First off, if you can, hire a very good copy editor.
If you have any money at all, find a good one and hire him or her.
If not, keep reading.
At this stage in the editing process, all major story problems should be resolved. There should be no glaring, fundamental issues with characters, plot, or other overarching story elements. If not, all this must be resolved first before this next step is taken because at this stage, you’ll have bigger issues to focus on.
Copyediting is not proofreading. Ideally, you won’t be looking at your own manuscript. Ideally, you’ll either have the funds to hire help, or you’ll have a few beta readers who are particularly good with both grammar and story to help you spot the errors. But if you have to do it yourself, if you have no other option, here’s what I’ve found helpful.
First, tools. You’ll need the following:
- A style guide. (This will probably be either the Chicago Manual of Style or the AP Stylebook.)
- An up-to-date dictionary. (I use Merriam-Webster’s dictionary app on my phone.)
- A stylesheet. (This one you create. Lots of ways to do it, but it’s incredibly simple once you understand the point. I’ve added a link about creating one to the Resources list.)
- A grammar guide if you feel at all uncertain about the rules of English.
- Plenty of time between when you last looked at your manuscript and now.
In addition to this, you’ll need to learn and keep learning the elements of good writing. There are plenty of books on self-editing and the elements of both fiction and non-fiction writing. Lots. Find them. And keep learning the art of writing good sentences, dialogue, etc., even after you think you’ve learned them.
Now, for the actual editing, here are some things I do to keep down the number of errors.
- First, if you can’t print out a copy (see below), create a separate document and title it whatever will help you remember that it’s the copy you’re making changes in. Make changes in that document, then type in those changes into the final document. Helps catch missed words and gives you a chance to smooth out the rough element of changes you’ve made.
- Change the settings to allow line numbering in the document. This way, you’ll have a specific line you can reference. Very handy for things like continuity issues. Add page numbers if you plan on printing it out.
- Print out a copy if you can afford it and mark it up with your changes. Make sure the printed copy is double-spaced with a monospaced font like Courier.
- Read it aloud so you can hear the way the music of the language flows. This is especially vital in fiction. You’ll be tempted to skip this since it forces you to go slower, but that’s part of the reason to do it. It forces you to look at each word.
- I’ve heard it might be wise to read it through once, but I’m discovering that the initial read-through isn’t necessary for this phase of the project. I miss more errors if I do a read-through first.
- If you have the smallest bit of doubt about something, do not let it pass without checking it. Even if you think you’ve checked it before.
That’s all I can think of right now. Please check out the resources listed below for all that I’ve missed.
I do want to stress that if you can get another set of eyes on it, it would be wise for you to do so. The smaller the problems, the more likely it is you’re going to miss it and the more likely the error is going to stand out to a new reader.
May not be posting another installment of this series next week. We’ll see. But I will post.
Style Sheets — The Set Up and the Benefit
Check the Facts: 10 Tips for Copy Editors
(Book) Copyediting and Proofreading for Dummies
(Book) Copyediting: A Practical Guide