(Author’s Note: As the article mentions, copyediting is defined in different ways by different publishers. This story views copyediting as a final process that follows developmental and substantive editing.)
Have you ever received a book back from a printer and wondered how so many errors were overlooked? Have you felt that you could be producing higher quality copy? One way to improve your books is to hire freelance copyeditors. These professionals can fine-tune your manuscripts in the final stages by addressing clarity, accuracy, grammar, punctuation, consistency, and wording issues. Here are 15 tips to help you form the most successful relationships with copyeditors.
1. Use word of mouth to locate the best freelancers.
Find people who have a positive track record with other book publishers.
2. Also consider hiring those freelancers who contact you directly for work.
If their credentials are solid and experience applicable to your company, talk with their references. These freelancers must be interested in what you publish or they wouldn’t have called or written to your company. This special interest in your publishing firm can pay off later in the form of a dedicated freelancer.
You might consider using someone who contacts you as a backup. Speak to his or her references and keep the freelancer’s contact information on file. If you get in a pinch, you’ll have someone to call.
3. Hirepeople with specific experience in copyediting books. Just because someone was an English major or proofed other students’ papers in college doesn’t mean that he or she knows how to copyedit books. In addition, find out if the copyeditor has particular areas of knowledge which would be helpful for specific book projects.
4. Give the copyeditor early notice that a job is pending.
A few weeks or a month ahead of time, call and say that you expect a project to be coming down the pike. Avoid rush schedules when you can.Of course, sometimes last minute projects can’t be avoided; try to determine which freelancers handle rush work the best. Be prepared to pay more for a fast turnaround.
5. Have the manuscript copyedited before it’s typeset and then proofed afterwards.
For the copyedit, send adouble-spaced printout. This will leave room for the copyeditor’s corrections. During typesetting, mistakes can be added, so have the book looked over again. If you use the same copyeditor, this last review may be brief (depending on the original shape the document was in).
Note that for copyediting, I recommend working on a hard copy rather than in the computer file. This allows the writer to see the specific types of improvements he or she could make in the next manuscript. It also allows for more fluid copyediting. For heavier editing or rewrites, I usually work in the computer file, as so much of the copy can change.
6.Prep the copyeditor regarding the manuscript’s particular needs. Examples: Peculiar spellings, the author’s specific grammar problems, a type of information to note for updating, etc.
7. Don’t accept a blind estimate for copyediting. The document should be reviewed by the copyeditor before an agreement is made about price. An estimate should be provided by the copyeditor in writing along with a sample edit.
How an estimate based on a review by the copyeditor helps:
• Instead of a guesstimate, you and the copyeditor are working with a calculated figure. I’ve received calls from friends/associates about cases where a flat fee was offered by the person hiring, but then the subsequent work by the editor was so poor that it had to be done over. Usually this occurs when the original uncalculated fee was unrealistically low.
• During his or her initial review,the copyeditor may notice that the book requires more work than a copyedit. Without the original review, delays can occur when the needs of the manuscript are discovered late in the process.
• You create a win-win relationship because you understand how much work is needed up front. You’ll get the best work from the copyeditor and the copyeditor won’t feel his or her efforts are compromised.
8. Consider using a Letter of Agreement to confirm the relevant facts of the assignment, such as the fee, approximated manuscript arrival time, deadline, contact information, etc. This letter doesn’t have to take on a legalistic tone. A friendly confirming letter can be written by either or both parties.
9. Provide your in-house style guidelines, if you have them.
If you don’t, use a copyeditor who has experience working with a standard you like—such as The Chicago Manual of Style. Make sure you get a copy of the copyeditor’s style sheet when he or she sends the manuscript back to you, so you’ll be aware of odd spellings or the particular usages of words that are in the book.
10. Clarify how your publishing house defines copyediting. Are you just looking for a clean-up of punctuation, grammar, spelling, consistent usage, etc. How much line editing do you anticipate? A change here and there, or more? Is there time to enhance the manuscript or is the copyeditor just looking for mistakes of fact and passages that are extremely unclear? Can tone be addressed? Let the copyeditor know the parameters so that he or she can deliver work that’s on target.
11. Allow the copyeditor access to the author. In many cases, it’s helpful for the copyeditor to contact the author for clarifications or to obtain information that may be missing or more accurate. This can be done over the phone (preferably), or via e-mail for hard-to-reach authors.
On the other hand, if the author is a prima donna, or is hard to handle for some other reason, you may want the copyeditor to simply send you his or her author queries and then handle them in-house.
12. Think through what responsible person will be available on staff to speak with the copyeditor during his or her work on a project. Make sure that there will be a person reachable in-house to answer his or her questions. The copyeditor may have questions regarding your publishing firm’s preferences in style or about making changes. There may be something important that the copyeditor notices that has been left out of the manuscript, and he or she may need to query you about how to handle it. It’s best when one person is responsible for giving the copyeditor feedback.
13. Check with the copyeditor to make sure that he or she is going to make a copy of the edited manuscript before it is returned. Even Federal Express misplaces packages. If the edited manuscript is lost in transit, you’ll have a backup. Also, the copyeditor will then have a copy available to reference if you have any questions about the changes.
14. Consider hiring the copyeditor to input (type in) the changes. After spending time copyediting the manuscript, the copyeditor is prepped to insert the changes into the computer file. This approach also provides another round of review for the copyeditor. If you have never worked with the copyeditor before, you may want to input the changes in-house on the first project to assess his or her work. Or you might want to simply review the changes before giving the copyeditor the OK for moving to the next phase of work. If you are pleased with what he or she has delivered, consider automatically handing the inputting phase over to the copyeditor on future projects.
15. After the job, point out the aspects of the copyeditor’s work that you found particularly helpful. Diplomatically explain what would be useful to consider on future projects. Discuss projects that are in the pipeline, and when you might have more work available.
Certainly the author is the star of your project, but you can think of the copyeditor as an important supporting character. Take good care of your copyeditor and he or she will take good care of your audience. With a good copyedit, readers will stay tuned to the manuscript because they will not be distracted by a lack of clarity or a cornucopia of errors.
Robin Quinn is a writer and editor who lives in Los Angeles. Through her editorial firm, Quinn’s Word for Word, she offers a full line of editing services as well as copywriting. Quinn’s Word for Word also provides support for authors and publishers through all phases of book production. Note: The above article sprang from a PMA-University 2000 workshop. For more information on Quinn’s Word for Word, call 310/838-7098 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.