Author career · Feature · publishing

Debut Author Survival Guide #3: Copy Edits

This is a guest post written by Shveta Thakrar

The Debut Author Survival Guide is a series that explains everything that happens between selling your book to publication day in an attempt to demystify the process of publishing your first novel (through a traditional publishing lens). Go HERE to see the rest of the series!

Since I’ve been freelancing for the past eight years doing proofreading and copyediting for publishers, I thought I’d take a minute to explain what you can expect when your book goes through copy edits!

To start with, every publisher has its own house style, meaning the way things are spelled, whether non-English words are italicized, whether it uses the serial comma, etc. It will also usually stick to THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE and MERRIAM-WEBSTER’S as its foundations.

Using those two resources and the overarching house style, a copyeditor will read through your manuscript (normally two passes) to make it conform to that style. They (well, a good copyeditor, anyway) will also look for spelling and grammar mistakes (though noting and honoring when “wrong” grammar is part of the author’s and characters’ voices), factual inconsistencies, timeline inconsistencies, and unintentional name and other changes, among other things. They’ll also be on the lookout for any awkward or confusing wording that managed to escape your line edits and point out things like echoes (when you use a word that would stick out more than once within a short space), and they will query (in comments) about anything they’re not sure about/that needs clarification or that they want to verify.

Speaking of house style, the copyeditor will also put together a style sheet for your book that includes character names, place names, sometimes characters’ physical descriptions, and any particular spellings or word use choices you intended that stray from what WEBSTER’S and CMOS dictate, so anyone else who looks at the book will be able to refer back to it. This is particularly helpful for series!

“But what if I don’t agree with all the copyeditor’s changes?” you ask. Well, you can always write STET on any edit. It’s your book in the end, after all. Just be judicious in doing so. A good copyeditor (and later proofreader) really is just trying to give your book that final polish to help it shine as bright as it can. 

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