My 10 Step Approach to Copy Edits

When I started a series of posts entitled ADVENTURES OF A DEBUT AUTHOR, I had a lot to learn. As it happens, I still have a lot to learn but I also have a lot to share. So this is my newest addition to that series and I hope authors get something useful out of it.

Copy edits are one of the last stages of the publishing process. And they are vital. Your publisher will send you a revised manuscript, usually in a word document with tracking changes turned on. You will have a limited time to accept these changes and make your own final revisions before it goes to galleys.

This is the ten step approach I take to keep me sane.

  1. Make a plan of action on how you’re going to approach your copy edits. This is totally not procrastination…
  2. Look at every comment so as to get the big picture but do not get caught up reading the whole manuscript yet
  3. Answer every commented question the copy editor left for you but do not read the manuscript. (This step may require extra research as you confirm details such as the correct title for the famous work by Lucius Apuleius, just by way of totally random example…)
  4. If you have any dispute about the copy editor’s change, respond to it now, but do not read the manuscript
  5. Really. Do not start reading through the manuscript in depth yet, because you’re going to need to be fresh for it when you do
  6. Consult your own list of errors that you meant to fix, and fix them. (Everyone keeps one of these lists, no?)
  7. Revisit the scenes you’re most uncomfortable with and spruce them up if need be. (Don’t let a publisher bully you about not making changes to the manuscript at this stage. The words have not been formatted. We live in a computer age when tracking changes is your friend. Moreover, your name is going to be on this book and so the book ought to be as good as you can make it. If you need to fix something, fix it. If you feel badly, send chocolates to your copy editor and promise her your first born child.)
  8. Now you can start reading the manuscript, from the beginning, making careful note of cadence or any words that may snag you. You’ll have already done this once, theoretically, before you turned in the book. But that might have been months ago. Do it again.
  9. You might even want to read it out loud, which, when your book is 200k long, is going to require staying hydrated. Even then, your voice is going to be gone by the end of the week.
  10. You will lose sleep. You will wake up at 3am still debating over whether or not you can include couscous in your books because the Carthaginians were rumored to have brought semolina flour to the Berbers, but you can’t be sure the ancients would have made such a time consuming dish…but take a deep breath, because it will all be ok

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