What a Copy Editor Does….from my perspective

I’m working on copyedits again, or rather I’m reviewing the edits my copyeditor did.

I actually don’t know much of anything about my copy editor save handful of initials on the Track Changes comments. There might actually be two of them on this one. I’m not sure.

But here’s what my copy editor does for me:

1) Cleans up my grammar
In the first book, the copy editor tried to convert my weird English to standard Chicago Style English. I used words like afterwards and towards, mixed up awaken and woken, and had some questionable punctuation.

In Book 2, I’ve fixed the ‘wards’ problem, got woken worked out, but other quirks/problems exist.
a) I’m bad with which/that.
b) I actually have a lie/lay error!
c) I keep putting in ‘de’ in Portuguese terms, even when I KNOW it’s wrong. Thank God this editor caught this (in two different places). I feel stupid, and I don’t know why I put de there.

And here are two interesting ones:
d) I tend to write “He only had a dog.” The correct construction is “He had only a dog.”
e) I use “different than” when the preferred construction is “different from”
I don’t even notice that I do these two, and I think it will take twenty books before I successfully eradicate them.

2) Checks my continuity
Every time I edit, it creates continuity errors, and I seem to be blind to them. I hate this, and this is one of the reasons that a good copy editor is a blessing.
a) I had a day of the week wrong at a chapter heading (Thurs. instead of Tues.)
b) He/she had to point out a handful of instances where I’d made a mistake with an object. (“He threw that gun away two paragraphs ago, can’t do it again”….that sort of thing.)

It’s embarrassing when I see the mistakes, but I’m very grateful the editor is there to ping me on them. They spare me a lot of pain down the road and make me look better than I really am.

Also, the last time I did copy edits, I didn’t check for continuity, assuming that all the continuity issues would be caught. This time I’m doing it at this phase so that my editor won’t have to mess with as much at the Page Proof phase. Also, I’m having to insert a couple of sentences in chapter 1 because there’s a minute continuity issue between books 1 and 2. There’s no way the copy editor would have caught that since I’m fairly certain that this isn’t the same copy editor as book 1 (guessing by style).

So that’s the process as it stands on Book 2. I would like to believe that by Book 3? 4? 7? they will no longer be able to find anything to quibble over (other than the occasional dangling preposition.)

Not likely, but it’s still nice to have a dream…


8 thoughts on “What a Copy Editor Does….from my perspective

  1. My husband keeps saying that people always want to use “only” too early in the sentence just to get it out of the way. Like their whole world will explode if they forge the “only,” so better take care of it now!

    There was apparently a video, starring Johnny Carson, that they used to show in language classes for people studying for citizenship. It emphasized the different meanings of putting “only” in different places in the sentence, e.g., “He punched only Johnny Carson in the nose.” vs. “He punched Johnny Carson only in the nose.”

    I used “different than” for a long time, too. Finally broke that habit a few years ago.

    1. I think that for the next book I will use a search and find all my onlys that way. I can do that for different than, also. The bad part is that as soon as I get one thing under control, something else seems to crop up!

  2. I work as a copy editor and my copy editor still finds things that make me shake my head in shame. Mistakes I easily catch when I’m editing, I make when writing. smh. It’s a different mindset. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. ; ) BTW I absolutely love your covers. They’re gorgeous.

    1. I’m glad it’s not just me! I’m constantly amazed by the things that slip by me, even when I’m reading the whole thing aloud, sentence by sentence.

      I LOVE the covers, too. I nearly wept when I saw the first one. The art department and my editor Danielle get all the credit for those. ;o)

  3. “other than the occasional dangling preposition”

    I hear this comment at my writers’ workshop and I want to shout “that’s a myth carried over from Latin. It does not apply to English!”

    And Grammar Girl agrees – mostly (http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/ending-a-sentence-with-a-preposition)

    Since I’ve never dealt with a copy editor, I’m curious how they address a writer’s personal style. For example, Chuck Wendig uses a lot of fragments and some unusual sentence constructions, but they work. Any knowledge of how copy editors handle situations like that?


    1. The copy editor leaves most of the dialog alone unless it’s egregious or out of character. Also, dangling prepositions have been left untouched….mostly because changing them would sound awkward. As far as fragments and stuff go, they seem to have treated that as ‘personal style’ and left it alone. They seem mostly concentrated on poor word choice and unclear sentence structure.

  4. It sounds like you have an excellent copyeditor. For authors, it is SO important to have your manuscript copyedited and proofread so that it looks (and sounds) professional. It’s amazing how many errors writers can miss because they’re too “close” to the manuscript.

    1. Very true. We’ve seen the words so many times that we know what they’re supposed to say, and thus it’s easy to skim past a mistake. But he/she did a very good job, so I consider myself lucky!

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