Finding the right copyeditor

Are you ready to start looking for a copyeditor*? That usually means you’ve revised your manuscript in response to feedback from beta readers and/or a developmental editor and feel like it’s super clean. It just needs fresh eyes and a final polish.

You want to be sure you’re compatible with your copyeditor, and we want that, too. Ask published authors in your writing groups and on social media for a few recommendations. Out of those, choose two to four prospects who appeal to you. Investigate us online, if you like—you’d do that for a person watching your children or pets, right? Your book deserves someone who will treat it with similar tenderness and respect.

Approach the copyeditors you’ve selected one at a time with a query similar to what you might send an agent: include word count, a brief description of the book, and how you heard about them. Suggest a schedule and ask about availability. Be frank about the genre, any explicit sex or violence, religious and political themes, and so on.

Most copyeditors are glad to provide a brief sample edit at no charge. It’s how many of us discover whether we’re compatible with an author or manuscript, too, and what our budget should be. It’s best to provide one candidate at a time with your entire manuscript in Microsoft Word so that the copyeditor can choose a few pages to work on. Most of us realize that the first few pages are likely to be the cleanest, and we’ll pick a section from the last half of the book to sample.

As of 2016, Word is still the tool most of us use to convey our edits. We can easily track the changes, control versions, and query as necessary. Please don’t use the Mac application Pages without discussing it first. The two programs are not compatible for this work, as I’ve discovered to my dismay. Programs like Scrivener are great to organize ideas and Google Docs might be a good place to draft, but once the manuscript heads to the copyeditor it should be in Word and stay that way until formatting for print or ebook.

When you receive a sample copyedit, read through the corrections to get a feel for the kind of thing that’s marked. You should sense a willingness to explain rules but not necessarily to insist upon them. When I’m editing, I refer constantly to dictionaries, websites, and style guides—and many of those contradict each other. When in doubt, a good copyeditor will query or let the author’s decision stand. From the beginning, English has been expanding to fit our world, to the delight of many copyeditors and the dismay of others. The sample should help you determine which way your copyeditor leans, and whether the two of you are a match.

*The book publishing industry makes copyeditor one word; for journalism, it’s two.

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