Copyediting is about consistency

I have copyedits back for Assassin’s Gambit!

Authors hear a lot of horror stories about copyediting. Horror story #1 is that the copyeditor tries to rewrite your book in his or her own style, resulting in a nightmare for the author of trying to sort out the legitimate copyedits from the “I want to change your authorial voice” copyedits. Horror story #2 is that the publisher gives you the copyedits on Christmas Eve or something and demands you get them done immediately.

I’m happy to report that neither of these horror stories happened to me. Not even close. I was warned in advance when my copyedits would arrive. They arrived on schedule, and I had two weeks to return them. And the copyeditor made no stylistic or “voice” changes to the manuscript. All the changes were to bring the manuscript in line with the publisher’s style guide and to correct inconsistencies within the manuscript. Some examples:

Every “towards” is now “toward.” Every “downwards” is now “downward,” etc.

Apparently I overuse hyphens! The copyeditor took out about 90% of them. Most were in my made-up words like mind-mage, war-mage, etc. These are now mind mage and war mage. I think they do look better that way.

Lots of little punctuation changes (commas added or removed).

A lot of capitalization issues. I was never sure whether to capitalize emperor, or imperial, especially when the latter was paired with other words, like Imperial Palace or Imperial Princess. From seeing how the copyeditor handled both words, I think I understand now when they are and aren’t capitalized (both are conditionally capitalized depending on how they are used in the sentence).

“Echoes”–places where a word is unintentionally repeated within a sentence or two of itself.

That’s not an exhaustive list but just a few things that the copyeditor addressed. One of the great things about working with a big publishing house is that they are experts and there’s a lot I can learn from them. I learned a great deal going through my copyedits, and I’m already applying a similar set of changes to the manuscript for book 2, which should make copyediting easier in the future.

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7 Responses to Copyediting is about consistency

  1. Jessi Gage says:

    Thanks for sharing your copy edit experience. Good for you for approaching it with the humble attitude of a servant.

    • Amy Raby says:

      I don’t know if I’d go so far as to consider it the attitude of a servant. I think of it more as an open mind, willing to learn and absorb anything I can about my craft.

  2. Thanks for talking about this. It always seems like such a mystery… “what do editors at publishing houses DO?” Sometimes I think they are gods, distant and unattainable, to the majority of writers.

    • Amy Raby says:

      It’s been a fun adventure, seeing how things work at the publishing house from an author’s perspective. Publishing seems slow, in that yes, it takes a year or longer for a book to come out, but on the other hand, something new happens re: my book just about every week. Lots and lots is going on.

  3. DD says:

    I will not be able to survive as a writer without a copyeditor! It’s hard to find good ones though. Any reccos would be soooooo very much appreciated 🙂

    • Amy Raby says:

      I wish I could help, but as far as I can tell, my copyedits were done by an in-house editor, and I don’t see any evidence that this person freelances. I know there are some good email lists out there where people are probably willing to share copyeditor recommendations.

  4. Karin says:

    Thanks for this great article, Amy. I work as an in-house copyeditor and find that some authors, like you, are delighted to have an editor ensure consistency, whereas others refuse to acknowledge they need it. As a reader I find it really distracting when I see consistency errors in books so am very grateful that most (if not all) writers and publishers still get manuscripts edited. Can I let you in on a little secret? There are several software packages available that analyse text for consistency, then invite the user to choose one style or the other. They don’t remove the need for human editorial input, but do speed the editing process up. (The one I use is called PerfectIt – I’m pretty pedantic anyway, but it is really handy to have help to ensure I don’t miss anything! Best wishes 😉

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