As a copy editor, who runs a copy editing company, unsurprisingly, I have pretty strong views about copy editing. However, I just want to open a debate on the value of copy editing and why all writers can benefit from a good old edit..
What Is Copy Editing?
This is a question that is open to some debate. For me (and BubbleCow) a copy edit is a structural edit. It is an edit that looks at the way the story is put together. The focus of a copy edit is on plot, pacing and narrative. It is not focussed on grammar and spelling, that is a proofread. To cloud the water even further here’s another definition of a copy edit from Mpub.
But rather than get bogged down is what a copy edit is, or is not, I would suggest it is more fruitful to consider the goal of a copy edit.
For me the aim of a copy edit is to do three things:
- To improve the document,
- To improve the writer’s understanding of the structure their own book,
- To make the book more publishable.
When Should You Consider Copy Edit?
A good solid copy edit will improve your book. It will make it more publishable and, therefore, more attractive to potential agents and publishers.
I often come in contact with writers who feel their work is beyond a copy edit. My response is always the same. Firstly, I have never read a manuscript that didn’t benefit from a copy edit. Some may benefit to a greater extent, but all will benefit. My second point is always to consider publishers. The editing of a manuscript is an essential part of the pre-production process. A publisher would never publish a book without an edit. However, for publishers cost is critical. If this was not the case why would they waste time and money in editing if it didn’t produce a more saleable book?
The publishing world has become so competitive, that most agents and publishers are looking for books that need as little work as possible prior to publication. This means that if a writer can edit their book BEFORE they submit, then they will improve their chances of publication.
So in answer to the questions when to consider a copy edit, I would say the moment you are happy with the book and feel ready to submit. That is the point you should be thinking about an edit.
Can You Do It Yourself?
Well, errr… no! The whole point of a copy is that something new is being brought to the book. The very nature of a copy edit is that it is a third party looking at the structure and content of the book and focusing attention on areas that require further development.
Writers become so engaged in their work, they sometimes become ‘blind’ to the most obvious mistakes. This happens to us all, it is an essential part of the writing process. It is just important that you, as a writer, see this and understand what an external editor can bring to your work.
Does It Have To Cost
No! It is not essential that you employ a third party company or freelance editor. You can ask a friend to carry out the work for you. However, PLEASE remember editing is a skill. Would you ask your friend to remove your teeth, just because they had been to the dentist?
Editors possess a certain set of skills that make them very good at assessing other people’s writing and drawing attention to the areas of concern.
- Professional understanding of narrative and book structure,
- An in-depth understanding of the marketplace,
- An understanding of the publishing landscape,
- Attention to detail,
- Ability to teach not lecture.
What’s The Benefit?
At the end of the day the benefit of a good copy edit is a better book and a better writer. Yes, the process may be painful but if you have picked the right copy editor you will come out of the process with a new understanding of your work, but most importantly you will have been directed to develop a new set of skills that will mean you can write better and more publishable books.