Ten things I’ve learned from my copyeditor

Despite being the single highest cost of self-publishing so far, the copyedit will be the one expense I will never regret.

That would have been the list if this article was entitled “A single most important thing I’ve learned”. But it’s not, so there are ten more below. Which I guess makes it eleven…never mind! Anyway, after getting eight quotes and four samples from Australian and American editors, I chose Lu Sexton of A Story to Tell to copyedit Shizzle, Inc and I’m blown away with the results. To be honest, I had a lot of reservations about paying for editing. After all I’ve already had a structural edit; I’ve revised the draft no less than a hundred times myself; I speaka English real good. Handing over cash for a promise of making your draft better is scary, even if that promise comes with a professional reputation and an exceptional sample edit.

In the end it was probably that sample that did it. Lu didn’t just pick up grammatical errors and turns of phrase, she made a few clever suggestions for heightening the drama and comedy without losing my protagonist’s voice. I had the balls to ask if the rest of the manuscript would get a similar treatment and got a polite answer that yes, it would. And it did. I got back not just an improved manuscript, but a lesson in writing, customised just for me. Here’s the list of lessons I promised, in no particular order:

1. Confusing turns of phrase, such as “my destiny was to be discovered”. Isa thinks she is meant to be discovered, but Lu thought it reads as if Isa is about to find out what her destiny is meant to be. I couldn’t agree more.
2. People jump off bridges, not from them. Snakes are venomous, not poisonous.
3. How often my characters “waived” their hands and got their feelings “crushed”.
4. Continuity and circumstances not matching what characters are doing. It’s lunchtime, but Isa is not hungry. Dress is matte in one sentence and shimmery in the next.
5. Explaining things too much. Once the character is in a lobby, you can call it “it” and not have to remind the reader that we are still talking about the lobby. They will get it.
6. Character’s voices not matching their choice of words. The posh evil antagonist slipping into slang, or dim Isa using formal speech.
7. Impossible combinations of actions, such as “I managed to close my mouth and said”.
8. Rhythm. Amazing how cutting a few words or moving sentences around improved the flow. For example, when describing a person, its awkward to move from face to shoes and back to face. Unless of course it suits your character, which in my case it didn’t.
9. Using more contemporary references. It’s hard to pretend to be a girl half your age. Twenty-year olds would compare massive speakers to those that can be found at a Skrillex concert, not Rolling Stones.
10. I have writing tics. Several of them. Everything was “something-looking”. Metaphors are great, but there are more interesting ways to describe them.

Most of the suggestions were not just track changes, they were accompanied by comments explaining the reason for change. Not only that, I got a separate style sheet, to help my proof reader. I didn’t know those existed!

I could go on, but this is starting to get embarrassing. Plus, as we know, numbered lists attract more attention, and what is better than a nice fat top ten? So keep on writing, and start a savings account for the copyedit. You won’t regret it.

93 Comments

Filed under Shizzle, Inc.

93 responses to “Ten things I’ve learned from my copyeditor

  1. Reblogged this on Lu Sexton Wordsmith and commented:
    I really enjoyed editing this manuscript, and am doubly rewarded with this glowing feedback. Thanks Zhanna for trusting me with your words.

    Like

    • I like that title wordsmith because that’s exactly what an author needs. I was an editor for a small press and I knew better, but I edited my first novel over and over and over. The more I edited and proofed it the more I found wrong. I put it away for a month, and when I came back I edited the story again. It was brutal. That’s the best word to describe it.
      I asked a stranger a month later to proof this novel and he found a typo and misuse of a word in the first paragraph.I promise you, I will never put myself through that again, to the copyeditor you go.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Brutal is the right word, fellow wordsmith πŸ™‚ I think I will still edit endlessly myself – I’m the kind of person who cleans the house before the cleaning lady comes over…

        Like

  2. Reblogged this on Desolie: thoughts about editing, writing and words and commented:
    One writer’s experience with her copy editor highlights why your editor is your collaborator to make your writing clear, engaging and sharp.

    Like

  3. Definitely one to be shared, Zhanna.
    Convincing writers to use an editor is an on-going challenge for those of us in the profession. I’ve reblogged your post so I can direct potential clients to your wise words.
    Thank you, and all the best with your writing career.

    Like

    • Thank you Desolie (and what a beautiful name, btw). It’s been a learning experience for me an now editors (I’ve used 3 different ones for structural, copy and proof) are my new best friends πŸ™‚

      Like

  4. sarahatlush

    I couldn’t agree more. My copy editor not only finds all my niggly little errors, she makes the whole thing sing. The benefits of a good copy editor (or sub editor is you’ve from the UK/Australia) far outweigh the cost.

    Like

  5. Number 7: I shut my mouth in awe, then reopened it to laugh.

    Like

  6. I had to chuckle at all of the above. I’m sure I’ve made the same mistakes, some I catch, others left out there for others to chuckle over, or shake their head in dismay.

    Like

    • I wish I could say I chuckled at mine… it was more of a gasping in horror πŸ™‚ amazing that I’ve actually learned something in the process, still going through it before sending off to the proof-reader, and keep finding things I can make better. Not glaring errors, just opportunities to polish. Very glad I have a self-imposed deadline, otherwise I would just keep poking at it for another year.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Fresh eyes are always a good thing!

    Like

  8. I’ve never hired a copyeditor. I’m still not entirely sure what they do, but this post gives me more of an idea. So they go through and read line by line and make edits?

    This process sounds like it was extremely helpful. What do you mean by a style sheet?

    Like

    • PS: Thank you for visiting my blog and liking my last story. πŸ™‚

      Like

    • Hi Kristina, I’m glad it helps. Since I’m self-publishing, I’m going through what a professional publishing house would do, three rounds of professional editing. First a structural edit, to check if the story plot makes sense, there’s sufficient character development, etc. then the copy edit, which is as you guessed, going through in more detail, looking at flow, rhythm, choices of words and grammar. Then I will send it off for a final proofread, which will get into fine details of grammar and punctuation. All three editors are different people, so three sets of “fresh eyes”. Definitely a learning experience, and I get a better MS out of it.

      Like

    • Oh, and the style sheet is like a summary of everything you need to keep consistent throughout, from character name spellings, to punctuation decisions. My novel is set in the US, but being reviewed by Australian editors, so the style sheet lists all the American references and punctuation styles that are to remain. It will help the proofreader not to “fix by mistake”.

      Like

      • Wow! That’s a long process. I didn’t realize so much went on behind the scenes!

        Like

      • Oh, that’s not all πŸ™‚ then there’s layout, formatting, cover design, marketing…

        Like

      • I think self publishing is where I’d go too. Clearly, I still need to research more, but it’s the current plan. Good luck on your sales and with the rest of the process. πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      • A style sheet saves you time and effort. You don’t have to keep flicking back to see how you spelt something (for example), and you don’t have to rely on your memory.
        A style sheet is essential in non-fiction writing as well.
        Acronyms and other shortened forms can be a real pain for the editor when a style sheet has not been included.
        Whenever I begin an edit, I ask the author for their style sheet (which often needs to include what style manual [Chicago, Oxford, etc] and dictionary is to be used). If there’s not one, I set up a style sheet and add to it as I go through the document.
        So save your editor time (and yourself money) by making your style sheet a basic tool in your writing kit.

        Like

      • Thank you Desolie for a proper answer. Y’all ignore my layman’s explanation…

        Like

  9. wizriga

    In my story, I wrote that one of my characters ‘didn’t see any warning bells.’ My editor calmly pointed out that one does not ‘see’ bells, one hears them. It’s true that a good editor not only makes a better book, but makes a better writer. Thank you for putting it into words for us πŸ™‚

    Like

    • I’m so glad I could help! It’s a steep learning curve, I can’t imagine how writers could manage years ago, when there were no blogs or even Google to help…thank you for visiting and please stay tuned. There’s a steep marketing curve ahead πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I learned something new! I never heard of a style sheet, but it sounds like it would be very helpful, and reduce the number of times you would have to correct the incorrect corrections. LOL I spent some time as an assistant editor at a professional magazine, and it is amazing how the writer can overlook obvious mistakes, because the writer knows what they meant to say, but doesn’t always see what they actually wrote. Thanks for sharing your experience. It will be helpful to us writers who listen to your advice.

    Like

  11. Reblogged this on The Midnight Writer and commented:
    Never skip the copy-editing! It’s invaluable and will help you grow as a writer. themidnightwriter.co.uk

    Like

  12. Hi, I’m glad you enjoyed my joke. Thank you for writing about editing. Good writing still needs another set of professional eyes to see what the writer cannot. You make some really good points about context and who the speaker is and whether the speech style suits the speaker. I recently read a book where a tough New York detective said “Oh, I hope I didn’t give you a fright”. The writer is from the UK where this would be a common statement, however, not suited to this character.

    I wonder if some magazine publishers are cutting back on editing. I cancelled my subscription to Smithsonian magazine after becoming too frustrated with the writing. A tiger was described as “often frequenting a valley”. Perhaps the word ‘frequenting’ doesn’t have enough
    weight on its own.

    I am looking forward to seeing your finished product and wish you huge success. Thanks again for pointing out the value of editors, the unsung heros of the written word.

    Like

  13. Ana, you’ve been learning what in the traditional, i.e. pre-Internet, publishing world was all just the normal process of preparing a book for publication. But with all the pressure on the publishing industry from e-books and the web, the industry has slashed the staff it was once expected to have as a regular course of doing business. It started with the newspapers, which I’ve worked in for 25 years now. Copy editors at newspapers were the first to go in the job cuts some two decades ago. You can track the decline in the quality of the language since then. And so many glaring mistakes in every issue.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sean, and thank you for stopping by. It’s unfortunate and I agree that it probably contributed to the degrading language quality, although I blame Jersey Shore as the main culprit. Also, I apologise in advance for publishing a book titled “Shizzle, Inc”…

      Like

  14. You’ve convinced me; copyediting can help my writing become even more engaging and rhythmic. I appreciate #9 the most, since I am a younger writer and am always humbled by an author who takes the time to create an authentic teen voice. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad I could help! I think that if you decide to self-publish, it doesn’t mean that you get to skip any steps a publishing house would do to produce a quality book. Thank you so much for the feedback!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. good post. thanks for stopping in.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I also do freelance copy-editing and it sounds as if you found a good one for yourself. I work in a very similar way and could see the value in your copy-edit. You got your money’s worth with your copy-editor. Thanks for sharing that. So many people don’t want to spend the money, but the difference to your writing is amazing and well worth the price.

    Like

  17. Very insightful. thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. islandmoonrise

    Reblogged this on the story writes itself… and commented:
    Interesting to see who looked in on my latest post, so checked on Ana’s blog (now kindly following mine) and found this useful piece. Have to agree with your views on getting that professional outsider input Ana. J

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much for the reblog! I hope it helps others to make the leap and get a professional to help. I would definitely suggest getting samples, some of the professional editors provided terrible samples, where they killed the “voice”. One made my comedy sound like a textbook.

      Like

  19. This is great info, Ana. I’m curious, and hope you don’t mind me asking, but do you pay for each sample (to find out which editor you want)?
    Thanks so much for signing up to follow my blog btw, Ana.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No, not at all – the editor takes a bit of risk in spending time in providing a quote with a sample, but that’s normal. One got really upset when I gently turned them down and made a harsh comment about wasting their time, but they incidentally provided the worst sample of all. Still better than committing to pay a considerable sum for an edit, only to find that you are not happy.

      Like

  20. Good to know. I haven’t written my book yet. But when I do, now I know to pay for a copyedit. Also, I didn’t know the style sheet existed. Thanks for the knowledge.
    And thanks for the follow.
    Melinda

    Like

  21. PHS

    Reblogged this on Archer's Aim and commented:
    Very interesting insights – reblogging on Archer’s Aim.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I found it very encouraging to read such an open and honest assessment of your experience.
    I had the incredible opportunity of obtaining tuition on editing from a professional author and college professor with an international bestseller. It took 12 months of long hours every day to both edit my book and learn why it needed the changes, but having no formal qualifications myself, I found it was well worth it.
    I found it exactly as you describe, with many of the same points. There are others, too.
    Congratulations on making the right choice and getting your book edited, I wish you all the very best for the publishing date and beyond.

    Like

    • Thank you so much! Yes, just when you think you’re finished, it turns out there’s a lot more work to do… have you blogged about what you’ve learned from your experience? If so, I’d love to re-blog it.

      Like

  23. This was an informative blog tnat I can relate to completely. One note though. Don’t assume because you pay a lot you will get a good edit. I know a writer who paid 750 and had to make the copyeditor go back and fix quite a few errors. Another paid 1400 and got a superb edit. Some pay much less and it’s a toss up. Go by the reputation of the editors. ‘An above ground pond’–should have been ‘pool’– got past 5 copyeditors with my first book, including me.

    Like

    • Completely agree, but would add that a sample is a must have. The prices I got were very similar, but some of the samples were borderline ridiculous, one crossing out my beginning paragraph and writing their own, another making my comedy sound like a textbook!

      Like

  24. Pingback: Ten things I’ve learned from my copyeditor | seasonofdream

  25. My husband is my copy editor not that he is professional but just another set of eyes because sometimes my French gets in the way! loved this post

    Like

    • Merci beaucoup! I’m Russian-born, so completely understand…still, would highly recommend it, even though I’m about to write a not-so-positive review of my proofreader 😦

      Like

  26. Dear Ana Spoke, The other day I happened to pick up at 19th Century “aid” to improving one’s writing. I picked it up because, apparently, it was a book from which Emily Dickinson had learned a few things. I was struck that we don’t seem to produce books like this any more. Of course we are now more afraid of “prescriptive” teaching — telling writers how they should write. This is seen as restrictive and stultifying; blocking a writer’s creativity. I “get this,” as the current expression goes. And yet, . . . People still need to learn how to write. Writing, even just of comments, replies, e-mails, chats, etc., remains a large part of our lives. Best, Wm. Eaton, Montaigbakhtinian

    Like

  27. Excellent post! I learned so many things from my copyeditor as well. I never thought those extra set of eyes were a must for every writer. She spotted mistakes that I had overlooked after revising a thousand times and she suggested such simple changes instead of my long, awkward sentences. It was truly a blessing. Now, I don’t write anything without paying for the copyediting services, even my query letter and synopsis have been given that proper treatment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Carla! Good suggestion, when I try the agents again with the second novel, I will get the letter and synopsis polished too…in hindsight, I wonder if I would have been more successful if I’d invested into edits before sending Shizzle, Inc out.

      Like

  28. Your ten things you learned really points out the necessity of a professional editor. I’m not there yet, but your post shows the importance of this step. I also want to thank you for following my blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. I’m waiting on the comments from my editor Joshua Essoe. I hope for similar humbling to what you describe!

    Liked by 1 person

  30. So true, so candid and at the same time so endearing! Learning a lot from your posts πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  31. it takes some courage and professionalism to reveal your own weaknesses and then laugh about them as well as asking for and appreciating help. Good luck with your book, I hope it sells well and will get you a publisher as a result!!

    Liked by 1 person

  32. As a writer and editor, I love this post for its honesty and objectivity. Using an editor doesn’t make a writer any less of a word-crafter. It makes the writer better for wanting to make sure the reader really understands.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. I like this list! makes on think and reflect

    Liked by 1 person

  34. First, thanks for the FOLLOW!

    Second, I like this post very much because as both a writer, who still has to learn a lot, and a (sometimes) copyeditor, I can relate to this. Sometimes, I even re-read my old stuff and cringe whenever I find errors I never noticed before — grammatical, typo, spelling…

    Love the post πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Reblogged this on Odd Sock Proofreading & Copyediting and commented:
    A new author’s lessons learned from getting a professional edit. Your lessons may be different, but professional editing and proofreading will almost always improve a book.

    Like

  36. Really fascinating article – as an editor myself it’s gratifying to see someone who really appreciates what we do πŸ™‚ Best of luck with your book!

    Liked by 1 person

  37. I just found this post today and thought it worthy of reblogging. I beta read for new authors on a volunteer basis and though I am not an editor I can tell the difference between one that has already been edited by someone and one that has not. For those that have not I think I end up sending them a copy edit version. Thank you for relating your experience. My author in residence stated in an interview, when asked what she thinks the most valuable advice for new authors would be, “save a penny for every word you write so when you are done you can afford to pay an editor, it will be the best money you’ve ever invested.”

    Liked by 1 person

  38. I went through a structural edit and copy edit for Timber Howligan, and I agree, it was the best money ever spent!! I love this post. After reading it, I went to Amazon and read the first page of Shizzle, Inc. and was hooked–I just bought the book! I can’t wait to read it!!

    Liked by 1 person

  39. I love to read and I often see #4 in published books! I always want to correct the author. Oh, well. Congratulations on your book! Thanks for liking my post, “If We Were Having Coffee Right Now…”

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Pingback: Grammarly is not that grammar-worthy | AnaSpoke.com

  41. Pingback: Ten things I’ve learned from my copyeditor | El Tololoche

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s