One very common peeve that I often see out there, which always prompts great gnashing of my teeth, is when I see people rant (particularly in Amazon reviews), “What was the editor DOING!!! I found TWO TYPOS.” This is due to confusion about editing vs. copyediting.
Editing vs. copyediting
Just so’s we’re all clear:
In traditional publishing, the editor is the person who acquires the book for the publishing company. The editor then becomes like a project manager, shepherding the book through the publishing process.
Yes, this does usually involve some editing. But that is usually on the order of, “let’s beef up this plot arc,” “how about this title,” and “do you think you could get me some backstage passes to your concert? Please? My wife is a big fan.” The editor may point individual things out, but the editor is not spending their time correcting typos. Not their job!
There are also freelance developmental editors who help authors who help authors who are self-publishing or who want to improve their manuscript prior to pursuing traditional publishing.
Then there is a copyeditor, the person who is responsible for catching typos.
A copyeditor is the type of person who will point out to a police officer that the charge for speeding in a school zone is actually $75, not $50… while they are getting a ticket. They not only know more grammatical rules and alternate spellings than nearly anyone, but they LOVE IT. A copyeditor prays to whatever manual of style they personally believe in (and yes, there is more than one religion).
So it’s the copyeditor who is the one responsible for catching typos and small inconsistencies and factual errors. Not the editor.
Typos are ultimately an author’s responsibility
But before you go and amend the complaint to “What was the COPYeditor doing,” here’s how the editing and copyediting process works (actual process may vary, but this is one example):
- Author turns in manuscript.
- Editor suggests macro changes.
- Author turns in new manuscript.
- Goes to copyeditor.
- A fantastic copyeditor will catch nearly everything, or everything everything.
- First pass pages go to the author, who double-checks the copyeditor’s suggested changes.
- Now, here comes the fun part. Manuscript is assembled so that the line edits from the author, copyeditor, and editor are hopefully incorporated correctly. It’s a somewhat straightforward task, but sometimes new errors can enter the picture here.
- Author gets these second-pass pages, they try to catch any remaining (or introduced) errors, and once they sign off on them the book goes to press.
Hopefully by the time it’s gone from editor to copyeditor to first pass to person who knows where to second pass every error will have been found and corrected. Hopefully. But there are also opportunities for errors to creep into that process.
Oh, and for the record, before you start correcting typos on this blog, keep in mind that I have neither editor nor copyeditor. (But this blog is, in fact, outsourced to overseas typists. Not really.)
So when you do find a typo in a book, gloat! By all means gloat. Gloat gloat gloat. You found a typo and are officially smarter than the offending sentence. But don’t blame the poor editor!
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A Paperback Writer says
Oh, let me get this straight:
the editor doesn’t edit; s/he suggests revisions, and the copyeditor does the editing. So, the editor is really more a revisor, while the copyeditor is the real editor.
Gee, no wonder we get confused.
Nathan Bransford says
The editor does the editing, the copyeditor does the copyediting.
There’s just a confusion of terms out there. Editing is on the macro level. Copyediting is on the sentence level.
In some publishing circles, there are still proofreaders who are responsible for catching those final errors. They too, are imperfect creatures. I am an indexer and know this only too well. As for errors in indexes, they are legion, because the index gets assembled while everyone is hovering on the edge of the deadline. The simple truth is that an MS passes through many readers on the way to the press, and the best we can hope for is that not everyone falls asleep on the same page.
Melanie Avila says
I just finished reading a book where a character refers to his ex-wife, then in the next chapter we find out they’re still married and have been for ten years. I realize the difference is only two little letters and a dash, but who’s responsibility is that?
Melanie Avila says
*and please disregard my stray apostrophe. 😉 Sneaky bugger.
Elissa M says
I worked for a newspaper once. It’s like book publishing, only with a deadline every day. Editor, Copy Editor, Typesetter, Proofreader. And still you’ll see mistakes in the paper. It’s like making sausage, you don’t really want to know what goes into it.
Mark Terry says
I would also add that some publishers may skimp on copyeditors and either hire them freelance or, as often seems the case, don’t hire them at all.
It does seem to me that we see more books poorly copyedited these days, or at least that I’m catching things more often. I don’t know if that’s the lack of copyeditors or whether everyone’s lazy because of Spellcheckers.
I’m going to echo what Elissa said.
Having been a magazine editor for a number of years (with the scars from the snake pit to prove it), I want to add that the late-stage edit process is fraught with disaster.
Case in point: we ran a feature on a new local restaurant in a sidebar. The feature got reported, edited, fact-checked (I supervised the fact-checkers), went through proofreading … and some point AFTER all this, the junior designer mistyped the restaurant’s phone number … and print!
We ended up buying the mistyped phone number (and paying a $250 “vanity fee” from the phone co for the privilege) and forwarding it to the right number for a year to make things right with the restaurant.
MUPHRY’s LAW strikes again.
Can we get some more “behind the scenes of the process” posts? I already knew the difference between editing/copyediting having worked for a newspaper – but I didn’t know the entire process.
Please give us more industry insider info! Or else you’ll find my manuscript on your pillow, riddled with typos and such as I too have no copyeditor, let alone editor!
… and some point AFTER all this, the junior designer mistyped the restaurant’s phone number …
Yep. I work as an advertising copywriter and sometimes typos sneak in because the designer or e-pro person keyed in something wrong. (I’ve seen ads–not mine, of course–with typos in the HEADLINE. I think our brains sometimes automatically correct errors.) I’m forgiving of typos in books because I know @%#$ happens. And considering books consist of 70,000 words or more, there’s certainly room for error!
Mr. Bransford, in your profile you say you are interested in fantasy. Do you represent any fantasy writer? What kind of fantasy stories appeal to you? It would be great if you could answer these questions. Thanks.
Dave F. says
Before I retired, I published technical articles on chemical and engineering research with my colleagues.
Proofreading, copy editing and finding that last, tiny, itty-bitty error is hard with chemical names, company names and scientific terms. But that’s easy compared to 100,000 words of fiction.
We are used to reading fiction and mistakes just slip by. We are not used to reading cyclohexane, Mossbauer Spectroscopy, polycyclic aromatics (PAH), Reynold’s Number, NiMo on Alumina with Tungsten monolayers, and all those scientific terms. Those terms stand out when they are wrong.
Fiction is harder in that it’s all common words and thoughts.
So gloat if you want to, but wait until you have to do that proofreading. It’s hard.
Margaret Yang says
I would never gloat. With all that has to be JUST RIGHT before the book goes to print, it’s amazing that there are so few errors.
Kristin Laughtin says
I never even thought about the possibility of “typos” slipping in after the copy-editing stage. Color me informed.
But yes, it makes sense to think of the editor as the “reviser”, the one who will help make the story better, while the copy-editor takes care of all the technical edits.
One typo in a book doesn’t bother me *too* much. Typos on every page is a different matter.
As an author whose copyeditor actually ADDED errors instead of taking them away, I have a whole lot more sympathy for the process than I used to.
Revisions are often a “hurry up and wait” process–your editor takes a month to read, and you have a week to incorporate notes. Things slip through those cracks, especially if you make some kind of wholesale change, like removing a character from the story.
So you might be the most uptight grammar and detail freak in the world (I’m pretty strict), but you can still end up with errors.
So next time you catch a mistake in a book, have mercy. And God willing, all of you aspiring authors will get to deal with these headaches yourself someday soon.
Anyone know how much editing goes into an average debut novel? Or is it mostly done on the agent’s side these days?
My recent book (nonfiction, mass-market, major educational publisher) essentially had NO editor. Sure, there was a guy who sat down with me at a conference table in a NY highrise at the beginning of the process and told me how much he cared about my book… and that was pretty much the last I heard from him, except when he wanted to bitch about how he was too busy to talk and castigate me for talking to others in the company (!).
The copyeditor, on the other hand, was a gem. All her comments were on-target and delivered in an easy-to-understand way, with footnotes when needed. She even corrected an offhand literary quote! (Yes, I’m pretentious. 😉 )
Save copyediting, the book appeared pretty much exactly as I wrote it. Not a single sentence was moved or deleted. Good thing it was a strong draft….
I wish there was some way I could warn people away from this editor. But it’s a small industry, so others will just have to repeat my mistake.
(Regular reader, but posting anonymously for obvious reasons.)
So they didn’t ask you to revise at all beyond copyedits? I suppose it’s possible you just didn’t need ’em. Did you edit with your agent much?
Ha! As I confessed, I’m not the world’s greatest speller, and I settled on saying “bad editing” instead of “bad copyediting” because the little red squiggle lines showed up under “copyediting,” but “copy editing” just looked wrong. I was just trying to avoid looking stupid.
Speaking as a copyeditor…we do our best to catch everything, but it’s amazing what can still slip through even after several passes by multiple people. I’ve caught some nasty errors at the very last minute. And I edit non-fiction–I can only imagine how much harder it would be if there were a plot to get caught up in!
That said, typos in books still make me wince. I wouldn’t be a copyeditor if they didn’t.
Lorelei Armstrong says
And sometimes the copyeditor runs amok and starts rewriting the novel. Don’t believe me? Here’s the beginning of my novel, which will be released October first. Here’s how I did it, and what the copyeditor returned to the publisher. Yes, undoing it all and finding the actual copyediting was a nightmare:
Candy Sakaida was a good kid. Really good. Too old for Jai Varent, of course. She was nearly two; walking and talking and way too set in the face.
Candy Sakaida was a good kid. Really good. And her name suited her. She brought a sweet smile to everyone she encountered, that is, nearly everyone. Not Jai Varent. At nearly two years old, she was too old for him.
A Paperback Writer says
Yes, Nathan, I understand you. It’s just that agent jargon is different than education jargon. I was playing with that idea.
In a school setting, revision is changing ideas or “let’s see what happens if we move this to chapter 3,” while editing is fixing punctuation, grammar, spelling, margins, etc.
I was trying to play with the jargon, but apparently my attempt at humor didn’t work in type. Sorry.
Chatty Kelly says
Proofing is such a strange thing. I can read a comment 5 times and the minute I hit “publish” I see the mistake. Same on my blog. It is invisible until I publish it.
Our brains are so smart they see what we want to see, not what we see.
This conversation (though maybe more so the previous one which sparked this post) brings to mind the following …
To all who enjoy not just finding errors in published works but bragging about finding said errors, enjoy.
Regards – wyatt (who hopes he managed to avoid any typos in this post)
I think I love you, Nathan. In my world, we call what I do content editing (with a little bit of copyediting thrown in if I have the time and/or the inclination). Explaining that to people is never easy. And non-writers usually just don’t get it. Ever.
sex scenes at starbucks says
We sure were peeved yesterday. Glad we’re all over that.
I’m editor and copy editor for my magazine, and we have to format all our stuff the same, too, for different reading software. We edit, format, send galleys to the authors, they check ’em over, and after we go to print we still sometimes have something we missed.
The last two days before publishing is nuts. Completely nuts.
I was surprised to see so many people bugged by typos. Whenever I see a typo I say to myself “huh” and move one. Who cares? It’s just a typo. But I’m a type B personality. If there was a type C or a type D personality I’d probably be one of those. Maybe there is but I’m too lazy to look it up. Moving on…
Nathan is fun to read. ABC is glad Nathan is blogging (is anyone else catching the Suede bug from Project Runway?)
Nathan– my Random House editor ABSOLUTELY did some hands-on editing. It was MUCH more than a project manager. Her notations were on every page. Then I worked it over per her instructions. THEN the copyeditor took over.
You make it sound like the editor is high in a tower. ‘Tis just not so.
I’d rather be a copyeditor than an editor. I’m a geek like that.
Now, to find a way to get my foot in the door…
Deborah Blake says
And sometimes the typos get past everybody and the author reads the book through and still doesn’t catch it. And the book is published and a year and a half later the author is checking a reference for a later book, and there, on page 79, is a BIG boo boo that nobody saw! Quel horror! (Yes, it was my book. Still hiding in shame. Will scold copyeditor as soon as I come out from under the bed.)
By the way, after many months of reading this blog, I have finally decided to follow your suggestion to: “When in doubt, query me.” Of course, I’ve rewritten my query letter to take out all the rhetorical questions. (There were five. You would have screamed. Or cried. Or something.)
Your turn to hide under the bed.
After a long project, with a co-author, I received galleys to point out any mistakes. They’d made one error by leaving out the word ‘no’. Did I catch it?
I. Did. Not.
It put the entire argument in the dumpster, hidden inside a law review.
Definitely don’t blame the author or the editor for typos. I’m part of the club that has had copyeditors add misspellings and grammar errors. I proof with an eagle eye (I’m neurotic about it), but things still get through or added outside my control.
A good friend of mine had every chapter in her book from 40-49 mispelled as “fourty” but it didn’t happen until after the ms was edited, copyedited, typeset, and proofed. Some idiot was messing with the chapter headings before it went to press and spelled them wrong–and no one saw it again until the book was printed. She got lots of mail about that one. “Don’t you know how to spell ‘forty’?” Uh, yeah. She does.
Fortunately, I’ve caught most of the errors that have been inserted in my books, and my friend’s novel went into a (corrected) second printing quickly.
But these things can drive a writer batty–you know readers are blaming the mistakes on you because it’s your name on the cover. Have mercy!
tipping tapping typos…
tap dancing a thing-about
drawing out thingies
regurgitating type-ies like Gene Kelly
to boot to boot
Nathan Bransford says
I definitely didn’t mean to imply that editors don’t edit! In fact, this was the subject of one of my only Publishing Myths 101 posts.
Nathan agrees with abc that Suede is driving him crazy. Nathan would have auf’d Suede out of principle.
Maris Bosquet says
Lorelei, what a horror! I don’t like to see anybody suffer for their mistakes, but I do hope that the individual who savaged your work is wreaking havoc elsewhere–preferably not in publishing!
I’m a copyeditor (or at least that is my strength. I’m not currently employed as one.), and I’m not too hung up about details except for in professional writing.
Informal situations–I could give a crap. But it books, it bugs the hell out of me.
What you are referring to as copyediting, a lot of people (which I’m sure you’re aware of) confuse with proofing. I even applied to a proofing job, but when I did the test, it was totally copyediting.
Proofreaders are supposed to catch the errors after typesetting. At least, this is how it was where I interned. I admit, I’m not that great at proofing. I’m better at copyediting. I feel the need to change sentences around. UGH!
Nathan, while I appreciate the work of editors and copyeditors (having lived previous lives as both), I wrestle with a basic question.
At what point does the copyeditor or content editor step across that invisible line which defines a particular writer’s personality and style? I can accept suggestions (subtle ones, those delivered by various sizes of hammers, etc…) but I detest someone trying to “insert” their own opinions/changes/style preferences/and sometimes even word choices into my written work.
Does this make any sense? Or am I just rambling after a day with too many hours and too few cups of coffee?
Fascinating topic – editing, copyediting, proofreading.
Here’s a shocker I read on an email discussion list: The author went through all those steps, including signing off on galleys, then the publishing house contracted the final production off-shore and the galleys were *RE-TYPESET*! Is there no wonder there were new errors?
Does anyone else have info about how that can be avoided so that the days and days of working for ‘perfection’ is realized in the final product? Such a waste. Wailing and gnashing of teeth would be the least of the reasonable reactions to such things.
WTF.. you are outsourced,? What, to India? Are you kidding me? Okay, so it is the copyeditor who is reaponsible for the author ( like the mainstream author..like the top ten author on the NYT list, using the same words over and over…the alliteration and actually, the MISPELLING of words?) okay..and what about the six figure agent who represents the “famous author” that has rejected the query letter for using a “rhetorical question? Just asking.
I would love to be a copy-editor. Love love love. I am so anal about that kind of thing. I wonder how you’d get into that kind of job? OK, this is probably the wrong forum for that question, though.
I really hate what my editor does to me – I write for a student newspaper and my editor not only changes my punctuation without telling me and chops the odd sentence out (which I can live with), but adds new paragraphs in which I never wrote — usually paragraphs with stupid jokes about sex or drugs because my writing's too serious for students.
I hate that, since my friends and lecturers and other students then all think that I'm the one who came up with these jokes in terrible taste, but since it's just a student newspaper I haven't brought it up with my editor. It bugs the hell out of me, though.
Or is that OK for an editor to do – to add things in to other people's work? Again, I guess this may be the wrong place to ask questions about an editor's job, since this is a newspaper editor rather than novel editor.
Nathan Bransford says
Yes, I’m kidding.
Also, you’re going to have to explain to me why you are anti-alliteration.
The other thing is you get a second chance when your book comes out in paperback- all those errors that concerned readers make it a point to tell you about?
They get corrected in the paperback version…anyway that was the plan…
Editors shouldn’t really be writing their own content and adding it into your writing. This isn’t something unfamiliar that I’ve heard in school newspapers, though.
Editors are there to guide a writer to write the best work they can possibly write. Writers, though, usually have the last say on what is cut out. When I was assisting the editor at my internship, we both thought it was important to inform the author of every step, and why we chose to do what we did. But we always gave them final say. We weren’t there to mutilate their work.
You become a copyeditor in book publishing by practicing very hard and getting an internship where you tell them you want to copyedit. Don’t just wait for them to give it to you, because then it won’t happen. It’s a lot easier to get an internship at a small press, so I would suggest you take those avenues if you’re interested. (I don’t know the process for journalism, sorry.)
I learned to be a good copyeditor by editing everything I could, brushing up on grammar rules, and listening to advice when given.
to add…. Sometimes an editor will add a sentence or two. But whole paragraphs? I consider that pretty un-kosher.
Thanks for the reply, Maggie, I really appreciate it. 🙂
An example of something my editor added into my last feature article (about the youth drinking culture here):
“Not everybody has the resources to make the dream of hopeless crack addiction a sexy reality; fortunately, there are a lot of people willing do [sic] what they can with what they got, and you can catch them slumped in front of a pokie machine or catching 40 winks in a driveway most Sunday mornings.”
Good times. Anyway, I’ll stop taking Nathan’s comments over now – sorry Nathan!
Great post. Nice clarification!
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Kim Stagliano says
I bought a hardcover last year, and it was missing about 18 pages. I think the editor and the copyeditor owe we $24…. Funny thing is, I KNOW the editor – but I would never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever have told her the book has been misprinted. Newbie rule #756: Don’t piss off editors.