If you’re looking to publish a decent book you won’t need copyediting, but if you’re hoping to publish a great book then the copyediting stage will be essential. Copyediting is a crucial part of the revision and publication process, no books go to publication without a round of copyediting. No good books, anyway. Copyediting is the process of reading a manuscript and searching for errors in punctuation, grammar, spelling, usage, and style. Sometimes, copyediting can also have a fact-checking element as well. A copyeditor looks to catch and correct all the basic mistakes the author might have made, from large flaws like an incorrect character name to smaller errors like incorrect comma usage. Without good copyediting, books would have significantly more issues and significantly less polished writing. Copyediting is often misconstrued as something else, be it top editing or proofreading. These misunderstandings around what copyediting is can lead people to skip this important step altogether, resulting in copy that is less polished than it should be. This list will clear up common misconceptions about copyediting and help better define what copyediting is and why it’s important.
Copyediting and proofreading are the same things.
This is a very common misconception about copyediting, and understandably so. While copyeditors and proofreaders are both catching similar types of errors, the key difference between them is the stage of the publishing process where they work. Copyeditors work on a manuscript draft to catch small errors in spelling, punctuation, consistency, style, and so forth. The manuscript with edits is then returned, and further on in the process, the manuscript is designed and formatted for publishing. This stage of the manuscript is referred to as the “proof” and this is when the proofreader looks at the copy to catch any final errors in formatting, spelling, etc.
A copyeditor will help me with the structure and plot of my story.
Oftentimes an author will give their manuscript to a copyeditor only to be dismayed to have it returned with surface-level edits. Developmental editing or “top editing” focuses on structural issues within a story, including character development, plotline, and other key parts of a narrative. Copyediting focuses on making the content more readable and free of errors.
Copyediting will change all your work.
The job of a copyeditor is not to slash through your manuscript with a red pen, making radical changes left and right. Their goal is to help improve your copy and to work as your ally to ensure your book is as clean and error-free as possible. Submitting your manuscript for copyediting won’t result in suggestions for changing plot points or making drastic alterations, it will simply make your writing easier to read and help eliminate errors.
Copyediting will catch all the mistakes in my manuscript.
People aren’t perfect, and to guarantee that 100% of the errors in your manuscript will be caught is an impossible promise to make. A good copyeditor will catch almost everything in a manuscript. If the manuscript needs to be near-perfection, having two rounds of copyediting is not unheard of. After the copyeditor is finished with their edits, the proofreader is the last line of defense to catch any remaining errors before the book goes to publication.
Copyeditors don’t need style guides.
A style guide is an essential tool for a copyeditor. To ensure consistency with edits and punctuation it’s incredibly important to follow a style guide while performing edits. The author may have a style guide in mind to follow while conducting edits, or the copyeditor may use a house style guide to keep basic edits consistent.
Professional copyediting isn’t necessary in the digital age.
While computer programs are effective at catching lots of minor spelling errors and some punctuation issues, they still miss a large portion of edits. Some of these can include the misuse of a word, like “peak” versus “peek” or “pique”, inconsistencies in the text, confusing sentence structure, language choices, and more. Plus, sometimes a computer can make an incorrect suggestion and harm the text rather than helping. It’s important to have a professional read over to catch these errors, there’s no replacement for a human copyeditor.
Copyediting is a quick process.
A lot of people think of editing as the quick, final check before submitting a document or calling it finished, but copyediting can be a long, time-consuming part of the publication process. This isn’t a bad thing, though! The slow and meticulous nature of copyediting results in more errors caught, leading to an all-around more polished manuscript. Copyeditors may need more or less time depending on the size of the project, and the best way to speed up the copyediting process is to do a few rounds of editing yourself before submitting it. That way you’ll catch lots of the small, obvious errors on your own, allowing the copyeditor to work on the more tricky mistakes.
Copyediting may seem like a superfluous part of the publishing process, but it’s as essential as the top editing and proofreading stages. Copyediting helps transform good writing into great writing and can make the difference between a decent book and a phenomenal one.
Rachel is a travel writer based in Arizona. In addition to writing and publishing several guidebooks, she's written for Wander AZ, Narcity Media, and CNET. Working as both a copyeditor and writer, she specializes in road trip content and manuscript editing.