Wish You Were Here is about as done in the structural editing stakes as it can be. I’m doing a final pass through for the big stuff and then it’s off for copy edit. I’m also sending it off to my beta (or first) readers at this time too.
I remember when I first got the copy edit back for Baby, It’s You. It was terrifying- this marked-up document full of deletions and comments. The page was full of them. Every page was full of them. I started to sweat. Seriously.
As I plodded through the first chapter though, it got easier. Most were minor grammar and punctuation changes- commas instead of semi colons, quotation marks the wrong way round (something scrivener tends to do for conversations where the sentence starts with S) that I hadn’t picked up on. Others were style changes to keep things consistent. Some were comments with suggestions to tighten the words.
It’s a detail and consistency thing- and I’m the first to confess that I’m crap at both detail and consistency.
When it came time for Big Girls Don’t Cry to come under the attention of the track change equivalent of the red pencil, I had a better idea of what to expect.
So, what exactly is a copy edit? The difference between them is a trees and forest thing. In a structural edit, the forest is of interest; in a copy edit, it’s the trees. A structural edit looks at the big picture: plot and flow and characterisation etc. A copy edit, however, is about detail, style and consistency.
In a copy edit, the editor will go word-by-word, line-by-line, page-by-page through the manuscript, looking critically for errors, issues, typos, clarity, repetition, cheesiness etc. As an example, at one point in Big Girls my leading lady, Abby, says something like ‘I had plenty of leave up my sleeve.’ Really Jo? Really? I’d completely missed it.
Then there’s the pacing and clarity thing- a tiny rearrangement of words can sometimes make a whole sentence read so much better. Occasionally, Nicola will suggest a change: ‘re-worded, edit ok?’ – at other times she’d leave a comment: ‘I think this sentence needs work.’ It’s about placing the words in the location and order where they will be of the most service.
Putting all of this together, the process of copy editing is time consuming- and that’s why it’s also the most expensive part of the self-publishing process. If you’re even half as detail-challenged as I am, it’s also a step that you can’t afford to miss- especially if you’re an indie author.
As an aside, I was reading a book the other day- traditionally published, where I counted no few than around six errors- jarring errors. Ironically, one was in a chapter about editing. The book was beyond fabulous, and I forgive easily, but given the money that traditional publishers have for editing and proofreading, it’s also not a good look.*
I use the same editor- Nicola from ebookedit– for the copy process as well as structural editing- but you don’t have to. I do- partly because I’m lazy and don’t have the time to go out and look for another editor and go through the whole getting to know you and your work business. Mostly though, it’s because she “gets” what I’m trying to do, the story I’m telling, and she understands my voice- and that is invaluable.
Because most editors charge by the hour, you can make it cheaper by ensuring that your work is as clean as it possibly can be before it goes out. Ebookedit have some suggestions to help you through this. The link is here.
If you’re working with someone for the first time, most editors will ask you for a sample of your writing so that they can quote you an approximate figure. Some will set a maximum price, some will not. Before signing the contract with your editor, make sure that you know (and have budgeted) for the maximum charge.
Check also whether your editor is doing one pass or two of the document- it does make a difference to the cost. If your manuscript is non-fiction, there could be a lot of fact checking required- in addition to the grammar, spelling, style etc. A second pass will pick up the details missed on the first round.
When she was working on Baby, It’s You, before proceeding too far down the track, Nicola sent me a sample chapter she’d edited- just to ensure that I was ok with the style and method she was using. I was. This step wasn’t necessary for Big Girls Don’t Cry.
A lot of authors will say that the best way to copy edit is by printing out the manuscript and going through it manually. This doesn’t work so well for me- I like to work straight from a document with all the changes marked up. I can then deal with each change in order. The whole idea of a red pencil and a manuscript is evocative, but not practical for me. You could be different. My point? Check how your edit will be done, and the method by which it will be returned.
While Wish You Were Here is off being copy edited, I’ll work on the cover. I have some ideas to send the designer, but more on that next time.
*If this post contains typos or grammatical errors, please see this as a reason why I invest in a good editor!