Copyediting: It Doesn’t End With Your Manuscript

by | Feb 19, 2016

By Arlene Miller (@TheGrammarDiva)

There is often confusion about the role, and importance, of a copyeditor in the self-publishing process. Today, former English teacher and member of Bay Area Independent Publishing Association (BAIPA), Arlene Miller, explains what copyeditors do and why authors still need to be involved.


You have written a book. You have submitted your masterpiece to a copyeditor, who has returned it with comments and corrections. You have taken care of those comments and corrections. You are done. Ready for print! Not so fast.

What Copyeditors Look For

First of all, since this article is about “copyediting,” let’s review what copyeditors look for and how they are different from proofreaders. Copyeditors and proofreaders often get put into the same category. Although they can and do overlap, they are not the same thing.

Proofreading refers to checking actual proofs, which used to be called “galleys” or “blues” before everything became computerized. Now, authors get proofs from Amazon’s CreateSpace or Lightning Source or whatever printer they might be using. However, the proofs look just like the finished book. Back in the day, proofreaders looked mostly for printer errors—missing lines, faded print, missing page numbers or headers, or missing pages. The proofreader marked the errors with AE (author error, for example, typos) or PE (printer error). The author errors would cost money to fix because proofreading was actually too late to correct these errors. That was the job of the copyeditor. Today, authors can fix anything in the proofs and just reload the file.

The copyeditor can be the only editor to see the book—if no developmental editor has been used—and is generally the last person to see the book. So the copyeditor is quite significant to the quality of the book. Generally, the copyeditor corrects, comments, and questions.

Here are some of the things the copyeditor looks for:

  • typos;
  • misspellings;
  • incorrect grammar and punctuation;
  • unclear sentences;
  • awkward writing;
  • unclear words like which, that, he, or she when the reader can’t tell what the word refers to;
  • inconsistency in format,
  • capitalization,
  • hyphenation of words,
  • proper nouns;
  • and anything that doesn’t seem quite right, such as calling a character by a different name, or text that doesn’t make sense.

When You Get the Book Back from Editing

Now back to your manuscript, which has visited the copyeditor and is now ready for print. Hang on. Did the copyeditor receive the front matter and end matter or just the manuscript itself?

Some of the easiest places to miss errors are on:

  • the cover,
  • title page,
  • copyright page,
  • table of contents,
  • and back cover.

Sometimes we just assume that whoever did the covers did them perfectly. And the copyright page is often mainly boilerplate. It is very difficult to see a mistake on the cover because our eyes want to see the cover as it should be.

A friend of mine told me her name was spelled incorrectly on the cover, and the book went to production that way. We just assume our name is going to be spelled correctly, right? And one of my previous books had a typo on the copyright page. But who reads that page anyway, you ask? Well, sometimes that is where our contact information is, so we want the page to be correct. My latest book had a typo right in the subtitle. It wasn’t the final cover, but I very well could have missed the typo, and it would have stayed right up until production. Good thing I posted the cover on Facebook, and someone caught the error and called my attention to it!

Whether or not you sent the covers, front matter, and end matter to your copyeditor, be sure to give them a final careful look before uploading your files for printing. And while you are checking out the cover, the title page, and the copyright page, don’t forget to look at the back cover carefully—and the spine, which probably has print on it as well. The table of contents is generally going to have correct page numbers because it is automated in InDesign, but it should have been copyedited to make sure that the chapter titles and sections exactly match those in the text in wording and capitalization.

And There Is Still More To Do!

Okay. Now you are really done and you are uploading your files—or having someone else upload for you. Done! Well, not quite . . .

You are a writer, an author, a professional.

  • Do you have a blog?
  • Do you use social media?
  • Do you write news releases?
  • Do you have a website?
  • Do you write e-mails?
  • Do you write promotional materials?
  • Do you have bookmarks and business cards?

If you are like many of us (I admit my guilt), you do your best proofreading after you hit Send on your e-mails. Imagine how I feel, as The Grammar Diva, when I send out my blog posts with typos? I know; it is tedious to proofread everything we write ourselves. But we must. We are professionals, and everything we send out—from Tweets to press releases—must be free of mistakes. You can carefully look at everything yourself, but sometimes it is difficult to see your own mistakes, particularly a little word like it, which you have written as in. And while it is always wise to use a spell checker, we are also aware of its many shortcomings. You can have a friend or colleague look at your writing. You can use a copyeditor for everything, but that could be pricey and time-consuming. You can use an online grammar/writing checker. I have not used one, but apparently Grammarly has quite a good one for a small monthly fee.

Whatever you use, do something to make sure that all your writing is as wonderful as your book!

Arlene Miller headshotx125Arlene Miller, also known as The Grammar Diva, is a copyeditor and bestselling Amazon author of six grammar books, including The Best Little Grammar Book Ever, The Best Grammar Workbook Ever and her newest book, Fifty Shades of Grammar, a collection of fifty of her blog posts. For more information about Arlene, visit her website The Grammar Diva.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com. Amazon links contain my affiliate code.

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23 Comments

  1. Emefa

    Excellent post, I always hold that dear to me. As an author, you just don’t write, you edit, design and do all other duties. You’re more than just a writer.

    Reply
  2. Phoebe

    Interesting how the jobs of editors varies from fiction to non-fiction. It’s a shame you used fiction examples in your final bullet point for the type of copyediting used in non-fiction.
    In fiction, half of what you claim is copyediting is actually line-editing (awkward writing, unclear sentences and unclear words), something you haven’t mentioned at all. Does this just not happen with non-fiction?

    Reply
  3. Zack Humes

    Liked that way you differentiated between proofreader and copy-editor. As you said, they both have similar work profiles but still there is a minute difference between the two.
    Now, summing up to your blog, I completely agree that it is very important to get your document copy-edited before publishing in order to ensure an error-free document.

    Reply
    • Arlene

      Thanks for the comment ! Yes, many people think the two jobs are the same.

      Reply
    • James wiseman

      Do you see an overlap between content editing and copy editing. Are they combinable in any way; perhaps sequentially?

      Reply
      • Arlene Miller

        There is certainly a sequence to them, with content editing coming first. All the types of editing tend to overlap. Content editing is related to developmental editing, I would think. I am not sure what content editing is precisely. In nonfiction, it would be more of a fact check. We copy editors usually do more than grammar, punctuation, word usage, capitalization, and consistency. We do notice issues with vagueness, organization, and other aspects of content; it is hard not to!

        Reply
  4. Phillip T. Stephens

    As a writer and editor, I can’t empasize to writers how many errors get through even after multiple passes.I can also tell you how many writers resent real editing, even when it helps their prose. I was fortunate enough to work with writers when I was young who beat it into my hugely egotistlcal head that no matter how brilliant my prose or poetic my line, someone could fine tune it for me (and then I could find an even better way to write it having seen then alternatives). Nothing is more frustrating to pick up your published piece and realize you flubbed a line, so seek our and trust your editor and then look again.

    And again.

    Reply
    • Arlene Miller

      Thank you for the comment and for the kudos for editors!

      Reply
  5. Jana Botkin

    Excellent explanation, Arlene! So many typos, so few proofreaders. . . so many errors, so few editors. I’ve been a professional artist for many years, but am always mentally proofing and editing everything I read and write.

    There is a greater need in the world for editors than artists, and due to the freelance nature of the work, I am now doing both these things that I love. It is a privilege to help an author tighten up her work or develop his story, and I am thrilled to be learning and growing in my new career.

    Reply
    • Arlene Miller

      Thanks for the comment, Jana. Yes, it seems that publishers and newspapers, etc., are letting their editors go…I am glad that you are doing what you love. We need you!

      Reply
  6. Alaura

    Thank you for the clear definition. I am utterly shocked when a writer who has self-published a book doesn’t understand even the basics of editing. One person told me it was how the book was set up inside for printing (aka interior formatting). I was speechless.

    Reply
    • Arlene Miller

      Thank you for the comment. I would be shocked too! Copyediting is a pretty familiar term to most people — I thought!

      Reply
  7. Kate Bogart

    Dear Miss Grammar Diva,
    Such an informative and insightful article. Thank you. While I am not ready to write my own novel quite yet, I realized from your article that I could be copy-editing now that I have left my career as a medical transciptionist. I just realized that what I thought was mere proofreading all these years is now “copy-editing”. I was always responsible for finding and fixing grammar errors, run-on sentences, etc., as well as making certain I had spelled everything correctly. I am so excited to think there is a new career open to me . . . And I can still work at home with my pups.
    Thank you,
    Kate

    Reply
    • Arlene Miller

      Interesting comment….many years ago I was a medical transcriptionist for a couple of years, although you would never know now by the way I type! Although copyediting does include all the things you mentioned, we also pick up things that are unclear, inconsistent, and confusing whether we are editing fiction or nonfiction. We still do think of proofreading as more of a typo-finding exercise, although the original function of a proofreader was more concerned with finding printer errors back in the day! Good luck with your new endeavor if you decide to copyedit!

      Reply
  8. Frances Caballo

    What a great post, Arlene. One place where I tend to make mistakes is in blog comments like this one. I probably should copy them and put them in Grammarly, but I don’t. However, I do reread them and try to correct errors. BTW: I love Grammarly. I pay a yearly fee of about $135, and I use it for all of my blog posts. It’s awesome, but it’s not perfect. I would never use Grammarly for a book. I would much rather use a copyeditor like you. Wait a minute; you are my copyeditor!

    Reply
    • Arlene Miller

      Thank you, Frances! Happy to be your copyeditor. And thank you for suggesting this topic for the post!

      Reply
  9. Michael N. Marcus

    Very informative, as I would expect from Arlene.

    In an era when so many books are produced from PDFs, genuine printer’s errors should be nearly non-existent.

    Printers (meaning Amazon and CreateSpace) still get blamed by newbies who did inadequate preparation and think they can con the world and escape blame.

    A few years ago I reviewed an absolutely dreadful book aimed at wannabe authors. It was filled with errors. I pointed out some of the worst and the author irately responded that the PDF was perfect but that CreateSpace altered her spelling and grammar.

    Not likely.

    Reply
    • Arlene Miller

      There are so many books being published these days because anyone can write a book and put it up for sale. Many authors take it seriously and do strive to put out a quality product, but unfortunately, many still don’t and there books are filled with typos and other issues. Thanks for the comment, Michael! You are right. We can’t blame the printer for most things these days!

      Reply
      • Arlene Miller

        Good grief, Michael Marcus! There is a perfect example of an author who didn’t proofread her response because she is in a hurry! Obviously, I meant THEIR and not THERE in my response. I hang my head in shame!

        Reply
      • Joel Friedlander

        “Printer’s errors” is a trade term and applies equally to errors introduced by book designers, formatters, and layout artists, so is just as useful today as in the days when the printer really was responsible for typesetting and imposing the books they printed.

        Reply
        • Arlene Miller

          My cover designer and interior designers are so wonderful they rarely insert errors (!!) but you are certainly correct . . . so of course the book needs to be looked at after it is laid out.

          Reply

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