What Is Copy Editing?

No story is ever perfect, but all stories can be made better with copy editing. A copy editor helps correct and polish a work by drawing attention to the following:

  • Grammatical errors
  • Misused punctuation or words
  • Spelling and typographical errors
  • Awkward phrasing and transitions
  • Unrealistic dialogue
  • Minor structural problems, such as inconsistencies between scenes or in character development and settings
  • Failure to adhere to a style guide
  • Language that might alienate your target audience (e.g., YA fiction probably shouldn’t feature the complex sentence structures seen in college-level writing)

My style of copy editing falls under what some refer to as “medium” or “heavy” copy editing, meaning I edit each line (a.k.a., line editing). You should expect lots of comments and suggestions if you work with me. I try to ensure you understand why I suggest changes, and I also do my best to dig into your plot and characters as I go.

For an even heavier edit that addresses major structural issues, consider developmental editing. If you’ve already had your work edited and typeset, but want someone to check over it again for subtle errors, my proofreading service is more appropriate.

Do I need a copy editor?

Are you self-publishing? If so, yes, you need a copy editor. Many good stories don’t make it anywhere because they are riddled with grammatical errors and awkward quirks when they are self-published. You will end up with a more competitive and professional product if you hire an editor (and a good cover designer).

If you’re headed down a traditional path, with representation and/or an established publisher, you probably don’t need to hire an editor. Established publishers have in-house editors—or freelance editors of their own—who will polish your work prior to publication.

What if you want to take the traditional path, but keep getting rejected? Is that a sign that you need a copy editor? Maybe, maybe not.

If agents and publishers are pointing out the same shortcomings repeatedly, a copy editor may help you fix those problems and reach your goals more swiftly. It’s possible, though, that there’s nothing terribly wrong with your work. Rejection is not unusual. Sometimes rejection happens because you’ve written in an overcrowded market (or for a very small market). Other times, it’s just about luck, about finding the right agent and/or publisher. Take Marlon James, winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize: his first novel was rejected nearly eighty times. It happens. It might be happening to you. It doesn’t necessarily mean you need to hire an editor.

How many editing passes do you make?

I make three “passes” when copy editing. During my first pass, I read every word of your document and make comments as I go. In the second pass, I skim read and return to areas I noted as being particularly important. The third pass is to ensure my comments are clear and helpful. Ideally, I let your document “rest” a couple of days between passes, so I can give it fresh eyes each time.

How much does copy editing cost?

I charge 2.0 to 2.5 cents per word for copy editing. This roughly translates to $35.00 to $40.00 an hour, which falls in line with standard copy editing rates. The half-cent difference comes down to how polished your document is—or isn’t—when you send it to me. You should send your work only after you’ve made your own corrections. Failure to self-edit makes the editing process more difficult for me and more expensive for you.

Works 11,000 words and longer are eligible for free copy editing on the first 1,000 words. So, if you have a 78,000-word novel that needs a moderate amount of work, this is what you might expect to pay:

(78,000 words – 1,000 from sample edit) * 2.3 cents per word = $1,771.00

Want to save a bit of money? I occasionally mention coupon codes on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Reddit.

How do I pay for copy editing?

I accept payments through PayPal or by check. I’m also open to bank transfers.

There are two payment stages. As part of my standard contract, I ask that you pay an initial 50 percent deposit. The other 50 percent is due when you receive the edited document.

Please note that while I prefer that arrangement, I am sometimes open to breaking a large bill down into four payments over the course of three to four months. In such cases, I ask that you pay by check or money transfer so I can avoid PayPal’s fees.

How long does it take you to copy edit a book?

The editing process rarely takes more than two weeks, but I will usually tell you a month is needed for the task. This is to ensure we have a reasonable amount of time to discuss your editing needs, sign a contract, and settle (partial) payment before I get started.

What happens after you send me my edited document?

I provide one hour of free manuscript support following editing services. I’m happy to answer questions or chat via Google Hangouts, Skype, etc. during that time. If you need additional help, I charge $30.00 an hour.