Friday, 30 October 2009

How To Test A Copy Editor

A good copy editor can significantly improve a book in all sorts of subtle and beautiful ways; a bad one can slash-and-burn their way through a manuscript and render it almost unreadable.

If you've ever considered hiring a copy editor to look at your work before you send it off to publishers or agents, here's a handy list of questions to ask before you trust them with your book. Read every word. Learn it off by heart. This is why professional editors are to be respected and adored.

16 comments:

Jill Edmondson said...

Excellent reminder. I looked at the "questions to ask" link and this is very helpful.

As a writer, you could be (unpleasantly) surprised by what a copy editor does with your work if you did not ask up-front what s/he considers teh scope fo the work (and latitude... I liked that part).

A reminder though: even a great copy editor - who checks the book seevral times - may still miss a thing or two. It happens.

Thanks, Jill
www.jilledmondson.blogspot.com

green_knight said...

It's a fantastic list. However, I had not heard the term 'preferred speech' and in six years of hanging out on a busy copy edittors' list, you'd think I would. Apart from quotations, which are sacrosanct, it's most often referred to as 'leaving the writer's voice alone.'

The other problem is that you get what you ask for. If you want a light copy edit, you *will* get only the spelling and glaring mistakes; but if you want a copy edit on the cheap, you only buy so much of your copy editor's time.

While I create a style sheet, I don't do much marking up, unless there's a discrepancy - that's what Word's search function is for. It is also for finding that the author really meant to use x which became clear in chapter 3, so you have to go and erase your correction from chapter 1. Very quietly.


Last but not least, I mostly use house style - whatever the publisher or the intended audience are familiar with.

Nicola Morgan said...

Brilliant. Every writer should read this list, even if they're not planning to interview a copy-editor - because it underlines what a very important and skilful job a good c-ed does. So many people think it's just about spotting typos. Gah.

Marshall Buckley said...

Wow. I certainly learned a thing or two there - I'm with Nicola, I've no intention of calling upon a copy-editor any time soon (other than one employed by a publisher, and assigned to me, that is) but there were plenty of things in there that I didn't know.

Great article.

wealhtheow said...

Gosh -- copy-editing trade fiction really is a completely different job. Imagine being asked about one's preferences for style manuals and dictionaries!

(I currently copy-edit 10 scholarly journals, either in-house or freelance, for which I am expected to use, variously, Chicago, MLA, APA, the McGill Guide [Canadian legal citation], Vancouver/ICMJE [medical style], or some combination thereof and, variously, the Concise Oxford or Webster's 10th. My colleagues and I tell people all the time how much we hate Chicago 15th, but nobody ever listens...)

Then again, I would never for a moment pretend to be qualified to copy-edit fiction. If someone approached me with such a request, I would politely but firmly direct them to the Editors' Association of Canada's online directory, which is full of people who are so qualified.

Derek said...

Weltheow, what do you dislike about Chicago 15? Just curious.

emmadarwin said...

Great post, and lovely to see someone being rude about Strunk & White, too...

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

I love my copyeditor- I really do. And she's a comma nazi. I'm a comma addict. We get along great.

emma darwin said...

It's been particularly interesting having my novels copy-editing for the US market: definitely a different comma-culture...

The romantic query letter and the happy-ever-after said...

Thanks for the list I’m looking for a content editor at present and it will absolutely help.
All the very best,
Simone

DanielB said...

I have been enormously lucky to have had extremely good copy editors on all of my recent books. Steve Tribe at BBC Books was an absolute godsend. He picked up on all sorts of things, including where I had David Tennant "channelling Tom Baker" too often... and the odd case of the Twins Who Were No Longer Twins, which could have caused me sever embarrassment were it not for Steve's eagle eye.

DanielB said...

Or even SEVERE. There we are, I need a copy-editor... gaah...

Jane Smith said...

Just to give you an idea of how meticulous a copy editor can be, I shall first remind you that I've worked as a non-fiction copy editor (copy-editor?). I have dusted off my special blue pencil, have read all the comments here, and while I'm happy to award a silver star to Daniel Blythe for spotting his own mistake, the rest of you don't do quite so well: only two out of the twelve comments here require no correction.

I won't tell you which two; but I think it's very interesting how even established, capable writers like us let errors slip in.

I make this comment not to upset or demean you all, but to show how essential good editing is, and how difficult it is to get your work clean and tidy without a good editor at your side.

(And now you can all pick holes in this comment which is, I'm sure, packed with mistakes.)

emmadarwin said...

The uber-copy-editor, Judith Butcher, says it's copy-editing, with a hyphen...

Derek said...

Amy Einsohn (The Copyeditor's Handbook, p. 15) notes that the closed compounds are preferred in book publishing but the open forms among journalists. Hyphenation seems to me more common in the UK.

chet said...

Only one dictionary? Only one style manual? That should say something. :-)