The Importance of a Good Copyeditor

redpenBy Cecilia Lewis

A few months ago, I discussed the importance of hiring a good proofreader for your self-published book. Today, I’d like to take a look at copyediting. I believe a good copyeditor is absolutely crucial for anyone looking to self-publish their work. I am admittedly biased here, as I offer professional editing services, but as a writer, I would never publish a manuscript without having it thoroughly and professionally copyedited. So, what is copyediting, and why do you need it?

Copyeditors address a number of different issues, and the suggestions you receive will vary depending on who you hire. A good copyedit will include checks for spelling, grammar, consistency, clarity, conciseness, and technical accuracy. A copyedit goes much deeper than a proofread, addressing issues such as sentence structure and word choice. These changes may sound small, but they are an important part of creating professional-quality work that will make a better impression on your readers.

Honestly, most of the indie work I see as a freelance copyeditor is rough enough to require pretty substantial editing. If those works were to be published without any editing, the number of mistakes would likely annoy readers and result in poor reviews. And in my work as an editor at a publishing company, we never publish a book without having at least two copyeditors take a look at the manuscript. Even after a book has been extensively revised by the author and read multiple times by the editor, it’s still important to have it copyedited to check for mistakes.

I’ve seen a few authors suggest that they can copyedit their own work in order to save on the cost. There may be some writers capable of copyediting their own work, but in most cases I would advise against this. A writer is usually unable to copyedit their own work, simply because they’ve read it dozens of times by that point and don’t have enough distance from the work to notice the mistakes. It’s also important to remember that by this point the manuscript should have gone through multiple drafts, and it’s quite possible that you’ve introduced errors in the process that you and your critique partner missed. It’s very easy to make mistakes during revisions, even for writers who are good with spelling and grammar. Additionally, writing and copyediting are very different skill sets, and many writers lack the necessary knowledge to copyedit thoroughly.

So, what is it that copyeditors look for? Here are a few examples of the common mistakes copyeditors correct:

  • Overloaded sentences (too many verbs, excessive present participles, etc.)
  • Jumbled or confusing syntax
  • Incorrect or inconsistent verb tenses
  • Repetition
  • Incorrect word choice
  • Commonly misused words (affect/effect, accept/except, into/in to, lead/led, lose/loose, lay/lie, peak/peek, to/two/too, that/which, was/were, etc.)
  • Ambiguous pronouns
  • Dangling modifiers
  • Consistency (regarding names and proper nouns, commas, hyphenation, numerals, capitalization, etc.)
  • Commas (There can be a lot of stylistic variation here, but I’ve never seen a manuscript that didn’t misuse at least one comma.)
  • Inconsistent or insufficient use of contractions
  • Incorrect, absent, or distracting dialogue tags
  • Incorrect paragraph breaks or other formatting issues

And so much more. Even if you’ve carefully read your manuscript looking for these errors, it’s likely that there are still mistakes. I’ve worked with some amazing authors who write very clean drafts, but I’ve never seen a manuscript that didn’t need a copyedit before publication. For anyone pursuing self-publishing, copyediting is a step that you don’t want to skip. It can be expensive, but a good copyeditor is a crucial investment in your self-published book that is well worth the cost.

Do you have any experience with copyediting? Would you hire a copyeditor for your self-published book? Let me know in the comments!

Looking for a professional copyeditor or other editorial services? Check out my Services page for more information about what I offer.

This post is part of my Self-Publishing Series. For more information about self-publishing, check out the other posts in the series here, and follow the blog to see future posts!

Related Links:

-The Importance of a Good Proofreader

-Are You Ready to Self-Publish? Evaluating Your Manuscript

-When to Hire a Freelance Editor

-What to Avoid in Your First Chapter


One thought on “The Importance of a Good Copyeditor

  1. mothermi6 says:

    I used to be a copy editor (medical journals) and most of the papers I looked at were in such atrocious English that I sometimes felt like questioning the science behind the results! I think you are probably right about having a copy editor – stylistic consistency is a point which rang a bell when I read your list. Even on here, I usually return to a post several times to clean up the mistakes!

    Liked by 1 person

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