There are different types of copy editing including content editing or line editing and developmental editing. Line editing is the predominant service I provide. This involves reviewing a manuscript line by line (appropriately named, huh?) and ensuring that there are no misspellings, mechanical errors, plot holes, etc.
What does copyediting mean? The Chicago Manual of Style defines proofreading as, “the process of reading a text and scrutinizing all its components to find errors and mark them for correction." Here is a list of what I would be doing:
- Mechanical editing: Ensure consistency in all mechanical matters—spelling, capitalization, punctuation, hyphenation, abbreviations, format of lists, etc.
- Correlating parts: Check contents page against chapters; check numbering of footnotes or endnotes, table, and figures. Check alphabetization of bibliography or reference list; read footnote, endnote, or in-text citations against bibliography or reference list.
- Language editing: Correct all errors in grammar, syntax, and usage. Point out or revise any contradictory content. Point out any patches that seem wordy or convoluted, and supply suggested revisions. Ask for or supply definitions of terms likely to be new to readers.
- Content editing: Query any facts that seem incorrect. Use desktop reference books or the Internet to verify content. Query faulty organization and gaps in logic.
List adapted from Amy Einsohn's The Copyeditor's Handbook
Proofreading should be the final step before the book goes to the presses. A misplaced comma or missing apostrophe generally is more embarrassing than anything else, but for some publications, it could cost a lot of money to reprint materials. Oakhurst Dairy learned this the hard way when they neglected to use a serial comma (also called an Oxford comma or a Harvard comma). A missing comma in this case resulted in a loss of $5 million. http://www.cfodailynews.com/why-this-company-is-out-5m-over-a-missing-oxford-comma/ a
If you've just finished the first draft of your novel, you do not want proofreading as your book could change substantially between the first and second (and third, and fourth . . .) drafts. After your first draft, you'd be best off with a beta-reader not a proofreader.
When you are ready to send off your manuscript to your publisher or to publish it yourself, you want a second pair of eyes to go over the text. You've become too close to your work and you need an objective expert to go over each word. As Amy Einsohn writes in her book The Copyeditor's Handbook a proofreader must "scrutinize each comma ('OK, comma, what are you doing here? Do you really belong here? Why?')" I will inspect each comma, question each pronoun, query each abbreviation, and investigate each semicolon. I can't promise that I will shine a light in the face of each period and ask it where it was on the evening of June 15, but I will make sure that it belongs there.
Critiquing and Beta Reading
A sampling of issues I will note while beta reading your book:
• Plot holes
• Confusing or underdeveloped character motivations
• Pacing issues
• Language that fails to evoke the intended emotion
• Character dialogue that falls flat or sounds too similar to another character’s
• Lack of descriptions (this can include the reader not knowing where characters are in a room or what a person or space looks like)
• Repeated instances of obvious spelling or grammatical errors (example, consistently using “there” when you meant to write “their”). I will only point these errors out, I will not edit them.
• Hard to understand terminology, jargon, or technical language
• Sections that may be deemed offensive by some readers
I will make your book a priority AND I won’t be giving you only a few paragraphs worth of comments on the last page. Expect to see about two comments per page. For a recent science fiction book that I read, I left 1,097 comments for 530 pages. The author wrote me this after I read the first half of her book:
“Rachel -- Wow. Scanned your 500+ comments, and they look consistently thoughtful and altogether spot-on. I'm beyond impressed. Really, truly--thank you [. . .] For now, just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate the top-quality perspective you've provided. It's a commendable effort and will be invaluable in getting [my book] from passable to publishable.”
I will make myself available to you via email or text chatting during the process of beta reading. If you want me to give you each chapter as I finish it, I will do so. If you prefer for me to hand you the entire book at once, then I’ll do that. A lot of authors appreciate being able to ask me questions or ask for my opinion.
If a particular section of your book perplexes me, my comments won’t simply read “This is confusing.” Instead, I will explain why it is unclear and what you could do to fix this issue. Here I will be going beyond beta reading and do a bit of developmental editing. Developmental editing, as Jennifer Lawler, an EFA instructor, puts it, “. . . works at the big-picture level and asks the higher-level questions—not ‘Is this comma in the right place?’ but ‘Does the novel do what it’s supposed to do?’”
Please note that beta reading is not editing or proofreading. While I will point out obvious spelling and grammatical errors, I will not be reading the copy specifically to look for errors. It’s also important to know that I am an honest and frank critique. If your book has issues (and nearly all books do), I will tell you about them and offer solutions for how you can fix them. Honest, helpful feedback can be difficult to get from your friends and family.