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“Someone Else Needs to Look at This”: Copyedits

So we’ve talked about the many times that the manuscript for a Swoon Reads novel goes back and forth between me and the author. But there comes a time when the author and I have made every change that we can think of, it’s as good as it’s going to get, and we literally can’t look at it anymore. We’ve looked at it so many times that we can’t see what’s actually on the page versus stuff that’s happened two or three drafts ago. At that point, it’s really great to work for a publishing company, because there are many other people who can help.

Specifically, I send it to Christine M., our fabulous production editor, who will hire a copyeditor to go through the manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. The copyeditor will look for things like continuity (do the character’s eyes stay the same color throughout the book? etc.), grammar and spelling (do we really need a comma right there?), and fact-checking (was leukemia a thing in the 1800s?).

Traditionally, copyediting is done on printouts of the manuscript with the notorious red pencil. (Although we tend to use blue. It’s friendlier.) Authors get actual manuscript pages covered in Post-Its with queries – publishing terminology for questions – that look a lot like this:

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The author then goes through and either approves the changes, meaning they leave them alone, or they cross them out and write their own fixes directly on the page. As you can imagine, it gets a bit messy.

So now, we’ve switched to using Microsoft Word’s track changes (which I now have on my iPad and the world is better!). The copyeditor is looking for exactly the same things, but now they can fix things directly in the file and all the queries are in comments to one side, which is a lot cleaner (not to mention more environmentally friendly!), and it lets me add a lot more commentary and suggestions. Then we send the author a file that looks like this:

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The author has two or three weeks to go through the manuscript again, answering any and all queries and making any last tweaks. Then they send it back to me, I glance through it quickly, and we give it back to Christine, who does some kind of technological magic to pull everything together, and she sends it off to design.

The next time we see the manuscript, it will actually look like a book!

Check back next week to learn about the next step in the editorial process!

And in case you missed the previous entries for this editorial series:

• “Don’t Panic!”: First Draft Revisions

• “Great Job, Let’s Do It Again!”: Second (and Sometimes Third) Draft Revisions

•  “Little Changes Have BIG Effects”: Line Edits

Author spotlight

Holly West

Senior Editor at Swoon Reads and Feiwel & Friends. Giant geek. Dedicated fangirl. Half-Elven Rogue Cleric. Also answers to That-Girl-Who-Reads-A-Lot.

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