading, etc.
For the purposes of this post, we’re talking about copyediting (sometimes called line editing) which is editing that focuses deeply on the language and writing of a manuscript, while still keeping an eye on big-picture considerations. A good copyeditor will have an excellent command of language, an eye for detail, and a true understanding of an author’s unique voice and vision for their project.
Specifically, a copyeditor will be focusing on the following when editing a piece of writing:
- Catch any grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors. ‘Nuff said.
- Check for accuracy of spelling and representation of formal nouns, such as names of organizations, people’s names, titles of books, etc.
- Check for accuracy of quotes, website addresses, and other details included in text
- Make the writing SING by cleaning up the prose (including but not limited to things like eliminating repetitive words, consolidating when appropriate, reordering sentences and phrases within sentences to improve flow, and so on)
- Draw writer’s attention to big-picture content issues, including problems with logic and structure of material and how it’s organized
- Ensure consistency of use of headings and subheadings, format of chapters, and so on.
- And perhaps most importantly…do all of the above while maintaining the integrity and voice of the author
WHEN SHOULD YOU WORK WITH A COPYEDITOR?
So, back to the big question I mentioned at the top of this article…should you work with a copyeditor?
The answer depends on how good a writer you are, as well as what the final outcome for the writing project you’re working on is.
If you are a very strong writer, you will likely opt to skip hiring a freelance editor, as you will have edited, reworked, and refined the writing on your own to a point where you feel highly confident about its quality.
Likewise, if you are writing a book under contract for a traditional publisher, you will be provided with a copyeditor by the publisher (often a manuscript will be edited by a publisher multiple times), so hiring someone on your own will be unnecessary. (Sidenote… I have heard of well-known authors working with their own editor before turning in their manuscript to their publisher, but this isn’t the norm, and it’s totally their choice.)
On the flip side, if you don’t consider yourself a super strong writer, there would be two situations where I would suggest working with a copyeditor. The first is if you do not have a publishing contract and you’re either writing a book proposal or manuscript that you intend to pitch to agents and publishers. The second is if you are planning to self-publish your project. In both cases, working with a good copyeditor will ensure that the writing you share with the world is in its best possible form.
TIPS FOR WORKING WITH A COPYEDITOR
- Don’t send your material to a copyeditor until your draft is in great shape. I do a lot of copyediting for clients and I always recommend that they wait to hire me until their manuscript is as final as possible, as they will get much more out of the editorial process. Why? Because the rougher the draft, the more time I’ll have to spend just getting the writing cleaned up and I won’t be able to focus on the fine tuning that can make the difference between a great piece of a writing and an excellent one.
- Before you hire a copyeditor, ask them to edit a short sample of your writing on spec to ensure their editing approach is going to result in a final product you love.
- Do your research and shop around. Rates for copyeditors vary (anywhere from $40 to $100 an hour and up, based on a certain number of pages per hour at 250 words per page), as does the editor’s level of experience.
- Find out exactly what an editor will include as part of the copyediting package. Will they input edits for you or return edits written in hand on paper? Will they be available for follow-up questions via email or phone?
- Get a quote upfront and be clear on all the terms of the working relationship, including in which format you need to deliver the manuscript, what their timeline for completing the job is, when they require payment, and so on.
WHERE CAN YOU FIND A COPYEDITOR?
- Referrals: Begin by asking friends for referrals. There are a lot of freelance editors out there, so a firsthand recommendation is great if you can get it.
- Writing Coaches: Many writing coaches offer copyediting services in addition to their coaching services (like me!)
- Professional Organizations / Communities: MediaBistro and Editcetera are two good places to start.
In my next post, I’ll write about the last step before getting ready to publish: PROOFING