Copy Editing for Authors

A Q&A about copy editing, followed by details of the two services I offer: Comprehensive Copy Edit and Copy Edit Plus.

I’m not sure whether I need a copy editor or a developmental editor. What’s the difference?

If you need someone to analyse the structure, plot, storytelling, level of tension, POV and so on in your novel, then you should hire a developmental editor rather than a copy editor. (In the UK, editors who do this kind of analysis often refer to the service they provide as a manuscript critique.) Developmental editors take a good look at the big-picture aspects of your novel. They don’t usually correct grammar, spelling and syntax, or make sure your manuscript follows recognised style guidelines. On the other hand, those are some of the many, many things that a copy editor does do. A copy editor will correct errors and flag issues that the author needs to address. Copy editors are on the lookout for hundreds of things, from inconsistencies in punctuation and verb tense use, to potential copyright issues, to dangling participles, spelling mistakes and pronouns without antecedents.

When should I hire a copy editor? 

You need a copy editor when you’re happy you’ve got the big-picture stuff right in your manuscript and you want to take the next step and either self-publish your novel or send it to agents. (Please note that if, after seeing your manuscript, I believe it’s not yet ready to be copy-edited, I will tell you.)

How can I tell if you’re the right copy editor for me?

Not all copy editors are the same, and not all offer the same service, so it’s important to shop around and find someone who meets your requirements and with whom you can develop a good rapport. I’ve been copy-editing since 1990, and I’m highly skilled and experienced (at the bottom of this page, you can read what clients have said about me). I only copy-edit fiction, and I edit between 20 and 25 full-length manuscripts a year. I work with debut novelists, bestselling writers (I’ve edited the fiction of Catherine Ryan Hyde and J. A. Konrath, for example), and everyone in between. As well as working with independent authors, I copy-edit for the publishers Thomas & Mercer (crime and thrillers), 47North (fantasy, science fiction and horror) and AmazonCrossing (translations) in the United States, and Constable & Robinson (crime) in the UK. I also edit fiction for Girl Friday Productions, a highly respected Seattle-based publishing agency.

Can you give me a demonstration of your work?

Yes. If you’re at the stage where you’re seriously considering hiring a copy editor, ask me to edit some pages, which I’ll do for free, without obligation. Send me a Word document consisting of between 10 and 15 double-spaced pages taken from the middle section of your book. I’ll aim to get the copy-edited pages back to you within 48 hours.

Do you work with authors from the States? 

All the time. I’m fully conversant with US conventions regarding grammar, style and punctuation. When I work on novels written by American authors, I consult the sixteenth edition of The Chicago Manual of Style and Webster’s.

If I hire you as my copy editor, what happens next?

We’ll work out a deadline and agree a price based on the rates I give on this page, and we’ll both sign an agreement that puts everything in black and white. Before I start working on your novel, I’ll send you a questionnaire. Your answers to my questions will help me understand where you’re coming from as an author and will influence some of the decisions I make as I work on your manuscript. I’ll ask you to send me your novel as a Word document, and once I have it, I’ll give it a rigorous copy edit. I’ll use Microsoft Word’s Track Changes tool to make my edits so that all my changes are there for you to see, and I’ll also leave detailed notes in the margins. (If you don’t know how Track Changes works, I’ll talk you through it.)

Once I’ve finished editing your novel, I’ll send you the copy-edited manuscript and an individual style sheet. If you have any queries about my edits and comments, I’ll be happy to address them. If you opt for the Comprehensive Copy Edit service (see below), you’ll also receive a detailed editing report, typically about 1,500 words long. All authors are entitled to cleanup copy editing too (five hours if using the Comprehensive Copy Edit service, and four if opting for a Copy Edit Plus). This means that once you’ve gone over my comments and edits and made changes to your novel on the basis of them, you send your manuscript back to me, and I’ll edit your edits.

How do you calculate your charges?

The simplest way: I use a per-word rate.

How do I pay?

Clients with UK bank accounts can pay by money transfer; clients in the States and elsewhere can pay using PayPal, which is quick and easy. I follow the standard procedure of asking to be paid half the full amount before I start work. Authors then pay the balance after they’ve received the copy-edited manuscript.

What are the types of service you provide?

Take a look at the menu below. I’m very flexible, and if there’s a service you want that’s not listed, please tell me.

1. COPY EDIT PLUS

This service is geared towards experienced authors. The Copy Edit Plus service focuses on:

• Correcting errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax and word usage while preserving your voice and maintaining your original meaning.

• Identifying sentences and passages that might need reworking, and giving advice about how to go about it.

• Ensuring consistency in the treatment of capitalization, punctuation, numbers, hyphenation, use of abbreviations and so on. I follow the guidance of The Chicago Manual of Style and Webster’s when working on novels written by American authors, and I consult New Hart’s Rules, The Chicago Manual of Style and Collins English Dictionary when working on novels written by British writers.

• Fact checking.

As part of the Copy Edit Plus service, once you’ve considered all my comments and edits and reworked your novel where necessary, you send your manuscript back to me, and I go over the changed passages again to ensure everything is as it should be. You are entitled to four hours of cleanup editing. Further cleanup editing costs £30 an hour.

Price: £0.012 per word. At this rate, for example, an 80,000-word manuscript would cost £960 to copy-edit. Multiply by 1.2 to get a rough idea of the price in US dollars ($1,152).

2. COMPREHENSIVE COPY EDIT

About as all-encompassing as it’s possible for a copy edit to be, the Comprehensive Copy Edit service is particularly suitable for first-time authors. A Comprehensive Copy Edit is an edit focusing on:

• Correcting errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax and word usage while preserving your voice and maintaining your original meaning.

• Identifying sentences and passages that might need reworking, and giving advice about how to go about it.

• Ensuring consistency in the treatment of capitalization, punctuation, numbers, hyphenation, use of abbreviations and so on. I follow the guidance of The Chicago Manual of Style and Webster’s when working on novels written by American authors, and I consult New Hart’s Rules, The Chicago Manual of Style and Collins English Dictionary when editing the work of British writers.

• Flagging any issues concerning POV, characterization, scene setting and so on. Let me explain what that means. If, for example, you’ve written your novel using third-person-serial POV and I discover passages where you switch to omniscient mode without apparently realising you’ve done so, I will flag those passages. Or maybe you give physical descriptions of every character except for one in a chapter; I will query that too.

• Fact checking

When I have finished the first round of work on your novel, I will send you a detailed editing report, along with your copy-edited manuscript. The report will talk in depth about any issues that came up while I edited your book.

As part of the Comprehensive Copy Edit service, once you’ve considered all my comments and edits and reworked your novel where necessary, you send your manuscript back to me, and I go over the changed passages again to ensure everything is as it should be. You are entitled to five hours of cleanup editing, which is usually enough time to get everything done. Further cleanup editing costs £30 an hour.

Price: £0.018 per word. That means, for instance, I would charge £1,440 to copy-edit an 80,000-word manuscript. Multiply by 1.2 to get a rough idea of the price in US dollars ($1,728).

To contact me, you can send a message to mbtrower at yahoo dot co dot uk, or call me on (00 44) 07476 050097.

Testimonials and Author Feedback

‘I was very impressed with the editing that Marcus did. He is a stickler for details, and every page evidenced his professionalism. I have worked with exceptional copy editors from big publishing houses; Marcus was even better.’ Alan Russell,
award-winning crime novelist, published by Thomas & Mercer

‘Thank you. You really get it. You call me on the stuff that needs calling, but I never felt like you were stepping on the prose.’ Catherine Ryan Hyde, bestselling author of Pay It Forward, which was adapted into a film starring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt

‘The genius of Marcus is that he not only sees the fault, he knows how to correct it.’ Jim Ford, author of the Bug House detective series (Constable & Robinson)

‘Marcus is a joy to work with and a master at his craft. He can do it all: grammar, style, fact checking, and overarching analysis. I have worked with other editors, but none can match his experience, instinct and attention to detail. He vastly improved my novel, and that’s the true benchmark of a great editor.’ Roberto Calas, author of The Scourge Kindle Serials (47North)

‘I was deeply impressed with Marcus’s expertise, attention to detail, speedy work, and good communications. Not only did he respect the author’s voice, but he single-handedly helped me get over a moderate case of editoritis. Highly recommended on all counts.’ Shawn Purcell, author of West Kill Creek

‘Just a huge thanks for making me a better writer. You’re the best copy editor I’ve ever worked with. Cheers!’ Ryan Potter, author of Perennial (47North)

‘Working alongside Marcus (from across the Atlantic!) in polishing my manuscript was hands down one of the most rewarding aspects of producing my first novel. He went far above and beyond what I ever expected from a copy editor. Not only did he help me ensure that my final manuscript was flawless, but he took the time to share his expertise by explaining many of his recommended changes to me. As such, I will be able to put that knowledge to good use as I continue writing novels. And Lord willing, Marcus will be there to help me get each of them ready for prime time.’
Sara Whitford, independent author

‘Marcus is a professional. He is a teacher. He is supportive and demonstrates a delightful sense of humour. I highly recommend his work.’ John R. Henderson, independent author

‘Marcus did a great job copy-editing my novel, The Abuse of Power, with an amazingly impressive turnaround time. He corrected my grammar and spelling, but his guidance went so much further. Marcus proposed hundreds of improvements in his comments, from the minutiae of “This is the wrong verb in this context” to the bigger picture of “The reader will be able to visualise this scene better if you . . .”, yet he never tried to change my style. The proof is in the reading, and my two guinea pigs reread my novel and described it as immeasurably improved. Say no more.’ David Buckle, independent author

‘Working with Marcus exceeded all of my expectations. Every one of Marcus’s suggestions made my manuscript better and helped me learn. His manuscript report was conscientious, thorough, instructive and extremely valuable in helping me not only understand issues overall, but also get a sense of the things that worked well. Marcus was also very responsive and fun to work with. I’m recommending him to all my writing buddies, and I would recommend him to anybody who wants to ensure their manuscript is as grammatically and stylistically perfect as possible.’ Elin Barnes, independent author

‘Thanks, Marcus. Great stuff.  Your comments were succinct and helpful. I accepted ninety-nine per cent of your changes.’ Ivan Cat, independent author

‘Marcus is more than a copy editor; he’s a true professional, a coach, and a hell of a teacher. Not only do I recommend him, but you can be sure that his eye for detail and notations in the margin will improve your novel tremendously and make you a better writer.’ S. L. Jones, independent author

‘Your editing was exactly what I needed – and then some.’
Kevin Roberts, independent author

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  1. Hello Marcus,

    I’ve been working on my crime fiction novel and needed a break. So, I started searching on the internet looking to talk to someone about my writing experiences, but there was no one until I ran across your website.

    I’m two years into writing a crime novel, and your definitions of the different types of editors helped me with something I’ve been thinking about. Copy Editor and Developmental Editor.

    I have an old friend who has decades of editorial experience in magazines and newspapers. I asked for his help with my book and although he never used the term Developmental Editor, that’s what he told me he could do for me, and he said he wouldn’t do what you do and I’d have to find someone other than him.

    By reading your article I see that what my friend was talking about was that I had to get a Copy Editor which is why I’m interested in you.

    It’s going to be a while until I finish my book, but I wanted to introduce myself to you and let you know that if my book were finished now, I’d want a sample of your work editing some pages in my manuscript because I will need a Copy Editor and I like your website.

    Linda

    • Hi Linda,

      I’m glad I’ve been able to help you differentiate between a developmental editor and a copy editor. Do feel free to send me some material when you’re ready, and good luck with your writing.

  2. Dear Marcus,
    Thank you for getting back to me. I’ll get in touch with you when I’ve completed my manuscript.
    Linda M. Schulman

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