What Can You Expect with Copy Editing?

When working with authors who are new to the writing process, I sometimes get the sense that when they deliver their manuscript to me, it’s like they are delivering a freshly baked pie, perfect and ready to enjoy. But delivering the first draft of your MS to your editor isn’t like leaving a freshly-baked creation on their doorstep. It’s inviting them into your kitchen and letting them critique your crust and fiddle with the apple pie filling.

But it’s the critiquing part and the fiddling part that can seem intimidating to so many authors. Maybe you aren’t sure what to expect, or you’ve been burned by some bad experiences in the past. It’s normal to feel apprehensive when you hit send and await the critiquing of your masterpiece. But I think the more you can understand about the editorial phase, it can prepare you to be a better partner to your editor and give your manuscript a chance to shine.

What Can You Expect with Copy Editing?

If you’re not familiar with the editing process, there are multiple phases, which can vary depending on if you are pursuing indie publishing or if you are being published with a traditional house. If you are working with a traditional press, often the timeline will be much longer, and multiple editors will work on your manuscript. If you are choosing indie publishing, your timeline will be shorter, but due to finances or other constraints, you may choose to work with just one editor through one phase of editing. But in general, the phases a manuscript will move through are:

  • Developmental: Completed before the first draft is done, provides direction for the entire manuscript and vetting for ideas and concepts.
  • Substantive: Also called line editing. This is the macro editing phase of the finished first draft and ensures overall flow, cohesiveness, plot holes are addressed, etc.
  • Copy Editing: Micro editing which focuses on grammar, typos, formatting, consistency. Answers the question “Do I have spinach in the teeth of my manuscript?”
  • Proofreading: A final read-through after the book has been formatted. Author may choose to do this step themselves.

Today we are just going to look at copy editing, my specialty! If you are looking for a copy editor or if you’re about to attack the copyedits back from your editor, what can you expect?

I know as a creative mind that addressing details like “Do I capitalize this title?” “Or do you spell out this number or use numerals?” may seem soul-sucking to you. But remember how I said partnering well with your editor gives you a chance to shine? What do I mean by shine? The attitude of a stubborn (or impatient) (or immature) author that says my “My manuscript is perfect as is” or “I refuse to take my editor’s advice” is going to leave a dull sheen on your manuscript, like a window that needs to be cleaned. If you can embrace this phase, your manuscript will glow and allow the light in your masterpiece to shine through. Also, the more polished your manuscript is, the less chance of distractions your readers will face. And you want to make the reader’s job as easy and enjoyable as possible! Details will make or break you.

So to copy editing. It’s hard to catch both macro and micro changes at the same time. It would be like trying to complete a kitchen renovation while also cleaning the kitchen. You can’t very well be installing a new counter and backsplash while also dusting and wiping down said counters. You do the big pieces first, then follow up with details. The same is true for copy editing. Those big pieces of editing must be done first so you can clearly see what to edit.

In the publishing industries, there are industry standards and that’s what editors specialize in; you as the author won’t necessarily know all the details. Do you capitalize this word or this person’s title? Do you spell this number out? Your editor will be familiar with making these type of changes, so you need to trust them to help make your manuscript consistent. They may also help you decide on your own house style for matters of formatting that are up for interpretation.

As we mentioned earlier, the big changes have already been made by this point in your manuscript. Your copy editor should not be suggesting big sweeping changes at this point nor should you suddenly decide to revise half your book. The type of changes you can expect to make (not an exhaustive list, mind you!) are as follows:

  • Typos
  • Formatting (capitalization, numerals, etc)
  • Grammar, usage, spelling
  • Punctuation
  • Citations/copyright permissions

Expect to see a lot of markup regarding commas and apostrophes and em dashes (and beyond), but know you won’t have to make an individual decision about each insertion or deletion; they will be incorporated once all changes have been accepted. What the editor will need you to do is respond to comments where there seems to be missing or incorrect info or an incomplete sentence. That will need your individual attention. If something doesn’t make sense or you don’t agree with it, always ask rather than ignore or immediately change it back. Your editor spent a lot of time on the edits; don’t discredit their efforts immediately. Instead, start a conversation. You may gain insight as to why they suggested a change, or may still feel the same about your stance. You are the author after all. But opt for discussion rather than ignoring edits all together.

Timeline and pricing vary widely and depends on the length and state of your manuscript, the experience level of your editor, along with a few other factors. So be sure to discuss candidly before proceeding, especially if you are hiring your own editor. They may ask to see your work before they can provide an accurate timeline or price, which is normal. But it’s not unreasonable to expect to pay several hundred dollars if not into the four-digit realm for an experienced and thorough copy edit of your manuscript.

I hope I have given you some food for thought when it comes to the editorial process, and I hope you feel empowered to embrace the next phase your manuscript will go through! What questions do you have about the editing process or what has been your experience in working with editors in the past? Comment below!

If you have a finished first draft and are looking for a reliable and thoughtful copy editor, I offer a free 30-min discovery call to see if you and I would work well together as editor and author. Send me a message here.