Copy editing

When does a copy edit happen?
The copy edit (also known as line edit) is typically only performed on a manuscript that’s completed a development edit phase and then been revised appropriately by the author. All major issues should now be resolved, meaning it’s now time to polish by correcting/improving the actual text, and after the copy edit the manuscript should be more or less ready to publish. Copy editing is typically the final major editing stage, although it is followed by a proofing run wherever possible.

What does a copy edit look like?
This edit is a full read-through with grammar, spelling, word repetitions, inappropriate adjectives/adverbs, awkward English, etc. directly corrected in the text. It is done using Microsoft Word tracked changes along with explanations and other editor communication in embedded comments.
When the author gets a copy edit back it’s quite a mess of the original (black) text and modified (red) text. The reason it has to be this way is because it’s always the author’s decision what changes to accept/reject: the document therefore has to be an amalgam of the original manuscript and the editor’s proposed changes.

Many editors simply won’t go beyond text correction at this stage…but this goes against my maxim of always trying my best to improve the manuscript. Whilst I won’t revisit issues I raised in the development edit that the author has decided upon (not aligned with my suggestions), any inconsistency with plot, characters, scenes, etc. will be highlighted. I will typically provide an inline edit that I feel solves the issue – it normally explains things more clearly than just a comment, and if the author chooses to accept it then it cuts down the work required from them.
This is going back into development edit territory, but my view is that if it’s needed then so be it.

What happens next?
It’s now over to the author to work through the changes and accept/reject each one. This sounds horrible, and is, so a faster alternative is to scan through the changes and modify anything you don’t like. After that simply select to accept all changes in document.
Whichever process you use, the target state is unified (ie. no tracked changes) text with no comments throughout the whole manuscript.

Note that editor support doesn’t just end with the return of the manuscript. Especially if work has been done to fix e.g. an inconsistency there may need to be some dialogue and perhaps the exchange of working manuscripts between the author and editor to confirm solutions.
I also strongly recommend a similar process for any significant change the author makes during the accept/reject phase – make it as a tracked change and send the manuscript to the editor so that it can be checked and copy edited. The general rule of thumb is that any significant change should have both sets of eyes (the author’s and the editor’s) go over it before it is accepted into the manuscript.

A final proofing run.
Working with track changes on in Word is essential for the reasons above. However it’s also messy and the likelihood is that it will introduce errors of the missing/double space, spelling or typo variety into the manuscript. For this reason I always perform a final proofing run on the manuscript as soon as it’s clean (ie. no live changes, all comments removed). This check is the Word spelling and grammar checker, but with all results reviewed manually. For this stage I simply correct the text without tracking the change, as all changes are error fixes.

How do I book a copy edit with you?
In most cases I won’t accept a copy editing job for a manuscript I haven’t development edited. Why? Because I start working through fixing the text and then very soon I’m aware there are all kinds of major issues blighting the novel that are beyond the scope of a copy/line edit – I’ve put myself in that situation (trying to polish something with fundamental flaws) a few times before, and I prefer not to do it again.
Therefore we’ll already be in contact from the development edit stage when it comes to booking a copy edit. You’re under no obligation to use me for this stage, but if you want to then we’ll make a rough booking in my calendar and then we’ll stay in periodic contact to ensure the manuscript remains on schedule.