Editing is more complex than just fixing misspelled words (though that is an important step). There are several distinct types of editing that every manuscript should go through: substantive editing, line editing, copy editing, and proofreading. Writers can benefit from understanding these types so they can self-edit as much as possible before handing it off to a professional editor.
What is Copy Editing?
Copy editing is formatting everything according to a style guide and fixing inconsistencies. This stage comes after substantive and line editing, when the text is mostly set and all the manuscript needs is a clean up.
Here are just a few things copy editors correct or change:
- numbers, ages, dates, and times
- regional spelling, like Canadian or American
- punctuation: em and en dashes, hyphens, ellipses, and commas
- weights, measures, and distance
- headlines and subheads
- titles and honorifics
Publishing houses and magazines usually have their own style guides for copy editors to follow. For example, according to the Mythos & Ink style guide, numbers one to one hundred are spelled out, but numbers 101+ use numerals. But, in my magazine job, numbers one to nine are spelled out, and 10+ use numerals.
How to Self-Edit
Keep a list of how you’d like to format capitalization, numbers, dates, etc. as you write your manuscript. Then, you can go through your manuscript with your own style guide handy, correcting anything you may have missed when you were writing it the first time around.
What to Look for in a Copy Editor
If you’re working with a publishing house, chances are you won’t have to hire a copy editor, because the publisher will already have one.
However, if you’re hiring your own copy editor, here are a couple things to keep in mind:
- Has your manuscript already undergone substantive or line edits? If not, consider having it assessed before you skip to copy editing. It can be a waste of time and, to be honest, annoying when copy edits are changed because of larger structural edits at a later stage. You could even find an editor who can handle line and copy edits.
- What sorts of publications have they copy edited? A wide range of genres can show that a copy editor is flexible and able to switch between different styles.
Working with a Copy Editor
Again, if you’re working with a publishing house, you probably won’t interact with the copy editor, unless they have a clarification question.
If you’re hiring your own copy editor, you can work with them on the style. If you already have a style guide of your own, great! The copy editor will be happy to follow it and ask for clarification if something hasn’t been covered. For example, if you haven’t considered the capitalization of different species names, and the manuscript mentions elves and Dwarves, they may ask which you prefer, or offer a recommendation.
If you don’t have your own style guide, ask if the copy editor has one (hint: we always do) that you can look at and tailor to your manuscript.