One of the things we like to do here at Pub Crawl is give you a peek behind the curtain at parts of publishing you might not otherwise see. If you follow any authors on social media, the odds are very high you’ve seen them mention their copy edits more than once. So what exactly are they?
Copy edits come later in the editorial process—almost the last thing authors will do before it’s too late to change the text! (And believe us, most authors aren’t nearly ready to stop tweaking words, even when it’s time!)
The copy editor is many things. Grammar guru, continuity expert, repetition police, dictionary, the works. Here’s how some of it works:
Grammar guru: The copy editor will mark up all the spots the story’s grammar isn’t quite right, indicating what the correct usage would be. It’s then up to the author to either accept the chance, or write ‘stet’ (which is Latin for ‘let it stand’, we’re a quaint bunch in publishing) if they want to leave it the way it is. The author might want to leave something the way it is (technically incorrect) for any number of reasons. The character’s voice—a teenager mightn’t say ‘whom’, even if it’s correct. Their own personal style—they might really like using far too many em-dashes, like I do. Impact—they might want a sentence fragment or something all mixed up to create a sense of confusion, or chaos, or to shine a light on particular words. (Fun fact: ask any group of authors what they stet the most, and they’ll almost always tell you it’s the places the copy editor points out you should, technically speaking, have a semicolon.)
Continuity expert: The copy editor is the one who points out that when your character says ‘I can’t believe it’s only been three days’, they really shouldn’t believe it. Because it’s been five. (Whoops. Yes, that is a personal example.) They check all kinds of things, from eye color to that one mention of a character who got erased in an earlier draft, and technically shouldn’t exist at all. The copy editor is the one who points all this out after you’ve read the manuscript dozens of times, and would cheerfully swear it’s completely clean.
Repetition Police: After checking the manuscript completely, the author is usually completely sure there are no word repeated too close together. They usually find they’re wrong. (See what I did there?) The copy editor catches repeats and confusing language, anywhere it’s not quite clear what a sentence means.
Dictionary: During copy edits on These Broken Stars, Meg and I learned that you can rifle through a box hunting for something, but you riffle through papers. Two Fs. When you’ve got an Aussie on the team, the copy editor sometimes also points out things that might be correct in Australia or the UK, but are completely confusing if you’re an American.
Suffice it to say we love our copy editors, who make us look smart! For more entertaining tales of saves copy editors have made for other authors, check out this hilarious post by author, literary agent and Pub Crawl/LTWF alumnus Mandy Hubbard.