Guest Post–Admit It: You Need a Copy Editor, by Michael Mandarano

Michael Mandarano is a freelance copyeditor, proofreader and formatter, and (full disclosure) a former colleague of mine from Harlequin Enterprises. Last year, Michael proofread Her Son's Hero and also helped Wynne Channing format her book What Kills Me. I've asked him to tell us about what a copy editor can do, especially for authors looking to self-publish.

So you’ve downed that eighth cup of coffee, pulled an all-nighter and finally completed your work in progress. Your baby is complete. So what now?

Well…you could run a spell-check, close the file and start figuring out how to get your masterpiece into the hands of readers. Yes, you could do that. But therein lies the most common mistake made by indie or self-published authors and, in my opinion, the most damaging one to make.

The manuscript you’ve just poured your heart and soul into may very well be the next Fifty Shades of Grey or Beautiful Disaster, but without a trained and focused eye (and one that’s a bit more removed than yours), it’s bound to contain typos, inconsistencies and other errors that have slipped through the spell-check cracks.

In short, you need a copy editor.

As a copy editor, my job is to take a completed manuscript and smooth out the wrinkles. By this stage, you and your editor (make sure you have one of those, too) will have worked out the major issues in your story: plot and character development, proper use of dialogue, showing versus telling, and so on. Focusing on these top-line elements is extremely important, but it also leaves lots of room for smaller errors to remain undetected. In fact, often the editing process itself inserts errors into the manuscript that weren’t there before.

A good copy editor will go through your work and catch errors of spelling, grammar, punctuation, inconsistency and awkward phrasing. It’s what we do. Some like to call us detail-oriented, while others prefer the term anal. I prefer the first! 🙂 A good copy editor will do all these things while ensuring your author voice remains strong at all times. It’s your book; we’re here to give it that polished and professional look that readers have come to expect.

So once you’ve made the smart decision to hire a copy editor, what can you expect?

First off, I usually ask for the completed manuscript to get an idea of what level of copyediting is required, and to give an estimate of the total cost. I provide competitive per-hour rates and complete honesty when pricing projects. No one likes invoice shock!

Depending on the length of your book, my standard turnaround is usually one to two weeks. At the outset, we’ll discuss your preferences regarding spelling (American, British, Canadian) and whether you prefer any particular dictionary or style guide.

I copyedit most often in Microsoft Word using the Track Changes feature. It’s the easiest way to edit a manuscript with complete transparency and, combined with the Comments feature, allows me to explain any changes I make, as well as add suggestions here and there. For those using Word alternatives (e.g., OpenOffice or Pages for Mac), no worries — they’re compatible!

When you receive the marked-up file, you’ll go through the manuscript and choose to either accept or reject my edits and read the comments throughout. If you have any questions at that point, send them along!

And that’s it! You’ll have a polished, ready-to-be-published manuscript that you’ll be proud to present to readers.

Next up: formatting and producing an ebook. Stay tuned for my upcoming post on this topic…

For a limited time, I’m offering discounted copyediting rates to authors in need of my services. Drop me a line for details, and be sure to mention this post. And stop by if you’d like more information about me and my work.

Best of luck!

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