Copy-editing was traditionally done on paper. The author would type her book out using a typewriter or electronic word processor, and then post the typewritten pages to the publisher, who would forward them to a copy editor.
Although a more efficient copy-editing method has now largely superseded this outdated procedure, some copy editors still prefer to copy-edit on the author’s manuscript.
So we’ll briefly look at the two kinds of copy-editing.
Copy-editing – ancient and modern
Copy-editing on paper
Traditional copy editors edit on paper, “hard copy”, using either a red or a blue pen. (In a later post I’ll discuss which colour I think is best and ask you to post comments about your opinion.)
As the lines between the type (“copy”) are double spaced, using standard copy-editing marks the copy editor crosses out text and inserts changes in the margins or above the crossed-out lines of copy. Hence the term “copy-editing”.
The copy editor also inserts typesetting codes in the left-hand margin beside the various page elements, so the typesetter will know how to format these.
For example, the copy editor might insert a “CH” to the left of the chapter heading, and make a ring around the CH, so the typesetter will know this is a code and not text for insertion.
The typesetter has the publisher’s book formatting style to follow, so will set the chapter heading according to the correct format (say bold, upper case, Rotis Sans Serif font).
When she’s completed the copy-editing and has inserted all the author’s replies to her queries, unless she works in-house the copy editor posts the edited manuscript back to the publishing house.
Copy-editing on a computer
Editing on a computer screen rather than on hard copy is known as “on-screen editing”. This newer procedure is fast replacing traditional hard-copy editing because on-screen editing is far more efficient and thus more cost effective.
With on-screen editing, the typesetter has the copy editor’s corrected, coded files to work with, rather than having to transfer thousands of corrected characters from a copy-edited manuscript to the computer screen.
Plus if a copy editor has unclear handwriting (or has used a pen with faint ink or a thin nib), the typesetter has a tough time trying to decipher the corrections from a marked manuscript.
This slows down the typesetting and bumps up the typesetting costs (because the job takes longer).
As the typesetter has much less work (no corrections to transfer from the hard copy to an electronic file), the typesetting is completed a lot faster. Which results in
- reduced typesetting costs, and
- the book’s production schedule is shorter.
Also, on-screen copy-editing means the freelance copy editor can quickly and easily transfer the edited files back to the publisher via email … rather than having to take time to (1) weigh, address and seal a heavy parcel of copy-edited pages, (2) drive to the post office, (3) find a parking space, (4) pay the parking fee, (5) join a long queue, (6) post the parcel, and finally (7) drive back to the office again.
Moreover, as email is instantaneous, the publisher gets the files almost immediately, rather than having to wait until the next day for the post to arrive – and there’s always the risk of delayed arrival or of the parcel being lost.
Copy-edited files sent via email therefore save a huge amount of time and get rid of postal costs.
In the next post we’ll look at the proofreading stage of the publishing process.