“I crossed out ‘Tuesday’ because later you say it’s Wednesday.”
“She’s fifty-nine here and fifty-eight on page 102. Which one?”
“If he Googles the land line, why is she answering the call on her cell phone?”
I’m going through the copy editor’s remarks on my new manuscript—the one that will be published by Penguin Random House as HAVEN LAKE in April 2015. And, once again, I can’t believe all the mistakes I made in this book—even after eight or nine revisions, two of which were done in collaboration with my savvy, brilliant editor.
Writers and readers sometimes wonder why it takes so long to publish a book with a traditional house. Here’s why: every step of the process takes time.
First, you send your novel to an agent, who (you hope) likes it enough to shop it around to various suitable editors. An editor buys it (you hope) and goes through the manuscript, suggesting revisions in an editorial letter. You address her queries and suggestions, and then you send the revised manuscript back to the editor. The editor then reads through the new draft and sends it back to you with (you hope) fewer suggestions, catching a few fine points here and there, praising you or telling you to rework certain sections. You do all that and send it back.
Four books ago, I thought the next step would be publication, but oh no. The next step is copy editing, and here’s where the party really begins: a copy editor is someone who takes out her bright lamp, microscope, and fine-toothed comb. She nit-picks through each one of your pages, catching time transitions that don’t make sense, erroneous spellings, accent marks if one of your characters happens to speak a foreign language, word repetitions, name changes or hair color changes you forgot you made, etc. In other words, the copy editor is a fierce, mistake-seeking hound, nosing around in every dark corner of every paragraph to make sure you get things right.
Copy editors are worth their weight in gold, yet hardly ever garner a mention. So here it is, a shout-out to you, copy editors around the world: we writers and readers are so lucky to have you smoothing sentences and paragraphs and chapters. Thank you for all of your hard work.
And for those of you who are self-publishing books, some advice: if you have any extra funds, do yourselves a favor and hire a copy editor. Your books—and your reputation as a writer—will be better because of it.
Now back to my manuscript and the copy editor’s bubble comments in the margin:
“It can’t be Saturday here, because you said it was a school day earlier.”
“Same words in previous sentence. Change here?”
As John Cleese of Monty Python would say, “My brain hurts.” But it’s so worth it. No manuscript will ever be perfect. But, thanks to copy editors, we can get closer.
Michelle James says
It sounds like very tedious work to me. Be happy you don’t have to rely on me to do it.
Amy Schneider says
This copyeditor thanks you for your appreciation! We really do want to help make our authors’ books the best they can be. Lovely article. Made my day.
David Antrobus says
Speaking as one of those copyeditor types, it’s because most people would find it tedious that our work is so valuable. Personally I love it, find it endlessly fascinating. Thanks, Holly, for shining a light on a group perhaps more accustomed to the anonymity of darkness.
Darlene Elizabeth Williams says
Thank you, Holly! It’s nice to hear a shout out, rather than a screech at copy editing costs. I love my job; ferreting out inconsistencies, etc., isn’t tedious in my books. It’s heartwarming helping authors polish their manuscripts to showcase their talents, dedication to the art of writing, and hard work. Almost everything in life is about the small details.
Char James-Tanny says
Thank you! Copy editing is anything but tedious…we get to read new stuff on a variety of subjects all the time, and we get to work like CSI agents but with words. We get to be as nit-picky as we want because our goal is making your work better, whether it’s a novel or user documentation or standards.
Laura Poole says
As a copyeditor, I would like to say “thank you!” for the kind words! I love to catch those little errors, tighten up the prose, and make writing better. If I do my job well, the author and the publisher look good, and everyone is happy. Thanks for noticing the value of the work we do!
Mark Harvey says
Actually it’s Michael Palin not John Cleese who says, “My brain hurts.” (Cleese then says, “My brain hurts too.”) Can you tell I’m a copy editor? Thanks for the love. x
pradeep nair says
The comma after hurts… 🙂
Aden Nichols says
Holly, thanks so much for acknowledging the dedication of the essentially anonymous copyeditors (Chicago prefers it closed up).
As Amy Einsohn noted, the copyeditor’s mandate is to ride herd over the “‘4 Cs’–clarity, coherency, consistency, and correctness.” I view my primary task as ensuring that the author connects with the reader; the editor is the reader’s advocate and the writer’s best friend.
Copyediting is not some monomaniacal quest to achieve grammatical perfection–how sterile would that prose be? Sometimes you have to break the “rules” to let the work breathe. And therein lies the art…
It’s worth noting that the duties you ascribe to the in-house editor fall under the heading of “developmental editing,” which is often subbed out these days. Quite apart from copyediting, this is big-picture structural work, and it shouldn’t be overlooked by the indie or self-pub author. In many cases, freelance editors offer both services.
Dawn Loewen says
Another copy editor basking in the glow of this lovely praise. Thank you so much for appreciating what we do! I feel grateful every day that I have a job that doesn’t feel like work.
Mary Ann Koontz says
I have retired but can’t stop….I cringe when I see mistakes, such as ‘pleaded’ instead of ‘pled’. But I don’t miss fact-checking. I used to hope that a reviewer wouldn’t catch the one error I missed! Thank you so much for these kind words!
Laurie Lewis says
What a wonderful article! Thanks for the support of all aspects of publishing. I loved my editor, all through those long months of fiddling, fine tuning. I’d love to hear some kind words too for the graphic designer who has to figure out how those words should look on the page. (IF there’s still a “page”.)
April Michelle Davis says
It is so nice to hear the appreciation for copyeditors. More often, we hear reprimand for the one error we missed.
Cassie Tuttle says
This copyeditor thanks you, Holly, for your words of appreciation. Yes, the publishing process can be a long and arduous one, and most readers don’t realize what goes on behind the scenes. I echo the sentiments of my colleagues here: I feel lucky to be able to earn a living doing what I love — language, words, grammar, and details.
And your advice to self-publishing authors about hiring a copyeditor is right-on. I’m afraid as we begin to see more self-published books and e-books, we’ll see a coincident decline in “good” and “correct” writing.
A couple years ago, author Roy Peter Clark also wrote an article showing some love to copyeditors.
pradeep nair says
A thankless job, it may seem. But the best reward for a copy-editor at the end of the day, besides the satisfaction of having spotted and corrected an error, is the quiet thrill of having learnt something new – a word, usage or anything that would make him/her better in his job.
Judith Reveal says
I too find that copyediting is anything but tedious because I get to read the work of others. I’ve developed wonderful, lasting relationships with authors who recognize the importance of having their work properly edited. The work is a joy to me, anything but tedious.
Lee Ellen Pottie says
I love editing because I love reading and I really dislike being jarred from the story by mistakes. Thank you so much for the kind words.
Laura Whittemore says
Thank goodness for writers; without them I would be out of a job. Dealing with details isn’t for everyone, but it is for me.
Christina Crossley Ratcliffe says
Thank you, Holly, and well done, your unnamed editor!
We are rightly proud of our editors, our face-saving graces and guardians of our grammar. If you’re happy and you know it, sing their praise!
The Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002 records the life of Barbara Mary Ramsden (1903-1971), a legendary Australian editor.
In 1941 Ramsden was formally appointed assistant-reader with Melbourne University Press. Her legacy was seen in the growth of M.U.P., in the generation of editors whom she trained, and in standard set by her meticulous editing.
Her biographer, Ros Moye, wrote in 1988* that she was a formidable editor, both in expertise and in manner, providing much of the stability and authority in scholarship that M.U.P. enjoyed.
Ramsden served as honorary treasurer of Melbourne’s literary pioneers, the Victorian branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers. Her death in 1971 prompted the FAW to establish as her memorial the Barbara Ramsden award for books that reflect credit on both author and editor.
This annual award will be sponsored in 2014-15 by Penguin Random House in recognition of the importance of editors’ work.
Entries are now open, and guidelines for the award, which applies to any professionally edited manuscript, are available from .
*R. Moye, ‘The ”Legendary” Barbara Ramsden, Book Editor’, in Melbourne University Mosaic (Melb, 1998).
Christina Crossley Ratcliffe says
The email address for the FAW Barbara Ramsden Award seems to have dropped out of my post (above). Here it is again without the angle brackets: email@example.com. or ring Lynn on 0407 868 814.
(And — editor’s cringe — please excuse the missing ‘the’ before ‘standards’ in the post!).
Lynn McClelland (aka Lily Mack) says
Thanks, Holly, for the recognition. Reading through your examples is like taking a look at my own work. I am a lifelong avid reader who wishes she was a writer, but doesn’t possess the ability to develop complete plot lines, characters, etc. My writing consists of a little poetry, and the blurbs and back ad matter of books that I copyedit/proofread. That being said, I am happy to do the work I do, enjoy the written word of others, love working with creative people, and am just as excited and proud as the author when his/her book is published.
For those of you who feel you don’t want the added expense of a copyeditor, I honestly believe it is worthwhile in the long run. I find myself picking up mistakes when reading published works (even those of established authors) and it upsets me because it takes away from the total enjoyment in experiencing the result of the author’s blood, sweat, and tears.
I offer two different fees for copyediting and proofreading. With the proofreading service alone, you get a once over for typos, grammatical issues, punctuation, etc. With the copyediting service, you get constructive suggestions, identification of any confusing items or inconsistencies, and corrections for typos, grammatical issues, and punctuation, plus a free second read (proofread) once you’ve accepted the changes. This helps to pick up any items that may have been overlooked or accidentally changed in transition to the approval stage.
I work in all genres and have worked freelance with both a subsidy publisher and indie authors, many of whom are creating their first masterpiece. I’ve edited/proofread approximately 200 books over the last 7 or 8 years. If anyone has any questions or would like any addition information, please feel free to email me.
Thanks again, Holly, and best wishes and good luck to all of you.
Rachel Hockett says
This post is a rare treat. It is but seldom that authors publicly acknowledge our work, and like Christmas morning when they do, so thank you.
Patti Bower says
Another copy editor thanks you. But I sure wish copyediting wasn’t relegated to “things to do if you have EXTRA funds.” Put it in the budget. Prioritize it! It’s that important.
Erin Griggs says
Some corrections are automatic for a copy editor; some require a look at CmoS or the house style guide, and some require a full-on assault on history, science, etiquette or the OED for anachronistic etymology usages.
And sometimes the CE gets lambasted by the editor or author for “too much attention to detail.”
Er…that’s kind of what you hired me for? Do you want your reader to be thrown out of your story for an inaccuracy or typo? My job is to make you look, both the author and the editor.
It’s fun, for the most part, but it can be frustrating when you wonder “Did anyone even bother to run this thing through basic SPELLCHECK before handing it off to me?”
But then you get editors and authors who are a joy to work with, and it balances out.
Cheryl Wright says
Gosh, thank you for the “shout out”. It’s sweet of you to show appreciation for the work I do and love.
You’re welcome! We love what we do. 🙂
Nora Tamada says
Thank you for the shout out! Copyediting is what I was born to do and I’ve been blessed with wonderful clients who often express appreciation. I just love making good books even better.
Samarpita Sharma says
Thanks for the love. 🙂
Mary McCauley says
Holly, thank you so much for writing this blog post – reading it has put a smile on my face. I’ve been extremely lucky to work with some wonderful authors who, like you, appreciate the job we copy-editors do. Best of luck with the publication of your new novel!
Lori Paximadis says
Thank you for the thanks! Our work as copyeditors, if it is well done, is invisible but important. It’s our job to make the text the best it can be, remove stumbling blocks from the reader’s path, and allow the author’s story/ideas/research to shine. It’s gratifying work for those of us who enjoy it.
Liz Hoskinson says
I’m a copy editor, and I love doing it. It’s discernment; it’s knowing language; it’s reading the lines, but also between the lines…
Nichole Kraft says
Thank you so much for the kind words to our profession! I’m going to print this post out and keep it for future encouragement. Thanks again!
Pat Truman says
You really captured what we do and what we love – I know that is redundant! Thank you so much!!
Gwen Simmons says
Thank you so much for taking the time to show your appreciation for our work. I never grow weary of combing through copy and, as you put it, nitpicking through every page, looking for mistakes. Love it!
Amanda Stone says
Thanks for the love and encouragement! I am just getting started as an editor, but I love what I do. I also have a full-time job, and recently, I was doing a sample edit on my lunch break at my desk. One of my coworkers passed by and saw the huge smile on my face and said, “You’re editing, aren’t you?” To me, it’s so much fun to hunt through a manuscript for errors so that I can bring out the best book possible, and I LOVE building relationships with authors throughout the process. Nothing compares to that. 🙂