Copy Editors Are Cool (Copy) Cats

After the author and acquiring editor reach a consensus about the content-based edits on the author’s manuscript, the manuscript enters the copy editing phase.

In some cases, the acquiring editor also handles copy edits, but most publishers have separate copy editors. That’s the case we’re looking at today.

The copy editor reads an author’s manuscript for spelling, grammar, and house-specific formatting and stylistic issues. In addition to correcting errors, the copy editor ensures the manuscript complies with the publishing house’s style sheets. style sheet is a standardized set of grammar and punctuating conventions, used to ensure that a house’s publications all follow similar rules.

Sometimes, the copy editor will also compile a set of deviations from the style sheet that apply to the author’s work (or series, if appropriate). For example, my books italicize foreign terms like kanzashi (a type of hair pin) to set them off from the rest of the text.

The copy editor’s style sheets determine which grammatical and punctuation conventions the publisher will use.

Once the copy editor finishes editing the work (usually in colored pencil on hard copy, but sometimes in electronic form), the editor sends a copy of the edited work to the author for review. The author has the ability to reject the copy editor’s changes but, generally speaking, it’s a good idea to go along with the publisher’s reasonable preferences.

On occasion, the copy editor will find a continuity error or ambiguity the author and other editors missed. When this happens, the copy editor will ask about the issue, usually in a margin note, which the author can address.

Most copy editors use standard marks and symbols, many of which seem odd to authors who haven’t had experience with professional editing (or journalism). You can find lists of these marks online. Here’s one example: Authors with books in the publishing process should learn about copy editing symbols, because the typesetter will interpret any marks on the manuscript in accordance with the house’s standard conventions.

After the author approves and returns the copy edited manuscript, the editor approves the pages and sends the manuscript to be typeset. 

The typesetter reviews the copy editor’s notes and “sets” the manuscript pages in the form they will have when the book is printed – including the final font, kerning, & chapter or section headings.

When the typeset manuscript is finished, the author usually receives yet another copy – often referred to as “first pass pages” for final review. The purpose of “first pass” is a final look for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors – it’s not a time for editing. Some authors love reading first pass pages, while others find it scary to see the “final” book and not be able to change it.

Although I didn’t plan this, tomorrow, I’ll receive the first pass pages for Blade of the Samurai, the second Shinobi Mystery. Fortunately, I fall in the “love to see them” category, which makes this an exciting time.

The publisher often gives the author ten days to two weeks to review and return both copy edits and first pass pages – which sounds like a lot of time but it goes by fast! Don’t delay when you get those pages in.

After the author returns the typeset pages, there’s a little “lag time” while the publishing house prepares for the next phase in the publishing process: ARCs!