What is copyediting? Part 1
‘Copyediting’ is a term many find mysterious.
But what does it mean?
There are different kinds of copyediting, depending on what type of text the copy editor works on.
An ebook about caring for chameleons, for example, would usually require a different treatment from an academic book on the culture of ancient Rome.
Also, copyediting fiction will differ from copyediting non-fiction.
The copy editor may be required to do a ‘light’ or ‘detailed’ edit, depending on the brief given to him or her.
Let’s look at the type of copyediting typically done for a publishing firm.
Copyediting – the process
When an author writes a book commissioned by an in-house ‘commissioning editor’, the book goes first 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 copyediting, 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’, of course, 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 style consistently throughout, this results in fewer copyediting 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)
So which is the best route to follow to get your book published?
To get a literary agent (who represents authors to publishing houses) 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 4,000 manuscripts a year and filter out the ones they think are worthless – typically 3,990.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Only around 10 out of 4,000 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, or errors of logic (non sequiturs), let alone structural problems, in your electronic files.
It makes sense to hire a professional copy editor to help you sculpt your text into the best shape possible.