The publishing process: What does a copy-editor do?

Over the last few months my second novel has been back and forth between me and my editor – we’ve taken it in turns to polish away at it and make suggestions of changes. It has really come together, and I can’t wait to share it with you all next year (probably around April or May).

I’ve just sent draft four off to her, and once she’s had a look the next step is for it to hit the desk of a copy-editor. But what do they do?

I’ve been explaining this a lot lately when people have asked how the book is going, and I thought some of my blog readers might be interested to know more about this stage of the process.

Copy-editing isn’t the same thing as proof-reading, for a start. The copy-editor checks for repetition, mistakes, and inconsistencies before the book is properly put together, laid out and typset; the proof-reader (who looks at it next) checks the printed manuscript for quality before it is mass-printed – they check that nothing went wrong at the design and typsetting stage.

Copy editors are authors’ partners in creating the finished work. They look at the nitty gritty details, but also the bigger picture of your novel.

They’re checking things like:

  • spacing and fonts
  • spelling errors
  • punctuation and grammar
  • overuse of italics, capitals, exclamation marks etc
  • facts and plot holes
  • continuity… does a character suddenly have a completely different hair colour (or name)?!
  • the novel’s timeline
  • is there anything in the story that just doesn’t make sense?

When I had my copy-editor’s notes back on If I Die Before I Wake, they flagged up things like repeated words and unnecessary line breaks, asked me to double-check that the bands Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire would have been around when Alex was at university (he listens to them with Bea during one scene in the book) – and made all sorts of other, very useful, observations and suggestions.

Bringing a book to publication is a hugely collaborative process, as you can see!

More info about the role of a copy-editor can be found on the Society for Editors and Proofreaders website.


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