Tuesday, July 31, 2018

10 Tips for Copyediting a Manuscript (Lizzie)

Editing a manuscript may be a pleasure or a pain, depending on your personality, and either affordable or not, depending on your purse. Either way, as writers, it's our job to write the best we can and self-edit the best we can before our material goes to the public--whether the public is the audience or the hired editor. Although I completed a certificate in copyediting last year, I haven't done much with it, and now that I'm in the process of editing my novel TO CATCH A MAGIC THIEF, I am struggling to regain those copyediting skills. I'd like to share some of what I learned in my classes and in my current editing experience. Please note, these are for a light copyedit not a line edit. The text is pretty clean already. Copyediting is the final editing before proofing and should catch all grammar errors, inconsistencies,  usage errors, and so on. The story structure, character arcs, and general clarity of sentences should already have been checked and approved.

10 Tips for Copyediting a Manuscript

The Process

1) Read very, very slowly on the first pass. This makes it easier to catch missing words as well as other mistakes. Running your finger or a pencil under each word also helps. Printing out the manuscript for your last editing pass (two or threes passes is common for editors) is a good idea. A professional editor may skim your manuscript first and then do a slow, thorough edit on a the second pass, and then faster third pass to catch any missed mistakes.

2) Read aloud or listen to a text-to-speech program read the manuscript to you. This is great for catching similar words you may have used incorrectly as well as words used twice or left out. You can also catch accidental rhymes you may not want or long, convoluted sentences.

3) Don't try to binge edit. You'll tire and miss errors--or add them in. Realize that a good edit takes time and divide your editing into chunks, say five pages at a time or a chapter, depending on how good you are at staying the editor mindset.

4) Create a style sheet and story details file. This is to help you keep track of preferred spellings (like Alexandria instead of Alexandra), style decisions, and story details (timing, character hair color, name spelling, etc.) that should be consistent throughout. List problem areas here as well, such as words you overuse or commonly misuse (whom and who, for instance).

5) Keep your reference guides handy and use them. Chicago Manual of Style, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors by Kathy Ide, Christian Writer's Style Guide. See a word you're not sure needs a hyphen? Look it up! Don't rely on memory of high school English class or your crit partners to tell you how to use a comma or format a manuscript either.  High school English and publishing English can be quite different. Also, it's one space between sentences now.

What to Look For

6) Here are some things to for look for when copyediting fiction
•Spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, punctuation
•Treatment of numbers and numerals
•Treatment of quotations within dialogue and character thoughts
•Use of abbreviations and acronyms
•Dialog tags
•Use of italics for thoughts and emphasis
•Word usage
•Missing words or punctation

7) Look up any word that remotely might be misused or otherwise incorrect. Get accustomed to looking up at least one or two words or phrases per page. Spell check is great, unless, of course, you spelled the wrong word the write way (or the right way). Ask of two-word phrases, are they open or closed? Do they require a hyphen? Is it in to or into? Is it under way or underway? You may have a one-year-old nephew or a nephew who is one year old, but you don't have a one year old nephew. This can get tiring, but I've been surprised at how many words I've either used incorrectly or written incorrectly (they needed a space or a hyphen or didn't need a space, for instance). It did make me feel good to catch those in the editing stage though.

If you're not sure about grammar and usage rules, Kathy Ide's Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors and Patricia O'Conner's Woe Is I: A Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English are excellent, readable guides. Ide's book also has a list of commonly misused words and common grammar and usage errors.

8)  Keep an eye open for consistency. Check for character details (eye color, for instance), spelling of unique words (particularly relevant for fantasy authors who make up words), treatment of sound words (italics or Roman for words like um, hmm, and so on), italics or quotes or emphasis in dialogue, italics and present tense or not for character thoughts, single space before and after ellipsis (no space between ellipses and punctuation mark or quotation mark).

9) Note any errors or convoluted sentences or paragraphs. If any larger issues come up, make a note. You may want to fix them then or wait. Also, look for redundancies. Do you really need that in the sentence? She stood and she stood up are the same; you can delete up.

10) Remember the The Golden Rule of Copyediting: Editing is for the Reader. Can the reader understand the work and enjoy it? Is the author's message coming through clearly? The minutia of comma placement, hyphenation, and so on are to serve the reader, not terrorize the author. So don't get bogged down in the rules--or get lazy--but focus on clarity and the reader's enjoyment.

Do you have any tips for editing or things you usually look for?


  1. This is a very useful list. Going to have to keep this handy.

  2. Great post, Lizzie! I'm knee-deep in revisions at the moment (or is that knee deep?☺) These tips will help.

  3. Great tips. Bookmarked this for future use. Thanks, Lizzie!

  4. Thanks! I'm glad you found it helpful.

  5. These are so helpful, Elizabeth! Thanks for sharing!


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