Why Can Editing Take So Long?

Imagine reading a stranger’s work, a book you’ve never seen before, slowly and carefully. How long would that take you? I mean, how many hours? each wordYou can’t skim over descriptions of forest, house, or anything else you think might not be crucial to the story; you must read every word.

Imagine making sure you understand each phrase and sentence and paragraph. Envision writing a note with suggestions for rewording when something is unclear. Include writing out the three different ways you interpreted a particularly confounding sentence.

Picture yourself keeping a list of who wears glasses and has one squinty eye (and which eye it is), who has which pet, and who is childless.

What if you have to ensure all dialogue that needs a comma before the opening quotation mark has one? Ensure all question marks that should be inside quotation marks are, indeed, inside them? And make sure all the other bits of punctuation are where—and what—they should be? You’d have to pay attention to each piece of punctuation as you read the book. (Sure, you can use global search-and-replace for some of these tasks, but still, it takes attention and time.)

Imagine the writer has labored over the book you’re reading. (You may not have trouble imagining that!) What if you have to write about problems with the manuscript? You might take an extra bit of care with how you word your critique.

This is just a bit about my job, copyediting. Thorough reading, intense concentration, and careful wording of feedback are some of the reasons it takes the time it does.

Do you want to hire an editor—but the cost is daunting? Posts at the following links tell some things you can do to reduce the time and cost of copyediting: 7 Reasons Why You Should Read Your Book Out Loud by Joanna Penn and Preparing Your Manuscript for Your Copy Editor by Jenny Meadows. I hope these are helpful.

Happy writing!

What Is Copyediting?

Do you want to make sure you’re saying what you mean and meaning what you say? Copy editors do more than correct grammar and spelling errors. I’m here to be your second pair of eyes and, maybe, your last bit of polish before you publish your work. What is copyediting? My first answer might surprise you: It’s fun. Fun, fun, fun. Were you thinking it was work? Well, okay, it’s that, too. According to www.dictionary.com, it’s editing (e.g., a manuscript or document) for publication, especially for punctuation, spelling, grammatical structure, style, etc. What’s in that “etc.”?

What Copyediting Is Not: Five Common Misconceptions

Copywriting: Here’s one definition of copywriting: writing copy, especially for advertisements or publicity releases. The basic difference is that a copywriter pens original text, and a copy editor edits already-written text.

Ghostwriting: Ghostwriters write for someone else who is named as or presumed to be the author.

Publishing: A basic definition of publishing is issuing printed or otherwise reproduced material for sale or distribution to the public.

Developmental editing: A basic definition of this type of editing is helping develop a written work pretty much from the get-go. Sometimes this involves analysis of the market, of competing works, and anything else needed to develop the work, including research and writing.

Useless: When you write, do you want your message or story to come across clearly? Of course you do! To that end, I suggest you get at least one other person to look at your work. A copy editor can mark unclear passages to help you clarify what you mean so your message has a better chance of coming across to your readers. Also, an editor’s comments may let you know that your sentence made sense, but in a way you didn’t intend.

Some copy editors may also be copywriters, ghostwriters, publishers, or developmental editors.

Four Cs and Copyediting: What Is the Underlying Thread?

The underlying thread is to get the author’s message across clearly and in their voice. A copy editor can use these four Cs to help the writer do just that.

Checking: If there’s the slightest doubt about something in a document, a copy editor should check it. They shouldn’t guess, and shouldn’t assume something is correct just because an established writer wrote it, or because they’ve seen it in print from a well-known publisher. That sounds simple, but it can take training to learn to listen to that little uncertainty whispering to you. One of my favorite resources is The Chicago Manual of Style.

Clarity: A copy editor can point out phrases that are unclear, or that can be interpreted more than one way. Even if the author’s style leans toward murky, and the author wants that style maintained, the editor can point out exceptionally unclear passages.

Consistency: Isn’t it a surprise when you’re 200 pages into a novel, and Leila is suddenly called Zelda? Could this happen in the book you’re writing? You’ve been building your novel scene by scene, and not necessarily in order, and in separate files. Very early on, she was Zelda, but not for long. And you’ve forgotten all about that first name. Your copy editor, reading your work as a whole piece, can catch inconsistencies like this.

Caring for the author’s voice: A good copy editor remembers that this is your writing, not theirs. Their corrections and suggestions should fit with your style of writing.

What Is Copyediting? My Simple Guideline

There’s not just one answer to the question “what is copyediting?” You can find quite a variety of task lists for copy editors—I like this detailed description. I have my own list on the Home page; my simple guideline is this: I ask you what amount and types of editing you want—that way, I get an idea of what’s important to you, or what concerns you about your writing. If your list leaves out items I think are important, I’ll ask if you want those added. Then I stick to your specifications. However, if I find something glaringly “off” that’s outside your editing guidelines, I’ll ask if you want to know about that sort of thing.

Is It Really Okay to End a Sentence with a Preposition?

A while back, I was filling in the profile section of my Etsy shop, and I thought I’d mention that I’m a copy editor—get in a plug for that. I was typing away, and started to end a sentence with a preposition. But I stopped myself. How would that reflect on me as an editor? Since many people think ending with a preposition is grammatically “illegal,” I decided to write the sentence another way.

What Do I Mean People Think It’s “Illegal”? Isn’t It?

Who says it’s okay to end a sentence with a preposition? Here’s my backward answer: Who said it isn’t okay? A zillion grammarians? All the style manuals? Your grade-school teacher? Not grammarians, and not my favorite style manual. Yep, some teachers, even though it’s not a grammar rule. For a lot of folks, it’s just old, ingrained, incorrect teaching from early school years.

There’s an oft-quoted, or misquoted, statement about ending with a preposition that’s attributed to Winston Churchill. I’m not going to repeat it here; it’s fun, but I’ve seen it one time too many. This site has a lot of versions of the “quotation”: “Churchill” on Prepositions on Paul Brians’s site.

Yes, Sometimes You’re Right to Not End a Sentence with a Preposition.

Avoid ending a sentence with a preposition when the preposition is unnecessary. Here’s an example: Where’d you eat dinner at? The word where makes at redundant. Of course, if you’re writing a story, and that’s how your character speaks, then that’s how you should write their dialogue.

Since it’s okay to end a sentence with a preposition, what do copy editors do with all the free time left from not having to pull out their red pencils and mark those sentences? Oh, goodness me, there are zillions of things to fill that time. Copy editors do more than look for errors: We help you clarify muddy passages. We help you keep characters in character. We peer into, and help you fill, plot holes so your readers won’t fall into them.

And most of us love our work. I do!

What’s Wrong with “Bringing It There”?

Usually, I take my to-go cup for my tea when I have lunch at Central Market. Then I take it home again. Fascinating, eh? Wait, I’m making a point: I don’t bring it there or back home.

Direction is the basis for choosing “take” or “bring.” If the action is toward you, use bring, as in “Please bring your favorite CD to my party.” If it’s away from you, use take.

Does this rule always work? Nope. One takes a cake out of the oven, or takes a toy away from a child. Are these idiomatic? I edited a book in which a character brought a cake out of the oven. I couldn’t support changing “brought” to “took” because “brought” fit the rule strictly. Also, the author may have learned to use “bring/brought” when talking about removing something from an oven, and it’s important to retain such usage—to keep the author’s “voice.”

I know a man who’s done technical writing, and writes and speaks well, and is as detail-oriented as I am. He uses “bring” instead of “take”; it took some effort for me to not correct him every time. I didn’t want to be a jerk because of my knee-jerk response!


Editing for Speakers—Part II

You May Think You’re Not a Speaker . . .

Are you a speaker? You may say you’re not, but I think telling someone about your business can be a mini-speech; I point that out because this post is about editing for speakers.

Maybe some of you don’t know how you can benefit from using an editor. Perhaps you’re thinking the editor will rewrite your speech, changing your style, turning it into something that just doesn’t sound like you.

That’s not good!

It’s Your Speech.

An editor should leave your speech your speech—so when you deliver it, it’s clearly yours.

What an Editor Can Do for You.

What can an editor do for you? For starters, correct the basics, such as grammar and clarity. Here’s an example of a lack of clarity: speaking often is stress inducing. Does speaking induce stress often? Or does frequent speaking induce stress? Can’t tell. Some more basics: spelling and punctuation; even though your listeners can’t see those, I’d correct them, because you may want to post your speech online, include it in a book you’re writing, and use parts of it in a visual presentation.

But editors do a lot more than those basics. They should note it if your style seems to not fit your target audience. For example, you may use idioms, like “fixin’ to” and “finding your feet.” If your target audience is a formal group, that wording should be changed. But when it’s appropriate to speak or write that way, go ahead and use idioms; that’s like adding spices to your cooking. Your communication style is one of the things that sets you apart from others; therefore, it’s vital that you—not your editor—come across in your writing and speaking.

An editor can point out language that might exclude part of your audience, in case that’s not what you want to do. Here’s one example: I could say, “As speakers, we all know what I mean by ‘language that excludes.’” That’s a double whammy: that statement excludes those who do not consider themselves to be speakers, and the “we all know what I mean” part excludes those who might not understand the phrase “language that excludes.”

An editor should ensure your speech doesn’t have holes. I heard a speech about Halloween costumes in which the speaker brought the wigs he’d worn over five Halloweens, with photos of himself dressed up as famous women. The speaker was fun; he was entertaining—but I was distracted: why had he dressed as women so often? Did it start as a college dare? A sale on wigs? I really wanted to know, and that dogged me throughout his talk.

Another things your editor can do is make sure your speech follows through on its hooks—even its suggestions of hooks. One speaker said something like, “What if you won a drawing today for a free consultation with my company; would you find the time for that?” I got all excited, “Oh, excellent! Surely he’ll give that away or he wouldn’t have mentioned it! I want to win that!” And the speech went on . . . and then ended . . . with no further mention of any freebie. Sigh. I know he hadn’t promised anything, but I was disappointed, and I lost a bit of faith in that speaker, from a business standpoint.

Those are some ways an editor can help.

What’s Your Part in the Speaker-Editor Relationship?

You write the speech and get an idea of what type of editing you want; you can check out my post on copyediting.

And go shopping! If you can, shop for an editor before you need one. Spend a little time doing research by looking at editing samples online. First check out the before-and-after samples on editor Audrey Dorsch’s site; they show a good bit of rewriting and restructuring. Then, for comparison, see the samples on this site. My samples show very little rewriting; I prefer doing that kind of editing. When you talk with prospective editors, pay attention to how you two communicate—communication is a huge part of the speaker-editor interaction, and if it doesn’t go well, that can bode ill for a future relationship. So look around and find an editor who is your ally and with whom you communicate easily.

Happy shopping!

Editing for Speakers—Part I

Hello. I’m Camille DeSalme, freelance copy editor. Recently, I started to learn and practice public speaking. This got me wondering how editing applies to speeches. Copyediting is for the written word, right? Yes! But how does it apply to speakers? I’ll talk a bit about that.

Editing involves more than just spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Editors also address clarity, consistency, and a smooth flow of ideas, which are vital for outstanding speaking and writing. But I’ll stick to spelling, punctuation, and grammar today—and how they can help you show your unique self, while keeping egg off your face.

The importance of grammar—correct grammar—is obvious: it helps you put your best face forward when you speak. Poor grammar can maul clarity; an editor can identify murky parts of your speech.

How you put words together is called syntax. Syntax falls under the umbrella of grammar. You know the words you choose and the way you put them together can make a huge difference in your speeches. I encourage you to pay attention to the little words, as well as the big ones. When I introduced myself at the beginning of this blog, I said “Camille DeSalme, freelance copy editor.” Saying it that way, instead of “a freelance copy editor,” makes me feel like a superhero. “Camille DeSalme, Freelance Copy Editor”! I just need the mask and the cape . . . and the superpowers.

Grammar includes idioms—for example, “I’m fixinta go to the store.” When it’s appropriate to speak or write that way, go ahead and use idioms; that’s like adding spices to your cooking. In informal communications, I say and write “y’all”—I’m a Southerner, and that’s how I talk. Your communication style is one of the things that sets you apart from others, therefore, it’s vital that you—not your editor—come across in your writing and speaking. As an editor I support distinctive style and the use of idioms.

Another thing about editing the spoken word: phrasing that insults or excludes can be subtle—editors point out that phrasing, in case insult or exclusion is not what you’re going for.

Okay, it’s a given that grammar is crucial. But who gives a hoot about spelling and punctuation when you’re a speaker? No one can see those things . . . unless you decide to post your speech online. And you may not only be speakers—to support your speaking career, you may have written books, websites, and marketing materials. Errors in all these are common—reduce them as much as you can, so whatever the medium, others see the best possible representation of you and your business.

Just as you would read a speech aloud to hear how it sounds, read your online and printed materials aloud, too. Reading them carefully is a fine way to find awkward phrasing, missing words, and typos. Read them to a friend after asking them to stop you immediately if something isn’t clear. Talk out any muddy parts with them until you see the light dawn on their face, then use that clearer phrasing.

We probably all know this by now, but don’t rely only on a spell checker (helpful as they can be) or even on reading the material aloud. If you can, have an editor read your materials.

Even editors need editors! And we use them.

For consistency across all your written material, pick one dictionary to use, like Merriam-Webster. Be sure to look up words which might be hyphenated or closed-compounds. A closed compound is two words stuck together, no space, no hyphen, like the word “handout.” When I edit, I see a lot of mistakes in compound words. Also check spelling, punctuation, and capitalization of businesses listed in your marketing material, like companies in your client list. I check the client’s business website or LinkedIn page to see how they style the name. Sometimes it’s in the signature block in their e-mail.

An entire series of speeches could be written about punctuation—I plan to not do that! I’ll just point you to a couple of websites I’ve found extremely helpful:

Guide to Grammar and Writing Punctuation is in the “Word & Sentence Level” drop-down list.


Now you know why a speaker might use a copy editor. And you know why spelling, punctuation, and grammar are valuable for speakers. I encourage you to use online resources and copy editors so you and your business display your distinctive style without the verbal equivalent of spinach in your teeth.