Because what we do can be mystifying to authors, manuscripts come to us in all shapes and sizes. Over the years I’ve had books that are damn near perfect, and others that needed a lot of TLC to bring them up to publishable standard. Some come to me at the development stage, while others just need a quick tidy up.
For this little article we’re going to look at the copy editing stage – the bit in the middle, after the developmental edit and before the final proofread.
By the time you are ready to send your book to a copy editor (or copy-editor, or copyeditor … see things are never straightforward), you should have a structurally sound manuscript that just needs the spelling, punctuation, grammar, style and word usage fixed. Think of your copy editor as a word doctor – we can see what’s wrong and fix it for you.
Before you send your manuscript to your copy editor there are some things that will help us both, and may save you some cash in the process.
It’s not absolutely necessary, but a reader’s reaction to your book will give you some hints on how others will see it. Get someone who you know will be honest – you don’t want someone who is afraid to tell you the truth or who will stroke your ego unnecessarily. Engage a beta reader or have an editor critique it for you. Real reviewers won’t be afraid to tell it like it is, so get someone who will do the same for you before you give your book up to the paying public.
There’s no point in sending a book to be copy edited if it’s going to need rewritten in whole or in parts. Copy editors do not rewrite so you’d just be throwing money to the wind.
These may be structural (such as a flawed plot or a character changing appearance halfway through the book) or technical (the grammar, spelling etc.). It may mean you have to go back to the drawing board and rewrite a section, give a flagging plot a poke or sort out the spelling and grammatical mistakes, but you should fix what you can, then go back and have the book read again.
Do what you can yourself before hiring a copy editor: it will save them time and save you money.
Not every book will need a structural edit, but some really do. This is the most time-consuming type of editing, and will help you shape the structure and progression of your manuscript. It looks at the bigger picture, the story, voice and point of view.
You can’t fix the small things in a copy edit unless the big things have been sorted out.
It may sound obvious, but put your manuscript through a spellcheck. This won’t fix everything, but it will tidy up the writing. Remove double spaces after a full stop. Use Word’s style function. Take time over your work and don’t be in a rush to get it up on Amazon or wherever you want to make it available.
Fix what you can before hiring a copy editor, do what you can do to help yourself.
Does your manuscript look professional and read how you want it to? Are you completely happy with it? Are you prepared for your editor’s comments and suggestions?
Only when you are happy with it should you send your manuscript to your copy editor. They will flag up issues – when you are close to your writing there will always be issues that are brought to light by a pair of professional eyes.
Don’t send something that is unfinished.
By making sure that you’ve done the best you can for your work, you will be ready for a professional copy edit. Working closely with your copy editor will help you create a book you can be proud of, and you’ll be one step closer to those five-star reviews every author wants to see.