Click on any FAQ to expand for an answer.
Note: FMI means "For more information" and is followed by one or more links to pages that contain additional details.
Q1: What does a copyeditor do?
A: A copyeditor works with your best effort at a final manuscript draft, usually in a Microsoft Word manuscript. Suggestions are offered to correct the spelling, grammar, and punctuation; to clear up muddy passages; to use a consistent writing style that’s appropriate for the subject and target readership; and to assure a smooth flow. (FMI: Manuscript Copyediting)
Most copyeditors use Word’s Track Changes feature to mark suggested additions and deletions and to add comments in the margin of the manuscript. Once each suggestion has been either accepted or rejected and all comments have been deleted, what remains is a Clean version of your document, ready for layout by a book designer. (FMI: Track Changes sample, Clean sample)
To help prevent distractions and thus assure a higher quality result, many copyeditors will first format, or “scrub” the manuscript. This document scrubbing brings consistency to margins, fonts, repeating headers, pagination, headings and subheadings, line spacing, first-line paragraph indents, block-indented text, spacing between words and sentences, and more. (FMI: Manuscript Formatting/Document Scrubbing)
Another advantage is that the manuscript will be better prepared for eventual submission to a book-layout professional, who can then do a more efficient job of laying out the book’s interior—again, without distraction; and that may translate to a lower cost for layout services.
Q2: As an author, why do I need a copyeditor?
A: By the time you’ve written the multiple drafts that result in your final draft, you’re so familiar with your manuscript’s contents that your brain tends to fill in what’s missing and disregard other important errors. A copyeditor provides that all-important “second set of eyes” and expertise to detect those errors and more, in spelling, grammar, punctuation, clarity, usage, and flow. With professional copyediting, your book’s message communicates more clearly and your professional reputation among readers is enhanced.
Q3: What if I need more than copyediting, like help with developing my book or organizing my chapters?
A: For this purpose, hire a developmental editor (also called a content editor). This type of editor works with you on the big-picture matters you’ve described, and more. Together, you can produce an excellent and marketable final draft of your manuscript.
You’ll still need to hire a copyeditor after that, and it ought to be someone who hasn’t already been working with your manuscript. That’s because the mind of someone familiar with the manuscript will tend to be blind to certain types of content errors: It won’t notice that a word or punctuation mark is missing, because it will mentally fill it in; and it ignores duplicate words (e.g., “the the”) or erroneous punctuation (e.g., two periods at the end of a sentence), and so on.
A professional copyeditor sees the material for the first time and is attuned to these and other types of errors. Hiring both a developmental editor and then a copyeditor will yield a marketable, high quality product worthy of respect among your readership; that translates to good reviews, which translate to increased book sales. (FMI: Lynette’s PDF table, What Editors Do: Your Editorial Services GPS)
Q4: Do I still need a copyeditor if I use MS Word’s spellchecker and grammar checker?
A: If the wrong word is spelled correctly, spellcheck won’t catch the error. And your automated grammar checker may suggest stilted language or inappropriate revisions for the message you’re writing about. The dialogue in a novel, for example, may intentionally contain flawed grammar and incomplete sentences; if you were to strive for perfect grammar, you’d destroy your characters’ speaking style. Unlike a spellchecker or grammar checker, a copyeditor is sensitive to the writing style and message and makes sure only appropriate revisions are suggested.
Q5: If I have a publisher for my book, do I still need a copyeditor?
A: Someone needs to make sure your book is professionally copyedited, to assure that your book will be respected by readers and reviewers. So ask if your publisher will be providing professional copyediting as part of the service.
Often, even large publishers will place this financial responsibility on you, the author. Or, if you’re working with a hybrid publisher (one where you pay for the individual services involved in the publication process), this may involve an extra charge. If it turns out you must pay for the service yourself, make sure your copyeditor is qualified and seems to be someone you'll be comfortable working with. If your first contact doesn’t feel like the best fit for you, choose someone else. Work samples, cost estimates, and availability are good criteria for selecting the right person.
Q6: How long does copyediting take?
A: The time required to copyedit the final-draft manuscript depends on a number of variables:
- Number of times the manuscript will be read/copyedited. Naturally, it takes longer to read twice than to read once. About two thirds of copyeditors read the manuscript twice.
- The subject matter. A technical manuscript (or one with a lot of tables, figures/photos, and footnotes) takes more time to copyedit than a mainstream nonfiction manuscript; and a novel with unusual names of people and places (e.g., science fiction or fantasy), plus a large amount of dialogue, takes longer than a mainstream novel with familiar names, everyday words, and minimal dialogue.
- The skill level of the author. Copyediting for a writer who spells and punctuates poorly and has a less-than-stellar command of grammar will take longer than for a skilled writer who spells and punctuates properly and has a solid command of grammar.
Looking for real numbers? At All My Best, productivity rates per hour for copyediting during a single reading pass average 4,375 words (17.5 standard pages) for light copyediting, 3,125 words (12.5 standard pages) for medium copyediting, and 2,375 words (9.5 standard pages) for heavy copyediting.
Q7: What does a proofreader do?
A: Simply stated, the proofreader reads the proof copy to detect layout errors and any lingering content errors. (FMI: Layout Proofreading)
In the book publishing world, a proof copy will be one of these:
- Two PDF files, one containing the book’s interior, displayed one or two pages at a time, and the other showing, left to right, the back cover, spine, and front cover. Adobe Acrobat is used to make digital proofreader marks in the file to indicate desired corrections.
- A printed, bound book, an initial sample of what will eventually be printed on demand (POD published). Errors can be marked by hand or else listed separately for later correction.
- Printed galleys, consisting of a continuous glossy roll of printed interior pages. Errors can be marked by hand directly on the galleys.
Q8: Why do I need a proofreader?
A: Proofreading takes place after a book-design professional has produced the book’s interior layout. Despite your best efforts and those of your copyeditor and book designer, errors will slip through.
Reading the contents of the proof copy and reviewing the layout are the last chance to detect and correct lingering content errors (e.g., two periods at the end of a sentence, duplicate words, missing words, misspellings, and previously missed grammar problems), poorly placed hyphens in end-of-line hyphenations, and layout errors (e.g., widows/orphans, stretched-out lines, and so much more). A proofreader's job is to flag all these things and make sure they get corrected. (FMI: Layout Proofreading and Lynette M. Smith’s handbook, 80 Common Layout Errors to Flag When Proofreading Book Interiors)
Q9: How long does proofreading take?
A: Assuming that the layout was produced by a professional book designer, the time required to proofread the PDF layout for the first phase (reviewing the layout to detect and flag layout errors and then reading the pages to detect and flag any lingering content errors), is similar to that of a light copyedit, about 4,375 words per hour.
Then, after the book-layout professional submits a corrected PDF layout, the proofreader begins the second phase, comparing the two versions to make sure all errors were corrected and no new layout errors were introduced. (FMI: Annotated PDF sample) The time involved for this phase depends on how many errors need to be checked, how long it takes to re-mark any errors that weren’t corrected, and how long it takes to mark any new layout errors that may have occurred.
This second-phase process is repeated every time a new, corrected PDF layout is provided to the proofreader, until both parties agree that all errors have been corrected. Naturally, as the number of errors to compare between versions is reduced, so is the time involved to check them.
Q10: How do I choose the best copyeditor or proofreader for my book?
A: You could locate thousands of prospective copyeditors and proofreaders using an online search engine, but you don’t know the quality of each without checking further. That’s a lot of research! You can also rely on word of mouth from fellow authors; who did they like working with, and why? Also check the Acknowledgments sections in books within your genre to see who those authors liked.
Another way to find quality professionals is to search the online membership directories of professional editing organizations, such as Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) and San Diego Professional Editors Network. By the way, EFA (which has thousands of members) and Thumbtack.com (a geographically oriented bidding site) both offer options for you to submit a request for bid.
Now start screening: Do your prospects do the type of work you require? (FMI: What Editors Do: Your Editorial Services GPS) Does location matter to you? (For most authors and publishers these days, it isn't a primary consideration, since even large files can be transmitted online.)
Focus on the most promising three to five prospects. Are they responsive/timely? Do they each seem compatible with you? Is their pricing compatible with your budget? Can they meet your deadlines? Will they provide testimonials/references? Your best choice will soon become apparent. (FMI: Q13 on this page, "How do I know if we'll have a compatible working relationship?")
Q11: How much do you charge for your services?
A: All services are priced based on the amount of labor involved.
- Manuscript formatting (document scrubbing) is billed by the hour, and a not-to-exceed estimate is provided at the same time as an estimate or quote for copyediting. (FMI: Manuscript Formatting/Document Scrubbing)
- Copyediting for a manuscript shorter than 35,000 words is billed by the hour, and an estimate is available upon request. For a manuscript of 35,000 words or more, a no-obligation sample edit and binding quote per 1,000 words (applicable to the entire manuscript) is available upon request and usually provided within two business days. (FMI: Manuscript Copyediting)
- Layout proofreading is billed by the hour. The initial layout check and reading for content errors together is roughly equivalent to the time involved for a light copyedit. The time involved for each subsequent comparison between the most recently annotated (flagged) PDF file and revised PDF will vary greatly, depending on how many error flags must be checked and how many new (or repeated) error flags must be inserted into the new document. (FMI: Layout Proofreading)
(FMI: See also Ways to Work Together for Authors, Publishers, or Book Shepherds and Coaches, as applicable)
Q12: How do we work together for copyediting or proofreading?
A: Copyediting. For MS Word manuscripts containing at least 35,000 words, you can obtain a work sample and binding quote. For copyediting of shorter manuscripts, you can request an estimate. If you like the work, the estimate or quote, and the turnaround time, you remit the requested start-up deposit (about 75% of the estimate/quote), to reserve a block of time in Lynette’s schedule. Upon completion of the work, you receive two copyedited files plus an invoice for the remaining balance.
Proofreading. Proofreading of PDF layout and cover-spread files is billed by the hour. For the initial proofreading, the cost is similar to that of a light copyedit (about $12.75 per 1,000 words). A start-up deposit of about 75% of this amount will reserve the proofreading time. Subsequent comparisons of revised PDF files to previous, annotated ones takes place to make sure all corrections were made and no new layout errors were introduced. (FMI: Annotated-PDF sample) This time is also billed by the hour. (FMI, see answer to Q9 on this page, “How long does proofreading take?”)
(FMI: Ways to Work Together for Authors, Publishers, or Book Shepherds and Coaches, as applicable)
Q13: How do I know if we’ll have a compatible working relationship?
A: Most relationships begin with an email dialogue; some others with a phone conversation, and still others in a face-to-face encounter. Does the attitude of the copyeditor or proofreader convey an equal partnership? If so, good. Later on, do you like the work sample you’ve been provided? Specifically, is the caliber of work and attitude conveyed in any author queries or other comments consistent with what you were hoping for? If so, even better. Are you comfortable with the rates you’ve been quoted? If so, you may expect a rewarding working relationship.
Q14: Do you work on hard copy or electronically?
A: An MS Word file (.doc or .docx) is strongly preferred for copyediting, and a PDF file (.pdf) is strongly preferred for proofreading the layout. If you require hard-copy copyediting or proofreading, you may contact Lynette for a referral to someone appropriate for your needs or else search the membership directory of a professional trade association of editors. (FMI: Editorial Freelancers Association and San Diego Professional Editors Network)
Q15: At what point do I turn my book over to a copyeditor or proofreader? And do I have to do anything to prepare my book before I send it to you?
A: When you've produced your best effort at a final manuscript draft, copyediting is the next step. However, before the copyeditor begins to read your manuscript, document scrubbing takes place. (FMI: Manuscript Formatting/Document Scrubbing) This preliminary process, which is billed by the hour, allows the copyeditor to focus on the words and not be distracted by formatting errors, and that means you’ll get a better result.
To reduce the copyeditor’s billable formatting time, at a minimum you’ll want to consolidate all your chapters into a single MS Word document and start a new page for each chapter or other major component. (Press Control-Enter to insert a page break.) If you wish, you can further reduce your formatting costs by making other corrections. (FMI: “Money Saving Formatting Tips” in Manuscript Formatting/Document Scrubbing)
For proofreading, if your book-layout professional has sent you a PDF of your book’s interior and/or book’s cover spread, simply forward those files to All My Best (AMB) and clearly communicate whether you wish AMB to work through you only (as liaison) or directly with your book-layout professional (remember to provide the necessary contact information) to make needed corrections in layout and content.
Q16: How much of my writing will you change?
A: The goal of an experienced professional copyeditor is to help present your writing in the best possible light, without overriding your unique writing style. The work sample your copyeditor provides will be a good indicator of how he or she normally works; if you find it contains multiple ego-driven suggestions/improvements, steer clear.
Q17: What if I don’t agree with your changes?
A: That’s why MS Word’s Track Changes feature is so great: You can reject a change you don’t like. Or, if you’re unsure why a given change was suggested, ask your copyeditor for clarification before you decide whether to accept or reject it.
Professional copyeditors admire the imagination authors show in their writing. Most copyeditors make a strong effort to represent authors to the authors' best advantage, and leave their own ego behind. Don’t feel you have to accept every change. Because it’s your work that’s being published, you have the final say; and copyeditors understand that.
Q18: Do you make the copyediting changes (accepting the Track Changes marks) in my book, or do I?
A: You have flexibility here. You’ll be provided with two versions of the copyedited document: a Track Changes version, in which all suggested additions and deletions are marked and author queries and other comments are indicated in the margin; and a Clean version, in which all suggestions for additions and deletions have been accepted and all queries and comments have been deleted. (FMI: Track Changes sample, Clean sample)
You may work in whichever of these ways you prefer:
- If you choose to work with (use) only the Clean version, it’s essential that you at least examine the Track Changes version so (a) you see what changes were made, in case you disagree with any of them and want to change them back the way they were in the Clean version, and (b) you can read the queries and comments, in case they result in your making further revisions to the Clean version.
- If you choose to work with the Track Changes version, here’s a tip: Instead of accepting or rejecting each suggestion, one at a time, you can accept an entire range of changes by highlighting that passage and then clicking the Accept Change icon on the Review tab (ribbon). If you need additional guidance on this technique, Lynette can offer some tips in a brief phone consultation, and the first five minutes are free.
- Alternatively, you may review the Track Changes version, revising or rejecting only those changes you disapprove of and ignoring those you approve of. When you’re finished, you may either (a) click the “Accept all changes in document” option in the Review pane or (b) return the resulting document to All My Best, where Lynette will spend a nominal amount of billable time to accept these changes on your behalf, make sure the formatting appears correct (using MS Word’s spell check and grammar check marks to find and resolve run-together words, missing or duplicate punctuation, etc.), and send you a clean (unmarked) copy you can submit to your book-design professional for layout.
Q19: After you send me my edited or proofread book, can I still make changes?
A: Yes, and this brings up an important tip. For the copyedited manuscript, yellow-highlight those passages in which you’ve make any revisions and return the revised manuscript to All My Best. Lynette will bill by the hour to copyedit just those yellow-highlighted passages; it shouldn’t take long, and you’ll have the confidence of sending a thoroughly polished manuscript to your book-layout professional.
Q20: Do you guarantee that you’ll find all the errors?
A: Lynette guarantees excellence, rather than perfection. Despite her best efforts and yours, a few errors will slip through the copyediting process, particularly considering that she performs only a single reading pass. Most, if not all, of those errors will be detected when the PDF layout is proofread. A wise author once said that even the most carefully published book will still contain at least three errors, despite all these precautions.
If your book is being printed on demand (POD published), there’s an easy solution: Keep a list of any errors you or your readers discover and report during the first six months following publication; then have your book-layout professional make the corrections (which shouldn’t take long) in a revised PDF layout or cover file, and then replace the old PDF file with the corrected one. Check with your POD company to see if there is any charge to replace the old file with the new one. If you replace the file yourself, there may not be a charge.
Q21: Do you have a degree or special training?
A: Have you ever noticed how so many people end up in careers that have nothing to do with their educational training? That's what happened to Lynette. She earned an Associate in Arts degree in Apparel Arts; but soon after graduating, she realized she’d be a better pattern maker (using technical skills) than a fashion designer (using creative skills). Concerned about a long daily commute in heavy traffic to downtown L.A., only to be paid low wages for making patterns, she chose a different path:
- Nearly 10 years as an administrative assistant.
- Over 15 years in her own word processing and editing business. (During this time she also earned what is now called the Certified Administrative Professional (CAP®) designation, scoring above the 96th percentile in five of the six exam sections; and in the early 1990s, she achieved a keyboarding speed of 105 words per minute.)
- Over 5 years as director and sole managing editor for a smaller trade association. (She edited the association’s award-winning montly 16-page journal, as well as its six industry manuals, writing two of them personally.)
- Since 2003, as operator of her copyediting and proofreading business, All My Best. The company expanded, beginning in 2009 to eventually encompass the indie publishing of her comprehensive reference book, How to Write Heartfelt Letters to Treasure, six themed guides based on the book, four booklets showing how brides, grooms, and their parents could write gratitude letters to one another to commemorate the marriage, and a handbook for authors, publishers, editors, and proofreaders, 80 Common Layout Errors to Flag When Proofreading Book Interiors.
While most of her special training has been on the job, Lynette sometimes participates in continuing education workshops. She also stays current in her field through her memberships in Editorial Freelancers Association, San Diego Professional Editors Network, Publishers & Writers of San Diego, and Publishers & Writers of Orange County.
Q22: Can I get a testimonial from a current or former client?
A: You can get several on the Testimonials page of this website, and you’re welcome to follow up with any of the individuals who wrote them.
Q23: Now, can you tell me something about the kitchen sink, too?
A: Sure. It’s the place where we wash and rinse dishes. Seriously, though, Lynette would love to hear from you with any additional questions you may have about her services or working with her. Contact Lynette now!
She'll answer to the best of her ability.