From Simon: Producing a professional book is one of the keys to success in self-publishing. Any book put out by a large publisher will have had a comprehensive edit, and you should do the same if you want to produce that can compete with the best of them. That why, this week I invited Blake Atwood to come and do a guest post to talk about copyediting, and why it is so vital for an indie author. Over to Blake…
You can listen to an audio reading of this podcast if you like! Just click play in the player below.
Reaching the top of Mount Everest.
Crossing the finish line of a marathon.
Witnessing the birth of your child.
Typing the last sentence of your book.
Sure, from the outside looking in, one of these occasions is not like the other. But from the inside looking out—when you breathe an immense sigh of relief as you slowly push your chair away from your desk—finishing the first draft of your book is a momentous occasion, one that should be accompanied by celebrations often reserved for mountain climbers, marathoners, and moms and dads.
When I finished the initial writing of my own book, I remember how simultaneously thrilled and exhausted I was. I’d done what I’d set out to do. I wanted to publish it immediately, to see the fruits of my labors grace the pages of Amazon so the world could know I was an author.
But I still had many steps to take, and the most daunting was my very next step: finding and working with an editor. It was like ascending Everest, taking in the view for a few minutes, then looking far, far below and wondering how I was ever going to find someone to help me off the mountain and back into civilization. I needed a Sherpa to help shape my words.
I almost balked at getting an editor too. Like many writers, I thought my prose was good enough and my spellcheck capable enough of catching what needed to be caught. I’m still grateful that a small voice inside (and possibly Simon’s voice on an RSP Podcast) said that I absolutely had to pay for an editor. If nothing else, I needed to pay for copyediting and cover design. Of the two copyeditors recommended to me, I went with the cheaper option as I was wholly convinced that my book would never turn a profit, even with the least expensive editor. She caught what I never would have seen and made my book better.
When you finish writing your book, you should absolutely celebrate that fact, but know that in some ways you’ve only just begun the journey of being an author. Now that you have a work of substance to share with the world, you should ensure that you’re publishing it with confidence (by seeking editing) and clothed in its best attire (by seeking a stellar cover design).
In this post, I’ll cover the basics of copyediting and why every author needs a copyeditor. I’m a full-time copyeditor so I’m totally biased, but even before I started this career, I knew the intrinsic value of great copyediting. After going through the copyediting process myself as an author, I witnessed the necessity of such copyediting. I hope that by the time you’ve read through this post you’ll feel the same way. (And while I am currently taking on new clients, I don’t care if you use my editing services or someone else’s. The key takeaway is to always have a professional copyedit your manuscript before you publish.)
What is a copyeditor?
Simply put, a copy editor edits your copy line-by-line. As such, they may sometimes be called a line editor. Copyeditors look for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, word usage, and formatting. In some instances, they will also fact-check.
Essentially, copyeditors ensure that you’re using “your” and “you’re” correctly, that you have one space after a sentence, that your first paragraphs in a chapter aren’t indented, and that you adhere to a stylebook, e.g. The Chicago Manual of Style for most books. They identify hundreds of issues that writers may gloss over, especially when furiously writing their first (or second, or third) draft.
Some copyeditors will take a strict “no write” approach to an author’s work. They’ll fix the issues cited above without rewriting or rearranging sentences. Other copyeditors may suggest better ways to phrase a sentence, or even rewrite sentences with the author’s permission.
The best copyeditors seek to rid your manuscript of errors while making it more readable. They also serve to enhance the author’s voice and refuse to allow their personal style to overtake a book.
Copyeditors are not developmental editors or proofreaders, although some copyeditors may offer such services as part of their package. This is why it can be confusing for authors to know what to expect from an editor. It’s imperative for any author to ask their editor specific questions about what type of editing they offer. Both the author and the editor need to be on the same page before any work commences so that neither party wastes the other person’s time. When contacting an editor, be clear about what kind of editing you’re seeking.
For example, I’m a copyeditor, but I’ll offer developmental suggestions if I think the book warrants them. If the book needs substantial developmental help, I’ll refer the author to a developmental editor before copyediting their manuscript.
Developmental editors look at the big picture of the book and suggest changes in structure, tone, plot, characters, or concept. They’re not concerned with the grammatical errors of your book; rather, they want to ensure the story you’re telling is engaging and makes sense. They may even help you plot your story before you’ve started writing. Substantive editing is a close cousin to developmental editing, but substantive editors suggest changes after the book’s been written. To learn much more about what developmental editors do, listen to Simon’s interview with developmental editor Alida Winternheimer.
On the opposite end, proofreaders discover the small errors and typos of a book immediately before it’s published. They ensure that errors haven’t infiltrated a book through multiple rounds of edits and revisions. Proofreaders are an author’s last line of grammatical and formatting defense before sending their baby into the big, wide world.
Who needs a copyeditor?
Every author who wants their book to be the best it can be needs a professional copyeditor. The editor’s work cannot guarantee a bestseller, or even if the book will sell at all. No one can do that. But seeking the help of a qualified copyeditor serves multiple, beneficial purposes:
- Your eyes will be opened to your blind spots.
- You will be challenged as a writer and you will grow from that challenge.
- Your book will be leaner and more compelling (more often than not).
- Your grammatical errors won’t turn off readers.
- Your investment in other book-making professionals will cause more worthy books to be created.
Why does an author need a copyeditor?
Typically, a book’s editing process goes from a developmental editor to a copyeditor to a proofreader.
I know what you’re thinking: do I need to pay for all three?
If you can afford it, that’s the best route, but if you’re bootstrapping your own self-published novel, it might not be a financially sound decision. Plus, you may not want to wait months on end for three different people to edit and proof your book.
At the very least, send your book to a copyeditor. Copyediting is necessary because it chisels away the detritus from your masterpiece. They will see what you’re blind to because you’re too emotionally close and too invested in the words you’ve toiled to put on the page. Yes, I’m biased, but I know as an author how invaluable good copyediting is.
Furthermore, if a copyeditor sees substantial content issues, they may refer you to a developmental editor. Proofreaders can often be found by asking a few of your grammatically inclined friends to read through your manuscript. Unless that’s what they do for a living, they’ll be honored by your request and won’t charge you for their time. In other words, not all books need developmental help, and you can likely find free proofreaders on your own. But professional copyediting is a necessity in the same vein that professional cover design is. When authors make those investments in their books, they reveal their seriousness about turning their words into an income stream.
When does an author need a copyeditor?
An author needs a copyeditor when he or she has finished writing the entirety of their book, but an author shouldn’t wait until then to contact an editor. Editors typically work on multiple projects, and they may not have time to fit your 120,000-word epic fantasy novel into their schedule if you wait until you’re finished writing to contact them. The earlier you can contact your editor of choice and provide the details of your manuscript to them, the better likelihood you’ll have of earning a place on their schedule that also fits your schedule.
You’ll earn an editor’s deep appreciation by sending these details when inquiring about their services and schedule:
- Contact information: Include your email, phone, or Skype details. Some editors prefer digital face-to-face conversations.
- Total word count: If necessary, send an estimated range, like 50,000 to 60,000 words. Editors charge per word, per page, or per hour, and the total word count is an essential part of their estimate.
- Deadline: Include the date by which you would like to receive all completed edits. If you’ve written a book-length manuscript of 50,000 words or more, don’t ask for a week’s turnaround time. Some editors will charge a rush fee depending on how quickly you want your book edited.
- Fiction or nonfiction: Some editors only work on one or the other.
- Genre: Some editors specialize in certain genres.
- Type of editing: Be specific with the type of editing you think your book needs.
Where can an author find a qualified copyeditor?
You’re more compelled to read a book by an unknown author when a friend or trusted source recommends the book. The same holds true with finding capable copyeditors. Ask your writing friends who they’ve used or email an author in your genre for a suggestion. The only problem with this approach is that you may discover a copyeditor who’s too busy with work to take on any new clients. If that happens, ask that copyeditor to refer you to a copyeditor they know and trust. Like writers, editors network with one another and try to help each other out. Editing organizations like editcetera also exist throughout the country, and a well-defined, localized search on Google will help you find such groups.
As for online searches, check LinkedIn for copyeditors whom you may not be aware of that are already linked to one of your connections. That’s another way to discover a personal recommendation. Peruse Writer.ly’s talent search, or search for editing groups on Facebook or Google+ and ask for recommendations. Literary agents sometimes publish their recommended editors as well, like Rachelle Gardner does here.
Lastly, I’d be remiss to not mention my own site, EditFor.me.
How does a copyeditor work with an author?
Most editors will request your manuscript as a Word document. Once received, they’ll make changes using “Track Changes” in Word. That feature affords you the ability to click a checkmark or an X on every single item the editor changes, meaning that the author has the final say as to what edits are acceptable.
“Track Changes” also allows the editor to insert comments throughout the text. Every edit, deletion, addition, and comment appears on the right-hand side of the page. “Track Changes” also lets the viewer (whether author or editor) see the final manuscript with or without markup, Word’s term for edits. This allows the author to see every single change an editor has made to his or her manuscript.
Outside of the technicalities of editing, every editor has their own way of working with an author. If possible, some prefer to meet in person before starting work. Some like to chat via Skype, while others are content with gathering details about the project through email. Some editors may send chapters back to the author as they finish editing each chapter, while other editors may wait until the entire manuscript has been edited before sending it back. Some editors may offer a few hours of Q&A where an author can ask, “Why did you suggest that change here?” Yet other editors may let their comments on the manuscript be their only answers to the author.
Some editors may want full payment up front while others may ask for half up front and half on completion. Still others may offer you a payment plan depending on the length of the project. Some editors may want a check in the mail while others may be fine with payment through PayPal.
What all of this means to you as an author is that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask very specific questions about the way your editor works. If you’re ever unclear about what to expect, it’s better to ask than to assume.
How much does copyediting cost?
Copyediting costs vary widely. According to the Editorial Freelancers Association rates page, basic copyediting at 5-10 pages per hour ranges from $30-40 per hour. The publishing industry standard for words on a page is 250, so seeking copyediting for a 50,000-word book from a fast though inexpensive copyeditor ($30/hour at 10/pages/hour for 20 hours of work) would be $600. If you sought copyediting from a slow though more costly copyeditor, the total cost would be $1600 ($40/hour at 5/pages/hour for 40 hours of work).
The EFA rates page reports heavy copyediting fees ranging from $40-50 an hour at only 2-5 pages edited per hour and developmental editing at $45-55 an hour at 1-5 pages edited per hour.
However, these numbers only provide rough estimates. The one way to truly know what your editing cost will be is to ask for a quote from a professional copyeditor. If you provide them with the information I mentioned above, they should be able to quickly give you a cost and deadline estimate.
Find Your Sherpa.
Relish the achievement of completing your manuscript, but realize that descending the mountain and sharing your polished words with the world is an essential series of steps required of every professional author. Though I’d be grateful to consider copyediting your book, I wholeheartedly encourage you to find a professional copyeditor that can help guide your book and shape it into an error-free masterpiece ready for publishing.
Today, I hope you’ve learned at least one or two new things about copyediting. While I aimed for this post to be fairly comprehensive, I’m sure questions remain. Feel free to post them in the comments and I or other editors will respond.
Lastly, if you’ve been through the editing process, share your book genre and recommend a quality copyeditor you’ve worked with so that this post can also become a valuable resource for other writers looking for quality copyeditors.
And if you take nothing else away from this post, promise me that you’ll find a professional copyeditor for your next book. Your book will be better because of it and you will definitely grow as a writer through the process.
Blake Atwood is the author of Don’t Fear the Reaper: Why Every Author Needs an Editor, an editor, writer, and ghostwriter with EditFor.me and a featured case study in Simon Whistler’s Audiobooks for Indies.