Note: Some people spell “copy editing” and “copy editor” as two words, which is more correct, and some people make them one word, which some dictionaries say is acceptable. I’ve used both spellings in this post so that people searching for information can find it.

 

What Does a Copy Editor Do? And Do I Really Need One For My Book? #what is the difference between copyediting and proofreading #does my novel need an editor #how to edit a novel

 

In writing forums, I’ve seen many writers who intend to self-publish ask questions like:

What does a copyeditor do?

What is the difference between copyediting and proofreading?

Do I really need an editor for my novel or story?

My first two novels were traditionally published, and they were both taken through the usual two rounds of editing: developmental edits (aka story edits) and copy edits (or line edits… some people distinguish between the two terms, and others, like me, are philistines who use them interchangeably.)

If you are aiming for a traditional publishing contract, I would not recommend paying for professional editing before sending out your manuscript. I feel like that’s the publisher’s expense, and one of the reasons they get their cut of the profits. An agent or publisher is likely to recommend changes to your story, which may mean that some of the edited writing will get tossed out anyway.

However, if you’re a self-publisher, I recommend paying for publishing. A while back when I was reviewing self-publishing costs, I noted that while it’s ideal to have both a developmental editor and a copy editor, the copy editor is the one place I wouldn’t skimp.

 

 

Of course, there are many indie authors who don’t use editors. I do realize that what other writers do is none of my business. I’m just hoping this post gives people more information to make their own decision.

I have an MFA in Creative Writing, and I’m a voracious reader, so you might think that I wouldn’t need a lot of copyediting. And you’d be wrong! Here’s my re-enactment of what the copy edits looked like on my first published novel… just a wall of changes in the margin.

 

What Does a Copy Editor Do? And Do I Really Need One For My Book? #what is the difference between copyediting and proofreading #does my novel need an editor #how to edit a novel

 

These days, I don’t get nearly so many fixes! Even still, good copy editing takes the prose in my novel to a new level and helps me become a better writer for future projects. Personally, I would never release anything without hiring a copy editor.

As humbling as it is, I’m going to show you real examples of copyediting from my novel The Phoenix Codex. My editor, Rhonda, is fantastic (she did the developmental edits on this book, too).

 

Here are some of the ways she makes my writing smoother, clearer, and just plain better.

 

She points out when it’s unclear who or what is being talked about.

 

What Does a Copy Editor Do? And Do I Really Need One For My Book? #what is the difference between copyediting and proofreading #does my novel need an editor #how to edit a novel

Here I did mean Mayan history and so on, not Spanish history.

 

She gives me feedback on how much information and “reminding” the reader needs.

 

What Does a Copy Editor Do? And Do I Really Need One For My Book? #what is the difference between copyediting and proofreading #does my novel need an editor #how to edit a novel

 

I was worried that readers wouldn’t remember who Ana and Sam were, because they never actually appear in the story. She suggested that I didn’t have to remind everyone that they are my main character’s friend and sister.

 

She suggests different paragraph breaks that improve the flow of the story.

 

What Does a Copy Editor Do? And Do I Really Need One For My Book? #what is the difference between copyediting and proofreading #does my novel need an editor #how to edit a novel

 

She identifies breaks in point of view.

 

What Does a Copy Editor Do? And Do I Really Need One For My Book? #what is the difference between copyediting and proofreading #does my novel need an editor #how to edit a novel

 

Remember when I said I re-wrote this book from first person to third person? This phrase was a carryover from the first person version.

 

She notes when I fall out of deep point of view.

 

What Does a Copy Editor Do? And Do I Really Need One For My Book? #what is the difference between copyediting and proofreading #does my novel need an editor #how to edit a novel

 

I use deep point of view, which means the internal monologue isn’t set off by phrases like “she thought” or “he realized.” But in this instance, I slipped up, and she cut out “she told herself.”

 

She notes inconsistent handling of elements.

 

What Does a Copy Editor Do? And Do I Really Need One For My Book? #what is the difference between copyediting and proofreading #does my novel need an editor #how to edit a novel

 

I have two long flashback scenes, and I didn’t realize that I’d dealt with one in a somewhat different way than the other. I wound up getting into both by doing past perfect tense for a paragraph, switching to regular past tense, and switching back to past perfect tense for a few sentences at the end, which is one pretty common way to deal with those.

 

She makes my handling of past perfect tense consistent.

 

What Does a Copy Editor Do? And Do I Really Need One For My Book? #what is the difference between copyediting and proofreading #does my novel need an editor #how to edit a novel

 

Always using contractions for the past perfect tense smooths out the read, but I don’t always remember to do it. She made tons of these corrections.

 

She flags poor word choices…

 

What Does a Copy Editor Do? And Do I Really Need One For My Book? #what is the difference between copyediting and proofreading #does my novel need an editor #how to edit a novel

 

This was actually the only one she flagged. I changed it.

 

And wordy or awkward sentences.

 

What Does a Copy Editor Do? And Do I Really Need One For My Book? #what is the difference between copyediting and proofreading #does my novel need an editor #how to edit a novel

 

And this was the only wordy sentence. Most of my sentences are pretty straightforward.

 

She warns me about the over-use of similes.

 

What Does a Copy Editor Do? And Do I Really Need One For My Book? #what is the difference between copyediting and proofreading #does my novel need an editor #how to edit a novel

 

I’ll admit that my first thought was, “Hey, I like my similes!” My writing background is in poetry, so they seem natural to me. But then I went through and cut some of them that didn’t contribute as much, and the story is better for it.

 

 

She highlights repeated words.

 

What Does a Copy Editor Do? And Do I Really Need One For My Book? #what is the difference between copyediting and proofreading #does my novel need an editor #how to edit a novel

 

It seems like I should catch things like this, but it’s a 95,000-word novel, and sometimes I’ll miss even something basic.

 

She highlights repetition across the manuscript.

 

What Does a Copy Editor Do? And Do I Really Need One For My Book? #what is the difference between copyediting and proofreading #does my novel need an editor #how to edit a novel

 

Now, something like this is much harder to catch. She noticed that I used “long” in relation to hair a couple too many times. A reader might not even notice this… but they might. In this case, I didn’t need the word. You can tell it’s sort of long because it’s pulled back into a ponytail.

 

She identifies crutch words.

 

What Does a Copy Editor Do? And Do I Really Need One For My Book? #what is the difference between copyediting and proofreading #does my novel need an editor #how to edit a novel

 

Why did she mark this? Because I use “some” too much. I did a universal search for this one (and also “just”) across the manuscript, eliminating it where it wasn’t needed.

 

Do I do everything she says?

 

No. I do almost everything she says, but in the end, it’s my story. For instance, here…

 

What Does a Copy Editor Do? And Do I Really Need One For My Book? #what is the difference between copyediting and proofreading #does my novel need an editor #how to edit a novel

 

She changed the two instances of “I am” to “I’m,” because that’s the way most of us talk and think. In this instance, I thought Cassie would be saying I am going to die instead of I’m going to die in her head, because her situation is dire. I kept it as is, although it would have been fine the other way, too.

Hopefully from these examples, you can see that copy editing goes beyond proofreading to polish up the prose.

If you have any questions about copy editing, or you want to share your own experiences and opinions, please do so in the comments below! And if you don’t want to miss writing-related posts in the future, follow the blog — you can sign up below. Thanks for reading, and happy writing!