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December 21, 2023

The Ultimate Guide to Unlocking Copy Editing Secrets for Your Book’s Success

In the crowded book market, a well-edited book can make all the difference to reader sharing and reviews. And reviews affect sales. But how do you ensure that your book receives the professional treatment it deserves? In this comprehensive guide, I delve into the essential techniques employed by top copy editors to polish manuscripts to a high standard.

Whether you’re aspiring to learn to edit or are already halfway there, let’s equip you with the knowledge to elevate the quality of your book – or at least have a better rough draft to give to the expert. Here you’ll learn a few common writing mistakes, some tips for using Word’s features, and what book editors really do.

Get ready to unleash the true potential of your book – with the power of good editing.

Understanding the role of a copy editor

Copy editing plays a crucial role in the success of any book. Hiring a copy editor is not the same as using a grammar checker. This is because she knows language use and scrutinises every word, sentence, and paragraph looking for multiple issues. The editor is also responsible for matching the suitability of the manuscript for selected reader groups.

One of the key tasks of a copy editor is to ensure that the writing is clear, concise, and coherent. They focus on improving sentence structure, eliminating unnecessary repetition, and enhancing the flow of ideas. Fiction copy editors refine the narrative, to help keep readers engaged and immersed in the story.

Good copy editing can transform a mediocre manuscript into a compelling piece of literature. Improving clarity and flow can mean the difference between a furrowed brow of miscommunication and an educational or immersive read.

Copy editing or writing coaching also helps to maintain the integrity of the author’s voice. A skilled copy editor understands the importance of preserving the author’s style and tone while making necessary improvements.

Sometimes, editors will ask a few questions about the type of style they desire to achieve. This delicate balance ensures that the final manuscript is a true reflection of the author’s vision, while also meeting the expectations of the target audience.

There is some debate about this, but self-published authors can benefit greatly from professional editing. In a competitive market where readers have high standards, investing in copy editing is considered the minimum for launching and getting reviews.

Important in non-fiction, a copy editor is also responsible for fact-checking and verifying information. They ensure that the book is accurate, credible, and free from inaccuracies or misleading statements. I have often caught an example that stated pseudoscience as fact when it is not. Wikipedia can provide some help with fact verification, though not all.

This attention to detail helps to build trust with readers and establishes the author as a reliable source of information.

Common copy-editing mistakes to avoid

Do you have a keen eye for errors? While every manuscript is unique, there are common mistakes that authors often make during the writing process. Be on the lookout for these to avoid them and ultimately help save yourself some money on editing services.

One common mistake is overlooking typographical errors. It’s easy for small spelling mistakes, missing words, or missing punctuation marks to slip through the cracks while focusing on the bigger picture. Mistakes like using “how” instead of “who”. These seemingly minor errors can have a significant impact on the overall reading experience and should be carefully addressed.

Another mistake is using excessive or unnecessary words. Copy editing helps to identify and eliminate unnecessary words, ensuring that the writing is concise and impactful.

Inconsistent formatting is another common issue. Strange use of font styles, spacing, and indentation can make the book look unprofessional and distract readers. Don’t use hard returns more than once. Copy editing helps to establish a consistent format throughout that enhances the overall reading experience.

Poor sentence structure and lack of clarity are also common issues. Sentences that are too long or convoluted can confuse readers and disrupt the flow of the narrative. Copy editing helps to rephrase sentences, ensuring that ideas are conveyed clearly and concisely. Sentence length variety can be used to give readers a mental break.

Knowing which language version that they need to use, as English has two types, copy editors pay close attention to grammar, punctuation, idioms and spelling. They ensure that the book adheres to the rules of language, maintaining consistency throughout.

Writers often forget the convention they used before or simply don’t know the many rules of punctuation and grammar and so make a tonne of tiny mistakes. It’s all about learning the rules and then knowing when you can break them, judiciously.

Overall, a copy editor’s role is to be the author’s ally, working to elevate the quality of the book and its potential for success.

The copy-editing process

The copy editing process is a systematic approach to refining and improving a manuscript. It involves several stages, of necessity. Understanding the copy editing process can help you prepare for the journey ahead.

The first stage of the copy editing process is the initial manuscript assessment. This involves evaluating the manuscript as a whole to identify any major issues or areas that require significant attention. The editor will assess the overall structure, flow, depth and clarity of the writing. This is usually charged for, but an assessment of the level of editing is not usually billed.

Let’s not get confused. What is often called ‘Developmental Editing’ addresses structural issues, keeping the subject matter unfolding logically and engagingly, and deleting repetition. This editing stage comes before copy editing. The manuscript goes back to the author with a report and many comments on how to fix it.

The next stage is the line-by-line copy edit. This is where the copy editor starts scrutinising each sentence and paragraph for errors and improvements. They focus on grammar, punctuation, spelling, sentence structure, and overall readability. This requires meticulous attention to detail and a thorough understanding of language rules and conventions.

After the line-by-line copy edit comes the proofreading stage. Proofreading is the final check before the book goes to print. In this stage, the copy editor or another proofreader looks for any remaining errors or inconsistencies that may have been missed during the previous stages or that may have popped up during the layout.

Throughout the entire copy editing process, clear and open communication between the author and the copy editor is crucial. The author should provide any necessary background information or guidance, while the copy editor should ask for clarification whenever needed. This collaborative approach ensures that the final product meets the author’s expectations and maintains their unique voice

Tips for self-editing your book before hiring a copy editor

If using Word, go to Preferences. Go to Spelling & Grammar and turn on “check spelling as you type” and “check grammar as you type”. Go into Custom Dictionaries and choose your language. Mine is English (Aus), although MS Word (‘bloody Word’ as I call it) quite likes to default to US English regardless.

‘Tools – Spelling & Grammar’ brings up Editor. Along with the Editor pane, also get familiar with the Track Changes under Review tab. Word count also lives here.

If you hire an editor, you will be going to Review to reject the changes you don’t like. Always fix the element after rejecting it – otherwise, the manuscript will not make sense. ‘Accept all’ takes care of the rest, although the editor can do that step.

Before handing your manuscript over to a professional copy editor, there are several steps you can take to self-edit and improve the quality of your book. Self-editing not only saves time and money but also helps you become more aware of your writing style and weaknesses.

The first tip for self-editing is to take a long break from your manuscript before starting the editing process. This allows you to approach your work with a fresh perspective, making it easier to spot errors and inconsistencies. Distance yourself from your writing for at least a few days or even a couple of weeks.

Once you’re ready to begin self-editing, start by reading your manuscript out loud. This technique helps you identify awkward phrasing, repetitive words, and other issues that are not as noticeable when reading silently. Pay attention to the flow of your sentences and ensure that they convey your ideas clearly and effectively.

During the self-editing process, focus on one aspect at a time. We only edit non-fiction, so our advice reflects this. Start with the big picture: the overall structure, logical development and chapter structure. Look for inconsistencies and areas that require more depth or explanation. Once you’re satisfied with this, move on to smaller details like grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure.

It’s also important to be aware of your writing weaknesses. Take note of recurring mistakes or patterns in your writing and make a conscious effort to improve them.

Finally, seek feedback from beta readers or writing critique groups. Some can provide valuable insights and perspectives that can help you identify areas for improvement. Make sure they are not going to be a totally Negative Nelly, but rather, constructively critical. Take their feedback into consideration and make necessary revisions based on their suggestions.

By following these self-editing tips, you can significantly improve the quality of your manuscript before it reaches the hands of a professional copy editor.

Hiring a professional copy editor: What to look for

When it comes to hiring a professional copy editor, it’s essential to find someone who understands your writing style and goals. Make sure you can ask questions easily. Here are some key factors to consider when choosing a copy editor for your book:

1. Experience and expertise: Look for a copy editor who has experience in your genre or niche, e.g. how to, self-help. Narrower than this is not necessary. The editor should be familiar with the conventions and expectations of your target audience. Additionally, ensure that the copy editor has a strong understanding of grammar, punctuation, and language rules.

2. Portfolio and references: Request samples of the copy editor’s previous work to assess their editing style and quality. You might ask for testimonials from authors they have worked with in the past. This will give you an idea of their professionalism, communication skills, and ability to meet deadlines.

3. Communication and collaboration: A good copy editor should be open to collaboration and willing to discuss your goals and expectations. They should be receptive to your feedback and suggestions while providing constructive criticism. Open communication is key to a successful editing partnership.

4. Pricing and turnaround time: Discuss pricing and turnaround time with potential copy editors before making a decision. While it’s important to find an editor within your budget, remember that quality editing often comes at a higher price. However, sometimes freelance editors with 20 years of experience can quote below an editor hired by a subsidy publisher – and be 10 times better at it.

5. Compatibility: Trust your instincts and choose a copy editor with whom you feel comfortable working. A good editor-author relationship is built on trust and mutual respect. If you have reservations or doubts about a potential editor, it’s best to continue your search until you find the right fit.

By considering these factors and taking the time to find the right copy editor for your book, you can ensure that your manuscript receives the professional treatment it deserves.

Copy editing software for writers

Technology has streamlined the copy editing process, providing writers with a range of software to enhance their editing capabilities. Here are some popular copy-editing tools that can help you improve the quality of your writing:

1. Grammarly: Grammarly is a widely used online writing assistant that checks for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. It also provides suggestions for improving sentence structure and clarity. Grammarly is available as a Chrome browser extension, desktop app and mobile app.

2. Hemingway Editor: Hemingway Editor is a web-based tool that helps you simplify and clarify your writing. It highlights complex sentences, excessive adverbs, and instances of passive voice. Hemingway Editor also provides a readability score to help you gauge the accessibility of your writing.

3. ProWritingAid: Preferred by repeat writers, ProWritingAid is a comprehensive writing and editing tool that analyses writing for grammar, style, readability, and more. It offers suggestions for improving sentence structure, word choice, and overall clarity. Active versus passive voice can prove troublesome if your topic matter demands passive. ProWritingAid is available as a web-based tool and integrates with Microsoft Word and Google Docs. You usually get it on sale or included with an Infostack, like The Nonfiction Writer’s Super Stack which happens annually.

4. StyleWriter: StyleWriter is a software program that helps you improve the clarity and readability of your writing. It analyses your writing for grammar, style, jargon, and clichés. StyleWriter provides suggestions for making your writing more concise, engaging, and professional.

These tools are valuable resources for self-editing and can help you identify common errors and areas for improvement. However, it’s important to remember that they are not substitutes for professional copy editing. A human copy editor brings a level of expertise, intuition, and creativity that cannot be replicated by software alone.

The cost of copy editing and budgeting tips

The cost of copy editing varies depending on the length and complexity of the manuscript, as well as the experience and reputation of the copy editor. While it’s natural to want to minimise expenses on a first book, authors I worked with say that investing in professional copy editing was worthwhile and they are proud of the result.

When budgeting for copy editing, consider the following factors:

1. Length: Longer manuscripts require more time and effort to edit, which results in higher costs. Be prepared for potential price variations based on the word count of your book. Cutting down a 90,000-word book to 60,000 words is quite the task but this also keeps it to one theme and not verbose.

2. Complexity of the content: Manuscripts that involve technical or specialised knowledge may require a copy editor with expertise in the field. This knowledge may come at a higher price.

3. Turnaround time: If you require a faster turnaround time, it may incur additional charges. Discuss your timeline and factor in any rush fees.

4. Additional services: Some copy editors also offer developmental editing or proofreading. These services may be beneficial, depending on your manuscript, but remember to check your initial budget.

When you budget for copy editing, consider the value it brings to your book. Quality copy editing can significantly improve the readability, credibility, and marketability of your work. It’s an investment in your professional reputation as an author.

If budget constraints are a concern, consider discussing payment plans, as it evens out the flow and we are often happy to accommodate.

The benefits of investing in professional copy editing

Investing in professional copy editing offers numerous benefits that can elevate the quality and success of your book.

Most of all, look for editors who can improve sentence structure and enhance the overall flow. This level of polish enhances the reading experience and increases reader engagement.

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About the Author

Jennifer Lancaster writes money and marketing books that help educate and inform.

She is a freelance editor, copywriter, and book writing coach who believes in independence and personal growth.

After many years in the industry, Jen has created self-publishing training for authors and advice on book marketing.

Jen Lancaster

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