Copy-editing for success

What is copy-editing?

There are a few different types of editing when you’re writing fiction:

–          Developmental editing

–          Copy-editing

–          Proof reading

Developmental editing refers to a professional editor reading through your entire novel and suggesting story changes in order to make it resonate more with the reader, or to fix it, so it makes sense. This usually comes first and actually requires a professional editor.

Copy-editing refers to finding, and possibly fixing, grammatical and spelling errors in the text, along with overuse of words and unclear sentences. This is the edit you undertake when the rest of the story already makes sense.

Proof reading refers to checking the final version of the book before it goes to print or is uploaded and published online. This step checks for any remaining spelling or grammar errors, along with placement errors – such as a blank page inserted for no reason.

Why do I need to copy-edit?

As humans, we’re pretty fallible when it comes to writing and re-reading what we’ve written. We see what we want to see. We skip over words and fill in blanks with what we expect. It’s impossible to write flawless fiction the first time around, and it’s tough to edit it yourself.

Choppy grammar and spelling can ruin your book, though. It marks it as amateurish and sloppy. So it needs to be done.

So, how can I copy edit?

Well, if you’re going to miss errors yourself. You can get someone else to do it. A professional editor can read over your work and tell you what needs to be fixed, but they’re expensive. For a sixty thousand word novel, I found estimates between $750 to $1000. For me, that’s money I just can’t spend.

I could give the book to a friend to read, but they just won’t have the knowledge of grammar and fiction in general to give proper feedback.

How can you fix the errors then?

I’ve tried a number of techniques, and the following have worked for me in combination. No one technique catches more than 50% of the problems, so you have to use them all, in my opinion:

  1. Search for –ly words. Most adverbs end in ly, and you don’t need them. Change the verb they’re describing to a better word, instead. Don’t write, “He ran swiftly”, change it to, “He sprinted” or “He dashed”. This rule can be broken about 10% of the time, in my experience. In other words, lose 90% of your adverbs.
  2. Search for duplicates. There are tools out there for finding duplicate words in text. Personally, I wrote a small piece of software for myself to do it. Find something and use it. Any words that appear too often need to be changed to a synonym.
  3. Use Grammarly or EditMinion. Grammarly is expensive, but it’s worth it, in my opinion. Otherwise, EditMinion is a free alternative. They’re grammar and spelling tools that will help you improve your work. They’re not perfect. They can be wrong often. So use your own judgement against any recommendations they have.
  4. Read your work out loud. This takes a long time, but it forces you to see how the words fit together. If you stumble when reading something, chances are it’s not written in a natural way.
  5. Print out your work. Take a half a sheet of paper and cut a slit in it large enough for you to see three words through it at a time. Using this hole, read your work. This will slow you down and force you to focus on what is actually written there, stopping you from filling in what you expect to be there.*

These five techniques will help you get your work up to a minimum standard for self-publishing. As soon as you can afford it, make sure you add:

  1. Send your work to a copy-editor and get it checked.

6 is in addition to 1-5. You want your work to shine.

What hasn’t worked for me, but might work for you:

–          Reading through it: I found tons of problems the next time through. It’s just too easy to skip over errors;

–          Having speech software read it out: This is just too choppy for me. You have to stop the software constantly to fix errors;

–          Speed reading: This causes even more hopping over errors for me;

–          Having an alpha-reader read it: Unless they’re a writer themselves, they won’t know what’s wrong. If they’re a writer, they often try to put their own voice on it.

This sounds boring

Writing is a job, and there are always parts of a job that are boring. If you get rich and famous, you can pay someone to fix your typos. For the rest of us, though, the copy-editing is the way we get to do the fun stuff – creating whole worlds for our readers to enjoy.

* I found this on Google previously and cannot find it again. I would like to give credit to the person who invented this technique, so please contact me if you know who came up with the idea.


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