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Copy editing | Inside Publishing


Copy editing and Proof-reading

Chris Holifield 2017What is copy editing?

Perhaps, as an author, you feel you do not understand what copy editing is, or why you should need it. Copy editing, or line editing as it is sometimes called in publishing circles, is the painstaking job of going through a manuscript line by line to correct the spelling, grammar and punctuation.

A good copy editor will also correct errors, such as poor continuity (the heroine having dark hair on one page, but metamorphosing into a blonde later on) and factual errors (such as placing a town in the wrong place). He/she will also comment on more general textual problems (for instance, confusion about who is saying what in dialogue, or placing a character in the wrong place) and will if necessary raise a list of more general queries for the author to consider.

If you are trying to get your work published and know that it is full of minor errors, it's worth considering copy editing before submitting it, as these errors will not encourage editors or agents to read on, or to take your work seriously. It is important that your work suggests you are literate! If you are self-publishing it will be essential to get your work copy edited before proceeding. A cheaper alternative would be to get a literate friend to go through your manuscript, but don’t imagine that this will be the same thing, as copy editing is a highly skilled activity which requires many hours of focused work. Most copy editors have learnt their trade over many years of working for publishers and they possess the essential expertise which can transform your manuscript into something which is ready to be printed.

Isn’t copy editing the publisher’s job?

If you do already have a publisher, then don't worry about copy editing, as your publisher will deal with this as part of the work involved in preparing the book for publication. When the publisher's copy editor has finished their work it is advisable to check through the changes to your copy edited manuscript though, particularly if there are a lot of them, to make sure that you are happy with what the copy editor has done.  You should also check the proofs very carefully, even if your publisher has a professional proof-reader reading them too, because in the end it is your book and you are responsible for making sure you are happy with the printed version.

What about self-publishing?

Authors who are publishing their own work will be wondering whether they should go to the additional expense of having it copy edited before it goes to the printer. My advice would be that this is essential if your book is not to look illiterate in its finished form. Even the most meticulous of writers will have difficulty in spotting mistakes in their own copy, although they should be encouraged to use a spellchecker and then to go through it as carefully as possible before anyone else starts work on it. It’s always worth asking a trustworthy and literate friend to read it with a critical eye. But the author should then think hard about stumping up the money for copy editing as an essential part of the self-publishing process.

So, what is proof-reading?

Proof-reading is a separate activity from copy editing and should always be done afterwards as part of a final check that the text is in good order. Traditionally, proof-reading was done at galley stage, when the text was set up in type but not yet made into pages. There would then have been a final stage during which the corrections made at galley stage were checked in the page proofs.

In theory digital typesetting has meant that proof-reading is not necessary but publishers still employ proof-readers to check that the text is correct and that any corrections made by the copy editor have been correctly input. If you are self-publishing you might want to skip this, but you should check the text through carefully before you pass it for press, as it will be more expensive to make the corrections later.

The plethora of errors in printed books is the result of poor copy editing and proof-reading, and it is important to check the work systematically at each stage, to make sure that errors have been corrected and that the text is in the best possible shape. Otherwise, particularly if you are self-publishing, you risk being disappointed with your finished book.

WritersServices offer their own range of professional copy editing services, which is the most extensive available on the web, and there is also a Proof-reading service. Our copy editing services are carried out by professional editors and we provide two versions of the text - one showing track changes, so you can see exactly what has been changed, and one with the changes accepted, for you to work on. If required, we also provide sample edits to show what needs editing.

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Chris Holifield