Don’t Bypass the Copy Editor Revisited

In March 2011, I wrote a post about the necessity and wisdom of an author hiring a copy editor whether he or she chooses to self-publish or go the traditional route. Now almost six years later, I still stand behind my reasons for doing so, and with more vehemence, as the publishing landscape becomes more populated and competitive with each passing day. Yet I’m constantly struck by the following reasons authors often give for their not needing to hire a copy editor for their work:

  1. I have an English degree. (Implication: I know how to write.)
  2. I’m a teacher. (Implication: I know how to write.)
  3. I’m an editor/proofreader. (Implication: I know how to write and edit.)

Let me go on record. I, too, know how to write as well as edit, but if and when I write a book, I will definitely have another editor copyedit it. Why? Two reasons: 1) I am not perfect, so there will be errors, and 2) I won’t be objective about my work. Sure, I will know what I meant to say and in what tone, but did I adequately do so? Even the most eagle-eyed of us have a blind spot when it comes to our work. We’re simply too close to it and often too attached to see it clearly and objectively.

Earlier this month, I attended the fall conference of the Wisconsin Writers Association of which renowned, prolific author Jerry Apps was the keynote speaker. One of the many nuggets of wisdom he shared was “You cannot edit your own work,” and listed the same reasons I have. Having written over 35 books and 800 articles, Mr. Apps certainly is an authority on this subject. And his notable humility is an example for us all to emulate.

It is humbling to be on the receiving end of a good copy editor’s scrutiny and analysis. (“Good” defined as knowledgeable, accurate, and experienced in his or her craft as well as open to learning and correction.) And a good copy editor is no stranger to being on the receiving end of said scrutiny and analysis. I have had this experience myself, and although it pained me, I was deeply grateful for the second (and third) pair of eyes to help trim and polish my work—and for the reminder that no matter how skilled I am at my craft (writing and editing), I need the expertise and objectivity of my fellow copy editors and proofreaders. And so does each and every author.

Remember, a good copy editor is your friend. He or she is your publishing partner, hired to polish your manuscript so it shines like a diamond when it is presented to the world. And that, by the way, reflects very well on you. So I reiterate: don’t bypass the copy editor on your way to the press!