What is a copy editor?
A copy editor is a type of editor that focuses on every single word typed. We focus on aiding comprehension with proper grammar to avoid confusion.
Let me give you an example of confusion that could have been prevented by a copy editor. You know the song, “There was a farmer who had a dog, and Bingo was his name-o.” Wait. Whose name is Bingo? The farmer or the dog? Suppose Bingo goes on to drive a car and cook dinner. Is this normal farmer behavior, or does the dog know a lot of amazing tricks? This is a silly example where it doesn’t really matter, but I hope this demonstrates how confusion can easily occur in writing, and how a copy editor can be absolutely necessary to make sure your readers aren’t confused.
What does a copy editor do?
A copy editor reads the entire manuscript while checking for many things: incorrect grammar, spelling, and punctuation; spacing and basic formatting issues; effective writing techniques such as word choice, parallel construction, passive voice over active voice, limited repetitions and clichés, avoiding vague or offensive language; and consistency of spelling and treatment of names, places, objects, actions, etc.
Copy editors keep you from spelling names of things differently throughout the book. Is it Hannah or Hanna? Is the restaurant called Mo’s Bar or Moe’s Bar? Keep it consistent. We also make sure words are treated the same throughout the book. Is it Wizard or wizard? Either is fine, but it has to be the same throughout the whole book.
What does a copy editor not do?
A copy editor does not squash out your voice. That’s not our job. Our job is to make sure you know the rules so you can choose which ones help comprehension of your book and which ones you want to purposely break.
One of the reasons you might have picked self-publishing over traditional publishing is so you could have control over your book. Don’t let editors force you into things. You are ultimately the one in charge. I might ask you to explain your reasoning for wanting something, but you always have the final say.
When should I hire a copy editor?
Copy editors should receive your manuscript after the entire book is written and other editors have looked at it already (if you choose to do that). If you didn’t know that there were other types of editors, check out this post to find out about them! Other editors can help solidify characters, settings, scenes, plot, structure, pace, point of view, mood, tone, voice, etc. These are all big-picture things. After all of that is set, and you’re ready to move to the next step, that’s when you need a copy editor. Make sure to get those other things figured out first because if you have a copy editor check your manuscript word for word, then another editor tells you that you should rework a dialogue scene, you’ll need a copy editor again. So just wait until you’re happy with all the story elements and scenes before moving on to a copy editor.
Do I really need one?
Yes. Do you really want to spend all that time, effort, and money to publish a book that has confusing sentences and inconsistencies all over the place? What a waste! Show your project the respect it deserves by having a copy editor help you to clean up your manuscript. You want your readers to relate to and understand your characters without being pulled from the book to go back and reread a sentence to figure out what just happened.
How do I find a copy editor?
Ask around for recommendations from friends, writers, or other people in the self-publishing industry. Search directories, Google, or social media groups. Then when you find a few, check out their websites for reviews, credentials, relevant experience, and rates.
If all these things look good to you, reach out to get more information about a quote specific to your project. You can ask for a sample edit from copy editors before signing on as well. Some editors do those for free, others charge but put it toward your final invoice if you sign with them. Get in contact to get your questions answered. If you want more advice on how to find an editor appropriate for your project, visit my site and check out my blog!
Do some research to find out which copy editor is right for you and your project!
My name is Carly Catt, and I am a professional proofreader and copy editor for nonfiction and fiction books of various genres.