Striking Gold: A Copyeditor Can Make Your Manuscript Shine

by Catherine Viel

(First of two articles on copyediting. Reprinted from Ink Byte Magazine.)

What's the best way to choose a freelance editor? By asking the right questions and understanding the level of editing your manuscript needs. Once you've decided your book deserves the extra attention (and extra potential for sale), the true challenge is finding just the right copyeditor for you and your prose. Here's a place to start.

What is my budget? Expect to pay from below $1,000 to several thousand dollars to have your book edited. Pricing depends on many factors, including the length of the book, the amount and type of editing required, the overall condition and complexity of the manuscript, your expected turnaround time, and the experience of the editor. Seasoned copyeditors should be able to provide a time/cost estimate after seeing your manuscript, but don't expect to receive a firm bid if you can't supply a substantial sample (preferably the entire manuscript).

How soon does it need to be done? Many editors are booked up for weeks or months with multiple projects, so if you're on a tight deadline, this might be the first thing you should ask.

How much editing does my manuscript need? Make your best guess as to whether your book needs a light going-over for minor grammar and syntax issues and mechanics such as capitalization and hyphenation, or if it would benefit from a more analytical, content-focused approach. Ask your potential copyeditor to describe the levels of editing he provides and what he does for each level. This should be along the lines of light, medium, or heavy edit. Semantics vary in this profession, so make sure that if you want a line edit, your editor can explain what that means to him—and it agrees with what you want done. In the end, like it or not, your editor may determine that your manuscript needs a more detailed and time-consuming edit than you thought it did. That's why it is essential to get several bids on editing your manuscript. If three different editors tell you it needs a heavy edit that will take a month to accomplish, that's probably what it needs.

Is face time important to me, or am I comfortable with an all-electronic and phone relationship? Many freelance editors never see their author-clients, and excellent work is still accomplished. If you're in a smaller town or out-of-the-way locale, you may have no choice but to work via the Internet. If it is important to you, and you think there's a good chance you can find someone local to work with, give it a shot by searching the EFA database or even Craigslist (see resources at the end of this article).

Am I self-publishing or do I intend to submit to agents or publishers? If you're self-publishing, you have more leeway with making certain editorial decisions, though generally you'll want to follow the guidelines in the Chicago Manual of Style. If you plan to submit to an agent or publisher, ensuring that your editor is thoroughly versed in Chicago is essential. Wherever your manuscript is headed, partnering with a copyeditor who has the appropriate expertise and knowledge is of paramount importance to creating the most bulletproof book possible.

To sum up, to prepare for your copyeditor search: finish your manuscript, think about what your budget can handle, and figure out how much editing your manuscript needs. (The only time you won't need a complete manuscript is if you're looking for a developmental editor or ghostwriter, but that is a subject for another column.) Begin by emailing two or three copyeditors and describing the project particulars. When you talk to the candidates, have a list of questions, take notes during your conversation, and ask for bids. Perhaps most important of all, pay attention to your gut and gauge your comfort level with each candidate. You must feel you can trust your editor and can communicate freely and easily during the often lengthy process of having your book edited.

Last but not least, you're perfectly within your rights as a consumer to request a short sample edit from potential editors before making your decision.

Resources for finding copyeditors The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) ( and the Bay Area Editors' Forum ( both have searchable listings of individual editors, and the EFA has a free job board you can submit your project to. (Be warned: you may receive literally hundreds of responses if you post to the JobList. Sometimes it's better to search the member database and contact several editors individually.) You can also check advertisements and listings in Writers Market online, the Writer magazine, Poets & Writers, and Writer's Digest. For the adventurous, there's Craigslist... look under writing/editing/translating services ("write/ed/tr8"). If you do find someone on Craigslist, it might be prudent to do a little checking into their bona fides. Most professional copyeditors maintain a website—ask your Craigslist candidate for their URL. Find out how many books they've edited, and request the titles and publishers of a couple of them. Membership in the EFA or another editorial organization, a college degree in English, journalism, or communications, a copyediting certificate from a legitimate provider (like a university), and/or relevant work experience should assuage any doubts. And of course, checking references is always a good idea.

Interested in a career as a copyeditor (or even just improving your self-editing skills)? Several institutions offer in-person and online classes and certificate programs, including UC Berkeley and UC San Diego. The Editorial Freelancers Association offers classes as well. For a thorough grounding in how to copyedit, read the text and do the exercises in The Copyeditor's Handbook by Amy Einsohn. Finally, an entire education in itself is to read all thousand-plus pages of the Chicago Manual of Style (get the newest edition, 16—or subscribe to the online version).

Learn more about this complex topic by exploring the extensive resources and FAQ pages on Catherine Viel's website, Or send her an email with your questions, She'd love to hear from you and help you solve your copyediting conundrums.