An editor will ensure your writing is grammatically correct, and that punctuation is used accurately, but what else will they do? In this series of posts I’ll be exploring other aspects of the copy editing stage.
The key to a copy editor’s job is ensuring consistency in the writing itself, in the characters and settings portrayed and in the story/piece of writing as a whole. Here I explore what’s meant by consistency of the story.
One important tool for that is the timeline. Laying out actions step by step gives an overall view of the story. This can pick up on problems like six consecutive days at school, an activity on the wrong day of the week, an unreasonable amount of time for an event, or a split timeline where one strand passes two days while the second has only passed one.
Is there a pregnancy that lasts an unexpected amount of time? Is it snowing in the middle of summer? Is there time to make that journey in that way?
As well as the timeline, the editor will be picturing the action and checking it all makes sense. Who is attending this meeting? Who has been sent out, and to where? Who knew that information?
Again, errors can occur even in trad-published books – I know one where a character is sent off on an important errand, only to be joining in the conversation with the main group a few minutes later! Your reader might not notice, but if they do it will jolt them out of the story, and if that happens too often you’ve lost them completely.
If your work has been through a developmental editor, issues like theme, action, tension, balance of showing and telling etc should all have been sorted out, but if anything is still outstanding the copy editor should pick up on it and bring it to your attention.
So at the end of this round, is your book ready for publication?
Well, no. You will need to go through the edited manuscript, check you’re happy with amendments made by the editor, deal with any queries raised or problems that need to be solved, and make any further adjustments that have come to light. So the story should then be complete, but a few errors almost certainly remain, whether because the editor had so much to do that they couldn’t spot every single problem, or because between you adjustments haven’t been made perfectly. Track Changes can leave a document in a mess, and it can be easy to leave problems like incorrect spacing, or have some of your changes create a knock-on effect elsewhere.
So then it’s time for the formatting/proofreading stage.