How exciting! You’ve received a book contract and soon after, you begin the editing process. As you probably know, a book can go through any number of revisions with your editor. My first middle grade novel went through seven revisions, but my third novel, only two. Just when you think you’ve done everything you can possibly do with your manuscript, next comes the copy editing phase.
When I was a newbie author, I wasn’t quite prepared for the intense round of copy editing where everything from commas to style to hyphenation is checked and scrutinized. But there’s a reason for the madness, I assure you! And I’ve come to realize that the copy editor is my way-smarter-than-me BFF. Here are the issues that the all-important copy editor is responsible for:
1. Spelling and punctuation. Copy editors know their stuff, like when to use a comma to modify clauses or set off words such as “like” and “luckily.” This of course provides consistency throughout the novel and makes the author look like she knew what she was doing all along.
2. Hyphenation. I always seem to do it wrong, so thank goodness my copy editor is on top of whether or not to hyphenate half-baked, gross-looking, or sky blue. I’ve learned that hyphenation sometimes has to do with a noun or verb in the sentence. Who knew!
3. Capitalization is also carefully checked, such as language arts (lower case) but PE for physical ed. Numbers are a whole ‘nother section in regards to how to write time, ages, percents, heights, etc.
4. Copy editors also watch for the uniform use of specific types of text like italics for unspoken dialogue and thought, as well as the style for text messages, foreign words, sounds, and mouthed dialogue.
5. Grammar in general. The all-important “who” and “that,” the use of “then,” plus correct adverbs, verbs of utterance vs. gestures, and pronouns. And more grammatical goodies than you ever realized existed!
6. Fact checking. If you’ve written a historical novel and you’re describing an article of clothing for example, the copy editor will check that detail and may ask for more information from you. Copy eds will look at everything in the book to make sure it’s accurate and makes sense with the story.
Copy editors often create a “style sheet” with a list of characters and places mentioned in the book, as well as commonly used words and phrases, so everything remains consistent and is spelled the same throughout.
The majority of copy editing is done electronically on a document using comments (each person has a different color) and the track changes feature. It can sometimes be challenging to work with but it’s much better than the ol’ paper and pencil version. And once you’re done, you’re on the way to seeing page proofs and galleys, where your book starts to look like a book!
Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of the upcoming middle grade novel, Ethan Marcus Stands Up, publishing August 2017 from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin, and The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days and Calli Be Gold, both from Penguin Random House. Find her online at micheleweberhurwitz.com.