Copyediting for Authors

Copyediting Q&A

Here are answers to common questions about copyediting and how I work with authors, followed by details of the services I offer and my rates.

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. Copy editors polish your prose and make sure it’s in a publishable state. When you’re reading a book, there’s nothing worse than coming across passages of poor spelling, punctuation or sentence construction. Soon you’re distracted by the mistakes and concentrating on the poor writing and editing of the book rather than absorbed by the story. A good copy editor makes sure that never happens to a reader of your novel. As I said, the many things copy editors look out for make for a long list, so here, randomly selected, are fifteen things I would do if I copyedited your novel.

  • Check for consistency issues. Do you, for example, describe a character as having blue eyes on page 15, then say their eyes are green on page 234?
  • Fix instances of tense shift — in other words, passages where, say, you start off using the past tense, then switch to the present by mistake. (This can happen, for example, when an earlier draft of your novel was written in a different tense.)
  • Correct mistakes in subject-verb agreement.
  • Identify danglers and give you advice on how to fix the sentences in which they occur. (If you’re not sure what danglers are, you can read my blog about them here.)
  • Flag any repetitious passages or repeated language so you can consider rewriting.
  • Flag potential copyright issues. Are you quoting song lyrics, for instance, without realising you need to ask for permission?
  • Make sure spellings are correct and consistent throughout your novel, and that there are no mistakes with homonyms, these being words that sound the same but have different meanings and spellings, such as the old classics ‘compliment’ and ‘complement’, and ‘practice’ and ‘practise’.
  • Ensure your novel follows the rules for commas with restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses.
  • Insert missing words and query you when there’s clearly a word or two missing but it’s not transparently obvious what that text is.
  • Check your timeline adds up.
  • Fix comma splices (though these days they can be quite the fashion).
  • Correct hyphenation errors. (The rules of hyphenation are a bit of a labyrinth.)
  • Point out that readers might not follow your meaning in passages where it’s a little difficult to get what you’re trying to say. If I can think of one, I’ll also offer a solution.
  • Identify pronouns without antecedents and advise you on how to fix the passages in which they appear.
  • Check the spellings of place names, brand names and so on.

I’m worried an editor will slash and burn my carefully constructed prose. Are you going to do that?

No way. My objective is to help you craft a great novel that’s true to your style and vision. As a published author myself, I understand just how much your novel means to you, and I promise to handle it with a great deal of sensitivity. If I do find passages that I feel need reworking, I’ll explain why and suggest possible rewrites in comments in the margin. I’ll never wade in and rewrite your novel for you.

Can I test you out without committing to hiring you?

Sure. I encourage authors to do that. It’s important that you find a copy editor who’s right for you and your novel and with whom you can develop a good rapport. If you are seriously considering hiring a copy editor to work on your novel, ask me to copyedit some of your pages. I’ll edit them for free, without obligation. Send a Word document of between 10 and 15 double-spaced pages to mbtrower at yahoo dot co dot uk, and I’ll aim to get them back to you within 48 hours.

Do you work with authors from the States as well as Brits? 

All the time. I’m fully conversant with US conventions regarding grammar, style and punctuation. (However, please note that this website is written in British English.) When I work on novels written by American authors, I consult 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 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 copyedited 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 Copyediting service (see below), you’ll also receive a detailed editing report, typically about 1,500 words long. All authors are entitled to clean-up copyediting too — five hours if using the Comprehensive Copyediting service, and four if opting for the Copyediting Plus service. 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. (Scroll down to see my rates.)

How do I pay?

Clients with UK bank accounts can pay directly into my account; clients in the States and elsewhere can pay via PayPal. 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 copyedited manuscript.

What are the types of service you provide?

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

1. Copyediting Plus

This service is geared towards experienced authors. The Copyediting 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 Copyediting 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 clean-up editing. Further clean-up editing costs £30 an hour, but it’s rare that it’s ever needed.

Price: £0.013 per word. At this rate, for example, an 80,000-word manuscript would cost £1,040 to copyedit. Multiply by 1.4 to get a rough idea of the price in US dollars ($1,456).

2. Comprehensive Copyediting

About as all-encompassing as it’s possible for copyediting to be, the Comprehensive Copyediting service is particularly suitable for first-time authors. I focus 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 copyedited manuscript. The report will talk in depth about any issues that came up while I edited your book.

As part of the Comprehensive Copyediting 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 clean-up editing, which is nearly always enough time to get everything done. Further clean-up editing costs £30 an hour.

Price: £0.018 per word. That means, for instance, I would charge £1,440 to copyedit an 80,000-word manuscript. Multiply by 1.4 to get a rough idea of the price in US dollars ($2,000).

DSC_0509To get in touch with me, call me on (00 44) 7477 917925 or send me an email. My email address is mbtrower at yahoo dot co dot uk.

 

3 thoughts on “Copyediting for Authors

  1. Linda Schulman

    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

    1. 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. Linda Schulman

    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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