How a Professional Editor Can Help You Get Published: Copyediting

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This is the second installment of an occasional series about freelance editing services. I wrote previously about developmental editing; this time I’ll share some thoughts on copyediting (sometimes spelled copy editing), the second of three vital steps in the editing process.

So what is a copyeditor, and why do you need one? An article on puts it succinctly: “Copy editors are the grammatical gatekeepers, so to speak, of the media world. They read over stories—or, as the content is called in industry terms, ‘copy’—and check for everything from typos to errant commas.”

Copyediting is more than just checking to be sure a writer follows grammar rules. The copyeditor’s task is to finesse a writer’s prose so that it observes all the conventions of good writing, and also verifies proper syntax, word choice, spelling, punctuation, adherence to the publisher’s style guide or outside guides such as The Chicago Manual of Style or the Associated Press Stylebook. In addition, the copyeditor checks to be sure the text flows and is accurate and clear, checks basic facts, flags potential legal issues, and as another blogger writes, “copyediting is like pulling out your magnifying glass to look at the small details of the writing. Copyeditors look at each paragraph, each sentence in that paragraph and further still, each word in the sentence.”

(For those of you paying attention, the quote above has an error that should have been caught by the copyeditor—if you see it, please leave the answer in “Comments”—and no peeking at other people’s answers! I’ll post the correct answer in my next blog.)

As the book packaging professionals at The Book Couple ( put it, “A good copyeditor brings a renewed sense of objectivity to the project, which is important for pinpointing any remaining issues that the author and [project] editor are too close to see.” In the first step of the editing process, the developmental editor looked at “big picture” issues, but the copyeditor is more concerned with line-by-line details. Here are a few examples of issues a copyeditor will flag:

“His belligerence would express itself if the child hesitated or resisted in any way.”

(The problem: belligerence doesn’t express itself, belligerence is something that is expressed by someone. This is an example of passive writing, and is a common error a copyeditor will note and correct.)

“I had a lady who was a teacher and she was profoundly ill.”

(First problem: “I had a lady” is nonsensical. This should be rephrased as “I had a female patient.” Second problem: there are two independent clauses in this sentence that should be separated by a comma: “I had a lady who was a teacher” comma “and she was profoundly ill.” Or better yet, “I had a female patient who was profoundly ill,” which is a more sophisticated way of stating these facts and more in line with the overall professional tone of this manuscript.)

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There are numerous ways a writer can and should self-edit; when an article, manuscript, or web content is submitted for publication, the writer should always try to have it as free from error as possible. But none of us can be experts are everything, and no matter how well written a manuscript is, it often needs more help than what another writer or a friend can offer. Writers are often amazed at the amount of help a good editor offers; published authors who have already been through the process understand how valuable an editor is to the success of their work.

If you have a great idea but don’t know how to organize it into a book or article, or if you’ve written a draft and want to be sure it is well-ordered and doesn’t drift off somewhere it shouldn’t, or you have a web post due and you’re a little rusty about all those grammar rules, consider hiring a professional freelance editor. A professional editor has an objective viewpoint and will be honest with you about the many ways you can improve your manuscript—yes, even when you think it’s perfect, you’ll be surprised at the things an editor will suggest that never occurred to you.

And the best advice of all: find an editor who will work as your partner to help you say it the way you mean it.