Guest Blogger Linda Jay writes about copyediting.
In 2012, Joel Friedlander asked Linda Jay to offer readers of his popular blog, The Book Designer, advice at that time, on “one of the most important decisions a self-publisher makes: hiring a copyeditor.” Here’s her reply, still pertinent today:
Agreed. You’ve spent months (or possibly years) writing the manuscript that will one day be your book. You’ve distilled all those handwritten notes from pages or scraps of paper, those often-incoherent e-mails to yourself, and those ideas racing around in your brain, and typed every one of them into the computer, in some loosely organized format that vaguely resembles a book. Then one day… hooray… it occurs to you that… you’re done!
Now you can’t wait to get your little gem “OUT THERE” for all the world to marvel at. You are indeed a writer (which nobody can deny, which nobody can deny)!
Oh, yes, you’ve given a sneak peek at your masterpiece to a few people whose opinion you trust—relatives, longtime friends, business colleagues. And, sure, they may have spotted a few misspellings, or a weird sentence construction here or there, but what the hey—everybody makes mistakes.
They’re just tickled that you’ve had the audacity, capacity and tenacity to write a book; a few glitches only show that you’re human. After all, who’s perfect? It’s time to send your “baby” on its way to possible fame, and reap the glories of being a published author!
Are You Serious?
Oh, but wait… if you really want to be taken seriously as a writer, stop and listen to that little nagging voice in your head that keeps saying, “Shouldn’t you be running the manuscript past an experienced professional copyeditor before you send it out?”
Yes, you’ve read that in order to make your book as good as it can possibly be, you must take that vital step of investing in the services of an editorial pro. And just think—in the twinkling of a well-trained eye, a topnotch editor could burnish your precious prose so it sparkles in the sunlight.
But if you submit (interesting, the ramifications of that word “submission” when it refers to sending in a manuscript, isn’t it?) your pages to the hyper-scrutiny of a nitpicky copyeditor, won’t your authentic voice be changed or deleted or mangled beyond recognition?
The answer is… no, not if you properly vet the copyeditor to make sure you can work together well, and if the copyeditor stipulates that one of his or her goals is to make your manuscript publisher-ready… but not change your unique voice.
A good copyeditor will offer to edit a few pages of your work as a sample, to see if you two are, literally and figuratively, “on the same page.” You can usually judge from his or her edits whether you would be able to work together happily or not. For example, if you question some of the edits and the editor responds in a haughty or rigid “only my way is right” tone, run as fast as you can toward another editor.
If your manuscript is about the life and times of the artist Edward Gorey, and the editor you’re considering has never heard of Edward Gorey and, furthermore, has no interest in learning anything about Edward Gorey, bid farewell and turn quickly on your heels.
6 Ways Copyeditors Make Your Book Better
A good copyeditor brings so much to the party. He or she can:
- go over grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure with a fine-tooth comb;
- check for consistency of verb tense, tone, and mood;
- find instances where sentences or paragraphs could be moved to make more logical sense;
- ask questions about clarity of idea, or accuracy of fact;
- call attention to parts of the text that could be tightened, expanded, livened up or deleted;
- make suggestions — synonyms for overused words, deletions of redundant words or phrases.
With a good copyeditor on your team, misplaced modifiers, dangling participles, its/it’s, to/too and other hair-raising/hare-raising errors will melt away. Skilled editors say that mistakes “leap off the page” at them. And potential readers of your book will not be distracted by sloppy copy.
You can find professional book manuscript copyeditors through organizations such as BAIPA and the Bay Area Editors’ Forum (BAEF), through online editorial sites, through ads in magazines that are targeted toward writers, and through looking up “copyeditor” on search engines.
A good copyeditor can make your book’s message shipshape—and that’s not just editorial spin!
Originally published as “6 Ways Copyeditors Make Your Book Better,” a guest post on Joel Friedlander’s popular blog, The Book Designer, on May 25, 2012.
Linda Jay is a manuscript copyeditor with decades of experience, specializes in business, novels, memoirs, spirituality, women’s issues, academic topics and fantasy (vampires, zombies).
Linda Jay will be on a panel of editors at Writers Forum in Petaluma, California on May 21, 2015.