Last updated on October 24, 2019
I want to take you through the process of copyediting fiction. In the traditional life of a manuscript, this is one of the last types of editing that it will go through. The structure, plot, and characterization of the story at this point should have been finalized. This happens during writing and developmental editing. If there are few problems with overall consistency, your manuscript at this stage might go straight to copyediting instead of to substantive editing.
When I am copyediting fiction, my main goals are to ensure that all errors in grammar, punctuation, capitalization, word use, and style have been corrected. I also check for awkward phrasing and make or suggest edits to correct this. During this time, I also make sure that I don’t make changes that will alter your voice as the author. If I am in doubt, I will query you either directly in the manuscript file or in an email. During this stage, I will also do a little bit of basic formatting. How much depends on where the manuscript is going next. For example, if your agent or the publisher requires a certain format, I will help you ensure that the manuscript meets those requirements. Mostly, I want to make sure that your formatting (capitalization, boldface, etc.) is consistent.
When I begin to go over a manuscript for copyediting, I will look over the file that I receive from you to ensure that I have received everything in complete, working order. I will print a customized fiction copyediting checklist for your story that will help me to ensure that I have covered everything by the time I am done.
Once I have checked the files, I usually save the manuscript with a new name so that I always have a copy of the original at my disposal in case there are problems. Before I begin reading the manuscript, I use tools and run searches on certain items and terms. Some of these tools and searches include the following:
- PerfectIt/Macros: PerfectIt is a Microsoft Word plugin that searches the manuscript file and help to ensure proper usage and consistency (for example, you capitalized Ice Cream Bar in three places and did not capitalize it in another; is this correct?). It does not make automatic changes but instead allows the editor to choose which changes are correct and which are not. I will also use Word macros that I have written myself to catch certain errors and inconsistencies.
- Hyphenation: I will search for all hyphens throughout your manuscript. Here, I am looking for correct hyphenation (follow up vs. follow-up), consistency, and accuracy. Sometimes a hyphen needs to be deleted or replaced with a space. In other places, it might need to be replaced with an en dash (–) or em dash (—).
- Spelling: At this point, I will run a spell check. I always check each word or phrase that is highlighted by the spell checker, never using the Replace All feature. I may use the Ignore or Ignore All feature for words (such as proper names or the names of fantastical creatures) that I can double-check as I read. However, the Replace All feature tends to cause problems instead of increasing quality.
Once I’ve gone through these time-saving methods, I will then read your manuscript, page by page, word by word. I will double-check the items above as I read. In addition, some of the things that I will check and correct during this read include the following:
- Subject–Verb Agreement
- Word Usage: For example, did you use affect when you should have used effect?
- Point of View (POV): Most of this will have been covered during developmental or substantive editing, but I will check here for jarring shifts in POV or instances of “head hopping,” where the POV switches often and in a confusing manner.
Once I have finished the full read-through and run one more spell check, I will send a copy of the manuscript back to you. The edits will be highlighted by Track Changes and will be easy for you to see. You can then accept the changes as you go through the manuscript and answer or deal with any queries that I have written. During this stage, you can also contact me if you have any questions or are confused about certain changes. Then, you send the manuscript file back to me for one last round of editing.
During this round, I will read the manuscript a final time to check for anything that was missed and for errors that might have been introduced. Yes, editors and authors are human, and this happens, so a second read-through is always a good idea.
Then, I will return the clean and finalized manuscript back to you, all polished up and ready to continue to the next stage on its journey, whether that be an agent, a publisher, or right into print or digital format.
Copyediting is highly detailed work, but the end results are extremely satisfying for both the editor and author. You will have a manuscript that reads well without distracting errors, and I will be happy knowing that I helped to get it to that point!