Editing Tips Part 5: Copy Editing

So, you’ve had a great story in your head and written it out, and you’ve decided you want to share it with the world. After you’ve shared it with beta readers and the manuscript has undergone developmental editing, all of which is more focused on the story itself rather than the elements of spelling, grammar, and technical issues, you’re ready for the next step: copy editing.

Ultimately, you want professional editorial feedback, but there are a number of reasons to make sure you’ve edited your manuscript to ensure it’s as clear, clean, and well-written as you can make it before you get to that stage, including:

  • If you’re submitting to an agent or publisher, you want your manuscript in its best shape before it hits their inbox.
  • There’s an expectation of a certain level of polish and you want to maintain professionalism when working with an editor.
  • Editors will edit the manuscript they receive. If you send it in before you’ve edited to the best of your ability, you’re paying for service you could have performed for free. On the other hand, if you have already self-edited it, then the manuscript you receive back will help you elevate your writing ability.

Ready to get started? Here are five of Josha’s top copy editing tips, directly from the editorial desk.

#1: Perform spelling and grammar checks.

Within any writing platform, there will be a “spell check” or “editing” function. You probably know about it from writing papers in high school, or proposals at work but it is an easy and vital tool for writers. Plugins like Grammarly are also useful. These can be set to automatically highlight misspelled words, extra spaces or punctuation problems, and even look for grammatical clarity or errors. A note of caution, however: while these tools are great, they are not all-knowing and can even make mistakes, so be sure to look up anything you’re unsure of. Also keep in mind stylistic decisions that may not strictly follow grammatical rules and be careful not to just accept all changes without seeing what they are first!

#2: Utilize the Read Aloud function.

The Read Aloud function, such as in Microsoft Word, can be very helpful. You’ll find it under the “Review” or “Edit” tab. When you’ve been writing or editing for a while, it’s common to miss errors. Having it read to you not only makes wrong words, grammar issues, and incorrect spelling jump out, but also helps you make sure your dialogue and sentence structure are fluid. If your writing platform doesn’t have this function, or you don’t like it for some reason, read the manuscript aloud yourself or have someone else read it to you.

#3: Print it out.

This, as well as the suggestion to read your manuscript aloud, was mentioned in the Josha Editing Tips Part 1 blog post, but it’s important and I wanted to briefly touch on it again. Printing your story out and hand-editing helps you look at it differently. The same thing applies when you have a proof sent to you prior to publication. Something about our mind’s connection to the physical copy can allow you to catch errors or issues that you missed while editing on screen.

#4: Ensure consistency throughout.

Make sure your font, indentations, dialogue, chapter placement (putting a page break for each new chapter), and paragraphs are all consistent before sending your manuscript to an editor. If you’re submitting to a publisher and they have a specific “house style” or submission format, be sure to follow it as best you can; it will be listed on their website. Those styles, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, are described online and can be great resources to reference as you’re editing. Elements of your own style decisions, like the choice to italicize dreams, for example, should keep the same format throughout the entire piece. This makes your work uniform and easier to read, which means your editor—and, later, readers—can focus on the creative content you worked so hard to write rather than being distracted by inconsistencies.

#5: Use the “find” tool.

Using the “find” tool in your preferred writing platform can help you jump to a specific word or section (can’t recall what color the character’s eyes were? Look up “eyes” and it will narrow the search), generally helping you navigate more easily during the editing process. However, there’s another use for this tool: look up how often you repeat certain words or phrases. For example, if you’re writing an emotional piece where a character or two frowns, look up the word frown to see how often it’s been used. You can also use it to check variations between technically-correct spellings, like “gray” and “grey.” This is an easy way to find repetition in your manuscript and you can then work on adjusting your word choice for more variety.

It’s important to keep in mind that copy editing is a separate step in the writing process; do your best not to edit while in the drafting stage! You will slow yourself down or even bring your writing to a halt, if you focus on line-level errors and improvements as you progress. You also don’t want to work on copy editing before you’ve gone through your developmental editing stage or you may find you spent time copy editing content that you’re not even keeping!

Finally, always remember: you’ve got this.

Editor’s Note: Josha Publishing, LLC, only considers completed manuscripts during the submissions process, which means that it should have already been through at least one developmental edit before it has been submitted. However, our editors do take on freelance work and may be contacted via their websites for developmental work independent of their roles with Josha. Please note that the editing process discussed in this post may or may not reflect the process an author experiences if they’ve submitted their manuscript to Josha for publication, as the editorial needs for each manuscript vary.

Josha Publishing, LLC is a woman-founded, woman-owned, and woman-run company that is passionate about booksstories, and the power of words to change lives. Learn more about us here and remember to sign up for our newsletter to find out about new content, new books, and submissions update.

Editing Tips Part 5:
Copy Editing

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