the editor's mark

~in the passionate pursuit of literary excellence~

The Importance of Hiring a Copyeditor

“Why is having my manuscript professionally copyedited so important? I’m pretty smart. Why can’t I just use my English-major friend? Besides, I have spell-check.”

You may already realize that unless your manuscript is in top condition, publishers and agents are very unlikely to pay much attention to it, and it will stay at the bottom of the slush pile.

  • Spell-check can alert you to some things but not others. For instance,  it can’t always recognize homophones (to/too/two) or words that are unfamiliar, such as words from other cultures or words you’ve made up (e.g., “missingness”).
  • Your English-major friend doesn’t necessarily know the particulars of what publishers want.
  • A good copyeditor has the right amount of self-doubt to know when to double-check words that seem to look right but aren’t (e.g., embarrass/embarass).
  • A lack of copyediting or poor copyediting can dramatically decrease the value of what’s published.
  • Your work is a reflection of you as an author as well as a reflection of your publisher, so of course you want the best possible final product.
  • A copyeditor can help ensure the clarity and cogency of expression needed to communicate successfully in a hectic world.
  • A copyeditor can offer discreet feedback from the point of view of a professional who is not a rival colleague or a beholden employee.
  • A copyeditor is the most important part of a publication, because he or she is the only person besides the author  who has used a discerning eye and knows how all the elements of your manuscript fit together.

One thing that a professional copyeditor does to ensure good quality is to follow style manuals to ensure consistency of treatment in various aspects of your work. A copyeditor will also develop a style sheet to make sure words are spelled and capitalized the same way throughout the manuscript and that numbers and dates are treated the same way throughout the work.

In the area of nonfiction, professionals in many fields (including law, medicine, education, and business) advance and are successful only if they can communicate effectively. At times they may find the pressure to publish and to manage information to be overwhelming. A copyeditor can help relieve them of some of that burden so that they can focus more of their attention on developing their ideas and increasing their impact and stature in their field.

* * * * *

Before submitting your manuscript—or even before putting it together—check publishers’ Web sites or call for their submission requirements. Most publishers I work with want manuscripts to be double-spaced in either 10-point or 12-point Courier New or Times New Roman. No fancy fonts or styles—they take care of that.

Good luck!


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