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  • Writer's pictureSiân Smith

What is copyediting?

Why I’ve decided to call myself a book editor (when I’m technically a copyeditor)

Do you know what copyediting is? My business card says ‘Siân Smith proofreader and copyeditor’ because I wanted to distinguish between developmental editing and copyediting. What I’ve learnt since launching my editorial business last year is that most people who don’t work in publishing don’t know what copyediting is. In fact, when I think about it, I don’t think I completely knew what the term involved until I completed some proofreading qualifications last year.

A business card with the left half white with teal writing and the right half teal with white writing. It says SIAN SMITH proofreader & copyeditor with social media links to Instagram sian.smith.editorial and LinkedIn, sian-smith-editorial, email address
My business card

Most people read ‘copyediting’ but think ‘copywriting’. It gets a bit awkward when you have to correct someone about your job role, especially when they introduce you to others as a copywriter! I was initially reluctant to call myself a book editor, though, because this can lead to the impression that I can help you finish your book or flesh out ideas to help get you started. In the self-publishing world, this stage of writing your book is undertaken by book coaches or perhaps a developmental editor.

I’ve since decided to change my bio to ‘book editor’ because I’d rather attract authors who want to publish their book than clients who need help writing content (my skillset is editing or proofreading content, rather than writing it). There is still clarification needed here, but the best explanation I’ve found so far is when I emphasise I work with finished manuscripts rather than ones that are in progress.

So what actually is copyediting?

During my copyediting service, I consider your book as a whole (authorial voice, the intended reader, etc) and then edit it line by line, making improvements to readability as well as amending any errors to do with grammar, spellings, typos, or formatting. In the publishing world, some publishers or copyeditors like to differentiate between copyediting and line editing, but I tend to apply a blend of both (which many other copyeditors do, too). This is probably what most people think of when they are looking for a book editor or a proofreader.

My copyediting services

I offer two copyediting services: a copyedit of 10,000 words or a copyedit of your whole manuscript.

Copyediting 10,000 words is ideal for: editing a submission piece to a publisher, if you’re not sure if copyediting is ‘worth it’, or if you don’t have the budget to copyedit your whole book. The latter point means you can try to use the 10,000 edited sample to self-edit the rest of your book. This service includes a mini editorial report, helpful comments on your actual manuscript (as well as all the amends made via Track Changes in Word) and is offered with or without a video handover call. I’ve found that, especially for first-time authors, a handover call is really helpful for both of us. It gives me a chance to show you how Track Changes works, reassures you that all the red you see does NOT mean you’re a terrible writer, and means we can work through some of the queries raised (rather than via email or WhatsApp exchanges). Of course, you can opt to forego the handover call and still receive your editorial report and style sheet.

Copyediting your whole manuscript is my most popular service for authors. I include a handover call as standard with my full copyediting service as there are usually several queries raised, which I find best to clarify with you as soon as possible.

My copyediting process

Although at its core all copyeditors are looking to amend the same errors and we all aim to improve the readability of your text, each copyeditor will have a different process to achieve this and communicate this with you.

A woman with blonde, wavy hair wearing brown, round glasses, a navy jumper with white stripes and burgundy dunagrees. She is sitting at her computer reading a book called 'New Oxford Dictionary For Writers & Editors'.
I don't know ALL the copyediting rules off by heart. Photo credit: Siân Smith

I start with a free discovery call, where you can tell me more about your project and your experience with working with a book editor, as well as the finer details such as word count, the current format (Microsoft Word is the standard), and whether there’s any deadline or planned launch date. Once we’ve determined the level of editing you’re happy with (some authors prefer a lighter touch), I’ll ask you to send me 1,000 words to edit for free. This works best if it’s from the middle of your book, because that’s usually when you’ve found your voice. It’s especially important for non-fiction where the first 1,000 words will include your introduction, which always has a different editing approach to the rest of the book.

I edit these 1,000 words as discussed, making note of how long the edits take so I can calculate an accurate quote for you and determine the turnaround time for the final manuscript. I return your book sample along with my confirmed copyediting fee, payment plans, and details of what copyediting involves (this would also include anything unique to your book). It’s important you read through this sample edit carefully to check you are happy with my editing style, as well as determining whether the cost and proposed timeframe suits you.

If you’re happy with my editing, quote, and turnaround time, the next step is to pay the booking fee, which is 25% of the total cost and confirms the dates in my schedule.

When it’s time to copyedit, this is how I approach it:

  • I start by reading through the whole manuscript, highlighting any errors I spot on the way. This read-through is more to get a sense of the whole piece and really get to grips with your style and authorial voice: it lays the groundwork for your style sheet.

  • With a basic style sheet in place I run a few pre-editing checks with some specific editorial programs. Only then is it time to start editing!

  • The style sheet is an organic document, which means it gets updated throughout the editing process as and when inconsistencies arise.

  • Once I’ve made the editorial changes I will read through the whole document again: both to catch any errors missed the first time round and to make sure I haven’t introduced errors with my own amends (even editors can make typos!).

  • Before I return the manuscript at the end of each revision round we have our handover call.

How much does copyediting cost?

My copyedit of 10,000 words has a fixed fee: £299 without the handover call or £349 with the handover call.

Copyediting your whole book requires a bespoke quote, every time. The 1,000-word sample and our discovery call are crucial factors in confirming your fee. The level of intervention required to make your book the best version it can possibly be differs from project to project.

However, I do have a rough idea of how much most copyediting costs:

Copyediting pricing: 30,000 words from £720, 50,000 words from £1140, 70,000 words from £1535, 100,000 words from £2185

What am I looking for during a copyedit?

Copyediting includes aspects of proofreading, but also focuses on the language style and mechanics of your book, such as:

  • typos, spelling, and grammar

  • inconsistent use of font types, header styles, table layouts

  • issues with clarity, fluency, and readability of text

  • adhering to or creating a style guide

  • repetition or monotonous style

  • thinking about your target audience

  • fact and reference checks (including any potential copyright concerns).

A front cover of a grey book with a thick, blue strip at the top. The title is 'Butcher's Copy-editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-editors and Proofreaders.' Fourth Edition. Fully revised and updated.
Another of my coveted reference books. Photo credit: Siân Smith

What are the next steps after a copyedit?

I offer a 20% discount on any further rounds of copyediting: from editing the whole book again to perhaps a chapter you’ve changed significantly or even a whole new chapter you’ve decided to introduce! Once you’re happy you’ve gone through enough copyediting rounds, it’s time to get your book formatted and proofread.

Proofreading always works best in its final format, because this is when we’re looking for any errors that need amending (rather than improving your writing). This includes aspects like chapter headings, content page pagination (does chapter 5 still start on page 22?), any image captions, formatting consistency, and, of course, spelling and grammar.

Is there anything I should consider before a copyedit?

In an ideal world, self-publishing authors would follow the same publishing route as publishing houses:

Text in teal font show the publishing process: Final draft, developmental edit, copyedit, typeset, proofread, publish!

However, when you’re self-publishing, your budget and availability are two significant factors to consider. To be honest, using a professional editor for any of these stages will make a huge difference to the final version of your book. It will also depend on your personality: my manuscript appraisal includes a report which is 8–10 pages long, which some people find useful while others consider the prospect too daunting. If you’re someone who just wants to make changes to your book so it’s ready to publish then of course you can jump straight to copyediting or proofreading.

I’d recommend you check out my blog post on what you can do with your manuscript while you’re writing it or once you’ve finished the first draft: a lot of these tips will ensure your final draft is in the best possible shape before you send it to an editor.

Remember though, you are brilliant for writing or finishing your book in the first place. If you’re getting confused about what ‘copyediting’ is or you’re now worried about all the things I’ll be amending, the best thing to do is contact me so we can discuss exactly what you’re looking for in a book editor.

Had you heard of copyediting before? Let me know if there are any aspects of copyediting or other terms I’ve used in this blog post that you’d like me to expand on 👍🏻

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