Don’t Bypass the Copy Editor

Self-publishing came to the forefront two week’s ago with Nathan Bransford’s blog post “Amanda Hocking and the 99-Cent Kindle Millionaires.” Ms. Hocking’s unprecedented success has the writing world reeling and is prompting as-yet-unpublished authors to seriously consider mining for self-published gold themselves. But whichever publishing path you choose–self-publishing, print on demand, e-book, or traditional–I implore all of you to make one vital pre-publishing stop: the copy editor.

The copy editor helps you to present yourself as an intelligent, professional writer by providing two key services:

1: Cleans Up Messy Writing

Messy writing distracts the reader from your message. By messy writing, I mean poor, improper, or nonexistent punctuation; improper grammar, syntax, and tense usage; misspelled words; run-on or fragmented sentences; and material that makes little or no logical sense. The writer’s job is to clearly communicate to the reader through the artful choice and use of language, which is accomplished through the intricate mechanics of writing. The writer’s failure to master either of these vital tasks forces the reader to try to figure out what the writer is trying to say, and that is not the reader’s job. Bored, frustrated, or both, the reader eventually tosses the book aside, never to return.

Clean writing, on the other hand, leaves no unanswered questions in the reader’s mind. The copy editor will ferret out errant commas, semicolons, and misspelled words; will insert missing words and delete extraneous ones; will point out any gap in logic or redundant information; will correct errors in grammar, syntax, and tense; and will offer suggestions for revisions, rewrites, or restructuring of the manuscript so that it flows. When the writing is clean, the reader is free to curl up and lose him- or herself in the story.

2: Provides Objective, Professional Feedback

As writers, we know what we are trying to say, but are we accomplishing that through our writing? We know what we intend to convey, but is that intention evident on the page? Writers’ groups are invaluable sources of support and feedback, but they are not always objective nor are they always made up of writing professionals. A good copy editor is both objective and professional and approaches each manuscript with the intention and meticulous eye to help make it as polished and publication-ready as possible.

If publishing your book is your goal, bypassing the copy editor is not an option. With the slew of books on today’s market, competition is fierce. As more and more people opt for self-publishing, the number of books hitting the market will increase exponentially. In order for your book to rise above the competition, it’s more important than ever to produce the most concise, clean, clear, polished-to-perfection manuscript as possible.

Whether self- or traditionally published, the reader wants an engaging, well-written read. If that is your dream for your book, do not bypass the copy editor on your way to the press.


A few months ago, an acquaintance of mine told me that he’d written a book. After congratulating him and asking for more details about his book, I told him that I’m a freelance copyeditor.

“No kidding! What exactly do you do?”

How do I say this nicely? I thought. I took a deep breath. “Well, I go over a manuscript, checking for everything from incorrect word usage and punctuation, improper tenses, misspelled words, and redundancies. I note if the text doesn’t flow logically and make suggestions for restructuring the piece so that it does. I reword sentences and paragraphs or eliminate them if that makes the piece read better. I also make sure that–”

“So, in other words, you go over a text with a fine-toothed comb and tear it to shreds,” he said with a smile in his voice.

I cringed. Being a writer myself, I’m hypersensitive to “tearing to shreds” another writer’s work. Yet as a copyeditor, I’m not serving the writer well if I don’t meticulously scrutinize every detail. “That’s one way of looking at it, I suppose,” I laughed. Having a sense of humor is vital for both writers and copyeditors.

“In all seriousness, you are an answer to prayer,” he said. “I’ve needed someone like you for a long time. I’d love for you to look over my book, and don’t worry about hurting my feelings either. I want your honest feedback, even if that means the entire book needs to be rewritten.”

He called me two weeks after he’d received my feedback on his manuscript. “You are too good at what you do,” he said.

I preferred to take that as a compliment–which he assured me it was.