Copyediting, What is it

As my new novel approaches release, I went through many stages in preparation. One of those was copyediting.
I was familiar with it since I am a former journalist but were you?
A copyeditor edits copy or your story. This person looks for grammar, spelling and style mistakes. For example in journalism, a copyeditor would assess whether the reporter’s work meets Associate Press stylebook standards as well as each individual paper’s own guidelines.
Some Christian publishers also would ban any inappropriate material, such as cursing, graphic sexual and/or violence references.
Usage is another item a copyeditor would analyze. Did you use the correct heel if talking about a foot and heal when referring to overcoming sickness? Problematic for many is the misuse of lay and lie, advice and advise and affect or effect.
If you cannot determine the difference, use another word like he set the books on the table instead of he laid them down. Separating when to use advice or advise is easier when you know advice is a noun and advise, such as a guidance counsel provides for his/her student, is a verb. But if the writer uses the wrong word, this is something a copyeditor should catch.
In addition, awkward sentence structures are corrected, such as dangling modifiers. I am sure you remember your English teacher telling you about those. Here is an example: Carrying a heavy pile of books, her foot caught on the step.
Do you see the problem? Whose foot? The books or the woman’s. To clarify this sentence, change it to: Carrying a heavy pile of books, she caught her foot on the step.
Copyeditors also examine fragment sentences. Last Saturday I saw Gloria. Riding her new bicycle. A copyeditor would reword this. Last Saturday I saw Gloria riding her new bicycle.
However, in fiction writing we can at times break normal grammar rules – fragments are acceptable in certain contexts like dialogue. Characters need to speak as people do, and this means incomplete sentences. In my upcoming romance, Lockets and Lanterns, the groom hides a secret from his bride. An excerpt from this novel illustrates this.
“Riches aren’t everything. You’re a good man.” (the best man said.)
“I could’ve caused her a lot of grief. I-I -” (states the groom)
So what is considered unacceptable in certain genres is acceptable in others. Thus, one size does not fit all.
A copyeditor also will address common problems, such as inappropriate dialogue structure. For instance. “You’ve had lots of time,” her voice weak. Change this to “You’ve had lots of time,” she said in a weak voice.
One common mistake made by people unfamiliar with the copyediting term is to confuse proofreaders with copyeditors. They do many of the same tasks. However, a proofreader reads proofs. If your book is in paperback, it will have a proof of how the pages and book will look in print. A proofreader reads this for mistakes, such as grammar and spelling. So if you hire a proofreader, remember this person reads proofs. Otherwise, the correct term is copyeditor because that individual will read your copy or manuscript/story.
As with other positions, sometimes an individual assigned with one job can overlap another’s, such as with copyediting and concept editing. A concept editor reviews how the overall story works, but sometimes their duties intertwine. I will talk more about concept editing in a later post. Thanks for listening and have a great day. God bless.


  1. Juli Hoffman says:

    Interesting post. In general, which is your preference. If you’re writing a novel, would you hire a proofreader, a copyeditor, or does an indie writer really need both? Where do beta readers come into play?

  2. Cathy Jo says:

    That’s a good question; I’d like to know the answer, too.
    Thank you for the information on copy editing, Janet.

  3. Julie, I definitely would hire a copyeditor. A copyeditor catches mistakes which lessens the errors that appear in your proofs. However, a proofreader also is necessary because some incorrect items still can slip through. In journalism, we edited before the paper before it was printed. But, guess what? Mistakes were missed and glared at you when you read it in newsprint. If you belong to a critique group, perhaps, you could have a good writer (one you trust) do your proofreading and you do the same for that person. However, if you do this, make sure you specify you only want her to look at grammar, misspellings and usage. Otherwise, problems could occur. God bless.

  4. DM says:

    Interesting. Thanks for writing this.

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