Now that you’re finished writing your book (congratulations!), you might be tempted to rush straight ahead to publishing. As much as you may want to hold that freshly-printed book in your hand, take a breath and do this one final task. Whether you are self-publishing or going the traditional route, hiring a copyeditor is essential to publishing the best book possible.
Here’s the thing: the more you look at the manuscript, the harder it gets to see mistakes. What you want before the book goes to press is a fresh pair of eyes, someone who will be looking at a document that reflects as closely as possible what you want the final version to be. No one person ever has the ability to see every single thing, and so your copyeditor is there to be your second pair of eyes. Ultimately, the goal is for your book to be clean, consistent, and well structured so that your readers can best understand the important meaning you intend to convey.
Bottom line: every author needs a copyeditor. Here are some of the main reasons why you shouldn’t skip copyediting.
Thinking of Skipping Copyediting for Your Book? Here’s Why You Shouldn’t
They will give your book clarity
It doesn’t matter the genre of your book—be it the next best beach read or a new approach to brand marketing—clarity is critical. You want your readers to understand your meaning, and a copyeditor may have only limited knowledge of your subject matter, so they will quickly identify any language or structure changes that could be made to enhance your meaning. They will be unbiased and won’t make assumptions about what your readers know or don’t know. A copyeditor will flag awkward phrases, sections that jump too quickly from one idea to the next without segue, or note when you’ve introduced a new concept or idea without defining it for the reader.
(Of course, it’s always a good idea to have a cadre of early readers as you work through the manuscript, but none will give you the level of feedback and suggestions that you’ll get from a professional copyeditor.)
They will ensure consistency
One of the most “invisible” aspects of a manuscript to the author herself is the lack of consistency. Forgive me for saying so, because this isn’t to place blame. It’s simply the fact that keeping track of all the elements that ought to be consistent in your manuscript would be very difficult for an author who is working on the bigger picture. That’s your job! You don’t want to be bogged down in the tiny details—that’s why you hire a copyeditor.
A copyeditor reviewing your manuscript will pick up on inconsistencies with voice, tense, and word choice. They’ll check your grammar and punctuation and edit for both accuracy and consistency. (Further down in this post, I provide more examples of consistency and what you can do to tighten up your manuscript before you deliver it to your copyeditor.)
They will make sure your book is complete
Have you included everything in the book? This might sound like a silly question, but it really isn’t! Imagine that you were about to send off the book to the printer. Would it contain EVERYTHING it should? Here are some things you might not have thought of, but your copyeditor will:
- Title page
- Copyright page
- Dedication page
- Table of Contents
- About the Author
- References or Works Cited
If you’ve left any of this out, the copyeditor will flag it. Tip: to save a little money, do your best to fill in these pages based on what you know, and the copyeditor can help you fill in the rest.
They will clean up your manuscript
A copyeditor will also clean up formatting so your manuscript will be in the best possible shape before you send it off to your publisher. Maybe you used various fonts for the body text, or some of the headings are capitalized and others are not; or maybe some of them are size 14 font and others are size 16. Your copyeditor will clean everything up so it looks consistent across the board.
How to Save Money on Copyediting
Now that you understand how important a copyeditor is to your book, it’s time to hire one! Where do you start? How do you know which one to choose? What should you look for?
There are thousands of freelance copywriters in the world, and hundreds of agencies offering this service. It can be overwhelming to stay the least, but here are a few tip to help guide your search:
Make sure they have experience in your genre: It’s not a deal breaker, per se, but most editors like to work with specific genres. If you’re writing nonfiction, it’s easy to weed out the editors who only want to work on novels. This doesn’t mean they need to be a subject matter expert in the topic of your book—just know many editors stick to either fiction or nonfiction, and they charge differently as well. This helps you narrow it down a little!
Request a consultation with them: Most editors will want to see your manuscript and possibly even talk with you about your book before quoting you a fee for their work, and if not, ask for one. This is good for both of you! It gives you an opportunity to ask questions, and to hear the copyeditor’s thoughts about how they can help you. The author-copyeditor relationship is a close and often vulnerable one, so it’s important that you feel comfortable with the communication style and personality of your copyeditor. Feel free to ask for references during this assessment process.
Ask how they charge: Some copyeditors will charge an hourly fee, and others will look at the scope of the project and charge a lump sum. Does one feel more comfortable to you?
How to Save Money on Copyediting
Once you’ve found a copyeditor you’d like to work with, you’ll notice copyediting can be expensive. For many independent authors, it can feel overwhelming to pay for all of the services necessary to publish the best book possible. If you’re overwhelmed by the price, here are some of the things you can do after you have finished your book to clean it up before submitting it to the copyeditor (which will save you money). If you don’t want to do it yourself, know that a good copyeditor will do these tasks for you:
Word usage and conventions: Are there terms you use frequently throughout your book? Perhaps terms specific to your industry, or new terms you are introducing as part of your thought leadership—either way, you want to make sure you’ve presented that term the same way every time, without variance. Here are some examples of conventions you want to be consistent about throughout your book:
- Let’s say you are writing about your new exercise program that you’ve dubbed Get Fit NOW. You want to make sure that you don’t accidentally have instances of it written like this: Get Fit Now.
- Special cases of terms based on your book’s topic—Let’s say you want to have the word “God” lowercase for a particular purpose. Are you sure you have it lowercase everywhere, and you haven’t overlooked a capital somewhere? Or let’s say you write about the Earth both as a planet and as the ground beneath our feet, or alternatively, you use the word earth as in “the dirt.” The lowercase and uppercase appearances need to be distinct. And what about if you want to talk about the Earth as a deity? (Use caps!) Be sure you’re using the correct capitalization in all instances for your book’s purpose.
- Defining terminology for your readers—Are you introducing unusual terms or using terms in new ways? Define them early, either in the text, or in a footnote.
- Numbers—$2M vs $2 million, 50% vs 50 percent. Be consistent.
Heading styles: Making sure your headings are all consistent in style and structure will significantly impact how clearly your meaning comes across. Headings help a reader to orient to your content, and they are a tool you can use to hold your reader’s hand, guiding them through your material. Consistency in your headings involves:
- Style—How does heading level A look, verses levels B, C, and so on?
- Structure—How many sections do you have in your chapters? Are you being consistent with the “level” of content that appears under each heading level? The level of “importance” or level of detail under each heading type should be consistent from chapter to chapter.
- Construction—Are you using single-word headings, or short phrases for your headings? If short phrases, they should all be constructed similarly to make them what we call “parallel.” If one begins with a verb, so should they all, or if one begins with noun, again, they all should. Such as, “Going to the Moon,” “Building a House,” and “Driving a Car.” Or, “Moon Travel,” “Home Building,” and “Car Travel.” This kind of consistency clues the reader into your meaning.
- Another consistency of construction is how you treat lists. If you’re making a list of Top Five Tips, for example, choose whether you want to say Tip #1, Tip Number One, Tip 1, Tip One, and then be consistent for each of your tips, not only in that section, but any time you’re referencing numbers in a heading. These are all just some examples of the kinds of things to look for. Apply this eye of scrutiny to your entire manuscript. (And if this is too detail-oriented for you, that’s one thing you can ask a copyeditor to do for you.)
HOT TIP: Create a style guide for yourself so you can write down the conventions you want to use. Provide this to your copyeditor so they can double check that you’ve applied the rules as you wish throughout, and to catch and change those that don’t follow your pre-determined style guide.
Punctuation, bullets, and numbering: When do you choose to use a numbered list verses bullets? How much indent do you want? Are your numbered lists and bulleted lists always the same format every time each appears?
Formatting: Check your manuscript for consistency of styles and miscellaneous formatting issues. Here are some tips:
- Your body text should all be the same font and font size, and the line spacing should be consistent
- Headings should all be consistent styling for each level they represent (H1, H2, H3, and so forth)
- Remove any extraneous hard paragraph returns between sections
- Remove any extra spaces after the period (there should only be one)
- Close the space on both sides of an em-dash
- Select a formatting rule for yourself for how you want to treat epigraphs if you’re using them at the start of chapters
Call-outs: Do you have content that you want emphasized in some manner, such as a call-out or a side bar? Do you have certain types of content that repeat from section to section, or chapter to chapter, such as “Reflection Questions” or “In Summary”? How about “HOT TIP” like I’ve done above?
Formatting these repeating sections in the same manner is a signal to your copyeditor, and to your formatting company, that you want these to look a certain way. When you do it, think about whether you want to have the title of your section “in line” with the content, with a colon to introduce it (see “HOT TIP” example above) or alternatively, to have the words introducing the special section to be on its own line, with the content starting below. Think through these things now (and add the conventions to your style guide) so that when you see the draft book laid out on the page, it looks similar to what you expected. A book formatting team won’t be able to read your mind, so how you format the book now will give them the guides they need to make your vision come to life.
Bibliography or Works Cited: This is an important part of your back matter, and it is up to you to ensure that all your sources are properly cited. Your copyeditor can double check the formatting, but it is the author’s responsibility to provide the full source citation.
Table of Contents: Did you know this can be generated automatically if you have used the Styling functionality in your word processing program? If your book needs a Table of Contents, this is the best time- and money-saving trick in the book! Assigning Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3 styles to your chapter titles and top two sub-chapter section headers will enable you to generate a table of contents automatically. This will not only save you time and money, but a huge headache as well.
Read it one more time
You’ve been through your manuscript a hundred times or more. You’re done. You feel ready to send it off, and maybe you just can’t bear to look at it ONE MORE TIME. Do it.
- Check for any outstanding tracked changes or comments that have been left by you or your advance readers.
- Remove all highlighting that maybe you put in place to remind you to do that last little bit of research.
- Cross check all your references—if you tell the reader to go check the website, or refer to a subsequent chapter, is the content where you say it is, or has it moved?
Resolving all this now will ensure you’re sending the cleanest possible document off to your copyeditor. It will make their job faster, it will likely make it cheaper for you, and it will ensure that as they go through the manuscript they have no questions in their mind about what you intended.
As these examples above hopefully demonstrate, copyediting covers so many essential elements that author often overlook. Hopefully it’s clear that if you want to produce the highest-quality book possible, it’s a team effort, not a solo one. A copyeditor is just one person on your ever-growing team to success.