Hi, Dionna! Glad to be here. What do you want to know?
Once an author sells a manuscript, when does a copyeditor step in with his or her red pen?
The minute a contract is signed, an author is welcomed to the editorial process, where the manuscript will be honed and polished to its greatest shining potential, most likely with help from a copyeditor.
But what, exactly, does a copyeditor do?
Once the author and editor have ironed out the big-picture components of the story—plot and character development, structure, pacing—most likely through a few rounds of revision, the manuscript heads to copyediting. Here the focus on the text goes from wide-angle to close-up. The copyeditor puts the manuscript under the microscope, correcting errors, querying questionable passages, and preparing a style sheet, a record of editorial choices that's used throughout the production process to keep everyone on the same, well, page.
Through several reads, the copyeditor will scour the manuscript word for word, sussing out errors and inconsistencies. He or she will correct faulty spelling, grammar, punctuation, and usage and ensure consistency in spelling, hyphenation, numerals, fonts, and capitalization. The copyeditor will track continuity of plot, setting, and character, keep on top of chronology, and fact-check people, places, and events for accuracy. He or she may also eliminate wordiness and clichéd writing, smooth out transitions, and revise sentences for flow and readability.
Whenever the copyeditor comes across a confusing or possibly incorrect passage in the manuscript, he or she will flag it with a query. Just like it sounds, the query is the copyeditor’s question to the author on behalf of the reader. If a phrase, sentence, paragraph, or turn of events doesn’t seem to make sense, instead of revising the passage directly, the copyeditor will ask about it in a query, leaving the tweaking up to the author. The helpful copyeditor will often suggest a possible revision in the query.
The copyeditor will also format the manuscript to comport with the publisher’s in-house style guide. The style guide is a compilation of editorial preferences specific to that publisher. For example, some publishers like signs, labels, and words on T-shirts to be set in SMALL CAPS. Others prefer ALL CAPS. Or Initial Caps. Or “Initial Caps with Quotation Marks.”
But what if editorial changes are made, and the manuscript evolves?
To keep track of all editorial decisions made while working on a manuscript, the copyeditor will create a style sheet. This document lists character names and info, unusual words not in the dictionary, treatment of words and numbers, story timeline, and other issues specific to the manuscript. This helps all those working with the text at the publishing house—editors, copyeditors, proofreaders—keep things consistent. That way, green-eyed Tasha Clark of 212 Erie Place who turned fifteen on page 6 doesn’t become brown-eyed sixteen-year-old Sasha Clarke of 221 Eerie Court on page 206.
When the copyeditor is finished, the manuscript will be returned to the author's editor, who might add more comments before forwarding it to the author.
Do authors sometimes get overwhelmed by all the corrections and suggestions?
An author can, understandably, feel overwhelmed by the copyeditor’s corrections and queries. All those marks! My advice to them is don’t freak—the copyeditor’s working in your best interest. However, the book is, of course, the author's—so the author shouldn't think every correction or revision must be accepted. There’s a magic word in copyediting: stet. It means “go back to the original.” The author can override any of the copyeditor’s marks with that simple word (though the editor may disagree and discuss with the author why).
Remember, the copyeditor’s always got the author’s back. Your copyeditor’s mission is to help make the book its absolute best. Once all the issues spotted in copyediting are addressed and resolved, the manuscript will be ready to move to production, continuing its transformation from words tapped out on the computer to that gorgeous book in a reader's hand.
Authors should feel privileged to have your red pen and sharp copyeditor's mind keeping watch over their manuscripts, Susan! I know I'm honored to have your trusty red pen upon the Highlighter, the newsletter serving the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI, of which I am the content editor!
How might publishers contact you?
They can find me at SusanVanHeckeEditorial.com, my copyeditor's website and thanks again for having me, Dionna!
The pleasure's all mine!
SusanWoodBooks, SusanVanHeckeEditorial, and @SusanWoodBooks.