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15 Tips for Successful Relationships with Copyeditors

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(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

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

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

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
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

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

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.
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

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.
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

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 <A

This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor August, 2000, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.

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