Posted October 25, 2019
As a client or potential client, you may be curious about how I will take care of your manuscript once you hand it over for copyediting and line editing (because of the way I learned to edit, I always bundle these two processes).
To make sure I never miss anything important, I have a separate checklist for each pass of editing, so my first step is always printing out a checklist to have by my side as I edit. Then, I follow the steps below to complete each editing pass. There may be exceptions or additions for certain projects, but these are the ones I use the most:
- Save and verify files. In this step, I download and/or save the files an author such as yourself sends me. I put them in a folder with the author’s name on it and a subfolder with the stage of editing (for example, “First Pass”). I then open the files to make sure that they are in the correct format and are not corrupted and that I have everything I need to begin work.
- Confirm receipt to the author. Once I’ve verified the files, I let the author know that everything has arrived safely.
- Rename the original file and make a copy for editing. I always keep a copy of the manuscript file that the author sends me so that I can refer back to it during editing and verify certain changes. I make a copy of that file and rename it something such as “The Blue Bog by Jane Smith – First Pass – Edited by Speculations Editing.” This is the file that I will actually edit.
- Create a style sheet for the book (first pass only). During the first pass of editing, I create a style sheet for the book. I fill this in as I go along. It tells the author what resources I am using to make editorial decisions for their book. I usually use Merriam-Webster.com (MW) for the dictionary and the latest edition of the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) as the general style guide for a variety of questions, including general grammar, spelling, punctuation, and usage. I’ll also list specific niche-related resources as applicable to the specific project. The following items, particular to each book, may also be included on the style sheet:
- General spellings: As I come across words that need to be looked up or have a decision made with regard to spelling and hyphenation, I will list them here in alphabetical order. I will list the part of speech to which the spelling applies as well as the reasoning when it will help to clarify any issues. To make these decisions, I use the dictionary first but may also use CMOS or other style guides or trusted online resources. If there are multiple correct options, I will generally use the most common spelling of the word for the type of English in question (I almost always edit in U.S. English). If the author, however, prefers another form, I will gladly defer to them if it makes sense and is consistent. If not, I will bring up any problems, but in the end, the author has the final say.
- Numbers: This lists the general style used for numbers in the book as well as any exceptions.
- Characters or people mentioned: To help keep up with sometimes long lists of characters and any particulars about those characters that seem of importance, I keep a running list of them in the general order in which they appear. This helps me catch things such as different spellings of the same character’s name or when a Kelly suddenly turns into a Kari.
- Major settings: Like with characters, this running list of major settings with short notes helps me pick up on inconsistencies and other problems.
- General timeline: I often skip this section unless a book is particularly complicated with many historical time periods, skip-aheads, flashbacks, or time travel. If there are any problems with the book’s chronology, I can use this section to list each time period as it comes along and note inconsistencies and other issues.
- Miscellaneous notes: This is for other general things that don’t fit into the previous categories but need to be pointed out to the author. Specific notes will be made as queries (comments) directly in the manuscript file.
Style sheets are also helpful for both me and the author for series books to make sure that terminology, character names, and so on are used consistently throughout each book in the series.
- Check author changes and questions and run a compare with the first-pass edited manuscript (second pass only). When an author hires me for two passes of editing, I generally send the manuscript back to the author after the first pass and let them review the changes and my queries. When the author returns the manuscript, I will look over the author’s changes, questions, and responses to my queries, noting any exceptions or editing reversions (where the author decided not to keep an edit or suggestion) so that I do not repeat them during the second pass. If necessary, I’ll contact the author to answer or clarify any questions or problems.
- Check styles and formatting for consistency. In this step, I check all of the heading and paragraph styles that an author uses. By styles here, I refer to things such as font type and size, line spacing, indenting, bold and italic type, and so on. I will often apply edited versions of Word’s built-in styles (for example, Normal, Heading 1, or Heading 2) to help ensure consistency throughout the manuscript. I do this for two reasons: (1) it makes the manuscript more readable both during and after editing and (2) it often helps the author or book designer format the book after editing is finished by reducing the steps needed to clean up the manuscript.
- Run spaces macro. My spaces macro is simple: it reduces unnecessary spaces in a manuscript. So, multiple spaces and extra hard returns are deleted. Any necessary spaces are handled by Word styles (see the previous step). This is another one of the cleanup steps that I always perform during copyediting. You may wonder why when extra spaces have nothing to do with grammar, but I learned copyediting in house when I worked with a publisher. It’s always good to remember that every manuscript an editor works on is heading toward publication. These cleanup steps help prepare the manuscript for that process and also keep me from introducing problems for the author or formatter during book design.
- Replace straight quotes with curly quotes and double hyphens with em dashes. Another step that helps clean up the manuscript is the performance of quick searches to replace any quotes and apostrophes with their “curly” and generally more aesthetically pleasing equivalent and to replace groups of two hyphens in a row (–) with em dashes (—). (If an author doesn’t know how to insert an em dash into text, they will often use two hyphens in place of it. ) All of these will be double-checked during the actual reading/editing step to make sure they were used correctly.
- Turn on Track Changes. I wait until this stage to turn on Word’s Track Changes to avoid unnecessary redlining of the manuscript. Because I use a Replace All function to fix spacing and quote issues, every space and quote in the manuscript would have a red mark if I turned it on any earlier. This also helps with software performance, as Word can get finicky when there are lots of tracked changes, especially in a long manuscript. (As a caution, using Replace All is usually something most editors avoid because we tend to forget about the exceptions until it’s too late.)
- Check the chapter titles, chapter subtitles, headings, and chapter numbers. I usually check the chapter titles and heading separately to make sure that they are correct and consistent in both formatting (including capitalization) and language (that is, spelling and grammar). If necessary, I’ll check the chapter titles in the text against those in the table of contents, and I’ll make sure the chapter numbers are all there and in the correct order. Sometimes, authors simply make a mistake, or they may edit or move things around and forget to renumber or rename their chapters or headings.
- Run PerfectIt. PerfectIt is a wonderful, customizable program that checks documents for many things, including consistency, the application of general and house style rules, different forms of English (for example, U.S., U.K., Canadian, or Australian), Oxford commas, and more. It’s a tool most editors would rather not live without. I still check each and every instance that PerfectIt highlights, and I have different PerfectIt style sheets for different types of projects (for example, fiction vs nonfiction), but it helps me as an editor to do a more comprehensive and consistent job. (Can you tell consistency is a big thing in editing?)
- Check abbreviations. This is more important in nonfiction, where it’s usually preferred that an acronym or abbreviation be defined on the first use and then be used exclusively thereafter in place of the term. However, even in fiction, it’s important that the reader always know exactly what the author is trying to get across and when it’s okay to use an abbreviation (for example, TV) versus when an author should probably let the reader know what their rare acronym stands for early on in a way that feels natural.
- Run hyphen search. I search for each and every hyphen in the manuscript to make sure that each is used both correctly and consistently. During this step, I fill in a lot of that General Spelling section of the style sheet.
- Check references if applicable. I used to do more academic work, in which references were always a thing, but I still get the occasional nonfiction manuscript with a few references that need to be checked for correct and consistent formatting and style.
- Run a spell check. In this step, I utilize Word’s built-in spelling and grammar check. Again, I never use Replace All here, but check each instance that Word highlights to ensure accuracy and (again) consistency.
- Read and edit the manuscript. Finally! You might find it surprising that although it takes the longest, the actual reading and editing of the manuscript is only one step among many in the editing process. Every edit here is tracked with Track Changes, and I make queries in the form of Word comments, often referring to specific style resources as I go and noting why I made certain changes (for example, flow, consistency, or parallel structure). The previous steps really do help to create a clean manuscript with many everyday issues and style points already resolved so that I can dig in deep to help make the manuscript as clear and readable as possible within the author’s own voice. Many of the things I cover during this stage are listed in my blog post on “The Process of Copyediting Fiction.”
- Read over my queries and the style sheet. Before sending off the manuscript, I will read over both of these to make sure that they are clear, understandable, and correct (yes, even editors make typos).
- Run spell check and PerfectIt (again). Yes, I run these again after editing because even I can make mistakes, miss things, and inadvertently introduce errors into the manuscript. During a complete, two-pass edit, I’ll generally run these four times each.
- Create clean and tracked manuscript copies for the author. I will save the copy of the manuscript with all queries/comments and all tracked changes in place, but I’ll also save a separate copy with all changes accepted and comments deleted. Some authors prefer the clean copy because it’s easier to read without all the red lines and comments. Also, if they are generally in agreement with me, they can keep this copy or send it back for the second pass of editing without having to take time accepting each and every change and deleting the comments. However, the tracked changes copy shows them all the changes that I made as well as the queries so they can address each one. The author always has the final say on accepting or reverting my editorial changes.
- Send the style sheet and clean and tracked manuscripts to the author. I usually do this by email unless the files are particularly large, in which case, I will save the files in OneDrive and send the author a link to download them. I ask the author to confirm that they received the files as well and then give them time to review everything.
- Review changes with the author. My contracts with authors include two hours of separate time via email or chat for the author to ask questions and review the editorial changes with me. I always try to be as clear as possible on the manuscript, but there may still be questions or confusion, or sometimes an author just wants my feedback on a short rewrite (for example, of a sentence or paragraph I found confusing).
And that’s it! My copyediting process in a nutshell! I’m always refining these steps to try to make them as efficient and comprehensive as possible, but the basics are all there.
Do any of these steps surprise you? Are some missing that you expected? I’d love to discuss it, so please leave a comment below!