Copyeditors get a bad rap. They’re often portrayed as bookish, bow-tie wearing snobs whose raison d’etre is to suck the life out of the written word. This is unfair: They often don’t wear ties.
If they’re lucky, writers get to deal with copyeditors. These blessed souls are the best thing that can happen to a writer. A good copyeditor ensures that your words shine.
Let’s explore what copyeditors are and aren’t.
- Copyeditors are grammar gurus. Do you know what appositives are? Do they require commas? Copyeditors can spot a misplaced modifier or a bad antecedent/pronoun pairing without even opening the book. They may edit text they don’t fully understand, but believe them when they tell you that you’ve got a syntax error.
- Copyeditors are the perfect reader. They don’t hang on your every word — they hang on every letter. While an average reader may get through 1-3 pages a minute, copyeditors regularly spend 5-10 minutes per page. So if there’s a problem, they’ll spot it.
- Copyeditors are legal eagles. I wouldn’t call one if you slip on a grape at your local grocer, but I would rely on one to spot libel or copyright infringement. Do you know how many lines of a song’s lyrics you can quote before cutting a check? They do. (Answer: not much.) They also know the difference between a murderer, an accused murderer, an alleged murderer, and a killer.
- Copyeditors aren’t grammar snobs. They’re perfectly OK with your using an idiom or sentence fragment. It’s got to be a good idiom or fragment, but they’ll allow it.
- Copyeditors aren’t writers. They have no desire to write your book or article for you. If they make a suggestion for a different wording, consider it strongly. If they wanted to write, they’d write; they’re not just doing it because they’re jealous that your name is going under the title. (Copyeditors make excellent writers, by the way.)
- Copyeditors aren’t just spellcheckers. Nothing screams “amateur writer” more than telling a copyeditor to just check the spelling. If that’s what you want, hit F7. You’ve done your job, now let them do theirs.
- Copyeditors aren’t mind readers. Neither are your readers. If there’s a gap in your reasoning, they’ll catch it. Sometimes we leave out a step in our thinking process when writing. Other times we assume that any idiot would know what we mean. Oftentimes we’re wrong.
- Copyeditors aren’t appreciated. So next time you get your copy back with red pen marks or comments running all down the margins, take the time to say “Thank you” before writing “stet” over and over.