What’s in a copy edit?

closeup of a pencil eraser correcting an error

So anyways, I’ve finished the copy edit for Big Girls Don’t Cry. It wasn’t too bad- in fact, it was probably quite light as far as these things go.

I remember when I first got the copy edit back for Baby, It’s You. It was terrifying- this marked-up document full of deletions and comments. The page was full of them. Every page was full of them. I started to sweat. Seriously.

As I plodded through the first chapter though, it got easier. Most were minor grammar and punctuation changes- commas instead of semi colons, quotation marks the wrong way round (something scrivener tends to do this for conversations where the sentence starts with S) that I hadn’t picked up on. Others were style changes to keep things consistent. Some were comments with suggestions to tighten the words.

It’s a detail and consistency thing- and I’m the first to confess that I’m crap at both detail and consistency.

This time around I had a better idea of what to expect.

I’ve told you before about what to happens in a structural edit. A structural edit looks at the big picture. It looks at plot and flow and characterisation etc. A copy edit, however, is about detail, style and consistency. It’s a trees and forest thing.

The editor will go word – by – word, line – by – line, page – by – page through the manuscript and look critically for errors, issues, typos, clarity, repetition, cheesiness etc.

As an example, at one point my leading lady, Abby, says something like ‘I had plenty of leave up my sleeve.’ Really Jo? Really? I’d completely missed it.

I slipped in and out of spelling style too- drifting between US English and Australian English. The differences are small, but off-putting. It needed to be one or the other.

Then there’s the pacing and clarity thing- a tiny rearrangement of words can sometimes make a whole sentence read so much better. Occasionally, Nicola will suggest a change- ‘re-worded, edit ok?’ – at other times she’d leave a comment ‘I think this sentence needs work.’ Occasionally she’d suggest ‘might be an idea to do a quick timeline check.’

Putting all of this together, the process of copy editing is time consuming- and that’s why it’s also the most expensive part of the self-publishing process. If you’re even half as detail-challenged as I am, it’s also a step that you can’t afford to miss.

I stayed with the same editor- Nicola from ebookedit– for the copy process as well. She “gets” what I’m trying to do, and understands my voice- and that is invaluable.

Because most editors charge by the hour, you can make it cheaper by ensuring that your work is as clean as it possibly can be before it goes out. I wasn’t as diligent with this as I could have been. Heavy sighs. Ebookedit have some suggestions to help you through this. The link is here.

If you’re working with someone for the first time, most editors will ask you for a sample of your writing so that they can quote you an approximate figure. Some will set a maximum price, some will not. Before signing the contract with your editor, make sure that you know (and have budgeted) for the maximum charge.

Check also whether your editor is doing one pass or two of the document- it does make a difference to the cost. If your manuscript is non-fiction, there could be a lot of fact checking required- in addition to the grammar, spelling, style etc. A second pass will pick up the details missed on the first round.

When she was working on Baby, It’s You, before proceeding too far down the track, Nicola sent me a sample chapter she’d edited- just to ensure that I was ok with the style and method she was using. I was. This step wasn’t necessary for Big Girls Don’t Cry.

A lot of authors will say that the best way to copy edit is by printing out the manuscript and going through it manually. This doesn’t work so well for me- I like to work straight from a document with all the changes marked up. I can then deal with each change in order. The whole idea of a red pencil and a manuscript is evocative, but not practical for me. You could be different. My point? Check how your edit will be done, and the method by which it will be returned.

What’s next? Proof reading. I’ve done one pass, and have another to go.

I’ve signed off on the cover, so am now waiting for it to be delivered so that I can compile the file for converting.

What else has to be done? I need to allocate ISBN numbers and apply for a CIP number too- I’ll tell you more about these next week.

Oh, and I have to write a blurb. Ugh.

Big Girls Don’t Cry will be available for purchase on Amazon from December 8…