Write and publish your book in a year – Step 7: Copyedit

Visit this blog's 'Write a book' category page for previous posts in this series.

By the time you've drafted your book, rewritten it once or twice and then given it a good polish, it would seem reasonable to think that you are just about done with it. And you are ... sort of.

The good news is that once your manuscript has reached this point you are getting very close to the end. However, there is a very important step to undertake: the copyedit. This means going over of your text with a fine-toothed comb to correct 'typos' – like spelling mistakes and grammatical errors – and to ensure consistency of presentation.

Without exception I recommend that this task is given to a professional editor who has the skills, knowledge and experience, including an incredible eye for detail, needed for the job. Don't give it to a well-meaning friend (unless they have that qualification) and never, ever try to copyedit your own work. Believe me: it cannot be done. You are simply too close to your work and you will miss things. Guaranteed.

Ten areas to pay attention to before sending your manuscript to a copyeditor

Copyeditors typically charge by the hour, rather than by word count, so when preparing your book to go to the editor, it pays to have it as 'clean' as possible before it goes. Heather Kelly, who edits a lot of our work, makes the following suggestions:

  1. Create a separate document and list the spellings to be used for any unusual words, potentially ambiguous spellings (judgement vs. judgment) and hyphenated words. This document will become what's called a 'style guide' in the publishing industry.
  2. Add the names of people, places and organisations to your style sheet. Check that organisations, in particular, are spelled the way they spell themselves (e.g. PricewaterhouseCoopers).
  3. While you're at it with spellings, also check for correct capitalisation. Overuse of capitals seems particularly common at present – don't make this mistake yourself.
  4. At the start of your style guide, indicate the version of English you are using. Where there is any potential ambiguity, such as with the use of -ise or -ize (e.g. emphasise or emphasize), add those words to the style guide.
  5. Add to your style guide any abbreviations or contractions, including acronyms, you have used and what they stand for. Check their punctuation.
  6. With spelling covered, it's time to look at punctuation marks. Check that dashes are consistent in type and spacing (e.g. are you using 'spaced en-dashes' – or 'unspaced em-dashes—or a different combination? It doesn't matter as long as you are consistent). Similarly, ellipses ... should be consistently spaced. The use of single or double quotation marks around speech should be consistent, as should the styles of bulleted or numbered lists.
  7. Make sure your 'heading hierarchy' is clear and consistent. In other words, all major headings should be formatted the same way (e.g. 18-point Arial font, bolded, italics), as should all second level headings, third level headings and so on. The actual choice of fonts and font sizes is not important at this stage – that will come later in the design stage. What is important is that the editor can clearly identify what level, or grade, any particular heading is on.
  8. Delete any double spaces (after full stops) in the document.
  9. Check diagrams and tables for spelling and consistency of style. Check that references (e.g. 'see Figure 1') match up with their target. Similarly check any other cross-referencing.
  10. Double check all references for accuracy (e.g. that book titles and author names are correct). Check that any website addresses are accurate and live. This is very time consuming for an editor to do.

Finally, make sure your manuscript is a 'tidy' document: that the same fonts are used throughout and, ideally, that lines are spaced at '1.5 times'. This simply makes it easier (and quicker) for the editor to do their work.

As usual, if you have any questions or comments, please contact me directly, via our Facebook page or in the comments below.

Image CC Nic McPhee.

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