New Copy Editor Hard at Work

New Copy Editor Learning His Craft


One of the best tips I can give new copy editors is the following.

Instead of going through a file and dealing with each issue as you find it, do this: batch every task.

But what do I mean by “batch every task”?

For example, deal with all the chapter titles in one go. And don’t get sidetracked if you see something else that needs doing as you work your way through the chapter titles.

Then go over just the main chapter subheads.

Then tackle the chapter sub-subheads. See what I mean?

Multitasking is a bad way to work.

If you try to focus on, say, three different tasks at the same time, you end up doing none of them well. And it takes you longer to get the job done.

Instead focus 100% of your attention on just one task and you’ll (1) work faster, (2) get less tired mentally, and (3) make fewer mistakes.

Contact Expert Copy Editor Eldo Barkhuizen


As an on-screen copy editor your eyes are your most precious asset. You must look after them.

The best way to do this is by reducing the amount of light coming from the electronic page in front of you.

Do this in three ways:

  1. Make the colour of your desktop (your computer screen) a darkish colour (I like blue).
  2. Fill the white background with single-spaced lines of text. This will cut the amount of sharp light that penetrates your eyes.
  3. Narrow the column of text to around 7 centimetres, which halves the horizontal width of the page.
A wide page of double-spaced text

Wide page of double-spaced text. Ouch! I feel a headache coming on...


A narrow page of single-spaced text

Narrow page of single-spaced text. Much better – I can read for hours without stopping...

Plus by narrowing the horizontal column to 7 centimetres you’ll find it much easier to read the text.

This in turn has two further benefits: (a) you won’t get tired mentally as quickly as you would if you had to read a wide text column, and (b) if you’re checking author–date references, you’re much less likely to miss any as you run down the page.

A simple tip, but it makes a huge difference to my workday.

Try it!

Contact Expert Copy Editor Eldo Barkhuizen



Proofreading, done professionally, involves a lot more than just checking for spelling and grammar mistakes.

Let’s see what it’s all about.

Proofreading is a complex process, which falls roughly into 10 stages.

Proofreading – the 10 stages

The typesetter receives the author’s manuscript, on which the copy editor has made corrections and insertions. Or, more usual now, if the copy editor has edited the author’s book electronically on a computer (‘on-screen editing’), he sends these on-screen-edited files via email to the typesetter.

Next the typesetter follows the proofreading procedure below.

1. If the copy editor has edited on paper, the typesetter inserts the copy editor’s corrections from the copy-edited manuscript into the author’s electronic file, which is already on the typesetter’s computer.

Or, if the copy editor sent the typesetter a copy-edited electronic file, the copy editor corrected the file before sending it, so there is no need for the typesetter to make corrections.

2. Following the publisher’s style specifications (‘style spec’) for what the printed book pages should look like, the typesetter turns this corrected file into a formatted file (with a certain font size, headings styles, page width, number of lines per page, etc.).

3. The typesetter prints this formatted file out as page ‘proofs’, which look like the pages of a printed book.

4. The typesetter sends the page proofs (also known as ‘first proofs’) to a proofreader for proofreading (checking).

This is to ensure that the typesetter (1) inserted all the corrections the copy editor made on the manuscript (unless the file was copy-edited on-screen, in which case there are no copy-editor corrections to check) and (2) followed the publisher’s style specifications.

At the same time the author also receives a set of page proofs (a duplicate of those sent to the proofreader), to see what changes the copy editor made to her original manuscript or computer files.

5. Proofreading her set of proofs, the author marks any further changes (as few as possible) on them, and returns them to the proofreader (usually via the publisher).

6. The proofreader compares (‘collates’) the author’s set of marked proofs with the proofreader’s marked set and transfers the author’s marked corrections onto the proofreader’s set of proofs.

7. The proofreader sends her marked set of collated proofs to the typesetter so the typesetter can produce a second set of proofs, which incorporate the proofreading marks from the collated proofs.

8. When the typesetter has produced his second proofs (also known as ‘revised proofs’), he sends them back to the proofreader, so the proofreader can check them against the collated proofs – to ensure the typesetter has inserted all the corrections from the collated proofs.

9. When the proofreader has completed the proofreading, she returns the marked second proofs to the typesetter so he can produce the third or ‘final’ proofs.

10. Finally, as third proofs usually have very few (if any) errors, an in-house editor at the publishing house usually quickly checks these – the proofreader rarely has to check them.

Proofreading – what the proofreader does

Using industry-standard proofreading symbols, the proofreader corrects spelling or grammatical errors the copy editor missed. She also checks, for example, that

  • the typesetter followed the publisher’s style spec for the book closely
  • page numbers follow the correct sequence
  • no pages are missing
  • the table of contents matches the chapter headings
  • each page is the correct depth
  • running heads (the headings at the tops of the pages) are correct
  • end-of-line word breaks are correct (e.g. ‘cre-ation’ rather than ‘crea-tion’)
  • no line has fewer than five characters on it
  • a right-hand page doesn’t end with a colon (if possible)
  • the last page of a chapter has at least five lines of text, etc.

When proofreading, the proofreader marks on her set of proofs in blue ink the errors the copy editor missed. Typesetting errors are marked in red ink (before the proofreader sends these ‘first’ proofs back to the typesetter, so he can typeset them and produce a set of second, or ‘revised’, proofs).

This is so the typesetter knows which errors are typesetting ones (shown in red ink) and which are copy-editor errors (shown in blue ink) – the typesetter charges the publisher for the time taken to correct blue errors only.

Proofreading – how to cut your costs

Proofreading done correctly keeps the publisher’s costs as low as possible.

Many copy editors who still copy-edit on paper, rather than correcting electronic files, mark the author’s manuscript with blue ink. But it’s better to copy-edit using a red pen, as it’s far easier for the typesetter to spot red marks on a page of black type.

This speeds up the typesetting and helps keep the publisher’s production costs down.

Plus when the proofreader receives the proofs and copy editor’s marked manuscript from the typesetter for proofreading, it’s easier for the proofreader to see red insertions on the copy-edited page – when she compares the typeset proofs with the copy-edited paper copy (also known as ‘hard copy’).

Faster proofreading means the proofreader completes the job in less time, which means the publisher has to pay the proofreader less for the job. Again this keeps the publisher’s production costs down.

Or if the copy editor edited the book on screen (preferable to copy-editing a paper manuscript), the proofreader simply reads through the proofs, as there is no marked manuscript to compare the proofs to. Another reason why on-screen copy-editing is much more cost effective than copy-editing on paper, helping to reduce the proofreading costs.

Contact Expert Copy Editor Eldo Barkhuizen


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.

Contact Expert Copy Editor Eldo Barkhuizen


is a term many find mysterious. But what does it mean?

There are different kinds of copy-editing, depending on what type of text the copy editor is working on.

An ebook about dog training, for example, would usually require a different treatment to an academic book on the culture of ancient Rome.

And the copy editor may be required to do a “light” or a “detailed” edit, depending on the brief given to him or her.

Let’s look at the type of copy-editing typically done for a publishing firm.

Copy-editing – the process

When an author writes a book commissioned by an in-house editor, the book first goes to a copy editor. The copy editor must have a thorough knowledge of the publishing firm’s house style so she’ll know what format the book should follow.

For instance, publisher A’s house style may be to use “-ize” rather than “-ise” spellings (e.g. “finalize” rather than “finalise”).

When copy-editing, the copy editor checks every “-ise” spelling and sees whether or not it should be changed to an “-ize” one, to conform with publisher A’s house-style rules. (Some words, such as “advertisement”, cannot change.)

Sometimes the publisher allows the copy editor to follow an author’s style rather than the house style – if authors have used their own style consistently throughout, this results in fewer copy-editing corrections, which keeps the publisher’s costs down.

A major part of the copy editor’s task, then, is to ensure that spellings and styles appear consistently throughout the book.

Among other things the copy editor has to

  • make sure the text’s meaning is clear
  • get rid of errors in logic, spelling and grammar
  • make sure that subheadings are relevant and follow in
    the proper order
  • check that photos or illustrations have the correct
    numbering and captions, and that the captions follow
    the house style
  • make sure the typesetter knows what style to use for
    headings, displayed blocks of text, etc. (from typesetting codes the copy
    editor inserts beside the various text elements)

Want to get your book published?

To get a literary agent to read more than just the first page of your first three chapters is a huge achievement.

Many publishers now accept manuscripts only from literary agents. Literary agents commonly receive around four thousand manuscripts a year and filter out the ones they think are worthless – typically 3,990.

Yes, you read that correctly. Only around ten out of  four thousand manuscripts sent to a literary agent a year avoid the slush pile!

So the last thing you want is to have any spelling or grammatical mistakes, let alone structural problems, in your manuscript.

In part 2 we’ll look at the difference between copy-editing done on paper and that done directly on a computer screen – “on-screen editing”.

Contact Expert Copy Editor Eldo Barkhuizen