What Does a Copyeditor do?

“What does an editor do? Just check grammar and spelling?”

Well, yes, but it’s so much more than that too.

On a purely mechanical level, I read your manuscript in full at least three times. The first time is a quick skim to get a sense of the story and, more importantly, your writing style. The second read through is very close and takes the bulk of my time with your manuscript. I’ll discuss this pass in detail below. After you’ve had a chance to review my edits, I’ll go through it a third time to make sure I didn’t miss anything. (The Editing Process goes into detail about this back-and-forth communication.)

Now back to that first, detailed reading of your manuscript. For the past month or so, I’ve been keeping track of issues I’ve corrected while copyediting.

  • Sentence structure
    • Restructure awkward sentences
    • Break up run-on sentences
    • Ensure sentence structure is varied
  • Deletions
    • Extraneous or filler words (that, as, very, etc. aren’t always needed)
    • Repetitive words or phrases: nobody wants to read the same words or phrases over and over
    • Redundant words or phrases; you may be surprised by how much action is implied in surrounding text
  • Dialogue
    • Check that it’s clear who is speaking, especially in longer conversations
    • Ensure dialogue tags and action beats are varied (see note on repetitive words above)
  • Check for internal consistency
    • Obvious things like a character’s appearance or location
    • Less obvious things like how you use ellipses (… vs . . . )
  • Simple Formatting
    • Line indent at the beginning of a paragraph rather than tab or spaces
    • Separation of body text and header text
    • Remove double spaces left after revisions
  • Simple fact-checking
    • Is there math in your manuscript? I’ll double check the accuracy to the best of my ability
    • Verify quotes are correctly attributed
    • Ensure the clothing or food mentioned is reasonable for the time or place of your story

Not every manuscript needs every type of correction mentioned above, but it’s a lot more than making sure the commas are in the correct place or that your verbs all agree with their subjects. When I’m finished checking your story, your reader’s experience will be more enjoyable.

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